On December 15, 2006, I was skimming through the cinema-related headlines and to my naïve surprise, found the heading “Christmas Horror Movie Offends Religious Groups” on CNN.com. I say “naïve surprise” because, upon researching Charles E. Sellier Jr.’s Silent Night, Deadly Night earlier in the year, I found that much the same animosity had previously occurred between such affiliations and horror films involving the theme of Christmas.
At the conclusion of my review of Sellier’s film, I disclose that “In the tradition of rabid conservatism, parents’ groups picketed the release of the film due to its depiction of Santa Claus. Obviously, this did no justice to the horror genre, not that the premise wasn’t valid, but it got a lot more people interested and watching this ‘naughty’ film than the movie would have garnered on its own.” The irony stands that the picketers’ actions lent notoriety to the film, thereby boosting the production’s returns but, unfortunately, brought droves of individuals in to see a very poor horror film instead of a masterpiece. Not that I’m forecasting a celluloid disaster with Glen Morgan’s remake of the film in question, Bob Clark’s 1974 cult hit, Black Christmas, because the worth of Morgan’s film will avail itself on Christmas and conjecture is not the issue at hand. I hereby humbly apologize for the digression . . . .
What is of concern is that, after attempting to permit my ethical hackles to settle down, I found myself unable and felt obligated to unfurl my critical flag. Going back to the CNN article, two individuals lashed out at the film: Mathew Staver, founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, and Jennifer Giroux, co-founder of Operation Just Say Merry Christmas. It is disclosed within the Reuters report that the latter’s comments upon the film were based solely upon her viewing of the trailer, thus I will grant benefit of the doubt that, ergo, Staver had actually seen the film in its entirety because I would rather not contemplate the injustice involved in passing judgment upon, say, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica if one were restricted to viewing only 1/42–one-fifth of one percent–of the canvas (the ratio that the trailer for the film grants the production’s 84-minute running time). As such, Staver’s sentiments regarding the upcoming release included “To have a movie that emphasizes murder and mayhem at Christmas, a time of celebration and joy around the world seems to be ill founded.”
As outlined by Dimension Films, “There is a long tradition of releasing horror movies during the holiday season as counter-programming to the more regular yuletide fare.” Films such as Black Christmas, in which numerous people are slain–as many a biologist and psychologist have verified after Aristotle’s initial conjecture–offer their viewers a cathartic reprieve during times of high stress and fatigue, i.e. Christmas, a period in which jokes can be frequently overheard wryly expressing a desire to kill other Holiday shoppers (which, in Freudian terms, designates an authentic, albeit subverted, desire). In so doing, works like Black Christmas ease one’s tensions which, in turn, make the world a little less haggard and, as a consequence, could ever-so-plausibly be the determining factor in making the fatigued and frustrated would-be lead foot a little lighter, which very well might result in the difference between a fatal automobile accident or another merry Christmas with the family.
But none of these ideas seem to be of any relevance to Staver, only the retention and sanctity of the Season’s image. (Which prompts the ironic theoretical of a wonderful, festive, Tiny Tim Christmas, sans Tiny Tim and Co.) As such, I emailed the Chairman of Liberty Counsel on December 18:
As a film critic, I must state that your comments concerning the remake of Black Christmas are naively idyllic and aesthetically limited, especially from a cultural perspective in that they forbid the notion that such atrocities as murder don’t politely take a sabbatical during the Holiday season, which presupposes that art is not to reflect life and that such a medium has nothing to offer its audience outside of escape.
Thank you for your time and Season’s Greetings.
Obviously, I cite nothing that any person involved in the arts would haggle over in that to insist that a work of art is forbidden to enter a particular realm, or offer a certain idea, on any basis–be it political, social, cultural, etc.–is, well, to put it bluntly, dogmatic (if not downright fascist), in that such action intuitively smacks of censorship. Art’s agenda, in part, is to challenge established ideas (how did we, as a nation, get beyond slavery if someone hadn’t gone against the status quo?) and, once again, I’m not predicting that Morgan’s film will do precisely that but Staver, on behalf of Liberty Counsel, is not only prohibiting the possibility, but all but demanding the work’s failure on such limited grounds.
Yet, to my surprise (again), I received a very interesting, albeit cynically pithy, retort the next day in my Inbox:
We respectfully doubt that you would promote a similar film entitled ‘Black Ramadan’ and risk offending the Muslim community. Some values are more important than promoting “art reflecting life.”
Yes, feel free to pause in order to pick your jaw up off the floor because, yes, an organization whose mission statement includes “[ . . . ] advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family” just shot a racist sentiment back at Yours Truly. Since when did “ill founded” offense become a unilateral affair?
Of course, we won’t bother quibbling over what I fear might very well be a (all-too convenient) clash of agendas occurring during this day and age regarding “religious freedom,” which is readily achieved when such a phrase is placed alongside something as semantically ambiguous as “traditional family” (the adjective being the eyebrow-raising term in question, which will be subsequently lowered at the disclosure that Liberty Counsel’s founder and Chairman is also the author of a text unequivocally titled Same-Sex Marriage: Putting Every Household At Risk).
