WASHINGTON, December 18, 2014 − When Universal Studio released Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, Christians condemned the film as blasphemous. “I looked in vain for the message of love,” said Bishop Anthony G. Bosco, spokesman for the Catholic bishops’ Department of Communication in New York City. “Scorsese has given an angry Christ, a bumbling Christ, a Christ more of this world than the next.”
For her part, Mother Teresa of Calcutta urged American Catholics to pray “our Blessed Mother [Mary] will see that this film is removed from your land.”
In his book Hollywood under Siege: Martin Scorsese, the Religious Right, and the Culture, Thomas R. Lindlof writes,
“The Last Temptation of Christ got swept up into a larger narrative that pitted cultural traditionalists against modernists – a conflict with very high stakes for the freedoms of expression and religion in predominantly secular societies. Within weeks of the film’s release in the United States, the global implications of this conflict were made suddenly, frighteningly clear.”
Violence certainly erupted around the film (protestors threw Molotov cocktails into a Parisian theater, injuring several moviegoers), but the controversial film was never pulled from theaters.
That same year, author Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses hit the bookstores. The title refers to a legend that says early Qur’an verses were removed because they sanctioned the worship of pre-Islamic goddesses – hence, they were seen as satanically inspired.
Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini was not amused.
“I am informing all brave Muslims of the world that the author of The Satanic Verses, as text written, edited, and published against Islam, the Prophet of Islam, and the Qur’an, along with all the editors and publishers aware of its contents, are condemned to death. I call on all valiant Muslims, wherever they may be in the world to kill them without delay.”
The publisher, then selling a mere 100 copies a week, suddenly saw brisk book sales post Khomeini fatwa. Rushdie may have gone into hiding under the protection of the British police, for a decade, but the controversial book was never pulled from bookstores.
In 2006, A-lister movie star George Clooney won a supporting actor Academy Award for his work in the film Syriana.
“I’m proud to be a part of this Academy,” said Clooney, lauding Tinsel Town for its unshakable courage, “proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch [with the mainstream of America]. And I thank you so much for this.”
In Clooney’s defense, Hollywood is a dream factory. And actors are known to play heroes on occasion. Hollywood, however, is no reservoir of courage.
Wednesday, Sony Pictures Entertainment announced it was canceling the Christmas Day release of its comedy “The Interview. A farce concerning the CIA’s recruitment of a TV talk show host to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. A company spokesman said that Sony was “deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company,” said the spokesman in reference to a computer hacking attack that purloined and distributed sensitive company emails.
“We stand by our filmmakers,” the spokesman continued, “and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”
The “outcome” in question concerned the refusal by major theater chains to show the film, concerned with a threat made by the hackers.
“Remember the 11th of September 2001? We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time. (If your house is nearby, you’d better leave.) Whatever comes in the coming days is called by the greed of Sony Pictures Entertainment. All the world will denounce the Sony.”
The comical threat, made in pigeon-English no less, did the trick, and Sony pulled the film.
Last July, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, Ja Song Nam, dispatched a letter to General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon.
“To allow the production and distribution of such a film on the assassination of an incumbent head of a sovereign state should be regarded as the most undisguised sponsoring of terrorism as well as an act of war. The United States authorities should take immediate and appropriate actions to ban the production and distribution of the aforementioned film; otherwise, it will be fully responsible for encouraging and sponsoring terrorism.”
In 2009, President Obama said, “America’s economic prosperity in the 21st century will depend on cybersecurity… And this is also a matter of public safety and national security. We count on computer networks to deliver our oil and gas, our power and our water. We rely on them for public transportation and air traffic control. Yet we know that cyber intruders have probed our electrical grid and that other countries cyber attacks have plunged entire cities into darkness… Given the enormous damage that can be caused by even a single cyber attack, ad hoc responses will not do.”
According to the New York Times, an administration official, “said the White House was debating whether to publicly accuse North Korea of what amounts to a cyberterrorism attack.”
And there you have it. A rogue foreign power attacks a major U.S. company – on American soil, steals confidential information, costs it millions of dollars, threatens the lives of Americans with another 9/11 attack, stifles our most cherished natural right – free speech, and the President of the United States is too busy normalizing relations with totalitarian Cuba to bother naming the perpetrator of this cyber Pearl Harbor sneak attack.
That means the only thing standing between us and disaster is Hollywood’s self proclaimed hero George Clooney! God help us.