- Hardcover: 160 pages
- Publisher: Praeger (September 30, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0275973573
- ISBN-13: 978-0275973575
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.4 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,317,352 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Film, Faith, and Cultural Conflict: The Case of Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ
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"Film, Faith, and Cultural Conflict offers an utterly absorbing account of the reception history surrounding Scorsese's film. In seven deft and meticulous chapters Riley, an assistant professor of electronic media in the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, examines The Last Temptation of Christ for its historical origins, the intial causes for the controversy that surounded it, and the robust rhetoric employed by the different groups who reacted to it positively or negatively, according to religious persuasion."-Southern Humanities Review
"Riley presents a compelling case study of the religious and legal controversy created by Scorsese's 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ....The writing is refreshingly free of the jargon usually associated with these topics, and the book makes for an accessible, informative, and entertaining read for those interested in media law, communication theory, media and society, media and religion, or film history. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers."-Choice
?Riley presents a compelling case study of the religious and legal controversy created by Scorsese's 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ....The writing is refreshingly free of the jargon usually associated with these topics, and the book makes for an accessible, informative, and entertaining read for those interested in media law, communication theory, media and society, media and religion, or film history. Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers.?-Choice
?Film, Faith, and Cultural Conflict offers an utterly absorbing account of the reception history surrounding Scorsese's film. In seven deft and meticulous chapters Riley, an assistant professor of electronic media in the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, examines The Last Temptation of Christ for its historical origins, the intial causes for the controversy that surounded it, and the robust rhetoric employed by the different groups who reacted to it positively or negatively, according to religious persuasion.?-Southern Humanities Review
"Set within a compelling historical context, Riley's analysis is fresh and original, as it reveals his own personal struggle to deal with his engagement with the conflicts introduced on multiple levels, and the resulting constructions of meaning. This is a book that once opened, the reader will not easily put down until it is finished."-Robert K. Avery Professor of Communication, University of Utah
"In his analysis of one of the most pivotal battles in the Culture Wars, the controversial case of director Martin Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ, rhetorical scholar Robin Riley provides a clear and compelling understanding of the causes, strategies, and tactics of the various groups castigating, scapegoating, and defending the film."-Terry Lindvall, Ph.D. School of Communication and the Arts, Regent University
"Readers should be warned that the author takes a position not commonly held among scholars of communication and media. Instead, he directly challenges certain firmly held beliefs in freedom of speech and the secular marketplace of ideas. His book presents a strikingly alternative perspective that both clarifies and complicates taken-for-granted assumptions concerning free speech, religious belief, and the role of the media in contemporary society."-Christine L. Oravec Professor Emerita, Department of Communication, University of Utah
"Riley's illuminating study of public disputes and private agendas surrounding the release of the film The Last Temptation of Christ merits serious consideration today as secular and religious world views clash in postmodern society. Riley persuasively argues that victimage is alive and well in North America, and that disputes over media depictions of religion can shake the foundations of liberal democracy as they nurture distrust, misunderstanding, and even unfair criticism. Thanks to Riley for helping us to see the larger issues at stake in seemingly parochial culture wars about religion and the media."-Quentin J. Schultze Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences, Calvin College
About the Author
ROBIN RILEY is Assistant Professor of Electronic Media in the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.
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Author Robin Riley is listed as an Assistant Professor of Electronic Media in the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati. The deeper I got into this train-wreck of an analysis on "Last Temptation" through the Riley's concepts of "scapegoating," the funnier the title "Assistant Professor of Electronic Media in the College-Conservatory of Music" became. By the end I had to own up to my mistake in dropping $30 on this thing. I mean, should I have really expected intelligent, sophisticated religious, artistic and social commentary on the most controversial film of all time from an assistant professor in electronic media from a college-conservatory of music?
Riley lacks a fundamental understanding of both the history and meaning of the Constitution of the United States and the First Amendment. Furthermore, Riley has conveniently forgotten or outright rejected the absolute need for the separation of church and state on both State and Federal levels. The very American concept of freedom of religion is also absent in Riley's text and its arguments. If you're looking for an intelligent, legalistic and historic definition of and support for freedom of speech, you can stop reading after the book's Introduction.
