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TOO MANY MOMMIES! O’Reilly pushed Bennett on same-sex marriage. Polygamy’s next, the czar said:


TOO MANY MOMMIES: Perhaps the thing we really need is a federal Defense of Logic Act! Yesterday morning, troubled Cal Thomas told his readers that, if two gay men are allowed to marry, Uncle Festus must marry his 9-year-old girl friend too (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/3/04). With lightning speed, we told you the obvious—such inanities have been widespread in the fight about same-sex marriage. And then, last night, there they went again! The czar, William Bennett, challenged hard by O’Reilly, served up a groaner on Fox:

O’REILLY: [Your answer] doesn’t go to the philosophical argument of I am an American, I should have the same rights as you do, and I want to marry a same-sex person. So, constitutionally, you say what? See, it’s going to come down to that.

BENNETT: Exactly. But one thing I say, in the Constitution, is take a look at the polygamy cases. You know, this January, Bill, in Salt Lake City, Mr. and Mrs. Cook walked in and they said, “We’d like to extend our marriage to a third person, it’s part of our free exercise of religion, our constitutional rights.”

Exactly what is the principled position against that that the advocates for gay marriage would offer? If the criterion—and the only criterion I have heard—is if you love somebody, then you should be able to marry them, it seems to me we have to revisit all those cases.

Who will save us from Cook’s second wife? Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. But what exactly is Bennett’s argument? He seems to roll out the slippery slope: If we let two gay men marry, then we surely have to let straight men marry as many straight chicks as they like. For the life of us, we can’t see the link; we can’t see how same-sex marriage implies polygamy any more than straight marriage does. After all, if it’s slippery slopes you want to traverse, you can construct a path from straight marriage too. If we let Alvin marry Matilda, why can’t he wed Heidi and Emily too? In fact, the slippery slope is such a dumb tool that it can be applied in almost all situations. If you’re a slave to slippery slopes, then we have to ban marriage altogether. After all, once we let people get married at all, what is to stop the deluge?

What will save us from polygamy? Most likely, we won’t be saved by a strong, clear argument. In fact, it is hard to explain why consenting adults can’t consort as they wish; generally speaking, our practices in these areas are based on convention, not on hard, unassailable logic. But no: Letting two men marry doesn’t lead to those fourth-grade nuptials involving Festus. Nor does it lead to the Manson Family Wedding, as Bennett told viewers last night.

But then, Bennett was a fount of foolishness as Mr. O pushed him on every point. Here’s one part of Mr. O’s questioning, some of the best we have seen on this subject:

O’REILLY: All right. So you believe that, theoretically, if the United States legitimized gay marriage, that this would cause further damage to heterosexual marriage. But why? Why would it influence my decision to stay married if some gay guys were married or some lesbians?

BENNETT: Because words have meaning and institutions have meaning, and I think, when you start putting out counterfeit institutions, then you’re affecting the real thing. One of the things—

O’REILLY: I really don’t—I’ve got to stop you. I really don’t understand that. I’m married, OK? And I’m fine with it, and I’m having a good life, and next door to me Lenny and Vinny move in and they get married. How does that affect my marriage?

We’ll show you Bennett’s answer below. But eventually, such questioning led to another fine howler. O’Reilly: “Do you believe that a child who is living in a two-mother home is going to suffer because of that across the board?” Derisive laughter rocked our great halls when a great czar uncorked this reply:
BENNETT: I can’t say that for sure. I saw a child on a train from New York with two mothers, as they explained to a friend of mine—they were the two mothers—and the child had a cold, the child couldn’t get any relief because both parents were mothering the child, it seemed to me, to a degree that was intense.
The poor kid couldn’t get any relief! He simply had too many mommies!

In fairness, Bennett’s anecdote rang some bells here. Indeed, if Bennett had witnessed the way we were raised, he might enact laws against too many aunts. But Defense of Logic will surely be needed as same-sex marriage gets it review. Will Uncle Festus get his 9-year-old girl? Will Utah’s men marry too many mommies? Once, Bennett fought the “nanny state.” Insert your own marriage jokes here.

GETTING SULLIED: So how would Lenny and Vinny harm Bill? Bennett drug in Andrew Sullivan:

BENNETT: Well, again, it affects the definition of marriage. And I’ll tell you why. Are they making the same promises and commitments that you are making? Andrew Sullivan, who’s one of the most articulate and intelligent advocates for gay marriage, talks in his book about the differences in gay marriage. He talks about the openness of the contract. What the heck is the openness of the contract? I know, in my marriage, there’s no openness in the contract.

O’REILLY: Well, I think what he’s saying is it’s a secular arrangement, that very few churches are going to sanction these marriages.

BENNETT: I don’t think so. I think he means something else. So I have a question. In gay marriage, will the commitments be the same? Has fidelity got the same standing?

“You would assume that they would take it as seriously as heterosexuals,” Mr. O said. “Who knows? You’d have to do the study 10 years down the road.” We don’t know what Sullivan’s book really says, but we thought Czar Bennett was quite droll here too. In the age of Britney Spears, Rick-and-Darva and Larry King’s wives, gays won’t take marriage as seriously as we do! Whatever one thinks of this policy matter, Defense of Logic will surely be needed as the same-sex marriage debate unfolds. But with logic endangered, rueful laughter is booming. Child marriage next! And why not child polygamy? Thomas and Bennett, roiling the rubes, brought on our low, mordant chuckles.

