Focus on the Family Responds to My F Review of “Irreplaceable”

Posted on May 15, 2014 at 7:00 am

I am most grateful to Focus on the Family for their very courteous response to my review of their film “Irreplaceable,” one of the harshest I have ever published.  I strongly encourage everyone who wants to understand our disagreement to read their response carefully, along with the extensive exchange of comments following the review with people who had a variety of reactions to the film and which have a great deal more detail about what I found offensive.

My primary concern, as I explained in the review’s second paragraph, was the film’s refusal to meet the fundamental requirement of advocacy: stating contrary opinions to the satisfaction of the person whose opinion is being described.  They prove my point in this reply, responding, for example, to a charge of being “radical” which no one never made.  The problems I had with the film are repeated in their response, where they insist “there is no boogey man in this documentary. There is no ‘other side’ and no ‘them’” but then acknowledge that “some family forms are simply more effective than others at bringing good and essential things to people’s lives than others, regardless of how sincere the people are that create them.” I believe that the way they present the “less effective” family forms in the film is inflammatory and unfair and does create a boogey man.irreplaceable movie

We agree on a number of issues, starting with the importance of each of us making a renewed commitment to our own families and the families in our communities. And we agree that the best way for people to decide which view of the film is correct is to see the film. They ask people to see the film and make their own judgment, which I endorse entirely.  The movie was so successful in its initial one-night showing that it will be in theaters again tonight, so if this debate has piqued your curiosity, or if you share with both Focus on the Family and me the goal of exploring how we can be better and more effective in supporting our own families and others in our community, I encourage you to see it and let me know what you think.

I would just ask Focus on the Family to do the same with the movie I recommended in my review as a supplement, Rosie O’Donnell’s “A Family is a Family is a Family.” Whether they view it or not, I make the same offer to them that I did to my most engaged commenter; if they come to Washington, D.C., I’d be glad to invite them to lunch to discuss my concerns about the film further and explore more effective messages for addressing the concerns we share. Again, my thanks for the respectful response.

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Posted on May 5, 2014 at 8:00 am

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: Expressions of intolerance
Date Released to Theaters: May 6, 2014

Irreplaceable” is indefensible.

My parents taught me that you automatically lose an argument if you (1) fail to state the other side’s views in a manner they approve or (2) fail to attribute to the other side the same good intentions you assume for your own. Focus on the Family’s faux documentary “Irreplaceable” fails on both grounds.  It probably also violates one of the Commandments as well, the one prohibiting the bearing of false witness.

I’m in favor of strong, loving families with responsible parents. You’re in favor of strong. loving, families with responsible parents. It is safe to say that there is just about no one who is not in favor of strong, loving families with responsible parents. It is about the least controversial position imaginable. But this film uses the rhetoric of support for family as a thin and increasingly cynical and specious cover for a pernicious agenda disguised as a “conversation.” It’s so smug, constricted, and phony that it does not even qualify as one-sided.

irreplaceable movieThe unctuous tones of the participants are intended to convey concern. But the false humility is merely an attempt to distract the audience from a poisonous message. Though some vague generalities acknowledge that in some cases marriages cannot be made safe and spouses must leave, the real message is that there is only one kind of family and everything else is unstable for its members and for culture and society. If it had any faith in its positions, Focus on the Family would accurately explain the views of those who embrace a variety of family structures and roles, allowing each family to find what is best for them.  Instead it slants and distorts those messages because it knows it has no effective arguments to make honestly.  It relies on innuendo and the basest slur to keep its base too scared to be anything but compliant.

The “experts” in the film tell us that the problem is that we are getting cultural messages about valuing self, possessions, and pleasure over the family.  Those are serious questions and worth exploring.  But they fall back on an imagined war between faith and culture without any exploration of why the faith community has failed to communicate its message more effectively or how the faith community or society as a whole could provide more support for families in need.  There is no place in the world of these experts for families that do not fit into their one-size-fits-all vision of mother, father, children all living together.  Is it possible for strong, loving, intact families with gay parents to raise happy, healthy children?  For single parents and blended families to raise happy, healthy, children?  Are fathers today more deeply involved in their children’s lives than in the falsely idealized vision of the mid-20th century promoted here?  Statistics say yes, but you would not know that from this film.  If indeed that era was so ideal, why did the overwhelming majority of those who grew up that way advocate with such passion for alternatives?

