Idol Chatter

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.

The Sundance Film Festival has Robert Redford. Tribeca has De Niro. And the film community in Michigan… well… we have the polarizing docudrama director and producer Michael Moore. Yes, filmmakers from Hollywood as well as Iran, South Africa, and Italy flew to the Midwest last week to attend the 2nd annual Traverse City Film Festival, which is the brain child of summer resident Moore. And while the film festival’s motto is “Just Great Movies,” this is Michael Moore after all, so in spite of family-friendly movies at an outdoor space and a few light-hearted cinematic choices, most of the movies had a strong political and moral agenda, to say the very least.

The evils of war, the genocide of cultures, censorship of the artistic process, and numerous government conspiracies were the common themes found in most of the festival selections. While many of the movies depicted the negative ways that politics can influence art, the question debated by many of the successful directors in attendance for the panel discussions seemed to be this: Can art truly change the hearts and minds of the public and therefore have a lasting impact on global politics?

Some directors–like Mark Dornford-May, whose movie “Son of Man” retells the gospel in present day South Africa–stated that it is almost impossible in his country to separate politics from life and art. He made “Son of Man” for the sole purpose of demonstrating how, historically speaking, anyone who stands up for justice and equality is automatically outcast by mainstream society. But other directors–like the Iranian director Mani Haghighi, whose movie “Men at Work” was a festival favorite–said he believed that the media gives so much coverage to the atrocities of war that he feels he must not make his movies overtly political, but instead focus on beauty in the everyday.

Personally, I was alternately shocked, disturbed, and educated by many of the film selections at this year’s festival, which, unlike “Men at Work or “Son of Man,” were primarily documentaries. I am now convinced that the documentary film as an art form is only going to increase in visibility and importance in our cinematic culture.

I have no doubt that documentaries like “The Road To Gauntanomo” and “The War Tapes” will go on to raise awareness of current social and political injustices. But the real question for me is whether or not both audiences and filmmakers understand that documentaries walk a thin line between propaganda and journalism in search of truth. I certainly saw films on both sides of that line last week, and I will be posting my picks and pans on Idol Chatter in the coming days.

First Al Gore was right about the environment, and now Tipper Gore and her Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) may have been right about those explicit lyrics warning labels!?

A recent study by the Rand Corp. showed that “teens who said they listened to lots of music with degrading sexual messages were almost twice as likely to start having intercourse or other sexual activities within the following two years as were teens who listened to little or no sexually degrading music.”

And while much popular music is full of blatant sexuality, the songs depicting men as “sex-driven studs” and women as “sex objects” (a.k.a. bitches and hos) seem to have the most impact on teens’ sexual development.

“Exposure to lots of sexually degrading music ‘gives them a specific message about sex,'” lead author Steven Martino told the AP. “‘We think that really lowers kids’ inhibitions and makes them less thoughtful’ about sexual decisions and may influence them to make decisions they regret, he said.”

The report doesn’t mention if any of the songs used in the study are part the recent rash of euphemistic, yet still sexually explicit, songs from the female point of view, including such hits as Kellis’ “Milkshake” and The Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps,” in which a girl uses a little T&A to get some Dolce & Gabbana.

Of course, other researchers felt “factors including peer pressure, self-esteem, and home environment are probably more influential than the research suggests.”

“When somebody has a healthy sense of themselves,” notes Yvonne K. Fulbright, a New York-based sex researcher and author, “they don’t take these lyrics too seriously.”

As TNT’s “The Closer” headed toward its 9th episode of season two Monday night, “Heroic Measures,” Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson (played wonderfully by Kyra Sedgwick) delivered some more of her trademark, morally ambiguous detective work. This time around, the show took on the issue of malpractice among doctors, as her team attempted to prosecute two surgeons for highly questionable decisions made on the operating table, resulting in the tragic and unexpected death of a child.

While the episode raised difficult questions–such as, “Can the outcome of a doctor’s medical judgment result in what we call murder?”–viewers also saw the more desperate side of Deputy Johnson. Famous for her ability to deliver confessions (hence her title: the Closer) and determined to prosecute these doctors, Johnson bursts in anger: “Tell me what you need these doctors to say, and I’ll get them to say it!”

For fans of the show, Johnson’s ability to manipulate suspects out of their right to an attorney and trap them into making incriminating statements is both what puts you in awe of her character and makes you question it, too. She has an incredible talent for finding whoever commits murder, no matter how complicated the case, yet the methods she employs to do so are often at the cost of what most would regard as ethical behavior. (For example, is it OK for a detective to sweet talk a suspect out of representation? Especially if they don’t even realize they are under suspicion? Or to withold knowledge of the death of a spouse or child from someone in order to collect evidence?)

Often, the outcomes of her maneuvering end up hurting her sense of the acceptable as well, as known murderers go free (see episode 11 from season one) or parents desperately try to protect their children end up in jail. At times the results of her investigations seem almost inhumane.

The end of the show’s episodes are often painfully gut-wrenching, both for the viewer and for Chief Johnson. Though difficult, each one makes for fantastic, thought-provoking television.