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Deja vu all over again: BBC does another fun cathedrals story that skips somber facts (again)

Deja vu all over again: BBC does another fun cathedrals story that skips somber facts (again)

So here is the journalism question for today: Is the implosion of the Church of England, especially in terms of worship attendance, so common knowledge that it doesn’t even need to be mentioned in a news story linked to this topic?

It was news when attendance slid under 1 million, earlier this decade. Then the numbers kept falling. Here’s a Guardian report from a year or so ago. The big statistic reported in 2018 was that Sunday attendance was down to “722,000 — 18,000 fewer than in 2016.”

The story I want to look at did not run on a small website or in a niche-market newspaper. It was produced by the BBC, one of the top two or three most important news organizations on the planet.

Maybe this subject is too bleak to be mentioned in what is clearly meant to be a fun story? Here’s the headline on this long feature: “Why are cathedrals hosting helter-skelters and golf courses?” And the overture:

From giant models of Earth and the Moon to a helter-skelter and crazy golf course, cathedrals are increasingly playing host to large artworks and attractions. Why are buildings built for worship being used in the pursuit of fun?

Cathedrals might traditionally be viewed as hallowed places meant for sombre reflection and hushed reverence.

Vast, vaulted ceilings soar high over whispering huddles of wide-eyed tourists as robed wardens patrol the pews to silence anything that could detract from the sanctity of worship.

But cathedral chiefs across the country have been keen to shake free from the shushing stereotype.

Let’s see. There is a glimpse of the “why?” in this story. Why are these Anglican leaders so intent on opening the doors to let people have some fun of this kind?

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Eric Alterman celebrates Bruce Springsteen as 'Jew-ish' in The Atlantic

Eric Alterman celebrates Bruce Springsteen as 'Jew-ish' in The Atlantic

On occasion at GetReligion, an essay crosses the threshold that evokes no disappointment or sense of incompletion. Eric Alterman — who writes an always provocative column for The Nation on why the mass media are too corporate, too conformist, too conservative — takes a different turn in “Bruce Springsteen Is Jew-ish,” posted Oct. 1 at The Atlantic.

The hyphen in the headline is not a mistake but a wry concession: Alterman does not argue that Springsteen, a son of 20th-century Catholicism in America, is really a Jew. The point is that he is a cultural ally who draws from Jewish scripture and history. 

Alterman’s essay is adapted from “Long Walk Home: Reflections on Bruce Springsteen” (Rutgers University Press), which also includes contributions by Martyn Joseph, Greil Marcus, Richard Russo and A.O. Scott.

This sort of writing may be familiar to journalists who take their faith and their rock music seriously. Back in the mid-1980s, I devoted a lot of time to landing an interview with a graduate student at DePaul University who was one of the first to observe Catholicism’s presence in Springsteen’s writing. A famous sociologist, novelist and priest — the Rev. Andrew Greeley — later wrote of Springsteen’s Catholic imagination, and the singer made his divided feelings about Catholicism more explicit in “Springsteen on Broadway.”

To his credit, Alterman acknowledges the uphill nature of his argument straight away:

Bruce Springsteen is the son of Catholic parents and grandparents. There is no ambiguity on this point. And yet, in much the same way that New York football fans have casually annexed the stadium across the river to root for what they like to pretend is their “home” team, some Jewish Springsteen fans are devoted to proving that New Jersey’s favorite Irish Italian son is, if not actually Jewish, nevertheless somehow Jew-ish. Perhaps you thought young Bruce was mostly singing about cars, girls, and getting the hell out of town before he switched gears to focus on the dignity of working folk, the broken promises of the American dream, and more cars and girls. But amid the empty factories, crowded barstools, and swimming holes that constitute the foundation of the Springsteen oeuvre, some detect a whiff of the Chosen.

What’s most refreshing in this piece by a pundit of the political left, writing about a musician of the political left, is the minimal degree of politics used when making this argument.

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'Planned Parenthood's secret weapon' profile in WPost magazine needs a counterpoint

'Planned Parenthood's secret weapon' profile in WPost magazine needs a counterpoint

I’ve written 15 stories for either the Washington Post Magazine or the newspaper’s Style section, most of which have been lengthy features highlighting an interesting individual. I know a little bit of what goes into choosing a topic for such prominent placement.

Let’s just say that a lot of thought goes into it.

