Friday, August 28, 2009

Aliens in America: A Muslim on TV

By Sarah Fallon

This week I watched the Pilot episode of Aliens in America (David Guarascio & Moses Port 2007-2008). Aliens in America is a thirty minute comedy about an American family who joins the student exchange program and, much to their surprise, get a sixteen year old Pakistani Muslim called Raja. The show deals with difference in a comedic way, rejecting ideas that all Muslims are terrorists or that all Muslims are responsible for 9/11. Through exaggerated ignorance and irrationalism, these prejudices appear ridiculous as do the people that hold them, including students, teachers and, for a time, the family that Raja lives with. Amir Hussain writes that Aliens in America is one of “the few shows to present some of the ordinariness of North American Muslim life” (np). From what I saw of the pilot, Raja is neither presented negatively or overly, positive, rather he is presented as a normal everyday outsider in an American school. This is enforced further through his relationship with the main protagonist and narrator, Justin.

The Show is not seen through Raja’s eyes, but through the eyes of Justin the sixteen year old son of the family. Justin has been an outsider his whole life but has now made a friend of Raja. The show draws parallels between the two as outsiders, showing that difference is not just about race or religion and people can relate to each other regardless of their background.

Aliens in America has some touching moments, and clear messages regarding prejudice, racism and difference, often using parody to get these points across.

Aliens in America. Dir. Guarascio, David & Moses Port. CW, 2007-2008.

Aliens in America. 18 May 2008. 27 August 2009.<>.

Hussain, Amir. Aliens in America. Religion Dispatches. 20 February 2008. 27 August 2009. <>.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Becoming the Media & Hegemony

Clayton McIntosh

Branding Faith
Mara Einstein

Einstein's chapter “Branding Faith” discusses the nature of religion in regards to advertising. She focuses on brands and the process of consumerism and religious conversions.

Einstein explains that advertising is a psychologically business used to sell unneeded products to consumers. Advertisers want their product to stand out in the clutter, and they want to make consumers form an immediate bond with the product. They use brands to achieve this; to make meaning of their products. Unconsciously, a brand represents everything you know of that product.

Einstein argues that people find their meaning and identity in the products they buy, not unlike the way people find find meaning and identity in their religion. She suggests that consumerism is almost exactly the same as being a part of religion. She also finds similarities between selling a product and evangelising a faith. She compares the “relationship marketing curve”, or the selling of a product, to the “conversion career”, or someone being converted to a religion. She argues that they are similar, and have borrowed from each other – that religion has borrowed from marketing, and that marketing has borrowed from religion.

Einstein then explores “Neotribalism” - The return to communities (tribes) based on similarities people share. One form of Neotribalism are “Brand communities”; groups of people who share a strong loyalty with a particular product, such as Apple or Harley Davidson. Again she compares products to religion, particularly in regards to “Faith Brands”, products (including people) based around selling a part of religion. She suggests Joyce Myer or The Alpha Course as faith brands. Faith brands act like other consumer products.

Einstein's article explains the similarities between products and religion, focusing on brands. The article poses questions - Is religion a product? Is consumerism a religion? Einstein concludes that religion is at base a product.

Einstein, Mara (2007), Brands of Faith: Marketing Religion in a Commercial Age, New York: Routledge, pp. 67-94

Hadassah Meadows

Consuming the Self: New Age Spirituality as “Social Product” in Consumer Society
Jennifer Rindfleish

Rindfleish makes some key observations that form the basis of her analysis of the four new age spiritual thinkers she critiques within the article. The four new age spiritual thinkers whose views she dissects are Deepak Chopra, Ken Wilber, Gary Zukav and Shakti Gawain. Outlined below are the major concepts Rindfleish tackles within her article.

Firstly, Rindfleish states that the late 20th century has brought about modified discourses and practices from Eastern and Western traditional religious beliefs, western science and psychotherapy. These have been melded together by many new age spiritualists to create an alternative meta-theory. This discourse has been designed and developed to assist individuals ‘transform’ themselves. By doing this, new age spiritual thinkers imply the spiritual confusion of modern consumers is due to the inherent contradictions between many different schools of thought, and they offer a convenient and less confusing alternative by synthesising and collapsing the more complex aspects of each major religion into a palatable, easy to digest formula. Rindfleish points out that by merging Eastern, Western and scientific schools of thought, Chopra, Wilbur and the others purposefully collapse the knowledge and experience inherent in complex and rich traditions, and in the centuries of social and physical sciences to develop their own ‘unique’ meta-theory.

Secondly, each of the spiritualists analysed identify and differentiate between two types of self’s. Each writer outlines a basic or unenlightened self, which can be improved through practices to circumvent the weaknesses of this self. The result, each writer promises, will be an enlightened, fulfilled self who has attained happiness and success, and gained power through the process.

Each of these new age spiritual thinkers have released numerous books, programs, media and commercial information. Zukav is also a frequent guest on Oprah, reaching an audience conservatively estimated at 20 million viewers. The vast amount of literature, media or information available (and in so many different forms) alludes to spirituality as a ‘social product’ in today’s society. Rindfleish explores the uncertainty and insecurity of people in our consumer society, who often rely on such ‘social products’ as the new age and self help spirituality supply, to gain or to craft a new self or self image. These consumers, Rindfleish maintains, eventually find the initial purpose and discourse of their new age practice is lost and becomes redundant, due to redundancy being the inevitable outcome for any social product in a commodified world. Due to the consumer nature of this spirituality, the implications for individual self-identity are that it is always in the nature of ‘becoming’, rather than actually achieving a specific goal. Rindfleish predicts that new age spirituality will continue to change in order to promise satisfaction of consumer needs in a never ending cycle.

