Tag: Popular Culture and Media

Inspired Jeopardy

We would be remiss if we didn’t tip our collective hat to Ken Jennings, who is setting records on the Jeopardy game show. Many of the news stories about Jennings discuss tithing or his Church affiliation generally. My favorite is this spoof: According to a source within the Mormon church, a team of investigators have started looking into the life of this bright young husband and father of one…. “This is bad, real bad,” our source said. “Mormons do best when they are flying under the radar. At our core we are a fragile, shallow religion. One tremor like this game show thing could make us implode.” Our source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a fact finding inquest has quietly begun on the Jeopardy champ. “We’ve started to look into this Jennings fellow and we want to know how he slipped into Mormonism in the first place. He obviously is quite intelligent and we normally don’t go…

Boredom

I recently returned from a teaching stint in Europe, and this morning I was thinking about a small incident that prompted some Gospel-related thoughts … not about war. Two of my children and I were traveling from Bath to London, and we decided to take the scenic route, which allowed us to stop at Stonehenge on the way. We were all quite enamored with the ancient structure, which I found oddly inspiring. My children (ages 10 and 8) listened intently to their self-guided tour recordings and asked interesting questions. They were genuinely engaged.

Facial Hair

Dan Burke speculated, tongue in cheek, on the purpose of the church’s policies against facial hair stemming from a desire to protect members against archetypal authority figures, but the most likely reason for the policy is fashion cycles: the church’s historical acceptance of facial hair perfectly tracks the American fashion trend.

Painting the Town Red

Are police really bringing felony charges against Utah players who (gasp!) painted the BYU “Y” red prior to a game? Apparently they are. This sounds like a terrible overreaction to me. If the news story is correct, someone (a BYU alum?) believes it proper to bring charges against these college kids, that could subject the nefarious Y-painters to up to 15 years in prison. Of course, some punishment for the painters may be appropriate. Perhaps they should have to repaint (under supervision) a few Y buildings that are in need of a new paint job — these kids certainly know how to paint! It also may be proper to make them pay for the repainting costs of the letter. I’m sure that there are other potential punishments that would fit the infraction. But it seems clear that felony charges do not fit the infraction here.

Why Won’t They Call it ‘Partial-Birth Abortion’?

Though the act of aborting a partially-born baby is logically called ‘partial-birth abortion,’ the media refuse to use the term when describing the act. Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby explains why. Yes, he thinks the fact that 97% of editors and journalists at major newsrooms identify themselves as being pro-choice is a factor. Jacoby doesn’t address this point, but most press reports of the clash over abortion refer to one side as “abortion rights” activists or groups, and to the other as “opposed to abortion rights” or “anti-abortion.” Because the media has decided to avoid the terms ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ because of their ambiguity, pro-lifers would be wise to call themselves “fetal rights groups.” It’s better to be known what you are for — fetal rights — than what you are against — abortion. And in the case of ‘fetal rights’, the media would have no justification to avoid calling a fetal rights group a fetal rights group.

Blogaholics?

There’s a fun article in yesterday’s New York Times about bloggers. It has some nice observations. Such as: Blogging is a pastime for many, even a livelihood for a few. For some, it becomes an obsession. Such bloggers often feel compelled to write several times daily and feel anxious if they don’t keep up. As they spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends and jobs. They blog at home, at work and on the road. Yikes! I hope I don’t meet that description, at least not too well. (He says as he takes a moment’s break from working to blog). And perhaps the best lines of the article: Sometimes, too, the realization that no one is reading sets in. A few blogs have thousands of readers, but never have so many people written so much to be read by so few. By Jupiter Research’s estimate, only 4 percent of online users read blogs. Indeed, if a…

The Media

Recent comments elsewhere have discussed the question of the media: Whether it is reporting properly, whether it is politically impartial, and whether the answers to those questions are a problem. There is clearly a diversity of opinion among T & S readers on these topics. This thread is everyone’s chance to air their views about the media. However, I really don’t want this to become a mudfight. And, it has been my observation that people are (more so than usual) willing to speak without support on this topic. So, for this thread alone, I’m asking for an added set of comment procedures to be followed. The usual set of comment policies applies. (No personal attacks and so forth, see here for details). In addition to the usual rules, I would like to keep out broad, unsupported stand-alone statements — “The New York Times always publishes anti-American articles” or “Rush Limbaugh always makes incorrect statements” or “The media always . .…

Sensible Kobe Bryant Commentary

I’ve been hearing and reading about what a great player Kobe Bryant is, since he is putting up good basketball numbers while also defending himself at trial. I haven’t been particularly impressed with that feat. And I just noticed an ESPN column by writer Jason Whitlock that is more in line with my own feelings. He writes: “As good as [Kobe] played Tuesday, just think: If the idiot hadn’t stepped out on his wife and slept with a teenage woman he didn’t know, he might have been even better Tuesday night. . . . These are the dangers of a high-profile, married man sleeping with a teenager he’s only known for 30 minutes.” I agree. Writers should not be making this man out to be a hero because he is being forced defend himself from rape allegations — a position he is in only because he either made a horrendous decision (rape) or merely a very bad decision (“mere” adultery).…

Mormons Leading the Way to a “New Dark Age”?

