Jordan Peterson and the Surrender of the Cultural Gatekeepers
What a new documentary about the controversial professor tells us about the state of the arts
On a recent Sunday evening I squeezed into a tiny movie theater tucked inside a residential neighborhood in Brooklyn to see a documentary film. The space was a bit musty and the radiator was spitting out too much heat, but there was something delightfully retro about it, right down to the occasional technical glitch with the film. If I hadn’t known better, I might have thought I was back in college, watching films like Godard’s Alphaville and F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu on 16-millimeter projectors that were forever breaking down or slipping out of focus.
The reason for the random location was that back in October, another Brooklyn venue cancelled — with mere hours notice — the second of two screenings of the same film. That might seem strange, considering that the previous showing had attracted a sold-out crowd, but the subject of the film was Jordan Peterson, the controversial Canadian psychologist-turned-guru and philosopher. Though there was no sign of audience distress during the film, some of the venue’s staffers said they had felt uncomfortable while watching it. So their boss called off the show.
The Rise of Jordan Peterson has become a prime example of the same kind of distortions and informational silo-ing that fuels the discussion around its cantankerous subject.
The Rise of Jordan Peterson, the debut feature by Toronto-based filmmaker Patricia Marcoccia, officially premiered in September. But its rollout has happened in fits and starts, mostly because the deeply polarizing nature of its subject has made theaters reluctant to show it. Peterson had a long career as a relatively obscure academic until a few years ago, when he became hugely popular for sometimes troubling reasons. In 2016, he posted a YouTube video in which he explained his opposition to a parliamentary bill that he said could potentially punish people who refuse to use gender neutral pronouns like “ze” and “zir” or the singular “they.” The video went viral and made…