Rindfleish, Jennifer (2005). Consuming the Self: New Age Spirituality as a 'social product' in Consumer Society. Consumption, Markets and Culture,
Vol. 8, No. 4, December 2005, pp. 343–360

Meg Lowrey

The Industrialization of the Mind in The Consciousness Industry
Hans Magnus Enzenberger

Enzenberger’s article The Consciousness Industry discusses the media as the mind making industry, and how this industry shapes and informs our consciousness. Suggests that because the media is evaluated separately in terms of form, film on one hand, radio on another, society has become unaware of what he calls the phenomenon as a whole, which is the industrialization of the mind (3). The industry is also difficult to understand because it no longer attempts to sell a product, but rather to ‘sell’ the existing order, both political and social. The article argues that the industry’s main aim is ‘to expand and train our consciousness in order to exploit it’ implying control (7). He outlines four conditions that are necessary for the industry’s development. The first is enlightenment, defined by Enzenberger as the end of theocracy. This is followed by a proclamation of human rights although it is not necessary for these rights to be realised. The third condition is the one which has not been met fully across the globe, the economic ability to develop and sustain the mind industry. Finally the technology required for the development of the different mediums which make up the mind industry (6-7).

Due to societies increased awareness in human and individual rights, people have become more active in both their social and political participation. This has created a problem for those of the ruling class or elites, as traditional methods of control, the use of force, control of capital or production, are no longer effective in maintaining the existing order. Thus, the mind industry has become the latest method of control and key industry of the 20th and 21st centuries (5). Today situations such as the state of emergency in Fiji in April of this year, when the government disabled radio transmitters and the deliberate internal interference reported by media during unrest following elections in June demonstrate the importance placed on the industry.

The development of the internet has created a whole new set of problem for the media and those that produce it. Many sites would easily form part of the mind industry, news sites, government sites, even belief net. However there are also sites such as you tube and twitter which allow individuals to create and produce their own media with the ability to reach large audiences and provide alternatives to mainstream media. Though Enzenberger’s article was written over thirty years ago, most of its themes and ideas are still relevant today, particularly his ideas about breaking free from the control of the mind industry. He argues that awareness is the key, if we are aware of the process, of the industrialization of the mind, society will be able to create alternatives and to overcome its influence (14). New media such as internet sites like YouTube allow the freedom to do this.

Enzensberger HM, (1974). ‘The Industrialization of the Mind’, in The Consciousness Industry. On Literature, Politics and the Media, New York, The Seabury Press, 3-15

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Three Articles Reviewed

Phil Helliwell

U.S. Adolescent Religious Identity, the Media, and the "Funky" side of Religion
Lynn Schofield Clark

Lynn Schofield Clark’s article U.S. Adolescent Religious Identity, the Media, and the "Funky" side of Religion addresses the media’s role in the religious identity of teens in the United States. She suggests five different patterns that relate to how US teens order and discuss religious belief in the wake of popular supernatural themed media, sported mainly in television shows and film. The five patterns are the Traditionalists, the Intrigued, the Mystical, the Experimenters and the Resisters.

Clark defines the Traditionalist teens as those strongly affiliated with an organised religion and they uphold the view that there is a clear boundary between religion and the media. Interestingly, these teens view the media unlike any other group: they assess fictional entertainment in terms of its moral message. The Intrigued teens are not far removed from the Traditionalists, yet are indifferent when it comes to organised religion. They too maintain a boundary between the supernatural themes in entertainment and religion, but they do so under the assumption that believing in a supernatural thing or being is different from having an invested (religious) belief in a divine power. The Mystical teens come from a myriad of backgrounds and believe to have directly encountered the supernatural. Media such as horror films have informed their reckoning and subsequently have influenced their reactions to these supernatural encounters. Experimenter teens are generally far removed from the religious norm (Christianity) yet are clearly influenced by genre films pertaining to their religious beliefs. Clark found in young Wiccan teens the influence of the film The Craft had over their religious identity, despite them being aware of the obvious romantic embellishments in the film. Finally are the Resister teens who are fiercely sceptical of organised religion yet remain open to the possibility of the supernatural. They explore ideas about the supernatural almost entirely through media sources.

Clark demonstrates in her article that teens draw from the media to support their religious identity, not as something tailored by the media to be directly consumed.
Clark L.S. (2004). U.S. Adolescent Religious Identity, the Media, and the "Funky" side of Religion, Journal of Communication, 52, 794-811.

