It came to pass that an unexpected bit of correspondence washed up over the transom of my electronic inbox yesterday. A filmmaker by the name of Nena Jaye asked me to review her newest film which, ordinarily, I’d be very happy to do. Nena and her daughter Cassie have made a pair of excellent documentary films, one that explores the world of abstinence-only sex-education, and another, which tells of the story of two Christian Gay men and their children and the effect Proposition 8 had upon their family. I saw this latter film at Skywalker Ranch, which was an absolute blast. It brought out an inner nerd I didn’t even know I had inside me. I wrote an enthusiastic review for the Huffington Post and didn’t expect ever to hear from the filmmakers again.
Now the mother and daughter filmmaking team has made a documentary exploring the so-called “Men’s Rights Movement.” What I know of that particular movement is fairly limited and also fairly negative. I know that those involved are concerned about what they see as anti-male bias in the American legal system—especially as it relates to child custody and accusations of sexual assault—and I know that there is a tendency within the movement to express these concerns using deeply misogynous and often violent language.
Apparently, the Jayes—who self-identify as feminists—went into the project of making their newest film with open minds, but expecting to make a solidly anti-Men’s Rights Movement documentary; as the project unfolded, however, they found themselves being not entirely unsympathetic to the underlying concerns of the movement.
The backlash against Nena and Cassie Jaye has been epic. The film itself has been savaged in reviews (which is OK—negative reviews are part of the creative process), but some of the writing about the Jaye’s work has turned personal, sometimes viciously so. The Jaye’s, it appears, have run afoul of progressive orthodoxy, and have learned Hell hath no fury (or not many of them anyway) quite like a true believer whose view of the world has been solidly tweaked.
This has me wondering: what are the subjects which persons of good faith and honest curiosity cannot explore in writing, photography, visual art or film? And what are the limits with which we demarcate those ideas we deem acceptable? And how should we respond when someone (with whom we previously have agreed and whose company we have enjoyed in the past) strays outside the boundaries of what we find acceptable?
I want to embrace the idea that there should be no limits to our curiosity, exploration, or expression, but I know that’s not really possible. Many ideas are so profoundly offensive, some images so deeply violent, some expressions so seriously exploitative, that I could never abide their presence in my life. But does a possibly less than-hostile-treatment of the Men’s Rights Movement fall into that category?
I don’t know. You will have to ask me after I watch the film. In the meantime, I hope we can think and talk together about what it means to have an open mind and a willingness to explore at least some of the subject matter that might otherwise make us uncomfortable.
P.S. For more information about Nena and Cassie Jaye’s work as filmmakers, check out their website: http://www.jayebirdproductions.com/