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Tarpeian Rock

An Annual Literary Magazine

"Hinc ad Tarpeiam sedem et Capitolia ducit
aurea nunc, olim siluestribus horrida dumis."

                    --Virgil's Aeneid, VIII, l. 347-8
Articles from
the 2004 issue...

Over the Target

Elfland's Ethics

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Over the Target

by Anthony P. Schiavo, Jr.

When we launched The Tarpeian Rock last year, we expected it to raise a bit of a ruckus. Needless to say, we were not disappointed. At one convention, a gent informed us that we were the equivalent of Nazis for daring to criticize the ugliness of modern “art” while pointing to the equally ugly politics behind much of it. At that same event, a lady approached us and proceeded to lambaste one of our advertisers. On another occasion, we were verbally accosted by a fellow who could barely contain his rage as he decried our imagined attempt at “censorship.” Each of these encounters led to impromptu discussions and debates right there on the floor of the various vendors’ rooms. As the old saying goes, “If you’re taking flak, you must be over the target.”

I found the “censorship” claim particularly intriguing as it is not the first time those of us who are footsoldiers in the culture war have heard such an accusation. Those who protested a portrait of the Virgin Mary covered with elephant dung were accused of censorship as were those who fought to keep the U.S. government from expending tax dollars on Robert Mapplethorpe’s repugnant photography. It appears that many among the thin-skinned artistic elite consider any criticism of their work to be censorship. These folks are particularly sensitive about works that are perverse, blasphemous, or otherwise possess no redeeming social value. Lest we forget, for the first 180 years of the American Republic, such works were considered completely outside the purview of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Indeed, in 1942 the U.S. Supreme Court wrote

“There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or ‘fighting’ words....It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.” (Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire)
This decision was reaffirmed in Roth v. the United States in 1957. Then came the 1960s. The Constitution became a “living” document and rights that the Founding Fathers never envisioned were created out of thin air by a judiciary intent on kulturkampf. Forty years later, obscenity is on billboards, TV, the Internet, in books, magazines, movies, product catalogs—everywhere.

Since everything is now permitted, one would think that a “free market” of artistic expression would have sprung into being where that which is excellent is lauded and becomes successful, while that which is repulsive is ridiculed and kicked to the curb. In such a world, there is little question that over the long haul, beauty and truth would attract a larger market-share than corruption and grotesquery. It always does.

Yet, it is clear to anyone who has been following the production of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ that the artistic free market is still heavily regulated, if no longer by government. Strangely enough, the deck is now stacked in favor of the obscene. Indeed, the saga surrounding the making of Gibson’s movie has demonstrated that two venerable platitudes commonly spouted by the drooling lackeys of the entertainment industry are perhaps something less than the truth.

The first exalted lie is that money rules and that ratings and revenue are the end-all-be-all. If that were indeed the case, an award-winning, proven money-maker like Gibson would have had a flock of distributors camped outside his door. He didn’t. One need not be the CEO of Miramax to realize that Gibson’s Christian epic would be an international blockbuster and a film that would continue to generate revenue on video and DVD for decades to come. For the major distributors to resist such a pile of treasure, a stronger force must have been in play—much stronger than the trumped up red herring of “anti-semitism.” If you don’t know what that force could be, the book Persecution by David Limbaugh might offer a clue.

The second untruth mouthed sanctimoniously by evangelical media secularists is that censorship is terribly, terribly wrong and is only advocated by small-minded religious zealots. Well, in the case of The Passion of Christ, we have a film made by a “religious zealot” which has had a spread of nuclear-tipped torpedoes fired at it a full year before it was scheduled for release. Indeed, had The Passion of Christ been made by someone with less star-power and financial wherewithal than Gibson, it is probable that the project would have been strangled in its cradle.

Sadly, we have now come to a point in our nation’s cultural history where making a film about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is so dangerous and controversial that it needs to be censored, altered, and reviewed by “experts” before it can be released. Meanwhile, the parade of moral degeneracy which plays out on TV screens each night is considered perfect family entertainment by the TV networks.

Fortunately, even though Hollyweird and their “progressive” friends in publishing and journalism have tilted the balance heavily, the ideal cultural free market may still be achieved. The visceral response of most parents in the face of sludge masquerading as entertainment is to click off radios and TVs in disgust and walk out of theaters. Many even take the extra step of writing to networks and sponsors and boycotting products. While all these reactions are laudable and proper, it follows that we should go one step further and actively seek out and support wholesome products and outlets as they present themselves. Nothing irks a “progressive” like serious competition. Enough people voting with their feet and dollars can have a dramatic impact on the entertainment industry, which in turn will have a dramatic impact upon the culture as a whole.

In my case, I will be seeing The Passion of Christ in the theater even if I have to drive a hundred miles and fight my way through a crowd of “tolerance police” to do it. And I suspect that several members of my family will be getting the DVD for their birthdays.

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