If you didn’t notice the tributes, John Lennon died 32 years ago this past Saturday, on December 8th. I was lazing around Saturday when I received a PR email promoting a new half-hour documentary about Lennon, simply called “Genius.” It seemed like a standard enough music PR email and promised, “This movie looks at the man from a completely new perspective.” I thought I’d give it a shot and clicked over to geniusthemovie.com, where the YouTube link was embedded.
It started out with some standard man-on-the-street interviews and some archival footage briefly telling the story of John’s childhood and his controversial statement early in The Beatles’ career when he said they were more popular than Jesus. So imagine my surprise when it then veered off course and hijacked John Lennon’s life, decontextualizing and twisting his words to make the famously religion-critical Beatle into a Christian propaganda vessel. Huh? That’s when I clicked over YouTube and noticed the video was uploaded by The Way Of The Master, the Evangelical group Kirk Cameron shills for these days. (He also shills for Todd Akin.) Ahhhh… now it was all starting to make sense.
Along with some maddeningly reductive street interviews about the nature of existence that any 9th grader in a semantics class could blow apart with an intellectual bazooka, here are a couple of the group’s downright deceitful tactics to try to remake Lennon in their own image:
The video quotes this line from Lennon’s 1980 Playboy interview to insinuate that his skepticism about evolution means that he was open to Creationism: “I don’t believe in the evolution of fish to monkeys to men. Why aren’t monkeys changing into men now? It’s absolute garbage.”
But heres’ the full quote, in context:
Nor do I think we came from monkeys, by the way…That’s another piece of garbage. What the hell’s it based on? We couldn’t've come from anything–fish, maybe, but not monkeys. I don’t believe in the evolution of fish to monkeys to men. Why aren’t monkeys changing into men now? It’s absolute garbage. It’s absolutely irrational garbage, as mad as the ones who believe the world was made only four thousand years ago, the fundamentalists. That and the monkey thing are both as insane as the other. I’ve nothing to base it on; it’s only a gut feeling.
The video repeats the folklore that John converted to Christianity at one point based on a letter televangelist Oral Roberts claimed to have received from Lennon in 1970. The only problem? The actual letter has been conveniently “lost” according to an archivist for Roberts, who said “We have done a good job over the years of keeping up with these kind of items, but this one got away.” So even though in his broadcast Roberts said “I never dreamed that someone like John Lennon would have been watching the television program” and even though he has his own archivist, that letter somehow got away. They just plum lost it. Handy, right?
Finally, at its most blasphemous and idiotic “Genius” tries to argue “Imagine,” which famously called out the ruse of organized religion and geopolitics to imagine a world not fractured by schisms, was actually pro-religion by using this analogy: “If I say, ‘Imagine there’s no New York,’ I’m saying New York is a real place, but let’s imagine or pretend that it isn’t.’ So the song is actually acknowledging the existence of heaven and hell.” Riiiiight.
This video, which spends 30 minutes moralizing on the “sins” of everyday people, exploited the anniversary of John’s murder with a disingenuous PR campaign to trick people into watching the kind of religious propaganda Lennon denounced. I almost feel bad having given it this many words and I don’t recommend you watch the video below, but someone had to say something—this is just all kinds of wrong.