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March 27, 2008
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"The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living", by John Zmirak, Denise Matychowiak

"The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Wine, Whiskey and Song", by John Zmirak, Denise Matychowiak

Emily Rose’s Exorcism, and Mine, by John Zmirak
Movies about the supernatural sometimes have devastating effects on people—especially Catholic boys with neurotic dispositions, prodigious reading habits, and powerful imaginations.  Just ask John Zmirak about ‘The Omen.’

John Zmirak's Blog

Killing Women and Children First – Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by John Zmirak
The 60th anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should remind us that so long as the world’s most powerful nations continue to target cities—innocent civilians—with nuclear weapons, our condemnations of ‘terror’ will ring hollow.

My Lunch with an Old Friend of Dan Brown Proves Revealing About The DaVinci Code, by John Zmirak
Is Dan Brown a convinced heretic hell-bent on bringing down Christianity, or a hack writer who stumbled on a crackpot conspiracy theory on par with alien abductions, Holocaust denial, and lizard men?

The Lion in Winter: Why ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ is Winning Over America, by John Zmirak
How did a movie about crusaders, a sacrificial lion and talking beavers gross $67 million in its opening weekend? The not-so-unlikely marriage of Hollywood and C.S. Lewis.

The President and the Pope: Reading the Signs of the Times, by John Zmirak
Ronald Reagan and Pope John  Paul II shared more than a distaste for communism. They shared an ability to read the signs of the times and act accordingly.

The Unbearable Reality of Love: The Passion of The Christ, by John Zmirak
In this film we see with unbearable clarity how Jesus descended into the personal Hell each of us carries around - and purged it clean.

Top Ten Things for Mediocre Catholics to Give Up for Lent, by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak
Did your Lenten penances get lost in the desert? On April 1st, here are one bad Catholic’s ideas for making Holy Week suitably grim.

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W for Wanker: A Review of ‘V for Vendetta’

Movies inspired by the Catholic rebel Guy Fawkes don’t come around often. But ‘V for Vendetta’ is a disappointing tract in support of terrorism—a wish fulfillment fantasy worthy of Christopher Hitchens.

The execution of Guy Fawkes, from 'V for Vendetta.'

I went into this movie wanting to like it. After all, how many films nowadays resurrect the figure of Guy Fawkes—the intrepid 17th century Catholic rebel who responded to a century of relentless religious persecution and tyranny by trying to decapitate the government? After decades of torture, theft, and murder committed against Catholics by an increasingly repressive State, and (this is crucial) with no recourse available to activism, protest, or reform, Fawkes decided to take on the repressive Parliament and king with a few casks of gunpowder hidden underneath them. Because he tried to spare a few innocent MPs, he was ratted out and tortured to death—and vilified for centuries thereafter.

As I've written in The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living, this act of attempted tyrannicide is marked each November 5 by nostalgic Brits who burn Guy Fawkes or the pope in effigy. In my book, I modestly suggest building a gingerbread House of Parliament, laying it out in the back yard, then blowing it to bits. Now, this is just a bit of fun—I've nothing against the Parliament today, except for its absurd laws against fox-hunting and free speech, but that's for another day.

If you watch this film with half your brain turned off it’s an entertaining popcorn fantasy…
I'm also favorably inclined to films which depict the dangers of over-reaching governments, which confiscate their citizens' liberty under the pretext of combating "terror"in the process constituting a graver danger than the terrorists themselves. Lines in the film like, "People shouldn't be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people," should resonate with every patriotic American—and ought to be shouted in the streets, on the airwaves, and over the phone (just in case the Feds are listening). Be careful how you phrase it, thoughunless you want to end up in a Navy brig labeled as an "enemy combatant," subject to brutal interrogations and denied counsel, your Constitutional rights suspended for the duration of an undeclared, open-ended "war".... God bless America!

