Coming soon to a theater near you: Hollywood Heaven lite

A comment from an anonymous reader starts with the question of whether "The Passion of the Christ" will receive an attention at the 2005 Oscars. But Mr./Ms. noname ends up somewhere else that is much more interesting. Money talks. The film may get a costume or cinematography nomination but it probably won't get a best picture or best director nomination or award because elaborate Hollywood lobbying -- often fueled by money -- talks louder. And the biggest lobbyists probably don't like the picture. But now that it is making money they may not want to declare that so loud. ...What will probably also happen is release of a spate of other, milder, spiritually themed films. I think Mitch Albom is poised to make a lot of money.

I assume that this reader is thinking of last week's column by the sort-of-cultural-conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, in which he asked this loaded question: "Who worries you most, Mel Gibson or Mitch Albom?"

For those of you who don't read very important small-format hardback bestsellers of fewer than 200 pages, Albom is the Detroit sports columnist who grabbed the male side of Baby Boomer spirituality franchise with his book "Tuesdays with Morrie." His new book is called "The Five People You Meet in Heaven." It had to be five people, because if everybody met 10 people in heaven then it would take longer than 200 pages and that would never work.

Anyway, I think Mr./Ms. noname is dead spot on. The Hollywood establishment is going to interpret Mel Gibson's success as a sign that Red State America needs a large dose of Blue State Religion, which means lovely, loving spirituality with lots of fuzzy, mysterious stories about What It All Means and none of those mean, nasty, ancient creeds and truth claims about Right and Wrong.

Can you say "narcissism"? I knew you could. What Hollyood is likely to do is offer us a God (or gods) who has evolved into a kind of computer-generated Dr. Phil. Here is how Brooks sums up the Albom version of this higher power.

All societies construct their own images of heaven. Most imagine a wondrous city or a verdant garden where human beings come face to face with God. But the heaven that is apparently popular with readers these days is nothing more than an excellent therapy session. ... In this heaven, God and his glory are not the center of attention. It's all about you.

Here, sins are not washed away. Instead, hurt is washed away. The language of good and evil is replaced by the language of trauma and recovery. There is no vice and virtue, no moral framework to locate the individual within the cosmic infinity of the universe. Instead there are just the right emotions -- Do you feel good about yourself? -- buttressed by an endless string of vague bromides about how special each person is, and how much we are all mystically connected in the flowing river of life.

This is the spirituality that is selling at the great mall called Oprah America. This is half of the spiritual equation of our times. Clearly, this is not the half reflected in the latest box office totals for Gibson's stark faith of sin, suffering and sacrifice.

There are legions of A-list directors who can explore Albom's heaven. Are there any other A-list directors who will dare to reach out to the Gibson demographic?

P.S. Mr./Ms. noname is back. Only how do we know it's the same Mr./Ms. noname? Ah, cyber-mysteries. Actually, the Hollywood Heaven lite trend kicked into a new era with "Ghost," about the time that Baby Boomers started hearing their clocks tick. I wonder why churches do not talk about heaven as much as Hollywood studios?

this has been a trend for several years now but it needed a movie such as mel's to really cause it to kick into high gear. one early catalyst was the film "what dreams may come." at that time ('98) there was buzz that more "spiritually themed" properties would be in the pipeline but an acknowledgement that they were risky and didn't do well at the box office. mel's movie changes all of that. i expect he will do a sequel that will end up in competition with other spiritual genre films.

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