Idol Chatter

Idol Chatter

‘The Aristocrats’ Faithfully Transmits the Faith

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It may seem like a movie such as “The Aristocrats,” out this week on DVD, would hardly be fodder for a self-respecting spirituality blog like Idol Chatter, but My Friend the Rabbi offered up some wise insights about this film, which consists entirely of well-known comedians reciting their own versions of a raunchy joke–and trying to outdo each other in making the joke filthier and filthier. The joke always starts with the same opening and ends with the same punchline, but everything in between is up to the teller’s imagination (and those featured in the film have quite, um, vivid imaginations). It may not sound like the most promising premise for a feature film, and as I said, hardly the usual fare for spiritually-minded folks.

But My Friend the Rabbi points out that the movie really is depicting the transmission of a faith. Think about it: There is a a defined group, in this case professional comedians (who, the movie tells us, don’t generally tell this joke to audiences, instead reserving it for their own post-show, backstage sessions amongst themselves). And there is a text that is at once unchanging and in need of interpretation, a scripture of sorts that serves as a guide.

The joke always contains three sections–the standard opening, involving a family act and a talent scout who says he doesn’t represent family acts; a middle that is improvised, describing the raunchy act that the family performs for the scout; and a set punchline, in which the scout asks what the act is called and is told, “The Aristocrats.” This joke, which is not even funny in any inherent way, is dutifully passed on from generation to generation in the comedy world, with each generation adding its own layers of interpretation and seeing it through its own unique eyes. Why this joke? Tradition. It was the favorite of the iconic comedians of years past, men (and the occasional woman) who are worshipped by every comic who’s come along in years since. Where’d the joke come from? No one’s sure, but there may have been earlier, slightly different versions that spawned this one.

And should you see the movie and convert to Aristocratism or something like that? Well, only you can decide for yourself if you’ve got “The Aristocrats” in your heart.

Men in Black

posted by burb

There’s a people in this country clamoring for wholesome but engaging entertainment that speaks their language and addresses the concerns of their Scripture-based lifestyle. I refer, of course, to haredi Jews–the fervently observant, sometimes called ultra-Orthodox. At last, they are getting a movie of their own. Shot in Monsey–a New York ex-urb and one of the major hubs of Orthodox life–”A Gesheft” (“The Deal”) is said by its producers to be the first completely Yiddish-speaking movie to made in the United States since the once thriving Yiddish-language film industry collapsed some 60 years ago.

“We decided that religious Jews needed their own movies far from the dangerous influence of Hollywood,” explains a press release from Mendy and Yakov Kirsh, who make up Kosher Entertainment. What’s so kosher about it? Though full of drama, car-crashes, and lots of dudes in traditional black hats and topcoats, the movie has no women, out of respect for Orthodox rules restricting men from being entertained by the opposite sex. The unisex cast is not as striking, however, as the total dedication to the tongue of Eastern European Jewry: Even an African-American cop speaks his one line in Yiddish. The filmmakers are looking to make a tour of festivals later this year.

Kanye West’s God Complex

posted by ellen leventry

John Lennon declared the Beatles to be bigger than Jesus Christ, but at least they didn’t try to be Jesus Christ.

Kanye West, the multi-platinum selling rap artist and outspoken celebrity who criticized President Bush’s Katrina relief efforts last year, will grace the upcoming cover of Rolling Stone as Jesus Christ, complete with a crown of thorns atop his head–ensuring that he’ll be drumming up plenty of controversy in 2006.

To be fair to West, he’s not the first rapper to play God, in the person of his Son, Jesus. In 1999, Nas stirred up quite a bit of controversy playing a “Christ-like” figure who is crucified and stoned in his video for “Hate Me Now.” Mentor, producer, and collaborator Sean “Puffy/P. Diddy/Diddy” Combs is also shown being crucified. Apparently, Combs had second thoughts about his inclusion, the video was re-edited to remove the image–but the wrong version aired on MTV’s Total Request Live. Within minutes of the broadcast, Combs reportedly barged into the offices of Nas’s manager and beat him about the head with a champagne bottle. So much for turning the other cheek.

And on the cover of his posthumous release “Makaveli,” 2Pac (Tupac) Shakur is seen crucified like Jesus Christ, adding to conspiracy theorist speculation that the rapper isn’t actually dead.

But Kanye West’s Mel Gibson-like devotion doesn’t stop with his coverboy imitatio Christi. West, whose hit single “Jesus Walks” was prominently played in the “Jarhead” trailer, has a reproduction of the Sistine Chapel ceiling in his dining room, and has–with the help of Jacob the Jeweler, jeweler to the stars–designed a line of jewelry featuring diamond encrusted Jesus heads.

Still, West does his bit for ecumenicism, also posing for Rolling Stone as boxer Muhammad Ali, the world-famous convert to Islam.

‘The Closer’–And Why Confession Is Good for the Soul

posted by donna freitas

The promotional campaign last summer for TNT’s “The Closer,” a Law & Order-like crime-solving drama (but way, way quirkier), featured the show’s main character, Chief Brenda Johnson (played by Kyra Sedgwick), announcing: “Confession. It’s good for the soul.” For those of you who ignored her appeal and missed this excellent show, you have a second chance to tune in (and confess away): Season One of “The Closer” is re-running now on Tuesdays at 10 p.m., in preparation for Season Two, which starts this summer.

I happened to catch the pilot episode in June and was immediately addicted to Chief Johnson’s humor, no-nonsense crime-solving style, and Southern charm, as well as the show’s totally engrossing stories. And as I kept tuning in, week after week, to see what cases came across Chief Johnson’s desk, I couldn’t help but notice, during the commercials, how TNT was using Chief Johnson’s trademark style–sweet talking the suspect into spilling the beans–as a means to lure viewers into watching this confession-centered drama. Time after time, Chief Johnson would appear on screen to advertise “The Closer” and announce in her syrupy Southern drawl that confession is “good for the soul.” And every time she said those words, I thought about the paradox this set up. In Christianity, confessing is literally a means of soul-cleansing and a way of gaining God’s forgiveness–truth-telling your way to liberation–but on the show and in Chief Brenda Johnson’s mind, confession might indeed make you feel better, but it will inevitably land you in the not-so-forgiving slammer.

All paradoxes aside, it’s a fantastic show. Give it a chance.

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