May 16, 2006

Da Vinci Blows

by psu

We were in the local Border's a couple of days ago. I guess we hadn't been there for a while, because all the books were in different places, and the store had cunningly replaced inventory with empty floorspace in order to maximize profit in some way that only makes sense to someone who has studied modern retail more closely than I have. I also noticed that the name of the store should be Borders BOOKS and Music because the selection of available CDs has been constantly shrinking over the last few years, replaced by new shelves of basically nothing, and more floor space.

However, on this night, neither of these annoyances were foremost in my mind. This is because from entering the store until I paid for the couple of CDs that I did manage to find, it was absolutely impossible to avoid eye contact with some piece of the Da Vinci Code hype machine.

There were Da Vinci Code books, Da Vinci Code movie guides, Da Vinci Code travel guides, various treatises on the "truth" behind the Da Vinci Code, Da Vinci Code documentary videos, Da Vinci Code quick reference guides and geneologies. There were encyclopedias on the Sacred Feminine, Pagan Worship Primers, and Symbology compendiums. Finally, there were many other non-fiction tie-ins to Da Vinci Code all dealing in some way with the Early Church, the Knight's Templar, or the role of Lee Harvey Oswald in the single bullet theory of how Da Vinci, no wait, Jesus, was assassinated by the CIA back in the day. OK, I made some of those up, but I bet they really exist.

Here is my question: why.

My wife and I listened to this book on tape on a long drive a few years ago. To call the writing pulp is to insult the great pulp writers of, say, the Golden Age of Science Fiction. The writing is just bad. Not bad in a funny ha-ha way. Bad in a way that indicates that the writer is really going after something that is not bad, and is missing badly. The plot is predictable and moronic, the characters are paper thin and not particularly likeable, the dialog is wooden and serves no purpose than to push the plodding narrative forward through the mud to its ultimately unsatisfying conclusion. The book is B A D. Even worse, on tape you actually have to listen to every word. This makes you notice little things, like how all the expository passages are repeated over and over again in the scope of a single short chapter in case you put the book down on the toilet and then forgot where you were when you come back the next morning to take another crap.

What I can't figure out is why we ended up listening to the whole thing. The book was objectively awful even while we were listening to it, but there is something in it that keeps you pushing the button to listen to the rest so you can get to the end. Your right brain tells you that in the name of all good things you should shut the thing off, but the rest of your brain just can't do it. The book has a hook like a bad pop song that just will not exit your brain (I'm thinking of Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran). This makes it an entertaining romp, while also being a complete piece of shit.

Which brings me to my real question. Not why would you like the book. I enjoyed the book. What I can't figure out is why in the name of Jesus this book should become the center of a national obsession over some shady conspiracy that allegedly happened in the first decades of the A.D. Seeing the displays at the Border's just makes you want to scream at the world: it's just bad fiction. It is not history. It is not archeology. It is not anthropology. It is not some journalistic exposé on the early Church. It is just a piece of pulpy entertainment. That people can read this book and assign to it some kind of truth is mind boggling in the extreme. So my message to you this day is: get over it. There is no secret code, there is no grand mystery, there is no hidden truth. At least not in this book. This book is strictly what you see is what you get. Here endeth the lesson.

Posted by psu at May 16, 2006 08:14 PM | Bookmark This

Why is it so popular?

Because people are some combination of stupid, gullible or desiring to believe that utter bullshit is, in fact, true.

I know several otherwise intelligent people that rave about how historically accurate DVC is. Yeah, right.

Dan Brown is also responsible for the utterly crappy Digital Fortress. Total garbage.

Posted by bbum at May 16, 2006 08:20 PM

It's not the popularity that bugs me. It's the construction of a universe where the book is History and not Fiction. I mean, Duran Duran was popular too.

Posted by psu at May 16, 2006 08:23 PM

Da Vinci Code is just a dumbed down version of Eco's Foucault's Penduluum.

Of course, that book itself is just a tarted up makeover of the only good thing Robert Anton Wilson ever wrote, The Illuminatus! Trilogy.

Read that instead.


Posted by peterb at May 16, 2006 08:23 PM

Media consolidation: When you were growing up, there were dozens of major publishing houses. Now there are about half a dozen, so when they think they might be on to some sort of a "marketing synergy," everyone gets blitzed with thematic crap.

Write your congresscritter demanding stricter antritrust laws -- oh, wait, with consolidation they don't need to ask as many potential big campaign donors for the huge contributions, so they won't care. And forget your newspaper's editor: he knows which side of his bread is buttered. And the Bush administration? Ha! The Democrats aren't much better. And voting for Greens like Nader is spitting into the wind under winner-take-all.

