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Professor's Q & A: Don't ever join the mass psychosis

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Professor Nutbottom:

I've been feeling like I really should see the movie The Passion of the Christ, but I just don't want to. This movie is such a phenomenon. I'm afraid I'm missing something important, and later I'll regret having missed it in the theaters. Should I go to it?

Dear Stacey:

Absolutely not. You should feel no pressure to see this movie. This "phenomenon" is definitely not worthy of your attention. I, myself, certainly won't be seeing it.

And just to show you how strong my feelings are, let me tell you what I did this weekend. I staged a protest at the theater near the school where I teach (Ivy Leaf University here in Urnotserse, Pennsylvania).

On Friday, when I came up with the idea, I envisioned a rally with a large mob of protestors wearing t-shirts emblazoned with "BOYCOTT THE PASSION." But there wasn't much time to pull it all together.

So I called my colleagues from the university and all of my friends. Unfortunately, all but one had changed their phone numbers - again. Murphy's law, you know?! My friends do this to me all the time. The one guy whose number didn't change apparently wasn't available. The last part of his phone message said, "Nutbottom, if this is you calling, I've changed my number." He's such a kidder.

So much for the mob thing - maybe. But I still put in a rush order for t-shirts. If I couldn't bring the protestors with me, I'd have to harvest some from the crowds at the theater.

The next day I set up a table just outside the ticket window. I laid out the t-shirts, displayed large banners urging people not to attend the movie, and started handing out fliers explaining my position. That's when someone asked me what the shirts were supposed to mean. I thought, "What? Hello! They mean exactly what they say: 'Boycott Imported Passion Fruit.' Oh boy. Houston, we have a problem!" So much for the rush order thing.

But effective protests are born out of adversity.

I just wish someone had explained that to the group of exchange students who showed up next.

As best as I could tell, the entire group was from the same country. It was pretty hard to follow exactly what they were saying, because they were pretty angry over something. As they yelled and chanted, pointing accusing fingers at me, I finally realized the problem. Their country relies on passion fruit as its biggest export. Go figure.

I didn't mind, so much, having opposition. In fact, I had expected it, even hoped for it. I didn't even care that they were drowning me out. But I hadn't expected to be arguing with a bunch of kids talking produce.

Just as things were about to spiral out of control, the police arrived. They wanted to see my demonstration permit. Unfortunately, that was impossible. A permit? When did they put that law on the books?

Luckily, my wife and daughter arrived moments later. In a touching show of family unity, they jumped into the fray and managed to convince the police not to haul me off to jail; I got off with a warning and a "next time you better ..." scolding. Then, after giving these two wonderful women a hug, I invited them to take a position with me behind the table. They said they couldn't stay. The line was long and they wanted to get good seats - to see The Passion. So much for the family unity thing.

After that, there seemed to be no point in continuing.

So, while I am not willing to call the demonstration a dismal failure, I also think that using the term "success" to describe it might be a little misleading.

Really.

But the outcome wasn't nearly as important as the stand I took. The stakes are just too high not to do something.

Firstly, let's review what's going on here.

The Passion is a story about some guy who has lived an exemplary life of compassion and wisdom and now is unjustly accused of being a criminal. In a vicious display of judicial tyranny, the government officials of the day execute him through a shockingly violent process - torture, followed by crucifixion on a cross. Is this really compelling drama?

Alright. I admit it. I'm understating things just a tad. I realize the guy in the movie isn't just anybody. Maybe it does make a difference that he's probably had more influence on the world than any other historical figure. But does that somehow make him God?

And then (give me a break) he supposedly rose from the dead? Yes, that's actually what his followers claim.

Really.

But come on. What rational-minded individual is going to believe that? Now, I will concede - reluctantly - that several scholars of various disciplines have examined the details of the resurrection accounts and found the historical evidence for it compelling.

Even with that I still say, "Don't confuse me with the facts -- my mind is made up."

But here's my biggest objection. Nothing in life, in culture, or in our everyday experience should be this popular. That is just too much attention focused on one thing. Here we have Congress sitting on their hands, not even paying attention to this entertainment circus, while the likes of Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson, and Martha Stewart are practically being ignored. There really should be a law against this.

I do have to admit, though, that this movie has traveled a fascinating path. From its conception to its rejection by the big movie distributors to its incredible embrace by the American public, it has blazed a new trail in the movie industry. And because of that, there's actually a little part of me that yearns to go.

But you shouldn't feel obligated to go. It's pretty important, I generally feel, to stick to what you believe.

Hmm.

But something just dawned on me. I'm thinking that as a professor of American culture, I really have an obligation to - almost a mandate from - my students and the people who read this column to see movies generating this kind of impact.

Yes, that's the ticket.

I'm going to need to go.

Now, don't let that entice you. You stick to your guns.

Only highly trained professionals like myself need subject themselves to the negative influence of such material.

However, let me say this: I will not - I ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT - be affected by the film. Period.

Secondly, I'd appreciate it if you could send anyone my way who might be interested in buying a couple hundred t-shirts - cheap.

Kapish?

Professor Nutbottom is a Senior Fellow Professor of American Culture at Ivy Leaf University in Urnotserse, Pennsylvania. He enjoys reading, skiing, and sorting antique bottle caps.


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