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Global Protests Over The Da Vinci Code

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Tom Hanks is evil, the Mona Lisa is a slut and the Renaissance was a bad idea.

These outré ideas seem close to reality when one hears of the assault on a film based on a fictional book by people who probably couldn’t tell the difference between a Da Vinci and a Raphael. The striving of fans of one superstition to stifle the telling of another tale reminds one that the dark ages were only a few centuries ago, and we didn’t get a DNA transplant that would change our innate fear of knowledge, sheepie mindset, and taste in literature.

The Indian government seems to be taking the lead in the latest bastion of the culture wars by pausing the screening of the new film based on Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. One recalls the blather around the Satanic Verses, which commenced with a few hecklers in India and led to the banning of the book, and thence the fatwa. The Indian government shows it has not changed since then, and Indian society demonstrates its ability to stifle free thought.

Taking a cautious approach, the government has decided not to give clearance to the screening of the controversial film, the Da Vinci Code, till the Information and Broadcasting Ministry and Catholic Church are satisfied the film will not hurt the sensitivity of Christians in the country.

Information and Broadcasting Minister P R Dasmunsi told reporters here on Tuesday that he along with members of the Catholic Church, and officials of the I&B ministry and Censor Board would view the movie in camera and only then a decision would be taken about its screening.

The gnostic roots and validation of the legend of a strong relationship between Jesus and Mary, or perhaps one should say Sophia, from sources as diverse as the Gospel of Philip, the early Christian ‘cult of the Great Mother’, the Gospel of Mary Magdala, and the proto-Gnostic Gospel of John might be ignored by the censors, and the mainstreaming of esoterica be void of comic irony, but the power of the idea is proven once again by the desire of people to stifle knowledge of it. Another layer of comic irony is derived from the dualistic transcendent ‘oriental wave’ nature of the Gnostic sources and the general acceptance of sexual and marital aspects of religion in countries like India, which feel behooved to protest against these dangers to a composite faith. To add philosophical fuel to the fire, the gnostic union is not on the physical level, bringing forth knowledge (gnosis) in the soul and transforming the knower himself/herself by making him/her a partaker in the divine essence, which partaking was more than simply assimilating the knower to the divine essence.

“There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1: 9b) These words are proven time and again. We might think this the year of ‘censorship’, with art, cartoons, films, and books all coming under fire, but it’s happened a thousand times before.

The destruction of the library of Alexandria was done perhaps to stifle the words and ideas in it. This might have led to the secreting away of the Nag Hammadi scrolls and their later discovery, preserved through the centuries, the Inquisition and the manifold bloodbaths in the name of one ideology or superstition or another. The know-it-alls at the forefront of this latest offensive might think their version of history/mythology deserves to be protected, and their sentiments safeguarded, yet they neglect the lack of independent contemporaneous sources for the tales told in the Gospels, and the protection afforded the synoptic Gospels, even in the face of competing versions.

The furore has spread the world over. South Korea failed to ban the film, while the Thailand Christian Council is being more selective, wanting to excise the last 10 minutes of the film. A ‘health warning’ has been demanded in the UK, while evangelicals forswear their Protestant roots to ally with the Mother Church in the United States. The more clever censors are resorting to snobbery and elitism about the book’s quality, as if their literary diet were pure Joyce, Nabokov, and Ishiguro. The albinos have protested the 68th consecutive portrayal of an albino as a villain since 1960. Muslim clerics in Mumbai are gung-ho about the ban, and some bloke called Joseph Diaz has asked for his 15 minutes.

The Indian government’s action might delay the film’s release by a day or two, and pretty much guarantee an uptick in torrent and zero-day site hits as the film hits the Internet, as it doubtless will. It may even show up sooner, given the inauguration of the Cannes Film Festival with the Da Vinci Code. Publicity never hurt the box-office, so the producers can’t wait to feel the passion.

The strange thing about censorship, which Savaronola could have told you if you’d asked him, is that it does not work. It only takes one copy, one listener, one speaker, and one book to spread the word, or the code.

