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American Oracle? We’re Psyched!

posted by ellen leventry

SciFi Channel is looking for a few good psychics.

The cable channel is planning a reality show, slated to air this summer, that promises to delve “into the world of psychic phenomena in a way never seen before.” “The Gift,” as the show will be called, will feature eight amateur psychics who are put through an “emotionally intense ‘boot camp for intuitives’ run by the world’s greatest psychics.” A psychic “Survivor,” if you will.

Apparently, SciFi already has some psychics on staff, seeing as the promotional copy asks the very same question that’s in our heads: “But then again, they already know who’s going to win!… Or do they?”

If you think you have the chops, you’ve got just one day left to submit your application at http://www.scifi.com/thegift.

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You Know You’re An Evangelical If….

posted by kris rasmussen

Why do evangelicals have such an affinity for Fox News, homeschooling, and church potlucks? Is there really a “Master List” of who’s actually gong to hell–and wouldn’t you like to take a tiny peek at it if there was? Author and satirist Joel Kilpatrick tackles these and many other important issues as he offers his blistering commentary on the evangelical subculture in his book, “A Field Guide To Evangelicals.”

The book, on sale starting today, has the same offbeat sensibility as Kilpatrick’s website, Lark News, where he has poked fun at trendy Christian books such as “The Prayer of Jabez” and “The Purpose-Driven Life” and offered readers an advice column called “The Missionary Position” and an online game called “The Fantasy Evangelism League.”

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One of my favorite parts of Kilpatrick’s “Field Guide” is his “How Evangelical Are You?” quiz. The results of the quiz will tell you your EQ–Evangelical Quotient. Here’s a sample question:

3. You think “backslide” is:
a. A country dance step.
b. A type of alcoholic drink.
c. A sinful state of non-belief.

Kilpatrick’s quirky commentary in “Field Guide” is always dead-on, but yet somehow never mean-spirited in its examination of the outward manifestations of the evangelical faith. Maybe that’s because secretly he’s as evangelical as the people he writes about and yet smart enough not to take himself, or others, too seriously.

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South Park’s Chef Hanging up his Apron

posted by ellen leventry

What’s that saying about getting out of the kitchen if you can’t stand the heat?

Looks like Isaac Hayes, the voice of Jerome “Chef” McElroy, doesn’t like what those “South Park” boys–Matt Stone and Trey Parker–have been cooking. E! Online reports that Hayes has asked to be let out of his contract due to the series’ “inappropriate ridicule of religious communities.”

Hayes, a Scientologist, did not specifically cite in his complaint the 2005 “Trapped in the Closet” episode, which goofed on Scientology with visits from Tom Cruise and John Travolta, but felt that “as a civil rights activist of the past 40 years” he could not support a show that made fun of people’s beliefs any longer. “There is a place in this world for satire,” Hayes said, “but there is a time when satire ends and intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs of others begins.”

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Co-creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker feel that the only intolerance on display is Hayes’s, and that he’s “cashed plenty of checks” mocking Christianity and other religions. Stone told the AP that the team “never heard a peep out of Isaac in any way until we did Scientology. He wants a different standard for religions other than his own, and to me, that is where intolerance and bigotry begin.”

In fact, while South Park has been busy parodying many religions and sects, including Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, and Judaism, the show has also been subversively teaching audiences about these faiths.

“One of the most interesting episodes of South Park dealt with a Mormon family moving to town,” noted Mark Pinsky, author of “The Gospel According to Disney,” during a Beliefnet roundtable discussion on television and religion. “In less than half an hour, the show gave a history of the denomination that was both knowing and satiric. The conclusion was a knockout–the Mormon kid who was so badly treated lets fly. Yes, our Scriptures may seem wacky to you, he says, and maybe the Book of Mormon wasn’t discovered or written by Joseph Smith, but so what? My religion provides me with a stable loving family. Wow! And this from a potty-mouth cartoon!”

