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In and Out of Tune

Reviewing the Passion. Sitting it out. Plus: Rod was right. The Frank Burns in Kerry. Borderline cases.

2.26.04

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LOSING IT AT A MOVIE
Re: James Bowman's review of The Passion of the Christ, Shawn Macomber's Ash Wednesday at the Movies and Jeremy Lott's The Passion and the Fury:

I have since my late teens had the notion that movie critics exist in some altered state of consciousness that perceives the world quite differently than the average person. Now I am relatively certain that it is true. James Bowman's review of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was the confirmation.

While the change in the artistic depiction of the crucified Christ that occurred in or about the 13th century is interesting relative to art history, it by no means is indicative of the relative accuracy of either form. It does, however, provide a launching pad for Bowman's true purpose which is an attack on Mel Gibson and his cinematic portrayal of historical events.

Thankfully, Mr. Gibson is more in tune with the people who saw the movie with Shawn Macomber, and with myself, than with the intellectual elite referred to in Jeremy Lott's article from Wednesday. Lott hit bull's-eye with the following:

In truth, The Passion shows the divide between this country's elites and commoners more starkly than anything I've seen in my lifetime. There is a real demographic difference between those who form the U.S.'s cognitive elite and everybody else. The elites, including journalists, tend overwhelmingly to be secular -- non-churchgoers with little previous experience with organized religion. The rabble, on the other hand, consistently score at the top or near the top in every index of religious observance. In matters religious, the two literally do not speak the same language. If most journalists didn't focus on the anti-Semitism angle, they wouldn't know what else to say.

Which is a shame because they appear to be missing out on a genuine cultural phenomenon. Shea describes the excitement and the furor surrounding The Passion's release as a "rather remarkable moment in American culture" -- this critic's nomination for understatement of the year."

I would respectfully suggest that Mr. Bowman come out of the movie house into the daylight once in a while, and maybe even go to church, preferably out here in the red part of the country.
-- John Bolin
Overland Park, Kansas

Mr. Bowman: I am grateful that I have not wasted my mind watching all of the worthless movies to which you have devoted so much time. Apparently your brain has become so desensitized that every movie you see must be analyzed from the same template. You have missed all the messages and beauty which are powerfully presented in the Passion of Christ. For those of us who do not feed on a diet of violent movies, the brutality presented in the Passion is shocking but also for those of us who are faithful to Catholic teachings and beliefs, the Crucifixion is God's greatest gift and central to our belief in redemption. Man's inhumanity to man so graphically presented and Jesus' free submission to this pain and suffering reminds us that God understands human nature and human pain and suffering. By choosing evil, succumbing to the influence of Satan, many innocents suffer the consequences of evil acts. The Eucharist, the sacrament and reincarnation of the Crucifixion, nourishes the soul of the believer. Without the Crucifixion and Resurrection, man would be condemned to eternal death. This movie is a powerful, moving, faithful representation of the meaning of these events to faithful Catholics and to most other faithful Christians. Perhaps you can go back and look at it again, from the perspective of one who is truly grateful for this loving sacrifice. I hope that you will.
-- P.R. Dunkl

Jeremy Lott's article is most perceptive on the fury over The Passion. I would also suggest much of the anti-Semitism fury is a red herring for the real fear of the cultural elite: the watershed cultural event which could be the outcome of the Passion.
-- Jill Reed
Bellevue, Washington

I often look forward to James Bowman's movie reviews. For one, I often agree with his movie opinions but I will have to depart from Bowman on his review of The Passion of the Christ.

What concerns me is Bowman's apparent dismissive review about the reality of the depiction of the crucifixion in Gibson's movie. Bowman say it was not until the 13th century that Christ's suffering became a theme of artists. Bowman goes on to note that he is critical of the new age sound track and the use of modern movie special effects. Let me address the easy part first, if Bowman is saying the movie's depiction was "not as it was" based upon the movie's sound track and special effects, then I agree. There was no sound track or special effects , though there was plenty of supernatural effects, during the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. And movie craft is fair game, even in a religious movie.

But, what I am uncomfortable with is Bowman's apparent comment related to the crucifixion as being inaccurate because the suffering was not emphasized until the 13th century. The way I read Bowman, he is stating that the crucifixion of Christ was not the horrible-bloody experience shown in the movie. If that is Bowman's take, he is grossly mistaken. First, the focus of artists is not the basis for sound historical perspective for the first century. The depiction of graphic suffering was not a staple of artistic expression.

