30 Day Book Challenge: Day Nine

Book that makes you sick: The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

As I’ve mentioned before, I love horror and I’m not particularly squeamish when it comes to the macabre or anything body related. What does make sick however is the blatant commodification of art and literature.

I’m by no means a practicing Christian, so it would probably be unfair of me to criticize Dan Brown’s “novel” on the grounds that it misrepresents the Catholic Church (God knows they deserve whatever’s coming to them); however, I am critical of an opportunist that purposely misdirects his readers in order to profit from a tootheless, pseudo-controversy.

Where to began? The Da Vinci Code is one of the highest selling books of all time and a hugely successful Hollywood production, so I won’t waste anytime summarizing the plot. What I do want to focus on is the way the author courts non-fiction as a means to prop up his cookiecutter plot.

As a plot boiler, The Da Vinci code is nothing special. Hacks like Brown are a dime a dozen at your local supermarket or airport. What made the book such a phenomenon is that it thrust a few conspiracy theories into the limelight for the mainstream to digest without having to bother chewing. Of course the central controversy of the book is its claim to authenticity. Brown actually prefaces the book claiming it is based on historical fact. And that’s what pisses me off the most.

A lot of authors draw heavily on non-fictional sources to create works of fiction. Nevertheless, most aren’t disingenuous like Brown, and either A) use the historical material as a jumping off point to their own fictional speculation, or B) make no claims to %100 authenticity. Consider Alan Moore’s graphic novel From Hell or David Fincher’s film The Social Network.  Moore drew upon the details of Jack The Ripper’s murder to create a tale that deals with the oppression of women and the presence of mysticism in modern society, amongst many other things. In the case of Fincher, he and Aaron Sorkin used the court documents and other sources to meditate on the issues of inspiration and intellectual property.

My point is that these artists used fact to inform their fiction in order to explore certain ideas. As Martin Heidegger observes, art is the lie that tells the truth. Brown, on the other hand, boasted a sense of authenticity to court the inevitable public backlash from the various groups that were targeted so he could generate buzz to sell his book.

(“So I’m a douchebag? Who cares? I’m rich, bitch!”)

When promoting the book, Brown was initially eager to proclaim his book to be %99 percent historically accurate, and was ambivalent about crossing the line between fiction and non-fiction. However, after numerous scholars and academics panned his truthiness – and several lawsuits later – Brown has now tempered his previous hubris and now dismisses his critics for not getting his style/method. He claims that his books are meant to simply inspire discussion and debate. He says, “I do something very intentional and specific in these books. And that is to blend fact and fiction in a very modern and efficient style, to tell a story. There are some people who understand what I do, and they sort of get on the train and go for a ride and have a great time, and there are other people who should probably just read somebody else” (source: Wikipedia).

This pisses me off for two reasons. Firstly, he uses the medium of fiction in order to fabricate a pulp, plot-boiler that will certainly sell more copies than a “scholarly” non-fictional account of Christ’s supposed ancestry would. But then he hides behind the medium in order to escape any real, harsh criticism. He has thus taken advantage of the medium for his own purely financial interests, as he has contributed no real ideas here. Secondly, he defangs art of its ability to convey some sense of truth, as Heidegger explains, by shrinking from his original “convictions” and denying the claimants’ legitimacy.

If you’re going to write a scathing attack on any particular institution then have the courage to stand by your artifice. It’s a matter of respect not only for the groups you are representing in your work but your readers as well.

Ugh, I feel ill.

cheers,

-B

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~ by braddunne on June 23, 2011.

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