Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

Time to Redefine the Family Movie?

posted by kris rasmussen

Joining a long line of less-than-memorable sequels based on movies that shouldn’t have made as much money as they did the first time around, “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” opened last weekend just in time to entice kiddies on Christmas break. Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt return to slapstick their way through parenting 12 kids, as the family takes one final family vacation together. At their cabin on Lake Winnetka, overly-competitive dad, Tom, starts a rivalry with the dad of another family, the Murtaughs. Will Tom’s family quit squabbling long enough to pull together to beat those nasty Murtaughs? Will they learn to better appreciate each other along the way?

Oh, and then there’s the biggest question of all: Why should anyone watching this movie care? “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” is mind-numbing entertainment at best, but sadly I predict it will do reasonably well at the box office in spite of numerous negative reviews. Why? Because the few positive reviews it is receiving are coming from conservative Christian organizations with large subscriber bases that tout the movie for its “family friendly” qualities–i.e. there may be no storyline, or decent acting or anything else to commend the film, but hey, it’s also completely inoffensive to our easily offended sensibilities.

Don’t get me wrong. Even though I am not a parent, I understand the desire of parents to be able to take their children to a movie without worrying about lots of profanity or gratuitous sex or other objectionable content. But I think this movie presents a strong case in point for making a cultural paradigm shift in how a “family friendly” movie is defined. Does this family even remotely resemble any family I have ever met? No. Are they dealing with any of the difficult issues a real family would be dealing with? Not a chance.

And what message are groups like Focus on the Family sending when they give praise to this movie in the same breath as the excellently-crafted “Chronicles of Narnia,” while completely panning other family dramas such as–and I am going back a couple of years, I admit–the brilliant, Oscar-nominated “In America”? And why aren’t they getting the word out about recent inspirational indie hits, such as “Mad Hot Ballroom,” which are completely appropriate for the whole family? It’s time for the church community, which so vehemently wants to have a say in Hollywood, to expect more than “Cheaper” family entertainment at the theater–unless you are just counting the days until you can go see “Cheaper by the Dozen 3” at a cineplex near you.

A Hip New Sound for Hanukkah

posted by

We Jews often whine about the supposed lack of good Hanukkah music. The Hanukkah songs most Jews learned as kids don’t hold a candle (so to speak) to such memorable tunes as “Little Drummer Boy” or “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Nor do you see Jewish celebrities lining up to make Hanukkah albums, a la the steady stream of Christmas albums by the likes of Regis Philbin and Jethro Tull. Adam Sandler, of course, tried to remedy the situation with “The Hanukkah Song,” a witty ditty that was laugh-out-loud funny the first few times I heard it, but which has now been overplayed to death by radio DJs hoping to inject a little diversity into their month-long marathon of Christmas music. (Personally, I think many traditional Hanukkah songs are as beautiful and meaningful as the best Christmas carols, but since they’re in Hebrew, they’re not about to be played on mainstream radio.)

This Hanukkah, however, how about trying something new? Introducing “The Leevees,” a duo comprised of indie rockers Adam Gardner (Guster) and Dave Schneider (the Zambonis). Their debut album, “Hanukkah Rocks” features original songs all about the Festival of Lights–and has received attention by the likes of and Entertainment Weekly. In sound and lyrical sensibility, their music is reminiscent of a Judaized Barenaked Ladies, with whom The Leevees have toured. The music is catchy, fun, and, well, good. The words are funny without being self-mocking, good-naturedly presenting a celebration of Hanukkah that is neither secularized nor preachy, accessible while still being traditional, and able to laugh at itself without becoming a Borscht Belt self-parody.

“Applesauce Vs. Sour Cream” tackles the ancient potato-latke condiment debate, while “Latke Clan” paints a portrait of a family Hanukkah celebration as sweet and loving as anything Regis dishes out. “Goyim Friends” pokes fun at Jews’ envy of Christmas gift-giving and scrumptious holiday feasts (“We will march on, with General Tso and egg foo young…”) while also reveling in the abundance of Jewish holidays year round. When was the last time you heard a pop song reference Simchat Torah and Tu Bishvat?

