The Virtual Scene: The Passion of the Christ as Seen Through Websites and Chat Rooms

Monday, February 2, 2004

Prepared by Steven Windmueller, Ph.D. 
HUC-JIR Los Angeles campus

In an examination of public reaction even prior to the public release of the Mel Gibson film "The Passion of the Christ", significant anti-Jewish sentiment has been uncovered. In a study of hundreds of websites, chat room commentaries, and email correspondence covering the past six months, we have found a heightened level of anger directed at Jews regarding their opposition to the film, along an intense and renewed interest in their conversion to Christianity.

Other findings suggest that the production is evoking a significant "virtual" theological discourse often carried on without critical insight or with regard to historical accuracy. Much of this dialogue is expressed in rhetoric of simplistic religious motifs.

This survey found over 400 messages related to Jews and Judaism. These findings would counter those voices that had argued that such a film would in fact not create significant forms of religious backlash. The presence of anti-Jewish themes and hostile religious messages combined with new initiatives directed toward the conversion of Jews would provide evidence that Jews represent central motif at least for some Americans when referencing this film.

Provided below are selected excerpts extracted from various chat-rooms, websites, and email commentaries:

Expressions about Jews and Judaism: 
"Jews squelch public expression." 
"The Jews could not run anything today, if it were not for the people of the 'city of man', we are to blame." 
"They (the Jews) are attacking our God." 
"I am tired of their (the Jews) complaining." 
"Just as Jews today are seeking to destroy Palestinians, so they tried to destroy Our Lord."

References to the Hollywood Scene and the Jews: 
"Those in power know that this film will melt the hearts of many to true conversion." 
"Why is it that when films are interpreted as anti-Semitic, there is a great human outcry, but when movies are produced that are negative about the Catholic Church, barely a voice is raised. There are so many more films that are anti-Catholic than anti-Semitic."

Reflections on the "accuracy" of the Film: 
"There can be no wrong in this film" 
"Ignore the cries of the Jews, this film is about truth."

As more individuals have occasion to view the film, which opened this week, it is likely that the level of this discourse will accelerate, sparking a significantly wider array of commentaries focusing on Jews as depicted in the film and on Jewish reaction to the film's release.


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