So, I’m not complaining about the magazine featuring Planned Parenthood’s arts and entertainment director and her huge influence on how abortion is portrayed in Hollywood. What I gripe about is the absence of a similar several-thousand-word piece featuring an articulate woman on the opposite side of the issue.

Where’s the magazine piece on Abby Johnson, the heroine of the recent movie “Unplanned” and the Texas activist who left Planned Parenthood to now work against them? It’s not there.

Or Kristan Hawkins, an evangelical-turned-Catholic convert who turned Students for Life from a tiny group into an organization with 1,200 chapters in 50 states; who has four kids, two of whom have cystic fibrosis? She lives in DC’s Virginia suburbs, probably a mere hour’s drive from the Post’s downtown office.

So, let’s delve into this paean to Planned Parenthood’s “woman in Hollywood.”

It’s 10 a.m. on a Tuesday at Planned Parenthood’s New York headquarters, and I’m watching TV. Specifically, I’m watching a series of scenes clipped from movies and TV shows, all of which have two things in common: The woman beside me, Caren Spruch, had a hand in them, and each one features an abortion…

Spruch is the rare person in the abortion rights movement for whom the past few years represent a long-awaited breakthrough in addition to a series of terrifying setbacks. She’s Planned Parenthood’s woman in Hollywood — or, in official terms, its director of arts and entertainment engagement. She encourages screenwriters to tell stories about abortion and works as a script doctor for those who do (as well as those who write about any other area of Planned Parenthood’s expertise, such as birth control or sexually transmitted infections). It’s a role she slipped into sideways, but one that now seems to be increasingly welcome in Hollywood.

In the past year or two, word of Spruch’s services has started to filter through the film industry. “Nobody used to call me,” she says. “I would be watching TV and going to the movies and figuring out who I thought might be open to including these story lines. Now I have a couple of repeat clients. Now people call me.” She estimates that Planned Parenthood has advised on more than 150 movies and shows since that first effort with “Obvious Child.” Writers who have relied on her advice tell me they feel a secret kinship with one another. “We could see hints of her in all the TV shows coming out, from ‘Shrill’ to ‘Jane the Virgin,’ ” says Gillian Robespierre, writer-director of “Obvious Child.” “It’s really wonderful. She’s like Planned Parenthood’s secret weapon.”

In case you’re not familiar with “Obvious Child,” a trailer is included atop this post.

Spruch is a behind-the-scenes kind of person, so much so that I couldn’t find her listed on Planned Parenthood’s main site. Her LInkedIn profile tells nothing of her past. I’m curious what Spruch gets paid for all this work, but the article doesn’t say. There’s very little bio about the woman herself.

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What a world we live in: 'Reality Criticized For Not More Clearly Distinguishing Itself From Satire'

What a world we live in: 'Reality Criticized For Not More Clearly Distinguishing Itself From Satire'

During this week’s “Crossroads” podcast — click here to tune that in — host Todd Wilken and I talked about the ongoing war between The Babylon Bee, a conservative Christian news satire site, and the progressive fact checker squad at Snopes.com.

Oh, and as often happens in discussions of religion and public life, the threat that (trigger warning) Chick-fil-A seems to pose to American civilization ended up in the mix.

Here’s a typical question from the discussion: Is it satire to satirize contemporary satire by pretending to think that the satire is actual real news?

Or something like that.

The bottom line is that real news is starting to sound like satire. As the Bee said the other day: “Reality Criticized For Not More Clearly Distinguishing Itself From Satire.” At the same time, lots of satire is starting to sound like subtle (or not so subtle) forms of real — or some would say “fake” — news. Take the top of this New Yorker piece for example:

Customers across the nation who turned out for Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day were in for a surprise, as the chicken restaurant chose today to launch a new product, Hate Sauce.

Delighted customers mobbed the restaurants to try the zesty new sauce, with many chicken fanciers ordering their sandwiches with extra hate. “It’s so spicy it makes your mouth feel like it’s on fire — like a gay couple in hell,” said Harland Dorrinson, who sampled the sauce at a Chick-fil-A in Orlando.

That’s pretty blunt and, thus, it’s easy to assume that it’s satire (which it is).

But how about the quotes in the following story about a Chick-fil-A war at the University of Kansas?

“KU granted Chick-fil-A, a bastion of bigotry, a prime retail location in the heart of our campus,” KU’s Sexuality & Gender Diversity Faculty and Staff Council said in a letter sent this week to Chancellor Doug Girod, the provost’s office and the athletic department.