Therefore, if you want less banality, the first step is to fight for electoral reform. The Electoral College isn't going to budge until instant runoff voting (the fastest growing of all the similar kinds of ranked-choice voting) catches on.

Posted by Paul at May 17, 2006 12:17 AM

Wait, what? One second I'm reading about media and publishing houses, then suddenly you're complaining about the voting system. I'm confused... Maybe that's the point.

Posted by Trin at May 17, 2006 02:09 AM

There has always been a strong market for hokey tangentially religious pulp c.f The Celestine Prophecy. In this particular case, part of the draw is probably from the Mary Magdelene mythology - which hasn't been commercially exploited before - and part of it is the mish mash of fairly familiar ideas cobbled together.

The sooner one accepts that massively successful books will not be particularly well written, but will be readily absorbable (c.f. Harry Potter) the sooner one can sit back and ride out these bubbles of nonsense as perfectly normal fads. There's not much difference between this and the hula hoop. :)

Posted by Chris at May 17, 2006 07:53 AM

After reading the Da Vinci code I felt the same as you. Utterly hopeless pap. I read a review of The Rule of Four which read "the Da Vinci Code, for people with a brain". I figured the reviewer must have had one (as everyone else was in raptures about the DVC). Turns out it was the brain of a 4 year old... but still several years on the DVC!
DVC is pretty much like a Robert Ludlum novel, crap but strangely compelling all the same.
P.S. I agree, Digital Fortress was even worse.

Posted by Paulj at May 17, 2006 01:03 PM

People eat at PF Chang's and buy Icelandic lamb at Whole Foods, and you're *surprised* that they don't recognize The Da Vinci Code for the potboiler it is? Shocked, shocked I tell you.

Posted by Dr. Click at May 17, 2006 02:55 PM

Like Dr. Click, I am shocked that you are shocked.

There are two things going on: the popularity of the book, and the hyping of a movie with Tom Hanks based on a best seller directed by Ron Howard.

What sales make a book a best seller? 100k? 200k? To put it on top of the NYT list for 51 weeks? Publishers Weekly says the DVC sold 41M copies worldwide. What is that 10%? of the first world?

I heard on the radio that more women than men "believe" the DVC. Not surprizing. More higher income people than lower income people "believe" the DVC. That is strange. Oh, well, I guess there is no correlation between income and intelligence.

As to the movie hype clutter, if you bought the rights to this film wouldn't you hype it? As a generic concept, it looks like it would be a lead cinch box office hit. Given the few, the very few, almost no pre-lauch reviews, it seems that my litter box is chocked full of turds that stink less than the DVC movie.

It seems that they did a faith full adapation of the book. Yup, no chemistry, tired lines, boring. Oh, well. Hanks, and Howard can walk away from it. Too bad for Audrey Tautou.

Posted by Amos the Poker Cat at May 17, 2006 05:42 PM

Ignoring the tired bitter electoral college spam, if you are interested in reading an article about best selling and publishing, PW ran this in Jan '06.

Bestsellers by the Numbers

I count 74 publishers that had an adult hardcover bestseller in 2005. Does not seem like consolidation to me.

Reading the article, publishing seems to be more of a crap shoot than working for a dot com. I can see no barrier to entry for new publishers, other than having more money than common sense.

Posted by Amos the Poker Cat at May 17, 2006 05:54 PM

I heard on the radio that more women than men "believe" the DVC. Not surprizing.

Why is that not surprising? Even though the novel is crap, I think a lot of modern women (especially Catholic women) dig the idea of a Catholic Church from which women haven't been almost completely purged.

Posted by katrinka at May 19, 2006 09:47 AM

"Completely purged"? What a load of nonsense. The last many times I've been to Mass, I'd be willing to wager there were more men than women present, including women lectors and "altar girls." Chesterton was right that one of the interesting things about the Catholic Church is that it typicall gets assaulted for being horribly wrong about something -- from two opposite points of view. Just as the Protestant accusations of being Mary-worshippers in a feminized Church started to fade a bit, "progressive" denunciations of a Church that has "purged" women (Mary doesn't count) became popular with a different crowd of usual suspects.

I'm not a big fan of the "dissidents" who go around ordaining women priests (can't such people go be Anglican or something?), but I hesitate to insult them by assuming the success of DVC has anything to do with their bad ideas.

Posted by Alex Groce at May 22, 2006 01:22 PM

Er, I mean "more women than men present" obviously.

Posted by Alex Groce at May 22, 2006 01:26 PM

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