Many TV network executives, advertisers and producers would sell their souls to get the kind of audience God has. But giving religion a starring role in prime time? Not so much.
Religion, God and spirituality have made cameos across the dial from "The Sopranos" to "The Simpsons" -- though usually as a prop or walk-on role. But shows where religion is a central part of the premise are rare, and the ratings are generally far from heavenly.
Short of touchy-feely shows like "Touched By an Angel" or "Highway to Heaven," why is religion so radioactive in Hollywood?
This month, cable network TLC canceled "All-American Muslim" after only about 700,000 viewers watched the season finale of the reality show featuring Muslims in Dearborn, Mich.
Meanwhile, ABC's saucy new drama "GCB" -- think "Desperate Housewives" in choir robes -- that's based on Kim Gatlin's novel "Good Christian Bitches" has been panned by critics and called "anti-Christian" by Newt Gingrich. The "GCB" premiere on March 4 lost the coveted 18-49 demographic, but climbed back during its sophomore episode.
Over the weekend, Newt Gingrich decided to wade into a minor cultural skirmish by claiming that the new ABC dramedy GCB is an attack on faith fueled by anti-Christian bias.
As Gingrich is, from my perspective at least, prone to flights of intellectual fancy, I was at first prone to roll my eyes and ignore his latest sojourn into the ridiculous. But upon further reflection, I thought it merited a response because his notion that a satire could be the latest cannon fodder in the alleged war on religion (which usually means “war on Christianity” to those who invoke it) speaks to a larger cultural conundrum: Christians and our sense of humor (or, rather, the lack thereof.)
It’s a television show that 1) follows “Desperate Housewives” and 2) only got “meh” ratings for its Sunday premiere, so I was slightly taken aback by the mini-firestorm over ABC’s new “GCB.”
The show, based on the book Good Christian Bitches by Kim Gatlin and starring Annie Potts and Kristin Chenoweth, is getting heat from conservatives and Christian groups for portraying Christians in a poor light for their cattiness, opulence, and overall … well, bitchiness. (Don't worry; I'm female. I get to say that.)
New York City Councilman Peter Vallone is going so far as calling for a boycott of the show, saying,” the title of the show alone is yet another outrageous attack on the Christian faith. Charlie Sheen will be back on ‘Two and a Half Men’ before we see a similar title targeting another religion.”
Improv Everywhere celebrates its tenth anniversary by remixing and remastering some of its best sketches. The highlights from Puppy Bowl VIII are in (look out for the MVP)! Bon Iver puts on an incredible SNL performance. Bill Maher's "Irritable Bowl Syndrome." Mad Men's promo posters have been tampered with! OK GO's latest music video from the inside of a car. A new look at Downton Abbey and more!
In anticipation of Sunday's festivities, Jimmy Fallon interviews Bruce Macabee, the puppy who predicted the Patriots to win. L.L. Bean celebrates it's 100th birthday in a fun way, Darren Aronofsky wants Russell Crowe to play his Noah, LeVar Burton gets the @ReadingRainbow twitter handle, Neil Young talks about Steve Jobs' love for vinyl, and an infograph on the social lives of religious Americans, and our favorite scenes from the classic 1993 film, Groundhog Day.
The Super Bowl is right around the corner, which means tons of sweet commercials (OK GO among the most recent buzz), but more importantly, Puppy Bowl VIII. Also in today's links: Stephen Colbert chases Jon Stewart around NYC, and the basics behind the new alternative activity known as hockern, or extreme sitting. Plus bits on David Lynch, Ira and Philip Glass, Arrested Development, and the 2012 Light Festival.
A huge collection of 90s pop classics set to the tune of one man's melodica, animals appearing everywhere -- in public libraries, photobombs, even to predict the superbowl, how to mount a hot pocket holder to your X-Box controller, the first installment of FRIDAY'S HIGH FIVE, and more!
Sing along to the news with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Vermin Supreme, and Newt Gingrich. See what happens when things that shouldn't be put in the microwave are cooked. Read about Dwight Schrute's new television endeavor. Listen to an acapella mashup of Bon Iver and Bon Jovi. And more...
TV's award winning comedy 30 Rock debuts tonight, create your own remixes with Mono's customer appreciation page, discover hidden features on the iPhone, Hostess nears bankruptcy, GOOD's new social justice efforts, and more. Plus videos of chain reaction mechanics performing mundane tasks and a backstage glimpse into the gospel vibes of Wilco, Mavis Staples, and Nick Lowe.
They are dangerous. And no, I’m not talking about the five Muslim families in Dearborn Michigan depicted in TLC’s new series All American Muslim.
I’m talking about the Florida Family Association(FFA). They are a group with a campaign targeting the show's advertisers and who have successfully gotten Lowe's to remove their commercials.
From the FFA website:
The Learning Channel's new show All-American Muslim is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law. The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish. ...Clearly this program is attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad and to influence them to believe that being concerned about the jihad threat would somehow victimize these nice people in this show.
Yup. That’s their complaint. Having a show that would dare to depict “ordinary” Muslims.