Darren Roulstone was kind enough to pass along a pointer to an article in the most recent issue of Fortune, which lies unread on my nightstand. The article — entitled “Which Nations Will Go Forth and Multiply?” — is adapted from Phillip Longman’s book The Empty Cradle. The main thrust of the article is that declining fertility rates bring lots of benefits, along with some risks for the future. Longman describes the worst-case scenario as follows: Even more sobering are the implications for modern civilization’s values. As urbanization and globalization continue to create a human environment in which children become costly impediments to material success, people who are well adapted to this environment will tend not to reproduce…So where will the children of the future come from? Increasingly they will come from people who are at odds with the modern world–who either ‘don’t get’ the new rules of the game…or who believe they are (or who in fact are) commanded…

The Passion at week seven

The Passion of the Christ was released seven weeks ago today. In that time it has become: # 8 highest grossing movie of all time # 1 highest grossing February release of all time # 1 highest grossing non-English movie of all time # 1 highest grossing February weekend # 1 highest grossing R-rated movie of all time # 2 highest grossing 7th weekend By next week it will have overtaken Jurassic Park for the seventh spot on the all-time list.

Chariots of Fire

This morning in Seminary, I showed my students some clips from Chariots of Fire. We have been studying Isaiah, and I love the scene where Eric Liddell is preaching to a congregation in Paris while taking Sunday off from the 1924 Olympics. (Do they understand what he is saying with his Scottish accent?). During that scene, interposed with images of athletes stuggling to compete in slow motion to the haunting music by Vangelis, Liddell quotes from Isaiah 40:29-31: He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Is Religion Offensive to Non-believers?

This from Richard John Neuhaus at First Things (scroll way down): [A] recent national survey asked administrators and students about the First Amendment. Only 21 percent of administrators and 30 percent of students knew that the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom. Only six percent of administrators and two percent of students knew that religious freedom is the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment. Only 41 percent of administrators and 32 percent of students believe that religious people should be permitted to advocate their views by whatever legal means available. On the other hand, 74 percent of students and 87 percent of administrators think it ?essential? that people be able to express their beliefs unless?and then come a host of qualifications, all amounting to the condition that their beliefs not ?offend others.?

CES on The Passion

I received an email from my CES coordinator today. Attached to the email was a letter from the CES Administrators’ Council about The Passion. It reads: We have received questions about Mel Gibson?s new movie, ?The Passion of the Christ.? The Church has not made an official statement regarding the movie. We have been given the pamphlet, For the Strength of Youth: Fulfilling Our Duty to God. We should encourage the youth to follow the standards explained in the pamphlet, including those regarding movies. Also, it would not be profitable to spend class time discussing the pros and cons of attending it. If students seem confused and want further guidance, please encourage them to talk with their parents and priesthood leaders. CES personnel, however, should refrain from taking a particular stance on specific movies when the Church has made no official statement. The Church is in a tough position on issues like this, and asking CES personnel to refrain from…

March Madness

Earlier tonight the NCAA announced the men’s basketball tournament bracket, and BYU barely made the field for the second year in a row. Also for the second year in a row, BYU will be playing the defending national champion, though most “experts” give BYU a better chance this year against Syracuse than they had last year against Connecticut (which was a fairly close game, by the way). Some of my best memories from my time at BYU are connected to sports, but I will confess to being surprised when Merrill Bateman, then President of BYU and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, placed such a heavy emphasis on BYU sports. This excerpt from an article written by Greg Call’s brother portray’s Bateman’s attitude toward BYU sports: “Cougar sports play a vital role in furthering the mission of both the school and its sponsoring institution, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Bateman said it’s essential that…

The Filmody of the Latter-Gays

Having bled dry the secular culture, filmmakers have had to find new wine to fill the old bottle of liberating oneself from convention. They’ve found a homegrown subculture juicy enough to do it. Transgressively moral Mormon, I present you to yourself. You’re the wine. An alert reader ran across a film called Latter Days and suspected it might have something to do with, well, us. As this sympathetic article shows, it does.

