I am always amazed when well-funded and intelligently managed militant organizations on either side of the political, religious, corporate or socioeconomic aisle attempt to thwart the success of a movie, song, book or work of art by giving it more free publicity than it could have ever hoped for… and by doing so, end up ensuring its success.
Where would Madonna be without the legion of pro-family boycotters banding against her? How many of us would have ever heard of the Chocolate Jesus without the noise made by the folks who were so offended by that otherwise insignificant piece of art that they had to tell all the world about it? It goes on and on and on.
The latest installment in the boycott-to-fame saga: The Catholic League vs. New Line’s The Golden Compass. Here is the CL’s official stance on the matter (from their website):
“New Line Cinema and Scholastic Entertainment have paired to produce ‘The Golden Compass,’ a children’s fantasy that is based on the first book of a trilogy by militant English atheist Philip Pullman. The trilogy, His Dark Materials, was written to promote atheism and denigrate Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism. The target audience is children and adolescents. Each book becomes progressively more aggressive in its denigration of Christianity and promotion of atheism: The Subtle Knife is more provocative than The Golden Compass and The Amber Spyglass is the most in-your-face assault on Christian sensibilities of the three volumes.
“Atheism for kids. That is what Philip Pullman sells. It is his hope that ‘The Golden Compass,’ which stars Nicole Kidman and opens December 7, will entice parents to buy his trilogy as a Christmas gift. It is our hope that the film fails to meet box office expectations and that his books attract few buyers. We are doing much more than hoping—we are conducting a nationwide two-month protest of Pullman’s work and the film. To that end, we have prepared a booklet, ‘The Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked,’ that tears the mask off the movie.
“It is not our position that the movie will strike Christian parents as troubling. Then why the protest? Even though the film is based on the least offensive of the three books, and even though it is clear that the producers are watering down the most despicable elements—so as to make money and not anger Christians—the fact remains that the movie is bait for the books. To be specific, if unsuspecting Christian parents take their children to see the movie, they may very well find it engaging and then buy Pullman’s books for Christmas. That’s the problem.
“We are fighting a deceitful stealth campaign on the part of the film’s producers. Our goal is to educate Christians so that they know exactly what the film’s pernicious agenda really is.”
Being that I am Catholic myself (hey, nobody’s perfect) I am being bombarded by some of my peers and local Catholic organizations with pro-Catholic/anti-Golden Compass propaganda every single day. That is all these people are talking about. I am getting emails, newsletters, petitions… Seriously. It’s getting old.
As if there weren’t enough other things that the Catholic League could be focusing its attention on – like war, famine, child abuse, corporate fraud, violence against women, poverty, out-of-control Sith lords, whatever the hell is going on with Michael Jackson’s nose… or the Devil, even. He’s still around, right? Causing all sorts of mischief and whatnot? Wouldn’t any of these things be worthier of the Catholic League’s energy and focus than New Line’s release of The Golden Compass?
You would think.
But I digress.
If the Catholic League is really bent on thwarting the success of The Golden Compass‘ release in the US, they are going about it in the worst possible way. Let me explain:
Before Bill Donohue and his army of politically charged minions (none of whom have seen the movie, by the way) decided to start this gi-normous publicity campaign for… err… against The Golden Compass, I wasn’t all that interested in the movie or the books. I figured “oh, this must be another C.S. Lewis Chronicles of Narnia/Harry Potter/Eragon/Lord of the Rings derivative dealio. Whatever.”
I might have been convinced by the family unit to go spend $10 to see it on the big screen, but that would have been it.
But now, thanks to the Catholic League’s unavoidable barrage of warnings against the story’s allegedly venomous anti-Catholic message and pernicious atheist agenda, I have grown curious about not only the movie… but the books as well. I mean really. How dangerous can this fictional yarn be to stir militant Catholics so?
CL President Bill Donohue should feel pretty proud of himself: Thanks to the holy media blitzkrieg he has unleashed upon the United States population, I am now the proud owner of all three books in the trilogy, and have officially started reading The Golden Compass. (It’s actually pretty damn good, and not at all a children’s book – not in the sense that Harry Potter is a children’s book anyway.)
Apparently, I am not alone, as three other parents (accompanied by kids ages 6-15) were in my local B&N’s checkout line to buy at least one of the books this past Sunday when I was there.
I look forward to thumbing my nose at the picket lines protesting the movie at the local multiplex next week when I go see it.
(Please don’t excommunicate me! Pretty please?)
The result of the Catholic League’s brouhaha/boycott/bonehead campaign:
- More attention towards the movie’s release than a two-week volley of primetime TV ads and judiciously placed banner ads – all for free.
- More interest in the source material (the book) that the movie is based on.
- Most likely a significant boost in revenue for both the movie and books compared to a scenario in which the Catholic League had just kept its big clumsy mouth shut.
- And last but not least, a renewed personal interest in the very tasty Nicole Kidman.
(Yes Madam Kidman.)
For an organization so terrified of a series of books that (in its collective mind at least) criticizes the Catholic Church through a fictitious religious dictatorship that exists in an alternate dimension, I just can’t help but wonder if constantly pointing out to every human being within reach of a radio, TV or newspaper that the books’ depiction of that scheming, corrupt, evil theocracy is in fact a direct attack on the Vatican is a good idea. Seems to me that in terms of PR, this sort of strategy actually makes things worse. Not only does it establish a clear link between the fictitious Magisterium and the real Catholic Church, but also firmly cements this connection in western pop culture for the next century or two.
I could be wrong, but a smarter course of action – if my goal were to try and distance the real Catholic Church’s image from the fictitious Magisterium’s evil ways – would have simply been to say something like: “The books are fiction. They are set in a fantasy world of alternate realities populated by magical creatures and talking bears. The Magisterium obviously has little in common with the Catholic Church or any Catholic institutions: We don’t torture children. Our priests don’t own pet monkeys. You aren’t likely to find Nicole Kidman lookalikes running any Catholic after-school programs. What else is there to say?”
Boycott fantasies aside, making a mountain out of a molehill does exactly that: It takes a tiny little molehill no one cared about and turns it into a mountain no one can miss.
If I were New Line Cinema, I would be writing Bill Donohue and his organization a big fat thank-you check for all the free publicity. (Well… not exactly free. The Catholic League’s 23-page anti-Gold Compass booklet is available for just $5. Hmmm…. The plot thickens.)
As for the rest of you, next time you find yourself wanting to boycott or protest a political speech, an art collection, the construction of a foreign-owned superstore in your backyard or the release of a controversial new product, give some serious thought to the effect that your protest is likely to have on the success of the thing you are speaking against.
Not always, but sometimes, quietly dismissing something works better than attracting a lot of undue attention to it.
… Unless of course, your real agenda has more to do with exploiting every possible media opportunity to raise money and recruit members than actually doing anything.
Have a great Wednesday, everyone. ;)
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