Second, what is important to understanding the events of 33 AD is to understand the art of Roman crucifixion and flogging. Both of these practices are accurately portrayed by Gibson. There was nothing pretty or clinical about death in the Roman empire. After all, each death was intended to be a sign or omen to others about their possible fate if they stray beyond Roman writ. In that regard, Gibson's movie "is as it was."
-- Steve Shaver

SEEING IS BELIEVING
Re: Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s No Appetite for Blood and Gore:

Please let Mr. Tyrrell know that from the gore arises an overwhelming message of forgiveness and love. It is essential to this movie, not just simply gratifying as Hollywood normally employs it. If you are a follower of Christ, you should not miss seeing the Passion and with it your chance to look full in the face of what He chose to do for us.
-- unsigned

I wonder how you picture the Crucifixion in your mind. Lethal injection? Reality is what this movie is all about. It is about Jesus the Savior of the World, and if you do not see the movie, that's fine. Just do not give that lame excuse why you did not see it. This is the Blood and Gore that paid your way to be with God, if you should ever accept that the man Jesus that died on the cross was God in the flesh. This movie is not about Hollywood or Mel Gibson, it is about Jesus and that is the only reason that you should be wanting to see it.

I guess it sort of upset me that you come off sounding like you have a good reason, but it sounds more like reasons people give when they are afraid of something. It makes them uncomfortable. Are you a believer in Christ? If you are not, I understand why you do not want to see it. You will have to make a decision about your life and eternity. Some people are not ready, they think they are okay the way they are. Thanks for letting me write to you. God Bless you.
-- Rudy Mercado

PAIGE TURNER
Re: John Tabin's Lightning Rod Paige:

One of Mr. Tabin's remarks made me react: "teachers and administrators have been under intense pressure to prepare for the state exams that children are taking this week and next. At some schools that face the prospect of failing for a second year, administrators have canceled extracurricular activities to allow more study time, even taking away children's gym and recess." One wonders how these students will compete in the world economy without more recess time. Whenever I hear that teachers and educrats are complaining about having to teach to the test, I wonder what it is that they would prefer to teach. I have seen one of the tests used in Michigan and the Maryland test would have to be many times harder to actually be difficult. If they are scampering around to bring their students up to speed, I wonder again, what have they been teaching? I'm sorry to have such little sympathy.

The main complaint against the NCLB seems to be that not all schools will make it, but that's the whole point. Otherwise, why have standards? And the difference is funding. We can continue to fund failing schools but they will still be failing schools. Of course they will be failing schools with well paid if not qualified teachers.

Just as an example, 70% of the kids who finish 8th grade in Detroit don't graduate from high school! That is not the fault of the teachers. Of those that graduate, 80% read at an 8th grade level. That is the teachers' fault. Many of those teachers are at the top of the pay scale which approaches six figures (so much for the underpaid argument). The power of the teachers' union has allowed unqualified, well-paid bad teachers and administrators to ruin the education and employment prospects of a generation of inner city kids. Could a foreign terrorist have done the job any better? Maybe Mr. Paige was right.
-- Pat Bruen
Dearborn, Michigan

John Tabin replies:
As the name "No Child Left Behind" implies, Mr. Bruen is simply incorrect to write that "the whole point" is that "not all schools will make it." In fact, the aim of the law is for student proficiency targets to be steadily met until the 2013-14 school year, when all students are supposed to be proficient. Targets must be met not only within the school as a whole but within some demographic subgroups like minority and disabled children; if fewer than 95% of students in one of these subgroups takes the test, a school can fail regardless of test scores. Though Mr. Bruen seems to think the source of consternation among teachers and administrators is that failing schools will lose funding, in fact the first thing that happens when a school is declared failing is that it receives more federal funding; other measures come further down the road.

Mr. Bruen mocks the very notion that taking away third-graders' recess might not be in students' best interest. At minimum, such trends would seem to undercut efforts to combat childhood obesity; more to the point, the nature of small children is such that extended teaching sessions yield sharply diminishing returns.

An anecdote I heard from an elementary school music teacher at a predominately black Title I school, where students are grouped by reading level: When it came time to learn Christmas carols, few of the students in the lower reading level class knew the words, whereas the majority in the higher reading level class said that of course they'd learned them -- in church. Though of course teachers are partially to blame for underperforming students, Mr. Bruen seems to overlook an even more important factor, the kind of family that students go home to.

HOT-LIPPED
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s No Appetite for Blood and Gore:

John Kerry is so Frank Burns from M*A*S*H. At least twice Burns applied for the Purple Heart for such combat heroics as being struck in the eye by a "shell fragment" (which turned out to be an eggshell from breakfast) and throwing out his back. Like Kerry, foppish Frank was haughty and hollow and lampooned by his peers. Both men married women who controlled the purse strings. Kerry's continued harping on his he-man heroics could be his undoing. "Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes …"
-- Kitty Myers
Painted Post, New York

BORDER FATIGUE SYNDROME
Re: Brandon Crocker's The Immigration Thing (Part II):

I am always wary to see what qualities the ensuing sentences hold after one has been described as a "gentleman." Generally, "to damn with (very) faint praise," sums it up. Still, "Heroes of the Cause" does have a dauntingly evocative sense, something like being compared to the Spartans at Thermoplyae.

