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Sodom: Review of a Russian anti-gay documentary

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On Tuesday, October 28, Peter LaBarbera re-entered Canada for an immigration hearing, then to speak at an anti-LGBT conference, and finally on Thursday to face charges for mischief (which stem from an arrest while distributing anti-LGBT leaflets at the University of Regina).

LaBarbera (nicknamed "Porno Pete" by bloggers because of his penchant for filming pride parades and gay BDSM events in the name of "research") has returned to Canada at the invitation of Bill "Anal Warts" Whatcott (so nicknamed because of his fondness for distributing graphic depictions of anal cancers and other deliberate shock leaflets).

LaBarbera was briefly detained, searched and questioned by Canada Border Services -- or as American social conservatives call it, persecuted by "homofascists." In the process, though, border services did seize a DVD copy of the Russian anti-LGBT documentary, Sodom. As the film is available to view in English on YouTube, LaBarbera and Whatcott proceeded to show it at their conference, anyway. 

Personally, I'm not a fan of censorship. I realize there has to be a limit to propriety, and not just when someone advocates for mass-murder. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion didn't actually call for Jews to be put to death, for example, but it created such an inflammatory environment that violence became inevitable.

But given that LGBT people are just as at risk of being silenced in the name of propriety (maybe even for giving people snarky nicknames), I'm still not keen on censorship. Part of the whole reason for LaBarbera's visit is to strategize about how to bring about a Russian-style "gay propaganda" ban in Canada, after all.

So, I still prefer to let people speak freely, and once they've had enough rope, show people what they've done with it.  And in that vein, I bring you:

Sodom: The Review

And yes, it will be triggery.

 

 

Sodom first aired on Russia's government-funded Rossiya-1 station in September. It presents itself as a sensational expose* of the sinister gay rights plot to forcibly transform society into one that accepts any and all evil, while eradicating truth, freedom, religion and decency.

You might think I'm exaggerating, but I'm not. Sodom was originally filmed and written for a Russian audience that had already been scared into an anti-LGBT frenzy resulting in incidents of violence noted worldwide. This furor was accomplished by speakers like Scott Lively (who appears many times in the film), who conflated LGBT people with pedophiles, and claimed that the Nazi party started out as a gay plot.  Lively's activism resulted in a ban on "gay propaganda," which is essentially anything that can be seen as LGBT-positive (or perhaps even acknowledge their existence in a non-condemning way), in any environment where children might hear or see it. In this context, Sodom is able to fearmonger unchallenged, and get away with all sorts of wild claims. In Russia, the film received high ratings and was critically acclaimed.

But it's a bit different for a Canadian audience: people who have coped with LGB(t) human rights for over a decade and lived with same-sex marriage since 2006 without descending into a stylish shock-troop cavalcade. Canadians largely (with exceptions) didn't mind having to coexist with LGBT people or do business with them in the past few years... although that's starting to change now that Americans are framing it as a violation of principle that's going to send them (and all society) to eternal damnation.

But belief is a powerful persuader, which can goad the faithful into ignoring all evidence and reason, in favour of conjectures, no matter how grand. Although I refuse to dignify far right homophobia and transphobia as being a "Christian" perspective (because certainly not all Christians espouse it), it should be recognized that leaders like LaBarbera and Whatcott still manage to frame it as such, and that can have a strong influence on people who view it as their duty to believe. Those people don't have to question God if they don't want to... but they should most certainly question the people who claim to be speaking for him.

I don't speak Russian, so I can't say how much of the English translation of Sodom was polished up for a Western audience. I am under the impression that very little was changed, if anything. Which is surprising, because if any film needed to sweep its extremes under the translation rug, it was this one.

Sodom's producer, Arkady Mamontov, previously gained notice for implying that LGBT rights caused the Chelyabinsk meteorite explosion. He hasn't stopped seeing queer-caused calamities since then. In Sodom, Mamontov makes several weird or inflammatory claims:

    -- LGBT people are repeatedly conflated with pedophiles within the film, and homosexuality is claimed to be inextricably interwoven with child molestation. There is a suggestive undercurrent of this throughout the film, nudge-nudge-wink-wink, but at times, the narrator is also far more explicit.

    -- "Sodomites pay attention to mysticism and different symbols," we are told. With jump-cuts of historical artworks and occasional allusions to rites, the film tries to artfully connect LGBT people to devil worship without actually saying it out loud.  Because that is apparently seen by the filmmakers as the limit of believability.

    -- LGBT people are said to have conspired to rewrite the Bible, in order to make scripture accommodate them (rather than simply critically re-examining the clobber passages). In the western world, apparently everyone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans* (LGBT) owns a copy of the Queen James Bible.

    Language is crucial in Sodom. It's quite clear that the film translators much prefer the term "sodomites" to describe LGBT people. It ties into the title of the film, and is keyed to keep the focus on sex acts in the hope that doing so will make viewers uncomfortable or outraged. Likewise, trans* people are referred to as "transvestites," lesbians referred to as belonging "to a new sex tribe," and when all else fails, "perverts" will suffice. The idea of "mama and mama" is made to seem puzzling, bizarre, disgusting and scandalous. 

