Monday, June 4, 2012

Dan Brown on Cultural History

I've just been watching the film Angels and Demons, based on the Dan Brown novel. I actually think it's a fun film, and a lot better than The Da Vinci Code, which is one of the worst films I've ever seen.

I was very amused by a scene where Tom Hanks, playing a semiologist professor let loose on the Vatican Archives (the Church has co-opted him to help foil some Illuminati who have planted an anti-matter capsule, or something like that), comes upon some English words watermarked into a centuries-old book and says: "English wasn't used in the Vatican. It was too polluted. It's free thinking. It was the language of radicals, like Shakespeare and Chaucer..."

Come again? Radicals like Shakespeare, who was quite willing to turn his hand to Tudor propaganda, whose plays fret almost obsessively over the obedience due to the established powers, and the anarchy unleashed when authority is discarded:

Take but degree away, untune that string,
And hark what discord follows! Each thing meets
In mere oppugnancy. The bounded waters
Would lift their bosoms higher than the shores,
And make a sop of all this solid globe;
Strength would be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son would strike his father dead;
Force would be right...

Calling Chaucer a radical seems rather odd, too, although he did satirise the abuses of the medieval Church with his Pardoner and Summoner. But you'd think Dan Brown, with his much-vaunted extensive research, might have stretched to mentioning Wycliffe and Tyndale instead of Chaucer and Shakespeare.

Still, the film is an enjoyable romp. And it makes me think that there should be a museum of Zany Catholic Conspiracy Theories, to really put together a comprehensive archive of all the nutty accusations zinging around dinner parties, Jack Chick tracts, phone-in shows and the mad, mad world of the internet. From the biggest collection of pornography in the world (which is, or rather isn't, located in the Vatican Archives), to Pope Pius XII's chummy relationship with Hitler (so chummy Hitler thought about kidnapping him just to shut him up), to the 68 million people killed by the Vatican between 1200 to 1800 AD (don't even ask), to the pagan worship instituted by Constantine at the Council of Nicea, to....well, to whatever the next loudmouth sitting beside you in the pub is ranting about.

I would pay in to a museum like that. That's all I can say.

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