Idol Chatter

The poor Anti-Defamation League. The champions of tolerance–sworn especially to fight anti-Semitism–have been reduced by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen to fretting in a press release that the cute, totally ironic anti-Semitic digs in Cohen’s new movie, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” might be “too sophisticated for the average moviegoer.”

In the movie, Cohen plays Borat, a Kazakhstani ignoramus on a documentary tour of the United States. The setup lets Borat to take satirical pokes at American life, while also lampooning the benightedness of what might be termed either New Europe or Old Middle Asia. In Borat’s Kazakhstan, women are property, horses have the vote, and every bit of hard luck is blamed on a Jewish conspiracy. In one publicity gag for the movie, Borat suggested the Kazakhstan government “sue the Jew” who erected a website in the .kz domain advertising the movie. The Jew in question is Cohen himself.

Funny, right? If you have misgivings, leave them at the door. The twisty power of irony is that it turns its critics into humorless, irrelevant drudges the moment they take the ironist to task. The Kazakhstani government, who took down the website, looked ridiculous stating, for the record, that rape is not condoned within its borders. Trying to avoid that trap, the ADL is choosing to, in the words of the blogger Wonkette, “teach comedy to Americans.” Those who see the film, says the ADL, need to understand that it aims to “unmask the absurd and irrational side of anti-Semitism and other phobias born of ignorance and fear.”

Or maybe the ADL is indulging in a little irony of its own. The average American moviegoer, of course, is a teenager, who already gets that bigotry is born of ignorance and fear–tolerance has been drummed into our teens since they were preschoolers–but teens will also get immediately the brute power of brandishing the word “Jew,” and how Cohen plays it for laughs. The average moviegoer, in other words, is plenty sophisticated enough to mimic Cohen’s multilayered humor. Fans of the Borat movie will likely be unmasking the irrational side of anti-Semitism for the rest of their lives.

We have a new Superfriend!

In The New York Times last weekend, columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote about Muslim feminism (yes, there is such a thing, and Muslim feminism has many followers). What really caught my eye as intriguing, though, was his mention of Rima Khoreibi, who is “an author from Dubai who wrote a children’s book about an Islamic superhero who is female–Iman, a teenage girl with a cape, head scarf and deep religious convictions.” The book is called “The Adventures of Iman,” and a sequel is due out in December.

A little bit about Iman (from Khoreibi):

Iman is a young, heroic Muslim teen age girl who loves to help those who are in trouble. She has very strong faith in Allah, or God, and when she prays for His help she feels her strength turn into super powers! Iman knows right from wrong, and she always quotes the Koran to explain to others that Islam is a great religion that expects Muslims to be tolerant, kind, righteous, and non-judgmental.

And she wears pink!

Iman always makes sure she has her pretty pink scarf around her neck at all times. She uses the scarf to cover her hair when she is praying to Allah. Iman knows how important and precious it is to have a special bond with Allah. Allah helps anyone who calls His name! Iman also wears a necklace with a pendant that she never takes off. On the beautiful pendant is written “Allah”. When Iman needs Allah’s protection she holds the pendant and says “bism-Illah”, which means “in the name of God.” The pendant then turns into a big shield to protect her from any harm.Iman is a girl who is smart, beautiful, athletic, and friendly and most of all her love and belief in Allah is what makes her the special girl she is.

And, Iman (well, Khoreibi) has a website, too: Check it out!

It’s pretty early in the new television to be speculating about which series will be cancelled, but after only two weeks on the air, the football drama “Friday Night Lights” already might be in danger. The show, which follows the challenges and triumphs of the fictional Dillon Panther football team, has received stellar reviews but has garnered less-than-impressive ratings so far, causing fans such as myself to worry that the Panthers season may be cut short.

I knew “Friday Night Lights” would be a tough sell because, historically speaking, sports dramas have never done well on TV no matter how well done they are. (Remember “The White Shadow,” anyone?) But “Lights” deserves a chance not only for its authentic examination of athletics but also for its intelligent treatment of faith in rural America. The characters in “Lights” attend church or stop in the middle of a task to offer a prayer in a way that demonstrates faith as a natural, integral part of living. They face real problems and have genuine doubts that we all can identify with yet they never lose hope.

And while I am a fan of the show, there are other critics even more fervent in their support of this show. Writer Frazier Moore wrote a commentary for the Associated Press in which he called “Lights” nothing less than the heir apparent to “The West Wing.” He gives a slight dis to Sorkin’s “Studio 60” and then proclaims that he thinks “the spiritual successor to ‘The West Wing’ is ‘Friday Night Lights,’ whose coach bears the grass-roots equivalent of the burden once borne by President Bartlet: a constituency telling him how to do his job while he fights to stay true to his own vision.

So here is my challenge to Idol Chatter readers: If you haven’t given “Lights” a try, watch tonight’s episode (NBC, 8:00 p.m.). What do you have to loose? “Gilmore Girls”–which airs at the same time–has, sadly, become a pale imitation of its former self. And no one needs to waste time and energy watching a bunch of D-List stars doing the cha-cha over on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” Instead, take a trip to Texas. You might be surprised at what you find there. And Coach Taylor and the rest of his team sure would appreciate your support.

I’ve written here before that Harriet Hayes, the evangelical Christian character on “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” is a credible Christian character. It’s a claim I’ve defended to evangelical viewers who think she’s just an excuse for writer Aaron Sorkin to say that he’s presented a balanced view of American Christianity–so he can otherwise focus on the crazy Christians oft-mentioned in the show.

Well, last night’s episode scored a point for the Harriet-is-an-evangelical-fraud crowd. As Harriet was being grilled by a reporter, Martha, on what lines she’d cross for the sake of entertainment, we heard this exchange:

Martha: Would you have a problem doing a sketch about premarital sex?

Harriet: I don’t have a problem having premarital sex! It might be the only sex I ever have.

Premarital sex is verboten among evangelicals, so there’s definitely a problem with this characterization of Harriet. It’s not that evangelicals never have premarital sex; it’s that they wouldn’t be so flippant about it. Harriet does acknowledge that she’s hit taboo territory (“I just gave you your pull quote,” she admits to Martha), but her tone does not seem equal to what evangelicals generally believe about sex before marriage.

I’m tempted here to evaulate the rest of the conversation between Harriet and Martha, which was largely about Harriet’s faith and which was largely true to the form of evangelical culture and belief. But I’d rather leave it alone–after all, I’m mostly hoping that Sorkin creates a credible character, not a credible type. Five episodes in, it’s too early to tell for sure whether Harriet will be credible as either.

In any event, the key moment in last night’s episode came not during the Harriet-Martha exchange, but during the Harriet-Matt exchange, which took place on the balcony outside Matt’s office as Sting performed “Fields of Gold” on the stage below. It was tender and affecting, and I realized that this love story really is the show’s singular stroke of genius (five episodes in): In 2006, no lovers could be more star-crossed than those living on opposite sides of our cultural divide.

“Studio 60” might be a “Romeo and Juliet” for an America divided into Red and Blue states. Especially in Sorkinland, where political affiliations are one’s deepest and most significant commitments, it’s remarkable to imagine a romantic bridge across America’s political-cultural gulf.

Reading the story this way reminds us that Red-Blue America has become the stuff of myth. Like all myths, Red-Blue America is more useful as an explanation of ideology than of reality: It gets the broad strokes right but can’t acccount for details. And like all myths, Red-Blue America is tough to overcome, which is why we need fiction to do it for us.

So I’ll be cheering for Harriet and Matt. And hoping they don’t come to a Shakespearean demise.