Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The lion, the witch, the wardrobe, the Christians and the Jews

Blogger has just eaten this rather long post twice in 24 hours. Aaarrgh!
The short of it was a criticism of this JTA piece, which poses a strong thesis --
The re-oiling and firing up of the machinery that pulled Christians into theaters and made 'The Passion' a huge hit, as well as 'Lion's' Christian overtones, have given some Jews reservations.
-- and then fails to back it (or at least the first part) up, for one thing interviewing only two people (one of whom is a media professor -- is he even Jewish?).
It's true that the Lion's Christian overtones have made some people in the community ask whether they or their children should / could or are even permitted to see it -- see discussions on hirhurim and yudelline. From there to arguing that Jews have what is essentially a political objection to the movie is a long way. If they do -- and they might -- JTA certainly doesn't show it.
The closest they get is this quote from a young rabbi who, after a long rumination in which he in any case expresses no particularly strong feelings either way, says:
"I haven't seen the movie, but I wouldn't be surprised if they fleshed out the Christianity a bit more to be satisfying to the Christian audience. That's the part that's most disconcerting to me. I also have concerns about the marketing. Hollywood has a way of being very in-your-face."
Extremely respectfully (seeing as I was a bridesmaid at this very same rabbi's own wedding...), I beg to disagree. Would it really be disconcerting to Jews if the studio did flesh out the Christianity a bit to satisfy the Christian audience? Why? Christians are an audience like any other. Studios are allowed to make movies with Christian messages just as they are allowed to make movies with Jewish messages -- or perhaps Ushpizin should be 'toned down' before distribution? In addition, there is an implication here that if the Christian message is overt in the movie, it's somehow a misrepresentation in order to cater for the Christian audience. Let's not forget that the book was written as a Christian allegory, and just because most of us read it at an age when we weren't equipped to recognize this doesn't mean that the Christian message was ever secondary.
The fear of anything overtly Christian in the public sphere (so reminiscent of the great Christmas debate), even a movie, actually gets comical when JTA gets to Peter Sealey, a marketing professor at the University of California Berkeley's Haas School of Business and the former president of marketing and distribution for Columbia Pictures, who
saw "duplicity" in the way Disney is shying away from mentioning Lewis' Christian message in its general publicity materials. In a 16-page "Narnia Educator Guide" that Sealey found on the film's Web site, religion and Christianity aren't mentioned even once.
"The issue is secular audiences. Will they appreciate seeing a religious message without knowing it?" he asked. Disney "should make a statement, they should let people know. The lion is resurrected. "It's a great piece of entertainment and you can enjoy it if you're Christian or not. However, the underpinnings of the work reflect the New Testament."
Since when is religion something audiences need to be 'warned' about -- like sexual content or violence? Perhaps we should create a special label -- pg, pg-13, x, r and rel? Really.
It comes down to this. This movie isn't being imposed on anyone. No one is being forced to watch it. If you don't want to, ignore it. If you want to, enjoy. End of story.
Incidentally, as an English major I discovered pretty quickly that practically every major work in the English language written before 1900 had major Christian themes and influences (or at least that was the joke -- when all other essay ideas fail, you can always draw a parallel to the trinity). If you don't want your children reading the Narnia series, you might as well keep them away from the majority of the English classics.
Of-course, that is some people's choice. But that doesn't mean that the English cannon should be abolished or include warning labels -- or that movies like Narnia shouldn't be made.

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