Thus, my holiday has not only been filled with very stifling sentiments regarding the craft of filmmaking (admittedly, my bread and butter), but I have been forced to personally confront racist and religious bigotry from an organization whose, well . . . let’s say that the pot is calling the kettle black just to save face. In short, I darted back what I consider to be a very restrained and cool response given the circumstances:
Contrary to your very subjective black-and-white view of morality, I am always happy to evaluate any work of art, regardless of the creators’ race or religion. What would be more interesting in this respect is a film reflecting why someone, such as yourself, would make the remark that an individual’s skin color designates morality, thereby establishing and demanding staunch lines of aesthetic demarcation. So much for exploration of alternate ideas and ideologies, eh? A very Christian attitude, I must say, considering the exclusionary philosophy contained within your retort.
As you, my dear reader, can well guess, this is the fodder for journalism if there ever was one during this blessed 21st century. But, wait, it does get better. Not only do we have a ethnically intolerant, aesthetically bigoted coalition campaigning (who’s kidding who?–parading) under a slogan for which they (obviously) freely renounce, but those at Liberty Counsel also provide the humble service of stooping to condescension and character defamation once they find themselves treading water. Minutes after sending my above rejoinder, I received the following:
That is a strange response you gave. I’ll explain the originia (sic) remark so that even a first grader can understand it: You are promoting “Black Christmas” – a movie that denigrates a Christian holiday, but we would all agree that a movie called “Black Ramadan” should never be promoted. Do you understand now???
I thought you were an educator, but evidently you are just closed minded.
A-hem. For those of you not in the know, the “education” quip is in regards to my position as a university educator (which, obviously, plays a huge role in the subject matter being discussed because if I were, say, a mechanic–under Liberty Counsel’s legislation–such ignorance would apparently be expected). Thus, when the going got tough, instead of apologizing, offering to rephrase their position, or merely ignoring my correspondence, Liberty Counsel added a pinch of salt to the wound by resorting to dialectical fisticuffs by way of Ethos. (Seeing how it’s hard to logistically navigate around the problem of racism, I might well attempt a character jab in hopes of distracting from what came before.)
Returning to Staver’s claims and sentiments, I must pose the rhetorical once more, Since when did “ill founded” offense become a unilateral affair? By Liberty Counsel decree, filmmakers are to only work within the confines of their own racial, cultural, and theological belief systems, and any exploration outside of “their own” is to be strictly prohibited and subsequently condemned because, in Staver’s unspoken terms, to do so is, well, is in . . . ah . . . rude. (Sorry, I was not offered anything other than this implied rationale.) But then again, isn’t that what Morgan has done?
The better question is whether or not Staver and Co. would have sounded the alarm if an African American director would have provided us with an agnostic or, better yet (earmuffs for the children) atheistic, ax-wielding psychopath going postal on the eve of Yom Kippur? It just seems all too easy to take the conservative line, does it not?–both aesthetically and ethically–when someone as naïve as the Caucasian director Morgan gives us a predominately white cast being victim to the downright rude timing of a (optimum word forthcoming) crazed killer on Christmas Day.
Let’s just ignore that such crimes occur throughout the year, including Christmas (as recently as a year prior–in McLean and Great Falls, Virginia to be exact). And, get this, even by professed Christians. (Insert eager anticipation of Liberty Counsel refuting that such a person cannot be a “true” Christian, i.e. cannot “truly” believe in God and commit murder–we’ll just ignore the Crusades for now.) Instead, and solely for the sake of argument, what if we were given a group of white, Christian males engaging in Japanese genocide (a majority of the victims being civilian innocents no less) right before the commencement of the Bon Festival, the time in which Buddhists remember and honor the memories of their deceased relatives? But my hypothetical is of complete irrelevance here in that it isn’t fiction and, by Liberty Counsel’s creed, carnage and mayhem are permissible just so long as we don’t make a film about it (and distribute it during Christmas or Passover).
So, for Staver and Liberty Counsel, it’s all about the importance of retaining the pristine image of the Season and that the ends is not the prevailing concern, merely the all important means (death due to Holiday-sponsored road rage is permissible whereas anything involving a butcher knife is clearly unacceptable–let’s hope that the killer in Black Christmas, Billy, doesn’t have the m.o. of homicidal fury as a consequence of having stood in line, only to have the last Nintendo Wii sold right before his eyes). I suppose that in this regard, “the sanctity of human life,” as writ large in the organization’s credo, is just so much set decoration because wouldn’t the topic of death and murder be better addressed if–instead of hiding the fact that such atrocities occur (yes, even during the holidays and, earmuffs for one and all, by Christians)–we acknowledged such? This being said, I hope–for Staver’s sake–that nary one death occurs this Christmas. Otherwise, art would reflect life after the former (which, at this venture, is identical to the latter) refused to pause for the sake of one, and only one, of countless religious ideals (“religious freedom” indeed . . . ).
Obviously, art–even in the abstract (considering Glen Morgan’s Black Christmas has generated a full-length article upon race, religion, and aesthetics prior to its release)–continues to foster the ability to teach us all something about life. Unfortunately, not everyone is taking its lessons to heart. The capper? Shortly after finishing the initial draft to this piece, I received yet another email from Liberty Counsel, only this time coyly signed “Just Me,” announcing (for obvious reasons):
You can’t quote Liberty Counsel for any of this anyway, especially for such a ludicrous interpretation you have given it.
which was abruptly followed by an unsigned retort to my announcement that an exposé on the issue would nonetheless be forthcoming:
Then you’re (sic) readers will see how illogical your conclusion is.
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