EXCESS HOLLYWOOD:  HOLYWOOD BABYLON Image

If you pay any attention to what is happening in the entertainment culture, you know that religious pundits everywhere are talking about Hollywood’s new love affair with Jesus Christ, as television shows, movies and books with religious themes are popping up like herpes sores on Mary Magdalena. And while many would say “The Passion of the Christ” was the start of this trend, that movie was really the one that brought it to the attention of the national media and paved the way for stuff like NBC’s “Revelations.” I personally don’t care too much about these films and television shows, but I’m curious as to why conservative cultural critics and priests seem excited. Don’t they remember “Oh God! You Devil?”

Hollywood studios, for the two of you who don’t know, have this annoying habit of following trends and running them into the ground, sucking them dry of every last dollar as they vomit out crap in hopes of one last hit. Films in the religious genre will not be immune to this and will get more experimental as producers and directors attempt to target different demographic groups for studios. At some point, “The Last Supper” will be shot with Ice Cube starring as the big, gun-wielding JC. (The cynic trapped inside me wonders how those conservative cultural critics will feel about something like that.) It will have humor and flashy violence, but one thing it won’t include is the standard religious elements found in all the current entertainment. At that point, Hollywood will think it has found a way to get the best of both worlds (the “urban market” and “church people”), and it will fail (as it always does).

Religious leaders have painted Hollywood as a den of sin for decades, taking it to task for turning out trash but not for acting like any capitalist organization tends to do. It’s not the fact that studios are trying to make money that bothers them, but rather how they are attempting to make it. Films like “Kill Bill Vol. 1” are not acceptable, but “Left Behind” is. As usual, religious leaders and their apologists want to do to Hollywood what they want to do to rest of the world: sanitize it and make it safe for the sheep to graze without being bothered by anything resembling free thought or controversy. And now these same folks who chastised Tinseltown and its output believe this is where Hollywood is headed. Blow the horns and bring down the walls, God is coming to IMAX.

You can’t really blame these people for having such delusions. They think their message is starting to get through to the heathens. “The Passion of the Christ” made a lot of money, and attendance at church is way up, which means the church makes more money. But you have to understand who is going to the theatre and who is spending their Sundays at the sermon to fully appreciate what is happening and why it will backfire.

I conducted a little survey among my friends, both liberal/secular and religious/conservative. I had several liberal/secular friends who saw “The Passion of the Christ” just to see what the hype was about. They thought they would at least give it a chance if only for the hope of seeing an interesting film. Some liked it. Some didn’t. Then I asked about “Fahrenheit 9/11” and saw a startling, yet thoroughly understandable contrast.

None of my religious/conservative friends gave “Fahrenheit 9/11” the same courtesy the liberal/seculars did to “The Passion of the Christ.” Not a single one. None of them saw it or even considered seeing it. In fact, I think the only religious/conservative types who did see it did so as critics, and their minds were made up before they went in.

That’s who is attending church these days and making religious movies and television shows popular — people who already believe the message being presented but are now being more vocal about it and those who are merely curious.

To the religious people reading this who think this trend in entertainment is a good thing, know this: This trend will reverse, but not before it bites you in the a*s. The pendulum swings both ways, and while I don’t mind this current trend in movies, I think you will have a real hard time dealing with what the future holds. If you want Hollywood and television studios to continue putting out quality (and that is the key here) religious entertainment, you have to be more discriminating in what you praise, and you have to become more culturally aware. If you don’t do these things, you will be taken advantage of by a system where the only motivation is profit (not prophet). You will end up being played as a sucker, and you’ll have no one but yourself to blame.

Hollywood is a land of trends, money and — dare I say it — art. (“One of these things is not like the other,” he sings.) The religious landscape is one of spirituality and often hypocritical dogmas. The two shouldn’t meet, yet they seem made for each other. In the end, this love affair, born of domestic violence, will revert back to its true form. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. You can celebrate now, but if you don’t start thinking about the true implications of what is being done to the things you have faith in, it will be one of the shortest parties ever.

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