The Paranoia Express rolls on and on

PolarExpressOne of the most important facts to remember in discussions of red zones and blue zones -- right up there with the reality of allegedly red people pigging out on blue culture all the time -- is the fact that the blue zones coalition consists of both highly religious people and people who are secularists. The religious right has a tendency to forget that the religious left is out there and has its own way of parsing scriptures and traditions.

However, it is clear that there are some people on the blue side of the aisle who are so mad right now, in the wake of 11/2 and other cultural battles, that they are seeing the red-zone, faith-based, values-voter enemy in all kinds of places that, when you stop and think about it, seem out and out wacky. It seems, in particular, that anything in popular culture that draws stark lines between right and wrong, good and evil, and offers a glowing view of family or even (gasp!) faith is going to be labeled a White House plot.

Exhibit A in this syndrome was the wave of paranoia that greeting the smashing success of The Incredibles (and the flop of the new Alfie). That story is not over yet, of course. To add fuel to that fire, check out this National Review Online chat with one of the Pixar czars.

Now, the trend-watching folks at SlateWashingtonPostNewsweek have found another evangelical plot to sway the nation away from reason. For, you see, one of the marketing people for The Polar Express is Paul Lauer, who was one of the people who led the drive to get red-zone people to turn out for (cue theme from Jaws) that movie -- The Passion of the Christ.

Thus, as a public service, Slate's David Sarno asked the ultimate nasty question:

But wait, is The Polar Express an evangelical film?

You'd certainly think so, considering the expansive campaign of preview screenings, radio promotion, DVDs, and online resources that Lauer unfurled in the Christian media this fall. This Polar Express downloads page includes endorsements from pastors and links to church and parenting resources hosted by the Christian media outlet HomeWord. There are suggestions for faith-building activities and a family Bible-study guide that notes, for example, the Boy's Christ-like struggle to get the Girl a train ticket. "The Boy risked it all to recover the ticket," the guide observes. "Jesus gave His all to save us from the penalty of our sins."

HomeWord Radio, which claims to reach more than a million Christian parents daily, broadcast three shows promoting the film. At one point, the show's host wondered excitedly if the movie "might turn out to be one of the more effective witnessing tools in modern times." Motive also produced a promotional package that was syndicated to over 100 radio stations in which Christian recording artists like Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Avalon talked about the movie as they exited preview screenings.

There's more. The marketing troops even sent free promotional DVDs to churches, urging them to buy tickets for children, Sunday school classes, etc. These DVDs even included commentary from the evangelical superstar Max Lucado, noting how at least eight scenes in the movie affirm -- oh my God -- biblical principles.

Yes, it is true that the movie does not seem to contain anything that is specifically Christian, in terms of doctrine, and it certainly is not evangelistic. But the protectors of blue culture cannot be too careful. It would not be good too Hollywood try to reach out to middle America with products that affirm any of its alleged values. Stay tuned. Who knows what the GOP and the religious right will come up with next.

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