Don’t We Have More Pressing Matters Than The Da Vinci Code?

The London Times has an article reporting on the controversy surrounding the film adaptation of The Da Vinci code. I would like you to read the article for yourself before reading the rest of this entry (don’t worry its really short”¦the article not this entry), but I’ll summarize anyway: The Catholic League (which is not an official mouthpiece for the Roman Catholic Church) calls for Ron “Opie” Howard to place a disclaimer on the movie stating the film is a work of fiction; people are upset because the Catholic Church and Opus Dei are portrayed “inaccurately”; many believe Opie should stick to directing films with space rockets and fire engines.

Okay, that last thing was mine, but you get the picture.

Several things bother me about this whole controversy. First, the Times have their facts wrong, which drives me batshit. The article states

The Da Vinci ”¦is based on a novel that has sold 25 million copies worldwide. Among its more controversial claims is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, a former prostitute, and that she bore him a child. This has been denounced as virulently anti-Catholic and a risible hoax.”

Unfortunately for the Times, no where does the book claim that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. In fact, the protagonist of the novel Robert Langdon goes to incredible lengths in an attempt prove how M.M. has been the victim of one of the most elaborate smear campaigns in history, and the notion that she was a prostitute was one of the many tactics our patriarchal society used in an attempt to marginalize her.

Second: When you’re constructing a thriller you need a really powerful antagonist. If you’re writing a religious thriller you don’t really have very many candidates to fill that role. Who’re you gonna pick? The Baptists? I don’t think so. Only one religious institution has been around for centuries, hell almost a millennium, and that’s the Roman Catholic Church. Sorry, but the Catholic Church is a very old, and powerful institution, and right or wrong that very fact makes it susceptible to manipulation by the authors of fiction. ( Note that word”¦it’s important)

Further, anyone who has done any type of literary criticism knows you should never make blanket statements regarding authorial intentionality or authorial philosophy, especially if you are using ONE TEXT to construct your argument. To even attempt to make the claim that Brown’s work is anti-Catholic a critic would need to carefully analyze everything Dan Brown has written, and then very carefully draw conclusions based on his body of work. In his other novel Angels and Demons, the Catholic Church emerges as quite responsible, so how does that figure into all of this?

Third: It’s fiction. FICTION! The Times article says, “Last month the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales denounced it as logically and historically flawed. In March the Vatican appointed a top cardinal to rebut what it dismissed as lies, distortions and errors.” Thanks for pointing out the obvious. I mean, even though the copyright page of the book states “All of the characters and events in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental,” or the fact that the book resides in the fiction section of my bookstore, I still thought it was real. I needed an official statement letting me know the facts contained in the novel, were not actually facts.

Finally, don’t we all have something a little bit more important to be worrying about other than Tom Hank’s new movie? Really, with all the shit happening in the world and we’re worried about this? Seems a little silly to me.

I can never figure why some movies are protested and some aren’t. The only reason I can think of is money. This movie will make lots of it because of this formula (tom hanks + ron howard) * most popular book of 2003/ religious controversy = $$$$$$$ The movie Stigmata was one of the most anti-Catholic films I have ever seen and I never saw an ounce of publicity on it. My guess as to why? Because the biggest thing that movie had going for it was Gabriel Byrne.

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  1. The Catholic church has been around for “almost a millennium”? I think you should check your math. It’s much closer to two millennia than one!

    When I read this article from The Times, I *don’t* see it stating that one of the controversial claims made by The Da Vinci Code was the idea that MM was a prostitute.

    The two claims identified by the passage are “that Jesus married Mary Magdelene” and “that she bore him a child”, The words “a former prostitute” describe “Mary Magdelene,” they don’t constitute a third item in the list of refuted claims.

    I’ll take your word for it that the book doesn’t call MM a prostitute.

    The phrasing of the sentence is a bit unclear, and the author could have noted that the idea that MM was a prostitute is neither found in scripture nor created in The Da Vinci Code. But there’s a big difference between saying “The Times published a sentence that could potentially be misinterpreted,” and saying “the Times have their facts wrong”.

    Having said that, even the best journalists do occasionally make mistakes. So do I, and so do you. We are all only human.

  2. Mark A. says:

    Ok, Dennis, I’ll give you the math thing. We’ll say the Roman Catholic Church began on 312 CE, when Constantine won the Battle of Milvian Bridge. So, I’m off by about a millennium. My bad.

