Be careful when mixing fiction with nonfiction

By Helena Rodriguez: PNT columnist

Walking through the book section at Wal-Mart recently, one title made me screech in my tracks. This was a colorful children’s popup with a trendy title, “Jesus and the 12 Dudes Who Did.”

“OK! Someone’s trying to make JC seem really hip,” I told myself.

My eyes scanned the other covers in the spiritual book section, which has noticeably grown since last Easter’s phenomenal “The Passion of The Christ” movie and following what some call a religious-based presidential election last fall.

(I beg to differ on that last point. Christianity was a buzz word during the election used more by religious extremists who put words in the mouth of Bush that he never said. The extremists then turned their backs on other moral issues, such as an unprovoked war, which didn’t fit their agenda.)
Instead of Mel Gibson drawing record movie crowds this Easter to tell the story of Jesus’ passion — which we observe on this Good Friday, and then his subsequent resurrection on Easter Sunday — a good part of the media is buzzing now with questions about who this Jesus dude really was.

Questions in themselves aren’t bad. Dialogue on any historical event, especially one of this magnitude, is necessary. But I become leery when such dialogue is inspired by a work of fiction, namely “The Da Vinci Code,” a commercially successful, fast-paced drama/fantasy that has the feel of a nonfiction documentary.

I know because I read the book.

I found this suspenseful page-turner by Dan Brown to be crafty but also troublesome with its unsubstantiated claims, such as Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene, who, according to the book, was the real successor to Jesus, not Saint Peter.

As a Catholic by choice, not by birth, the book’s anti-Catholic tone is not only offensive, but erroneous, and a senior Vatican cardinal, Tarciso Bertone, recently began speaking out against “The Da Vinci Code.”

What troubles me about “The Da Vinci Code” and this whole genre of “Biblical-era fiction” is that it blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction. A good example is “Left Behind,” a fictional series that resorts to scare tactics and speculation on The Book of Revelation or Apocalypse.

To quote the Book of Revelation: “Let anyone who takes away from this book or adds to this book be cursed.”
If you’re not a Christian, that may not discourage you, so look at it this way:

In 2003, CBS pulled a controversial miniseries, “Reagan,” because opposers said it had questionable content about the portrayal of former President Ronald Reagan. The movie put Reagan in a bad light because it showed him as being indifferent toward AIDS victims, among other things. CBS gave in to political pressure and the series ended up airing on Showtime.

Then there was the biography, “A Memoir of Ronald Reagan,” in which author Edmund Morris inserted himself into the story as a fictional character. When this became news, there was a public outcry.

As a journalist, I’m not advocating censorship, but I think we have to be very careful with how we mix our fiction and nonfiction. We can’t depend on the national media to make this distinction for us.

Reports surfaced last week about prepackaged news stories by the government airing without disclaimers on national news networks, networks that refer to staged programs as “reality TV.”

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at:
helena_rodriguez@link.freedom.com