Terrorists We Like and Terrorists We Don't Like

Deni Elliot

In her article, Terrorists We Like and Terrorists We Don’t Like, Deni Elliot seeks to demonstrate how stereotypes of Muslims are created by the government-supported media and how those stereotypes misinform the population and perpetuate misunderstanding. Her argument tracks the development of the stereotype from the present to its possible inception, and does so in direct relation to the attacks of September 11 and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

According to Elliot, the Muslim stereotype as it stands today was formed both before the and during the time of the September 11 attacks. Images have been turned into icons - namely the turban, the burqa, and the typical non-Anglo facial features - and those icons have themselves been perpetuated in mediums like film, often portrayed as or as signifiers of antagonists. In addition to this, images of toddlers dressed in mock suicide bomber jackets and demonic faces in the clouds of smoke billowing from the Twin Towers support the preexisting Muslim stereotype.

But what makes this parade even more insidious for Elliot is that the stereotypes seem to be (or were) supported by the US government. She points out that the official definition of terrorist used in the United States Code itself is concerned primarily with direct non-military attacks on civilians by informal organisations. Yet the terrorists portrayed by the US government and the media go beyond the definition found in the United States Code by including the accumulated cultural stereotypes on top of the definition of terrorist. They are not as other terrorists are, they are more; they are evil. This is the key point Elliot wishes to convey; that while there are terrorists in and from places other than the Middle East, only those from the Middle East carry the extra baggage, which she puts down to the preexisting Muslim stereotype.
Elliott D, (2003). ‘Terrorists we do like and Terrorists we don't like’, In PM Lester & EE Dennis, Eds., Images that Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media, 2nd Edn, London, Praeger, ch7, 51-55.

The Mediatization of Religion
Stig Hjarvard

Hjarvard’s article, The Mediatization of Religion, deals with the conglomerate mass that the media has become and its relatively new role in a being large force in the proliferation, maintenance and evolution of religion and the religious imagination. Data was extracted from the Danish population.

Today it is evident that supernatural themes are common in entertainment media, so much so that to see them in film or television is completely normal, and alongside this, at least in Denmark, television programs devoted to religious issues screen regularly. These examples are effects of the greater happening of the Mediatization of religion, whereby the traditional institutional means of communication and spread of religious ideas are now conveyed via the media. Hjarvard suggests this is a process of secularization, yet the effect is of a re-sacralization of particular facets of established religious ideas once thought disposed of in the typically conceptualized wave of secularization.

But the crux of Hjarvard’s article comes in his enjoining of Meyrowitz’s three aspects of media communication – media as conduits, media as languages and media as environments – and a development of Billig’s idea of “banal nationalism”; “banal religion”. As the media formats communication between sender and receiver, as it constantly transfers symbols and as it facilitates communication in the modern society, everyday ideas, objects and places are mobilized to establish religious meaning, yet without the input of institutionalized religion.
Hjarvard, S, 2008, The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change, Northern Lights, 6, 1, 9-26.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Article Reviews - Benjamin Muller

Clark L.S. (2004). U.S. Adolescent Religious Identity, the Media, and the "Funky" side of Religion, Journal of Communication, 52, 794-811.

Lynn Shofield Clark’s article on the “funky” side of religion, demonstrates how the media plays an important role in constructing religious identity for many. Where contemporary religion is rejected due to scepticism or disinterest, entertainment media has provided an alternative means for individuals to reinforce their spiritual and religious beliefs. Clark’s study aimed to analyse how the media plays a role in constructing religious identity.

It is mentioned that some scholars claim that the entertainment media is to blame for the distorted religious beliefs of some young people; however Clark argues that entertainment media provides valuable information just like religious organisations. It is television programs such as The X-Files, The Craft, and The Sixth Sense that act as a resource for religious information and imagination. Clark mentions these programs as she believes that they offer stories “of the realm beyond this world”.

A study comprised of multiple in-depth interviews, involved 262 individuals of diverse religious backgrounds. Some of the participants were interviewed regularly for more than 3 years. Researchers carefully analysed the interview transcripts and other data collected throughout the study.

It was found that the most conservative participants were most likely to separate spiritual and religious themes in the media from their own religious beliefs. On the other hand, for many of the subjects who described themselves as religious, they struggled to clearly articulate the difference between the themes in formal religion and those in the entertainment media. It was found that even when they wanted to create a boundary between media and formal religion, they often discovered that religious themes in the entertainment media were no different to practices, rituals and symbols found in formal religion. Finally some of the participants actively rejected formal religion even though they were very interested in supernatural themes found in entertainment media. One participant explained that some of the religious and spiritual themes in the media seem more “real” than what he found in organised religion.

Clark’s extensive study shines light on the way religious themes in the entertainment media are interpreted by the audience. Even fairly conservative individuals, who actively practice their religious beliefs, struggled to create a clear division between formal religion and the representation of religion in the media. Furthermore it was found that in some individuals who reject formal religions, their religious and spiritual identity and beliefs are constructed almost solely by the entertainment media.

Elliott D, (2003). ‘Terrorists we do like and Terrorists we don't like’, In PM Lester & EE Dennis, Eds., Images that Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media, 2nd Edn, London, Praeger, ch7, 51-55.

Deni Elliott’s article on the terrorists we do and don’t like, blames the media for creating an association between images of Middle-Easterners and terrorism. In this chapter of her book, Elliott argues that it is essential for the audience to be provided an alternate media that is not just serving the government’s agenda.