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About aacool

  • gonzo marx

    Aaman…brilliant , as usual. Great observations about a mediocre film, and what the furor says about a society…

    /golfclap

    now, away i go, i promised myself i wasn’t typing anymore…but i could not resist a passing Word to an olde Friend

    namaste’

  • Bliffle

    “…not hurt the sensitivity of Christians…”

    They should be so sensitive about the rest of us.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    Excellent, Aaman. i do so wish, however, that i didn’t have to side with Ron Howard. THAT is the flick’s greatest crime.

    i kinda enjoyed the theological banter in the book, but the plot, such as it was, had me chewin my gums in frustration and boredom and longing for a paragraph written with something approaching style. still, he’s done alright. what do i know?

    again, excellent run-down, Aaman.

    and i adored every page of The Satanic Verses, although it did make me feel very ignorant. i was SURE there was something deeply subversive going on many times (other than the obvious Mahound carry-ons), and yet, having no knowledge worth a damn with regards the muslim faith, i had to sigh and say about “well, i’m a very stupid fella, it turns out.” thankfully the prose was like liquid fire on my giddy-glands.

  • http://blog.myspace.com/manonmaru Manon Maru

    Sometimes I think I’m surrounded by idiots, at other times I think maybe I’m just a genius…I don’t know to feel good or bad about the fact that you’ve just reminded me that I’m surrounded by idiots, as your ability to see the same error in logic as myself proves I’m not the latter.

  • http://desicritics.org Aaman

    And which error in logic was that?

  • http://yellowredblue.blogspot.com/ Prism

    Never mind the Da Vinci Code.

    What do you say about the constant persecution of Christians in Asian and African countries?

    In India alone, the main subject of your post, there have been at least 75 incidents of anti-Christian attacks so far this year.

    There have been hundreds of attacks against clergy members and other Christians in the last few years in India, including murders, gang raping, bomb attacks, threats and other violence.

    The Indian government does nothing about it.

    What about that for managing to “hurt the sensitivity of Christians in the country”?

    So, you see, “the dark ages” are not in the past, they seem to be still with us in certain parts of the world. But not in the sense that your naive post implies.

    And about the Da Vinci Code.

    It’s a load of rubbish.

    First of all, Da Vinci is not a surname. Leonardo was illegitimate, and ‘da Vinci’ simply means ‘of Vinci’. It’s the same as writing “The of Assisi Code”.

    That in itself is a sign of ignorance.

    Secondly, the book relies on the widespread ignorance of Christian matters among the general public. To list all the gross errors, inaccuracies, disproven hypotheses, reliance on false documents, distortions in history of art, “elaborate hoaxes”, falsified history, and so on contained in the book would take much more than a comment to a post.

    Historians, art historians, archaelogists have conclusively demonstrated that the whole story of the book is a lie (you could call it a work of fiction, if it weren’t for the ambiguity of its status), not a fact.

    And, if this had been a book (and film) offensive to Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, it would be considered a hate crime. If, God forbid, it had been offensive to Islam, on top of being labelled a hate crime it would also put author, director and producers’ lives at risk with a fatwa (in fact, a film about Islam would be even too dangerous to make).

    But to offend Christianity is “art”, as in the case of Chris Ofili’s painting of the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung and surrounded by cut-outs from pornographic magazines.

    The existence of the much over-used words “anti-semitic” and “islamophobic” obviously shows that certain groups are protected by political correctness, but one group is not.

  • Heckler

    On a lighter note of “I told you so”…

    $77 million opening box office in the US, over $244 million worldwide. So much for any “boycotts”

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    “as in the case of Chris Ofili’s painting of the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung and surrounded by cut-outs from pornographic magazines.”

    that was a sculpture. and it was beautiful. if one is offended by dung, surely that is more of a blasphemy than using the god-created substance in art?

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    actually, i’ll point out, before it’s pointed out, that it bears more resemblance to a painting, what with the mostly 2-d nature of it all. still, i always considered it closer to sculpture, what with the layers of materials and the carving of chunks o’ dung ‘pon linen. so i think it surely sits somewheres between painting and sculpture. nonetheless. da vinci code, then.

  • http://www.yellowredblue.blogspot.com/ Prism

    It is not a sculpure, it is a painting.

    Would you think that a painting of Mohammed, or Buddha, or one of the many Hindu gods, or a Jewish symbol, covered in elephant dung and surrounded by cut-outs from pornographic magazines, could be beautiful too, or do you just reserve that privilege to Christian icons?

    The fact that a “painting” of that sort can be considered “beautiful” shows that “artistic” standards have gone downhill a bit from the time of Leonardo.

