Did we like it?
Apparently, the average length of time a religious icon must wait until he is beatified is about a century. After sitting through presenter Mark Dowd’s tortuous amble through half-truths and fiction, we feel as though we’ve served our 100 years’ penance and deserve our sainthood now.
What was good about it?
• Booby Boone, the security guard working at “The Tower of Power” in New York, who mocked the stupidity of Da Vinci Code fans who had their photographs taken outside the building.
• John Allen, who had studied the finances and practices of Opus Dei to a great depth, tempered Dowd’s fantastical theories and provided the only empirical evidence of Opus Dei in the whole investigation.
• The sole worthwhile revelation Dowd brought to light was that religion is still used as a tool of oppression. One of the tenets of the faith dresses up a woman’s chaining to domestic drudgery of cleaning up after men as somehow serving God in the best way. But even here Dowd fouled up by claiming that: “Such sentiments might make the emancipated sisterhood cringe.” Dowd’s use of “sisterhood” brings to mind that the disgust at this oppression will only be felt by bra-burning hippies from the 60s. He also claimed that “one of The Da Vinci Code’s charges against Opus Dei is that its views on women are medieval” as if such a perspective was the profound observation of a perspicacious mind rather than a layman’s logical reasoning.
What was bad about it?
• Mark Dowd’s whole journey was tightly tethered to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and he approached all the facets of Opus Dei covered by Brown with a crippling credulity. The Da Vinci Code is complete fiction, and while it does have possess fragments of truth in its damnation of Opus Dei, it is only as relevant to the real world as Star Wars, which is inspired by there being good and evil people in the world.
• Too often, Dowd’s narration was tainted by The Da Vinci Code. He would pre-sent the fiction as almost fact (“For fans of The Da Vinci Code, downtown New York is the headquarters of Opus Dei.”), only later mentioning their real headquarters was in Rome.
• As there is no empirical evidence of Opus Dei having done anything nearing the murder, mayhem and corruption detailed in The Da Vinci Code, Dowd instead satisfied himself with scurrilous remarks or sometimes just his impetuous instinct. Hhe referred to Opus Dei as “deeply sinister”, and stated that “there is no evidence to back up the allegations of cash for sainthood (of Escriva, Opus Dei’s founder who was beatified in 1992)”, but this didn’t stop him speculating about such bribery.
• Dowd also appears to believe he’s the first person to spot the factual errors in The Da Vinci Code. “It was here I spotted the first factual errors,” he confided, when anyone with an ounce of common sense would draw the same conclusion. But at the same time, he appears in thrall to the text: “Nothing I’d read in The Da Vinci Code gave me any idea about how Opus Dei worked.” Which is akin to saying, at the risk of sounding blasphemous: nothing in the Bible’s description of heaven matches the reality of what you’ll find there, if it exists at all.
• Dowd was also so desperate to instil Opus Dei with some kind of evil that he’d manipulate the words of people he was interviewing to suit his own agenda. When Eileen, a devout adherent of Opus Dei, said “this is my bedroom”, Dowd immediately corrected her by saying “your quarters” as if he wished his own impression of puritanical austerity to be the official version presented in his documentary.
• The trite, accentuated imagery of golden sunlight washing the office of Opus Dei director Jack Valero in a divine glow.
• Opus Dei director Jack Valero: “Surrender to service gives you the biggest rush this side of heaven.” This idealistic promotion of a esoteric pleasure is similar to the snobbery of certain classical music fans who posit that listeners of “mere” pop music cannot enjoy the same spiritual ecstasy a concerto affords them.
• Dowd lacks the interrogative intuition of a journalist. Too often people were allowed to wander off into simply reciting their dogmatic beliefs, and when Dowd did sporadically challenge a viewpoint, it seemed to be because what they said matched his expectations and so he already had a follow up prepared, rather than adapting his questions to what they were spouting.
• After another pointless thread, it became apparent the compulsion of the documentary was not to delve into the twilight world of Opus Dei, but to instead celebrate the global cultural impact of The Da Vinci Code. If you enjoyed the book, fine. But please don’t take it as the fingertips of a corrosive global conspiracy, only idiots would think such a thing.
• And speaking of idiots, well done to the viewers who have complained so much the BBC’s disembodied heads have been axed. The heads were one of the few sparks of originality in the mundane world of TV, and what happens: “Oooh it’s so scary.” Such people are the spiritual heirs of inbred peasants who once satiated their bloodlust by burning young women at the stake for witchcraft and who today spend Saturday nights glued to The X-Factor deifying Simon Cowell, whose artistic perceptions are more insightful only than a bloated bank manager who coats his sandwiches with molten pound coins, paints his toenails with crude sketches of Gordon Brown, who bathes in ink strained from the fibres of £100 notes and before he vomits requires somebody to punch in a four digit code on his cheek to let the puke gush forth.