May 07, 2006

So Dark The Con of a Million Moviegoers

Cross posted from The American Princess.

Like that? Although we've got degrees in things that Dan Brown could only hope to plagarise effectively, we took a rare opportunity yesterday (and six hours of our life we will never get back) to re-read through the four-hundred page (now with pictures! Just in case those plot twists stolen from Mary Higgens Clark were too difficult for you to follow the first time) trade paperback in an effort to discover something about the faith we ascribe to and, in the end, came away thinking one very deep thought: there is really no telling the persuasive nature of stupid people in large groups.

The story is, truly, even worse than those novels that they sell at Target about the woman who has the cats that solve mysterious death scenarios. As far as mystery novels go, we've done a fair amount of Dashiell Hammet, and can't claim that this contributes much of anything to society other than a little revenue for Amazon. If you were looking for beach reading, and couldn't tote along those trashy romance novels since this is your first vacation with the fam and they aren't horribly proud of a daughter whose books feature half-naked Fabios, this is about the right level of intellectual involvment, with enough art, history, nudity and albino monks to keep you interested, but without all of that awful "thinking" stuff.

Granted, the DaVinci Code is the perfect storm of Borders bottom-line booster: it plays on deep-seeded prejudices in a weird Gangs of New York sort of way, combined with tidbits of information that could make you sound smart at a cocktail party, throw in that X-Files "gee, huge global organizations must have Really Big Secrets" mantra (and yes, we know of at least one Catholic, even, whose vision of Opus Dei is cleverly gleaned from the self-immolation scenes) and a little bit of gold-leafed rococo architecture-envy, and you have yourself a best-seller with fringe benefits for anyone in the last several decades who has written something based on shoddy Elaine Pagels research. Its like a 20/20 sweeps month special, only you have to read, so it sounds better--more educational. We, at least, found a bright side to Harry Potter: at least you could use Harry's exploits as a cleverly crafted metaphor for the culture war in all its institutional evil.

DaVinci? Not so much. Unless, of course, the publicity is spun the correct way.

Today Cardinal Arinze, a perpetual favorite around here, suggested something that we aren't so sure about. Legal action:

In the latest Vatican broadside against "The Da Vinci Code", a leading cardinal says Christians should respond to the book and film with legal action because both offend Christ and the Church he founded.

Cardinal Francis Arinze, a Nigerian who was considered a candidate for pope last year, made his strong comments in a documentary called "The Da Vinci Code-A Masterful Deception."

Arinze's appeal came some 10 days after another Vatican cardinal called for a boycott of the film. Both cardinals asserted that other religions would never stand for offences against their beliefs and that Christians should get tough.

"Christians must not just sit back and say it is enough for us to forgive and to forget," Arinze said in the documentary made by Rome film maker Mario Biasetti for Rome Reports, a Catholic film agency specializing in religious affairs.

Yes, this is practical, but its probably not a good course of action. In all its perverse populist nature, the DaVinci Code is harmful, and frankly defamatory; blaspheming Christ for the sake of book sales is explotative, its portrayal of Opus Dei is unavoidably disturbing (and Reuters never loses the opportunity to classify the organization as "controversial," though we hardly trust Reuters as a go-to resource on Catholicism. In the linked article, it repeatedly references Archbishop Angelo Amato as "Arinze's fellow Cardinal") and its an affront to a religion that, luckily for Dan Brown, does not declare fatwas. Using that as a basis, we assume that the legal claim would be something like slander and libel, religious freedom, and possibly an amorphous international human rights claim based on the UN Charter goals, etc.

The public relations from a lawsuit, though, would benefit Sony Pictures, whose movie is already being marketed as "at the center of a controversy;" its a clever way of selling your product, telling those who might not otherwise buy it that someone, somewhere is so threatened by it that they want to make sure its banned for life. Its worked for Hustler for years; despite the fact that Larry Flynt puts out a sub-standard product compared to its competitors, for some reason, he still sells subscriptions to millions of fifteen year-olds who hide it between their mattresses. When someone tells you not to touch, you feel an irresistible urge, and those with the same predilection for trash mystery fiction are going to feel that urge and act on it with unbridled fury.

We're far more inclined to, from a public relations perspective, go with the British analysis.

The signatories include monks, nuns, theologians and members of the Opus Dei group, which is pilloried in the book....

"We are not calling for boycotts or protests. Our view is that it is up to people to decide if they want to see the film," Ivereigh told Reuters. But he said the film-makers should have made clear the plot is fiction, not fact....

"The danger is that by appearing threatened we give the book and the film the theological credence it doesn't have," Ivereigh said.

He who controls the story controls the spin.