The tone of the book, its illogic reasoning and arrogant ignorance is blatantly defined in the first pages of the Introduction. Riley claims that as a result of "The Last Temptation of Christ," a mere movie, "Religious conservatives have become more embattled and marginalized ...Their social currency in entertainment media and film has diminished...The Christian Church's traditional role as America's moral compass has been diminished or removed from these communication media in the years proceeding the film's release. Correspondingly, the ideas espoused in the Constitution and First Amendment have lost credibility among religious conservatives who believe the modernist ideals of American democracy have compromised the moral code that, in their view, gave it life. Liberal progressives have become increasingly alienated from the moral code of Christianity as a result of scapegoating. Likewise, the trusting relationship long maintained between the film industry and the public has been altered and delegitimized."
I think Riley may be shocked to learn that any cause, religious or otherwise, can only become "embattled and marginalized" if they choose to be. A cause or religion that engages in a public conflict and allows the resulting victory or defeat to validate their own sense of worth and power must inherently be a weak and questionable cause or religion to begin with.
As far as the "social currency in entertainment media and film" of religious conservatives being diminished, Riley reveals how painfully ignorant she is of the simplest economic model that explains this issue - supply and demand. Fortunately, a little movie called "The Passion of the Christ" came along in to show how all this works. See, when a certain demographic plucks down over $600 million dollars in theaters to see a genre film that appeals to that demographic - as when fundamentalist Christians spent close to $1 Billion dollars on movie tickets and DVDs of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" - every actor, director and studio in Hollywood takes note. Entire production and home video divisions dedicated to Christian entertainment product sprang up all over Hollywood in the 2 years following "The Passion." New Line Pictures spent millions to make the very reverent and spiritual film "The Nativity Story," the story of Mary's journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Christ. It starred Oscar nominee Keisha Castle-Hughes and was directed by Katherine Hardwick. Hardwick would later direct the smash hit version of the vampire-teen tale "Twilight." The film was aggressively marketed to churches all across America. Conservative critics and groups praised it. None of the churches that flooded movie theaters for "The Passion" turned up for "The Nativity Story." It bombed and cost New Line millions. The Visual Bible International, Inc. spent $30 million dollars to produce and release "The Gospel of John," a word-for-word film adaptation of the gospel itself. Daily Variety called it "Dramatically Powerful!" The Associated Press called it "Thought-Provoking Entertainment." The notoriously liberal LA Weekly declared it a major religious epic better than "The Passion of the Christ." None of the Christians who spent millions on Gibson's "The Passion" went to see "The Gospel of John" in theaters or on DVD. Visual Bible wanted to make unabridged films of the other gospels as well, and they entered pre-production on "The Gospel of Mark" for theatrical release. After losing $30 million dollars when Christian entertainment consumers ignored "The Gospel of John," Visual Bible was forced to cancel "The Gospel of Mark." Riley is correct when she states, "the trusting relationship long maintained between the film industry and the (Christian) public has been altered and delegitimized." After New Market films and theaters across America risked money and protests with "The Passion of the Christ," and it was a success, Hollywood listened. They quickly dumped millions into big budget, Christian conservative theatrical films and direct to video products. Millions of conservative Christians in 1988 begged in anger for Hollywood to destroy the negative to "The Last Temptation of Christ" and instead produce conservative Christian films. When Hollywood delivered the goods, Christians stayed away and the studios lost millions. You might say that "trusting relationship" between the film industry and Christian public has been altered and delegitimized by the failure of conservative Christians to go and see the very type of films they lament Hollywood never makes for them.
I don't know how much proof can be provided by Riley that "the Christian Church's traditional role as America's moral compass has been diminished or removed from these communication media in the years proceeding the film's release" after the phenomena that was "The Passion of the Christ." I find it very arrogant for Riley to indicate that the Christian Church should have a role as America's moral compass, period. I am pretty sure many Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Atheists, to name a few, would object to the US government proclaiming the Christian Church as the keeper of America's moral compass. As a Christian, I OBJECT to the idea of the Christian Church being the sole keeper of America's moral compass. Many Christians have huge issues with the beliefs and actions of certain sects of conservative Christians.
