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May 22, 2006

Juan Cole Manages Partial Erection Over Da Vinci Code

It's the first meager semi-boner the poor sot's managed in fifteen years.

And I think that's for the best.

The left jibed the "Christianists" for getting all goofy over Mel Gibson's The Passion. But... isn't a tad more absurd to go all ga-ga over this moronic pseudo-thriller?

Cole does just that, however. He ponders the political implications of the film, as well as it's powerful metaphysical message:

The novel has a binary structure. On the one hand you have the Church hierarchy, which is patriarchal, doctrinal, monotheistic, ascetic, and authoritarian. Those attributes are its normal pole, but it is open to corruption when they are over-emphasized. The first step toward over-emphasis is Opus Dei, which stands for a cult-like kind of monotheism in which individualism is much more surpressed than in the Church generally. But even Opus Dei is not so far from churchly normality. The villain of the movie is the man who corrupts the principles of Opus Dei itself, Bishop Manuel Aringarosa and his acolyte, Silas. They take self-denial in the direction of manic masochism, so that Silas routinely inflicts excruciating pain on himself in emulation of the crucifixion. And he has moved so far in the direction of giving up his individualism that he will do anything he is told by his master, including committing murder and torture. Inspector Bezu Fache, a representative of bourgeois order as a policeman, is likewise willing to put aside due process to obey his cultic master, violating individual rights and attempting to railroad a suspect, though he later has an ethical awakening.

Silas is, of course, a religious terrorist. With his monk robes, he inevitably nowadays evokes Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Corruption of an authoritarian and partiarchal tradition leads in the direction of murder for the faith.

This pole of the film reflects the authoritarian side of modern institutions and culture. It isn't about Catholicism at all, or about Opus Dei. It is about the unchallengeable doctrines (norms) of society, and about the constant danger that ordinary obedience to the law can turn into a cultic exaltation of the law above principle and spirit. The Silas's of the US are the Ollie Norths and the Irv Lewis Libbys, apparatchiks who are willing to break any law and throw over any constitutional principle in order to serve their masters. (I.e. Cheney gets to play Aringosa in the Plame scandal). As for patriarchy, it is still dominant in much of American life, from the presidency to the CEOs in the boardroom to the US officer corps, and it is linked to the bands of brothers who form gangs and go overboard in imposing conformity. Joe Wilson had to be punished for challenging the orthodoxy that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

The other pole in the Brown narrative is the priory around the female descendants of Jesus through Mary Magdalene. This pole is about paganism, feminism, individualism, scientific rationality and sexual freedom. This pole, likewise, can become corrupt and antinomian. Thus, the pagan orgy or hieros gamos repulses Sophie Neveu and causes an almost fatal break between the Grail (herself) and the priory. Likewise, scientistic society has led her to become an unbeliever, so that the Grail itself is corrupted by doubt. Sir Leah Teabing is the symbol of this pole gone to unethical extremes. In his quest for the Grail, he is willing to deceive and to kill. He is Silas's structural analogue.

The "pagan" (in Brown's sense) temptation is a significant feature of contemporary American life-- which can be lived without much immediate penalty as libertine, selfish, and undisciplined. Untempered by spirituality and ethics, science can be soulles and led to e.g. eugenics experiments.

Neveu, like Fache, is in the police and a symbol of middle class order. But she is willing to put her ethics above her professional discipline. When she sees that Fache has become a cultist and lost his perspective, she defies him and helps the fugitive Professor Langdon. She stands for genuine justice rather than only procedural justice.


The Brown narrative does not advocate replacing the patriarchal,authoritarian, self-denying Church with the feminist, individualistic, pagan, libertine priory.

It is, in fact, only the melding of the two poles that would create the happy medium. That would lie in gender equality, and in moderation in each of the values of authority and individualism, self-denial and self-indulgence, law and ethical principle.

That is the centrist position the public is looking for. It is religious, but for the most part values individualistic spirituality above dry Church discipline. It is willing to sacrifice, but not at the price of giving up self-actualization and individual ethical integrity. It is increasingly challenging patriarchy, though that struggle is lively. It recognizes the need for authority but is suspicious, in the Madisonian tradition, that too much authority will corrupt its holders.

The film is popular because it isn't about Catholicism or France or some odd conspiracy theory centered on Mary Magdalene. It is popular because it is about the dilemmas of secular modernity.


Still, it did big box office, and is hitting a nerve. Critics should be interested in what that nerve is.

How about "No"?

