Tuesday, July 22

As you probably know, we were in Florida last week, with the stated objective of attending the Christian Booksellers' Association convention. Well, I was tagging along, and Michael was in attendance for work.

It's quite the show - sort of like your local Christian bookstore, a hundred times magnified, with the additional feature of much free stuff being tossed at you. There were just a few Catholic exhibitors present: OSV, Abbey Press, a CD distributor, the John Michael Talbot group, and Lord have mercy, a group called the Shepherds of Christ, which has various aspects to its apostolate, including the promotion of a particular visionary, as well as the purported apparition of Mary that appeared in the glass of a Clearwater bank building a few years back.

I ask you, in this sea of very serious evangelicals, what you think of the witness to Catholicism offered by this last group. They have their big posters of the Mary image. They have stacks and stacks and stacks of cards with the apparition. And they are literally accosting people as they walk by, planting themselves in front of folks, forcing these cards on them, inviting the Baptists to learn more about the Marian apparition on the bank building in Clearwater.

It was unnerving, exasperating, and, I have to tell you, exceedingly strange.

But in the context, what is strange? This show always brings forth great reflections on the ties between evangelism, marketing and commerce. The rationale behind it all - behind the Scripture Candy (in a booth manned by staff in matching shirts with America flag prints emblazoned on them), behind the huge, expensive Zondervan and Tyndale booths that could have been a nice-looking floor at Bloomingdale's - is passing on the Good News. But in a commercial culture, how is that done without commerce? Ah, that is the question.

Michael will probably blog more about this particular aspect later, so I won't steal his thunder, but when you go to a show like this, you are struck by the symbiosis between evangelical culture and secular pop culture. Quite simply - if it's in pop culture, within time, you'll find it baptized in a Christian bookstore. Here are two examples that struck me as particularly amusing.

First, there's this novel, due out in the fall:

And what might this be aping?

Secondly is a book called Body by God: The Owner's Manual for Maximized Living, a book also coming out this fall, for which I unfortunately can't find a cover image online yet, but - trust me. If you've ever seen the cover for Body for Life, you've got it - almost exactly, just with a different guy in a muscle-T on the cover.

The relationship between religion and culture is always a complex and interesting one, but this is ever more fascinating because it is so purposeful, so blatant - so...opportunistic, because, you know, they're not giving this stuff away for free. There is such a strong impulse within American evangelicalism to produce an alternative, "safe" culture, there seems no end to the products that can be churned out, marketed and sold to fill that need.

Unfortunately, the Tammy Faye pic turned out to be unusable - way too blurry - Michael was holding Joseph as he was taking it, so you understand. Let's just say that it always such a useful tonic to see celebrities without make-up...well, I mean with only half the make-up she'd usually wear. I mean, friends, she looked. like. hell. It was scary. Maybe she scared Joseph, maybe he was trembling in fear and made Michael's hand shake. Her hair was bright, bright red, she had tremendously heavy eye makeup and lipstick on, but, it seems nothing else, and the skin on her face just sagged in this bizarre collapse of wrinkles pouring down each cheek. But her voice was the same - that grating bark. I exchanged nothing but hellos from her, but the person in front of me had this long conversation in which they spoke of dead people - I guess Tammy Faye's brother had just died, and she wouldn't shed a tear. "I never do," she rasped. "It's not sad at all - he's gone to be with Jesus. I can hardly wait to go myself, because this is not my home. This. Is. Not. My. Home!"

Mel Gibson is on the road showing The Passion or trailers from it to various sympathetic audiences. On his paces around the Christian Booksellers' Association convention last week, Michael heard that Gibson was around, talking up the film, and several elated folks spoke of playing poker with him late into the night at his suite at the Peabody Hotel. I got an email yesterday telling me that he was at the big Legion of Christ-sponsored conference that was in Chicago last weekend, showed a trailer, and took questions.

Then there's this account from Lloyd Grove in today's WaPo

Yesterday's secret screening at the Motion Picture Association of America included columnists Peggy Noonan, Cal Thomas and Kate O'Beirne; conservative essayist Michael Novak; President Bush's abortive nominee for labor secretary, Linda Chavez; staff director Mark Rodgers of the Senate Republican conference chaired by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.); former Republican House member Mark Siljander of Michigan; and White House staffer David Kuo, deputy director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

Matt Drudge's conversation with Pat Buchanan about the film

Well Mel Gibson is here, he's in town. He's two blocks away. He sends his regards. He'll be making the rounds on this one. This may be the last movie Mel Gibson makes, Pat Buchanan. This is the ultimate film. It's magical. Best picture I have seen in quite some time, and even people like Jack Valenti were in the audience in tears at this screening. There was about 30 of us. It depicts a clash between Jesus and those who crucified him, and speaking as a Jew, I thought it was a magical film that showed the perils of life on earth

The New Republic's report from Paula Frederiksen, who served on the committee that reviewed the script back in the spring

Gibson has continued to speak earnestly of his film as "conforming" to the New Testament. Unless he ditched the script with which he was working as late as March, wrote an almost entirely new one, re-assembled his cast, re-shot his movie, and then edited it in time to be screened in June, this statement, too, must be false. Six pages of our report lay out for him exactly those places where he not only misreads but actually contravenes material given in the Gospels. And his historical mistakes, no less profound, are spelled out for him there, too.

Part of the group's critique, posted at the Boston College website.

This is fascinating. It seems clear that Gibson is up to creating buzz by letting constituencies sympathetic to the film see it or trailers and have personal contact with him. It's working, but with unfortunate consequences, I think. He's letting the sympathetic see it, and holding it back from more critical viewers, thereby creating even more hostility in the latter group than there probably would be otherwise. I would think he needs to get this movie out pretty soon (is there a distributor yet?), I would think...

Oh, and, as a reader asks, where's the screening for the Catholic Bloggers going to be?

Another reader writes: The hypersensitivity, hyperbole, and accusations over a film that virtually no one has seen means . . . something. But what?





We're back, with lots of work to do- both around here and in the writing/editing business. I've not read any blogs for about two weeks, so I've no idea what the current conversations are about, so if you want to fill me in, feel free. I will update later, but right now, I've got to unpack, do laundry and make some phone calls and get my head back in a serious work space!

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