Frank Rich on the Da Vinci Code and Exploiting Religion

Frank Rich writes that Sony Pictures hired a
bevy of consultants to get Christians to create “teaching moments” that
subsidized a movie that most Christians find offensive. He says it rivals Tom
Sawyer bamboozling his friends to painting that fence.

It rivals
Tom Sawyer’s
bamboozling
of his friends
into painting
that fence.
–Frank Rich

Sony Pictures hired a bevy of consultants to get Christians to create “teaching moments” as part of a calculated strategy to exploit controversy around the Da Vinci Code, according to Frank Rich, columnist for the New York Times. He notes Hollywood scriptwriter and former nun Barbara Nicolosi blogged that Sony coopted “legions of well-meaning Christians into subsidizing a movie that makes their own Savior out to be a sham.”

Rich sees this as a perfect metaphor for political machinations in which the conservative religious base turns out for the Republican Party but is always betrayed. He makes a strong case to support this contention.

Granting this, however doesn’t tell the whole story. Rich starts his piece by pointing to the remarkable capacity of movie executives to coopt virtually anything, including our religious sensibilities, and milk it for profit.

Some critics of the Da Vinci Code were clear about the obvious economic exploitation and called on interested inquirers to use library copies of the book, for example, to avoid adding to the coffers of the book’s author. However, unless you decided to neither buy the book nor attend the movie, it’s difficult to avoid getting pulled into the profit-making machinery. It’s just too pervasive and aggressive.

But this whole affair raises several interesting questions. Knowing that controversy feeds the coffers of those who are willing to exploit anyone and everything, is there another response concerned people can make when the next controversy looms? Now that these tactics are clear, can we find a way to deny the corporate exploiters the profit that feeds their exploitation? And will those vocal freelance religious entrepreneurs on the right who fan the flames of cultural skirmishes and who benefit from media exposure continue to be willing partners in this cooptation?

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