Before The Passion of The Christ opened if was subjected to an unprecedented attack campaign by Jewish advocacy groups that considered it anti-Semitic. Their protests were taken up and echoed by a mainstream media that is quick to attack anything that can be labeled â€œconservative Christian.â€ What was the direct result? Exactly the opposite of what the filmâ€™s opponents wanted. Their protests made the film controversial; its opening became an event, and its initial box-office sales huge. You would almost think that they planned to promote the film rather than hurt it.
Sun Tzuâ€™s teaches that most of what happens in a competitive environment is beyond our control. A competitive environment is, by definition, larger than we are and the place where our plans are reshaped by the plans of others. Instead of relying on plans, we use strategy to understand that environment and position ourselves within it to take advantage of the larger forces at work. When people began attacking this film, they forgot that they were operating within a society that is over 90% Christian. People who operate within the secular confines of the media often lose track of this larger reality. This is why Sun Tzu advises people to get opinions from â€œthe outsideâ€ when doing strategic analysis.
When people are pushed, they naturally push back. Most Christians are not terribly religious, but when their religion is attacked, they become more involved. Because opponents of the film did not take this into account, they made the film more popular than it would have been otherwise. Because they forgot their larger environment, the protests by Jewish advocacy groups put Jews as a group in a worse light than the film did. Not only did they characterize Jews as the villains in the film, but they made contemporary Jews look like villains by attacking Mel Gibson, a devote Christian expressing his faith.
This is a classical strategic blunder, using attack instead of strategy, to accomplish your goals. The Jewish advocacy groups could have used the film to reduce anti-Semitism if they had campaigned in a different way. Instead of characterizing Jews as the villains in the film, they should claimed the heroes of the filmâ€”Christ, Mary, Simon of Cyreneâ€”as the true religious Jews. They should have characterized the Sanhedrin not as â€œthe Jews in the film,â€ but as the rich, powerful aristocracy who used religion to manipulate the mob against the guiltless. They should have praised Christianity from moving the mores of society from the brutality and torture of the Roman era to a kinder, gentler world, shaped by Judeo-Christian values where tolerance is respected and persecution is abhorred. They should have attacked, not the film, but those who might want to use the film to promote the mob-mentality and prejudice that the film itself targets. Like Howard Dean, they turned an opportunity into a defeat because they could not resist attacking where not attack was needed.