Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Pulling for Pullman

[Blogger's note: The content of this blog post has been recycled/reworded/reorganized from compiled comments I posted in another blog regarding the same topic.]

It has come to my attention that emails have been circulating exhorting parents to boycott the movie The Golden Compass (including
this interview forwarded by my friend Shirley). The film is an adaptation of the 1st book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, and Pullman is an atheist. Ostensibly, the proposed boycott of both the movie and the books is motivated by the desire to protect children from their anti-Christian content.

Now, I've read His Dark Materials, and I absolutely loved it. In fact, it ranks among my favorite reads of all time. Judging the books as literature (and not propaganda nor doctrine), I found the books insightful, profound, and entertaining besides. Regardless of his beliefs and whether or not I agree with them, Pullman is a gifted writer and a brilliant thinker. I think it's unfair to condemn his work simply because he's an atheist. After all, we read Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim texts, and appreciate them for their literary value, in spite of any religious overtones. We teach Greek, Nordic, and Egyptian mythology in our high schools, and Communist and Socialist essays are included in our universities' reading lists. Atheism is simply another kind of belief different from Christianity, and just because it's different doesn't mean it's the "evil" it is perceived to be. I suggest critics of Pullman lighten up. It's not his books which are offensive, it's they who are defensive (remember the furor over The Da Vinci Code? or the anti-Harry Potter crusade? it's FICTION, people! get over yourselves!).

I reiterate that as a work of fiction, a piece of literature, Pullman's trilogy is outstanding, in my opinion. That it may contain some anti-Christian references is simply a reflection of his personal beliefs, to which he is entitled. He doesn't tell the reader to accept them as gospel. Asking people to boycott his books and the movie because of content that may be interpreted as atheist is unjustly denying the books and the movie a chance to be judged on artistic merit alone. It's like how the Jewish community boycotted Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ. Because they felt it insulted their faith, they missed out on a beautifully shot, well-executed movie.

I do respect every kind of faith, and Christians have every right to choose to not watch the movie or read the books. But my concern here is that by promoting a boycott, they are openly censuring something based on someone else's opinion without having seen the movie or read the books so that they can judge them for themselves. That frighteningly sounds like blind faith to me. Moreover,they might be letting their devout beliefs prevent them from enriching their minds and yes, even their spirits, because they close themselves off from encountering ideas contrary to their own, or experiences that have beauty and value by themselves APART from religious implications.

This is the problem with religious differences, that they make us all hypersensitive, and they prevent us from broadening our horizons because our viewpoints remain so narrow. We don't have to agree with everything we read, but everything we read does teach us something about life, humanity, our world, and our selves. Even if the only thing we learn is that we do not agree with the author. I believe in reading a variety of books, not just the ones deemed safe and not contrary to the views one already has. That's primarily why I frown upon the proposed boycott. Not only does it foster intolerance and smack of book burning practices of old, it robs children of the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and arrive at self-enlightenment.

Literature is one of the distinguishing hallmarks of civilization, and one of the most vital elements that propagate society. When we seek to quell it, we seek to suppress our humanity. In the case of Pullman, I react as both a disenchanted Catholic and a lover of literature when I say that I oppose the boycott of His Dark Materials. Never mind that the author's a vocal atheist. Never mind that his anti-Christian sentiments creep into his work. Never mind that he "kills God" in the 3rd book of his trilogy. To Christians, this is all outrageous, and unacceptable, because it contradicts and desecrates "truths" of their faith. But perhaps to some, Pullman's work doesn't contain any "truth" at all, and is simply a fanciful piece of fiction (and I suspect the treatment of the movie adaptation will be as such).

To me, this boycott communicates fear more than anything else. Fear that our children will be "contaminated" by Pullman's unpopular ideas. Fear that believers will begin questioning, or abandoning their faith. Fear that Christianity cannot withstand the attack of a Hollywood movie starring Nicole Kidman. But if Christianity can't hold up against FICTION, then what more when the battle is taken to factual grounds? A boycott of a book or movie is a hysterical overreaction to a perceived threat they're afraid to take head on.

That being said though, I do not contest that parents have the right, and indeed a duty, to screen the types of media their children have access to, up to a certain age.
I personally believe that early on, kids should be guided by their parents when it comes to the stuff they read (can't have an 8-year-old reading smut like Harold Robbins, after all). But there comes a point when children HAVE to learn to think for themselves, and that's not going to happen if parents keep banning certain types of books from their shelves.


At Tuesday, November 20, 2007, Blogger Jen said...

let's watch golden compass together! :)

At Tuesday, November 20, 2007, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Will you still be around in January? Stupid Metro Manila Film Festival will delay the release of The Golden Compass a couple of weeks. =S


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