Perhaps the most hilarious and absurd things to be found in Riley's book are the portions which address that "the ideas espoused in the Constitution and First Amendment have lost credibility among religious conservatives who believe the modernist ideals of American democracy have compromised the moral code that, in their view, gave it life." The bulk of the authors of our Constitution and Bill of Rights were Masons - at best, a questionable form of Christianity that today's conservative Christians would brand very unChristian and label a dangerous cult. The Masons' views on religion was above all about tolerance. Tolerance for the views and practices of all faiths. They had fled one country and its leader who imposed a singular, repressive religion on them. The last thing our Founding Fathers wanted to do was set up a government based upon one single religion, religious philosophy or dogmatic beliefs and practices. As far as Riley's views that, "Liberal progressives have become increasingly alienated from the moral code of Christianity as a result of scapegoating," - I honestly think liberal progressives could care less about being alienated from the moral code of Christianity. In fact, I think most people who are not Christians and choose not to believe in the moral code of Christianity should increasingly alienate themselves from a code they may find oppressive as part of a religion they do not believe in nor find God in.
In 1988 when the film was released, my own little Christian family was of opposing views regarding it. My father and I found spiritual value in it while my sister and mother were offended by there mere concept of the story. We had discussions and debates, but they were civil and respectful. Most of all, at the end of the day, we all viewed each other as genuine Christians. No one was told they were committing blasphemy by viewing and supporting "The Last Temptation of Christ," or that we were going to hell if we saw the film and valued it's content. Just think - if all Christians had reacted this way to "The Last Temptation of Christ' - felt free to express their views; felt responsible to allow others to express their own views in an atmosphere of safety; and acknowledged that Martin Scorsese and Universal had the legally protected right to make the film under the first Amendment, free of persecution. We Christians would have truly acted and behaved as Jesus always wanted us to. Those who were opposed to the film could have protested peacefully, as many did, while respecting Universal's right to distribute the film, the right of theaters to play the film, and the right of anyone over the age of 17 to buy a ticket and see the film. If we had just listened to him and done what he said was most important, "Love one another as I have loved you," perhaps a lot of drama and trauma could have been avoided.
At the very least, we wouldn't have Riley's book killing innocent trees.
As I read the book in more depth, however, I was less impressed -- the argument becomes overblown in the details, as when Riley asserts that "[t]he film's victimization of traditional Christianity is made apparent when nonconforming images and ideas about Jesus are placed in viewers' minds, thus erasing or displacing conventional associations and references" (49). Exposing people to alternative religious ideas and interpretations "victimizes" them?! What an insult to believers' intelligence and the strength of their faith! Powerful as art can be, I hardly think a single viewing of a film should be able to "corrupt" (if challenging people's beliefs can be considered corruption) a solidly established faith. To argue that LToC victimizes conservatives is as absurd as arguing that _King of Kings_ or the other great epics victimize liberals, or that street evangelism from both the religious left and right victimizes the other. (Notably, Scorsese himself confesses to being a tremendous fan of Biblical epics; Riley acknowledges this but does not explore its implications.)
I'm grateful to Riley for the opportunity to think through these provocative arguments, as well as for the detailed information about the reception of the film presented in this book. S/he is certainly right to point out that in the controversy over LToC, liberals persecuted conservatives just as conservatives persecuted liberals; in some ways, the controversy over Mel Gibson's _The Passion_ is a replay of events surrounding LToC, only with liberals on the offensive.
Overall, however, the book's agenda is tipped too strongly in defense of the conservative reaction. The book morphs into a polemic, misrepresenting the religious point of view it opposes. Instead of acknowledging LToC's theology as a distinctive religious viewpoint, Riley insists that Scorsese's attempt to emphasize the humanity of Jesus is "secular," ignoring the fact that the debate over Jesus' humanity versus his divinity has been an issue since at least the 4th century. To believe in a primarily human Jesus is hardly a non-Christian position. Further, scenes that Scorsese, Kazantzakis, and appreciative viewers have read as deeply spiritual and reaching toward transcendent truth are castigated by Riley as being amoral or rejecting the idea of universal ethical principles. At times, this is done in ways that ignore inconvenient plot points or dialogue. Finally, Riley's suggestion that Scorsese and Universal Pictures represent an aggressive secularizing conspiracy, when perfectly sincere beliefs about freedom of speech and the essential humanity of Christ would result in the same behavior is, I think, bordering on paranoia.
In conclusion, though it's true that both religious liberals and secular people tended to like this film more than conservatives did, Riley's implication that therefore religious liberals are just closet secularizers is an underhanded attack of the same kind that s/he condemns in this book, cloaked as it is in seemingly academic rhetoric. I remain unimpressed.