    In the early scenes of the film, Scott Lively explains that Russia is at the first stage of gay activism: "Well, let me explain how this works. There is a five-stage process of cultural conquest. Five steps. It begins with a request for tolerance. Once the gays have achieved tolerance -- and tolerance is just the right to be left alone -- then it's a demand for acceptance, and acceptance means equal status. Then comes celebration -- that everyone must accept homosexuality and promote it as a good, valuable thing.  Then comes forced participation: everyone must participate in gay culture. And then comes punishment of everyone who disagrees." LGBT people must not be even tolerated, he argues, because that's the first step that leads to everything else.

    "The average American is not in favor of homosexuality," Lively claims. "But they are afraid to speak publicly about it, because the gays have so much power and they can do harm to those people. Most people are vulnerable to some sort of intimidation, especially if they are in any position of influence, or in the media spotlight." Lively welcomes the initial nod of an agreeing taxi driver as evidence... though the driver later seems to change his mind and want to be left out of the discussion ("no, no") but is creatively edited to appear as though he's simply gesticulating. Moments later, in front of the office building occupied by the LGBT establishment organization, Human Rights Campaign, Lively says "they are trying to declare that homosexuality is a human right. And they're devoting massive amounts of money to promoting this agenda around the world, instead of addressing genuine human rights." The HRC is apparently such a monolithic fundraiser that poor, underfunded churches can't keep up the opposition.

    Next, the film makes a stop at London's Tavistock Institute of Human Intelligence, which during World War II was exploring "new methods of psychological war, not only against fascist Germany, but also the Soviet Union." Tavistock is said to have conspired with the CIA to create the MKULTRA project, for the purpose of manipulating people. While Canadians may see this as an aside, to a Russian audience, the suggestion is planted that England is still engaging in psychological warfare against them today. Naturally, the producers find someone "who knows a lot about this" apparently super-secretive institution, Daniel Estulin, who claims that the Tavistock Institute "is the place which created and later imposed on the consciousness of European youth such cultural accents as 'free love,' orgy, and civil marriage." 

    MKULTRA did indeed experiment with hypnosis, behaviour modification, physical and sexual abuse, LSD, and sensory deprivation. There have also long been claims that Tavistock contributed to the program.  But in Estulin's estimation, MKULTRA was really a "fifty- or hundred-year plan" to normalize homosexuality and sexual liberation, "literally to change the paradigm of modern society."  The film also alleges that "the psychological components of the Ukrainian Revolution -- chants, behaviour models, slogans -- were also created here." Estulin cautions that the endgame is "genetic manipulation to eliminate memory," and warns that after lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans* people are accorded equality, "... then you can have transhuman. You can have post-human. You can have man-machines, such as the Terminator. You can have cyborgs. You can have beings that are not totally human as a result of synthetic biology, because today you can literally create a human being in a laboratory." And frighteningly enough, I guess, they might all want human rights.

    The filmmakers also pay a trip to The Fertility Institutes in Los Angeles, where the segment opens with the clinic doctor bragging that they've become world-famous for being able to choose a boy or a girl. Here, they examine LGBT parenting by taking viewers through the clinical process of in-vitro fertilization, complete with ominous music, in a way that is meant to create a chill over the cold sterility of the process.  They make repetitive claims that gays always want boys and lesbians always want girls (and of course, there could be no alternate explanation for that, nudge-nudge-wink-wink): "Green is genetic disorders, like Down's Syndrome, or they have a genetic problem. Okay? But most of them have boys and girls.  The male gays want boys, and the female gays want girls," the clinician generalizes with a large grin that is lingered on, suggestively.

    There is ample film time spent on Pride parades, as the film editors cut in every example of nudity or garish costumes that they can find, interspersed with footage of kids and teens in attendance. BDSM folks turn up frequently, and some of the footage looks like it actually comes from the Folsom Street Fair, in a way that makes one wonder if Porno Peter LaBarbera was behind the camera (alas, I can't find the film credits, or I'd check). "Aren't you afraid your child would want to become like them?" The narrator asks one parade onlooker, being careful to stay within the perception of choice and whim, and avoid any thought that sexuality could be something intrinsic and individually-rooted. "Naw," is the reply, "we actually want to encourage him to see everything, everything in the world..."

    "Sodomites unconsciously understand that what they are doing is wrong," the narrator assures us, as the camera searches the crowd for any expressions that could seem sad, scared, or otherwise negative.  "However, on the surface, everyone makes an effort to express joy," he adds, coming up short of appropriate footage and needing an explanation. Then, they do their level best to depict children of LGBT people as unhappy, ashamed or even terrorized... rather than simply intimidated by being in a large crowd with so much activity taking place. "The child's soul feels that everything around them contradicts nature's law."

