Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

The Times Goes Indigo

posted by burb

The New York Times has a few stalwart religion writers, like Laurie Goodstein, whose work saves the editors’ decided parochialism when it comes to religion. (See “Rites,” an oddly inanimate photo series of Jewish, pagan, and other supposedly arcane ceremonies that seems to have been discontinued.) But only John Leland—not a religion reporter at all, but the Times’ appointed chronicler of hipness (and a former colleague of mine at Newsweek)–seems to take true delight in America’s spiritual grab-bag. His pieces on alternative churches and Christian rock a few years back communicated those worlds without condescending–even if, thanks to that same Timesean callowness about faith matters, the articles ran some years after those phenomena arose. Yesterday Leland tackled the parapsychological notion of Indigo children—again, a little late, but with his accustomed real curiosity and gentleness.

Steven Colbert: Funny by “Design”

posted by kris rasmussen

I have been a fan of comedian and satirist Steven Colbert since he began doing segments on “The Daily Show” such as “The Week in God.” No religion or religious figure was above Colbert’s barbs. That certainly hasn’t changed since he started his own show, “The Colbert Report.” I have been waiting for the chance to blog about him here and last night’s episode finally gave me a perfect opportunity. Colbert interviewed Kenneth Miller, a professor at Brown University, to discuss, as only Colbert can, the issue of evolution vs. intelligent design. Miller’s first argument for believing in evolution–Darwinism? Big Bang theory? Nope. Flu shots. According to Miller, “Anyone who had a flu shot this year should sign a statement saying they believe in evolution.” Why? Because, Miller argues, the flu virus changes or evolves creating new strains every year (thus a need for a new shot every year ), so therefore it is safe to assume humans have evolved or changed from apes to who we are now.

While this argument was just one of several intentionally ( I think!) ridiculous arguments, it was interesting to me that both Colbert and Miller identified themselves as Catholics, and in Miller’s case, he vehemently proclaims that being a Catholic does not get in the way of believing in evolution. In fact, Miller states that he actually believes in a bigger God than those of us who believe in intelligent design, and he actually writes about this very topics on his very interesting website. At any rate, I wish all pop-culture-war debates were as funny, lively, and entertaining as this one. But for the record, Mr. Miller, I have had a flu shot, and I am still not signing any paper, okay?

Rites of Passage: Brutal… or Just Shorter?

posted by doug howe

Saturday night at 9, the National Geographic Channel’s “Taboo” series presents a look at “Rites of Passage” from around the world. Tune in, TiVo it, or have someone record it. Here’s why:

This show visits different cultures from around the world—and one in America—showing footage of life transitions marked by more than just a Hallmark card. In the American Midwest, an Apache tribe maintains a grueling four-day ordeal to usher young girls into womanhood. In South Africa, boys become men by going through the traditional Xhosa initiation process which begins with a brutal circumcision.

If your kids watch, it may give a new perspective on teen challenges such as “mowing the lawn,” “cleaning up your room,” “keeping the family car clean and fueled after you use it,” and, oh yes, the big one: “Do you homework and study well for tests.” Not so bad after all, huh?

And the brave watcher might stop and question whether these painful taboos are actually less painful—in the long run—than the long-term consequences of America’s extended adolescence, with adults “working out their issues” well into adulthood. As author and family expert Dr. Chapman Clark has said: Today’s adults want to look like kids, crank their high school “hits,” and passionately cheer on the team. Today’s adolescents see these adults aspiring to live like teenagers, and subsequently they see no reason to make the difficult journey to adulthood.

“In contemporary society, graduate school is often a place to ‘find oneself,’” Clark says “Numerous studies attempt to understand the historically unheard of phenomenon of 30-somethings who have Ph.D.s living at home or waiting tables who have yet to ‘discover’ what they want to do.”

If you watch, fight the temptation to just observe it like an animal kingdom show–as in “watch as Fred puts his hand in the mouth of the alligator.” We need a good discussion about how to help our kids make a clearer transition into adulthood, taking personal responsibility for everything they do. And maybe it’s time some of us did the same.

How I Learned To Stop Feeling Betrayed & Love “JT Leroy”

posted by ariana speyer

[Editor's Note: Idol Chatter was so confused by news of scandal within the literary world--whom to believe? how to tell fact from fiction?--that we turned to guest blogger Ariana Speyer, a freelance writer with a personal connection to one of these authorial dramas, to help us make sense of it all.]

