The Spectacle Blog

No Mischaracterization Here

By on 3.12.13 | 8:21AM

Here are the sentences from Quin's original post that correspond in a fairly straightforward manner to the steps I listed in my response:

1) Bible sucks: "[T]he production is leaden and the dramatic licenses taken are neither good ideas nor particularly effective."

2) Bible was also produced by nice people: "I think their intentions were entirely laudable.… I have been struck by how sincere she is and how laudable her goals seem to be. She clearly is a person of deep faith and of a good heart."

3) Ergo, the show shouldn't be criticized: "I think Jackson is too tough on its producers, especially on their motives.… I think all believers should applaud their overall intentions, and hope they succeed better in future endeavors."

I'm willing to admit that 3) was not expressed as clearly as it might have been: a more accurate statement of what I take to be Quin's conclusion is that criticism of bad art produced by a "nice" person or a person with "laudable" intentions should be tempered. My larger point still stands, though: if art is not a matter of disinterested aesthetic production (or even simple desire to entertain) but rather a vehicle by which a political, social, or cultural agenda may be furthered, then it is entirely reasonable to make the jump from 2) to 3). This is simply not how I see art. Quin, however, has made it clear that he supports the efforts of conservatives who wish to make films in the hope of furthering their political and cultural agenda. It seems fairly obvious to me that he wants to encourage talentless people like the Downeys in their future endeavors not because he hopes to see great future works of art produced but because he wants more people to think and feel as he does.

A few follow-up points:

I just didn’t think the producer’s motives should be attacked along with their creation.… It is quite obvious to any sentient being that sometimes people’s reach exceeds their grasp, and that sometimes people’s attempts at art fail to achieve a satisfactory outcome. Has not Matthew ever tried to do something but failed? Or has he never gone into a project with a poorly formed idea of what the project really entails?

This is the goal of criticism: to discern what an artist is trying to accomplish and give readers an idea of to what extent the artist has been successful. (You show me what is supposed to be a realistic portrait,  and I will tell you how good the likeness is.) Sometimes, however, what the artist sets out to accomplish simply does not involve not a "laudable" goal, and it is also the duty of the critic to point this out. The latter, I think, is essential to what Jackson and I have said about the series, namely, that turning the Bible into a television series is not only impossible but also undesirable. To quote Downey once more: "We’ve tried to make it gritty and real and authentic." As I pointed out in my response, this is not at all a "laudable" goal. Thus, the producers' motives do deserve criticism. (Besides, in a country where, ostensibly, 99% of the population are literate, people should be perfectly capable of reading the Bible.)

I just took great pains to explain why I thought Downey is, rather than hypocritical, entirely sincere — and why she’s also doing a great thing by insisting that the “separation of church and state” should not be interpreted to mean that schools can’t study the Bible. 

Here is that political swamp (if you prefer that noun) I mentioned earlier. I  couldn't care less what Downey thinks about the teaching of scripture in schools. She has helped to produce a bad piece of art: her political beliefs are irrelevant to my criticism of her work. Just as, for example, the late Gore Vidal's champagne socialism does not interfere with my appreciation of his excellent historical novel Lincoln, Downey's espousing a political (public education is, after all, a matter of public policy, and is, therefore, political) position that I happen also to hold does not and should not prevent me from saying that her television program is lousy.

It also was really frustrating to see him accuse me of relegating art to the “cienaga” (fancy word alert! — meaning “marsh” or “mire”) of politics.

When one suggests that films or any other works of art should be produced in order to influence people's thinking about matters of public policy, what else is one doing exactly but tossing art into the political bog?

Roma Downey wrote a WSJ column about the needs of education (not politics), and I endorsed her educational project.

Again, public education is a political matter.

I should like to finish up by saying that of all things not heavenly, politics is the least transcendent. There is no truth, goodness, or beauty in politics; it is a necessary activity, one of the vicissitudes of the fallen world we inhabit, and I hate to see it encroach upon things like art that ultimately matter much, much, much more.

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