    Surrogacy is the next focus of attention. Remember that Russia is currently debating banning out-of-country adoptions and / or adoptions by LGBT parents. "Where there is no woman," the narrator asserts, "there is no continuation of life. But sodomites try to bypass the laws of nature.  Large sums of money are spent on exactly this: mother-mother, father father." At this point in the film, IVF and surrogacy are both portrayed as human trafficking. "The sodomites have paid for and received living goods for their money." The film returns to the assertion that gay parents want only boys, and lesbians want only girls: "for what?  Perverted acts?" Naturally, a pair of men in New Zealand that subjected their adopted child to heinous abuse and were convicted of molestation are now given ample screen time, and portrayed as evidence that this is the norm. They allege by extension that all children of LGBT parents are brainwashed into covering up abuse and "to think that this sort of behaviour was acceptable." The surrogate mother in this case had been Russian: the intended lesson is clearly that western LGBT people are taking advantage of Russian mothers to provide exploitable children through adoption. IVF is even framed as a genocide in which one child is created but many others are destroyed. "It's an unnatural process."

    Sodom also takes aim at a lawsuit against a florist, Baronelle Stutzman, who refused to sell flowers to an LGBT couple. Because of the gay mens' intolerance and ignorance, we are told, Stutzman is likely to lose her house and her business. Viewers are manipulated into tears and rage at the thought that the special right to have equal access to goods and services has trumped the perfectly ordinary, everyday, sensible right to deny someone else exactly those things. "But why are the rights of all the other people violated in the light of the first?" the narrator later asks.

    There is an undercurrent of discussion about neocolonialism that infuses the film -- or more honestly, one that hijacks the discussion of neocolonialism. There are plenty of examples of anti-LGBT conferences and meetings with religious and political leaders by people like Scott Lively, and it is actually American groups' homophobia that has been trying to change Asian, European and African nations through fearmongering and lobbying. But the film reverses this so that the American government is portrayed as deliberately promoting homosexuality around the planet, "as plague, as cancer." Yet corporate globalization, militaristic interference, and widespread espionage are not identified as colonial problems... only homosexuality. One Moldovan political leader relates how his attempts to ban a pride parade resulted in a stern talking-to from an American-connected diplomat. How fascist.

    Later in the film, prison rape takes centre stage, with abuses in Gldanskaya (a Georgian prison) that are claimed to have been directed by an American puppet dictator and inspired by Abu Ghraib. The abuses are portrayed as a deliberate attempt to spread homosexuality through non-consensual torture. "There was one goal: to break, diminish and humiliate." They later add, "the same thing awaits people who aren't accordant with the regime in Ukraine. The pro-American regime will use the same methods in jails and prisons. There are currently thousands imprisoned from Kiev to Odessa, and only God knows what is being done to them."

    As the film winds to its conclusion, it presents Russia's law banning "gay propaganda" as the solution, warning that any insufficiently condemning representation of LGBT people is dangerous. Father Mikhail, prior of the Saint Georgiy temple in Tblisi explains: "Everything begins with a harmless character in a movie or a sitcom.  This man is obviously homosexual, but he is funny, witty, and then it stops. He disappears. Then another film, then a few more. It's like a poison in small doses. It won't do anything to you right away. But with time it gets bigger and stronger, and the tolerance of the system weakens, accepting it more and more each time." It underscores Father Mikhail's point with visions of HIV and gay BDSM.  "Russia occupies one of the leading positions" in restoring order, the narrator says. "The law banning gay propaganda, a return to traditional values, and the strengthening of the faith of the nation... all this postpones the end of times."

    What separates Sodom from something like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (aside from the choice of minority group that is targeted) in a place like Canada is the context. Here, everyone has a friend, or a family member, or a co-worker who is gay or lesbian, or bisexual, or trans*. There is a familiarity that is comfortable. There are certainly people who are closed-minded to LGBT rights, or are susceptible to a feeling of culture shock at social change, or don't know (or don't care to know) any of the issues LGBT people face... but for the most part, Canadians recognize people as people, and don't feel all that threatened when those people fail to adhere to rigid cultural hegemonic expectations. 

    The situation is far different in Russia. Fewer people know LGBT persons, and with the "gay propaganda" law and potential for violence driving them further into the closet, the next generation is far less likely to have any familiarity with them.  In this environment, Sodom is a tinderbox, ready to ignite. In this context, Sodom cannot help but trigger violence and rage. There isn't even the usual lip service to loving the sinner but hating the sin.

    LaBarbera and Scott Lively have formed the Coalition for Family Values specifically for the purpose of bringing Russia-inspired laws banning gay "propaganda" to western nations:

    "The Coalition for Family Values will be encouraging our current and future affiliates throughout the world to lobby their own governments to follow the Russian example. While the LGBT agenda has seemed like an unstoppable political juggernaut in North America and Europe, the vast majority of the people of the world do not accept the notion that sexual deviance should be normalized. It is time that these voices are heard on the world stage before the so-called elites of the Western powers impose their inverted morality on everyone through the manipulation of international law, which they clearly intend to do..."

    And that starts with eliminating LGBT-positive portrayals and human rights protections. But they'll have the public believe that they are the true victims of a colonial and fascist agenda.

    So now you know.

    (Crossposted to The Bilerico Project and DentedBlueMercedes)

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