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By Mike Watt | November 29, 2007

“Why don’t we trust readers? Why don’t we trust filmgoers? Oh, it causes me to shake my head with sorrow that such nitwits could be loose in the world.” ““ Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy.

So the Catholic League is at it again. They’re calling for a sight-unseen boycott of The Golden Compass, which opens this weekend, but not because they object to the movie itself.

Some history: The Golden Compass, which is the U.S. title of a book called Northern Lights, the first in a trilogy uniformly called His Dark Materials, but also referred to by the author as “The Golden Compasses“, referring to the drawing devices and not the mis-identified navigational object used on the cover. Got all that? Granted, The Golden Compass is a better title than either Northern Lights or His Dark Materials (taken from a line in Milton’s Paradise Lost), but it’s actually inaccurate. But never let a little thing like accuracy halt the wheels of capitalism.

Now then, the trilogy, a fantasy about another fantastical world, has as one of its themes the idea that organized religion can easily go astray when the higher-ups get drunk on their own power and that the religion’s followers should question the decisions of its leaders. Pullman, who is himself, if not a full-blown atheist, then a pretty strident agnostic, who doesn’t seem to trust organized religion in any form. Nevertheless, this is a theme in the book and actually isn’t what the book is about. The villains are a religious splinter group called, at least in the film, “The Magisterium”.

Further: the movie has toned down this theme. “The Magisterium” on film, headed by Nicole Kidman’s character, are some sort of ruling evil political party out to destroy a little blonde girl and her friends. The decision to tone down the anti-religious aspects of the books was made very, very early on in the development process because it was believed that it might hurt the film’s chances with an American audience. This decision, made with the agreement of the author keep in mind, was then attacked by some of the book’s more rabid fans, multiple anti-censorship groups and the British-based National Secular Society“”of which Pullman is an honorary associate. Okay, so they jettison the “Church can be bad for you” aspects of the book in order to get the “money is good for us” side of things locked in. I can understand this and even applaud the bold-faced admittance: “We’re going to tone down things that might piss some people off to make sure they come and bring their kids.” And, finally, since this was an undercurrent, a theme, and not what the book is actually about, I don’t see much problem with it. Everyone gets annoyed by something. Trying to please everyone is impossible because, let’s face it, everyone is an a*****e in his or her own way. And it’s their right to be so as human beings.

(Keep in mind, I’m getting a lot of these facts from the ever-reliable Wikipedia, so my details might not be to the letter here, but I’m at work and that’s all I have access to at the moment. I don’t think I’m too off-base here, though.)

To recap: the book says people should question The Church””be it Roman Catholic, Church of England, Scientology, etc.. But since Roman Catholics believe themselves to be the center of the universe, they’ve already decided to that it’s a personal attack on them. Fine. Just remember that self-crucifixion is impossible because you can never get that last nail in. Fortunately, there are plenty of other irascible Catholics with hammers and nails at the ready to help you out.

To recap further: the movie has downplayed this aspect. They want your money. They don’t care if you like to give it to the Church or any church, just give some to the producers too.

To recap even further: people are already pissed off that this stuff is gone or watered down or “censored” or whatever. So the people on Pullman’s side are mad at him.

And now the Catholic League, and its head, William A. Donohue (good to his mother, likes cheese and lapdances but feels guilty about both), have called for a boycott of the film of The Golden Compass (misnamed and direct-marketed but looking slick and fancy) because”¦

Truly, this is my favorite part.

Honest. I love this. F*****g love this.

“¦ because (wait for it)””even though the movie has jettisoned any “the Church is bad” (true or implied or other) themes and has placed the accent on Daniel Craig’s glare and the killer polar bears in their gladiator gear””even though none of that anti-religion stuff is there, we must boycott the movie because:

Ahem: “[T]he film will still encourage children to read the series, which League president William A. Donohue claims ‘denigrates Christianity’ and promotes ‘atheism for kids’.” Read the Wikipedia Article here.

Don’t go see the movie because your kids might want to read the books. And we all know books are harmful. They contain ideas. Beside that, they promote papercuts and eyestrain.

GOD FORBID (pun intended) that your kids might actually want to think for themselves! How would we sell them X-Boxes if they thought for themselves? Quick””offer free iPhones to anyone who doesn’t go to see the movie citing religious reasons (rather than, say, having anything better to do). Let’s not even ask the question about a faith so fragile, a religion so precariously-balanced, that a single movie or book can bring the entire thing crashing down!

Now what is genuinely entertaining me about all of this is: I had no desire to see The Golden Compass until I read about all the malarkey. I had no desire to read the books. I had no interest in CGI polar bears or non-CGI Daniel Craigs. But now damned if it isn’t at the top of my list of Things To Do.

And it ain’t just me, sportsfans. The internet is all abuzz and agog about The Golden Compass because of the “controversy”. So much so I’m actually wondering if the producers didn’t hire the Catholic League to start squawking just to get the extra publicity. Boycotts make ordinary things taboo. And people love taboo! They love to be outraged! Pious celibates will sit through burlesque shows for hours just to be offended! There are people out there who sit in front of their television sets and count the profanities all in the name of warning others! (“Censors are people who know more than they think you should.”””Ambrose Bierce)

So instead of hurting advanced word for The Golden Compass, the Catholic League has more or less ensured its success. And kids across the world will be reading the books looking for their substitute Harry Potter fix (also the subject of occasional controversy because it encourages kids to”¦ I don’t know, study witchcraft or fight trolls or something).

Because there is one truth that I have learned. It goes for humans, yes, but Americans in particular: Americans love to be told what to think; they hate to be told what to do. Boycotts always cause these two clauses to slam into each other. And the choice of the majority is, generally, to rebel against the latter. I.e.: ‘We were told that this is evil! We hate it! We must go because they told us not to!‘ God, I love boycotts! (If only someone would boycott my personal success, instead of instilling the indifference that is currently felt towards it.)

Who said that “Any man on his own is a rational individual, but upon joining a group he becomes a blockhead.” I think it was Mark Twain. Or, possibly, that Leviticus guy.

So who’s with me for The Golden Compass this week? We can tailgate. You bring the beer. The studio can bring the polar bears and the jailbait heroines. The Catholics can bring their outrage. I’ll bring the hibachi and the flammable Bibles.

* * *

Apropos of nothing, I was just reorganizing my Netflix list for the zillionth time. I have over 340 movies in queue right now, with a good mix of good, bad, classic and bound-to-be-terrible. Suddenly one of the sites recommendations popped up. It wasn’t something I was interested in (the 2nd season of Charles in Charge? That’s for me why?) to I clicked “Not Interested”. A second window popped up with “Why the hell not? You’re being choosy now??”

“¦ I made that last part up.

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  1. Rory L. Aronsky says:

    Stay thirsty my friend. 😉

  2. Nathaniel says:

    I’ll be there with some Dos Equis. 🙂

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