    You miss the point about a God-created substance.

    These God-created substances seem to be used only in conjunction with Christian symbols, and no other religion’s.

    This is what makes me think that it is discriminatory.

    So if I call somebody s*it they shouldn’t be offended then.

  • zingzing

    well, no one’s going to “shit” all over some other culture’s religion. you shit on your own. it’s only fair.

  • zingzing

    and shock has been around as a quality of art for quite a while. art is supposed to make you feel emotion, even if that emotion is revulsion. worked pretty well by those standards. leonardo would be considered a very good, if pretty tame and boring artist were he to do the same stuff today. it just wouldn’t be all that significant. of course, who knows how significant it truly was in his own day. then again, he worked for the church and kings and such. authoritarian art as it may be.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    “Would you think that a painting of Mohammed, or Buddha, or one of the many Hindu gods, or a Jewish symbol, covered in elephant dung and surrounded by cut-outs from pornographic magazines, could be beautiful too, or do you just reserve that privilege to Christian icons?”

    Prism, i totally understand such a stance. but i can’t give an opinion on some hypothetical piece of work, i can only judge what’s in front of me. My sculpture remark was probably very stupid, and, i might add, so is the idea of being provocative for no damn reason. Works like the one in question, and the infamous Piss Christ which, regardless of the substances involved, purely as an IMAGE, is one of the most affecting representations of any religious icon i’ve ever seen (in my heart it sits somewheres alongside those transcendental paintings of Krishna one might find in the glossy bits of those lovely books the Krishna types sell on street-corners) – THESE pieces have points to make and issues to raise and a lot of that involves why we might be offended by the like? if one views the human body as the beautiful work of a creator (and i might add i’m agnostic, i believe in SOMETHING, but i dunno what it is or what it has done that didn’t directly involve me) then surely ALL of it is His or Her or It’s work. the belief that Christ, or God, or whatever, is part of us, part of the fabric of our being, is a fairly prevailent one amongst people of the faith, so surely these pieces, the Mary piece in particular, are perfectly legitimate?

    They’re works that get people to think and to talk, and as images in their own right they are incredibly beautiful.

    and Zing is right – you shit on your own. (richard pryor COULD and woody allen CAN make jokes i can’t make, for example) Except i don’t think that’s what’s being done here, in these cases. If artists in other cultures from other backgrounds haven’t dealt with these subjects in these manners, well, that’s no reason for Ofili to do nothing.

    provocative art should provoke. it’s dissapointing that in so many cases, what’s provoked is angry knee-jerk wailing, as opposed to any sorta worthwhile discussion about the issues raised therein.

    I should say i haven’t seen The Da Vinci Code, and am talking about these other works. Dan Brown’s book i HAVE read, and found the theological / art history banter fairly engaging. very much so, in fact. the plot was wretched, mind.

    what i can say is that Piss Christ, The Last Temptation Of Christ, any number of “offensive” works, made me think a lot harder about my faith, and with much more positive results, than a million embaressing patronising tv movies about St John.

  • http://yellowredblue.blogspot.com/ Prism

    In the Ofili issue, you seem to overlook the question of communication.

    We use certain words (and discard others) because we know that they convey a certain meaning to other people, that is the recipients of our communication, not to ourselves.

    Communication is all about thinking of who is going to receive it and what they will make of it.

    Now, art is one of the most important forms of communication.

    Whether a painting is a real work of art or is art only in its producer’s wishes (and wildest dreams), it doesn’t alter the fact that it is a means of communication.

    Whatever Ofili thinks, it should have been obvious even to not exactly a gigantic intellect like him that the majority of people who would see the painting considered elephant dung as a symbol of something totally different from Ofili’s supposed and alleged original intentions.

    By associating it (and pornographic cuts: last time I checked it was not God that created Playboy or hard core movies: “if one is offended by dung, surely that is more of a blasphemy than using the god-created substance in art?”) with a symbol of Christianity, Ofili conveyed a clear message.

    The message is: profanity.

    Let me explain what it means, from the original Greek: it is to pollute and displace one icon with another. Now, trying to interject offensive symbology into a religion’s iconography certainly is profanity. Is it profane for the culture involved, Christianity, or not? Since so many Christians protested vehemently about it, one could with certainty infer that they found it profane.

