You have a right to your opinion and can say whatever you want. I have the right to write a review of a documentary and post my thoughts on the film online. In turn, you can read my review or not. It’s your choice. In fact, you also have the right to agree or disagree with me. It’s a free country. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says so:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
However, according to Justin Folk’s film, No Safe Spaces, our right to free speech is under attack. It’s an entertaining, thought-provoking and sometime chilling documentary that shows how some of our good intentions can lead to some horrible consequences.
Over the years, we’ve been taught to speak with a political correctness in order to not offend others. Some of this makes sense like changing the title of “mailman” to “mail carrier” since the one delivering your letters could be a man or a woman. Sometimes it goes off the rails.
For those unfamiliar, the term “safe spaces” refers to either a physical space or even just a conversation where one can come and express their feelings and thoughts without feeling threatened by violence or harassment. In theory, this is a good thing. Churches and other institutions should strive to be safe spaces where everyone feels welcome. But many people feel that colleges have become unsafe for some students for various reasons. In response, many have created special rooms or meeting halls known as safe spaces where “hate speech” is not allowed. Again, this doesn’t sound like a bad thing except for one thing. Who determines what constitutes as “hate speech?” Often it has less to with what is being said and more to do with ideals that are contrary to yours.
This film stars Adam Carolla, a liberal atheist talk show host and Dennis Prager, a conservative, Jewish talk show host. The two are as opposite as you can get. There is much that these two don’t agree on, but that’s okay. They have come together for a united purpose — protecting our freedom of speech. And they know a thing or two about the subject. They have seen firsthand how our rights have changed among various American universities. These are places where these guys were once welcome to speak and then later told that they could not because what they had to say might offend some students. Often what they wanted to say was that students had a right to their own opinions, but the students didn’t want to hear it.
Younger adults might be offended by some comments made in the film. No Safe Spaces suggests that for years, older adults have “bubbled wrapped” students to protect their feelings instead of equipping them to stand firm in their own beliefs. Believe it or not, just because I might not agree with you doesn’t mean that I hate you. But that isn’t what many students of today believe.
Some footage shown in the film is chilling. It shows students getting all riled up uttering phrases like “shut up” and “I don’t want to hear it” to those they appose. Then some of these arguments escalate into violence, which is often contrary to these students’ own values! The very idea that colleges, known as a place to share different ideas and opposing views, are becoming resistant and even hostile to such concepts.
While liberal-minded people will excuse this film as being nothing more than a sound piece for conservatives, I think they might be surprised by some content of the documentary. The movie shows equal time when people in liberal leadership were also told to “shut up” or had their life threatened as well. Still, some critics have complained that this film is too one-sided, but I’m confused on what the other side is. No free speech?
While I personally agree with much of the content of No Safe Spaces, I don’t agree with all of it. The production of the documentary itself is at times inconsistent. I also take issue with some techniques used in the film to make a point. There are many fade-to-black moments and much of the background music features an omnibus tone giving the viewer a feeling of dread. Folk’s film, which touts the value of free speech, also uses techniques of manipulation to get you to agree with it. I also didn’t care for the use of children quoting, “You have the right to remain silent…” Yes, I understand that it is also an artistic choice but it feels like propaganda. I think the movie could have made a stronger statement by refraining from such tactics. That’s just my opinion. And that’s okay.
Main image: MJM Entertainment Group
I write about arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.