Digital Cinema Media, the company that sells advertising in cinemas, will not show the Church of England ad featuring people from various walks of life singing or saying the Lord’s Prayer because it “could cause offence…to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith”.
This is patronising and insulting to those of other (and no) faith groups. DCM feels the need to protect atheists, Jews and Muslims from the reality that there are such people as Christians in society at the time of year when the vast majority of the country celebrates what was originally the biggest Christian festival in the year.
Is an advert featuring a weight-lifter and a bereaved bloke praying really going to have people walking out of cinemas in disgust at the astonishing revelation that people called Christians exist and hold views that they do not?
Can we not assume people are intelligent enough to decide for themselves if the ad is offensive? The ad was rated suitable by the BBFC, it does not incite racial or religious hatred, and by banning it DCM is suppressing the freedom of speech – nothing more.
It is redolent of the current trend, as seen in the Germaine-at-Cardiff and Starkey-at-Cambridge (or not) debacles; of shutting people up rather than hearing what they have to say, even if we happen not to agree with them. It is another victory for ignorance, prejudice and intolerance – when it could represent a new space in public life for public education about the views of all kinds of religious groups, and not just Christianity.
The prejudice regarding Islam held by a large swathe of the public is well known. But there is a mass of stereotypes, caricatures and false ideas portrayed and held about Christian groups, Jews and other faiths (unless The Book of Mormon really is an accurate portrayal of Mormons). Films that sensitively demonstrate what faith means to these groups could do a valuable service in challenging that prejudice. People can believe what they like about them and after all, they may arguably only be sugar-coating PR for the umbrella faith, but at least those faiths get to have their voice heard.
Admittedly, the C of E ads would have appeared very out of place and certainly not in keeping with the aggressively commercialised agenda that we can now expect nothing but when we go to the cinema.
At Cineworld, you can stake your life on the bet that for a minimum of 30 minutes you will be bombarded by adverts (and trailers featuring product placement) for companies of every ilk and creed, morally questionable or tax-dodging though they may be, united in the express aim of getting you to part with your cash.
This is what Christmas is all about now – a depressing microcosm of capitalism in its worst excesses. It ceased many moons ago to be a season of spiritual reflection. Replaced by an unseemly egomania-inducing gluttony/boozeathon, the season is, as we all know, no longer heralded by advent but the day the John Lewis advert first appears.
This year it features a man on the moon who should be investigated by Operation Yewtree but instead seems to have replaced Jesus as the bringer of light and festive wonder in the national consciousness. This is around November 7th, the first day shops think they can get away with foisting onto the public absurd and irritating spectacles of kill-me-now-corporate-crap-decor and Costa workers in Santa hats.
The shops gear up into turbo-driven, aggressive marketing campaigns that pressurise families into racking up huge credit card debt in order to have the ‘perfect’ Christmas (ho ho ho, the house is getting repossessed next month but as soon as I saw those little animatronic fairy-lit polar bears I realised that I had always needed them, I just didn’t know it before). It astonishes me how many intelligent people treat these adverts like mini updated-remakes of It’s a Wonderful Life and fail to see through it all.
Whatever faith it represents, I feel deeply dismayed about the state of Britain today when a film is deemed inappropriate because it asks us not to worship at the altar of materialism, but to use this season to reflect, on a spiritual level, as to what the point of this short life of ours is and how we should live.
Whether you’re a proselytising evangelist or a militant atheist, there is no denying that faiths of all kinds have formed the backbone of British society for millennia. All of our institutions, common law and entire national character has been inextricably shaped by the faiths that people held when they came to this island and made it their own. I don’t think we should forget this and attempt to airbrush faith’s heritage and continued importance in public life.
Religious faith still matters deeply to very many people, more evident than ever the day after the abominable events in Paris when a sea of heartbroken people crowded outside Notre Dame for a memorial service while thousands of Muslims queued in the rain to seek solace at the Paris central Mosque, all seeking some kind of solidarity and comfort in amidst the unrelenting tragedy.
The Church of England ad could have paved the way for Muslim groups like the Council of Britain to make a film seeking to enlighten and educate the general public as to what Islam really is about and tackle some deep-seated prejudice. This won’t happen now. Last week two of the only representations of Muslims in mainstream media not featuring as terrorists were in the Asian sitcom Citizen Khan, and an episode of EastEnders in which Muslim character Tamwar talked to his girlfriend about Islam being a religion of peace and kindness. Surely we need more of this.
DCM could use its considerable influence – over what millions of people see -to increase public sympathy and understanding of the various faiths that are so intrinsic to British society in 2015 by showing adverts like this. Instead, it’s a victory for ignorance.