Idol Chatter

With Apartheid in South Africa having officially ended in 1990, a political thriller like “Catch A Fire,” which went to wide release this past weekend, could easily feel like it is outdated or, at the very least, feel like a story we have heard before. Yet this bio-pic about the true story of activist Patrick Chamusso strives to use the revolution in South Africa to provide a context for the ongoing isms around the world, specifically in Iraq. The movie also examines what is more important when it comes to changing a society: justice or forgiveness?

At the start of “Fire,” Chamusso is simply a hard-working family man who works at a refinery on the North Eastern coal fields. After a false arrest by a cruel, white police officer, Nic Voc (played by Tim Robbins), during which Chamuuso and his wife are both victims of abuse, Chamusso is no longer a neutral bystander and makes a life-altering decision to work for the outlawed African National Congress and transforms into a militant freedom fighter.

While “Fire” has some powerful moments and some great casting (Derek Luke as Chamusso is especially worthy of praise), it is at times heavy handed in the way it it tries to ideologically link to our current situation in Iraq, and most of the support characters like Vos, are flat and occssionally cartoonish.

But the biggest problem that prevents this movie from being a truly great film is the way it tacks on only a brief epilogue that shows the real Chamusso–who served 10 years on Robben Island with future South African president Nelson Mandela and now runs an orphanage–speaking to others about forgiveness. For some reason, Chamusso’s conversion to forgiveness and faith in God did not seem to merit inclusion in the telling of the rest of the story.

Which leaves me wondering if that is not the biggest commentary of all being made by this film: Perhaps we are in the cultural and poltical turmoil we are in as a nation because forgiveness is too often an afterthought.

I honestly thought that by the seventh episode of producer/writer Aaron Sorkin’s backstage drama “Studio 60,” he might choose to start backing off the over-the-top religious rhetoric of past storylines just a wee bit. Shows you just how much I know. Last night’s episode made clear that Sorkin has no intention of letting up any time soon on dramatizing the conflict–perceived and imagined–between conservative Christians and the Hollywood community.

Yes, in the episode last night “Studio 60” head writer Matt Albie throws Jesus right into the middle of another controversy when he writes a sketch in which Jesus Christ becomes the network standards and practces guy–the person who is responsible for deciding what content makes it on the air and what is inappropriate to say on air. Of course, the network executives want the sketch pulled, but that’s the least of their problems. Harriet has gotten into a confrontation with a gay guy who is upset over her comments in the press about homosexuality. This, in turn, leads to fellow cast member Tom defending her and ultimately winding up in jail in Nevada.

Yep, at every turn in these events, Jesus was in some degree responsible for the action–and last night’s epiosde was only the first episode of a two-parter.

Unlike some of my fellow Idol Chatter bloggers, who love to wax poetic about the show, “Studio 60” for me is rapidly becoming the one show I love to hate. Yes, the show is, without question, unlike anything else on the tube these days. Yes, I still tune in every week brimming with curiousity over who Sorkin will skewer this week–with no regard to the falling TV ratings. But in spite of great acting and some occasionally brilliant moments of dialogue, I am becoming increasingly agitated with the fist-pounding, brow-beating nature of Sorkin’s efforts to dramatize his perspective of the ongoing “culture war” of our society.

Worst of all, Sorkin is beginning to fall back on simplistic answers in his presentation of such issues. In a conversation I can’t actually imagine ever happening in real life, Matt Albie tells ex-girlfriend Harriet that our culture is divided simply because “People like you think that people like me hate people like you. And people like me, well, we hate people like you.” That’s an oversimplisitc, cynical anaylsis not worthy of a Sorkin drama–even if perhaps the point was to show Albie’s great intolerance in the light of Harriet’s tolerance.

Watch a clip from “The Simpsons” Golem story:

The truest “reality TV” of all commences today, as the news networks are lined up for our viewership as much as the candidates are seeking our vote. Why? Because the drama of the entertainment portion of today overlaps with the realities of how our lives will change long after the personalities and accusations of a campaign are over.

“Santa came today,” said Tim Russert on this morning’s “Today” show, saying that there are more races too close to call than he could remember from any previous years. He was almost giddy. The networks live for days like today and hope that we’ll tune in to see the characters you like to see. NBC has brought back Tom Brokaw. CNN and Fox have loaded up their all-star teams with more analysts than can fit in a studio. I awoke to Fox news’ “best morning show on television” and will likely fall asleep to every channel’s claim as “the best election night coverage.” Heck, even the weathermen are on the A-teams this year, reporting on the effect of floods (in Washington) and rain (in Tennessee) on the election. This will all be exciting unless the results come in slow; after all, this is sort of like the Season Finale… or will it be a cliffhanger that we’ll have to stay tuned for?

The truth is, today is a big entertainment day for the television-news industry, and someday we may choose to reflect on how much the media’s need to create stories, plots, subplots, lead characters, and the like effects the information we receive and the perceptions we form. The key media players aren’t “reporting” the story; they actually are part of the story. They’re not just covering the drama, they’re creating it. This evening–as the results come in and are reported on several networks claiming to have the best coverage, the best “big boards,” the best graphics, the best analysis, and an endless refrain of “keep it right here”–I’ll be remembering that I’m watching those who are as much a part of the story as they are reporters of it.

And for the spiritual person, it may be a good day to also reflect on the sources we trust for information regarding spiritual matters, and/or the degree of effort we put into it. Whether we’re reflecting on our own spiritual journeys, or whom to elect as our leaders, we’re not only responsible for our choice of belief, but also for measuring the reliability of the information we’ve trusted to form those beliefs.