Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Recommendation: The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice

Published in 2003 by Oxford University Press, this book is authored by Philip Jenkins, the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities at Pennsylvania State University as well as the Distinguished Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Program in Historical Studies of Religion in Baylor University's Institute for the Studies of Religion (I am proud to say).  I have owned the book for several years, but only got around to reading it just the other day.

What is most shocking about Jenkins' account of "the new Anti-Catholicism" is how ubiquitous it is in our academic and media cultures. Here is an excerpt from a 2003 article, "Some Prejudices are More Equal Than Others," authored by Professor Jenkins, in which he discusses some of the cases addressed in his book:
Beyond the legal realm, time and again we see that media outlets exercise a powerful self-censorship that suppresses controversial or offensive images, whether or not that “offense” is intended: and again, this restraint applies to every group, except Catholics. Over the years, the film industry has learned to suppress images or themes that affect an ever-growing number of protected categories. The caution about African-Americans is understandable, given the racist horrors in films of bygone years, but the present degree of sensitivity is astounding. Recall last year’s film “Barbershop,” in which Black characters exchange disrespectful remarks about such heroic figures as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, and more questionable characters like O. J. Simpson and Jesse Jackson. Though this was clearly not a racist attack, the outcry was ferocious: some things simply cannot be said in public. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton led an intense campaign to delete these touchy references.

And other social groups have learned these lessons about self-censorship. Asian-Americans and Latinos have both made it clear that the once-familiar stereotypes will no longer be tolerated, and Hollywood takes their complaints to heart. By the early 1990s, too, gay groups had achieved a similar immunity. When, in 1998, the film “The Siege” offered a (prescient) view of New York City under assault by Arab terrorists, the producers thought it politic to work closely with Arab-American and Muslim groups in order to minimize charges of stereotyping and negative portrayals. Activists thought that any film depicting how “Arab terrorists methodically lay waste to Manhattan” was not only clearly fantastic in its own right, but also “reinforces historically damaging stereotypes.” As everyone knew, Hollywood had a public responsibility not to encourage such labeling.

Yet no such qualms affect the making of films or television series that might offend America’s sixty million Catholics. Any suggestion that the makers of such films should consult with Catholic authorities or interest groups would be dismissed as promoting censorship, and a grossly inappropriate religious interference with artistic self-expression. The fuss over whether a film like “Dogma” or “Stigmata” is intentionally anti-Catholic misses the point. The question is not why American studios release films that will annoy and offend Catholics, but why they do not more regularly deal with subject matter that would be equally uncomfortable or objectionable to other traditions or interest groups. If they did so, American films might be much more interesting, in addition to demonstrating a new consistency.

If works of art are to offend, they should do so on an equal opportunity basis. If we have to tolerate such atrocities as “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You” — recently revived as a Showtime special — then why should we not have merry satires poking fun at secular icons like Matthew Shepard or Martin Luther King? If, on the other hand, it is ugly and unacceptable even to contemplate an imaginary production of “Matthew Explains It All,” poking fun at victims of gay-bashing, then why should we put up with Sister Mary? Some consistency, please.
You can read the entire article here.  Just click the icon of the book to purchase it through

1 comment:

Chris said...

Thanks Frank. Anti-Catholicism is a travesty which everyone should oppose. What a wonderful witness for Christ it would be if Protestants, despite our doctrinal differences with Rome, would actively speak out against this terrible prejudice.