Review: No Safe Spaces

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, October 25th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham with a review of a provocative new documentary called No Safe Spaces.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: No Safe Spaces is the title of Dennis Prager and Adam Carolla’s documentary sounding the alarm about assaults on free speech. And its very rollout seems to underscore the movie’s point. 

First, Facebook refused to carry ads for the film. Then the Motion Picture Association of America insisted on giving it a PG-13 rating instead of PG. Their reason? Because it shows real-life footage of a protestor punching a conservative student in the face for passing out tracts that contain “violent” language. And because of a brief tongue-in-cheek cartoon showing the First Amendment being shot.

Mildly incendiary? Maybe. Less provocative than some double-entendres that pop-up in PG-rated Dreamworks animated movies? Definitely.

Here’s Dave Rubin—a self-identified liberal who finds common cause with conservatives on free speech. 

RUBIN: If there’s someone that’s watching this right now that is a hard-core progressive thinking—man, I hate Prager and Rubin and this is all nonsense—guess what? If you have any spark of individualism in you, or anything about you that’s interesting or different, they will come to destroy that too.

This follows on the heels of YouTube categorizing hundreds of PragerU videos as restricted—a category typically reserved for violent or obscene videos. But these are on topics like the Ten Commandments and challenging human-caused climate change. So it’s hard not to see their point that the hard left is succeeding at shutting down opposing viewpoints. 

But simply arguing a point that many Americans might agree with is not the same thing as making a good film. Plenty of bad conservative documentaries have done that. Despite a few unnecessary digressions, No Safe Spaces succeeds because it does a solid job making its case journalistically.

Carolla and Prager interview plenty of experts who would normally be considered ideological opponents, like Van Jones, Cornel West, and Andrew Sullivan. They also have some interesting panel discussions with non-political figures. 

But it’s not the pundits who make this film successful. It’s using actual, documented evidence.

A lecturer at Yale sparks protests after suggesting students can decide for themselves which Halloween costumes are offensive. Students mob and physically threaten a professor at Evergreen State College because he refuses to cancel his class for a minority student event known as A Day of Absence. He is eventually fired. Worse, the administration does nothing to ensure standards or order or even the safety of their staff.

CLIP: Then the administration of the college made it clear that they were strongly encouraging white people not to come to school on that day in an effort to quote, unquote “center” people of color. I found this offensive. It was people organizing this protest telling others not to show up to a public college on a particular day because of the color of their skin which is anathema to me as a liberal, so I said so.

One of the quieter cases is somehow one of the most disturbing. A teaching assistant is reprimanded because she played clip of a professor of Transgender Studies debating Jordan Peterson. 

Her intent was clearly not to voice agreement with Peterson, but to foster class discussion about grammar. She nonetheless loses her job when she pushes back against a policy that characterizes open debate about LGBT issues as “sexual violence.”

CLIP: Not to do the thing of comparing everything to Hitler but this is, this is basically like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler. These are very young students, and something of that nature is not appropriate to that age of student. Because they don’t have… 18? Yes. They’re adults. Yes, but they’re very young adults.

What the film does not do well is delve into thornier issues of free speech. Like, as the digital age has progressed, where do private companies’ rights end and the public’s interest begin?

I asked Prager about this when I spoke to him about the film.

PRAGER: The issue with Twitter, YouTube, Google, etc. is that they have a virtual monopoly on information. The issue is not that they’re private. The New York Times doesn’t have a monopoly on data, but Google does. Ninety-seven percent of the information in the free world travels through Google.

Toward the end, No Safe Spaces loses focus somewhat, drifting into generic gripes about millennial snowflakes. This would seem to undermine its stated aim to encourage open dialogue and clarity. 

Carolla told me one of the most effective ways to de-normalize reasonable, common-sense ideas is to demand apologies for them. That is, online mobs pressuring corporations, celebrities, athletes and other public figures to issue mea culpas whenever they say something that falls afoul of far-left-wing orthodoxy on social issues. 

We saw this recently when Drew Brees distanced himself from Focus on the Family because of their biblical convictions on marriage and gender. Carolla says there’s a simple answer.

CAROLLA: Stop apologizing, that’s all. When people tell you to apologize, just don’t do it. Unless you’re married to them.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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