On Friday morning, I trekked to the Fox News Channel studio in Washington to debate Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights about President Barack Obama's upcoming speaking engagement at Notre Dame.
I'd prefer to have a civil discussion over these matters, but Donohue has two settings: "Obnoxious" and "Even More Obnoxious," so things got heated right away.
Actually, I was surprised Donohue had time to talk about this issue. He's been awfully busy lately getting all worked up over the new Tom Hanks movie "Angels & Demons."
The League's Web site is studded with press releases expressing outrage over this film, which opens on Friday. In a May 4 media missive, Donohue demanded that the movie be issued with some type of disclaimer explaining that's it a work of fiction.
Good heavens. Talk about an overreaction.
"Angels & Demons" is a "prequel" to "The DaVinci Code." Both movies are based on popular novels by Dan Brown. I haven't read either book, but I know enough about them through cultural osmosis to figure out that they posit some kind of elaborate conspiracy involving the Vatican, cover-ups, mysterious symbols, hidden codes, secret brotherhoods, etc.
I also consulted with my 15-year-old daughter, who has read both books. She explained to me that "Angels & Demons" has something to do with a deranged, wheelchair-bound scientist who wants to assassinate a quartet of bishops and blow up the Vatican. Typical of summer action films, it's escapist fare and all in good fun. From what I've read about the movie, one scene involves a character jumping out of the pope's helicopter – without a parachute.
Yes, I can see that we really need a disclaimer reminding us that this is just fiction.
Donohue can't or won't learn from his mistakes. When he raises a stink about a movie like this, it just pulls more viewers into the theaters because some people figure they had better go see what all the fuss is about.
When "The Da Vinci Code" film was released in 2006, Donohue carped for months in advance. He gloated when many critics savaged the film. But director Ron Howard and Sony Pictures had the last laugh: The film cost $125 million to make and grossed more than $758 million worldwide.
Poor Bill. He pines for the time when powerful religious lobbies could apply pressure and make certain films and books disappear. In 1950, Cardinal Francis Spellman and members of the Legion of Decency demanded that officials in New York City ban an Italian film called "The Miracle," which they deemed sacrilegious and blasphemous.
City officials quickly obliged, but two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously declared this act of censorship unconstitutional in the case Burstyn v. Wilson. Religiously motivated censorship suffered a fatal blow. It has never recovered – and good riddance to it!
Bill, I have news for you: It's not 1950 (or 1350). You and your band of cranks have even less power now than you did then, so lighten up. "Angels & Demons" is a bit of summer fluff, meant to entertain, not educate. Even the Vatican newspaper says it's no big deal.
Deep breath, Bill, deep breath. Remember, not everything you see on the big screen is true or even meant to be. For example, you know those "Star Trek" guys who have been whizzing around in that spaceship battling aliens with ray guns? I've been doing some investigating and it turns that's all totally fake!
Now would you please shut up and pass the popcorn?