Looking at press coverage of The Innocence of the Muslims (2012) I’m not particularly surprised I’ve yet to find any that compares the reception of this film to the reaction that greeted Jens Jørgen Thorsen’s attempts to make the movie The Sex Life Of Jesus in the 1970s. Before even starting to shoot his flick Thorsen’s found himself vilified in the media and banned from the UK and many other countries. Thorsen had planned to make the film in Britain but was forced to (temporarily) abandon the project under intense opposition from Christian morality campaigners like Mary Whitehouse, Queen Elizabeth II (the fundamentalist head of the Church of England, as well as head of the British state), then British Prime Minister James Callaghan, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury Donald Coggan (Elizabeth II’s top Church of England hatchet man of the time).
The racist mainstream media in the Anglo-American world portrays Muslim fundamentalism as a major world problem, while mostly ignoring the fact that Christian fundamentalists are far more of a danger (they are clearly much better armed once you take into account the influence of the Bible belt on American mainstream politics &c., and they’re also yearning for Armageddon). Since ultimately fundamentalism is a global manifestation of an inability to deal with the complexities of the modern world, it is only to be expected that reaction to The Innocence Of The Muslims should mirror earlier reactions to The Sex Life Of Jesus.
Indeed during the 1980s there were ongoing petitions by US Christian fundamentalists arising from rumours that a film portraying Jesus as gay was about to be released. A number of sources suggest these rumours were based on a very partial knowledge of Ed D. Louie’s lost hardcore gay film Him (1974), which Al Goldstein described in the following terms in a review from his magazine Screw dated (29 April 1974): “The plot of HIM theoretically is about a faggot who is preoccupied with Christ and constantly has sexual reveries about balling that great Son of God.” Him was screened at the 55th Street Playhouse in Manhattan from 27th March to 23rd May 1974, and it possibly also played at a few other fleapit film theatres in American cities in the mid-seventies.
I’ve no idea if Jens Jørgen Thorsen was aware of Him, and if so whether it influenced his attempt to make The Sex Life Of Jesus. Due to pressure from reactionary Christian fundamentalists, Thorsen was unable to complete his movie about Jesus until the early 1990s, and when it was finally shot as Jesus vender tilbage (Jesus Returns – 1992) the script appears to have been drastically revised (to the extent that some maintain Thorsen never got to make the movie he’d proposed to shoot in the 1970s).
Thorsen was a leftist prankster and leading light of the Second Situationist International – and in many ways the reaction to his proposed film is more important than what he eventually made. I haven’t seen Jesus vender tilbage (and I’m not sure whether there is a version dubbed or subtitled into English), but I’ve been told by Danish speakers who have sat through it that it is awful. The films I have seen by Thorsen I’ve liked – his celluloid adaptation of Herny Miller’s Quiet Days In Clichy (1970) is a truly explosive marriage of avant-garde and exploitation cinema.
The producer of The Innocence Of The Muslims (Nakoula Basseley Nakoula) and his backers are exactly the type of right-wing extremist Christian nutjobs Thorsen exposed as reactionaries when his attempt to film The Sex Life Of Jesus was shut down by uptight scumbags ranging from Queen Elizabeth II on down. That said Nakoula’s project was in many ways subverted by those employed to carry it through. Director Alan Roberts is a competent low-budget exploitation film-maker. His work is lent a particularly surreal quality by the overdubbing of anti-Islamic elements not included in the original script and added after the end of his involvement in the production. The many commentators who say the film is bad or poorly made are simply bourgeois hacks whose judgements are based on the false ‘standards’ of high budget Hollywood ‘realism’. The Innocence Of The Muslims (or at least the nearly 14 minute long trailer for it available on the internet) shares many tropes found in the output of artists such as Mike Kelly or Paul McCarthy. Visually and in terms of acting this is not a bad film (if one judges it on terms other than those of Hollywood realism), what sucks about this production is the attempt to transform it into a racist rant via detournement through overdubbing.
The best element of The Innocence Of The Muslims is the manner in which its lack of realism destabilises meaning and forces the viewer to confront the issue of representation. The portrayal of Muhammad is so generic that he might as well be Jesus or Buddha or any other quasi-historical figure. This is not what the producer and his backers intended but then the real ‘meaning’ of the film no doubt escapes them. Likewise the prurience of the production clearly appeals to emotions the right-wing fundamentalist Christians who produced and support it probably wouldn’t care to admit they possess, but these are nonetheless integral parts of their personalities. This is what makes the bourgeois denunciations of The Innocence Of The Muslims as a bad piece of film-making all the more telling. It seems the privileged of the overdeveloped world would have preferred it if this production had succeeded as a piece of ‘realism’ and faithfully put across the message its producer hoped to convey – rather than undermining that message!
The Innocence Of The Muslims has a dialectical relationship to Thorsen’s Sex Life Of Jesus. As Marx observed in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, history repeats itself: “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” Marx also famously noted in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” In other words we won’t get rid of fundamentalism until we get rid of capitalism. The process of disalienation will render any and all belief in ‘God’ absurd!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!