In a recent Chicago Sun Times blog post film reviewer & professional crank Roger Ebert came out as a proud, 30-year sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous: blogs.suntimes.com.

Let me get this out of the way early: serenity is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of the guy who for nearly a decade had the most caustic, often personally insulting arguments about movies with Gene Siskel broadcast to millions & is the author of “Your Movie Sucks” & “I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie”.

True to form, Ebert’s blog post singing the praises of AA — and his responses to the comments on his post — isn’t any less curmudgeonly.  Ebert’s right & you’re wrong, largely because … he says so.

To their credit, a number of anonymous commenters who are also obviously AA members take Ebert to task for the blatant violation of AA’s Tradition 11: “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.”  In a dubious & utterly unconvincing manner of trying to head this off at the pass, Ebert classifies his blog post as “… what A.A. calls a “12th step,” which means sharing the program with others. There’s a chance somebody will read this and take the steps toward sobriety.”  (For those of you who need a refresher on the 12 Traditions [like, say, Roger Ebert], see: www.serenityfound.org.)

That Ebert doesn’t see the inherent contradiction between his ’12th Step call’ on no one in particular (i.e., general proselytizing for AA via a mass medium) & the explicit language of the 11th Tradition is enough to elicit a knowing laugh from anyone who’s been through the 12X12 spin cycle & come out the other side (and believe me, Mr. Ebert, there’s a lot more of us than you’d care to acknowledge).  More importantly, though, it is an almost perfect example of AA’s (and when I use the term ‘AA’ I’m talking about the organization & its membership) solipsistic nature: Ebert’s post is subjective to the extreme — largely comprised of personal anecdote, verifiably false when it comes to matters of scientific measurement or historical factuality, & intolerant when it comes to outside criticism (when not willfully misleading on the subject).

Those interested in reading in its entirety Ebert’s pean to AA along with the slew of huzzahs either he or the Sun-Times moderators allowed to be published as ‘comments’ (a very suspiciously few negative comments were published — a pass through the AA-skeptical boards will reveal that quite a few were submitted) can use the link above to do so.  I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in suggesting that it’s nothing you haven’t heard or read before.  For all his erudition when it comes to critiquing film, Ebert shows the intellectual prowess of a fifth-grader when it comes to making a case for his beloved program.

What I’m going to address are some of the more egregious points in Ebert’s post & further commentary.  Trust me — there are plenty of them:

  1. Outside of his own blatant violation of AA’s Tradition 11, Ebert makes a ton of not-so-subtle hints about all the celebrity & semi-celebrity types that he’s been in good company with at meetings (e.g., the hilarious little anecdote about three members of a Chicago TV station 11:00 PM newscast being at a meeting causing a new-comer to state that he thought he was hallucinating; the meeting in London where Ebert heard “an Oscar-winning actor told his story.”); while Ebert doesn’t actually name names, something tells me it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out just whose these people are & Ebert knows that; worse, it’s almost as if he’s advertising AA meetings as places for hob-knobbing with famous & sort-of-famous people (like him); thanks, but I’ve seen Dr. Drew’s spectacularly televised failures & enough celebs here in the Big Apple to know they’re usually at least twice as fucked up & narcissistic as anybody else in the room
  2. “Don’t go if you don’t want to. It’s there if you need it. In most cities, there’s a meeting starting in an hour fairly close to you. It works for me. That’s all I know. I don’t want to argue with you about it (italics added).”  — that’s Ebert in paragraph 8; come paragraph 24, he’s changed his tune: “I find on YouTube that there are many videos attacking A.A. for being a cult, a religion, or a delusion. There are very few videos promoting A.A., although the program has many. [sic] many times more members than critics. A.A. has a saying: “We grow through attraction, not promotion.” If you want A.A., it is there. That’s how I feel. If you have problems with it, don’t come.”; huh, note to Roger Ebert: YouTube videos & the WWW are not AA meetings — they’re largely public forums; for a guy who’s found what works for him & doesn’t want to argue about it he sure seems awfully argumentative when it comes to critique of the program outside of AA; it gets worse …
  3. In the second quote above Ebert states without qualification: “… the program has many. [sic] many times more members than critics.”; does he substantiate this claim in any way?  not at all (of course, he IS Roger Ebert & he just knows stuff, right?); but even taking him at his word, AA’s own estimate numbers in the U.S. puts the membership at 1,248,394 (see: www.aa.org); let’s be generous & give Ebert the 2.4 million members (1990-91 numbers) he links to later in his post, then say that the ‘critics’ group is 1 percent of that figure (24,000); the population in the U.S. is 307,280,944 (see: www.census.gov) & if we use NCADD’s (AA’s very own medical front group) 1993 numbers 10.5% of “working” Americans are either alcoholic or alcohol abusers (see: www.enotalone.com); let’s say that puts us at between 15 – 20 million alcohol dependent or abusing American adults; that gives us 2.4 million AA members, 24,000 ‘critics’, 15 million (on the low end) alcoholics who would seemingly rather drink than go to AA, & more than 250 million people whose opinion might be something less than sympathetic (see below); and if you use AA’s own actual figures, the numbers become even less impressive; there may be a small (if increasingly vociferous) number of AA critics on the web right now, but there’s a chunk of the population who couldn’t give two shits about AA &, more importantly, another big chunk who are dubious about one of AA’s core tenets: “A series of recent surveys sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and by Faces and Voices of Recovery, a recovery advocacy group, found that half the public called addiction a personal weakness. Among those who did see addiction as a disease, most put it in a special category of diseases that people get by making poor choices” (see: www.jointogether.org); that doesn’t paint as rosy a picture for public support of AA as Ebert would like to suppose

It really does go on & on.  Tomorrow, I’ll try to wrap up this decidedly “thumbs down” review of Ebert’s AA-tastic blog post.