No Safe Spaces: Powerful but Incomplete

Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager deliver a powerful rebuke to radical campus activism, but fail to explore its root causes.

I watched Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager’s new documentary No Safe Spaces (2019) in a nearly-sold out theater in Alexandria last night. While it was a decent summery of the latest threats to freedom of speech and expression, and the audience loved it, there were some glaring omissions that left the film feeling incomplete.

If you’ve been paying attention over the past several years, you’ve noticed the rise in political activism on both the right and left has led to some alarming developments, including riots, street clashes, and an effort to “de-platform” opposing views on the Internet. No public space has been at the forefront of this conflict more than college campuses.

No Safe Spaces highlights two of the most dramatic episodes of campus activism and political correctness run amok: Bret Weinstein and the 2017 Evergreen State College riots, and the 2016 riots at California State University that targeted conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro.

Bret Weinstein, then a politically liberal biology professor, objected to his college administration asking white students and faculty not to come onto campus for a “Day of Absence” event. Campus security stood down in the face of student protests and a court eventually awarded Weinstein $500,000 in damages for the college failing to protect his safety. Footage of protestors shouting down administrators and forcing a student to read a public apology for speaking with Weinstein is an alarming glimpse at a possible future.

No Safe Spaces isn’t confined to politically-correct attacks on freedom of speech and expression on college campuses. It touches on comedy as well, featuring interviews with comedians like Tim Allen and Bryan Callen. Noticeably absent was comedian Joe Rogan, whose popular podcast has spread popular awareness of many of the film’s events. Rogan has interviewed members of the “intellectual dark web” like Sam Harris, Eric Weinstein (brother of Bret Weinstein), Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and Christina Hoff Sommers, all of whom have faced campus protests and have the same general objections to political correctness.

The documentary also featured clips from Van Jones and Barack Obama promoting free exchange of ideas on college campuses and speaking out against censorship. Van Jones briefly served as President Obama’s Special Advisor for Green Jobs in 2009 and is now a CNN commentator. Contrary to what most critics claim is a one-sided film, I thought No Safe Spaces went out of its way to include liberal and left-wing perspectives.

What it didn’t include, however, was a discussion of the origins of political correctness and the madness that has infected college campuses. It briefly touches on how the University of California, Berkeley, birthplace of the 1964 Free Speech Movement, has become an epicenter for politically-correct student activism. But how did it get from A to B? Who is teaching these students to react with violence in the face of opposing views?

That discussion, even a brief overview, would have been more useful than a cartoon of the First Amendment being shot up or reenactments of Adam Carolla’s childhood.

As No Safe Spaces points out, tolerance for opposing views has not been the norm throughout human history, and the United States has its own checkered history with censorship. In 1835, for example, President Andrew Jackson banned the post office from delivering Abolitionist literature in the South. The ideal of a “marketplace of ideas” in which partisans respectfully debate opposing views and the best ideas win, is an ideal worth defending and promoting.

Predictably, critics hated this film. It currently has a 31 Metascore based on five reviews and a 53% critic rating on RottenTomatoes (as opposed to a 98% audience rating).

In my opinion, it’s important for audiences to be aware of what’s happening on college campuses and for this free speech argument to be heard, but as a film, No Safe Spaces comes up short. It features many low-quality clips from other interviews and YouTube channels, and its original content wastes vital minutes on Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager’s personal stories. It is, however, a good starting point for anyone concerned about the future of free discussion in the United States.

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