Saturday, February 21, 2004

You can tell everything about a culture by what it reviles. And right now Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is absolutely agonizing the culture, which sputters for words to abominate this film even more. Alessandra Staley's article in yesterday's New York Times is instructive.

After a dismissive jibe at the people who have sold out screens a month in advance for this film ("Anyone who cannot beat to wait one more day to hear Aramaic in a movie theater"), Staley gets right down to attacking The Passion.

In discussing a "making of" documentary that's on PAX TV tomorrow night, she charges in: "The word 'Jews'...is not uttered in this documentary." But, she explains, there is a reason:

This is not surprising--promotional behind-the-scenes documentaries rarely look too closely behind the scenes. And in that sense, "The Making" fits in with the elliptical approach the rest of television has taken to L'Affaire Gibson.

Elliptical??? Every single press piece and interview about this movie in the last six months , including the best known and most recent one with Diane Sawyer, has mentioned antisemitism. "Yet television discussion," says Staley, "has remained oddly muted." Muted? Sawyer questioned Gibson over and over about Jews and antisemitism and the Holocaust. And I'm trying and failing to recall any cultural event ever where the views of a parent (in this case Gibson's nutty 85-year-old father) have been pulled out to attack a work. But no, says Staley. Television handles tricky subjects with "timidity."

And soon enough, Staley reveals her real agenda: Gibson is not merely a filmmaker, but "a lobbyist for the fundamentalist religious movement in the United States at a time when its clout is unmistakably on the rise." Here is where I started laughing. Several thousand same-sex couples get married in the last two weeks and we are supposed to be at the mercy of the religious fundamentalists. Right.

Staley's conclusion is predictable, and typical of the Times: "The semi-crazed cop [Gibson] played in 'Lethal Weapon' was not that much of a stretch." And I can only agree, since the Times, the former home of Jayson Blair, knows all about stretches.

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