In Defense of The Da Vinci Code

Anti-intellectualism stems from authority. Everyone is used to this being the religious right, a totalitarian government, or blind populism, but lately, it’s been coming from a different source. The authority to blame when it comes to the discussion of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is the critics. I don’t mean people who didn’t like the book, but professional critics of both the literary and film varieties.

It is obvious that The Da Vinci Code is dumb, poorly written, based on shoddy research, and filled with plot holes. There’s no need to constantly deride the book for what is apparent to even the most casual reader. The Da Vinci Code’s success is based on its sensationalism and that sensationalism has revealed a larger public interest in and legitimate questioning of religious tradition. The Da Vinci Code is now its own genre of book. You’ll find a whole table of them at Barnes & Noble, fiction and non-fiction, some more serious than others.

The anti-intellectualism of the critics takes its form in laziness. Instead of seizing the opportunity of having 60 million people enraptured with reading and questioning what they’ve been told, the critics mostly assume a sanctimonious cynicism pointing to the book as the new low of American reading. This attitude tells us what we already know and does not direct any of these potential readers, who in some cases are finally devouring a book for possibly the first time, to the real literature concerned with similar themes that the would earn the critics’ approval.

I haven’t seen many articles amid the media flurry pointing to the wealth of literature questioning the Christian tradition. One of my favorites is Norman Mailer’s The Gospel According to the Son. What about Willis Barnstone’s new translation of The Gnostic Gospels? Or Nikos Kazantzakis's The Last Temptation of Christ? Especially with Ron Howard’s blockbuster coming out. I would guess that the reviewers and critics think that an audience interested in The Da Vinci Code would not be up for heavier fare, but that might be underestimating them. They are already beginning to question, why not give them something to really think about? Besides, if critics are so above Dan Brown’s crippled prose, then isn’t it their responsibility to show us what we’re missing? Provide counter examples? If book critics won’t lead readers to great literature, then who will? Telling us something sucks does not aid the reader toward greater work. It just saves them some time.

1 comment:

dave said...

To me, the most interesting thing about all this Da Vinci Code nonsense is that its all about a mystery novel. It's fiction. A thriller. A page turner. Beach reading. Airplane reading.

This is a Book for People Who Don't Read Books.

And its a bad book, as all our literati friends are only so happy to point out. I've actually read the book, and it's a page turner...for awhile. Which is to say, it starts out fast and then peters out under all this religious history conspiracy mumbo jumbo. Which is what happens in a lot of mystery or thrillers. The difference with this book is that the mystery mumbo-jumbo is religious, as opposed to completely made-up. It's fascinating to me that the whole thing has created this huge flap.

And yeah, the writing is crap, but its genre fiction, and popular genre fiction, at that. Getting worked up about the writing is like getting worked up about the exposition in Mission Impossible III or Cannonball Run II. It's crap because its supposed to be crap. Crap is the genre. Which isn't to say that there aren't great writers working in this genre -- they (George Pelecanos, Walter Mosley) just don't sell a billion books.

But it's FICTION. Not real. Made up. I mean, I watched the president of the United States tortured in a warehouse by a guy I'm pretty sure is a psychopath last night. Last week I read a book about drug dealers in the district doing all kinds of harm to ordinary folks who just happened to get in their way. A few days ago, I saw a movie about racial prejudice in the south, and a young lawyer who gets all Grishamesque with the jury and...well, you get the point.

The point is all that shit is fiction. And all of it, including the stupid Grisham movie (A Time to Kill -- great cast, actually) was better done, more convincing, and generally more real-ish -- or maybe we should just steal from Colbert and say that all these things had a greater sense of "realiness" than the Da Vinci Code.

So I don't know. If people are seriously so stupid that they can't tell truth from fiction, that they think Tom Hanks and Audrey Tatou are acting out some kind of theory, then maybe they shouldn't even read. Stay at home, watch Fox News. Or better yet, watch The War at Home or Two and a Half Men. That might be all these folks can handle.