So this Hanukkah, after lighting those candles and frying up those latkes, put away the Adam Sandler, stop whining about how Christmas music is so much better than Hanukkah music, and crank up The Leevees.

Greetings to the Rest of Us!

posted by holly rossi

As if I even need to remind you…. today is Festivus! The fictional holiday made famous by Jerry Stiller’s character Frank Costanza in a 1997 episode of “Seinfeld” is–yes is–observed nationwide by many who crave “a Festivus for the rest of us.” Fed up with the commercialism of Christmas–and the toy store battles he found himself embroiled in–Frank defined the holiday with such rituals as the “Airing of Grievances,” in which people tell loved ones how they’ve disappointed them over the past year, and “Feats of Strength,” where the head of the household has to pin the other members of the family. There was no Christmas tree necessary: Festivus revelors gather around an unadorned aluminum pole to perform their rituals. Don’t have yours yet? Worry not, the website sells a miniature pole that is perfect for table or desktop. Stiller himself is even involved in the life-imitating-art-imitating-life (“Seinfeld” writer Dan O’Keefe’s father is said to have invented the holiday in the 1960s). A new book features a forward by Jerry Stiller, as well as Festivus recipes, history, and other surprises.

Would Frank Costanza object to this new commercialization of his beloved Festivus? A good question for debate over pole-skewered shrimp at the Festivus meal, perhaps.

Don’t Count Muslims Out

posted by dilshad d. ali

So of course these days it’s all about Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and Solstice and any other holiday I’ve forgotten to include. And if you watch the seasonal wishes on TV, you’ll see that they make a mention of all relevant holidays… except for the Muslim ones.

Surf through the myriad of channels on TV and there are holiday specials galore. Off the top of my head, I can quickly think of the Hallmark Channel’s “Celebrate Christmas with Maya Angelou” and ABC’s “Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade” with Regis Philbin, Kelly Ripa, and Ryan Seacrest. Past years saw Christmas specials with the likes of Mariah Carey, Celine Dion and other superstars. Even Adam Sandler often gets on board with some sort of Hanukkah hoopla hitting the radio and/or airwaves. And I know I’ve seen Little Bill address Kwanzaa on Nickelodeon.

So where are the television and radio shows about the Muslim holidays? Why isn’t Yusuf Islam (previously known as Cat Stevens) producing some sort of special bringing Muslim holidays to public attention? Courtesy of a reader who sent a chiding email to Beliefnet, I learned that I’m not the only one who feels that Islamic holidays should receive as much play as the others this time of year.

Sure, Ramadan and the holiday with which that month closes, Eid ul Fitr, are moving steadily farther away from the winter holiday season (since Muslims follow the lunar calendar, which moves the dates approximately 10 days back every year relative to the solar calendar). This year, Ramadan began in early October and ended in the first week of November. But as one holiday moves away from Christmas/Hanukkah/etc., another draws closer: Muslims’ second big holiday will fall immediately after the December holiday crush. That holiday is Eid ul Adha.

Eid ul Adha is the second Eid, which comes at the culmination of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Hajj will, inshallah (God willing), commence on January 9th, which is still close enough in my book to be included in the smorgasbord of holidays celebrated this time of year. Eid ul Adha often is forgotten by the public and private sector in this country. Hajj is a glorious event with deep, spiritual, and historical meaning for Muslims. But since it takes place in the city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, non-Muslims in the U.S. tend to forget that Muslims all over celebrate the spirit of Hajj and the holiday of Eid ul Adha.

So when you’re running through the gamut of religious greetings this time of year, don’t forget to say “Eid Mubarak” or “Happy Eid” along with “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah,” etc. And I challenge the “superstars” of Islamic faith to bring attention to this holiday. As Ramadan and Eid ul Fitr moves farther away from the winter holiday season, Hajj and Eid ul Adha will be a part of the giant, multifaith, December celebration for four or five years to come.

Television producers, journalists, public officials, and prominent Muslims, take note: It’s time to reclaim Eid ul Adha and give it the importance it deserves as a holiday celebrated by millions of Americans, not to mention hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide.

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