Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Movie Review: Hating Breitbart (2013)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Movie Review: Hating Breitbart (2013)

by Tony Dayoub

Masquerading as a fair and balanced documentary, Hating Breitbart is actually a tribute to the late Andrew Breitbart, self-anointed provocateur of the right. Designed to expand the myth about the professional conservative troll rather than examine what's behind it, Andrew Marcus's ostensible exposé is aimed straight at the collective heart of the same partisan audience that refuses to buy into any reportage that isn't accompanied by the imprimatur of Fox News. And like that network's segments, Hating Breitbart is cut together in a deceptive way that only seems to inform while really just proselytizing.

Following the usual trajectory of your typical personage profile, Hating Breitbart presents its subject as a scrappy, new media truth-seeker. A onetime liberal, Breitbart converted to conservatism after he surmised that the mainstream media was being manipulated by the liberal political machine. Only he confesses that he avoided the left's "brainwashing" by crediting his increasing disinterest with his own college education while attending Tulane. This immediately raises a red flag; for one starts to see how Breitbart, a skilled manipulator himself, drives a wedge between his followers and his enemies by characterizing those in his thrall as hard-working common people and those critical of him as elitist. During a speech at one Tea Party convention covered in the documentary, Breitbart contends that the left uses buzzwords such as "racist," "sexist" and "homophobe" to shut down any conversation from people on the right before characterizing said critics with a right-wing chestnut of his own, accusing liberals of having learned those buzzwords in "freshman orientation at Wesleyan." Predictably, this punchline gets a big laugh from his affirmation-seeking audience.

What starts to become clear as Hating Breitbart continues is that despite Breitbart's repeated assurances that he is simply bringing the fight to the smug liberals, long used to being the only source of news in a center-right country, he lacks the intellectual heft of say, a William F. Buckley. His lust for agitation and debate is strictly small potatoes. When offering some of Breitbart's biggest triumphs, even this laudatory profile can only come up with situations like his involvement in spreading word about Weiner-gate (Congressman Andrew Weiner's sexting a photo of his penis to a Twitter follower); the dismissal of Shirley Sherrod from the USDA after he posted video clips where she, an African American, spoke of being unfair to a white farmer who was looking to save his farm; and his backing of another conservative new media proponent, James O'Keefe, who secretly recorded videos of workers at the community organization ACORN offering him tips on how to avoid paying taxes for a prostitution ring he was pretending to run. None of these incidents were directly conceived by Breitbart or came off without considerable scrutiny concerning the questionable methods used to re-contextualize their respective controversies for maximum smearing effect. But more to the point, they fall under most centrist Americans' category titled "Who Gives a Shit?"

Though impartial organizations like Mediaite and Reason are included among the sources offering their take on Breitbart's place among political new media, the majority of those who log their opinions of the controversial figure are right-leaning pundits from dubious outfits like The Daily Caller, NewsBusters, Riehl World View, and the Washington Times. Any time criticism of Breitbart is culled from broadcasts of liberal-biased programming from MSNBC (who did not participate in the film's production), the footage is doctored, blown-up to depict despised leftie figures like Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow in extreme, and extremely distasteful, close-ups. This while footage taken from Fox News avoids any such embellishment. Foul language, primarily profanities uttered by Breitbart himself, is inexplicably bleeped out. This, apparently in order to obtain a rating more suitable for general release, the better to aggrandize the reputation of the late Breitbart. I'm not saying there isn't much to the man, or much worth exploring. But I believe most people can think for themselves, and a truly objective profile of the contentious muckraker would be a good place to start. Hating Breitbart is not it.

Hating Breitbart is now in limited theatrical release and is also available on DVD and Video on Demand.


Joel Bocko said...

Funny, maybe they're taking a two-pronged marketing approach to this one; I received an email about this doc which didn't play up the "fair-and-balanced" angle but was more to the effect of "see the movie THEY don't want you to see" etc. Enjoyed reading your analysis, though given my soul-crushing forays into Big Hollywood (which makes academia's fanaticism and single-minded politicization of culture look positively benign by comparison), I'm not rushing off to verify (that said, I'll probably watch it if/when it's on instant Netflix).

In general, I'm less interested in conservatism's hagiographies of its own present than its obsession with the past of liberals, exhibited in (among others) Dinesh d'Souza's 2013: Obama's America, and Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism. The tensions between the desire for scholarly gravitas and the demands of the conservative marketplace are fascinating and often revealing. As is the focus on the history & ideology of the left, which conveniently skirts having to deal with the history & ideology of the right.

