Saturday, November 24, 2007

There needs to be some kind of bar exam to practice criticism. 

News flash: dumb fundie watches horror movie, completely misreads subtext:

I can't post a complete review here until late Tuesday Night, but the fact is that, in "The Mist," the biggest villain besides a mysterious mist produced by (who else?) the military (guess King doesn't like our troops so much either) is a Christian woman, who wears her religion on her sleeve. Played by Marcia Gay Harden, the Christian woman resembles the Fred Phelps folks from the Westboro Baptist Church who protest at troops' funerals and shriek our troops deserve to die because of our sins. This woman echoes them and blames the plaugue of the mist (and the monsters it spawns) on our sins. Among them, she cites abortion and stem cell research. And she causes the murder--the "sacrifice"--of innocent soldiers. Just like the Phelps team.
Here, Schlussel almost gets it -- note key use of the word "almost" -- by recognizing that Marcia Gay Harden's Mrs. Carmody is in fact from the shrieking pack of crazies, and not from anything resembling the mainstream of Christianity. (Indeed, her denomination is never even given; one suspects this is is not for posterity but because Carmody is the type to read only what she wants to read, without the intrusive interpretations of others. Hold up; my Irony Meter just exploded.)

But then:

Um, here's a newsflash: Conservatives and religious Christians detest the Phelps crew of protestors. We don't agree with them. And we're not like them, no matter what Stephen King thinks.
I would dearly love to see Schlussel's citations where King equates Carmody with all conservative Christians. (By the way, what's a "religious Christian"?) I don't get it; didn't she just get done saying (correctly) that Carmody is all about The Crazy, and not about the mainstream?

But already there were several problems with the argument. It's not that King "has a problem with the troops" -- I guess Schlussel missed the parts where the G.I. is one of the major heroes -- but that he distrusts the military's paymasters. "Science as Pandora's Box" is a long-standing theme of King's, perhaps the theme, and its mark can be felt anywhere from The Mist to The Dark Tower series to his ultimate statement on the subject, The Stand. The majesty of science weaponized for destructive ends -- man, why would a guy raised on science-gone-wrong '50's horror/sci-fi movies and novels have a problem with something like that? It's worth noting that in the original novella, the project leaders responsible for the whole mess are also responsible for a spat of other horrible doings in King's universe; see Firestarter. Even if they claim to be "the military" or "the government" and wear the proper uniforms, they are still bad people. Joining the military does not mean one is automatically an angel. It means one is 18.

And, of course, King also has a long-standing theme about the dangers of "poison religion," as he phrases it in The Gunslinger. (Note for cherry-picking fundies: "poison religion" means religion distorted toward poisonous ends, not all religion is poison.) King doesn't like fanaticism, doesn't like how it turns people against each other, how it uses fear to turn us into base creatures, how it makes us less than the sum of our parts when we need our strength most. It's a theme he shares with George Romero, as I cited in my review. Given that King's life experience is rural Maine, and that the vast majority of his stories take place in that same setting, it only makes sense that he'd use the native brand of fanaticism -- warped, distorted half-readings of Christianity -- as the go-to archetype of choice. You don't see a lot of "Allah Akbar!" in Bangor, you know what I'm saying?

But of course King knows no single religion (or secular organization containing more than, oh, one person) has a monopoly on fanaticism; fanaticism is sadly endemic to the human condition. It's sort of sad that grown adults smart enough to string a sentence together don't understand this.

The comments are about what you'd expect. King is attacked (retroactively, as The Mist was written in '79/'80) for having problems with organized religion, which (again) any sane person would, and for not attacking Islam enough. Take this one:

Being a typical Lefty Boomer that he is, the "organized religion" that creeps him out, is only the Western religions, of course (Christian, Catholic, Baptist, Seventh Day, Mormon, etc.), but never makes even a peep about Islam.
Now, King has never said anything of the kind, but let's not let pesky facts get in the way of some seriously juicy speculation. I take issue with "OldSchoolW"'s definition of "Western" religion. (Ditto his grammar, which I had to clean up; the editor in me could not stomach a sic.) "Western" religion in the actual sense of the phrase includes Islam, as it is one of the three Abrahamic traditions. It's basically Christianity's rambunctious younger brother. What he thinks of as "Western" religion is more like what came after the East/West Catholic Church split, so I guess OldSchoolW would be okay if King's next villain was a Greek Orthodox Christian.

I have never understood the fetishism for victimhood that many conservative Christians have. Western Christianity (hooray proper usage!) currently benefits from the widest and most pervasive cultural hegemony in the history of the world, but these folks still act as if they're on the defensive. They are astonished, astonished, that fiction might portray a group that claims over a billion members with drastically different ideologies as having the occasional bad apple.

I say all this as a kinda-sorta Christian myself. But putting the Member's Only coat on doesn't blind me to the fact that many people who wear the same label have absolutely nothing in common with me, and have ideologies I find repugnant or even contrary to the label. They are my "brothers," as anyone is, but they are also still people... and all that that entails. It is because of this -- I like to call it "basic awareness," or alternately "not being a total fucking moron" -- that I am able to take lessons from the Mrs. Carmody character without thinking I'm being personally attacked, or that the magical tally card of "fairness" (in this context, meaning "in my favor") is out of whack.

To sum up: Schlussel is a fucking idiot, and she needs to get the hell away from my movies.

(Link cred to Lartigue.)

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