And, we must immediately set up picket lines outside theaters where Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is playing. This despicable movie tries to fool God-fearing folk into thinking it’s religious—just look at that title! Then, once you’ve paid your money, you see it’s really a repulsive demonstration of Hollywood’s contempt for The Family. Director Sidney Lumet would have us believe that Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke are brothers! This trash spits on the concept of family, and it is the duty of all moral Americans to stand up to this attack on our values.
And don’t even get me started on Lars and the Real Girl.
I’m kidding, of course. These are intelligent, compelling, complicated movies that have no chance—no matter how high to the heavens we critics praise them—of seeing the kind of box-office numbers Enchanted or Beowulf can get by virtue of their high concepts and higher publicity budgets. Unless, that is, we arrange to “boycott” them, vociferously and obnoxiously—because there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Not everyone seems to understand that, of course. Bill O’Reilly, the Fox News blowhard, is up in arms over Brian De Palma’s new film, Redacted (opening in Salt Lake City next week). It tells a fictionalized version of the true story of American soldiers in Iraq who raped an Iraqi teenager and then murdered her and her family to cover up their crime. There’s no question that the events happened, and no question that De Palma has not in any way glorified this horror or suggested that the behavior of these soldiers is typical of the conduct of the American army in Iraq. Still, O’Reilly has been ranting about the film for months—perhaps because the film does suggest that the overall wrongheadedness of the occupation of Iraq—throwing military personnel into policing an alien culture for which they are untrained and unprepared—is contributing to frustration and powerlessness that fuels crimes like this one.
But thanks to Bill-O, who could be the poster boy for bad publicity, more people will hear about—and see—a low-budget, small-distributor film like Redacted than ever would have before. Google the search terms “boycott redacted” and you’ll find how the right-wing blogosphere has heeded O’Reilly’s call to arms. All the sputtering commentary about how De Palma and billionaire Mark Cuban, who financed the film (it debuted on his HDNet before coming to theaters), are somehow “unpatriotic,” “slanderous” of the troops, even “treasonous” for merely telling a truth is hilarious for how counterproductive it is. Cuban himself has said of the boycott (as quoted on BradBlog.com), “Bill O’Reilly is my new best friend.”
And then there’s The Golden Compass (opening Dec. 7). Based on the first book in a fantasy-novel trilogy by Philip Pullman, it’s giving The Catholic League vapors over its supposedly atheistic agenda. Pullman is a vocal atheist, and his trilogy condemns the abuse of religious authority, so it must be out to kill God. The league is urging a boycott of the film over fears children seeing the movie “will give up on God.”
Compass director Chris Weitz isn’t bothered. The Catholic League also boycotted The Da Vinci Code for its unorthodox theology, and that film ended up one of last year’s biggest moneymakers. This boycott “will make more people see the film,” Weitz said, according to Christianity Today. Maybe the Catholic Church’s own recent encounters with bad publicity—which, to be fair, don’t seem to have had an upside—have misled the institution about the usually positive value of bad publicity.
Not that protesting movies is an exclusively conservative hobby. Some interfaith and Jewish groups protested Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, calling it anti-Semitic... but the preeminent Jewish organization, the Anti-Defamation League, categorically excluded a boycott of the film, stating that the ADL “does not engage in, nor does it support, boycotts under any circumstances,” according to its Website. You might have to go all the way back to 1980 to find true left-wing outage over a film, when gay activists protested William Friedkin’s Cruising, about brutal murders in a gay community. But that film’s recent arthouse revival and subsequent DVD release raised nary an angry whisper.
Maybe it’s true, then, what they say about how the political right is better organized than the left—even when it comes to organized counterproductivity.