The media during 9/11 was full of images that provided cues to show the audience how they should feel. Elliott mentions that the most common images from 9/11 are images of the attack and the grief that followed. On the other hand, rather than showing images of the attackers, the ‘enemy’ was presented as images of celebrating women and men, wearing veils and turbans. This sort of imagery is an example of damaging pictorial stereotypes and demonstrates how the media negatively presents a group of people that the government has labelled as ‘evil’.

The symbolic connection that the media has made between a Middle-Eastern appearance and terrorism has led to countless acts of discrimination and violence against people who are of Middle-Eastern appearance. Images such as the veil and turbans have become associated with ‘evil’ and ‘terrorism’. Elliott uses the example of hundreds of Sikh men who have been attacked since 9/11, even though they have no relation to the men who hijacked the planes on 9/11.

Similarly to the way the media has used imagery to create negative stereotypes, the language used to describe terrorists also has an influence on how the audience distinguishes between terrorists they do like and terrorists they don’t like. Once again, Elliott argues that it is important for the media to not solely follow the government’s agenda. When the government labels terrorists as “freedom-fighters”, “rebels”, or the “opposition army”, the media is much less likely to present them in a negative light than when they are labelled as “terrorists”. Elliott argues that even though there is no specific difference between a freedom fighter and a terrorist, the impact that the label difference has on the way the media presents a story and the way the audience receives it is significant.

Elliot’s chapter makes the power of the media in relation to stereotypes and cultural representations very clear. The importance of reporting terrorism without the backing of a government agenda is important. Elliot concludes by stating that one will never be able to understand the world we live in as long as there is a skew between the portrayals of different terrorists. For the media to have the power to dictate which terrorists are worse than others is a danger that is crucial for the audience to be aware of.

Butt. M. & Wohlmut, K. (2006). The Thousand Faces of Zena: Transculturality through Multi-Identity, in Natasha Gentz and Stefan Kramer, Eds, Globalizatoin, Cultural Identities and Media Representation. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Before the rise of the ‘new media’, action heroes were predictable and highly capable at dealing with a task through the means of a single supernatural-power or special skill. With rising globalisation, it has become a necessary skill to be able to adapt to new and challenging situations. Adaptation is not a common characteristic of a super-hero as they are simply the experts (usually the only one) at dealing with one type of scenario. Miriam Butt and Kyle Wohlmut (2006) examine the super-hero, Xena, from the television series Xena: Warrior Princess, arguing that this character goes beyond the traditional action hero, with her ability to draw from her multitude of skills to deal with a situation in a variety of ways.

It is due to the ‘Electronic Present’ that a new a type of super-hero has come about. Butt and Wohlmut argue that the essentialist concept of identity is becoming second to versatility and non-essentialism. Xena is described as being ‘multidimensional’, and acts as a role-model for the audience. Her catch-phrase, ‘I have many skills”, mirrors her performance on-screen as she approaches new cultures, enemies and difficult tasks without hesitation. Kathryn Woodward (1997), mentions that previously where versatility was looked upon with suspicion, it is now a requirement for success in a society heavy with international commerce and busy with global migration.

As a role-model for identity construction, Butt and Wohlmut summarise Xena’s adaptability in describing her as transcending identity, heroism, sexuality and geography. Xena is able to transcend identity by appealing to a wide range of audiences. As an action hero, Xena engages an audience that is looking for nothing more than excitement and battle, however, the action sequences are often based on historical events, which also engages an audience that appreciates such historical references. Unlike other action heroes, Xena must also deal with obstacles such as being sick and ‘having a bad hair day’. Butt and Wohlmut argue that routine obstacles such as these are another example of how Xena is a role-model for the electronic present.

As an attractive woman, Xena has great appeal for the heterosexual male viewer. On the other hand, Xena is also an obvious feminist role model, never relying on men, instead spending much of her time ruthlessly disposing of them. Her sexuality is also questioned and the producers of the program state that ‘the underlying homosexual subtext of the show is not unintentional’.

Butt and Wohlmut provide a strong argument for the need of non-essentialist super hero identities. It is no longer the social expectation to have a ‘one way’ identity, and Xena provides an effective role-model for diversity and adaptability.

Woodward, K., (1997). Identity and Difference. London: Sage.

It's the Way You Say It

by Emily Fuller

In the film Jesus Camp the filmmakers Heidi Grady and Rachel Ewing have managed to successfully present an unbiased, even-handed view, in a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ style. The subjects of the film are allowed to speak for themselves, without judgement or even narration. It is interesting however that, despite the lack of bias in the presentation, the film stirs up very strong emotions in the viewer. These emotions may be positive or negative – dependant largely on the religious background of the viewer.

The film follows the children of fundamentalist, evangelical Christians at the ‘Kids on Fire’ summer camp which is held at Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. The idea of children at a summer camp would typically bring to mind images of swimming in the lake, roasting marshmallows on the fire, and ghost stories in the cabin at night. But ghost stories are banned at this camp.

Unlike your typical summer camp, this one presents some very confronting scenes. Towards the end of the movie, for example, a guest speaker is brought in to preach to the children about the evils of abortion. Children as young as six are present as he tells them about the many friends they could have had who were never allowed life. The children, many crying and sobbing, then line up to have red tape placed over their mouths with the word ‘LIFE’ printed across it and jump around in a group as they cry out to God and to Satan to save these unborn babies. This scene may be accepted, and even commended, by those who have been present at this type of event before, but for others it is very confronting.

