What Would Jesus Buy?

There's been a lot of talk about Mel Gibson's new movie, The Passion of the Christ. The last thing it needs at this point is more free press, but let's get serious, I have a personal eternity to protect so I'd better get my two cents in, hope it helps sell a few tickets, and pray that Someone in Power remembers that I could have written about kids who are getting too fat, California legislators who want to incorporate feng shui into the state building code, or how I watched the video of Justin Timberlake tearing Janet Jackson's dress over and over and was disgusted every time, but I won't. I need all the help I can get.

I have to say right off the bat that I haven't seen the movie and don't plan to. Heck, I read the book, I already know how it ends. It's the same reason I didn't see Titanic -- did anyone really think they were going to ditch the iceberg and have the ship sail into New York City with the King of the World hanging over the bow? That's not to suggest that there probably wasn't at least one studio executive who thought about meddling with The Passion. I'm sure after it was screened for a test audience someone pulled Gibson aside and said, "Look, everyone thinks the ending's too downbeat. It's a bummer for, well, for goodness sake. Is there any chance you can re-shoot the ending so he gets the girl, she gives up her wayward life, and they settle down in a cute little two-room manger on a kibbutz in Israel? And how do you feel about moving the location to New York or L.A. so it's a little more accessible? I mean, Israel's such a downer these days."

The movie's gotten off to a roaring start at the box office, thanks in part to churches which have bought blocks of seats and sent busloads of parishioners who are shocked when they're let out at the cineplex and not the casino as they expected. But ticket sales aren't the only thing getting a boost, there's going to be an economic ripple effect. First, the movie's bound to boost book sales, especially when they release a new edition of the Bible with big letters across the cover trumpeting, "Now a major motion picture by Mel Gibson!" and a special pull-out section featuring photographs from the movie. And then there's the merchandising.

That's right, all you have to do is walk into your favorite religious book store and you can buy The Passion pendants, which are crude nails just like those used in the movie hanging from a leather cord. In two sizes, no less. You can also buy The Passion crucifixes, lapel pins, key chains, coffee mugs (microwaveable and dishwasher-safe, thank god), and of course the official soundtrack CD and $24.99 coffee-table book. I suspect the only reason you won't find Jesus and Pontius Pilate action figures in your Happy Meal is that someone was smart enough to realize that most parents don't want to watch their children make a crucifix out of two french fries while urging Pontius to hang a ketchup-covered Jesus on it. Not to mention that in order to keep the theme going they'd insist on serving your hamburger bloody and raw.

These merchandise sales will help Gibson earn what Forbes magazine estimates will be $300 million from the movie. They say you can't buy salvation, but if it turns out they're wrong at least he won't have to worry about not having enough cash for the cover charge at the pearly gates. But before we, uh, crucify him for this, we need to give him a little credit. After all, he showed a lot of restraint by not having any paid product placement in the movie. Come on, you don't think they drink Cokes on American Idol and wore Ray-Bans in Men in Black by accident, do you?

Gibson could have picked up a nice chunk of cash from corporate sponsors who would love to have their products affiliated with the son of God. Okay, so it's not as effective as having Shaquille O'Neal as your spokesperson, I'm sure Jesus' agent wouldn't hold out for nearly as much money. Think about it, the hammers and nails in the movie could have been made by Craftsman. The crown of thorns could have been fashioned from the new 2004 Jackson & Perkins rose bushes. The whips could have been supplied by Stormy Leather in San Francisco, Jesus' loincloth could have been Fruit of the Loom, and the Roman soldiers could have been running around in Birkenstocks or Tevas. Hopefully not while wearing white socks.

He also could have extended the merchandising. The movie could sponsor a NASCAR race called The Passion Holy Grail Cup. Cross pens could put out a limited edition that writes with red ink. And by simply putting one word in front of Elizabeth Taylor's perfume they'd have The Passion, "Smell good for eternity." Of course there would be the inevitable TV commercial for Visa that says, "A Passion pendant, $12.99. A seat at Rosh Hashanah services, $300. Eternal salvation, priceless."

So many choices, so little money. That's why you have to ask yourself, "What would Jesus buy?"

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