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If Hayes was offended by the Scientology-skewering episode, he should just come out and say so. But to say that he’s taking a stand for all people of faith after almost nine years with the show seems a bit disingenuous, especially after telling the New York Daily News in January 2006 that Matt and Trey are “equal-opportunity offenders. Don’t be offended by it. If you take it too seriously, you have problems,” according to E! Online.

Still, it’s nice to know that there’s someone willing to stand up for the “followers” of illusionist David Blaine, “Blaintologists,” as featured in “South Park” episode “Super Best Friends.”

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Focus on the Family: What “The Sopranos” & “Big Love” Have in Common

posted by ellen leventry

The long-awaited opener to the sixth season of “The Sopranos” started out more Beatnik than Bayonne. Viewers were treated to a surreal roundup of what’s happened since we last checked in the Sopranos, some 18 months ago, with William S. Burrough’s recitation of “The Western Lands”–as featured in the song “Seven Souls” by Material–guiding the editors’ cuts and splices.

In Ancient Egyptian mythology, souls traveled to the Western Lands to find eternal rest. Burroughs explains in the opening lines of his novel that each body possessed not just one, but seven souls. As each of these seven souls is described, corresponding Soprano souls–searching for their own rest, their own immortality–are reintroduced to the viewer.

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“Adriana was on screen while viewers learned about ‘the Shadow, Memory, your whole past conditioning from this and other lives,'” writes MSNBC.com’s Andy Denhart. “The Guardian Angel” was described as Meadow danced seductively in her underwear for fiancé Finn; Carmela was dreaming about Adriana as Burroughs described “The Double… the only reliable guide through the land of the dead”; and Janice and her new baby daughter were on screen as the narrator described “the Secret Name” who “directs the film of your life from conception to death.”

Slate.com’s Troy Patterson took a broader, less literal, view of Burrough’s narrative: “Perhaps the particulars of this view of the afterlife were less important than the timbre of Burroughs’ voice, a noise at once world-weary and otherworldly. Maybe this was meant as a lens for viewing the signs that followed in the episode–people wondering what would be possible if the underboss passed on; Tony’s telling his shrink that, were he losing his mind like Uncle Junior, he would hope for his family to euthanize him. Was this just a tip-off that the coming season–which makes room for Jesus, Buddha, theories of universal oneness, and meditations on Indian proverbs–will up the metaphysical ante?”

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In addition to the big numinous questions, there were other more subtle allusions to faith, such as Christopher’s devotion to AA and Vito’s zealous conversion to a healthy lifestyle.

From metaphysical to Mormons, viewers were introduced to the Soprano’s new neighbors last night, the Henricksons of “Big Love.” Bill Henrickson is a polygamist married to three wives–each with financial and physical needs all her own–with whom he has seven children, each with his or her own particluar needs. Meanwhile, Bill is trying to expand a successful hardware business while being “shaken down” by the religious leader of the rogue Mormon sect he grew up in. (While the Mormon church has outlawed polygamy for more than a century now, breakaway sects, which consider themselves Mormon, continue the practice. The Henricksons belong to such a group.) And, on top of all that, Bill’s trying to determine whether his mother has been attempting to kill his father by slipping him small doses of arsenic.

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You can be forgiven for thinking that Tony Soprano’s problems–multiple paramours, issues with his kids, difficulties with the family business, and family members killing each other–have simply been transported out West. Especially when it seems like the writers of the two shows are sharing notes: Tony tells A.J. at one point in Sunday’s episode that, “In the end, your friends are going to let you down. Family, they’re the ones you can depend on.” While Bill’s mother, Lois, similarly declares that only family will always love you.

What is interesting about both of these episodes is that family consumes the souls of both protagonists, even if they (especially Tony) don’t always live up to their own ideals, and both men head atypical families coping with some very typical problems. As Denhart points out, “Those seven souls inhabit [Tony]; his family is his very being.” The same could be said of Bill Henrickson, although, he has a few more family members to pack into his soul.

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