There was all this complexity that we couldn’t ignore

Monday, October 21st, 2019

Patricia Marcoccia and Maziar Ghaderi decided to make The Rise of Jordan Peterson before he became controversial:

She’d become interested in his work while she was a college student studying psychology at McMaster University back in the early 2000s. “I found his work on the psychology of meaning very impactful,” she explains. “And I knew he was having a big impact on his students over in Toronto, too.” After graduating and shifting her focus to journalism and film, she decided that she wanted to make Peterson the focus of her first independent feature. She approached him about it in 2015.

After learning more about Peterson’s personal life, Marcoccia decided to focus on his friendship with Charles Joseph, an accomplished third-generation Kwakwaka’wakw carver/artist. A year-and-a-half into that project, she awoke one morning to find that Peterson had posted “Professor Against Political Correctness” on YouTube and that all hell had broken loose. “The video was a total surprise to me. I had no idea it was coming,” she says. “I’d been filming conversations about dreams, Charles carving masks and totem poles, and a sacred potlatch ceremony” — Peterson and his family were at the time immersed in a very involved process of being ceremonially inducted into Joseph’s extended family — “and all of a sudden, there was all this conflict and controversy.”

After a few weeks, Marcoccia decided that she needed to change the focus of her film, and follow the rapidly developing story on which, unexpectedly, she had a uniquely privileged perspective. At the time, neither she nor her husband, a multimedia artist who was now working with her on the film, felt particularly happy about this switch. “This wasn’t the ambulance we would have been chasing” had circumstances been different, she explains. “We didn’t feel comfortable dealing with the ‘free speech versus transphobe’ controversy. But we also didn’t see walking away as an option. You need to follow a film where it takes you.”

“There was so much of this culture war stuff that we didn’t understand,” Ghaderi reflects. Personally and professionally immersed in the left-leaning worlds of art, film, and theater, working with his wife on the documentary when everything “suddenly blew up” was “confusing.” Marcoccia and Ghaderi agreed that if they hadn’t known Peterson and his work personally, and had only read about him in the media outlets they normally digested, they would have most likely been swept up in the anti-Peterson sentiment that dominated their milieu. Instead, they became hyper-aware that “there was all this complexity that we couldn’t ignore.”

Marcoccia and Ghaderi watched — and filmed — as activists, journalists, bloggers, fans, and even their close friends, rather than acknowledging this complexity, turned Peterson into a dichotomous “messiah/devil” icon. “There are right-wing opportunists who want to use Jordan for their own political ends,” Ghaderi notes. “There are people who want to use him to fill the gap of not having a father. There are the Antifa types who condemn him while they’re wearing a mask. It’s the media — journalists, writers, bloggers — that create Jordan’s persona.” The film’s official poster symbolically illustrates that these many competing forces collude to create a false image of the man they’ve come to know.

If the respect that the Marcoccia and Ghaderi have for Peterson is obvious, it’s also unexceptional. That respect extends to all their subjects, including a trans activist who criticizes them for making the film at all. As their website explains, they named their company “Holding Space Films” because the concept of holding space “is central to the filmmaking process”:

To hold space for someone is to metaphorically walk with them amidst their experience using genuine presence and deep listening to enable authenticity to emerge.

Rather than sorting their interviewees into partisan boxes, the filmmakers engage sympathetically with the multidimensional complexity of everyone involved. The consistency of Marcoccia and Ghaderi’s method constitutes a critical theme throughout the film. It’s what enables the (open minded) viewer to experience the nuances under investigation as thought provoking, rather than merely confusing. The people, issues, and events may sometimes be abstruse, but the unpretentious clarity of the filmmakers’ method results in a film that is intelligible, accessible, engaging, and coherent.

It’s important to note that “holding space” in the sense Marcoccia and Ghaderi mean it is difficult. It’s not easy to remain steady in the midst of intense conflict, and listen to the different sides involved with curiosity, empathy, and respect — let alone capture that in a 90-minute film. That they have largely succeeded is a significant accomplishment; one that’s much needed and all too rare. It requires a disciplined commitment to a deeply humane sensibility, an ethos that is widely misunderstood and ignored, if not denigrated and attacked today.

Naturally, it’s being shut out of independent and arthouse cinemas.


  1. Kirk says:


    Yeah, that just loses me, right there. I can’t take anything seriously that someone says after using that made-up word in a sentence. Sure, illiterates have been using it since the 1960s, but it was stupid then, and it’s stupid now.

    Purest jargon-speak. When you resort to it, using buzzwords to talk about important issues, everything you say is essentially invalidated for every other literate being hearing your painful BS. People who speak and write like this are why I can’t tolerate corporate America, and are symptoms of the education apocalypse we’re undergoing. It’s going to end in pictographs and grunts…

  2. Christopher says:

    Sounds like you’ve been triggered Kirk.

    Are you sure “impactful” is not like “problematic”? (which turns out to have been amply used, in the non-math sense, all the way back to the 1600s, including by Coleridge and Bronte in the 1800s.)

    Today’s degradation of language and literacy is a fact, but so is the degradation of civility and charity.

    Beware being counter-signaled away from the truth, or agitated by things we should expect. You may acquire so many shibboleths that you have adopted their politically correct attitude, the war of all against all, the personal is the political. Your controlled outrage is part of the system.

