Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Dumb-Vinci Code

You like that title? I came up with it all by myself!

Ok, two movie blog posts in two days -- sorry. Anywho, I just watched this clip over at CNN (full spoof feature here), and it pretty much proves it: Dan Brown is an idiot man-child. Apparently, Mr. "I read Holy Blood, Holy Grail and called that 'research'" Brown failed to do any more research beyond the sketchy (at best) religious pseudohistory he presents in his novel, and it has Al-bean-os up in their pasty-white arms. For one, the albino (sorry, "person with albinism") character Silas has the stereotypical "pink eyes", which (who knew?) are actually just a myth. Not only that, he is able to engage in a car chase at night, and shoots people from a distance using a rifle -- both impossible for your typical albino, who often has many problems with his or her vision.

Ha ha, Dan Brown is an idiot. Let's all point and laugh.

Anywho, yeah, I read the Da Vinci Code. It was terrible. I read Angels and Demons (its prequel -- although is a story written before and taking place before considered a "prequel", or is that only a story written after and taking place before? I mean, The Road Warrior is definitely a prequel to Mad Max, but would you call Rocky a prequel to Rocky II? But I digress...) before that, and it was equally terrible. Fast-paced? Sure. Action-packed? Kinda, yeah, ok. But the literary quality is somewhere between one of those Harlequin romance novels and a pulp comic from back in the days of yore (yes, my older readers, the days of yore, I say!). An example from Angels and Demons, of which I'm quite fond, goes something like this: Our intrepid college professor of symbology (is there a lamer hero archetype, Professor Henry Jones Junior notwithstanding?) just happens to be wandering through a research facility (CERN, I believe, although I could be mistaken here), and of course just happens to wander past a vertical wind tunnel in which a research scientist is currently floating. Of course, then somebody casually mentions to him some physical property about drag and (I think) terminal velocity in freefall, and then our wordsmith of an author whips out the follow-up (I'm paraphrasing here): "Little did [our hero] know, that fact would save his life that very night!"

Oh man. Can we just hand him a Pulitzer or a Nobel right now and call it a day? Such elegant, subtle use of that clever, ingenious literary technique called "foreshadowing" that I'm sure his ninth-grade english teacher told him about, too! Wow!

Actually, the word "hamfisted" comes to mind regarding his abuse of that particular device. And I don't mean in the traditional sense exclusively -- I actually have this image of Dan Brown with two large hams at the end of his wrists instead of hands, aimlessly pounding an old typewriter in a vain effort to come up with better drivel than he currently produces.

This dovetails nicely into a trend I've seen among the book's critics from the religious angle. Even my own pastor, who will be giving a sermon this weekend on the historical inaccuracy of his book (followed by a live simulcast on the topic featuring Lee Strobel, author of The Case for Christ, later Sunday evening), had to thrown in a line about the book being "well read/written" in the church bulletin. It's as if no one wants to admit that Dan Brown is a really, really, really, really, really, really bad author. For crap's sake, I'M a better author than this man -- even this blog post has higher literary quality than his books, and believe me, that's no boast!
Anywho, it's like people want to be careful to point out that they're only criticizing it from a historical perspective, lest anyone damn their credentials as literary critics.

Of course, this all begs the question -- if the book was so terribly written and rife with historical inacc -- er, err -- oh, ok, fabrications, why has it been such a huge phenomenon? Without delving into the psyche of middle america (maybe that's another blog post), let us at least examine a simple analogy:

The Da Vinci Code : Fine Literature :: _________ : Fine Cinema

a) The Seventh Seal
b) Citizen Kane
c) Rashomon
d) Armageddon, or Mission Impossible, or Titanic, or Independence Day, or any one of hundreds of their ilk.

Hint: The correct answer does not appear on the "2" button of a standard touch-tone phone.