    The things I read on that garb…, ehm, work by Ofili that I liked most are this:

    “There is contempt of the past, a senseless denial of any possibility of enduring meaning, in desecration art. Desecration art functions like the parasite; it destroys the heritage from which it draws its meaning. Ofili’s piece illustrates this. The icon gives the piece meaning, yet the icon is what the piece seeks to destroy. Destroy the meaning of the icon and the meaning of the piece is destroyed with it like the parasite that dies with its host. The artist is vandal and the museum the gate to this cultural barbarism.”

    And this:

    “Or perhaps the artist, not unlike a dirtyminded little adolescent, sought the most offensive image his little brain could contrive in order to aquire a name and hopefully wealth. Because that is what art today is really about, money. It is no different from pop culture, which is what Warhol went to all the trouble to point out.”

    You say: ” …i can’t give an opinion on some hypothetical piece of work, i can only judge what’s in front of me.”

    Of course you can’t, because no other works of “art” have done the same thorough job at desecrating fundamental symbols of religions other than Christianity.

    Conversely, every time a Christian symbol is depicted in “art” now is surrounded by or associated with excreta, urine, vaginas, condoms, breasts, panties, coat hangers for abortion, phallic pipes, simulated sex acts and the like.

    And this was the point of my rhetorical question. You had to think and you realized that it’s only Christian desecrations that you know of in “art”. So you see, it’s possible to make people think even without the “shock, horror!” techniques that you deem necessary. Incidentally, aren’t they the same techniques used by popular tabloids and mags (‘gutter press’ they are called in England) to sell (it’s another rhetorical question, you don’t need to answer)?

    ” …why we might be offended by the like? if one views the human body as the beautiful work of a creator (and i might add i’m agnostic, i believe in SOMETHING, but i dunno what it is or what it has done that didn’t directly involve me) then surely ALL of it is His or Her or It’s work.”

    The question, again, is one of context. It is not the human body or its products at issue here, but the association of a Christian symbol with something which has a repulsive connotation.

    And, again, you conveniently forget the pornographic cuts: they are not “human body”, pornography is man’s, not God’s creation.

    “You only shit on your religion”.

    No, because it is not only your religion, it is not exclusive to yourself. Many other coreligionists may be offended by something that you don’t find offensive, and you have to think of its effect on them.

    You zingzing seem to believe that there is some worth and some point in offending people (mind you, these arguments are put forward only when Christians are offended, as far as religions are concerned), but you fail to explain what it is.

    To make people think, you Aaron say.

    Wow! So, without a product of defecation or urination slapped in front of them, people wouldn’t be able to think. Whatever you have faith in (you say that you don’t know yourself) you don’t have a lot of faith in people’s reflective powers.

    All these comments throw some light on your aesthetic and cultural outlook, though.

    Now that I know that you find that so much artistic inspiration is derived from fecal matters, and that you consider excrements a symbol of the sublime, I can explain why you are so appreciative of such a great piece of dung as The Da Vinci Code.

    No offence Aaron, I’m just presenting an argument, it is nothing personal.

  • Heckler

    geeez Prism, lighten up a tad.

    It appears that your big problem here is that you believe it is only your faith’s symbols that have been worked over by contemporary artists, and thus try and invoke the “persecution complex” of chrisitanity.

    I can easily understand why some folks would be offended, just as I can easily understand why many other cultures have been offended in the past by christianities depictions of their gods and culture.

    Decent sidetrack on comparing bits of contemporary art and a “pulp” novel. I’d call each a succcess in that they invoked an emotional reactio, good or bad doesn’t matter. If each got the observer/reader to feel and possibly think, then one owuld have to admit that the work in question achieved some small portion of success.

    I think that’s what really galls some folks.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    prism, no offence taken, and in fact i was a bit concerned that i had seemed overly antagonistic when i wasn’t meaning to. so apologies if it came across that way.

    and i must point out i am in no way appreciative of the da vinci code (although again, i haven’t seen the film). i found parts of the book to be fairly entertaining, only because the kinda theological thriller type affair is a sub-genre i especially like. but by no means do i find it a great book, and the critics who kinda apologetically deem it “a cracking pulp thriller” or whatever are doing pulp thrillers, cracking or otherwise, a terrible disservice.

    but i think he has the right to write such a book, without a doubt. and we have the right to say it’s awful, and here’s why… or it’s brilliant and here’s why…

