American Culture

The controversy surrounding The Golden Compass has all but guaranteed blockbusterhood

goldencompassI’m an avid reader and movie watcher, and I enjoy the occasional escape into things that aren’t hard to read or understand. This is why I’ve enjoyed the Harry Potter novels and why, when it was suggested to me a number of years ago, I read the entire His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman. The first novel, The Golden Compass, has been made into a movie that officially hits the theaters this Friday. And, if the sheer volume of news about the movie is any indication, it will be the blockbuster of the 2007 holiday season.

The reason is that a number of Christian groups (mostly Catholic) have demanded that their adherents boycott the movie, and in so doing have given it a massive amount of free news publicity. Have these people learned nothing?

Seriously, the best way to guarantee that people expose themselves to something is to ban, boycott, or otherwise protest it. The more people who hate something and want you to hate it too, the more other people want to figure out what all the fuss is about. It’s human nature.

And so the Catholic League,, and at least one Christian talk radio host have demanded that no-one see the movie. News outlets as diverse as France’s AFP, The National Catholic Reporter, the Arab Times Online, CNN, and and The LA Times are reporting about the controversy surrounding the movie as much as they are about the movie itself. A huge number of commentaries, mostly in support of the movie, have been put out by supporters including several written by Catholics. Two of the better one’s I’ve read are Salon’s “A moral ‘Compass’, written by Catholic mother Mary Elizabeth Williams, and The Boston Globe’s “God in the dust” by Catholic theologian Donna Freitas.

I’ve read the books, and there’s definitely an anti-organized religion and anti-authority theme to them. There’s also no question that the Authority (the books’ version of God, albeit a false one of a sort – saying too much more would give away too much of The Amber Spyglass) is the bad guy and that he is dead by the end of the trilogy. But personally, I’m right there with both Ms. Williams and Ms. Freitas – if your faith can’t stand up to being questioned, it’s not much of a faith.

Unfortunately, while all this press has given The Golden Compass a lot of free publicity, it’s also given the Catholic League a lot of free press too, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Bill Donahue, the Catholic League’s spokesman, has a history of being anti-woman, anti-gay, and generally an over-wrought ultra-conservative blowhard (read a number of “good” Donahue quotes here). People like Mr. Donahue thrive on attention like this, and in the process get more and more dangerous. But in the process they open themselves up to eviscerating satire like that dished out by South Park in last season’s Easter episode, “The Hare Club for Men”.

But as someone who had outright forgotten that The Golden Compass was coming out this month, I’d like to thank the Catholic League et al for reminding me that I wanted to see it on the big screen. And for this movie I’ll find a sitter….

[Crossposted: Thoughts in the Daedalnexus]

17 replies »

  1. It’s always been my sense that God has to have a) a sense of humor b) a healthy self esteem (I mean, like, he’s really GOD) and c) that He (or She, or some other Derivative my small mind cannot comprehend) is big enough to take care of Himself. It seems though that its His minions/zealots etc that get defensive.

    Its things like this that also make people say that people let religion think for them. The ironic thing is that God is allegedly [sorry God, no offense] omnipresent, so He will (probably) be watching the movie as well…

    Hats off to the Catholics who gave enlightened reviews that proves that Catholics, like people, come in more than one color. It ALMOST makes me want to forgive the paddling dished out to me by Sister Sarah…

  2. I loved this set of books and cannot see how the film can in any way capture the breadth and depth of the story.

    The special effects may be the draw for me because I will see the film for that bear.

  3. Yep. It was the bear that did it!!! The moment I heard him speak, I was hooked.

    And not to be offensive to bears, or black presidential nominees, but he sounded so articulate!

  4. I doubt the movies will match the books – I gave up that hope for any movie made from a book long ago. And given that New Line and Chris Weitz (the director) have outright said that they cut back on the anti-religious themes in this one in hopes of getting the two sequels, it’s flat out known that the movie won’t be in the same league.

    That said, however, I’m looking forward to this movie. The special effects are why I’ll see it on the big screen instead of waiting till it hits DVD. And I’ve only read the books once, so I don’t have so much invested in the stories that I won’t be able to enjoy the movie.

    Books like the His Dark Materials trilogy are examples of how young adult literature doesn’t have to mean easy, uncomplicated, and controversy-free. The best literature of all, regardless of the target audience, makes us stretch our hearts, minds, and souls some.

  5. What if we started making anti-homosexual movies where we killed off gays at the end of a trilogy?? Would you tell gays to lighten up and get a ssense of hunor? Would you tell them its just art? no you wouldnt. People would be outraged and trying to sue someone. This is unfortunately the world we live in…Christians are expected to turn the other cheek and have a sense of humor about things…while the rest of world gets to pass hate crime legislation against anyone who treats them the same as they treat Christians.

    People are such hypocrites.

  6. Yeah, you’re right. Because Christians are such a persecuted minority and have never done anything to anybody else. Damn, it must be hard being you.

  7. I can prove to you that gays exist and that you hurt real people when you create gay snuff films – can you prove to me that God exists and you hurt him/her/it when you create a God snuff film (if this even qualifies)? If not, then you’re argument doesn’t hold water.

    Care to try again?

  8. “Christians are expected to turn the other cheek.”

    Correct. Which is why when a true Christian does this…he is one. But all governments do many things in Jesus’ name…

    A Buddhist Monk is more peaceful.

  9. “Books like the His Dark Materials trilogy are examples of how young adult literature doesn’t have to mean easy, uncomplicated, and controversy-free. The best literature of all, regardless of the target audience, makes us stretch our hearts, minds, and souls some.”

    Yeah! 🙂

  10. I agree with your analysis 100%! Controversy is a emerging, viable marketing tool, and I’m surprised more marketers don’t embrace it as a purposeful strategy. I suspect in this instance it is emerging pretty organically from the advocates you’d expect to see involved. It would have been intriguing if Weitz or the producers could have figured out how to get one or more Christian groups on their side — you could pretty easily ‘read’ Lyra and her spiritually-aware compatriots as early Christians facing off against a hollow, state-run church (i.e. Rome), irrespective of what Pullman intended — and then really got the debate off to a rousing start. Anyway, I’ve written about the relevance and uses of controversy in marketing, as evidenced by this movie launch, at DIM BULB, if you’d care to check it out.

  11. Oh the irony. christians don’t get their own teachings (ie, turn the other cheek). I’ve always called it the “christian mythology” since it has truly been one of the most violent religions in the history of the world ( yknow the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, Manila, etc etc etc).

    This pretty much says it all

    Frankly, I think there’s too many empty crosses. But then again, I’m in favor of dumping USrael in the middle of Africa and putting a beeg wall around them so they won’t bother the natives, and then returning the land (formerly known as Israel) to the people whom it was stolen from. It was a BAD idea for the US to put a Middle East outpost in the middle of Arab land and call it Israel.

    But it nice to see kharma boomeranging on christians and israel.

  12. On the flip side, I will also say that I thought the SciFi channel mini-series “The Tin Man” (based upon The Wizard of OZ) was pretty damn good.

  13. What would really be funny is if, due to the push against seeing it, that it breaks opening day movie earning records. I’ll be watching…amd if it does, you need to do a sequel to this post Angliss;-)

  14. Go to this link,

    Under the banner,

    The Real Story
    Discover the truth about the hottest news:

    Look for the pic with Nicole Kidman and the title:

    Does ‘Golden Compass’ Promote Atheism?

    You’ll see a ‘discussion’ about the movie. The white Catholic guy is almost like an Al Sharpton for the Catholic Church. And the lady is like the president of American Athiest.

    It would be funny if they both weren’t so serious. Can’t we do better than this?