Thursday, July 21, 2005

Is the "Passion-Effect" continuing?

“[The clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man” -- Thomas Jefferson, Sept. 23 1800.

You may have been able to expunge it from your memory, but you may recall that the big "hoped-for" impact of Mel Gibson's religious-fundamentalist (and, in my view, nominally anti-semetic) torture-porn epic "The Passion of The Christ" from it's most fervent supporters was that it would "prove" to Hollywood the existence of a massive Christian-hardline audience and that more of the overall film output would begin to be catered to them. As you may have guessed, in my opinion there's already too much influence by extreme-religiousity on American culture, so this is was a concern of mine as well.

While it's not only true but also grossly-underreported that the majority of American faithful are good and decent people, the same cannot be said for the vast majority of faith-based leaders, lobbyists and special-interest groups; which were of course the very machines propping up "their" manufactured hit in "The Passion." Most such groups are pushing not for faith and/or "morality" but instead for political agendas in the anti-freedom vein. Also, their usual reccomendations for "improving" Hollywood product: purging out curse words, nudity, sex; inserting cloying moral messages, using film to prop up their belief to the exclusion of all others, etc., would result in movies that really really really SUCK. Which is the real problem.

I was sort of hoping that the failure of Hollywood to bow before the pressure and shower "Passion" with undeserved accolades in the awards season would be the end of the dream, at least in large part. But now comes this story from Sharon Waxman of the New York Times, laying out the apparent rumblings of a movement towards, if not the "Christianizing" of the U.S. film industry, at least a troubling development to those of us who truly value freedom (they once called us "Americans") and have the historical acumen to recall what becomes of freedom when the type of religiousity espoused by the Passionistas becomes any kind of formidable cultural force.

Here's Waxman's original peice, courtesy the NYT by way of the International Herald Tribune:
http://www.iht.com/articles/2005/07/19/business/christians.php

As my feelings about such have likely come up before, I'll just say for the record that YES, it does in fact bug me to be quoting the NYT for this. If I want to read DNC talking points, I'll just read DNC talking points is the usual extent of my "use" for said newspaper, but this time around Waxman's peice is stocked by a good deal of quotes and free from much editorializing, so I'll let it aboard.

From the article:
"Mel Gibson did us a service," said Bob Waliszewski, a media specialist with Focus on the Family"

Focus on The Family is a militantly anti-choice, anti-gay rights organization, fronted by anti-freedom juggernaut Dr. James Dobson. Just thought I'd bring that up. Here's their website, be forewarned about the vitriol of some of the content:
http://www.family.org/

The article then segues into a discussion of the biggest publicity "coup" for this so-called movmement: Disney's very public wooing of marketing firms aimed at mollifying the evangelical audience for "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The With & The Wardrobe."

"Paul Lauer, who on his Web site calls himself an expert in the "faith and family" market, has been hired to work on "The Chronicles of Narnia," based on the C.S. Lewis literary fantasies, which Christian groups regard as an explicit allegory of Christ's Resurrection."

As I blogged before, thus far this has seemed to me to be a development that is a touch troubling in the overall but does not negatively reflect on the film proper at this time. Despite the creepiness of marketing a children's film in the same manner as the ghastly "Passion," a simple formulation thus far holds for me: The marketing is the marketing, and any niche you have to hit to sell the film should be considered. The problem with "Passion" in this case is that it actually was the creepshow propaganda it was often marketed to be. Thus far, I see no such indication from the makers of this film.

Now, I want something understood here: I don't have a big problem with fundamentalist Christians having movie marketing aimed at them. Hollywood exploits everyone else's hobbies and interests for marketing, so why shouldn't they have that "fun," too?

No, my issue is that films may be hurt and creativity stifled in an attempt to appeal to a market bloc that has not really been historically condusive to creative freedom. And that's where the worrisome stuff begins to creep up:

"In some cases, such customizing has meant sanding the edges off dialogue that might offend churchgoers."

Uh-oh.

And before anyone brings it up, YES I am equally offended when film dialogue gets a polish to avoid offending ANY special-interest group.

"For example, the actor Peter Sarsgaard, speaking at a tribute to his work during the Seattle Film Festival recently, said he was instructed to strike the word "Jesus" from his dialogue during shooting this year of the forthcoming Disney thriller "Flightplan."

I'm sorry, but that is simply total and utter CRAP. You cannot just yank every line that MIGHT offend someone, you'll be left with no lines.

"They said: 'You can't say that. You can't take the Lord's name in vain,"' Sarsgaard said he was told by the film's producers. He said he offered to say the line more reverently, but "they wouldn't buy it. I had to say 'shoot,' and that isn't as good."

"You can't take the Lord's name in vain????" This came from a film producer's mouth as an instruction to an actor? This is faith-based censorship of the worst kind, and the makers of this film should NOT have either stood for it or engaged in it. The makers of the film (which looks pretty awful anyway, no?) should hang their heads in shame for selling out the integrity of their art like this. Disgusting.