Those who wish to persuade others can best do so by building a bridge to establish a common foundation, making it clear that what connects us is more important than what separates us. Or, as they have done here, they can build a moat around their shrinking base, reinforcing the condescending sense of superiority of their own little group by telling them that only their answers work for everyone and playing into their worst fears and stereotypes.

One of the “experts” in this film tells us, “If anyone says they can fix the world, run.”  Yet that is just what they do here, imagining that once there was a heavenly era of intact families living out God’s plan without acknowledging that the mid-century “ideal” was neither universal nor considered ideal by those living in it.  The dissatisfactions that model engendered led to a cultural upheaval that created its own problems, but none so grave to lead to a widespread call for a return to stultifying, rigidly conformist norms.  While commentators in this film make vague concessions to those whose situations are so intolerable that the marriage cannot survive, the essential condescension, arrogance, and total absence of grace or compassion is its primary message.

With this cynical, meretricious and hypocritical film, Focus on the Family has dug a moat and burned the drawbridge. It purports to be about the importance of fathers taking responsibility for their children (again, something everyone agrees on, but you would not know that from this film). It purports to be about forgiveness, something else everyone agrees on, but it engages in the most immoral tactics by demonizing anyone who does not meet its standards.

I am happy for the person in the film who is glad his mother stayed with his father even after he went to jail for stealing money but that does not mean that it would be right for all spouses. And it does not mean I will forgive Focus on the Family for this shoddy, hateful, and dishonest film.

Parents should know that this is a dishonest film that attempts to hide its biased agenda.

Family discussion:  What families do you admire and why?  What can you to do help your family be stronger?

If you like this, try: “A Family is a Family is a Family”

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Movies -- format

The Battle Over Super Bowl Ads

Posted on January 30, 2010 at 1:48 pm

On February 7, the Saints will take on the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV. And the ads are as high-profile as the game. Companies and groups must pay CBS more than $2 million in addition to the cost of producing the ad, which can be as much per-minute as a feature film.
A lot of people want to reach the Super Bowl audience and some want to sell ideas, not products. CBS, which has refused some “advocacy” ads in the past, this year has said they will permit those that are “responsibly produced.” They have already been criticized for agreeing to run an ad from Focus on the Family that features college football player Tim Tebow and his mother. She explains that though she was advised to get an abortion after she became ill, she continued the pregnancy and gave birth to Tebow. The Women’s Media Center and a group of organizations dedicated to reproductive rights, tolerance, and social justice have protested.
CBS is also getting complaints about what it is not showing. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has called on CBS to explain why it is refusing to run an ad for a gay dating site called Mancrunch during the Super Bowl. CBS issued a statement but did not explain their concerns: “After reviewing the ad — which is entirely commercial in nature — our Standards and Practices department decided not to accept this particular spot. As always, we are open to working with the client on alternative submissions.”
The Washington Post has a thoughtful op-ed by Frances Kissling, the former president of Catholics for Choice and Kate Michelman, former president of Naral Pro-Choice America, on “what Tim Tebow’s Super Bowl ad can teach the pro-choice movement.”

For abortion rights supporters, picking on Tim Tebow and his mom is not the way to go. Instead of trying to block or criticize the Focus on the Family ad, the pro-choice movement needs its own Super Bowl strategy….We’d go with a 30-second spot, too. The camera focuses on one woman after another, posed in the situations of daily life: rushing out the door in the morning for work, flipping through a magazine, washing dishes, teaching a class of sixth-graders, wheeling a baby stroller. Each woman looks calmly into the camera and describes her different and successful choice: having a baby and giving it up for adoption, having an abortion, having a baby and raising it lovingly. Each one being clear that making choices isn’t easy, but that life without tough choices doesn’t exist.

I think CBS should be open to “responsibly produced” advocacy ads on any issue of public concern. I doubt that the Focus on the Family will change anyone’s mind, and I support the right of Tenbow and his mother to tell their story and explain their views. I can imagine gay dating site ads that would and would not be appropriate. And I share the concerns of parents who are uncomfortable with the ads for ED and prostate medication, sexual pleasure aids and other highly personal items during telecasts of sporting events. What do you think?

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