MEL’S BELLS: Let’s face it—the debate about The Passion is fascinating. This morning, an e-mailer referred us to TNR’s Leon Wieseltier. “He argues that the film’s obsessive goriness is downright pornographic and makes the strongest case I’ve seen RE its supposed ‘anti-Semitism,’” our man said. Obediently, we hurried to Wieseltier’s piece. But first, a word on “pornographic.”

When we went to see The Passion last week, we assumed that it would feel “pornographic” because of reviews we had read. But the film rarely struck us that way. Writing in Slate’s week-long colloquium, Stephen Prothero, chairman of the Department of Religion at Boston University, described a similar reaction. “I have been puzzling over the last few days about my surprisingly positive reaction to the film,” he wrote. “What compelled me to look beyond its anti-Semitism and gratuitous violence, to gravitate toward its story of an anguished mother and a tortured son?” After some notes on the evolution of American Christianity, Prothero had this to say about the reactions of ordinary Passion-goers:

PROTHERO: My mother, as trustworthy a barometer of the American character as I know, saw the movie and liked it. Sitting in the theater was not a religious experience, she told me, adding that she will by no means defer to the Melomaniacs when it comes to understanding the Christian faith. But neither will she ever sit through a Good Friday service the same way.

I would never call my mother ordinary, and I will probably never think of her the same way after walking the Stations of the Cross with Maia Morgenstern [Mary in the film], but I suspect that my mother’s reaction to the film is widely shared. Virtually every non-academic I know who has seen The Passion has liked it. None, it should be noted, has seen it as the Gospel, the whole Gospel, and nothing but the Gospel; in fact, all have done with the film what Americans have long done with Jesus himself: reinvent it in their own image. But each seems grateful to Gibson not only for goading us into debating the meanings of the cross but also for compelling us to sit, however briefly, with the brute facts of human suffering.

Prothero’s mother “will never sit through a Good Friday service the same way?” We thought of Roger Ebert’s reaction. “What Gibson has provided for me, for the first time in my life, is a visceral idea of what the Passion consisted of,” Ebert has said of the film.

But why didn’t Gibson’s “visceral” portrait strike us as pornographic? Prothero stresses something we noticed too—the film’s heavy focus on the human suffering of Mary (and Mary Magdalene, we would add). “I found the film strangely moving, not so much as a translation onto film of Gibson’s blood-and-guts sacramentalism, but as a simpler story of a mother witnessing the torture and execution of her son,” he writes. “[W]e witness the horrors not so much through our own eyes as through the mediation of hers.” For ourselves, we were surprised by the way this film is bathed in actual human feeling. “Pornographic” films “snuff” human feeling. After all that we had read, we were surprised that The Passion does not.

Unlike others, Prothero is willing to state the obvious; ordinary Americans are finding much to like in this film, he says. And he’s willing to do what others won’t; he tries to explain why that’s so. No, except for some unbalanced moments during the Crucifixion scene, The Passion never struck us as “pornographic.” Like Prothero, we were surprised by that. But then, there again, there it was.

But there’s nothing to learn from, like or relate to in the film Leon Wieseltier describes. Is The Passion caught up in an unbalanced war? Here is his puzzling second paragraph:

WIESELTIER: This is the greatest story ever told as Dario Argento might have told it, in its lurid style and in its contempt for the moral sensitivities of ordinary people. Gibson’s subject is torture, and he treats his subject lovingly. There are no lilies in this field. There is only the relentless destruction and dehumanization of a man, who exists here to have his body punished with an almost unimaginable fury. He falls, he rises, he falls, he rises; he bends beneath the blows, but never mentally; his flesh is ripped, his head is stabbed, his eye is beaten shut, his hair is a wig of dried blood, he is a pulp with a cause. He is what the early church fathers, writing with admiration of their martyrs, called an “athlete” of suffering. Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus, does not act, strictly speaking; he merely rolls his eyes heavenward and accepts more makeup. (He speaks little, as befits a man stupefied by suffering, though his Aramaic, like everybody else’s in the film, is grammatically correct and risibly enunciated.)
No, we’ve never heard of Dario Argento either. But then, that’s part of the point of this piece.

Readers, how bad is the film Leon Wieseltier saw? Even the Aramaic was lousy! (Construct your own joke, on a Woodstock theme: There’s some bad Aramaic going around.) On Tuesday, we mentioned the film’s Aramaic—but only, of course, as a joke. We never dreamed we would actually see a critic challenge this part of the film. Is The Passion caught up in an unbalanced war? Wieseltier becomes the second writer we’ve seen this week offering this absurd bit of criticism. Let’s leave his laughable intellectual preening to the side. (He even can judge the Aramaic!) The fact is, you’re determined to say that everything’s wrong when you stoop to so niggling a complaint.

But note one more thing in Wieseltier’s paragraph. Note his claim that Gibson’s movie shows “contempt for the moral sensitivities of ordinary people.” The judgment sounds good—if you’re marching to war. But readers, how can such a claim be true when the film is shattering box office records? When Prothero’s mother (and Ebert) (and Prothero) all have said that they liked it? To his credit, Prothero tries to figure out what people are seeing in this film. But writers engaged in a medieval war are determined to airbrush Prothero’s mother away. First, cons lined up to swear it was good. Many libs now know they must swear it’s all bad. And the simplest facts must never intrude. The film offends ordinary people, we’re told. We’re told this as they stand in line to be offended by its porn once again.