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Is 'Queer Eye' more Christian than most Christians? Some folks say yes

Is 'Queer Eye' more Christian than most Christians? Some folks say yes

The last time I wrote about “Queer Eye for a Straight Guy” had to do with their lone Muslim cast member and what might be his fate were he living in a majority Muslim society.

Since then, the show has become simply “Queer Eye,” a Netflix reboot and a “spiritual” icon for today’s America. Several media have taken up the idea that the gay quintet’s accepting and gracious demeanor is very much like what Jesus might look like if he was here. At the current rate, these guys are going to outdo Oprah in the spiritual force department.

This recent New York Times piece by Amanda Hess piece notes that the show’s makeovers, redecorating and shopping have become the new chic form of expressing repentance and beginning a new life. Born again?

Every episode is the same. Five queer experts in various aesthetic practices conspire to make over some helpless individual. Tan France (fashion) teaches him to tuck the front of his shirt into his pants; Bobby Berk (design) paints his walls black and plants a fiddle-leaf fig; Antoni Porowski (food) shows him how to cut an avocado; Jonathan Van Ness (grooming) shouts personal affirmations while shaping his beard; and Karamo Brown (“culture”) stages some kind of trust-building exercise that doubles as an amateur therapy session. Then, they retreat to a chic loft, pass around celebratory cocktails and watch a video of their subject attempting to maintain his new and superior lifestyle. The makeover squad cries, and if you are human, you cry too.

Van Ness, by the way, with his long brown hair and beard, is a dead ringer for many of the cinematic depictions of Christ over the past 50 years.

The reporter then packs a masterful punch in What It All Means.

Because “Queer Eye” is not just a makeover. As its gurus lead the men (and occasionally, women) in dabbing on eye cream, selecting West Elm furniture, preparing squid-ink risotto and acquiring gym memberships, they are building the metaphorical framework for an internal transformation. Their salves penetrate the skin barrier to soothe loneliness, anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, absentee parenting and hoarding tendencies. The makeover is styled as an almost spiritual conversion. It’s the meaning of life as divined through upgraded consumer choices.

Hess’ article is dripping with spiritual lingo and is a delight to read.

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Bob the Journalist has the scoop: 'VeggieTales' is coming back (for those wondering, it did leave)

Bob the Journalist has the scoop: 'VeggieTales' is coming back (for those wondering, it did leave)

“Are you watching VeggieTales?” asked my wife, sounding surprised as cartoon vegetables sang in our living room.

“I’m watching the trailer,” I said. “It’s coming back.”

“Did it ever leave?” she replied.

For those wondering — including parents such as my wife and me whose now-grown children were raised on Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber and friends — actually it did leave.

Bob (the journalist, not the tomato) has the intriguing, behind-the-scenes story for Religion News Service.

Before I get much deeper into this post, I should point out that I have a history with this story. Back in 2002, while serving as religion editor for The Oklahoman, I interviewed Mike Nawrocki, the squeaky voice of Larry the Cucumber and a co-creator of “VeggieTales" and Big Idea Productions.

I asked hard-hitting questions befitting a serious journalist, as I noted at the time:

For example, my first question: "Can you please sing me a Silly Song?"

"I'm taking requests," Nawrocki joked.

Wonderful! How about "The Water Buffalo Song," "The Hairbrush Song" and "I Love My Lips?"

I also pried into Nawrocki's eating habits. "I'm a big vegetable fan, as long as they're not talking," he told me.

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Yo, MSM: Anyone planning to stalk Jesusland religion ghosts lurking in 'The Hunt' movie?

Yo, MSM: Anyone planning to stalk Jesusland religion ghosts lurking in 'The Hunt' movie?

What a country we live in, these days. If you have been following the controversy surrounding the now-delayed movie “The Hunt,” you know that this is — according to mainstream media reports — yet another controversy about politics, anger, guns, violence and America’s Tweeter In Chief.

Oh, and there is no way to avoid the dangerous word “elites” when talking about this Hollywood vs. flyover country saga. However, if you probe this media storm you will find hints that religion ghosts are hiding in the fine print — due to the movie’s alleged references to “deplorables” and “anti-choice” Americans.

But let’s start with a minimalist report at The Washington Post that ran with this headline: “Universal cancels satirical thriller about ‘elites’ hunting ‘deplorables’ in wake of shootings.” Here’s the overture:

Universal Pictures has canceled its plan to release “The Hunt,” a satirical thriller about “elites” hunting self-described “normal people,” amid a series of mass shootings and criticism that the film could increase tensions.

