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steve tomkins
crows nest
By Stephen Tomkins
More Crow's Nests here
Gory, gory, hallelujah!
March 2004

You'd be forgiven for thinking there was not much fun to be had from Mel Gibson's paschal bloodbath, The Passion of the Christ. It's an unrelenting two-hour gorefest in Latin and the only joke in it is extremely poor.

But you'd be wrong. The display of double standards from Christian anti-violence campaigners happily denying everything they have preached for a quarter-century has been thoroughly entertaining. For years they have told us that ketchup explosions degrade and corrupt viewers, that graphic violence inspires copycats and undermines society.

Now, without so much as a grinding of gears, they have stolen all the liberals' best arguments to explain why the film Roger Ebert called "the most violent I have ever seen" is the greatest story ever sold.

First exemplar of evangelical doublethink is Jerry Falwell, founder of Moral Majority, pastor of the largest church in North America and scourge of the Tellytubbies. His booklet, "Taking Back Your Children: How to protect your kids from today's culture", calls movie violence one of the most "immoral, evil and depraved elements in modern society", violently condemning "the violence spewing out of Hollywood through movies, videos, and television programs".

Won't the carnage of The Passion have a similar effect? God willing. "I am praying that Mel Gibson's movie will have a powerful impact on our culture", he confides in his regular newsletter, "and that it will appeal to millions of movie lovers."

Dr Billy Graham, regretting the fact that "violent television programs are increasing in number", likens their effect to "a sewer gurgling and spilling over its filth into [one's] mind", and encourages Christians to lobby program makers and their sponsors to go easy on the sewage.

Biblical violence, on the other hand, is entirely healthy. "I feel as if I have actually been there," he enthused after seeing The Passion. "I was moved to tears. I doubt if there has ever been a more graphic and moving presentation of Jesus' death." That's graphic in the good sense.

"Every time I preach or speak about the Cross," he said, "the things I saw on the screen will be on my heart and mind." Whether gurgling or not, we are not told.

James Dobson's Focus on the Family is an organization broadcasting for family values in 95 countries. Its online magazine argues for an "irrefutable link" between violent films and real violence, and warns that "the raunch, violence and hate in entertainment is getting out of control". It likens letting teens see Tarantino's Kill Bill to taking them to "watch the lions tear apart a few gladiators".

What then did Dobson make of the barbaric brutality of The Passion? "Tremendously refreshing." It is "a film that must be seen," insists his review. "Among the most powerful and important ever made."

Was it not a bit violent? Ah, yes, but, you see. "The violence is intended not to titillate or entertain, but to emphasize the reality of the unspeakable suffering that our Savior endured on our behalf." The assumption that no other violent films have a similarly serious purpose because they don't feature Jesus is breathtaking.

The Focus on the Family teen website condemned the Matrix trilogy ("Violent. Violent. Violent.") for its violence. Its review of The Passion insists that despite the "graphic violence and gore" they "actually recommend this movie not just for adults, but for teenagers as well. It is disturbing for all the right reasons."

On 28 January, L. Brent Bozell III testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce examining Broadcast Indecency. Bozell is president of the Parents Television Council, a 850,000-strong lobby for "positive, family-oriented television". His members, he said, were "disgusted, revolted, fed up, horrified – I don't know how to underscore this enough – by the raw sewage, ultra violence, graphic sex, and raunchy language that is flooding into our living rooms night and day". He appealed for $3 million fines and license revocation to punish indecent broadcasting.

A month later, The Passion flooded into cinemas, amid controversy over the ultra-est violence ever seen. "Why won't the false-alarm-clanging critics leave The Passion of the Christ alone?" cried Bozell. They were trying to "to ruin its powerful effect on American hearts and minds." It was "a daring and controversial cultural event", its violence "cruel and yet necessary". How can it be "a gorefest" with a "body count of one (not counting the Resurrection)"? "Our culture could use more of this kind of artistic vision."

Crosswalk.com is a Christian life website conservative enough to condemn Looney Tunes: Back in Action for excessive violence. When it comes to excessive violence done to Jesus, though, they reach for the oldest chestnut in the tree: the graphic violence "is necessary for a true understanding" of the story and its themes. And chestnut two, it has a happy ending: "as the crucifixion was replaced by the resurrection, so shall our horror be replaced by hope".

Then there are our friends, the Christian Civic League (CCL) of Maine. Their website condemns "the growing incidence of sex and violence in the media" and calls on media bosses to provide "more responsible and wholesome programming". So what of Gibson's nightmare on the Via Dolorosa?

"Nothing short of miraculous", they say. It "calls America back to herself and breathes life back into her spirit". But how about the violence? Isn't it what Bob Dole would call a "nightmare of depravity"?

Another CCL article on the film fields this question. For some it "will heighten their sense of Jesus' suffering love", while "others will find it off-putting". So movie violence is a matter of individual response after all. Sadly, the gore will have no impact at all on some viewers. Where does the blame lie for this lamentable state of affairs? "The pervasive violence all around us."
also see
hubris 2
Mark Howe's regular rant about Internet culture
strangely warmed
Andrew Rumsey's regular column about the religious life
loose canons
Stephen Tomkins' regular round-up of the saints of yore who were one wafer short of a full communion
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