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[Tom Plate] The Passion of Christ And the Passion of Gay-Bashers

By Tom Plate
Professor at University of California, Los Angeles Director of Asia Pacific Media Network

HOLLYWOOD _ Non-appearances can be deceiving

While New Zealand director Peter Jackson was bobbing on the Oscar stage much of Sunday night (Feb. 29) scooping up awards for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” Australian superstar Mel Gibson was nowhere to be seen.

In the battle of the South Pacific, the Kiwis, at the Oscars at least, emerged as the clear winners.

The otherwise popular Gibson, the director and producer of a controversial new film, was indeed in the Academy Awards audience, but the controlled cameras panned away: The actor himself had chosen to avoid the limelight as a star awards presenter on stage, according to reports. As a healthy percentage of Hollywood big shots comprise U.S. Jews, Gibson assumed a safer boo-immune profile in the wake of charges by critics and Jewish leaders that his “The Passion of the Christ” takes the low road of anti-Semitism.

In general, Hollywood is extremely tolerant of all points of view and usually intolerant of intolerance. But the anti-Semitic “Passion” may prove a historic testing case for the entertainment industry, for it is also extremely tolerant of profits. Since it opened, “Passion” has been rivaling “Rings” in box-office clout. Will “Passion” garner Oscars next year if its profits turn out to rival “Rings?”

The profits paradox is in part the cultural paradox of California. The state is really two states of mind.

One is represented by the ultra-chic cosmos of San Francisco and Hollywood; the other is symbolized by the back-to-basic suburban nests of evangelical Christians now scooping up “Passion” tickets _ and evidently enjoying the sight of Jewish priests approving the bloody beating of Christ.

Their motivation may be anti-Semitic or pro-inspirational, but the movie tellingly depicts the last half-day in the earthly life of Christ with uncommon violence. I trust the critics I have read enough to know this is not a ticket I wish to buy, but I defend absolutely the right of everybody _ including Christian rightists _ to see it.

The whole point of tolerance is to offer all people the widest possible freedom of intellectual and cultural scope. California’s suburban righteous infrequently evidence much understanding of that, which has given another Hollywood superstar a boost. Apparently, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, thinks he needs a diverting issue to take people’s minds off the cascade of state budget cuts that are making various constituencies apprehensive. The issue in question, which also appeals to Republican President George W. Bush, is gay marriage.

Pointedly, the recently elected mayor of San Francisco, a true city of light in many respects, supports it. Gavin Newsom ordered city officials to issue licenses to gay couples. In response, the governor wants the licensing terminated, and Bush even proposes a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage. This is America?

Worse yet, in this age of instantaneous information and global video transmission, the California spectacle is making people around the world wonder. Perhaps one might get Arnold’s attention by suggesting the gay-bashing may not be good for tourism or for the image of a governor once accused of overt sexual harassment of females. Why politically harass gays?

Even Asia _ ordinarily a paternalistic family culture of the most traditional kind _ has been moving toward more tolerance. In Cambodia, legendary King Norodom Sihanouk, watching television news coverage of gay weddings in San Francisco, affirmed his culture’s respect for personal sexual preferences. In Taiwan, observers expect the local government to legalize some form of gay marriage before long. In Hong Kong, where the Chinese-language news media has begun to change its traditional oppositional tune toward gays and lesbians, same-sex marriage advocates have been increasingly relying on an article in the territory’s 1997 mini-constitution that would confer an absolute right to marriage and family without reference to sexuality.

By contrast, in Australia, a pair of gay Melbourne men who married in Canada has had to petition the country’s courts for local certification as a married couple. Let’s hope they don’t have to endure anything like the violent passion of Christ to have their basic rights respected.

Alas, John Howard, the conservative prime minister, is doing a Schwarzenegger and condemning the idea. His Australian Liberal Party recently shelved an amendment to its platform that would have honored gay marriages. Ironically, the country’s so-called “Liberal” party (it’s actually the more conservative of the two main ones) always campaigns on minimizing government interference in the private lives of citizens. But how that political philosophy can be squared with telling people what their sexual practice must be in order to marry is difficult to discern. Here in Los Angeles, we’d probably say: That’s just politics.

Perhaps, but the Schwarzenegger/Howard game is certainly a crude and bigoted form of entertainment, even by Hollywood standards.


How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?

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