Netflix

Is Israeli TV drama Fauda a harbinger of the news industry's coming iteration?

Is Israeli TV drama Fauda a harbinger of the news industry's coming iteration?

The cable television and online streaming explosion has produced a golden age of visual, fictionalized, but ripped-from-the-headlines story telling. Some religious and political conservatives may disdain the liberal-leaning views that many of the shows unabashedly embrace, but for those who create the programming it's an unprecedented era of opportunities.

It's also an era of unprecedented, and often confusing, crossover between news and entertainment. From shows dramatizing or spoofing Washington politics, to those cherry-picking storylines from current international intrigues, it’s often hard to tell the two apart, where fact takes leave and artful fiction enters.

As traditional news platforms continue to implode -- and loose their ability to devote adequate resources to in-depth, reporting-based investigative journalism -- it’s a trend that, for the foreseeable future, is likely to continue, for better or worse, but more likely the worse for informed civic debate.

Personally, I find great artistic merit in many of these shows. I also appreciate their willingness to highlight some of the social ills that plague our -- and virtually every other -- nation. That and because I relish a well-written and well-acted product. It helps to remember that I'm an ex-Los Angeles reporter who spent time on the Hollywood TV and film beats, and who also briefly worked in the feature film industry.

Still, I limit my watching because, well, because the shows are binge-watching addictive and I don't want to spend too much time watching TV, no matter how good and entertaining it may be. I’m old-fashioned. I’d rather waste time reading non-fiction, which my reactive mind argues is somehow healthier for me. But that may just be my generational snob appeal.

In a sense, all the fictional dramas I’m drawn to are some writer’s fantasy, but I tend to be drawn to the show's based on the possible, meaning that while I have little interest in a “Game of Thrones,” a series such as “Big Love,” the departed HBO show about polygamy-practicing, fringe Mormons, quickly sucked me in because of my interest in religious groups and the show’s artistic mastery (and a fantastic cast).

Likewise, my deep interest in Israel’s fate and that of the Middle East in general, has drawn me to the Netflix (in the U.S., anyway) show “Fauda,” which I have allowed myself to devour in binge-size bites.


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Muslim 'Queer Eye' actor needs some real questions, not just fawning press coverage

Muslim 'Queer Eye' actor needs some real questions, not just fawning press coverage

I don’t watch home décor shows or personal improvement programs since they all appear to be cleverly staged fake events to me.

Which is why I didn’t know about Netflix's reboot of the Queer Eye concept about five gay male makeover experts until I read a profile of one of them, Tan France, by the London Times. What caught my eye wasn’t the glam clothing or hunky builds but a headline that proclaimed this man to be a Muslim.

Gay? Muslim? Out of the closet? In many parts of the world, that’s a death sentence. But fortunately, in this rather fetching story, not so in the West.

The history of social change is unpredictable. But no one expected the first gay Muslim on western TV to pop up quite like this from nowhere. Or rather, Doncaster.
When watching the Queer Eye series, your eyes are too blurry at first to notice. It is an ultra-camp, ultra-American show that seems to be about makeovers. There is a gang called the “Fab Five” of gay male style experts who descend from New York to the Deep South. There they seize on a miserable redneck in a pair of stained tracksuit bottoms. Before you know it they -- foremost among them Tan, a lithe 34-year-old Asian with a GI Joe haircut -- have made him happy with a new pastel shirt collection…
Queer Eye is not a sensational popular and critical success because of a change of outerwear. It’s because of something Tan -- full name Tan France -- says at the beginning of every episode. It is not about tolerance any more, he says. Anyone who feels like an outsider -- female, black, gay, immigrant, Muslim, whatever -- is not settling for tolerance. “Our show is fighting for acceptance.”

Hmmm. Think about that for a moment. Tolerance is peaceful co-existence. Acceptance implies that the opposition agrees to your terms. 

When France was recently interviewed on NBC’s Today show, the host, Megyn Kelly, obviously struggled to make sense of this mystery man. He had never been on television before, but within six weeks of Queer Eye began to be mobbed on the street. Jon Bon Jovi wants selfies, which are broadcast to France’s 500,000 Instagram followers.
“You’re not just a gay man,” Kelly says, “but in your case an immigrant, Pakistani, Muslim gay man, all of it together!”
France smiles joyously and responds: “2018, baby!”

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Thinking about Billy Graham and the Queen: Religion news can be found all over the place

Thinking about Billy Graham and the Queen: Religion news can be found all over the place

Once upon a time, newspaper editors thought that religion was the kind of narrow, insider subject that could be locked into a weekly journalism ghetto called the "church page."

No, honest.

That eventually evolved into the "religion" page, but the idea was pretty much the same. This concept began fading about the time I reached the news biz, in the early 1980s.

Now, I don't think there is anything wrong with having a section or a column dedicated to religion-news topics. I had better think that, since I have been writing that kind of column for 30 years or more. It's nice to have a place in the news format in which you KNOW you can get a religion topic into print.

The crucial point, however, is that religion is a subject that wants to roam all over the place, if journalists take it seriously. It should end up on A1, on the education beat, in the business section, in the sports pages, etc., etc. I have had a lot of fun through the decades (and wrote a book about it) following religion ideas, symbols and trends into the world of popular culture and entertainment.

So with that in mind let me (a) highly, highly recommend a new Sarah Pulliam Bailey piece about the Netflix series "The Crown" that included scenes about Queen Elizabeth's faith and her 1955 encounter with a young American evangelist -- as in Billy Graham. At the same time, I would like to (b) ask people out there in dead-tree-pulp land where The Washington Post editors played this story in the actual newspaper, as opposed to its "Acts of Faith" status online. I sure hope that this ran, in print, in the Style or Entertainment sections. That's where it belongs.

The piece is a must-read, if you have the slightest interest in these two towering figures in 20th Century world culture. This is top-flight popular culture writing that also -- as you would expect -- pays serious attention to the religious content.

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