Russians Try to Ban South Park for its Extremism and Negative Comments about Religion

The Situation

This is an amazing news story for a couple of reasons, and I can’t help but share it with you. Usually, Religion in the News day is a day that I branch off from my usual South Parkian rantings and ravings in order to discuss other relevant things that are happening around the world related to religion.

However, this week I get to take you all the way around the world – to Moscow no less – to discuss the show that’s near and dear to my heart, South Park! which a bunch of pissed off Christians (The Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith, to be more specific) are trying to get banned.

WHAT!!?? Conservative Christians trying to ruin a good thing for other people because they can’t handle it themselves. Reminds me a lot of sex, booze and the Bible.

A statement from the group’s leader was that, “South Park is just one of many cartoons that needs to be banned from open broadcast…as it insults the feelings of religious believers and incites religious and national hatred.” The group, ironically, also called the show “extremist.”

So why are these accusations outrageous?

Why They Don’t Get It

South Park is a satirical comedy, meaning in part that its scenarios are constructed on outrageous situations and plotlines because only by being so extreme can the show shock us into understanding the point that it’s making. Subtlety is not the name of the game. However, extreme situations do not mean extremism. One of the show’s primary messages is that extremism of all kinds should be eschewed at all costs. That means that these Russian viewers totally missed the point of the show because they were too preoccupied being angry about what they didn’t understand!

As far as insulting the feelings of religious believers and inciting hatred, I’ll grant that the first one is true, but the only reason that someone needs to be particularly offended and have their feelings hurt regarding South Park‘s portrayal of certain religious people is if said believers are engaging in the unsavory actions being criticized. In which case, screw them! They should take a hint. They’re not supposed to like it – they’re supposed to reflect on it. It’s satire! What’s more, the show isn’t spreading hatred (except of Scientology) – the show is trying to explain that hatred is not the answer, another point entirely lost on these viewers.

My Message to These Morons

You know what I say to these people: you’re idiots. No, not because you don’t like South Park. You’re entitled to your opinion: a lot of people don’t like South Park, and South Park would be the first to defend your right to do as you please and not watch or like it. You’re idiots because you try to impose your views, likes and dislikes on other people. You’re small-minded, intolerant, and a perfect characterization of attempted religious dominance. You claimed you were out to protect your children from this bad cartoon, but you’re just scared that they’ll be exposed to views other than the one’s you want to cram down their throats. So, stop trying to ruin the fun for the rest of us (or other Russians, as the case may be) and keep your bs to yourself.

Whew. Where did that come from? Usually I never have strong opinions about anything. That was so unlike me…glad I got that off my chest.  🙂

What do you think about these issues?

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Irvine Welsh’s Glue, Though Long, is a Fascinating Character Piece

This was a crazy long book – nearly 500 pages. Now, 500 pages is often manageable, no problem, but these 500 pages are all written in varying Scottish accents. It’s an incredible feat, I think, that Welsh can write like this so accurately and consistently, but good lord can it be taxing to read. Certainly it makes the reader feel like he’s more a part of the story and makes the entire situation more tangible but that’s often at the expense of getting through the book in a reasonable amount of time.

I’ve read a lot of Irvine Welsh books, but this is the only one I ever started 5 times over the course of as many years. This last time, however, I was determined to push through the beginning and make it into the meat. And it was worth it.

The book is about 4 friends, and in each of four decades, the 70s when they are about 6, 80s when they’re in their teens, and the 90s when they’re in their mid-20s, we get a chapter from the perspective of each of these four friends. The fourth section, in 2000, is written differently, introducing new characters and bringing it all back around in a way I never expected. It’s a fascinating way to write a book, and I really enjoyed reading it once I understood what was happening and everything fell into a rhythm.

It’s hard, for a long time, to see the plot of this book. Honestly, I don’t know that the plot really registered with me until the end. Mostly, I considered it to be a character piece that told the tale of the lives of these four friends, their trials and travails growing up lower-class in Edinburgh. By the end, though, you realize that there was a story going on underneath, even if it wasn’t presented in standard plot, rising action, climax, falling action fashion.

All in all, it was very well done, and like I said, though long, quite good. If you’ve never read any Welsh I’d recommend starting elsewhere (classic Trainspotting perhaps?) and if you love his stuff then I’d give this one a ride and see if you can’t get your hole.

Have you read it? What’d you think? Wanna get your own copy of Glue? What’s your favorite Irvine Welsh book?

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Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant is Classicly Twisted and Testimony to a Fascinating Mind

Wow this was a great book. I am a huge Chuck Palahniuk fan. I’ve read most of what he’s written, and I really liked it all. Awhile back I stopped reading a lot of Palahniuk, though, because the stories – though always cool and twisted – had a similar trajectory. You know, the one with the crazy twist towards the end. I just got tired of the big twist we were all waiting for.

But Rant is not like that at all. Though there are a million fascinating surprises and weird as hell things going on towards the end as your understanding of his crazy ideas and terms start coming together and you realize that you’re reading about something other than you imagined, there’s no big twist – just dozens of “oh,” and “ah” moments that make for a fun and exciting read.