This movie takes the figure of Fawkes, and claims his legacy—masking its hero "V" (the always impressive Hugo Weaving) in a plastic Fawkes face which he wears throughout the movie. It also constructs a potent, if implausible, totalitarian future for England, where forces of nationalism, repression, and resurgent fundamentalism make life a hell for religious, political, and sexual minorities. The young innocent Evie (Natalie Portman) serves as the audience's surrogate, learning with us all the fascinating tricks of the wily "V," while honest lawman Finch (Stephen Rea) becomes disillusioned with the System he has served. Once you grant the origins of the story in a comic book and allow for the simplistic dualism this entails, it's easy to fall into line with the feelings the movie means to evoke. These tyrants are ugly, venal, and corrupt. They falsify and taint every vestige of tradition which they claim, while indulging in most of the vices they loudly condemn. In a nice touch, the thuggish demagogue (Roger Allam) who hosts "England Prevails," the regime's favorite talk show on its equivalent of the Fox Network, is a dead ringer for the Catholic-bashing warmonger Christopher Hitchens.

…to paranoid, disaffected types, lines like ‘Sometimes blowing up a building can change the world’ will be like a dose of crystal meth.
The filmmakers do a good job of maintaining a consistent, gradually escalating sense of menace, and providing persuasive motivations for the characters—though they waste far too much time indulging the sympathies of standard-issue, straight-out-of-the-box contemporary leftism; not only is this government fascistic, it is also loudly Christian. (Have the filmmakers ever met any Anglican clergy?) Not only is the only clergyman a collaborator in torture and biological terrorism; he's also a stockholder in a pharmaceutical company and—not to do overdo things now-a child-molester. Homosexual erotica is forbidden—and so are pre-Raphaelite paintings (?) and the Koran. Absurdly, the homosexual character (played with great sensitivity by the always winning Stephen Fry), keeps the Koran in his secret collection of samizdat; apparently he hasn't read it, or he'd know the kinds of punishments it prescribes for his proclivities. It's a rich irony that outside of a pitiful fringe of pathetic neo-Nazis, the only people proposing a totalitarian government in Britain today are its Islamists; some 40% of Moslems polled recently in that country favor the introduction of Sharia lawyou know, the kind they're imposing in Iraq and Afghanistan, which would stone adulterers, behead apostates, and lop the hands off shoplifters. Meanwhile, the Blair government is still trying to threaten people with jail time for making statements critical of Islam. Rule Britannia!

It's puzzling to see so much sympathy for Islam from co-producer Larry Wachowski—whose sexuality is... unconventional. At last report, he left his wife to join his long-time dominatrix Ilsa Strix, and plans to have a sex-change operation so he can become Ilsa's lesbian "bride." I hope they aren't planning a honeymoon in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia; they might cause the Sharia judges a nervous breakdown.

If you watch this film with half your brain turned off—and it's a good bet that's how much of its audience will view itit's an entertaining popcorn fantasy with an uncontroversial message:

• Tyranny, him bad.
• Don't beat up homosexuals, shave their heads and throw them in prison. (Nota bene, Señor Castro....)
• Politicians often lie.
• Patriotism is frequently employed as a façade by cynical rulers.
• When all peaceful means of redress are cut off by a despotic government, the people must revolt.

A much better cinematic depiction of the struggle against tyranny appeared last year, in ‘Revenge of the Sith’.
Likewise, as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for disgruntled Anglo-American leftists, the movie might do nicely to soak up a Saturday night. All the usual suspects are rounded up and convicted, from the Church to immigration opponents, from fascist "homophobes" to Big Pharma. There's even a hinttitillating to the conspiracy theorists out there-that America's 9/11 was set up by our government, a Reichstag fire crafted to permit the onset of tyranny.

For either sort of viewer, this movie will remain, like The Matrix, a harmless fantasy.

But there's another group of people who might see this film whom I worry about: the marginally paranoid, disaffected "losers" who serve as the recruitment pool for extremists and terrorists. Think of Timothy McVeigh, who read a single novelThe Turner Diaries—and began to plan the bombing of Oklahoma City. Or the "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid, a Moslem convert whom millions of air-travelers would like to beat to death with their footwear. Or the assemblage of social misfits which Al Qaeda was able to recruit for the attacks in 2001.

To these people, a film with lines like "Sometimes blowing up a building can change the world" is like a dose of crystal meth. What makes things worse is the fantasy element in the film: No innocent bystanders are killed, no children blown apart by the indiscriminate use of explosives in a crowded city, no hospitals filled up with bloodied old people, janitors, and pregnant women. The acts of terror depicted are welcomed by the populace, which greets each explosion as the onset of liberation—and fills the streets in Guy Fawkes masks to show its support. Was this how the residents of Madrid, London, or New York City greeted the terrorist attacks of the past few years? Of course not. They were greeted with outrage and justified indignationand crackdowns on civil liberties. But the daydream of vindication so powerfully woven in this film might help efface those realities in the addled minds of men predisposed to destruction and desperate to "make a difference."