I'm not even going to waste my time "debunking" the religious and historical aspects of the book. Suffice it to say that I, a college-educated-but-not-theologically-trained individual, was able to spot and counter a number of historical fallacies and falsifications (not the least of which was the nature of the Council of Nicaea, which Brown maintains was the point at which the Christian church "declared" Christ to be divine). The problem here is that the vast majority of the world, even among Christians, have such a weak and tenuous grasp on world- and Christian- history (and we can thank "progressive" education standards and touchy-feely college professors for that, I think) that they can't spot the lies when they see 'em. And that's a shame.
But because the book "really made them think!", it's declared to be a Great Work. Bleh. Why do I think many of these are the same people about whom it can be said The X-Files or Fahrenheit 9/11 "really made them think"? Real James 1:6b kinda people, if you ask me.

Ok, I'm done here.

Update: Ok, apparently that link doesn't work. CNN has always been on the non-cutting edge of the internet world, what with free video only being a recent addition to their website and all. They also don't seem to realize that being able to link articles is the very substrate upon which "teh intarweb" has grown, and do not make their videos linkable, at least easily, as far as I can tell. Hooray for the morons at CNN! For now, just go to their main page and read the article. Once they remove it, you're own your own.

Update 2: Just watched "The Da Vinci Deception" on the religious channel last night. Hour-long program that succinctly debunks all the major fallacies of the novel (some I didn't even catch!). As it's hosted by Dr. James Kennedy, and features a number of "popular" conservative Christian luminaries (Lee Strobel, Paul Maier, Kennedy himself, and a couple other names I recognized -- and don't worry, they threw in a couple Catholics for good measure, so it's not just evangelicals!), it's not exactly an "unbiased report", but you can't argue with the facts. Two quick highlights:

CLAIM: The figure seated next to Jesus Christ in Leonardo's "The Last Supper" is not John, but Mary Magdalene.

DEBUNK: a) If that's Mary, then where's John? That would leave only 11 other disciples in the painting! b) John is always presented as a young figure (and thus "effeminate-looking") in classical art. Were all classical artists therefore in on the conspiracy?

CLAIM: Well, not really a claim, but all of Brown's Art Historians and other experts refer to the man almost exclusively as "Da Vinci"...

DEBUNK: ...which of course just means "of Vinci". No true art historian or historian in general, or anyone "in the know", would refer to him as "Da Vinci", but as "Leonardo". This just shows that Brown's "research" was minimal at best, and that, again pointing and laughing, he is an idiot.

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Anonymous Marty said...

Good observation on "really made me think". This is usually said by people who don't know how to think. It's often in response to some kind of mind candy like a Discovery Channel show, or some piece of "balanced" leftist propaganda like a Bill Moyers chin-rubber.

8:13 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Yeah, it usually takes the form of:

Informed Individual: Here are a whole host of facts, figures, essays, and commentary by respected scholars and individuals which completely debunk the claims made by the half-hour cable show you just cited.

Moron: Yeah, but it really makes you think!

II: Here's a McDonald's Happy Meal container.

M: Wow, it really makes you think!

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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9:00 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

With all this talk about the movie, it's nice to see someone remind us all about what a godawful book it was. It initially drew me in, and was certainly fast-paced, but it didn't take me long to realize it was literary drivel. I finished it just so I could say I read it. I felt the same way about the one and only Stephen King novel I read.
It's nice to see the movie get panned by the critics; sorta makes the theologic considerations moot.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

I've read a handful of Stephen King (none of his straight horror stuff -- mostly his fantasy-oriented work, because I am a huge nerd), and it's in a much higher category than Brown's work. Or maybe it's just because I read King's stuff in highschool and college, and Brown's "stuff" in grad school -- perhaps my sensibilities grew up.

Not that I'm defending Stephen King. A friend of mine "in the know" says he's been using a ghost writer for years.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

And let me also say, I do NOT consider myself literarily "well read". One look at my bookshelf at home will tell you that -- shelves upon shelves of scifi and fantasy, with only the occasional non-nerd book thrown in for good measure. The only "literary novel" I've read on my own volition was "Infinite Jest" which took me forever to plow through, and I largely regret the experience. Also, I may regret publishing this, but I think Ernest Hemingway was a schmuck.

7:53 AM  

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