Still, the article isn't ALL bad news:

"There's definitely more of an awareness, but it's just another group to be marketed to, albeit a very strong one, with incredible grass-roots tentacles," said Russell Schwartz, president of theatrical marketing at New Line Cinema, a Time-Warner company."

That's what, in my estimation, the prevailing studio additude ought to be: It's fine to attend the party, just don't drink the Kool-Aid. Big applause to New Line Cinema.

And then there's always the issue of one of the more amusing bits of hypocritical behavior by the so-called "Christian-Right"... their often-noted warm relations to movie violence in spite of their often-noted dislike for movie sex:

"And just to complicate matters, a new study by a leading Hollywood marketing firm, MarketCast, suggested that not only do American Christians watch mainstream entertainment, but the most conservative among them are also drawn to violent fare."

Wow, didn't see that one coming, eh folks?

"What you find is that people with conservative religious doctrine are the most likely to see movies rated R for violence. If you compared it to liberals, it's a third more."

Hypocrisy, you say?? In a religious movement???

Ahem.

Now, lest some of you determine I'm unfairly focusing on "conservatives" here, let it be known I've got JUST as much disdain for anyone making anti-freedom waves on the "liberal" side.

For example, they don't come much more "liberal" than Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has embarked on a crusade to bring down the hammer of the FCC on the video game industry:
http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/nation/3267154

"Clinton compared the sale of violent and pornographic video games to that of alcohol and tobacco and said it was time for a law "with real teeth."

Put aside any thoughts of the 2008 election or your own political preferences for a moment and ask yourself something: Can you fathom ANYTHING for anti-freedom or anti-artistic than this notion? That entirely subjective IDEAS might need to be regulated as "harmful" the way drugs or stimulants are? Think about it: Under that logic, ANY creation of art, literature, whatever, could be found "harmful" on unprovable illogical grounds and subject to government regulation. Does just the sound of that scare the bejesus out of anyone but me? Just asking...

Of course, this is largely a ploy on Clinton's part. She's running (yes, I know what she's said and I don't care trust me she's running) for the 08 presidential nomination of her party, and she knows she needs to woo "moderates" to do so. And "moderates" can be most effectively wooed by Hillary trying to look "traditional" on social issues.

So she's picked up the pro-censorship flag, which makes sense for two reasons: It'll WORK (no modern myth terrifies the weak-minded more than the idea of GTA turning their lil' precious into a Columbine killer) and it still fits in the perameters of her actual politics ("it needs more government regulation" being the default-position for Senate Democrats on just about everything, after all.)

Not that I was ever all that fond of Mrs. Clinton to begin with, but it needs to be said: A proponent of censorship is a proponent of censorship is a proponent of censorship. Supporting and especially advocating such an infringement creative expression makes her every bit the enemy of freedom that James Dobson, Pat Robertson and the Passionistas are.

3 comments:

Wesley said...

Yeah they changed the rating for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas from a Mature Rating to Adults Only. Why? Not for its violence or its premise (crack dealing super criminal) No. It seems that when you download a patch the game GASP lets you have sex. So thats our culture for you. You can kill countless hookers you just cant screw any of them where we can see them. Sorry for the crude tone but it just seems very hypocritcal to me this country's attitude towards sex. I would like to hear your thoughts on the new rating

Bob said...

I'm of two minds on the GTA issue. On the one hand, certainly, I find it revealing and repellent that Mrs. Clinton thinks it's her or any other politician's place to get involved in this. This is an issue involving gamers, the game industry and retailers, and it is none of her or the federal government's damn business.

That being said, I don't really take a big exception to the way the situation itself went down. To my mind, the ESRB ratings are the model of how to properly use a ratings system: The ratings are guides, and retailers are allowed to do with the information they provide what they wish. Compare this to the draconian MPAA, where individual theaters have NO say in how the ratings are enforced.

In this case, new information came to light that led the ESRB to change the rating on the game. Based on the new rating, some retailers have elected not to stock the title of their own accord, which is their right as private business owners. Other retailers, meanwhile, have not, and they will profit from the decision of the non-GTA retailers by making them defacto "the only game in town."

So, then, while the actual LOGIC that's led to this may indeed be moronic, the system has worked: No one is being forced to carry something they don't wish to, those that do carry it are profiting, and those who want the game can still go and get it. This is applied-capitalism in action, folks.

Wesley said...

Well its not the changing of the rating itself that bothered me. Your point about retailers were right on point. I was mostly concerned about the why of it all. The biggest problem I had is not with the politics of the situation(though that made me pretty angry) its the fact in this culture of ours violence is an almost non-issue but anything dealing with sexuality is to be feared. I love film gore as much as the next guy(I've been caught up in the films of Takashi Miike as of lately) but its a little diturbing we are more offended by a brief flash of a breast than what we see on the six o clock news every night. Oh well i got more on the subject but I don't want to ramble on.