Idol Chatter

Last week, Donna blogged on Stephen Colbert’s interview of Bill Donahue, leader of the Catholic League. It’s now up on, so you can judge for yourself:

Click to watch.

Idol Chatter hardly needs to add to the barrage of quips, canned responses, and commentary about Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic outburst during his arrest early Saturday morning. Sadly, even in the 21st century, and even from stone sober blatherers, talking crazy about “the Jews” is about as surprising as a cyclist failing a urine test and, pathetically, less consequential: Mel will continue to make movies and Americans will continue to go see them. The folks who might have abstained from his flicks because of his “Jews start all the wars” tirade likely already abstain because of Mel’s refusal to denounce his father’s Holocaust-denial views, and because of “The Passion” itself.

Two questions, however fall clearly into Idol Chatter’s orbit: how Mel’s late-night chat affects the future of Christian filmmaking, and how to summarize Mel’s career in the field, which is likely over. (His spokespeople are even sounding vague about his proposed series on the Holocaust, conceived as a sop to those who found “The Passion” disturbingly anti-Semitic.)

Much of the buzz “The Passion” created in Christian film circles, and the access to the wider cinema market it suddenly promised, will no doubt be harmed, if not quashed, by Mel’s mumblings of Saturday night. None of the Christian filmmakers I’ve encountered have betrayed any of Mel’s millennial mania, but if the scandal won’t end Mel’s career, skittish producers will be less willing to take risks with other, fledgling filmmakers who depict Jesus, lest they share the taint of anti-Semitism by association. This is a shame, since even those who disagreed with “The Passion” had to see that it promised, at least, more intelligent screen explorations of the Christian story and message.

Indeed, future films about Jesus (or old-fashioned Jesus figures) are the more sorely needed because of “The Passion.” Mel’s latest eruption betrayed just how lost he is amid the affinity many conservative Christians have developed toward Judaism and today’s Jewish people, beyond the old Christian right’s attachment to Israel as the custodian of the Holy Land. Theologically, some important evangelical voices see Jesus as one who came to the Jews as a Jew, bent on reforming his own religion and society; the world’s salvation, some new thinking goes, came not in despite of his co-religionists’ history, but completely on its terms, and on its wings. It’s an exciting and interesting route to go down, and one Mel’s ugly spiritual cataracts apparently prevented him from seeing.

Those of us who watch public television are fully aware of what a refreshing alternative it is to the mindless programming on most networks. Unfortunately, the federal government is making it harder for public broadcasting to continue doing its job. Most recently, PBS has expressed concern that it could face fines if it does not tone down/bleep/pixilate what the FCC considers inappropriate language, especially in an upcoming Ken Burns documentary about World War II. The fear of having to fork over to the FCC thousands of dollars that would otherwise be put toward worthwhile causes is forcing PBS and producers to self-edit, an act that will eventually compromise the quality of public television programming.

With all due respect to my fellow Idol Chatterer, Doug, this argument isn’t as simple as “PBS wants to cuss.” Those advocating the implementation of fines do not understand what the airing of these shows means for public education and awareness. Where else on television–where else anywhere–can you find an in-depth look at young men growing up in an impoverished Eastern Kentucky town; a non-biased examination of the AIDS pandemic; and a brutally honest portrayal of America-wide methamphetamine abuse?

These are serious topics, developed into shows for intelligent and inquisitive adults. Viewers are forewarned if a program contains mature content, and parents need to act accordingly if they do not want their children to watch. In fact, children should not be exposed to these programs at all. PBS stations carry daytime and evening programming. Children’s programming is aired during morning hours, while adult programming–news shows, documentaries, interviews–are aired at night.

We all have a right to choose what we listen to, read, and watch. The important aspect to focus on is that a choice clearly exists. The FCC is trying to take away that choice by forcing producers to create and viewers to watch watered-down versions of otherwise truthful and blunt portrayals.

PBS has always been a reliable source for airing the true essence of reality programming. In reality, people curse. And not because it seems like a cool thing to do or because they saw someone else do it. They curse because they have been in jail for years and are growing desperate. Or because they were caught in a cross-fire during battle and it was the first word to pop out of their mouths.

These are realities, and if PBS is being scared into not portraying these as they always have, then the FCC is doing a disservice to us all. If viewer dedication and respect could keep public television afloat, PBS would be around forever. Unfortunately the FCC, in a somewhat cowardly move, is punishing PBS by taking away what it needs most to survive. To me, this, not cursing, is something we should find offensive and vulgar.

A little indie movie called “The Lather Effect” is making the rounds in art houses and is screening at the L.A. Independent Film Festival. It’s a small movie in the true spirit of independent film. Its director (Sarah Kelly) has been a production assistant and doesn’t have too many recognizeable credits. The actors have mostly artistic and television credits.

The drama behind the drama is that this could be a really great human-interest story about how some talented-but-unfamous people made meaningful movie that someday could become this generation’s “The Big Chill,” “The Breakfast Club,” or “St. Elmo’s Fire.” It is made up of this decade’s “Thirtysomethings” whose gathering include both partying and reflection. But the movie may well not make it into nationwide release.

Though I can’t vouch for this movie in particular–it’s possible that it’s just no good–it strikes me that these days, the better a movie is, the less of a chance it may have to make it into wide release. We’re a more diverse nation than we used to be, and that is good. But it also means that a film generally needs to paint its story in broad strokes to catch the widest possible audience and pay for itself. What passes for excellent writing, depth of relationships, and cultural comment may “work” for too small a segment to be profitable.

Or, who knows, years from now we may talk about “The Lather Effect” as this generation’s “Brat Pack,” actors we never knew of until, well, we knew them.