In case you’ve been under a rock this week, there is a fake-writer epidemic going around. There’s Oprah sweetheart James Frey, whose bestselling “memoir” “A Million Little Pieces” was shown to have substantial exaggerations and fabrications. Then there’s JT Leroy–the wunderkind author of gay-truckstop-hooker redemption books including “Sarah” and “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things”–who was definitively outed as a hoax by Warren St. John in the New York Times. I say “definitively” because there have been plenty of stories about this over the years, but St. John found a photo of the woman who was enlisted to play “JT Leroy” (stay with me here, the author was known for only appearing in public wearing a blonde wig and sunglasses), identified her as one Savannah Knoop, and just put all the strange pieces together in such a way as to not leave any doubt.

I know “JT,” or thought I did, until a few days ago. He wrote travel pieces for index, a magazine I edited from 2002 to 2004. We talked on the phone. A lot. We emailed. A lot. I even helped organize a benefit reading of his work –that “he” attended with all his famous friends, including Winona Ryder and Shirley Manson–with the money going to something called the McAuley Foundation, a charity for troubled kids that “he” helped start. So I did feel like I knew the guy.

True, I never heard that “he” had AIDS, which apparently “he” went around telling other people “he” had. I knew about the sex-change hormone therapy, the deathly fear of public scrutiny, the late-night panic attacks, the money worries. All in that unmistakable, Southern-tinged voice that said, “We are together now. It’s you and I against the world.” This voice was full of kindness and self-absorption. It could be whiny, playful, or demanding. It had a wheedle that could move mountains. So who did this voice actually belong to? Who wrote those affecting sentences that made you cheer for the tenacity of the human spirit? One Laura Albert, who I always knew as Speedie, one half of the couple that had saved “JT” from the mean streets and with whom “he” lived in San Francisco. (The other half of the couple is Geoffrey Knoop, yes, Savannah’s brother, and he was in on the whole deal.)

So, now that we’re all up to date in this twisted plot, what happens next? First of all, while it’s hurtful and manipulative and a personal bummer, and probably immoral and a lot of other bad things that a lot of people have already commented on, I’m going to say cheers to Laura and Geoff for pulling it off for so long. You know it wasn’t easy to concoct a person out of thin air year after year. Didn’t they ever get “JT” fatigue? Did Laura ever think, “Christ, I’ve got to pretend to be this needy, off-kilter, genius-in-the-rough loser again, and I really just want to read a magazine?” I’m also going to say that, scam or no, someone is still responsible for writing those books, stories, and magazine pieces, and that person has a huge, valid talent. (I read “Sarah” and was genuinely moved; I’m now happy to confess that I never got around to reading “The Heart.”) So what if they’re not based on really being a gay street kid? The work has power and truth in its own right, and for that, again, kudos to the writer, who seems to also be Laura.

The $64,000 question is, if Laura had all this talent from the get-go, why the elaborate ruse? Turns out, she always had her heart set on being a rock star but never quite made the grade, or so said Stephen Beachy in a New York magazine article last year. Hmmm, a failed rocker turned plotting deceiver, why does that sound so familiar? Maybe because both Charles Manson and David Koresh got jilted by the music world before they decided to focus on the activities for which they ultimately became famous.

While some people might put Laura into the textbook psycho category along with those other guys, I prefer to think of her as a Brooklyn gal with chutzpah to spare. When I met her and “JT” while they were in New York for the benefit, I remember feeling strangely put off and disappointed by the face-to-face encounter with this person who I felt so close to on the phone and in cyberspace. When “JT” and I were introduced I was met with a gentle blankness. That’s because I was looking into Savannah’s eyes, and she had no idea who on earth I was. Because, SHE HAD NEVER SPOKEN TO ME BEFORE. Afterwards, I rationalized the strangeness of the meeting by telling myself that of course it would be strange: JT has a rather large fear of being seen in public. So even the cracks in the “JT” façade somehow managed to substantiate the façade itself. And that’s a kind of genius. Evil genius, perhaps, but genius all the same.

Laura, if you’re out there reading this, and I know you are (“JT” obsessively tracked his press mentions, so I imagine Laura has been pretty much glued to her monitor, probably alternating between the thrill of so much ink being spilled on her account and the agony of what the ink is spelling out), I say you deserve some kind of prize. You’ve turned in a tour de force performance on so many levels that it’s a bit hard to fully fathom. Do they give out awards for psychological acuity? If they ever do start giving out “Sigmunds,” you should definitely be shortlisted. Brava! (And please seek treatment immediately. You are a very sick person. Maybe you and James Frey can find a nice quiet truth spa in which to recuperate.)

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