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Tuesday, February 24, 2004
Thinking about The Passion...

Front-page headline in the Post yesterday was something like "Fans' Verdict on Mel's Movie: 'I CRIED'" (the Post being the hilariously righty NYC tab; the more moderate one, the Daily News, also featured the movie on the cover, but called it "the most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II," so.)

What is it about Christian fandom that's so deeply creepy? And this has nothing to do, I think, with me not being a Christian: I don't find Christian faith creepy, and I don't find other kinds of fandom creepy[1], so what is it about that? About the Left Behind stuff? About the Christian-themed, vaguely cheeky t-shirts? About the Christian mall gift shops?

Because, make no mistake, it's fandom just as we're familiar with it. Oh sure, Xters have different aesthetics from the groups we typically associate with fandom--there's significantly more pink and puppies and raised lettering in a Christian shop than in a comic store or a record store--but aside from those surface differences, I think they're pretty similar. Most fandoms are based around taking a behaviorally-centered activity, limned by certain moral guidelines, and either taking something of limited consumptional value and widening it to a bunch of ancillary things (the Bible -> Jesus mugs, Star Trek -> books, t-shirts, conventions) or taking something of wide consumptional value and making it a larger social activity (comic books -> conventions and bulletin boards, indie albums -> concerts and, er, bulletin boards). It's a gathering around people who have pretty similar tastes--most Xters are also into family films and sports, most comic book fans are also into computer games, most indie fans are also into literary fiction--centering it around a central realm of expression, and making it into a cohesive group via marketing. People crying at The Passion shouldn't be any different from people crying at a Dashboard Confessional show; athletes thanking God shouldn't be any different from bands talking about how much the Velvet Underground inspired them.

But, of course, it is. Why? Because Christian fandom exists in a much wider context than any of those other groups[2]. It's much more mainstream, but more accurately, it exists in a much larger political context. Sure, indie fans tend to be liberal, but their political beliefs don't spring from liking Yo La Tengo; indeed, in some cases, it's exactly the opposite. But for Xters, a decent portion of their political beliefs spring directly from being Big Into The Christ.

And so, sure, some Christians get disgusted at people going to degenerate movies, but the action, technically, is the crime; going to a dirty movie means that you went to a dirty movie, but it doesn't mean, say, that you support gay marriage or something. But if someone's buying a significant volume of Christian merch, it flows pretty much inevitably from the terms of their Christ-fandom[3] that they're anti-abortion, anti-gay, etc. They may not--Lord knows I know enough Christians to say that--but I think that it's a reasonable assumption that most dedicated Xter-fans are also evangelical, and those kids, well, they're a bit more straightedge than the rest of y'all. And it's creepy, if nothing else, that a product choice also makes a logically unrelated political statement, and that in part it's being bought for that reason. There's no actual connection between a cross on a mug, but at the same time, well, there really is.

Don't get me wrong--I'm pretty regularly annoyed by libs' refusal to engage with believers on a respectful level, and I don't think this analysis is trying to justify. But I am trying to show a) just how much Jesus boosters have in common with your run-of-the-mill indie kid, but also b) that the creepiness libs feel about all this Jeebus stuff is, if not exactly fully justified, at least fully in tune with traditional lefty values.

As for the movie: I want to see it, I think. I like that it's gory, cos goddamn, the Bible is fucking gory as hell sometimes, although more the Old Testament. Still, AFAIK Passion Plays themselves often involved a decent bit of low-tech gore themselves, so it's a kind of pop updating of traditional art.

On the other hand, I'd like to see someone take it farther. Like a Jesus horror film. "Try as you might, you CAN'T KILL HIM...unless you're a JEW!"

[1] OK, except for some, which need not be named, but suffice to say I'm no longer an active Tori Amos fan. Speaking of Christians...
[2] Interesting tangent to be pursued here about political fandom, but I have to go to bed soon.
[3] This is getting a bit flip, but eh, I'm addressing them in the same terms as all the other fans, so I'm going to run with it.