    “Wow! So, without a product of defecation or urination slapped in front of them, people wouldn’t be able to think. Whatever you have faith in (you say that you don’t know yourself) you don’t have a lot of faith in people’s reflective powers.”

    that wasn’t really my point. i mean, to carry that to its conclusion, we would end up with the notion that art should never raise any questions because human beings are perfectly capable of thinking these things for themselves. well yeah, and how they express these issues is by, in part, creating works like we’ve discussed.

    i’m not by any means suggesting that art should be forever offending, but it should be provoking and challenging. how individual artists do that is up to them.

    you’re right that, far as i can tell, christianity has been the source of much of these especially controversial pieces, but might that maybe tell us something about christianity too? Surely if enough people challenge something it must make us question WHY they feel the need to do so?

    and for what it’s worth, i found the hubub over the Mohammad cartoons, and over The Satanic Verses, to be particularly disgusting also. but healthy in so far as it opens debate (at least in places were debate is possible without being shot).

    actually, leave the brackets out of it, that’s something worth noting. we live in a society were people CAN produce things like we’ve talked about, and that should be something to be proud about, not something to lament. i’m glad that artists, writers, filmmakers, whoever, can freely challenge these aspects of society, and if artists from particular regions can’t, then that’s something to be terribly annoyed about right there.

    “Is it profane for the culture involved, Christianity, or not? Since so many Christians protested vehemently about it, one could with certainty infer that they found it profane.”

    well, even so, i don’t see that that’s any reason NOT to do something, just becuase a majority will find it displeasing. sometimes it’s the very reason TO do something.

    and i still think Ofili was doing something particularly worthwhile. i think we should question why we find these things offensive, even pornography. (pornography between consenting adults, i might add) It’s an old cliche, almost, but there is the question of violence vs sex, one that’s illustrated in how the christian right reacted to The Passion Of The Christ, an incredibly brutal piece of work (which i adore, also) and The Last Temptation Of Christ, a tender, moving, thought-provoking film that had the audacity, in a dream sequence, to present a couple seconds worth of soft-focus kissing. The Last Temptation… is arguably the more christian of the two, since it constantly, from the opening frames (bar the credits) accepts, and asks us to accept, that Christ was god and man. if the Passion lost the last 50 seconds, one would never know Jesus had any divine aspect whatsoever.

    There’s plenty of art i find offensive, but that’s no reason for the artist in question not to do it, providing no-one is being abused in the production of such.

  • zingzing

    prism: “You zingzing seem to believe that there is some worth and some point in offending people (mind you, these arguments are put forward only when Christians are offended, as far as religions are concerned), but you fail to explain what it is.”

    mmm. first, it’s not only christians. like aaron said, look at the satanic verses, look at the mohammad cartoon controversy. i’m not sure where i stand on the mohammad cartoons… it’s a little dodgy for dutch people to court offending an entire culture by breaking one of their cardinal rules. but then, we are free to do what we want. art has no rules.

    lampooning another’s culture is difficult, for several reasons. like i said, i’m not sure where i stand on that. lampooning your own culture, even when not meant to be funny at all, is not only an artist’s right, it is an artist’s responsibility. piss christ and black madonna have something (albiet something vague) to say about freedom of speech, censorship and blasphemy. it may be political, it may be personal…

    deliberate ugliness has been around in art forever. it shows the other side. what if the citizens of LA got uppity every time a movie came out that showed the underbelly of their city?

    ever heard of no-wave music? it was an outgrowth of post-punk in late 70’s new york. the melodies and rhythms were deliberatly fractured, the lyrics usually very insulting to the audience that no-wavers were trying to communicate with. harmony was never fixed. people in the first couple of rows at concerts were risking getting attacked by the musicians. one of the more popular no-wave bands was teenage jesus and the jerks. another was the contortions, which eventually became (as they evolved into a funk band) james white and the blacks.

    i think some line can be drawn between no-wave music and the type of reaction that the artists behind piss christ and black madonna seek. they are confronting their audience with their own desires and beliefs, twisting them into something different than expected.

    yes, they are just trying to make them think. to see into their own selves and discover that there is another point of view, and here it is, right in your face.

  • cornel moldovan

    this movie has the quality of waking up sleepy minds , to faith , to protect the immaculate image of our saviour Jesus Christ.

  • Pickel ladie

    whollllly calm down people..its just a movie