Blogs > Cliopatria > Gibson’s Jesus, in a Vacuum

Mar 3, 2004 6:44 pm

Gibson’s Jesus, in a Vacuum

Anne Applebaum, whose observations I am respecting more and more, has an interesting op-ed in the Washington Post today on the reason that the content of Gibson’s film—and other films based on history-- matters. I think these two paragraphs capture her point well:

We have so lost the habit in this country of reading history and teaching it to our children that we simply have no context in which to place the"realistic" epics of Gibson or Spielberg. They are dangerous not because they dramatize or alter historical events -- something great novelists have been doing for centuries -- but because there isn't anything else. In this sense, Gibson's film is actually less worrisome than others. Most of the people who go to see"The Passion of the Christ" will at least have a pretty good idea of the plot. Most of the people who saw"Saving Private Ryan," by contrast, knew very little about D-Day, aside from what they saw on the screen.

Which is hardly surprising: There are many states that don't require children to study American history, let alone European history, before graduating from high school. Fundamental though it is to any real understanding of Western culture, the subject of New Testament history would utterly terrify most public schools, which long ago sacrificed history to"social studies." Unless and until that changes, Mel Gibson's interpretation will indeed matter, and will indeed require public debate. Hollywood's power does not lie merely in its ability to distort. Hollywood's power lies in the fact that it distorts in a vacuum.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/6/2004

Ouch!! I'm not a Warren supporter. I just think Stone's view is ridiculous, and that it actually serves to discredit the idea that there was a conspiracy. That part with Donald Sutherland acting out the role of a deus ex machina was particularly ridiculous.

Name Removed at Poster's Request - 3/6/2004

"The visual trumps the written word."

I'm not so sure. I've heard and read many people toss off slights against Oliver Stone which required so little factual knowledge and were so uniform between all these people that they obvious came from one central source (our mainstream "news" media). The media have pretty effectively poisoned the minds of large numbers of people against any historical truth that his movies might contain.

"There's no shortage of people whose only idea of JFK comes from the film, and their only idea of the Passion from Gibson."

If you're about them, I wouldn't be. People like that are entertainment-heads, they're lazy and beyond maybe voting (if it's convenient) - they don't count for much in influencing our world. The affluent, educated, folks who believe the New York Times' relentless pro-Warren spin on the JFK assassination are the ones I'm worried about.

"Maybe when a counter-narrative film comes out ..."

The counter-narrative already exists in the form of all the "news" programs supporting the Warren Report's basic conclusions, praising Warren's supporters like Gerald Posner and misrepresenting those with evidence of conspiracy in the assassination. If "JFK" and that old Burt Lancaster movie call for equivalent entertainment industry counter-narrative, than the massive news media support for the "lone nut theory" cry out for factual counter-counter-narrative of epic proportions.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/6/2004

The visual trumps the written word. There's no shortage of people whose only idea of JFK comes from the film, and their only idea of the Passion from Gibson. Maybe when a counter-narrative film comes out ...

Name Removed at Poster's Request - 3/5/2004

"Kids growing up in the last two or three decades might only be exposed to the film JFK, and take it for gospel. There is little counter-narrative."

Actually there's a great deal of counter-narrative. The movie "JFK" was continuously attacked in U.S. mainstream news media starting well before its release. That's only a part of virtually all of our news media's unflagging support from 1964 onward of the government's "lone nut" theory of the JFK assassination.

My hope is that "JFK" spurred interest in the assassination and got young people to read some of the many (at least 2000?) books about it.

Richard Henry Morgan - 3/5/2004

In JFK, Oliver Stone has a puff of smoke coming out of a gun barrel at the top of the grassy knoll. But Oliver was a groundpounder in Vietnam, and should have known that modern ammo doesn't give off smoke -- it hasn't since roughly the late 19th century.

The AHA sponsored a book of essays some years back on history in film, and this episode was one of the subject chapters. Turns out Oliver had to hook up a bellows and blow smoke through the rifle chamber to get his nice cloud coming out the front. Kids growing up in the last two or three decades might only be exposed to the film JFK, and take it for gospel. There is little counter-narrative.

Now let me tell you about Oliver's portrayal of Jim Garrison ...

History News Network