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Idol Chatter

The Soprano Family’s Existential Angst

posted by donna freitas

As my effort to catch up on “The Sopranos” continues, I am now making my way through Season Two, currently available through HBO’s “On Demand.”

Two episodes in particular have caught my attention with their interesting religious themes. Episode 20, “D-Girl,” revolves around Anthony Jr’s introduction in school to existentialism, which provokes him to suddenly question life’s meaning and–most concerning to his parents–the existence of God. (As we all know, reading Nietzsche and Camus sometimes will have that effect.) Anthony Jr’s existential angst is juxtaposed with his Confirmation celebration and his family’s strained attempt to welcome him as a full member into the Catholic Church.

In Episode 21, “Full Leather Jacket,” a central family member and aspiring young mob boss has been shot, and the episode opens with everyone surrounding his bed and praying. The most interesting twist to this development is Carmela’s special petition to God. Carmela Soprano, Tony’s wife, is the moral compass of the series as well as the family’s religious center. Filled with grief, Carmela kneels in an empty hospital room and prays to Jesus, offering up her entire family’s sins to him (which, if you watch the show, is quite a hefty offering) if Jesus will let this beloved family member live. Lo and behold, Carmela’s hotline to heaven works (or so it seems), and the subject of her prayers not only wakes up, but wakes up and claims that he has been to hell and back–and that when all the mafiosos die, himself included, hell is where they are all destined to spend the afterlife.

BET Bets on Faith

posted by burb

In addition to a L’il Kim reality show–chronicling the rapper’s last two weeks before going behind bars–BET, the cable station aimed at African-American viewers, is hoping to liven up its lineup with a weekly show called “Meet the Faith.” The concept is modeled on NBC’s venerable Sunday political chat show, “Meet the Press,” with CNN political analyst Carlos Watson playing host to religious leaders discussing current affairs. But BET’s religion panel won’t feature insiders bantering about culture-wars topics, promises BET pres Reginald Hudlin. Instead, notables from the religion world will talk about “what is right and wrong, what makes better human beings, what connects to our spirituality,” Hudlin says.

Any meaningful religion blab on broadcast TV wouldn’t have a chance to keep its head above the right-left fray. Can BET? Certainly, “Meet the Faith” will benefit from the open dialogue African-American churches have historically maintained between religion and society. But that easy dialogue has in part depended on a consensus affliation with the Democratic Party. With African-American ministers increasingly lining up with Republicans (see last Sunday’s “Justice Sunday” in Philly), the new show may showcase the growing diversification of the African-American church’s voice. “Meet the Faith” premieres March 19.

’24’ & Its Murky Hero Return to Fight Another Day

posted by doug howe

24” returns to Fox this Sunday after a loooong lay-off, and it’s about time. “24” is the kind of dynamic and necessary post-modern good vs. evil story that we need, because most of us have little tolerance for easy feel-good answers. Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer is neither perfectly good nor dastardly evil, making him a strong and current anti-hero. He has struggled in marriage, family, and love through each of the series’ first four seasons. He has offended, blamed, fired, or killed just about everyone he’s worked with. He has made ethical choices that none of us could ever get away with, and he constantly obstructs authority while blowing holes in the ethical boxes of his colleagues. He religiously believes he is fighting in a world others can’t see, according to ground rules they don’t recognize. He fights for a victory that, while great, does not pretend to solve every problem in the human condition, at least not immediately.

I appreciate this character’s perspective because I—like many people I know—struggle not with obvious black-and-white character virtues and ethics choices, but rather with that gray world of slight lies, half-truths, and razor-thin indiscretions, which we would never try to get away with if we weren’t, well, trying to get away with them.

It is also through Bauer’s lens that we can perhaps see into the more human side of what it is like to be a hero when others don’t even know they need one, which is similar—if you buy the story—to the story of Jesus Christ himself. Imagine the patience He must have had as He tried to make people aware of a spiritual world they couldn’t see, realities they wouldn’t fathom, ground rules that didn’t seem to apply, an enemy they failed to acknowledge and a battle they denied was existing in the heavenlies. And He didn’t fix everything wrong with the world, either. At least not then.

“24” will hit full stride by Easter season, and while it’s obviously not quite “The Passion of the Christ,” it does offer a fair window into the life of a hero who doesn’t ask for credit, doesn’t get headlines, offends those in authority, and offers a sacrifice that goes largely unnoticed by most of those who benefit from it. Perhaps we all can benefit from a retrospective look beyond the blue-eyed, blond-haired Sunday School shepherd we may have heard of as kids, and re-discover a hero from another time and culture who changed the world by acting according to instructions, reality, and a code that few around him could understand.

And, of course, we may gain an insight or two that helps us in that razor-thin world of discretion and temptation that lies at the root of every character decision and ethics choice we have in front of us every day, as we seek to be something of a human hero to those we love in our own world.

Standing Between Left & Right on “Brokeback Mountain”

posted by kris rasmussen

I was planning to stay out of the whole debate over Hollywood’s current critical darling, “Brokeback Mountain,” a.k.a. “the gay cowboy movie.” I even resisted the impulse to respond to fellow Idol Chatterer Donna’s eloquent analysis of the movie. But yesterday I happened to run across this article from the Associated Press about how a suburban Salt Lake City theater owned by NBA Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller decided at the last minute to not show the film, indicating implicitly (if not explicitly) that the decision was directly linked to the homosexuality that is central to the story. For me, this tiny news tidbit became the proverbial last straw–even though I am sure this is not the last example of censorship or politizing of this polarizing issue. I now feel compelled to vent about the uproar that has made “Brokeback” this year’s “Million Dollar Baby.”

While I love discussing movies as much as the next person, if not more, I am completely disinterested in propaganda of any kind–pro-gay/anti-gay, pro-liberal/anti-liberal, you name it, I dislike it all. And what I find especially frustrating is when movies are reduced to propaganda by the news and entertainment media. And that is exactly what has happened to “Brokeback.” The film is being reviewed less for its artistic merits as for its ability to make an argument for a cause. The movie has been latched onto by the political left as a shining example of an enduring love that demonstrates society’s intolerance and the need to legalize gay marriage. Over on the right, religious groups are applying pressure, such as the case in Utah, to not show the film at all because it goes against the fundamental values of their beliefs.

My irritation lies in the fact that, in my opinion, both sides are wrong. The story, much as real life, is far more complex and does not deserve to be reduced to the role of nothing more than a poster child in a culture war. It also doesn’t deserve all the hype.

As I watched “Brokeback” after reading reviews primarily favorable to the film, I found it impossible to believe anyone would watch this movie and come away from it believing that everything would be perfect for Jack and Ennis if only they lived in a world where gay marriage was legal. Jack cannot bring himself to be faithful to either his wife or Ennis, so is a wedding ring really the answer? In fact, both men have serious unresolved childhood issues, which sabotage all of their relationships. At the same time, it was also difficult to watch the film and not feel the pain of these two men bent on self-destruction and feel some compassion. So here I am once again, standing somewhere in the middle of the cultural and spiritual divide of our country, wishing a movie could just be a movie.

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