Friday, September 18, 2015

Watching It All For You

This week's GOP debate drones on for so long that the TV threatens to switch into “power saving mode” and our guests begin to drowse on the couch. We even watch the “kids' table" debate. Lindsey Graham demonstrates a sense of humor and George Pataki some common sense. The main event reveals that apparently business people (Fiorina and Trump) lie with less abandon than even politicians. Fiorina's description of a doctored video which suggests that Planned Parenthood harvests organs from live fetuses is shockingly egregious. Sadly, no matter how thoroughly this is refuted, there will be many who will buy in.

Liberals moan that American intelligence has declined and wring their hands over the heartland's stupid gullibility. Perhaps because I spend so much time looking at old film footage I am aware that hucksterism and hatefulness are not new phenomena on the U.S. political front. Donald Trump might as well be Father Couglin, Huey Long or Joe McCarthy. Margaret Thatcher might be the closest parallel to Carly Fiorina on the political front but from the realm of fiction, Cruella DeVille and Delores Umbridge come to mind.

For all of the hoi polloi's susceptibility, there is also a rich American tradition of political satire. The same box that brings us the GOP idiots, broadcasts a good deal of brilliant commentary right into my living room. It occurs to me that I can't think of any content that is smart and funny and represents a conservative point of view. Is there? Bill Maher is one of the liberal elder statesmen but I find him harsh and mean-spirited despite his left wing pedigree. The Daily Show had flashes of brilliance but, as I have noted here before, sometimes Jon Stewart's shrillness detracted from his wry observations. I'm looking forward to see what South African comedian Trevor Noah does with the show when he premieres as the new host on September 29.

I miss Colbert enormously. His buffoon character was a sublime insight into right wing mentality and show was consistently smart and subtle. I've watched a couple of Late Night's with Colbert and for the most part, it's a formulaic talk show and it just reminds me of how much I miss the Comedy Central half hour. Colbert's slot there has been filled by The Nightly Show, hosted by Larry Wilmore. This show swings wildly from cunning and hilarious to embarrassingly awkward and unfunny.

It's unfair to hold nightly shows to the same standard as the weekly HBO show Last Week Tonight. Winsome British comedian John Oliver became familiar in the U.S. for appearances on The Daily Show and his HBO show is just finishing up a second season. The longer format allows Oliver to tackle issues in depth and it provides exposés, ala 60 Minutes, minus the sanctimoniousness and plus brilliant humor. Glimpses into civil forfeitures, the availability of public defenders and the scarcity of quality sex education in American schools are shocking and revealing but so cheeky and irreverent that they're completely watchable and entertaining.

For one of Oliver's most remarkable episodes he traveled to Moscow for an interview with Edward Snowden. The actual interview was proceeded by man on the street materials which revealed many folks' general lack of awareness and minimal understanding of the ramifications of government surveillance. Oliver cleverly frames the conversation with a more accessible concept, the “dick pic.”

Another Last Week Tonight reveals that, post Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Faye, televangelists still prey on viewers with promises of healing and prosperity. A dying woman who has sent off thousands of dollars to a tv ministry is profiled. Oliver chronicles the chain of correspondence that ensues when he makes a contribution to a television ministry. The show demonstrates the ease with which ostensibly religious organizations can obtain tax exempt status and culminates with Oliver establishing his own ministry “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption.” MSNBC reports that since the broadcast the IRS is reevaluating the criteria for granting exemptions to religious organizations.

The Oliver report on high living sleazy televangelists appears to have actually made a difference. What bothers me however is that the all encompassing rejection of Christianity seems permanently etched on the liberal canon. Bill Maher is a militant atheist and frequently rails at the stupidity of Christians. Appearing on Larry Wilmore this week, when questioned, Salman Rushdie admits to believing that he is smarter than people who believe in God. Listening to the GOP debate or following the news about Kim Davis certainly validates this party line. It's these misguided Christians who throw their weight around to rally against things that they don't understand and control the behavior of others who get all the attention.

The disrespect for those who profess to believe in something higher is a knee jerk liberal response which widens the chasm between left and right. We forget about the Jimmy Carter type of Christian because they make so little noise. For the most part Christianity is associated with ignorance and backwardness. This is why I watch with interest the fictional Amazon series Hand of God with Ron Perlman and Dana Delaney. The first few episodes suggest that the series will be a predictable indictment of evangelicalism. There are a few occasions of wincingly bad writing and some problematic continuity gaps in the storytelling. Andre Royo, known for his brilliant portrayal of Bubbles, perhaps the most tragic character in the history of television, on The Wire is glaringly miscast as a corrupt mayor. In all fairness though, by the last few episodes Royo has eased into the part and is nearly convincing. What is fascinating is that without being syrupy or doctrinaire, the show remains open minded about the power of belief.

We light candles on Fridays but otherwise there's no religious ritual. I am smarter than someone who believes that Jesus would rebuke two people of the same gender who fall in love and wish to marry. Perhaps I'm not as smart as Salman Rushdie though, because I do believe in things unseen and ineffable and for which I have no explanation. And God is my best shorthand.  


John L. Murphy / "Fionnchú" said...

Great post. I often use this time of ten days to reflect on similar issues. L'shana tovah tikatevi all the same. xxx me

Anonymous said...

As a Catholic married to a Jew, I don't know any evangelicals, I do not care for proselytizing in any form. At the very least, it's impolite, inferring that the target of the attempted conversion is less than perfect just the way they are.
Religion has always been an attempt to rule the unruly,and explain the mysterious, it seems not much has changed in a few thousand years. Humankind, it seems, will always need some sort of framework, in order to function at its' best.
..Most successful recovery programs have some sort of spiritual element, even if they are trading one addiction for another, whatever gets hurting people through the night.
Belief in something outside ourselves gives us hope and even optimism..Who couldn't use a bit more of both?

Rosemary said...

This is so beautifully written Layne--and quite haunting, and I read it twice. You capture so many complicated feelings going on today in our country, and souls of many people here in the US.