Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Hyman Code

There’s not much to say about Mark Hyman’s commentary on “The Da Vinci Code.” He admonishes those who consider the book and/or movie to be “blasphemous” to remember it’s a work of fiction, not a reference book.

True enough, but to say that because a text is fictional, it doesn’t have real ideological content is infantile. I’m not siding with those who are gnashing their teeth about the book and/or movie (the book, while an entertaining read, is far too silly to get terribly worked up about). However, works of fiction can and do affect the way people think about themselves and the world around them. I’m reminded
of the quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln on meeting Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in which he said, “So, you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this war!” The quotation is perhaps apocryphal, but it captures the social and political effects the novel had.

So while it’s silly to think The Da Vinci Code is any real threat to 2000 years of Christianity, it’s even sillier to say “Well, it’s fiction, so it can’t affect what anyone thinks.” Even when he’s right, Hyman is wrong.

(As far as what the popularity of The Da Vinci Code might mean,
I shared some thoughts on this with the Iowa-City Press Citizen a while back, if you’re interested.)

A couple of parenthetical tidbits: first, this commentary reminded me that I came across
the transcript of an interview Hyman did in which he mentioned that he is Catholic. I mention this just because I know there’s been some speculation about Hyman’s religious persuasion. His surname has caused some to guess that he’s Jewish, and there apparently is a Mark Hyman in Baltimore who is Jewish. Turns out it’s a different guy. Hyman’s Catholicism is neither here nor there, although it does explain why he often feels comfortable using language that invokes a lot of the same code words used by anti-Semites (e.g., “New York liberal intellectuals . . .”).

Hyman also happens to mention in the interview that he’s pro-choice, which helps explain why abortion is one of the few right-wing laundry list items he rarely discusses.

The interview is good for laughs, by the way. Hyman is in all of is ineloquent glory. My favorite moment is when he says he’s not a conservative, but a “moderal”— mix of moderate and liberal. I’m not making this up.

One last thing: Hyman makes a reference to the Tolkein series of books as “science fiction.” In another tip of the hat to my late father (a scholar of the science fiction genre, among other things), I’d just point out that Tolkein’s works are fantasy, not science fiction. Know your genres!

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 1.69


At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm not sure I'm reading you right here. You arent't saying that to be Catholic makes one an anti-Semite, are you?

At 11:16 PM, Blogger Ted Remington said...

No, being a Catholic and teaching at a Catholic institution, that's not something I would either believe or say. What I am saying is that the fact that Hyman is not Jewish helps explain why he's not sensitive to the use of words and phrases traditionally used in coded anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Sorry for any confusion.



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