Reality TV, Morals and Marriage

I just read an article in the March 2004 issue of Harper’s Magazine by Francine Prose titled, “Voting Deomcracy Off The Island: Reality TV and the Republican Ethos.” It’s a rather long, impassioned exploration of the messages and influence of reality tv programs that I found quite disturbing, especially given the popularity, growth, and perceived innocuousness of such programs. She notes incentives for deceit and dishonesty; institutionalized deceit on the part of producers; cruelty and humor at the expense of others; “morality as an albatross or obstacle” to success; that “every human being can and will do anything for money” [italics hers]; and the reduction of marriage to seduction and consumerist spectacle. [Note: Prose doesn’t, I feel, make her case that these values are intrinsically Republican. Corporate, yes. Republican, not really. GOP’ers can safely read it while on the train driving their Hummers. ;) ] I never watch reality tv, or more accurately, “reality tv,” and didn’t know who Ryan…

More on the Passion

Greg Easterbrook has a great comparison of Gibson’s Passion with Frano Zepherelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. I am a huge Zepherelli fan and I quite liked Jesus of Nazareth, although I haven’t seen The Passion. Easterbrook’s conclusion is that the Zepherelli’s is a better movie because it has more narrative and characterization and sticks more closely to the Gospels. Easterbrook writes,”The Christ story is among the most compelling ever told, yet directors can’t resist adding invented characters who are unnecessary.” The same can be said of the Church’s recent film Testaments, which is supposedly about the Book of Mormon, but as near as I can tell does not contain a single Book of Mormon character or story.

“Good Books”

How are we to understand the injunction to “study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people”? More to the point, how do we choose the books we will or will not read? This post was inspired by The Da Vinci Code, which I have been reading with my wife. One of my vices is that I love a well-written mystery. While this book has occasional moments of suspense, Dan Brown is a clumsy writer who makes the story as tedious as it is implausible. But I am not here to do a book review. Instead, reading this book has prompted some thoughts about the nature of “good books.”

Priorities

According to the Lycos 50, which tracks internet usage, the unfortunate incident in the Super Bowl halftime (involving Janet Jackson and some very poor sartorial decisions) may have set a record for the most-searched event in internet history. Janet beat several other high-search events, garnering, for example, five times as many web searches as the Columbia explosion. Apparently the only possible contender for most-searched event is September 11. The calculation is tricky, but in the aggregate, the events appear to have generated about equivalent search traffic. Aaron Schatz writes on Lycos 50: “Prior to this week, the most-searched event in the history of the Lycos 50 over a one-day period was the September 11 attack on America. Although it is very difficult to compare searches for the two events, it looks like the Super Bowl halftime show was the equal of September 11 when it comes to Internet attention. That is, to put it bluntly, mind-blowing.” Yes, it is.

The Greatest Film of All Time

I’ve felt rather guilty about not posting more during my guest stint here. My e-mail has been on the fritz, I have been out of town, and . . . Well, anyway, even though it’s really late at the moment, I simply have to post something to salve my conscience.

The Iago Problem

A while ago we had some discussion about a popular question among church members: why there are not more great LDS writers, more “Mormon Shakespeares.” Various ideas were suggested, among them that church callings take up too much time for a nascent Mormon Shakespeare to begin filling up her folios. Let me articulate another reason, hinted at (but not explicitly discussed) in the earlier thread: Church members have an Iago Problem. We are generally incapable of creating believable truly evil characters. We just don’t have the skill set to breathe life into an Iago. And without Iago, there can be no Shakespeare.

God and the Movies

Larry Ribstein, a corporate law professor at the University of Illinois, has an interesting blog on the treatment of business in the movies. He argues, among other things, that the generally negative portrayal of business is in film does not reflect some ideological bias against commerce. Rather, it is a reflection of the tension between the “creative types” who make movies and the studio executives who control them. I wonder if there is not a similar economic explanation for the generally poor treatment of religion in the movies.

Deconstructing Babar

As a child, I remember much enjoying the story of The Story of Babar the Elephant by Jean de Brunhoff, so I gave it to my son as Christmas present. Reading it to him, I have been struck by what very strange – very French – story it is.

What’s wrong with this picture

Last night Cirila and I got a babysitter and went out to celebrate our anniversary. After dinner and dessert we ended up in our local Barnes and Noble, enjoying the chance to browse without our two year old demanding that we purchase those Matchbox car “books”. Anyway, I was somewhat surprised to see what books made up B&N’s LDS section.

That Smile

Have you seen “The Mona Lisa Smile?” I loved it. Not only was it at my beloved Alma Mater, the most beautiful campus in the U.S., but showed it when I was there. Long, long ago. Not everyone loved the film. My classmates are planning to sue the producers for devaluing their education. But it was accurate in spirit if not in detail.

Famous Mormons

Practically every church member I know likes to talk about famous Mormons. Of course, there aren’t a lot, and my experience has been once the discussion gets past a few well-known members — Steve Young, Orson Scott Card, Dale Murphy, Shawn Bradley, Danny Ainge, Donny & Marie — the conversation tends to skew towards the “I heard that xx was Mormon too!” direction. However, I just noticed (via Rachel Woods About.com LDS) a web site that lists famous Mormons. How cool is that?