The real Dunder Mifflin Paper Co., the goods and evils of the pepper-spraying cop, N.T. Wright's fiery predecessor, the belt of the Virgin Mary closes Russian tour, Parker J. Palmer, and more.
Both Colson and Land are such diehard fans that they can -- and did, during conversations with Boorstein -- quote lines from Allen's movies.
Can you imagine Land, with his low Texas drawl, reciting Allen's famous monologue from Annie Hall?:
"The other important joke for me is one that's usually attributed to Groucho Marx but I think it appears originally in Freud's Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious - and it goes like this. I'm paraphrasing. I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member. That's the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women."
Yeah, me neither.
"Continuing a cycle of violence through state-sanctioned actions does not bring justice but only creates a culture of death and retribution. As a pro-life Christian, I believe the execution of Troy Davis shows a failure of moral leadership by both our country and the state of Georgia. The doubt surrounding the case of Troy Davis has served as a wake-up call to many in this country that our justice system is flawed and should not hold the power of life and death over any person. Justice should restore and heal, not destroy." -- Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis statement today, Friday Sept. 23
"I have no interest in megachurches with jocular millionaire pastors," Ebert writes. "I think what happens in them is sociopolitical, not spiritual. I believe the prosperity gospel tries to pass through the eye of the needle. I believe it is easier for a Republican to pass through the eye of a needle than for a camel to get into heaven. I have no patience for churches that evangelize aggressively.
"I have no interest in being instructed in what I must do to be saved. I prefer vertical prayers, directed up toward heaven, rather than horizontal prayers, directed sideways toward me," he continued. "If we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we must regard their beliefs with the same respect our own deserve."
Could my mission really be confined to seeking the best for the children to whom I gave birth? Or, as a Christian, should I define "family" more broadly? I'd see images of women and children suffering around the world, and those puzzling verses returned to my mind. Maybe, instead of obsessing over the happiness of my babies, I should stick my head out of the window, so to speak, look around, and ask, "Who is my family?"
It didn't feel right to simply shrug my shoulders and blithely accept my good fortune as compared to that of people born into extreme poverty. I'd buy my kids their new school clothes and shoes and then think of mothers who did not have the resources to provide their children with even one meal a day. I'd wonder: what's the connection between us? Does the fact that $10 malaria nets in African countries save whole families have anything to do with my family buying a new flat-screen TV? Should it? Is there any connection between me, a suburban, middle class mom, and women around the world?
I'm sure it will end on September 12 when the news media go back to reporting the most urgent question of our time -- which GOP candidate will win the tea party debate on Monday night? -- but this past weekend's coverage of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was relentless. (I know I could just turn off the TV, but when you write a blog on religion, culture, and politics, you gotta do the research).
The packaging of the 9/11 narrative, with its stunning visuals, has been masterful these last 10 years -- compelling, emotional, inspiring. And ratings gold.
But it strikes me that grieving-through-media does not serve us well, individually or collectively.
When I was growing up, there was a house down the street from us which had slightly tattered window coverings and the front lawn was like a graveyard of broken things. Posted on the fence was a "No trespassing" sign. I remember asking my mother what trespassing was so I could be certain not to do it to anyone who lived in that weird house. When she explained that it meant going into their yard uninvited I thought, no problem. Soon after that, when I first learned the Lord's Prayer, I thought it was weird that out of all the sins that Jesus would suggest we ask God to forgive it would be our trespassing. I pretty much made it a policy to stay out of strange yards, and since no one seemed to wander into ours uninvited, I thought I was covered. Only later did I realize that trespassing was only one of countless was to trespass against others. And now I get it -- kind of. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Jesus always seems to be pairing God's forgiveness of us with our forgiveness of others.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was at home in Washington, D.C. getting ready to go to Sojourners' office. I was upstairs listening to the news on NPR when I heard the first confusing report of a plane crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center. I immediately called downstairs to Joy and asked her to turn on the television to see what was going on. Moments later, as we ate breakfast together with our three-year-old son Luke, we watched the second plane strike the north tower. I still remember my first response to Joy, "This is going to be bad, very bad," I said.
Of course, I meant more than just the damage to the Twin Towers and the lives lost, which became far greater than any of us imagined at first. Rather, my first and deepest concern was what something like this could do to our country and our nation's soul. I was afraid of how America would respond to a terrorist attack of this scope.
So NPR just released the results of their survey for the "Top 100 Science-fiction and Fantasy Books." It's a great list with some of my all-time favorite books on it (although I disagree with their decision not to include young adult books on the list, but that's just me). Some 5,000 books were nominated for the list, but the ones that made the top 100 were mostly ones that were more than just entertaining stories; they are the stories that mean something. Stories that through their imaginings of alternative worlds tap into the power of the prophetic to deliver the message that our world too is not absolute, but imagined and therefore capable of change.
Now, while I have complained in the past about why imaginative challenges to oppressive orders in our world only seem to happen in speculative fictions, the genre still remains my favorite -- often for that very reason. As this recent comparison of women of sci-fi vs. women of prime time shows, there are just so many more substantial ways of being in the world than the status quo generally allows for. Speculative fictions not only present the possibility that the dreams we struggle for now could someday actually be realities, they are also the prophetic voice calling us into that world.