Idol Chatter

MTV celebrated its 25th anniversary last week, but I couldn’t figure out what they were celebrating. I find myself singing the Dire Straits’ classic lyric, “I want my MTV,” because my MTV–or, at least, good MTV–hasn’t been seen in a long, long time.

Mark Knopfler called the early MTV stars “yo-yo’s,” said “they aint workin’” and that they were earning “money for nothin.’” What he thought was bad then has become downright disgusting since. “My” MTV was mostly mainstream music with hints of alternative and headbanging stuff, played between the greetings of original Veejays Martha Quinn, Mark Hunter, Nina Blackwood, downtown Julie Brown, and the late J.J. Jackson.

At that time, MTV was truly an on-screen version of radio. Its jingles were unique, the sign-ons were original (who can’t remember the Apollo spacecraft, among other frequent images?) and the music at least felt like music. Some videos were hard to understand, like confusing dreams. Others made the song more real. But today, MTV is some kind of variety of gangsta wrap, teen reality shows, and the closest you can come to teen porn on TV without breaking FCC rules. So for me the 25th anniversary was more of a requiem tribute than a celebration.

The only thing I like about the current trend is the emerging popularity of Christian bands (especially those who aren’t called “Christian” bands) on Christian stations, local individual stations, and even MTV’s sister-network, VH-1. “The Zone” is one example, now playing faith-based videos in over 200 local television markets. Medium-market cities are being exposed to what the Bible Belt has had for a long time: lots of faith-based entertainment on several stations. Perhaps someday the big cities will have the same. Strong young balladeers and aspiring musicians with faith-driven lyrics are finding a home outside of MTV’s bias–and I’m glad for it.

I’m not provoked to say “good riddance, MTV,” but I’ll certainly say “R.I.P.” to a fading cultural phenomenon, while clicking past it for more positive–and spiritual– music and videos.

What happened on September 11th, 2001, didn’t just leave its mark on the New York City skyline, it scarred a nation. Everyone has a story. We all remember where we were the moment we learned the twin towers had come down, some even watched the buildings fall, and a select few recall mustering the courage to go in and attempt to rescue those still trapped in the concrete and steel. If anyone deserves to have their story told, it’s the brave men and women who put their lives on the line that fateful day.

Such is the impetus behind Oliver Stone’s “World Trade Center,” a film devoted to the accurate re-telling of the story of Port Authority Police Department Sergeant John McLoughlin and Officer Will Jimeno. Both men were part of a valiant crew who ventured into the concourse of the World Trade Center after the first tower was hit, having little idea of what was actually going on, knowing only that they had a job to do.

Walking into the theater, my skepticism caused me to put up a wall. I had no intention of letting my emotions get the better of me, nor did I have an overwhelming desire to recall the psychologically exhausting experience of that horrible Tuesday. Much like the rest of the nation, I remember 9/11 with startling clarity, and the film’s degree of honesty and unromantic execution make for a downright eerie recreation of events.

“World Trade Center” begins as innocently as the morning itself, but there exists a general discomfort in knowing precisely what is about to take place. Thankfully, special effects are used sparingly, merely intended to illustrate rather than exploit the magnitude of the attacks. That’s not to say anything is omitted entirely. In fact, the film should be applauded for its choices in what the audience gets to see and what it doesn’t.

Although overly emotional at times (but that’s to be expected), nothing about the characters or their actions feels particularly forced. For the most part, the actors offer honest portrayals of real people working together in a time of crisis. Unlike “United 93,” however, which used virtual unknowns to bolster its realism, “World Trade Center” misguidedly features big names like Nicolas Cage and Maggie Gyllenhaal, whose presence actually serves as a distraction from both the subject matter and the other fine performances. Stone may be asking a little too much in urging us to believe A-list actors are real people.

But realism is truly call called into question on the subject of religion. There’s little doubt that faith played an important role in the recovery efforts of 9/11, so it’s no surprise it should make an appearance in “World Trade Center.” But the inclusion of faith is, for the most part, pegged to one or two people, making the presence of anything spiritual seem compartmentalized. As such, it’s an underused element, and, sadly, made for some of the film’s only truly awkward or out-of-place moments.

Equal parts terrifying and uplifting, “World Trade Center” sets out to tell a story of hope amid the ruin, and, for the most part, succeeds. There are no teary-eyed monologues or melodramatic, angst-ridden moments, just moving portrayals of real people facing one of history’s most catastrophic events. If you can find the courage to sit in a darkened theater and relive September 11, 2001, “World Trade Center” is definitely a film worth seeing.

At a time when U.S. citizens, religious and otherwise, are divided over whether the U.S. should pull troops out of Iraq, not to mention whether the war itself was justified in the first place, the military is desperate for some positive PR. But is a gun-filled theme park the way to go?

Apparently, it is–or at least the military thinks it is. According to CNN, Fort Belvoir, Va., may soon be home to the country’s first military theme park:

The Army is considering a proposal to allow a private developer to build a military-themed park that would include Cobra Gunship rides and bars including a “1st Division Lounge”… [where] you can command the latest M-1 tank, feel the rush of a paratrooper freefall, fly a Cobra Gunship or defend your B-17 as a waist gunner.

Nothing like a full day of fun-filled gun-toting and tank-driving with Mom, Dad, and the kids to foster a better, more peaceful world. Or better yet, a shooting-themed vacation (Insert bitter sarcasm here.)!

Earlier this summer, I wrote in this space about the growing popularity of Faith Night promotions at minor-league baseball stadiums. The faith in question was typically Christianity. Leave it to the Newark Bears, an independent New Jersey team, to celebrate Scientology Night.

In the past, the Bears have signed Jose Canseco’s brother Ozzie and extended the career of base-stealing king Ricky Henderson and other major leaguers, in moves that were equal parts publicity and on-field savvy. The team has also shown a knack for memorable promotional events, such as the “Britney Spears Safety Night” that Kris blogged about earlier this week. Now it’s using the faith of Tom Cruise to help bring people out to the game.

“Come out to the ball park and get a chance to win copies of L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics or DVD copies of the immortal ‘Battlefield Earth,'” promises the Bears’ website. “Come to the Newark Bears Box Office dressed as your favorite Scientologist (John Travolta, Tom Cruise), and receive FREE admission.”

The promotion is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 11.