The Golden Compass: Art Imitates Life

It's tragically hilarious- or hilariously tragic- when people don't understand the irony of their own actions. Take the Calgary Catholic School Board. They've decided to pull Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass off of their shelves for its allegedly anti-Catholic content. Said school board spokeswoman Judy McKay: “Our children are exposed to a wide range of information. One of our responsibilities is to help them understand how that fits with their belief system and to equip them with the skills so that they understand how they can fit that into their own belief system.”

I'm assuming by 'their belief system' she means 'the belief system we foisted on them, as approved by some old dude in Rome who still can't get behind birth control'. And I suppose the best way to equip these kids with the skills to incorporate new information into their belief system is to exclude challenging or contradictory information entirely. Problem solved!

The Calgary board's decision follows the de-shelving of The Golden Compass in Toronto and the GTA, largely spurred by the new film version of the book. The novel has been out since 1995, and no one had a problem with it until Hollywood upped its profile. But here's the funny thing: the book's plot revolves around a shadowy organization known as 'The Magisterium', a didactic and malevolent religious organization that seeks to control people's minds and impose their own dogma on the entire world. No question, Pullman intended this as a not-so-subtle attack on the historic abuses of power by the Catholic Church. But when the response to this criticism is to ban the book, the Catholic School Boards begin to behave very much like the fictional Magisterium. Something roughly akin to:

"We're not dogmatic! We only want you to read the things we want you to read! And if you disagree with us, you are so banned."

Nope. No dogma there. It's hard to say if this is a case of art-imitating-life or life-imitating-art or life-imitating-art-imitating-life. It just seems to me that if you object to children's books calling you dogmatic and oppresive, then maybe your response shouldn't be oppressive and dogmatic. Just a thought.


Nicole  Kidman in The Golden Compass. She can criticize my dogma any time.