Sunday, December 23, 2012

Early morning movie boycotts

More than a week before it opened, the film "Zero Dark Thirty" began winning awards. Both the Boston Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Online tapped it as the best picture of 2012, and each also chose Kathryn Bigelow as best director for the film.

But the film about the hunt for Osama bin Laden is also being pilloried (by many who have and many who haven't seen it yet) for possibly justifying torture as a legitimate method of interrogation. There's some dissension about whether the events depicted at the beginning of the movie -- an interrogation in 2003 that ultimately led to Osama's capture and killing -- ever happened. U.S. Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director Leon Panetta (played by James Gandolfini in the movie) has said torture techniques did not help find bin Laden. Others disagree.

With all the buzz, the pre-wide-release awards, and the director's reputation (she won the 2009 Academy Award for directing "The Hurt Locker"), it's likely that "Zero Dark Thirty" will find a strong audience.

But should it? That's the question posed by a reader in Florida who has his doubts about the movie.

"I want to see 'Zero Dark Thirty,'" he writes, "but I'm troubled by the idea of funding (at $12) certain dubious moral enterprises such as this one."

He's concerned that the movie normalizes torture. "If I know, in advance, that a movie 'based on a true story' hangs its plot on an unverified claim that would serve to convince many viewers that an absolutely immoral act of torture had led to the capture of the world's leading terrorist, should I support that movie financially by buying a ticket to see it? Or, should I boycott the movie?"

He knows that not forking over his $12 won't hurt Bigelow, but wonders if boycotting the movie will "marginalize her or the message in some small way." If others independently are doing the same, he figures, the film's message is "reduced to close enough to nothingness."

"I think I'm way too into the idea that my tiny symbolic acts matter," he says. "Or do they? Why aren't all of us with a conscience boycotting the movie?"

My reader has every right to boycott the movie because of what he believes is depicted in it. While I believe he might be able to make a stronger case if he actually sees the film to know that what he thinks he is boycotting actually exists in the movie, it's a perfectly ethical stance to have a strong conviction about the type of movie "Zero Dark Thirty" purports to be without seeing it. I, for one, saw nothing wrong with refusing to buy a copy of a memoir written by a fabricating reporter fired by The New York Times without ever having read a page of it. In fact, I try to avoid most memoirs or novels written by confirmed plagiarists and fabricators. 

The right thing is for my reader to act on his conscience and decide whether to go to see "Zero Dark Thirty" based on his principles. He should draw the line, however, at deciding what's best for others. Wondering why they don't join in his silent boycott is fair game. But assuming they should just because he does rids them of the ability to form their own convictions and then act on them. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.

1 comment:

William Jacobson said...

Since boycott in this usage is just an over-dramatacized use of "not attend the movie", I do not see how your reader could possibly see the movie and still 'boycott' it. Ignorance of true facts has never stopped people from boycotting.

Movies serve to entertain, so the real question on whether or not to see the movie really turns on whether or not your reader would get entertainment value out of seeing it. If he's already filled with such angst before even seeing the movie that his $12 would go to 'normalize torture', as a member of the movie going public who also paid $12 to see the same movie, I ask that he simply not go. May I suggest the Care Bear movie instead?

William Jacobson
Anaheim, CA