Another confronting, and almost frightening, aspect of the film is the portrayal of these young children as ‘warriors’. The language of the children, parents and camp leaders constantly brings to mind images of the children as a giant army, fighting for their religion. Even the leader of the camp, Becky Fischer, repeatedly compares the camp and other activities to the indoctrination of some young Islamic children, who are trained to hold guns and fight from a young age.

Watching the film, this comparison seems scarily accurate. The film focuses on three children from the camp, Levi, Tory and Rachael, and it is clear that every aspect of their lives, both at camp and at home with their families, is centred on training them to become soldiers, fighting for their faith. Tory is involved in a Christian dance class, and one of the first scenes of the film is of Tory and a group of children in camouflage and war paint, performing something eerily similar to a war dance in front of the church.

So, despite the even-handed way in which Grady and Ewing have presented their material, the film is still likely to leave the viewer with a very strong opinion about the camp, and the people involved. There would be those people, probably from similar religious backgrounds to those presented in Jesus Camp, who would feel very strongly that this film portrays a positive message. There would be others, however, who would find this portrayal of religious indoctrination of small children as quite disconcerting, possibly even frightening.

The film Religulous, by Bill Maher, has taken a completely different approach to the presentation of religion. Even the title is a clear demonstration of Maher’s bias, and these become even more obvious throughout the film. Only a few minutes into the film Maher expresses his opinion that “religion is detrimental to the progress of humanity”. Maher even uses stories about his background as the child of a Jewish mother and Catholic father as if this gives him a unique right to have formed these biases, and to push them on the general public.

It is clear that Maher does not have any of the same respect for his subjects that the makers of Jesus Camp have obviously offered theirs. Rather than talking to believers as a way of presenting both sides of the argument, Maher uses his interviews as a chance to attack the interviewees’ beliefs and values. He even goes so far as to suggest that one Christian man kill himself because he is certain that what comes after death will be better than life on Earth.

Maher does make some effective arguments against religion, and presents interesting points, but unfortunately they are undermined by his presentation style. It is quite clear that Maher has taken the easy way out, by selecting subjects who he knows he can defeat through academics, such as members of the ‘Truckers’ Church’, and an actor hired to play Jesus at an amusement park. Even when he does conduct an interview with an academic, the Christian geneticist Dr Francis Collins, he insists on asking questions about fields not related to Dr Collins’ area of expertise.

Maher presents himself as an advocate for doubt, preaching “the Gospel of ‘I Don’t Know”, but for someone who is apparently such a big fan of doubt, he seems very certain that no religion can possibly be correct, and that every believer is either of low intelligence, delusional or completely insane. By the end of the film it is Maher himself who seems almost insane, asserting that if religion is not destroyed then it will definitely bring about the end of mankind. Very strong words, but after an hour and a half of listen to Maher attack, berate and ridicule others without even listening to their opinions, it becomes difficult to separate his opinions from his obvious hatred and bias against religion.

The Catholic Church in Film

by Jerome Marson

The Catholic Church has been the focus of many films throughout the last century, both fictional and factual, and often a mixture of the two. The two films I will critically review are The Name of the Rose and Angels and Demons. Both of the films to be analysed are film adaptions of novels, the former being the Italian Il nome della rosa by Umberto Eco in 1980 whilst the latter is the Dan Brown novel from the year 2000. For the purposes of the review I will be concerning myself with the films only, as differences between the film and literary mediums require that certain aspects be altered for audiences, mainly in this instance the plot.

The Name of the Rose centres around the curious case of murders in a Benedictine monastery in 14th century. William of Baskerville (Sean Connery), a Franciscan monk and well-known academic scholar, and his apprentice Adso (Christian Slater) arrive to query the situation at the Abbot’s wishes. As their investigations begin, William determines that there is something more to the case, as other deaths occur and situations where ‘accidents’ endanger him increase. The inquisition arrive, lead by the infamous Bernado Gui, (F. Murray Abraham) as many of the congregation believe the work of the devil is at hand. William’s analytical mind does not accept this theory and concludes that each death has been concerned with a long-believed lost book of Aristotle, one discussing the benefits of comedy.

After the inquisition sentences Salvatore the madman hunchback (Ron Perlman) and two others to burn upon stakes for accusations of heresy, William and Adso discover a forbidden library in which one of the oldest patrons confines the books which he thinks are ‘dangerous’ to Christianity. He believes that comedy is the work of the devil and reveals that he was the murderer. Rather than have the truth be revealed, the elderly monk sets the library alight with a candle flame killing himself and the books, nevertheless William and Adso escape and moved on.

The Name of the Rose moves slowly but it suits the mystery/crime/drama genre and is a faithful depiction of medieval life made believable by the setting, a dreary and cold monastery with all aspects of living covered; the script, which portrays the intellectual debates of the time and the willingness to blame heresy; and some of the actors, Sean Connery, Ron Perlman, and F. Murray Abraham embody their characters though some of the supporting cast draws away from the authenticity.

