Golden Compass idiocies

By now you’ve heard, and have probably received the emails, about the religious right’s newest hobbyhorse, the movie version of The Golden Compass opening this weekend.

Personally, I think the design of the thing looks like the price of admission. I intend, if nothing else, just to luxuriate in the subcreation. But I do hope it’s a good flick.

Our right-wing friends have no such concerns. As bloggers smarter than I have pointed out, they cannot conceive of art without a political purpose. (And yes, I know there are left-wing nutjobs the same way.) Every offering must be judged as to whether it will support their worldview or not. The idea that an alternate or even opposing viewpoint might have some artistic soundness or be a viable means of enlightenment never enters their brains.

Or how about this: The Golden Compass might have been written by what the right-wing Christianists are describing as a “devout” atheist, a neat dialectical position, to be sure, but what if it were a tremendously well-done work of fiction? Or film? What if it were a rollicking good time?

Ah, there’s the danger, you see. If children enjoy this movie, follow the argument closely, it tends to dissolve, then they will ask their parents for the book, and then… they’ll read it! And if they read it, they would be completely unaware that Philip Pullman is leading them down the path to eternal damnation, because in the third book, not in this one, you see, but in the third book, he reveals that the conflict the whole time is over control of the universe, because, again, pay attention here, the God of his particular and particularly fictional set of parallel worlds is, besides being tangible and comprehensible, worn out, a senile nothing. Heaven and the saints preserve us from Norsemen and science fiction conceits!

Yes, I understand they fear the children will be suckered in by the metaphor. I also understand they fear that the children will have their brains cracked open by art and too much light will flood in. I understand completely that their secret fear is that their children’s faith, and their own, for that matter, cannot withstand a different idea.

So, the newest email to make the rounds calls for a boycott, and, isn’t this just so subversive?, silent:

The weekend of December 7, 2007, we are encouraging all Christians to boycott your all movies at your local theatre. We are asking that for the entire weekend (Dec. 7-9), you not attend, rent, or purchase any movies. Hollywood understands one thing for sure: “If it makes money, we’ll do it”.

We, as a body of believers, can show Hollywood that although we are quiet, we still have strong voice. My hope is that we will let the silence in the theatres be deafening to the producers, actors, sponsors, and supporters of movies like “The Golden Compass.”

Oh, why not? Full speed ahead, I say.

Here’s what I predict, though: nothing will happen. On Monday, in the Times, I’ll read that Golden Compass topped the box office. The simple fact is that this subculture is actually very small, if loud and nasty. They haven’t caught on yet, but they never were winning the “culture wars.” There are no culture wars, there are only 21st-century Christianists who really really wish there were a Colisseum with lions, and since there’s not one, they project its façade every time they can and hope we’ll all think it’s real.

17 thoughts on “Golden Compass idiocies

  1. Hello, Dale, I’m a friend of Mr. Funt (I was also the original Fedallini in Moonlight, for what that’s worth). I’ve always found the relationship between art and politics to be very interesting. While you point out that the right wing wants all art to be political, I have one experience I thought I’d share with you. I was working in the box office for the Woodruff Arts Center when one of the symphony conductors (I forget the name. Runnicles, maybe) openly criticized Mr. Bush in the press. Well, the floodgates that had been holding back the angry old people who are symphony subscribers opened right up. Every other call wanted to cancel their subscriptions or at least exchange out of that conductor’s performances. The call that stands out was an old man who just told me he wanted to exchange off of those nights. I completed the transaction and was ready to hang up when he said, “Don’t you want to know why I want to exchange.” “It’s not really important, sir.” “I’m doing it because of what Mr. Runnicles said about our president. Art and politics have nothing to do with one another.” “Have a nice day sir.” I wasn’t going to give him the argument he wanted. What I find interesting is how cut and dry things always seem to the righties. Either art and politics are always intertwined or they are mutually exclusive. Isn’t it possible that some art is politically motivated and some isn’t?

    All of that said, I’m guessing that this one caller probably went on to boycott Harry Potter and Golden Compass without seeing any irony in it.

  2. It’s funny to me how these folks get themselves all lathered up in response to what will likely turn out to be a watered-down, very commercial, non-offensive product. It’s like protesting the flavor “vanilla.”

  3. It occurs to me also that these people need a good lesson in Marc’s S1, S(/). It can hardly matter even if Pullman wrote the trilogy to disillusion the entire planet from their belief in a Christian god, if all us little S2’s don’t take it that way. In between falls the S(/).

