Documentary Review: “No Safe Spaces” smirks through conservative “free speech” victimhood


They’re not wrong, of course, this comic “men’s movement” podcaster and the conservative activist and writer who call their tour, and the movie about it, “No Safe Spaces.”

Even if they’re inclined to cherry pick their examples. Even if they “straw man” their opponents. Even as they mis-characterize the debate on their own terms and flood the screen with white “free speech experts,” irate conservative speaker’s fee junkies who see their livelihoods threatened (like our hosts, and Ann Coulter) and hurt and wounded young, white female and male College Republicans who are on the receiving end of boycotts, protests and even riots over the folks they invite to speak on certain college campuses.

There are corners of academia and the kids who inhabit it now who are almost certainly crossing lines about free speech, ignoring the value of civil debate in a free society in their determination to not be offended, insulted or “triggered.” It’s a shout-the-other-side-down era, and if you don’t think “both extremes do it,” you’ve never walked by a Proud Boys rally. Not that “No Safe Spaces” mentions that.

It’s just that mutual admirers Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager, two smug, smirking jerks having a conservative ‘free speech” circle smirk, aren’t the guys to host such a debate and give it a high-minded fair hearing in this most divisive of eras.

“No Safe Spaces” is a documentary that incorporates mockery into its mutually admiring web phenomena hosts — assaults on everything from affirmative action to “cultural appropriation,” making its case with a peppering of clips from speakers on the left (Bill Maher, Obama, Cornel West) and a much larger sample of those on the right, a faux “Schoolhouse Rock” defense of the First Amendment and an action cartoon ridiculing “social justice warriors.”

It’s all to make the case that free speech itself is being menaced by “fascists” on the left toting “Bash the Fash” (fascist) signs as they protest appearances by free-speech enemy Peter Thiel (rich guy who destroyed Gawker Media), Brit polemicist and alt right poster boy Milo Yiannapoulos, right wing firebrand Ann Coulter and others.

There’s stuff meant to be funny, but didn’t even summon a chuckle from the aged white target audience I saw the film with. Perhaps they were satisfied in other ways.

There’s no attempt to engage with or get the actual point of view of those speaking out against “hate speech” and its most successful purveyors, just shrill and often dimwitted college kids having shout-offs in public spaces at Yale, Berkeley, etc.

Carolla suggests this mass silencing is “unAmerican,” and that it defeats the purpose of free speech, which is where “everybody” gets to speak and “the best idea wins.”

That’s disingenuous at best. Last time I checked, conservatives are the ones pushing every vote-suppressing trick under the sun to insure only their “best idea” ever has a shot. There are whole networks devoted to conservative views, and any that don’t follow that narrow idealogical path are condemned as “fake news” by…conservatives. A racist is in the White House, spreading lies with his every public moment. A Jewish white nationalist is in charge of U.S. immigration policy. TRUTH and FACTS are what’s under attack. You’re not going to get a lot of either of those from the “victimized” speakers here.

That includes our hosts. What is their “No Safe Spaces” tour but a safe space for conservative “snowflakes” to hear their unfiltered, unrebutted opinions that everything they hate about “The Other” from Fox News is true and an outrage?

Look over the audiences glimpsed at their events shown here. Not a diverse crowd.

Prager ticks off a list of every name/label slapped on him, taking particular issue with “Nazi.” “I’m JEWISH” he declares, listing his (Israeli born) bonafides.

Again, Stephen Miller, white nationalist in the White House setting immigration policy — Jewish.

Prager brings on famed lawyer and Fox News fave Alan Dershowitz, presenting him (at Dershowitz’s insistence, no doubt), as a “liberal.” This undercuts every other political label the film doles out to its “experts.” Perhaps Prager should be more concerned with the label “liar.”

There is a seriously flawed assumption at the heart of “No Safe Spaces,” that these screeching women and men (many of color, in the clips shown) are silencing public debate with their ill-conceived protests. The idea is that a great debate is being avoided.

That’s naive. This isn’t the 1960s, when Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley squared off on network for a generally civilized discourse on the politics of left and right.

And it’s not like Adolf Hitler toured Germany in the Weimar ’30s, defending National Socialism in on-stage arguments with liberals, communists, Christian conservatives and capitalists.

Conservatives don’t want debate. They want “safe spaces” where they can deliver their “message” without rebuttal, ridicule and fact-checking on the fly. The echo chamber of this film underscores that.

There I go, characterizing the other side for them, Dennis Prager’s straw-man bread and butter.

But as I’ve said, it’s a shrill time with an awful lot of shouting going on. And in no way does this lopsided, BS “safe space” coveting agitprop contribute to fixing that.

Sometimes, shouting is the only way to burst the bubble you’ve blown around yourself. And if tens of thousands of baseball or mixed martial arts fans make Trump cry when he finally hears the boos of a country that hates him? Not a bad thing. “No Safe Spaces” cuts both ways, doesnt it?


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some language and brief violence

Cast: Adam Carolla, Dennis Prager, Bern Shapiro, Dave Rubin and Van Jones

Credits: Directed by Justin Folk, script by John Sullivan. A Dangerous Documentaries release.

Running time: 1:35

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Documentary Review: “No Safe Spaces” smirks through conservative “free speech” victimhood

  1. Jason Hunter says:

    What does skin color have to do with anything? You’re a hack.

    • When “white privilege” is one of the concepts you’re attacking, telling an audience of aged white people and “Proud Boys” what they want to hear is precisely the point. That, and Adam Carolla has never, ever been funny. But he has his audience. White. Male. Not that young

    • Hunter Nosaj says:

      It’s unfortunate, Jason, that you represent the pinnacle of debate. One vague, self-righteous question and a name-call. Brilliant.

  2. Dimitri Labarge says:

    You are obviously one of those that are afraid of views that don’t support your liberal world view. Youbare a prime example of a liberal snowflake.

  3. Paula Moore says:

    Thank you for this scathing review. Your review of this movie has intrigued me to watch it and compare my perception to yours. Thanks for your observations.

  4. andrew says:

    The public seem to like it… Maybe you’ve missed something? or do you live in you’re own bubble/ echo chamber,

  5. Nriano says:

    There is a racist in the White House? Hillary didn’t win the election, why is she there?
    I don’t think she has been there for at least 3 years!
    You are mistaken, sir.

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