My most recent film review at the Independent Institute blog examines the free speech message at the core of the documentary Can We Take A Joke? The film was released in 2016, and its content focuses on comedians who have experienced an unexpected increase in attacks on free speech on college campuses and elsewhere. This wave was on full display recently at Middlebury College where a contrarian scholar was physically attacked for his views by protesters.
This is a disturbing trend. Free speech used to be a sacred principle of American public discourse and democratic engagement.
In my review, I ask whether this film forewarned of an escalation in these attacks and perhaps even anticipated the physical violence recently displayed against influential libertarian scholar Charles Murray at Middlebury College. I write in part:
Can We Take A Joke? uses the real-world experiences of these mostly liberal comedians to show the rise of intolerance against non–politically correct social commentary. Comedians are the proverbial canary in the coal mine, typically among the first wave of victims of intolerance or government oppression. This is because they are often on the front lines of social commentary and social change, as Brookings Institution scholar Jonathan Rauch points out in the film.
Documentary films are at their best when they provoke public discussion on important issues of the day. I think Can We Take A Joke? can achieve this objective on what used to be a sacred principle of American democracy and public discourse.