More noise than signal

Al Franken: God Spoke

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Over the last few decades Al Franken has gone from Saturday Night Live comedian to one of the few left-wing pundits to stand up and shout. If you’re in America, and your head isn’t buried in the sand then you can’t fail to notice there’s a lot to shout about, what with Captain Cuckoo Bananas shaping world policy. Even despite all of the liberties taken by Mr. Mission Accomplished, there seems suspiciously little criticism on mainstream U.S. media, while what on occasion amounts to little more than Republican Party propaganda is seemingly piped directly to the speak-holes of the likes of Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and, well the rest of Fox News.

Fed up with this state of affairs, Al Franken decides to take potshots. Picking up around the time of his successful and excellently titled “Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them”, God Spoke acts as something akin to a digest of the material he’s covered since “Liars”, and to be honest there’s little new here that you might not have read in Franken’s book, the not coincidentally titled “God Speaks”. What you do get over and above the novel is Franken’s urgent delivery and a real sense of how deeply the man cares about his politics and his country in a time when politics is still seen as boring, despite the undeniable novelty of the world falling apart around our ears.

Personal politics will play so large a part in your opinion of this film that I doubt I can play my usual card of keeping them out of reviews. If you actually think that Rush Limbaugh is a devout preacher of the truth and can agree on anything Ann Coulter says (for the uninitiated, the American right-leaning media’s equivalent of Screaming Lord Sutch, if Sutch had been offensive rather than silly) then there’s very little point seeing this film. Unless you like getting angry and shouting at cinema screen, which is a perfectly valid strategy although likely to see you ejected from the screening in short order.

It wouldn’t be right to say that God Spoke is a warts and all look at Franken, although he’s occasionally shown in a less than completely flattering light particularly when plotting to devote the day after the 2004 election’s Air America radio show to ‘gloating’. Whether he’d agree that’s a negative or not is open to debate, although it’s rather obviously wrong, what with the Democrats losing to Bush. Again. Which if nothing else hammers home the point that you should never think thinks are as bad as they can possibly get, or doubt Bush’s remarkable capacity to make things substantially worse.

Of course, it’s wrong and entirely unprofessional for me to claim anything more than passing familiarity with American media habits, safely ensconced in Britain’s not yet particularly awful media, for all of its Daily Mail ranting and tabloid non-news. Still, it’s commonly acknowledged that Democrats failed to get their message across, particularly with two successive Presidential candidates that while undoubtedly more competent hardly exuded charisma. Without puncturing this ludicrous ‘terrorists under the bed’ scaremongering (it may be of note that when asked who in history she would most like to be, Ann Coulter picked Joe McCarthy) or explaining why the war in Iraq wasn’t justified, at least under any of the reasons given, or shouting down the current tendency to label any questioning of authority as somehow ‘anti-American’, there’s no way Democrats can get their message across. Franken seems to be one of the few who’s still trying, and it’s very difficult not to have great admiration for the man on that basis alone.

The other main reason for admiring him comes from the rather more obvious, given the day job fact that he’s very funny indeed, and there’s few better weapons against the wackier elements of particularly Coulter’s arguments. It’s a consistent source of amusement for me that nigh on every left wing pundit is accused at some point of hating something or other, normally ‘freedom’ or ‘America’, while literally every sentence in Coulter’s books are filled with the sort of vitriolic bile that threatens to melt the typeface.

The comparisons with Fahrenheit 911 demand to be made, although this isn’t anything like as accusatory and inflammatory. Much as it’s obvious that Franken disagrees with Bush, this is really about the media, and their reporting of what’s going on in the world. If the people we rely on to tell us the truth of what’s happening in the world, there’s no greater sin they can commit than to lie to us. That’s what drives Franken, and that’s what drives this film. That’s also why it’s important that this film be seen by as many people as possible.