Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Passion Play: Tempers continue to run high over Mel Gibson's The Passion. (Think Reuters picked this photo intentionally? Holy crap, he loves baby Jesus and he smokes!) I was happy to see Boston Globe columnist and Reason contributor Cathy Young taking up the issue, but I was less impressed with what she came up with:
The biblical account of Jesus' life and death should not be sacrificed to political correctness. But the cry of "political correctness" can also become a cover for very real bigotry.
That's a bit glib and jejune for a columnist as sharp as Young. When just about anyone else creates art of a controversial nature, the left rushes to defend the various freedoms being trampled under critical foot. Think of Andres Serrano or Chris Ofili. The right, meanwhile, insists on sensitivity and respect. On the issue of Gibson's movie, both sides seem to be getting a cheap thrill from hoisting the other side by its own petard. (There is, of course, a minor distinction to be made: Gibson is financing the picture himself, without the help of taxpayers.)

In the end, I'm disappointed to see Young ignore the underlying issue, which is not bigotry, blasphemy, art, or political correctness. It's money. And the claims by Jewish groups like the ADL that the movie will "fuel anti-Semitism" are worth the scrutiny. For example, if the claim is true, what is the proper remedy? Who decides if the public can handle the release of this film without burning synagogues? Are these even issues we want to introduce into the art world? As I implied in mentioning Gibson's self-financing, there is a legitimate debate over the content of art that citizens are forced to support in the form of tax revenue that goes to, among others, the National Endowment for the Arts. But that legitimacy does not hold here. Those offended by the film can picket theaters, write letters denouncing the film, organize a boycott -- whatever. But I wish they would please leave off the open ended (in their words) "expressing [of] concern" over it, as though implying that someone (perhaps Joe Lieberman) should step in and take care of this. Perhaps I'm jumping the gun a bit on this, but when people start "expressing concern," I foresee calls for censorship not too far behind.

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