First off, Brown isn't quite suggesting that the aggressive, evil, dominating, authoritarian, pleasure-denying pain-loving murder-worshipping power structure of Christianity needs to be mixed just a tad with the peaceful, good, cooperating, individualistic, pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding, murder-abhorring structure of neo-pagan feminism. He's pretty damn sure the latter needs to completely replace the former-- and who could argue, when it's put like that?

True, Cole saw the movie, and didn't read the book, and the movie was more watered down. (In fact, the book waters itself down in the last few chapters, suggesting -- almost surely at an editor's insistence -- that all the evil people in the book be recast as simply misguided, and the Catholic Church be entirely absolved of any bad behavior the previous 430 pages suggested it was guilty of.)

Still, he gets the main message wrong.

Beyond that-- is this really a very interesting or novel message? It's a Goldilocks solution-- not too hard, not too soft, ooooh, this Christian/neopagan fusion religion is just right. That's the sort of split-the-difference "let's just bury our differences and agree that we should get high and mellow" "answer" that leftist soft-heads like Cole propose when they wish to seem reasonable. (When they're being more honest, they're fire-breathing preachers of hate, just on the other side.)

Hey, if the Da Vinci Code is an important message about moderation in the Forever Wars between authoritarianism and individuality, chastity and promiscuity, pleasure and self-denial, rules and "understanding," etc., then surely he must sing the high praises of the Sylvester Stallone film Demolition Man, too, right?

In that underrated movie (and by "underrated," I don't mean "good," I mean "not as godawful as most seem to think it is"), there is a similar binary tension between an above-ground society of perfect discipline and soulless conformity, and a below-ground rabble of anarchists, vandals, and actual terrorists (though funny and charming terrorists, as their leader is Denis Leary). At the end of the film, Sly Stallone tells the above-ground sheep to "get dirtier," and the below-ground rats to "clean up a little," and says that somewhere between the two extremes, they'll "figure it all out" and will "be fine." (Or words to that effect.)

Is this, too, an important and altogether novel expression of the need for a balance and harmony between the various poles of the human condition?

Of course not. It's bubble-gum moron-babble. It's like one of those questions on the written part of a driving exam:

You're faced with a slick road and a sudden stoppage up ahead. Do you:

a) Smash the accelerator like you were face-stomping a misbehaving whore, hoping you can "power right on through" the obstacles ahead

b) Jump down on the brakes hard as a MOTHERFUCKIN' MONKEY ON METH, in order to screech to a dangerous stop and thereby prevent traffic behind you from encountering the obstacle, by causing them to collide with the rear of your vehicle


c) Tap lightly on your breaks, to ensure good traction on the rainy road, and slowly decelerate to a safe speed, while not causing unexpected stoppages on the highway

Gee whiz... I'm thinking, A? If I go really super-fucking-fast I might just race around the obstacle ahead and shave five minutes off my Fuddruckers' driving time.

So, this is what Juan Cole considers a thought-provoking religio-political message: "Tap lightly on your breaks, don't go too fast, but also don't go too slow, either."

Thanks to Clint W. Taylor of the Nail Yale blog, and who also notes that this jerkoff is being considered for a Yale professorship, partly on the strength of his serving as a "public intellectual" on his blog.

Juan Cole grinned to himself as he watched the movie play. I've got no problem with religion, he thought to himself. This movie demonstrates my real problem is with sex-denying Christianity. I'm all in favor of this sex-cult stuff. It must be Christianity that's been keeping me from scoring any undergraduate tail!

He grinned more to himself as he left the theater. Then he saw his reflection in a theater window, saw his Cecil-the-Turtle face and slooped shoulders, and realized that he was fighting a more implacable opponent than mere Christianity. The entire hegemony of "lookism" will have to be overthrown, he grinned to himself. When's that movie coming out, I'd like to know.

Then he, too, went home to smash his testicles with a frozen scrod. Not for any religious reason; just because he'd by then found all other forms of masturbation to be a bit tired and passe.

"Krans" Is An Anagram For "Snark:" Not a good one, really, but it is.

Sandy Berger:

I like when Cole says:

It is popular because it is about the dilemmas of secular modernity.

He's got a point. I mean, I think we can all relate to running around European monuments being chased by a murderous albino while decyphering anagrams and flirting with Jesus Christ's hot daughter. This story is really about all of us.

And flying in billionaire's private jets, and being written about in Boston Magazine, and having his female students swoon (kinda like Indiana Jones' did, as a matter of fact), etc.

It's like he took the basic template of The Firm -- a too-perfect life of a rich and famous man enjoying the sumptitudes and power-villas of the fantastically wealthy -- and decided Grisham had just been a little too snobbishly distancing and arty in his literary pretensions.

digg this
posted by Ace at 06:38 PM

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