I've also noticed that conservative writers are hemmed in by a more constrictive framework than liberals. The latter have the choice of going for an Al Franken-esque project lined with zingers and talking points, or something more nuanced and analytical. The last time conservatives had success with the latter approach was probably Alan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind about 25 years ago. Ironically, Jonah Goldberg himself notes in the intro to Liberal Fascism, itself a frustrating book with a fascinating premise (the influence of progressivism on fascism) severely compromised by the Hitler-mustached smiley face cover, the glib title, and the over-simplified and -digestible thesis (to wit: not only did progressivism influence fascism, conservatism barely did, and these facts mean liberals, not conservatives, share an imaginary family tree with fascists). All of which helped him sell far more books of course.

Pity is, American political discourse could use thoughtful and reasonable conservative voices - but of course those voices would reveal the contradictions within "conservatism", essentially a grabbag of wildly differing, even opposed, philosophies which happen to share a common enemy. Hence the obsessive focus on said enemy, especially in arenas where the enemy still largely conforms to stereotypes (academia for example) that it has evolved out of elsewhere. Which brings us back to Breitbart.

In the obsession over liberal bias lies the tacit assumption that there are essentially only two points of view, one of which of course is Breitbartian conservative populism. This helps legitimize an otherwise rather marginal political perspective, increases market share, and avoids defense by playing good offense. Whatever he lacked in intellectual heft, Breitbart was certainly no dummy as a businessman.

Joel Bocko said...

*should read "Ironically, Jonah goldberg himself notes THIS" (i.e. that Bloom's book was the last really weighty conservative bestseller - something he hopes to duplicates but can't for the following reasons...)

Tony Dayoub said...

To put it succinctly, lack of nuance is what afflicts the conversation on the right at the moment. And, coming full circle to HATING BREITBART, this documentary is the perfect, capsulized example of that.

As I've always said, libertarian ideas fascinate me. I'm not sure they necessarily work in real-world situations. But I'd like to hear someone on the right with a nuanced mode of thinking explain his philosophy in a way that isn't designed to drown out opposition or entertain followers.

Joel Bocko said...

Agreed (which is why rise of Ron Paul, whatever one thinks of his views, is a good thing). And I'm also interested in traditionalism to a certain extent (how can I not be, having grown up Catholic even if I've rejected the Church at this point). But the two artificially conjoined with a lot of rationalization as to why the "naturally" fit together, not so much. As I noted in the comment which didn't make it through, all Randian libertarianism, Bible-thumping traditionalism, and neo-Trotskyite-cum-(Teddy) Rooseveltian militarism have in common is an enemy. And not even that as much anymore, given evolution of left since the 60s (when that coalition fully began to meld together).

Often I wish we had a multiparty election systems, with run-offs and the like. Instead of this dopey sport-like "my team vs. yours" political landscape. So many more options and combinations out there...

Joel Bocko said...

Incidentally, somewhat off-topic - or maybe not since William F. Buckley hosted the PBS screenings in America - but have you seen the (original 80s miniseries version of) Brideshead Revisited? Just watched it recently; for some reason, struck me as something you might appreciate. Not exactly sure why.

Anonymous said...

Your review is exactly what you claim the movie is. It is clear yoj have a political bias and political agenda. However you hide behind your supposed title of reviewer in hopes of ddistorting your readers from forming their own opinion. Perhaps if you began your review by stating you have an ideolgocial difference with Breitbart, that your bias and ideological difference effects your would appear more of an honest broker. The fact is you the author do the same thing you ccondemned breitbart for, except of course Andrew exposed Acorn for the corrupt morally bankrupt entity it is, one that keeps the poor poor while lining the pockets of a few liberal elites, and breitbart exposed Weiner for being the adulterer morally bankrupt self serving politian he is, and of course breitbart exposed sherry sherrod for bbeing a racist bigot before 'seeing the light'.

Tony Dayoub said...

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I am a raging liberal. So I don't feel the need to justify it for a Breitbart apologist who can't even be bothered to press spellcheck before leaving a comment here anonymously.

I would love to see a true evenhanded documentary on Breitbart who strikes me as a fascinating fellow. But this is pure propaganda. And I always call that out for what it is, right or left. Just check out my reviews criticizing leftie films like GREEN ZONE or FAIR GAME.