The Church has traditionally preferred to accept injustice rather than give way to anarchy. (The pope of the day was no fan of Guy Fawkes.)
A study of history will show that domestic terrorism almost never works; of all the rebel movements which employed violence to overthrow a government, nearly all have failed—except those fighting against a foreign occupation. It is one thing to throw out a band of aliens who fatten upon your fatherlandbe it Algeria, British Palestine, Ireland, or Afghanistan. It is quite another to dynamite the foundations of social order in your very own country, fighting your fellow citizens, and expect them to thank you for it, then construct a just and peaceful order out of the rubble. This almost never happens, and to expect it is a delusion. For this reason, the Church herself has traditionally preferred to accept injustice rather than give way to anarchy. (The pope of the day was no fan of Guy Fawkes.)

It's in the nature of political extremists to ignore complex realities, and pretend that the regime they criticize is an implacable tyranny—against which only violence will prevail. (I have seen this on the fringes of the pro-life movement, for instance.) But this fantasy can easily turn deadly. Whatever the abuses of the Bush administration, they occur within a legal and political system that can correct them. Our complex system of checks and balances was carefully crafted by our Founders precisely to contain and prevent the abuse of executive authority, and the system still worksif we will work it. What is needed is not violent, wanker fantasies about blowing up policemen and murdering tyrants, but the stolid, civic courage of politicians with principles who speak truth to power—men like Rep. Jim Murtha, Rep. Walter Jones, Rep. Bob Barr, and Senator Russ Feingold.

A much better cinematic depiction of the struggle against tyranny appeared just last year, in the final Star Wars film, Revenge of the Sith. The scene in which that republic's Senate votes to hand unlimited power to its executive rightly brought tears to one's eyes, and a shudder of recognition as (ironically) Natalie Portman uttered the unforgettable line, "So, this is how liberty dies... with thunderous applause." That is the kind of film which today we need.

Absurdly, the homosexual character keeps the Koran in his secret collection of samizdat—apparently he hasn’t read it.
It's sobering to note that the tendency to daydream about quick, clean "surgical strikes" against tyranny is not restricted to the far-left or the far-right. Our nation's foreign policy today seems predicated upon just such a fantasy—the notion that all it requires to plant "freedom" in foreign lands is a military attack by the United States. Decapitate the regime in a place like Iraq, Iran, or Syriaand wait for the natural goodness of people to well up, in the form of a free economy, religious tolerance, and democracy. The world is full of wannabe Americans—if only we could remove the jackboot from their throats, by hacking it off at the knee. Such a delusion was alien to the founders of this country, though it certainly animated the decisions of our worst presidents—like Woodrow Wilson, whose blundering interference in World War I paved the way for the rise of Stalin and Hitler. Our crusade for "democracy" in an Arab world utterly unprepared for it is likely to have no better results. It took centuries of slow evolution, civic conflict, and domestic resistance, for freedom to grow in the West. It grew only from the ground up, from solid institutions rooted in our culture, by fits and starts. It was not imposed by foreigners of a different religion, wielding fire and swordwho wanted our oil.

It was precisely to restrain the power of delusions such as face us today on the left and the jingoist right that the Church developed a sophisticated, demanding set of criteria for just war, and rightful resistance against a tyrant. We cannot let our alliance of convenience with one party or another over social or economic issues addle our minds and rob us of this heritage. In the end, that is all we have to protect us. About this much, "V for Vendetta" was right, when its hero said, "You can't kill an idea."

March 27, 2006

JOHN ZMIRAK is author of 'The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living' (Crossroad, NY, 2005) and a GodSpy contributing editor.

©2006, GODSPY. All rights reserved.

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04.16.06   Godspy says:
Movies inspired by the Catholic rebel Guy Fawkes don’t come around often. But ‘V for Vendetta’ is a disappointing tract in support of terrorism—a wish fulfillment fantasy worthy of Christopher Hitchens.

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