My other film, Angels and Demons, begins with a revolution in science, CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, creates three containers of anti-matter in an experiment. Through the death of a scientist, one of the containers is stolen. Meanwhile in Vatican City, the Pope has died and a successor must be chosen. Before the cardinals can enter conclave, the four favourites (titled ‘preferiti’) are kidnapped and a threat is issued to the Swiss Guard by the Illuminati, a secret society which the Church disbanded by force 400 years ago, that one will die each hour and finally at midnight the anti-matter container will explode, destroying Vatican City, unless a new Pope is not elected. The Swiss Guard and the Vatican issue a call for help from Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), a symbologist with an array of esoteric knowledge and secret society information. Deriving clues, Langdon succeeds in determining where the preferiti will be killed, yet they arrive on the scene just after, or during, the death of the cardinals, but finally saving the fourth one.

It is revealed that the killer was hired from within the Catholic Church and after the canister is found the Camerlengo (Ewan Macgregor) saves the day by flying a helicopter into the sky to detonate it. Surviving this, the Cardinals wish to break tradition and make him the new pope due to the bravery he showed for Catholicism, however Langdon discovers that it was the Camerlengo who hired the killer, poisoned the recently deceased Pope (his father), and killed the scientist to steal the anti-matter, all because he believed that the Church alone should control the moral creed of the Catholic faith, not science. After the Cardinals expel him, he sets himself alight and burns to death and a new Pope is chosen.

Angels and Demons delivers a fast paced thriller and, though a fictional story, it creates the idea that such an occurrence is quite possible. It harnesses the modern intrigue (or paranoia) of conspiracy theories and secret societies but provides an explanation that despite leaving viewers with some extra questions (what else is in the Vatican Secret Archives?) does end with all ties tied. The actors enhance the film extraordinarily, with Ewan MacGregor executing a brilliant Camerlengo, Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd as the head of the Swiss Guard, and Tom Hanks as the academic professor. I certainly couldn’t fault any of the preferiti or the Cardinals, not even thinking until afterwards that they were just actors. The film could have done without the character of Vittoria Vetra, the token attached sidekick to Langdon, in my opinion, as I did not entirely believe that a scientist important enough to be a essential part of CERN would follow a symbologist around Italy on a whim, though Langdon does need someone to explain his theories to for the audience to follow.

Whilst the two films are set 600 years apart, they both have at their core the teachings and faith of the Catholic Church. Both films are exemplary illustrations of the weakness of humans, as such a large institution as the Church can be corrupted by individuals, such as the monk in The Name of the Rose, or the Camerlengo in Angels and Demons. Each of these individuals have their own interpretation of scripture or the messages, aims and future of the Church, the monk believing that “laughter kills fear, and without fear there can be no faith because without fear of the Devil, there is no more need of God”1, whilst the Camerlengo states “if science is allowed to claim the power of creation, what is left for God?” 2 When they are discovered, both choose to take their own lives through flame believing that martyrdom awaits.

Similarly both the perpetrators use a known enemy of the Church to take blame for events, in The Name of the Rose, the rival is no other than heresy itself, associates of the devil and witchcraft, and in Angels and Demons the Illuminati are considered the adversary. The difference between these two however, is that heresy was a very real part of history and the Church took matters regarding this exceptionally seriously, whilst the Illuminati, from historical sources, were a secret society of intellectuals that was ordered to be disbanded in the 18th century; a brief mention as opposed to hundreds of years with heresy. It must be stated, however, that the Illuminati did not actually ‘return’ in the film, but was merely a clever conception of the Camerlengo to incite fear from an unknown enemy.

One would attain from these depictions I’m sure a negative view of the Catholic Church, however there are certainly the characters that redeem and exemplify the Catholic faith. William and the recently deceased Pope show open mindedness, forgiveness, and humanity, and they adapt the messages and morals they are faced with to their social climate, whilst the devout followers of the rules, included here is the inquisitor from The Name of the Rose, are unable to move beyond their own walls. Both films effectively display the weaknesses in human constructs of religion, whilst one is true and the other fictitious they both create balanced movies featuring varied views.

1. Warner Home Video (2006)The Name of the Rose, DVD

2. Sony Pictures (2009) Angels and Demons, Theatrical Release

Review Articles Chris Alford

The Mediatization of Religion

Stig Hjarvard’s (1998) article The Mediatization of Religion attempts to develop a theoretical framework which can be used to understand the ways in which religion is effected by a process he terms mediatization. Hjarvard argues that in countries with highly commercialised and deregulated media industries, this process of "mediatization" involves the subsumption of religious issues and representations into media logic. The principle implication of this, Hjarvard suggests, is the disempowering of institutionalised Religion and the subsequent dominance of what he terms "Banal Religion". This article raises some important issues particularly as to the role of media in religious issues/representations and the subsequent repercussions of this relationship.

Can the mystically supernatural protagonists and the plethora of mythical/magical creatures that inhabit some of the most popular entertainment spectacles (i.e. Harry Potter and Twilight novels/films) be considered as evocative of religious meaning? According to Hjarvard’s (1998) thesis, it is through the blending of folk religious elements, traditional religious symbols and thematic effects (highly emotional music etc.) that the "Banal religious imagination" is established. As a consequence, consumers of mediatized religion are becoming less dependent upon institutionalised religions as a source of religious and or spiritual thoughts, feelings and imagination, and more enthralled by the popular culture mediums which stimulate the Banal religious imagination.