  3. Kirk says:

    Know them by their works…

    Every single person I’ve ever heard use that word in a sentence without deliberate sarcasm aforethought has been a mindless drone with little or nothing to contribute to any conversation they were engaged in.

    I don’t see much in that woman’s writing to change my opinion on that.

    Also… “Journalism and film…”. Choice of study subjects self-identifies her as an abject and irredeemable moron. Film. And, journalism… The last resorts of the intellectual flyweight, and general moron. I have yet to see the slightest sign of anything approaching erudition or wisdom from anyone pursuing or attaining educational certification in either of those laughable “disciplines”.

  4. Felix says:


    How ’bout a methodology that synergizes impactfulness? What wrong can you find in that?

  5. Kirk says:

    Y’all are bound and determined to trigger my Tourette’s again, aren’t you?

    The therapy has been expensive, and it’s taken me quite some time to put all of my sensitivity to buzzfoolery behind me. You are setting my counseling back years, if not decades… Have you no decency?


  6. Harry Jones says:

    Gibberish sets off warning bells in my mind. It doesn’t trigger me, but it does arm me for detonation.

    A word like “impactful” makes me think of my wisdom teeth.

  7. Kirk says:

    Underneath it all is the recognition that bafflegab almost always means that the person or institution using it to obfuscate their innate inability to grasp the reality of what they are discussing, or to do anything effective about it.

    Sometimes, specialized language means that a field or profession possesses such innate esoterica that you can’t seriously work in it without that vocabulary. When that is the case, the terminology arises organically from the practitioners. It’s a bottom-up affair, usually quirky and humorous. Examples might be the way physicists named the various sub-atomic particles and their characteristics.

    When a jargon is top-down imposed by “great thinkers” in a subject area, nine times out of ten, the terminology is sheerest BS, created out of thin air to discuss matters those supposed “experts” have also conjured out of thin air, and which they only vaguely misunderstand. The jargon is a sign and representation that they’re essentially clueless about much of what they’re talking about, because they’re actively trying to (either consciously or unconsciously) camouflage their ignorance and sloppy thinking as they speak their cant and gibberish.

    Confucius and the 13th Analect come to mind. It’s amazing how that part of his work resonates today, and through the ages. It’s almost like it is ancient wisdom, or something…

  8. Graham says:


    Was that the Rectification of Names? I used to have an excerpt on the office wall right next to a couple of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons making related points.

    One of them was one in which Calvin decided to take up the practice of “verbing” everything, and concluded that “verbing weirds language”.

    The other was one in which he preached to Hobbes the virtues of using words to obscure and ultimately eliminate meaning. His book report was called “The Dynamics of Interbeing and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study of Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes.”

    Putting this stuff on the wall at work is probably a step short of a hate crime now.

    A quick google [heh] brings it up:

    The other one…0.0..0.236.1290.0j5j2……0….1..gws-wiz-img.jq5SQ5cPzGc&ved=0ahUKEwiOpvTlyLLlAhXyY98KHYdbBPcQ4dUDCAc&uact=5

  9. Graham says:

    Also, I’ve noticed that progressives [and some who might not embrace that term or all the values involved] spend a lot of time blathering about complexity.

    A year or so ago I actually saw, for the first time, someone attack Alexander the Great for hacking the Gordian Knot with his sword, until now a universal metaphor for cutting through bullshit, but for this author a failure to understand the “complexities” of Asia. I think that whatever else might be said of him, he wasn’t brought short by those complexities but rather used them to his advantage. Dude convinced the Egyptians he was a god, the Persians to make him the heir of Cyrus the Great, and so on. He knew how to use the complexities.

    But I digress. All this progressive guff about complexity, and here these filmmakers keep stressing how surprised they are to find complexity, in the tone of entomologists studing an ant colony. They’re always surprised when they actually see it.

  10. Kirk says:


    Yes, that’s the “Rectification of Names”, which is quite the most dense little bit of “ye olde anciente wisdome” I have ever encountered. It applies to so much–Buzzword bingo in managerial fads, self-knowledge, identification of bad ideas espoused by others…

    I’m not a very smart man, but when I read that for about the fifteenth time, it finally clicked with me what it was trying to say. It was couched in terms of simplistic wisdom appropriate to a pre-Industrial Age totalitarian state, but you could hear the dulcet tones of the mind behind it, ringing like a bell in the distance of some icy fall morning.

    There’s a lot of the world and how we deal with it encapsulated in that little Analect. More people should read it, and recognize the wisdom of calling a spade a spade, instead of trying to come up with new ways of mangling the language to call it something like an earth-moving hand-held cultivation utensil.

  11. Harry Jones says:

    Complexity is just a word for things we don’t understand.

    Those who choose to understand nothing will always talk about complexity. Those who think they understand everything will always talk about how it’s all so simple. Those who actually understand will say nothing, but simply draw sword and cut the knot. Proof by demonstration.

    Those who admit to themselves that they don’t understand a thing will say and do nothing, but will watch intently in case someone else knows what to do.

    When I was young and search of answers, I looked to others to tell me what I needed to know. When I realized their advice was worthless, I resolved to ask only for specific information, and to piece together my own answers from the data. Along the way I discovered that everything’s simple until you realize you don’t understand it, then it’s complicated until you figure out how it actually works, and afterwards it’s all just attending to details.

  12. Graham says:


    Ahh, yes, the EHCU, Mark I.

    Harry Jones,

    That was a nice framework for understanding in its own right.

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