    But the prostitute thing I stand by. I’m going to block quote here, so there are no opportunities for misunderstanding. The article states, “The Da Vinci Code, which is being filmed this summer with locations including Winchester Cathedral and Rosslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh, is based on a novel that has sold 25 million copies worldwide. Among its more controversial claims is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, a former prostitute, and that she bore him a child.” The article says “Among its” and in this usage “its” operates as a pronoun for “The Da Vinci Code.” Therefore we could correctly say, “Among The Da Vinci Code’s more controversial claims is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, A FORMER PROSTITUTE [emphasis mine], and that she bore him a child.” The phrasing isn’t unclear unless you find pronouns unclear. Now, the reason that gets my goat up, is the book claims exactly the opposite. Therefore, instead of simply reading the book and then determining how the actual text operates within the controversy, the journalist has resorted to parroting “facts.” My anger resides more with lazy journalism than with the actual controversy.

    And yes, I make mistakes too. But an important aspect of my argument didn’t rest on a misreading of my source material, unlike the journalist of the Times.

  3. Quibble 1: I think if you asked most of the world’s billion or so Catholics, they’d say the church began about three centuries earlier than that.

    Quibble 2: According to the passage, “The Da Vinci Code” is a movie that is being filmed, and is “based on a novel.” Since the movie hasn’t been finished yet, it’s not possible to know what claims it makes, and “novel” is closer to “its” than “The Da Vinci Code.” Thus, “its” refers to “the novel.” But that doesn’t really affect either of our arguments.

    Back to your main point, about journalism. It’s common journalism practice to write something like, “Bill Smith said that the driver of the truck, Jim Jones of 244 Main Street, cut him off at the intersection.” In that case, the journalist didn’t mean to communicate the idea that Bill Smith claimed to know the name and address of the guy in the truck. That detail was simply added in order to eliminate the need for a separate sentence giving the name and address of the truck driver.

    It’s possible the reporter was simply rushing to meet a deadline, rather than lazy. It’s possible that the journalist first wrote, “…that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, and that she bore him a child…” and then, knowing that many readers wouldn’t know who she was, added the identification. I already noted that the article could have usefully pointed out that the history of MM is not biblical and was not invented for The Da Vinci Code.

    An editor doesn’t have the resources to pay reporters to read books written by all the newsmakers they encounter. But I think it’s probably sufficient to say that you and I agree the passage is unclear.

    If you consider for a moment your anger at a reporter who you feel didn’t bother to check a source more carefully, you might understand the way that some Catholics might feel towards people who read the work of fiction but don’t bother to research objective accounts of history in order to find out precisely where the novel diverges from what is generally accepted as the truth.

  4. Mark A. says:

    1. Don’t assume that I don’t know how Catholics feel.
    2. Art (and I’m using that very loosely in describing Brown’s work) does not need to be censored because people are too ignorant to understand the term “fiction.” Show me one person that understands the history of the Church and the difference between reality and fantasy, and I’ll show you ten that are convinced J.K. Rowling’s books are attempts to seduce our children into witchcraft, and The Da Vinci Code is historical narrative. It’s neither Dan Brown nor Ron Howard’s place to educate people in regards to fantasy versus reality.
    3. Yes I agree the passage is unclear. My point is that if the Times wants to sell their stories to worldwide news services, perhaps they should improve the clarity of their prose and do a little research at the same time. Yellow journalism isn’t a nice term, but most new stories are nothing but, and it infuriates me that the Times isn’t a bastion of journalistic integrity (I’ll say it before you do”¦I’m naïve). I’m not so ignorant that I think journalists have the time to sit around reading all the time, but at the very least they could ask someone who had read the book before the article went to press. It’s not like the book is an in-depth look on spatial narrative in post-modern fiction that only three people in the country have read. Someone at the paper had read the stupid thing.
    4. And on your Quibble #1; I know Church history, and the fact is if Constantine hadn’t enacted the Edict of Milan then Theodosius wouldn’t have been able to institute Christianity as the official religion of Rome. Hence, there would have been no Roman Catholic Church and the persecution of Christians would have continued. Yes, Christianity began waaay before that; yes, the belief structure of the Church begun with Peter and continued with Linus; but had it not been for the tag team of Constantine and Theodosius our ecclesiastical history would read much differently.
    5. The whole impetus behind the post was my feeling that the media and the Church are spending way too much time getting angry over a mediocre book and an un-filmed movie which is to be directed by the guy who played Opie. There are too many issues which need addressing much more desperately than The Da Vinci Code, and this is the silly crap we get caught up in.

    And dammit, I’m part of the problem now, too.

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