The foundations of Hjarvard’s (1998) theoretical framework of "mediatization" are in the form of three metaphors - media as conduits, languages and environments of information and communication, the increasingly dominant source religious meaning and representation. If Hjarvard’s "mediatization" hypothesis accurately represents changes in the way in which we gain access and process religious meaning, as I believe it does, then the possible repercussions must be carefully considered. For example, how can we assume that religious and spiritual issues, converted into individualised consumer entertainment through the media language of popular culture, contain any of their original meaning? Similarly, how are people in modern technology dependent societies able react independently to religious representations which are constantly fluctuating under the murky agenda’s of commercialised media? Surely the relevance of such problems warrants a serious questioning of the relationship between media and religion.

Consuming the Self: New Age Spirituality as a “Social Product” in Consumer Society.

This poignant article by Jennifer Rindfleish (2005) critically examines the social forces driving the popular trend of the new-age self-development. She pays particular attention to the role of new-age authors in facilitating the modern consumer’s continuously insatiable quest for self improvement, a phenomenon she calls the "consumption of the self". Rindfleish (2005) argues that the principal mechanisms of this process are "technologies of the self", the hybridised “meta-theories” of new-age authors who synthesise elements of religion and science from both East and West in order to sell a never-complete vision of self-transformation. The article asks us to consider the implications of a marriage between spirituality and consumerism upon the already confused modern notion of “self”.

Under the influence of secularisation, consumerism, individual spirituality and psychotherapeutic theory, the notion of “self-help” or “self-actualisation” (Maslow, 1970, cited in Rindfleish, 2005) has become an obsession of the modern liberal democratic citizen (Rindfleish, 2005). In accordance with this obsession the demand for the tailored wisdom of the new-age guru seems to be on a constant incline (as evidenced by the robust new-age section in most bookstores). Rindfleish asserts, engagement in new-age discourse and practice is not a process of meaningful self-discovery but an endless “consumption of the self”. This commodification of spirituality is mechanised by what Rindfleish calls the “technologies of the self”, the “unique” “meta-theories” glued together from the larger and richer traditions (i.e religions and psychology) to form a “social product” which needs to be constantly reinvented and re-packaged for the changing fads of the consumer market.

That the commodification of spirituality should appear quite obviously absurd to the casual observer is a given. The inherent problem is that it is almost impossible to be a casual observer in a consumer market which is tailored to you. If we continue to allow ourselves to be force fed a prepackaged spirituality we are accepting a homogenised and incomplete vision of the self, badly constructed by a fluctuating collection of pseudo “wisdoms” grafted from their traditional context and thus bereft of real meaning.

Terrorists we like and Terrorists we don’t like

Deni Elliot’s (2003) article Terrorists we like and Terrorists we don’t like examines the ways in which the US government, through the media industry, manipulates representations of “the other” in order to serve nationalistic agendas. Pointing to the fluctuating shift in the way the US government labels groups either as “terrorists” or “freedom fighters” in accordance with political agendas, and the way in which stereotypes are used by the media to perpetuate these agendas, Elliot argues that this kind of manipulation results in distorted views of reality. This article asks the reader to consider some important questions; what “hidden agendas” influence mediated communication in free-market democracies such as the US? And how can we have the ability to form independent views on religious and other issues if our primary (sometimes only) sources of information reflect these “hidden agendas”.

Elliot (2003) cites the manipulation of certain symbols of “otherness” (i.e. the turban) in the US media as a principle means of inciting fear and aggression towards people of “Muslim appearance”. She asks us to consider the connection between nationalistic agendas such as the “War on Terror” and the way these symbols of “otherness” are relentlessly reinforced in media genre’s such as current affairs and popular film and television. Elliot also highlights the inherent contradiction in the way the media interchanges the “terrorists” or “freedom fighters” labels to designate their status as enemies or allies (or neutral). Such open contradictions must at least make us aware of the manipulative function of the media. But when stereotypes and symbols become so embedded in the way we process information even the most aware among us may find their reactions to “the other” influenced by “hidden agendas”.


Elliot D, 2003, ‘Terrorists we do like and Terrorists we don't like’, In PM Lester & EE Dennis, Eds., Images that Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media, 2nd Edn, London, Praeger, ch7, 51-55.

Hjarvard, S, 2008, The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change, Northern Lights, 6, 1, 9-26.

Rindfleish S, 2005, ‘Consuming the Self: New Age Spirituality as “Social Product” in Consumer Society’, Consumption, Markets and Culture, 8, 4, Dec, 343 -360.

Jesus, the Truth, and the Big Screen--By Jack Weingart

**Disclaimer: The ending of the films are revealed for critical review purposes.

As church attendance is declining in most factions of Christianity, films featuring religious references have been more popular than ever recently. The public’s response to Hollywood films based on Jesus serves as overwhelming evidence of this phenomenon.

Take Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, for instance. Based on the New Testament, The Passion recounts the last twelve hours of Jesus’ life, portraying the arrest, trial, torture, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus. Gibson, a devout Catholic, co-wrote, co-produced, and directed the film.

Another example of Hollywood cashing in on Jesus can be found in Ron Howard’s adaptation of Dan Brown’s mystery-detective fiction novel, The Da Vinci Code. Starring Tom Hanks as symbologist Robert Langdon, The Da Vinci Code follows Langdon as he investigates a murder in Paris’s Louvre Museum that could potentially divulge some very critical secrets, which if revealed could challenge the fundamentals of the Roman Catholic Church.