“We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film,” Universal said in a statement.

The studio already had paused its marketing campaign for the R-rated movie, which was slated for release on Sept. 27. … “The Hunt,” directed by Craig Zobel (“Z for Zachariah”) and produced by Blumhouse Productions, follows 12 strangers who are brought to a remote house to be killed for sport. 

Everything in this media-drama hinges on how this movie is alleged to have described the beliefs and behaviors of these “normal” Americans — who are stalked by rich, progressive folks defined by high-class culture and political anger issues. The elites are led by a character played by Oscar-winner Hilary Swank.

If you are looking for facts in this oh so Donald Trump-era mess, journalists at The Hollywood Reporter claim to have details deeper than the innuendoes glimpsed in the hyper-violent trailers for the movie (trailers that appear to be vanishing online). Here is a chunk of that story, which is referenced — aggregation style — in “news” reports all over the place.

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What is 'purity culture'? Why is this term in the news right now?

What is 'purity culture'? Why is this term in the news right now?

THE QUESTION:

What is “purity culture,” and why is it in the news?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This was a particular U.S. Protestant campaign born in the 1990s that sought to urge teens and young adults to follow the age-old Christian (also Jewish, Muslim, etc.) teaching against sexual relations before marriage.

Outsiders and opponents called this the “purity culture” movement, and it’s currently in the news and the subject of intense online debate.

That “purity” label is confusing because critics of the phenomenon are not just secularists or those who scoff at old-fashioned morality. Conservatives who likewise advocate the sexual “purity’ taught in Christian tradition raise some of the most pointed objections to this movement’s specific theology, techniques and claims.

The cause originated in 1993 with sex education materials under the “True Love Waits’ banner issued by the publishing arm of America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. Within just one year of existence a Washington, D.C. rally drew 25,000 youths and displayed 210,000 sexual abstinence pledge cards on the National Mall.

The movement appealed to many moms and dads who were wounded by the sexual libertinism that began in the 1960s and wanted more wholesome relationships for their own children, fretting over increases in sexually transmitted disease, unwed pregnancy and divorce. The pledges of abstinence until marriage were reinforced by wearing rings popularized from 1995 onward by The Silver Ring Thing organization, reconfigured last year as Unaltered Ministries. Instead of high school proms, some churches held “purity balls” where dads escorted daughters.

The movement is back in the news due to its primary celebrity guru, Joshua Harris, who at a tender age 21 wrote “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” This 1998 book eventually sold nearly a million copies and fused the effort with a highly influential how-to methodology.

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Hey, team CNN: Isn't there some Catholic DNA linked to Halloween being on Oct. 31?

Hey, team CNN: Isn't there some Catholic DNA linked to Halloween being on Oct. 31?

It’s hard to understand what happens in American life, and when it happens, without understanding what I like to call the “liturgical calendar of the shopping mall.”

The best example? That would be the locked-solid fact that the cultural steamroller called “Christmas” now begins somewhere around the start of the National Football League schedule and it kicks into high gear with Black Friday after Thanksgiving. Forget that whole holy season called Christmas, as in the 12 days after Dec. 25.

Oh, and when is Thanksgiving? That was a question for the U.S. Congress and the Chamber of Commerce, as well.

Some people would argue that “The Holidays” — at the level of candy, music and decorations — now start after Halloween. And when is Halloween? At the moment, Halloween is on October 31. Why is that?

That question brings us to an interesting, and rather hollow, CNN story with this headline: “A petition to move Halloween to the last Saturday of October nears 100,000 signatures.” Here is the overture:

There are lots of reasons to hate holidays: traffic, awkward family reunions, expensive gifts that would wring a tear from anyone's wallet. But if there's one celebration absent from all of this holiday drama, it's Halloween.

It's too bad that, more times than not, the sugar-laden holiday is set right in the middle of the week, when would-be revelers have to get to bed early.

But there's a petition aiming to change that. … It’s lobbying to bump Halloween from October 31 to the last Saturday of the month.

The petition, launched last year by the nonprofit Halloween & Costume Association, argues that moving the date of Halloween will lead to a "safer, longer, stress-free celebration."

Wait a minute. A “safer, longer, stress-free celebration” of WHAT, precisely? What is Halloween and why is it observed on October 31?

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