“It’s just a movie.” That’s the nonchalant retort that elites employ to mollify people who object to the venomous calumnies that are directed against the Catholic Church in Dan Brown’s now-it-is, now-it-isn’t fictional story, The Da Vinci Code.
It’s curious how this sophisticated observation is only employed when a movie offends certain sensibilities. No critic, for example, would have thought to downplay the significance of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ by saying, “It’s just a movie.” On the contrary, indignant commentary alleging anti-Semitism was ubiquitous.
Likewise, when United 93 was released, the mainstream media were atwitter with angst over whether Americans were “ready” for the film. No one, to my knowledge, pooh-poohed this psychologizing based on the fact that United 93 was “just a movie.” (Not surprisingly, no traumatological speculation has accompanied Oliver Stone’s soon-to-be-released 9/11 flick.)
Apparently there’s an unwritten rule for invoking the “It’s just a movie” clause that limits its use to scripts that slander military officials (JFK) and Christians or glamorize depravity (Pulp Fiction). In the unlikely event that a movie portrayed some Jesse Jackson double in a less-than-sympathetic light, one can be sure that industry flacks would never let these same words fall from their lips.
That little word “just”—as movie moguls prove when they tout their Brokeback achievements at award ceremonies—is a lie. Film, television, and other media shape public sensibilities—a point Plato made long ago when he discussed the impact that arts have upon character. “In music…lawlessness easily creeps in unseen…in the form of play, when it seems likely to do no harm.” Cultural elites know the power of mass communication—but deny it selectively.
Imagine a movie in which a priest is mysteriously murdered at Lincoln Center. As he dies he shreds his robe suggestively over a CBS camera. Subsequently, a polymath professor, dismissed from a prominent Catholic University for having anti-abortion views, begins to put together, at his great peril, the pieces of a vast, left-wing conspiracy.
The CBS eye turns out to be the symbol for an elite group that shapes public opinion by manipulating media messages. Moreover, this cocktail-swishing coven has a pedigree that extends through Jean-Paul Sartre and Sigmund Freud to the Marquis de Sade. Its ultimate goal is the destruction of the Judeo-Christian conscience that has informed Western society for the last 1500 years.
You can create the climax of your choice for this whodunit. But you can’t imagine any critic saying of such a film, “It’s just a movie.” Instead, this slick flick would be vilified as the paranoid fantasy of a mentally deranged individual with lifetime memberships in both the NRA and 700 Club.
Secular critics don’t pretend that movies of this sort are unimportant. They only pretend when movies vilify people or institutions that they hate.