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April 2004, Week 2


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Nancy Mockros <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 8 Apr 2004 17:38:37 -0700
text/plain (113 lines)
I was not sure if I should respond to the criticisms of The Passion of the
Christ survey, since I did not create the instrument and cannot thoroughly
defend it.  Since I posted the website and requested that it be completed,
I feel obliged to explain my perspective.

As Dr. Baker surmised, the survey designers are wondering if there are
differences between how Christians respond to The Passion and how people of
other faiths - especially Jewish - or no faith respond.  Since many of the
public concerns about Mel Gibson and his movie surround him inviting
certain groups of Christians to prescreenings, how Jewish people might
percieve anti-semitism in the film and how there is faith division over
this movie, I think indicating one's faith is an important question to ask
of the film's audience.  The filmmaker has repeatedly said that he made the
film in response to his own faith.  Some churches claim to be using it as
an evangelism tool.  Audience faith background and questions about how the
film impacts faith seems valuable and valid questions in a cultural survey
about the movie.

Most surveys like this are neutral instruments that participants have
little interest in altering.  It is not like stuffing a ballot box or
voting in a way to increase an investment.  With a film as controversial as
this one, a survey that allows someone to take it multiple times is in
danger of sabotage.  In theory, publicists or enemies or proponents of the
film could alter the results.  I suspect that few if any participants
realize that it is possible to do this, but it would be better if it were
not possible.

Likert-type questions would be useful, as would more questions of those who
did not see the film.  I suspect that those who did not see it may ignore
the suggestion to fill out such a form, thinking it is not for them.  All
that is to say, I would have added a few questions, but it is not my tool.

As for how I will use it, I wrote a dissertation that involves The Passion
as well as other recent Jesus movies.  Much of my cultural analysis
involved press reports, industry and other critical reviews, online
messages, website movie ratings, Nielsen or box office returns and the
like.  For the lower profile films, this sketched an idea of the film's
reception.  For The Passion, countless publications in print and online
reported on the movie and/or Mel Gibson.  Dozens of online message boards
were overflowing for a year.  I have collected well over 400 articles on
The Passion, and daily recieve about 10 in the mail.  It borders on
impossible to assess all the material, let alone determine what is going on
behind the reports or in the minds of vast theater crowds.  I have a
publisher for my dissertation as well as a few related articles and a Jesus
movie reference book.  I am not particularly passionate about the film as a
personal or spiritual experience.  As a student of film, TV, cultural
studies and church history among other things, I myself find the film's
historical and art references, sacramentalism and rich iconography
artistically profound and culturally revealing.  While I have many thoughts
about the movie, I have no personal stake in people seeing or liking the
movie or in how people answer the questionnaire.  It seems like many
viewers are deeply moved in a positive way, yet many others detest the
film.  As a student/scholar of Jesus movies, the whole thing is fascinating
and complex.  I hope the results of this survey illuminate my research a
little more, weeding out publicity, reactionary press and other extreme
impressions to reveal some of the mainstream public opinion and why
everyone is flocking.

About Dr. Spiceland's concern over increased respondants improving the
results, perhaps it is my medical research background that inclines me
toward increasing the "n", so thank you for bringing that assumption to my
attention.  My understanding of my former statistics studies is that
numbers improve validity of results.  I have only had a few anthropology
and psychology courses and am not as familiar with designing and analyzing
sociological experiments.  In medical science, one seeks to eliminate all
but one variable, yet here we seek broad distribution, and the survey has
gone out to large groups aross educational, racial, economic, geographic,
trade and faith lines.  No tool - certainly not Nielsen ratings or common
data collection systems - is flawless, unbiased and without
drawbacks.  While this one could certainly be improved, I think it will
serve an important purpose.  I hope it does not itself becoming a controversy!

Finally, warnings are not helpful, as though answering the survey implies
complicity with a plot.  There is no "self-selected respondent
sample."  This SCREEN-L discussion list is not related to the community
that created the survey nor is the State Farm agent who sent it to many
other State Farm reps, etc.  The survey has circulated among a wide range
of communities, schools, in Kentucky as well as both coasts and several
countries, Jewish and secular as well as Christian groups. While many more
than 10,000 people have seen the movie and not everyone was queried and
filled it out, the distribution has been as broad and varied as
possible.  By my suggestion that everyone send it around everywhere, how
can the sample be "self-selected?"   A more valid concern might be "What
kind of people might be discarding it and how does that influence the

I welcome academic discussion and will read and consider any feedback
(outside the group if you like) but deadlines and other pressures may
prevent my further response.

Nancy Mockros
Ph.D. Theology and Culture (Film and TV)

At 03:48 PM 4/6/04, you wrote:
>I, too, wonder about the aims and methodology of this research.  Out of
>curiosity, and because this is a controversial film, I went over to the
>website, which does provide some contact names.
>Barbara L. Baker
>Dept. of Communication
>Central Missouri State University
>Warrensburg, MO. 64093
> >>> [log in to unmask] 04/04/04 03:06PM >>>

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