Saturday, 27 May 2006

Popular Culture

The Da Vinci Code is just the tip of the iceberg.

We first came across the plot-line of The Da Vinci Code some twenty-odd years ago when we browsed the paperback book-rack while paying our check in a hotel restaurant. Jesus married. St Mary Magdalene. He had children and founded the Merovingian line. We didn’t buy the book. The plot-line seemed blasphemous to us.

It still does.

We note that the author of the original paperback that we saw so long ago sued Dan Brown over The Da Vinci Code for plagiarism. Lost his case.

What struck us some twenty-odd years ago was that the plot-line was just more of the same.

That’s what interests us.

This week it’s The Da Vinci Code; last ‘week’—a few years ago—it was The Last Temptation of Christ. Next week—in a few years, that is—it will be something else. Moreover, these are just the headline-grabbing films, possibly because of good ‘under-assistant West-Coast promotion men’. What we are the more interested in is all the films that are cranked out every day in the West, and how they handle religious themes.

First of all, let us be frank: if another religion were treated in films the way Christianity is today, there would be trouble. Not from Christians, but from members of the other religion.

A popular American film treats of a serial murderer. The serial murderer makes his first phone call. Visible on the wall behind him in his house is a crucifix. Art, of course.

Another popular American film caricatures the Christian beliefs of the FBI agent while exalting the hard-boiled realism of the LAPD homicide detective. It shows a homicidal maniac, part of a neo-Fascist paramilitary group, in the final scenes, while he is fighting it out to the death, as prominently wearing a cross around his neck. Shakespearean characterization, of course.

A British punk kung-fu thriller has villains who masquerade as electric Evangelical Christian missionaries to the slums.

The same thing in a Chinese kung-fu thriller: one of the villains is a ‘Russian’ (this must be the ‘Round-Eyed Peril’) masquerading as a Christian missionary.

Then there are the films that glorify the occult.

Then there are the films that glorify lesbianism.

These are not traditional Christian values.

This is a very complex matter that would require a very deep sociological analysis of Western society from the point of view of the social construction of reality. Groups and their shared points of view (Weltanschauungen); how those common points of view are defined and maintained within the group; how new group members are ‘converted’ to the group point of view. Those same groups and their shared political and cultural power in the broader society. Political battles in American society over who gets to determine the ‘narrative’ of American history and society.

(‘Narrative’ is a buzzword nowadays; in this context it seems to mean the ‘interpretation, the interpretative story-line, the interpretive plot-line or point of view that explains the phenomenon’.)

What is important is that today there are competing ‘narratives’ of American, and in general Western, history and society; and that various groups are purveying to their own members their own ‘narratives’, and using political means to advance those ‘narratives’ in the broader society. Moreover, some of these groups have members who work in popular culture and who are either consciously or unconsciously advancing an anti-Christian ‘narrative’—we think that in many cases it is conscious, but without a realization of its foundation in group-think.

The disquieting thing about the treatment of Christianity in popular culture today is that popular culture is advancing an anti-Christian ‘narrative’: various members of various groups working in popular culture, including the media of mass communication, are advancing ‘narratives’ that attack or denigrate Christianity.

It is in this context that we see The Da Vinci Code.

This is not a conspiracy theory. We know nothing about Dan Brown; we know nothing about the film company that shot the film based on his book. However, it is a suggestion that a sociological analysis of what is happening is long overdue.

We ourselves have steadfastly avoided political discourse on this blog, so we will not proceed any further, except to say that the ‘narrative’ we ourselves are advancing is the Orthodox Christianity of those who say, ‘We did not know whether we were in Heaven or on earth.’ It is the ‘narrative’ of the Gospel of the love of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life so that we might have life and have it abundantly. It is the ‘narrative’ of the man born blind whose eyes were opened by Jesus.

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