Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
I want to talk about Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas.
(Is that apostrophe-s in the title a contraction or a possessive? Someone tell me! I have to know!)
I haven’t seen the film. I’m at an awkward phase in my personal life where I’m pretty much never allowed to leave my house (I AM NOT UNDER DURESS, DO NOT SEND LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENTS), so I likely never will. But hey, complaining about movies I haven’t seen is kind of my thing, so I’m going to do it again.
So let’s get this out of the way: Saving Christmas is a terrible movie. I feel that I can say this confidently, given its 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Is it possible that every single critic is lying, having fallen victim to some sort of atheist-Communist-Muslim conspiracy? Sure. But I doubt it. It’s also possible they’re all secretly lizard-people who are controlling our minds through Domino’s Pizza commercials, but I’m not going to lose (much) sleep over the possibility.
So let’s assume, for the purposes of this article, that Saving Christmas is a terrible movie. This seems like a reasonable assumption to make, since from what I understand, the whole thing consists of two buffoons who are embarrassingly ignorant of both religion and history yammering back and forth — and while you could technically say the exact same thing about most episodes of Real Time With Bill Maher, it’s a little presumptuous to expect people to pay the price of a multiplex ticket to watch it happen.
But even if I’m wrong and Saving Christmas is the best movie ever made about doing a gerund to Christmas, that’s not really the point, because I don’t want to talk about the movie itself. I want to talk about the Internet drama surrounding it!
Aside from the aforementioned Rotten Tomatoes rating, Saving Christmas also has the dubious distinction of being the worst-rated movie (out of approximately 300,000 features) on all of IMDb, beating out classics like Troll 2 (which is famously neither a sequel nor about trolls) and Birdemic (which is famously not even a word). And just like the producers of the also-famously-terrible Left Behind before him, Kirk Cameron has responded by trying to orchestrate a “grass roots” (read: not-at-all-grassroots) campaign to bump up the user rating on Rotten Tomatoes, blaming the low rating on “atheists” and “haters.”
Now, I don’t deny that the Internet is controlled by a secret (read: not-secret) cabal of angry atheists (read: regular atheists) who live in the bowels of Reddit, and I don’t deny that they’ve all had it in for Cameron ever since he and Ray Comfort made that embarrassing “Atheist’s Nightmare” banana video, proving to all the world that they know nothing about banana cultivation, gay innuendo, or what atheists have nightmares about. But for Cameron to blame the rating on a conspiracy shows, at the very least, a great deal of ignorance about how the Internet works.
Because, here’s the thing: Internet culture is a hive-mind. It’s heavily biased toward what’s recent, and it’s heavily biased toward the whatever Internet geeks love (and/or hate). For proof, all you need to do is look at IMDb’s best-rated movies, where The Dark Knight — a lousy film that the Internet thinks is good because it (1) is fairly recent, (2) is fairly depressing, and (3) contains fair amounts of Batman — beats out actually-good movies like 12 Angry Men and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. (Note to Bat-nerds: I’m just kidding! Please don’t kill me!) Nor is being a famously-bad movie necessarily detrimental to box office receipts — people actually seek out schlock like Birdemic, either to laugh at it or just to see if it’s as bad as advertised.
All of which leads me to believe that there’s something more cynical going on here than just some hurt feelings over a low Rotten Tomatoes score.
Because, the thing is, Cameron’s target audience with Saving Christmas isn’t atheists, or even non-Christians. Even more so than with most Christian movies, Saving Christmas is aimed directly at Christians, particularly Christians who aren’t into the holiday. The whole plot of the film consists of Cameron convincing his made-up brother-in-law that Christians should embrace the season and celebrate Christ’s birth. So why should it even matter what atheists think of the film?
Answer: it doesn’t, but if Cameron can convince enough Christians that he’s being “persecuted,” they’ll storm the box office to “send a message” to “those Hollywood fat cats.” Or something.
Cameron isn’t the first to use the alleged “culture wars” to boost his own profits, but he may be the most cynical to do so in a while. It’s a well-tread path: (1) make a “Christian” product; (2) insist you’re being persecuted for doing so; (3) watch your profits soar. But Jesus (remember that Jesus guy? He’s got a birthday coming up?) had something very different to say about persecution:
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. (Matt. 5:11-12a)
Now I ain’t no big-city preacher with one of them fancy edu-ma-cations, but I’m fairly certain that most Christian sects (teehee, Christian sects) consider “heaven” and “the box office” to be separate realms, at least until Christ returns and creates a new heaven and a new box office. Nor is there any admonition in Scripture to fight against persecution, that I know of. If a low rating on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes is indeed persecution (protip: it’s not), Cameron ought to “rejoice and be glad” about it, not stir up outrage (and with it, ticket sales).
At least, y’know, biblically.
The whole thing is actually kind of disappointing to me, since to an extent I’m on board with Cameron’s main point. Christians are absolutely free to celebrate Christmas — to the pure, all things are pure — and the holiday’s putative pagan origins are at best overstated. (Like most accepted historical facts, they were invented by a bunch of white guys during the Enlightenment.) But a better question than whether we should celebrate Christmas is how.
Cameron’s answer to this, according to most reviews, is to get “the biggest ham” and “the richest butter” — arguably an attempt to baptize the consumerism that already threatens to overwhelm the religious aspect of the holiday. Christmas, for him, is about buying cool stuff and making a killing at the box office. And ultimately, this is the problem with Saving Christmas: for all I know, it could be the Citizen Kane of didactic Christmas pseudo-quasi-documentaries, but it would still be soaked in avarice, both inside and out.
Like Cameron, I do plan to celebrate Christmas this year — but with quiet reflection at midnight mass, not by counting my money from box office receipts and coffee bean sales. After all, if we’re going to insist on people “keeping Christ in Christmas,” we might as well keep mass in the thing as well. I imagine the foot of the altar at my local church will be a bit less crowded than the one at the altar of the Almighty Dollar.