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The Passion is still with us

This is an interesting story, given the sensitivity in the American mainstream media to concerns about anti-Semitism in general and to complaints that things are “run by Jews” in particular: Will Oscar Listen? The article, on the Academy Awards, is quite forthright on the point that Hollywood’s “Jewish roots” are the reason The Passion of the Christ won’t get nominated for Best Picture. Some quotes:

  • “ ‘A lot of older Academy voters, who are largely Jewish, refuse to even see this movie,’ says one Oscar-campaign vet. ‘There’s a level of animosity toward this film that is very real.’”
  • “ ‘I’ll tell you why ‘The Passion’ won’t be nominated [for an Oscar],’ snaps one industry executive. ‘Happily, there are too many people in the Academy who believe the Holocaust actually happened.’”

It seems to me that what the story shows isn’t a decline in concern about anti-Semitism, or a new maturity that makes it possible to discuss religion and ethnicity in a more direct way. What it shows is a sense among the well-placed secular liberals for whom Newsweek speaks that there’s something about serious religion in general and serious Catholicism in particular that deserves suppression.

The key point is that you’re allowed to talk about “the Jews in Hollywood” if they’ve done something good but not if they’ve done something bad. If you say Jewish influence explains the industry’s concern with civil rights, that’s OK, because it’s good. On the other hand, if you say it explains movie stereotypes about other minorities, that’s not OK, because it’s bad.

What the article shows, then, is that saying Jewish influence is shutting out The Passion is in the former category. That movie, and traditional Catholicism, are weird, they’re a threat, and if someone says they belong with the Holocaust there must be something to it. Those who object can be shrugged off as “born-agains … screaming [about] Sodom and Gomorrah.” So since pushing The Passion and everything associated with out out of public life is a good thing, what’s the problem with saying Jews are involved? The bottom line is the obvious: it’s not just secular Jews or Hollywood who wanted to scuttle The Passion, for their own particular reasons. It’s the whole of our dominant classes, because serious popular religion strikes at the heart of their position and their understanding of things.