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Bootlegging Jesus

By Larry Womack

“Is it ironic that this film makes you go, ‘Jesus!’?”

A friend sent me that instant message while watching “The Passion of the Christ.” I answered that it was only ironic if you are a Christian, and assume the word “take” to mean “say,” and the word “vain” to mean “anger” in a wacky word substitution game dim-witted theologians created sometime in the dark ages. In other words, if you’re almost any modern Christian.

There was unquestionably something ironic about what he was doing, though. I don’t think I really need to explain it, but for what I am certain is a beautifully trusting and naïve readership, I shall.


He hadn’t taken his laptop into the movie theater (although I’m fairly certain that he would, being emotionally unable to disconnect himself from the Web for much more than a quick bathroom break or a bout of the “too drunk to types”). He had downloaded the movie, and was watching it in another window as we chatted.

He went on to say that it made him “want to go back to church.” And churches had record-breaking crowds over Easter weekend from all the free publicity the Mel Gibson film has generated. That’s not to mention the renewed turnout for the film on that weekend.

When I explained that it was ironic that he was breaking one of the Ten Commandments by essentially stealing a copy of the Christ-inspired film, he didn’t get it. Apparently, neither did the man who showed a bootleg copy of the film to his church youth group in early March. Jesus is getting bootlegged left and right. I don’t know if this qualifies as a second coming, but according to Robert Plant, that means he’s arrived.

We are asked to believe that “The Passion” is an out-and-out spiritual revolution. At least, that’s what People magazine says. Then again, People magazine’s definition of a spiritual revolution is moving to a more “original, self-expressive” wardrobe and cutting veal out of your regular diet. Trust me, People has no interest in a spiritually fulfilled reader. It does, however, have great interest in anything that will compel you to buy a magazine. And, apparently, eternal salvation at a matinee price of $5.75 makes people want to buy, buy, buy. And steal.

Personally, I have no desire to see “The Passion of the Christ.” I read the book, and while I felt the authors had good intentions, the writing style was inconsistent and the content a little preachy. If I want to see the story again, I’ll rent “E.T.” It has better special effects, and in the end, you don’t get Jerry Fallwell and “born again” George W. Bush. Or, if I’m in the mood for a classic, I’ll pick up “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” At least it had a message.

I guess it’s a story people just can’t get enough of. It’s got everything. How can anyone, including an Internet pirate, resist? It’s endured for more than 2,000 years. And it no doubt will survive the unrestrained piracy of the digital age. In fact, I’m relatively certain that it was downloading at the same time as fan-subbed anime and an incredibly eclectic selection of porn. And while I can’t argue with the anime (if it isn’t out in English, it’s not cutting into their sales,) it is wrong even to steal from pornographers. It’s more fun to write about people who steal from Jesus.

When I likened it to downloading music, my friend went on to argue that it wasn’t wrong to bootleg media, because the artists involved generally aren’t the ones making money from sales. Apparently, God was going to say, “Thou shall not steal, unless it’s the intellectual property that can be reproduced without incremental cost to the distributor,” but the tablet was too heavy for Moses’ girly patriarch arms.

I can see his point, though. Jesus died for this damned movie and hasn’t seen one dime of the nearly half-billion dollars it’s made at the box-office.

Maybe he can use the film’s performance as leverage when they negotiate for the sequel. I have a pitch for Gibson: “The Passion of the Christian.” It follows the same formula, only instead of 127 minutes of Christ being tortured, it’s 127 minutes of people being tortured in the name of Christ. Hell, with that setup, we could have an entire franchise on our hands. Horror, of course. And, in the grand horror tradition, each film shall be grislier than the last.

Or, did Jesus really have any influence on this film at all? Focusing on the last hours of his life, it leaves little room for his teachings. And, while I will concede that the foundation of Christianity is Christ’s sacrifice for the benefit of mankind, his final days seem a curious focus given the fact that the gospels are rather inconsistent on the subject.

And, really, if you believe in the smite-dolin’ God of the Old Testament, shouldn’t the fact that Jim Caviezel (who portrayed Jesus) was struck by lightning not once, but twice during filming make you question the film’s value in His estimation?

But, then, does anyone actually ask questions when it comes to their own religion? We assume they do not. Saying you’re religious is a “get out of argument” free card. You can say that evolution isn’t true, in spite of mountains and mountains of evidence, because apparently God said that didn’t happen. You can say gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married — or live in your Tennessee county, if you’re religious. Even many liberals will tolerate unspeakable crimes against human rights as long as they’re in the name of some religion. And if you tell a Texas jury that God told you to, you can kill your kids and get away with it (at least they declared her insane). In some regions, it’s considered good luck to steal a Buddha. Buddha certainly wasn’t big on materialism. It stands to reason that if Mel Gibson says he’s Jesus-friendly, then every God-fearin’, learn-shunnin’ flocks of the faithful will run across water to get their ticket.

Maybe Jesus is more popular than influential. Popular gets bootlegged, not influential. Really, if “The Passion” were a spiritual endeavor, tickets would be free. Even the Church of Scientology, in what is no doubt an effort to shed that cult image, begs passers-by to watch their infomercial for free.

“The Passion” is a blockbuster of biblical proportions. And, having already topped the measly $1,000,549 of the recent re-issue of “Hard Day’s Night” by nearly a 500:1 ratio, we can safely say that Jesus is actually much, much bigger than the Beatles. But if it were a question of faith, rather than buying power, wouldn’t the Beatles still be ahead in the bootleg department?

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