One based on fact and the other fiction, both films grossed millions of dollars worldwide and caught the attention of religious communities and moviegoers alike.

Gibson set out to produce a film that made “graphic and inescapable the price that Jesus paid (as Christians believe) when he died for our sins” (Ebert, 2004). At least 100 minutes of The Passion explicitly visualizes the brutal torturing and death of Jesus (played by James Caviezel). This was one of Gibson’s stated goals, however, “to make clear the agony Jesus (must have) endured, to give viewers an ‘experience’ that approximates the Passion, a pain they will remember and believe (in)” (Fuchs, 2004). And Gibson did just that. While the movie may be far too gruesome for some, it is certainly a film one walks away from with a newfound perspective of Jesus’ sacrifice.

The Passion has been screened by church groups across America and praised for its accuracy, with some “calling the film a teaching and converting ‘tool’ to be used for years to come” (Fuchs, 2004). Ted Haggard, the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, goes as far to call it the “most accurate film historically than anything that’s ever been made in the English world” (Corley, 2004:175).

Gibson’s claim to faithfully represent the New Testament and praises like Haggard’s are alarming, however, because much of The Passion does not represent accurately either the Gospels or history. As Corley and Webb (2004:176) explain, The Passion, like all other films, “is an interpretation of a story from one perspective, and movie directors have the right to interpret from whatever perspective they choose and portray as they see fit.”

In key points during the film, Gibson “takes considerable license with the Gospel narratives. The film adds scenes that have no basis in the Gospels’ plot, and considerably alters the characterization of many of the key characters” (Corley, 2004:174). The film’s altering of Roman Governor Pontius Pilate, who is seen rather sympathetically, has sparked many claims that the film is anti-Semitic. The positive portrayal of Pilate shifts the blame of Jesus’ death to the Jewish authorities and crowds in the film. Consequently, “one definitely comes away from the film with the understanding that it was primarily the Jews who are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus” (Corley, 2004:174-175). So while viewers do walk away from the film with a new perspective, the authenticity of that perspective is undoubtedly skewed.

The Da Vinci Code is another film that experienced the truth debate upon hitting the big screen. The film closely follows the popular book, which makes the claim that Jesus had a child with Mary Magdalene. Like the book, the film also asserts a colossal cover-up by the Roman Catholic Church, which accordingly did everything in its power, including murdering millions of people, to cover up the relationship (Waxman, 2005).

Similar to the book, the film received stark criticisms from many in the Catholic Church. Both the Catholic League and Opus Dei (the film’s central villain) sent letters to producers and Columbia Pictures expressing their concerns with the film’s portrayal of Catholicism. Westminster Abbey even declined the producers' request to shoot there, calling the book and film "theologically unsound" (Waxman, 2005).

Many readers of Brown’s novel are convinced that The Da Vinci Code is fact masked in fiction—the film’s production team stuck close to Brown’s storyline to buy into that fan base. Producer John Calley even argues that the movie “could be a tool for discussing the origins of religion, even challenging its basic assumptions” (Waxman, 2005).

Both films serve as examples of why viewers need to question the legitimacy of the information they consume from the media. One must do their own research and fact-finding before believing, understanding that all media representations—whether it be from the news media or Hollywood—are simply social constructions. The problem lies in the reality that not enough media consumers challenge what they see or hear.

The Passion is based on Gibson’s perspective, yet it’s perceived by many as the stone cold truth. The Da Vinci Code adheres closely to Dan Brown’s fictional plot, yet Brown himself and many fans believe his storyline to be the truth cloaked in fiction. The reality is that these films are mere interpretations of facts and stories from one perspective. Therefore, the films should be respected for what they are as films and not for what some viewers intend them to be, historically accurate.

Buying into moviegoer’s newfound interest in religious themes, The Passion and The Da Vinci Code are just two examples of the media shaping people’s thoughts about religion. The films act as perfect examples of how the media as cultural institutions have become “producers of religious imaginations, rather than conveyors of the messages of religious institutions (Hjarvard, 2008:18). Consequently, it is up to conscious media consumers to dissect media representations and to discern their own notion of the truth. And at the end of the day, sometimes it is best to enjoy a Hollywood movie for what it simply is, entertainment.


Corley, Kathleen E., and Robert L. Webb. “Conclusion: The Passion, the Gospels and the Claims to History.” Jesus and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ: the Film, the Gospels, and the Claims of History. Ed. Kathleen Corley and Robert Webb. New York: Continuum, 2004. 173-178.

Ebert, Robert. “The Da Vinci Code.” Chicago Sun-Times 18 May 2006: Ebert. <>.

Fuchs, Cynthia. “The Da Vinci Code: Not Theology.” PopMatters 19 May 2006: Film & TV. <>.

Fuchs, Cynthia. “The Passion of the Christ: Faith and Pain.” PopMatters 30 August 2004: Film & TV. <>.

Hjarvard, S. “The Mediatization of Religion: A Theory of the Media as Agents of Religious Change.” Northern Lights 6 (2008): 9-26.

Waxman. Sharon. “Sprinkling Holy Water on ‘The Da Vinci Code.’” New York Times 7 August 2005: Movies. <>.