Oh, no, not again! I whistled as I read this message in my last mail. The guy who wrote me was referring to the movie, "The Golden Compass" which, according to an article linked to the said email, is an anti-God, anti-Christian propaganda.
I shook my head at the warning, seeing it as another misguided attempt to "shield children from the darts of the Devil." For while the obvious atheistic intent of Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy (the first of which was the basis of the film's creation) is beyond question, it is questionable whether boycotting the film is the best defense against the perceived anti-God theme of the movie. For all we know, blacklisting certain artistic and literary works would just generate curiosity among people, especially the young. Can we not take our cue from the futile attempts of some very religious folks not too long ago to stop their own people from watching (enjoying, might be a more fitting term) the Harry Potter series? Too, is not the lesson clear from the failure of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei's fatwa against Salman Rushdie and his publishers to stem the proliferation of The Satanic Verses all over the globe?
Further, are we so naïve as to think that banning the movie will stop it from ending up before the inquisitive eyes of our children, given the various avenues through which media invades our lives? Oh yes, you can prohibit our children from watching the film "in the cinema," but you can't stop cable television, internet cafes, ipods, etc. from parading the show to them.
Is it not better for us parents to first strive to get ourselves acquainted with the trends in popular culture (thanks to cultural critic Delfin Tolentino Jr. for this important point), watch movies as this with that background, and guide our children in a fair assessment of these and other cultural items?
I wonder if it is not possible for us to watch "The Golden Compass" with a critical eye without demonizing the whole film and all those who produced it?
I wonder, too, whether those who are so conscientious and vociferous in barring their children from watching "The Golden Compass" are as passionate in warning their children of the manipulative intent and content of TV noontime shows like "Wowowee" or the highly popular talkshows of Kris Aquino and other showbiz stars? Would they be as militant in warning their children of the hidden political agenda behind books (like the "Left Behind" series) of right-wing religious fundamentalists? Have they been religious in educating their kids about the morally crippling effects of getting hooked on smuts or about the desensitizing influence of computer games and movies awash with violence?
Hmmm... Didn't someone say consistency is such a jewel? The warning reminds us again that simplistic solutions to our moral/spiritual/social troubles will just feed fuel to the flame of our often unreasoned judgment.
DONNA FREITAS: A lot of people are extremely worried about your agenda, that you are “selling atheism to kids.” And I’m wondering, given your work talking about the democracy of reading and imagination, how do you respond that kind of accusation?
PHILIP PULLMAN: Well, I’ve been telling stories for 30… nearly 40 years now. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s no good telling a story that preaches. People don’t read stories that do that. Children don’t enjoy them. Nobody remembers them. They’re not enjoyed. My agenda is not to convert anyone to any particular point of view. My agenda is to make them feel, see, enjoy, delight in, be beguiled and amused by the story I tell, which is about two ordinary children in extraordinary circumstances. That’s my agenda. I’m telling a story. I’m a storyteller. If people go away from the book or put the book down and think about things more deeply than they did before, that’s good. I trust the reader. I trust the audience. I trust them to have the sense to see what the qualities are that the book is championing, if you like. I don’t think anyone can read this book and think that it is intended to rob children of happiness or to rob children of anything to do with wonder and delight and so on. I think the qualities the book celebrates are those such as kindness, and, love, and courage, and courtesy, too, and intellectual curiosity – all these good things. And the qualities that the book attacks are cold-heartedness, tyranny, closed-mindedness, cruelty – the things that we all agree are bad things. Do I have an agenda? I have the agenda of every storyteller which is to make the reader turn the pages and read on to the end of the book. And I hope that when they’ve read the book, they will feel a little bit better for doing so. They might, well, as one of my great heroes, Samuel Johnson – the great Dr. Johnson – said: “The true aim of reading is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.” And that’s my agenda.