It is symptomatic of Mr. Crocker's two efforts to convince Spectator readers that the president's proposals are in American interests that in neither does he see the serious dangers implicit in his arguments. What, again, strikes me as bizarre is that he resides in an area where the residual effects of untended borders and unchecked immigration have been the most baleful, and still proceeds to say, reminiscent of Lincoln Steffens's delusional musings of another period of policy myopia, "I have seen the future and it works." No, Mr. Crocker it does not; no, Mr. Crocker, it will not.

"Innovation is not reform," Burke argued, and there is nothing either in this program or in Mr. Crocker's portrayal of it that will "reform" the current immigration mess. Crocker seems to believe, contrary to all indicators such as public opinion polling, that those who oppose the guest worker program are behaving badly, displaying an unjustified animus toward the Mexican government and/or our own elected officials, inspired by the poltroons of talk radio. He should know that there are more than a few unhappy U.S. citizens who believe that Señor Fox has had far too much influence in shaping U.S. immigration policy, and the current proposal is intended to relieve his disastrous tenure at the helm of Mexico's further economic descent. Those propositions, at least, can be debated, but Crocker's comments about the National Border Patrol Council are beyond the Pale. To equate their opposition to the guest worker program because of job security is indecent. How many of them, carrying out their primary task, enforcement of immigration law, have been killed in the line of duty? How many of them have risked their lives to help illegals from natural disasters or attacks by (human) "coyotes." How many of the members of the real estate brotherhood can make that statement?

Mr. Crocker knows -- or should -- that the power of deportation does not rest with the Border Patrol. Mr. Crocker knows -- or should -- that the website he cites shows only "apprehensions" and that for every "apprehension" there are anywhere from 5-7 who get through and enter these United States, many with prepaid bus or train fares to their destination, where they begin to work as soon as they arrive. If Mr. Crocker thinks that the new guest worker program will change that, I suggest he think again.

Let me end with a suggestion: why doesn't Mr. Crocker, who has lived near one border for 40 years, try visiting another? Might I suggest the El Paso/Cuidad Juarez crossing, and while there take the time and effort to speak to these agents whose union is "putting out false and misleading information." He might just get an idea of what it is to be on the front lines of combat -- literally. He might, at that point, also realize why the unworkable guest worker program will, in the short and long run, do nothing to improve our current immigration disaster and the disarray at our borders.
-- Vincent Chiarello
Reston, Virginia

Brandon Crocker replies:
I guess the third rail in politics is no longer Social Security but immigration policy. But none of the readers responding negatively to my articles were apparently willing or able to counter my arguments in a reasonable or rational manner.

Not a single opposition letter has even made an attempt to argue any of the points that I so eloquently stated in my initial piece other than simply to reiterate the unsupported accusation that any guest-worker plan would lead to an explosion in illegal immigration. In my second piece I then adroitly demonstrated that the claim that the outlining of a proposal by Bush was already causing a "surge" in illegal immigration was a fraud. In their letters of the past couple of days, however, learned readers now inform me that facts don't matter and only a mentally defective, globalist, multiculturalist, could fail to understand that the mere mention of a nascent proposal to give temporary legal status to some illegal workers would lead to an immediate Pavlovian response from hoards of foreigners rushing to take advantage of an "amnesty" they wouldn't be eligible for merely by being here. (Apparently Mexicans, and even Chinese, as Mr. Chiarello implied in his previous letter, don't even need to think about or plan such things. They hear about Bush's proposal and, bam, they're at the border in days.) And, of course, as one of the previous writers opined, if we only put out a concerted effort to deport 3%-5% of the illegal population, the rest would flee back to their homelands. How stupid of me not to understand this.

But then, I never realized that there is no meaningful difference between George W. Bush and John F. Kerry. Thanks, people, for putting me straight.

Mr. Chiarello suggests that my using data on border apprehensions to dispute claims made on the basis of border apprehensions is somehow inappropriate. I don't know why. He also slams me for a slight I never made. When representatives of the union for Border Patrol agents put out information that is demonstrably misleading, I see no insult in calling them on it. Don't tell me I don't appreciate the work of our Border Patrol agents, Mr. Chiarello. As usual, you're way off the mark, and way over the line.

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