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America’s fascination with extreme family living has led to reality shows about very little people and very big families. The latest is TLC’s “Sister Wives,” about a real-life fundamentalist Mormon polygamous family living in Utah. We meed Kody and his three wives, legal wife Meri and Janelle and Christine, who consider themselves equally fully married. The house, designed by a “plig” (polygamous) architect is helpfully shown to the audience via diagrams. It has separate apartments for the three women, and each has her own kitchen. Apparently, it is easier to share a man than an oven. Two of the women work and the third, who is pregnant with the family’s 13th child, is the house-wife. And things get even more complicated very quickly as it turns out that for the first time in more than 16 years, Daddy is dating again. He is thinking of marrying wife number four, who comes with her own three children.

It is a remarkably likable family, far easier to imagine as your next-door neighbors than the more glamorous and dysfunctional fictional counterparts on HBO’s “Big Love.” They all laugh easily and often and the children all seem happy, healthy, confident, and well cared for. The house is immaculate. The biggest problem the family may face is the one that comes as a consequence of the increased visibility of the show itself; they are now being investigated for breaking the laws against bigamy. Stay tuned.

The US Religious Knowledge Survey, released Tuesday from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, found that Americans are more willing to say that they are religious than they are willing to learn about the history and beliefs of their religion. The highest scorers were the non-believers and the Jews. The survey asked for a fairly wide range of knowledge of different religious practices and beliefs and included two questions about what teachers can and cannot do under the terms of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.
A new series on PBS can help American understand religion and its role in our culture For the first time on television, God in America, a presentation of “American Experience” and “Frontline,” will explore the historical role of religion in the public life of the United States. The six-hour series, which interweaves documentary footage, historical dramatization and interviews with religious historians, will air over three consecutive nights on PBS beginning Oct. 11, 2010.
To extend the reach of the series beyond the television screen, God in America has formed strategic partnerships with The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, The Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, the Fetzer Institute, Sacred Space International and other organizations. An integrated multimedia campaign set to launch six months prior to broadcast will include community engagement activities, media events and a comprehensive God in America Web site. The campaign will deepen public understanding of religion and spiritual experience in the life of the nation by encouraging the public to explore the history of their own religious communities and their individual spiritual journeys.

Arthur Penn, director of hugely influential films that helped bring a new naturalism to movies, died today at age 88. “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Alice’s Restaurant,” both based on true stories, were very different in look and genre but both had a refreshing sensitivity to the way people talk to each other.

And in this scene from “The Miracle Worker,” watch how Penn makes this classic moment seem intimate, fresh, and very real.

hermionegrangerfacebook.jpgMy friend Dan Kois has created social media for the students at Hogwarts for New York Magazine’s Vulture blog and it is one of my favorite kinds of funny — not snarky but imbued with a deep knowledge of and affection for the underlying material — including the conventions and culture of social media as well as the Potter books. If you are a Potterphile, you have to take a look. Wait until you see what Peeves has done to Ron’s FB page!

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