  4. You are most generous to deploy the little letters. Quite ably done, I think.

    Apparently to a certain mindset, it is a very offensive product. That a work of cinema arouses such passion! I wonder if our (our little circle’s) universe could be rocked in a similar fashion by a movie. I remember how watching Raiders of the Lost Ark inspired a group of college mates and myself to get in car and drive to the ocean on the very night we viewed it, just to carry on with the spirit of adventure that had seized us. Not quite the same thing, I realize, but we were certainly in the grip of a magical mindset as we responded to the moving pictures. Oddly enough, the odd-man-out member of our little outing was a Maranatha attending, Francis Schaffer quoting, fundamentalist astrophysics major who lives on our hall in Russell next door to Bill Anderson. All of us worked up. And the fundamentalist trying to get something going with Cindy Leidicht, the sole female member of our road trip. S(/)–>a always. “Yuck,” was her response, if I remember correctly.

  5. As a “devout atheist” myself, nothing makes me roll my eyes more than these people who think they are in some sort of never ending battle with non-believers, or should I say different-believers. The VAST majority of this country affiliates themselves with one form of Christianity or another. These folks are NOT in the minority, and much as they would like to be. And speaking for my people, “We don’t care.” The religious right is fighting a war in their opponents don’t even realize they’re in. I suppose “Sit Back and Enjoy What 200 Plus Years of Religious Fanatacism and Oppression Has Brought You Christian Soldiers” isn’t as easy to sing.

  6. Eli, you are more professional than I would have been. If I had heard “Art and politics have nothing to with one another,” I would have replied, “You are exactly right, sir, so why are you cancelling your ticket, you kneejerk conservative asswipe?”

  7. OK, Dale. I’m back on here, but I still can’t post at Lacuna. Any help would be appreciated. And I think I will go see the Golden Compass this weekend, after all.

  8. Let go.
    Let God.
    Let go, God.
    Let go of God.
    Go, god, go.
    Go go God: I could be with the proper white vinyl boots.

    Personally, negotiating the above permutations is a subtle process, and the attendant fears should be suffered and examined in an atmosphere of openness and tolerance. What pisses me off about the religious right is that their primary source of energy is by no means spiritual or dialectical or in any way subtle. The fuel they burn is fear. Their flock is haunted by a terrifying imaginary scenario and they, the leaders, just keep blowing on the embers, flaming it up whenever they need a boost of good-ole political will.

  9. The irony is that no matter what happens this weekend, the Christianists will claim victory of some kind. If Golden Compass tanks, then they will claim it was because of their Holy Crusade. If it tops the charts, then they’ll claim that they are the poor, persecuted minority. Kum ba yah. My Lord.

  10. The critics are split right down the middle.

    Roger Ebert says:

    “A darker, deeper fantasy epic than the Rings trilogy, The Chronicles of Narnia or the Potter films. It springs from the same world of quasi-philosophical magic, but creates more complex villains and poses more intriguing questions.”

    But the NY Post says:

    “The best you can say about The Golden Compass is that it’s merely the second-dullest Nicole Kidman/Daniel Craig film this year.”

    My favorite on the Tomato page is this one, from Kevin Carr:

    “Rather than saying, ‘I wonder if the Magisterium is supposed to represent the modern Catholic church?,’ say ‘Wow! Two polar bears beating the shale out of each other. Cool!'”

    I guess I’ll have to go and decide for myself.

  11. OK, just got back from seeing said film.

    As I feared, very vanilla. Nothing much to recommend, except the polar bears, which are cool. (ha ha)

    Derivative stuff. Just like all the other Lord of the Rings knockoffs that have paraded through during the past few years.

    As for the anti-religious subtext, it’s definitely there, but it’s, well — subtext.

  12. Just read Eli’s anecdote. (For some reason it was late in making its appearance…) Provokes something I’ve had simmering. You keep hearing that “the people” are actually smarter, more discriminating, more capable of following complex discussions of issues, etc., than our media clogged, spin-restricted, political dog and pony shows will permit as they trot out the “issues” for us in speeches, debates, pundit shows, sound bites, etc. And yet. And yet. The Woodruff story illustrates how “the people” call in and exercise their will in precisely the stupid way the cynical political players believe they will. All these sober, gray haired, wizened patricians who we supposed had sucked on the Jeffersonian teat in their infancy and who we dream of as still holding up the backbone of withering true Democratic values, actually behaving like reactionary droids. And Atlanta symphony patrons, to boot.

    So which is it? Are “people” actually starving for depth or should we expect more Invasion(s) of the Body Snatchers and be on alert for pod people popping up around every corner? I’m getting a bit creeped out.

  13. I go for the Pod People option.

    PS, I was happy to take the bullet on this one, even though the popcorn was stale.

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