Sony is laughing all the way to the bank, the Oscars and the Palm d'Orr, so there are two ways to view the movie: as the worst think that has ever happened to the Church, or the best thing that has ever happened to recruitment. There is no such thing, in the entertainment industry, as bad publicty. If they spell the name right, and they hoi-polloi come knocking, is there any better way to spread the message? Its a foot in the door. Certainly, their applicaitions to Opus Dei will be made with an interest in being trained as a clandestine assassin, but we were persuaded back to the Catholic faith with garage sale religious kitch and a copy of Siddhartha. With conversion experiences, you just can never quite know.

There is little reason to doubt that the moviegoing population will probably enjoy the hell out of themselves but, then again, as the movie review site Pajiba is want to say, how hard is it to impress people who've grown up on "Baby Einstein" videos and music television? Anything approaching coherence probably blows their mind anyway; after all, for an audience stuck somewhere between Piaget’s third stage of development and gratuitous celebrity worship, hopped up on Icees and Gummy Bears, simple logic and chronology has got to be like cinematic Ritalin, funneling their concentrative powers into cleverly-designed product placement.

Its worth it if somehow, somewhere, it leads to a little bit of Jesus, even if we mean that in the most detached, ironic sort of way. People will see stupid movies, and read crap fiction, the least the Church could do is use it as a building block.

Posted by E. M. Zanotti at May 7, 2006 05:47 PM | TrackBack

I thinks that's the best piece I've read on this whole stupid thing so far.

People don't want to think, that's for sure, which makes books like this so popular - Dan Brown does all the thinking for you!

Posted by: Victoria at May 7, 2006 10:13 PM

Its not as harmful as it might seem. The group of people who would actually believe anything in that film is the group who will believe absolutly anything. The same people who suspect a government conspiricy to cover-up the Roswell alien-ship crash. With the attention span, they wont be doing much. And with their memory capacity, six months later their recollection will be reduced to just a few vague events.

I know idiots. They are only harmful in large numbers. And the intersection of the set of people who will watch the film, the set who are gullable enough to think it has any truth in it, and the set who are easily triggered into a mini-holy-war is small.

Posted by: Suricou Raven at May 8, 2006 06:17 AM

I am awaiting the movie version of Northern Lights - I understand quite the opposite of DVC has happened there. In an attempt to *avoid* contriversy, the writers were told that they must remove certian anti-religious elements that were present in the book in order to avoid offending the audience and, worse, triggering mass condemnation by churches. But... take the parallel-universe theology from Northern Lights, and what is left? Bad guys who like to conduct unethical experiements on children just because its fun?

(If you havn't read the book, do so. Its not anti-religious at all really. Its just that the baddies have a vaguely religious motivation, based on an alternate-reality version of origional sin.)

Posted by: Suricou Raven at May 8, 2006 06:24 AM

I'm going to have to check out Northern Lights. I've heard of it vaguely in passing.

The intersection of people should be interesting. I live in a Catholic mini-universe. I'm thinking that theyre going to have an interesting reaction.

Posted by: E.M. at May 8, 2006 08:49 AM

You should. Its a good book. I was much younger (15?) when I read it, so much of the religious element went over my head the first time. I picked it up on later re-readings.

Pullman has said in interviews that he wanted to use the book as a warning against organisations that think for their members, be they political, religious or social. Still, the fictional (Well, as an atheist, I must add a 'more so than usual' qualifier :)) theology is very interesting, and the whole universe of it completly absorbing.

I dont see why anyone could consider it anti-religion or anti-christian. Other, of course, than a few fundamentalists who also think Harry Potter is part of a satanic conspiricy. Unlike DVC, there is no pretense that it is anything other than a work of pure fiction. And a very good one too.

Posted by: Suricou Raven at May 8, 2006 05:54 PM

I sure hope the Brits are right, since a non-boycott is exactly what seems to have happened.

However, I wonder if this may be similar to what German Jews could have been saying in 1933. "Hitler? No, don't attack his lies. It'll only give him more publicity than he's gotten already. If anyone asks, just smile and express surprise that anyone could take his rantings seriously. And what harm could he do, really? He's just a politician."

Posted by: Bob at May 22, 2006 08:30 PM

I think celebrat-jesus and breeding-jesus christianity are equivilent really... its such a minor point, it doesn't make any great difference. They still preech the same values, have the same goals.

Posted by: Suricou Raven at May 23, 2006 10:30 AM

Actually, thats the one argument that kills your point. Although "Christianity" may exist in this form, much of Catholicism relies on the celebrant philosophy. That is what the DaVinci code specifically attacks.

Posted by: E.M. at May 23, 2006 10:34 AM