The other thing that made it different from Palahniuk’s other books is the way it was told: as an oral biography. The first page explains this style, but basically, you’re reading a few paragraphs at a time from dozens of different people whose tales interweave and ultimately tell the story of one person – a person who is dead before this telling begins. It’s a fascinating way to learn about characters and to hear a story – and you are hearing the story.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chuck Palahniuk once and some of the stories he told me were ones that I could detect snippets of in this book. That was really cool. Here’s a photo (taken 6 years ago so cut me some slack) of me with Chuck Palahniuk.

P.S. I'm not the Asian kid

P.S. I'm not the Asian kid

Have you read Rant? What did you think? What is your favorite Palahniuk book?

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Topical Tuesday: How Historical Should Historical Fiction Be?

I’m going to have to preface this with the qualification that I’m a historian by training, specializing in Judaism, Christianity and comparative religion. This makes me, for all intents and purposes, a little biased when it comes to my opinions on the necessary degree of historicity of historical fiction.

The Benefits of Historical Fiction

But this doesn’t mean I’m not a fan. It actually means I love historical fiction, because I think, when done well, historical fiction can provide a flavor and understanding of a time and place that is missed amidst facts and theories and trying to understand the whys of history. Historical fiction allows us to imagine dimensions of historical circumstances not previously thought about by creating characters with personalities and lives that before were only a series of dates and events.

Moreover, by including a complex story in a finite amount of space the disconnected facts can more easily be visualized as a multitude of simultaneously occurring factors and motivations that coalesced in that which we consider to be the relevant moments. That reflects history better than many history classes can. Though this is often the goal of historians – to properly blend the whys and hows in order to arrive at the historical circumstances in question – historical fiction allows far more people to achieve this outcome and see the beauty of the events as the historian might wish for them to be seen.

Good Historical Fiction

There are some television shows right now that I think do a particularly great job: Mad Men and The Tudors, to name but two (The Tudors is a complicated issue though). One book that I found to be particularly well done historical fiction was The Last Jew. Another excellent one was Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore, written as a lost gospel and the parts of Jesus’ life that are entirely absent in the Bible. Truly excellent stuff.

How Historical It Should Be

That said, I expect an incredibly high level of competence and understanding on the part of the author before s/he undertakes a project of historical fiction. A veritable expert s/he must be. I think it’s fine to invent people that don’t exist and conversations that didn’t happen amongst people that did, and to create new events so long as they don’t distort history. It’s a difficult line to walk.

I think that the characters who were real should reflect all current and respected scholarship on the personality of that character, though interpretive liberties are obviously acceptable so long as the character does not become someone else. If, in the Tudors, Henry VIII were portrayed as a courteous, non-self-centered, timid fellow, I would be pretty put off. Historical fiction should seek to better explain and bolster what we do know and our understanding of the people or era under discussion – as well as to entertain of course. Changing known historical events, which isn’t to say embellishing, is unacceptable.

I also think that all historical fiction should come with an explanation by the author of what’s being done: the goal, what’s being changed and what liberties taken, what’s not, why these decisions were made, and anything the reader should know to be able to differentiate between history and historical fiction. There’s nothing I hate more (hyperbole) than someone with a poor knowledge of history (or religion) reading historical fiction and then thinking that what they read is all true and having no way to differentiate the true from the invented. Case in point, The DaVinci Code.

First of all, horrible book – so bad I wanted to rip my own head off. Worse still, that a friend of mine thought he understood the fine points of Christian theology and the truth behind Christianity and the Church after reading this book. Yes, we are told up front that places and works of art are being described as they are, but I don’t think that helped everyone. Even if it was a sufficient explanation, the book itself sucked: three page chapters with suspense that turns out to be nothing at the end of every one. I thought I was reading R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps again.

But that’s more than enough from me for now. What do you think about historical fiction? What’s important to you and how historical should it be? What are your favorite works of historical fiction and why?

Check out Chandler’s different take on the matter HERE.

To read some other Topical Tuesday posts, click HERE. To read Fun with the Bible, click HERE.

Rogen and Franco Do a Great Job in the Bizarre and Twisted Pineapple Express

Honestly, I’m shocked at how much I enjoyed this movie. It definitely won’t be for everyone, but to those for whom this movie holds any appeal, I think you’ll get a surprising kick out of it, mostly because there’s not a whole lot like it.

Pineapple Express has a slightly Lebowski-esque feel with a dollop of 40 Year Old Virgin and Superbad style humor. But tossing around those movie names doesn’t quite begin to convey to you what kind of movie you’re about to see or just what elements of those films it really has – they’re just feelings really.

First, there’s an incredible amount of pot smoking and the entire movie really does revolve around pot. If you don’t like getting high or laughing at high people, the movie’s probably not for you. There’s also a surprising amount of action. I knew the basic plot before going into the film, but I expected it to be a bit tamer. The violence was pretty gratuitous, and I’m surprised how many people got shot and how much nasty stuff they showed. Also, a lot of people proved surprisingly fine after a lot of getting shot. It was no Tarantino film or anything but for a stoner movie there was a lot of blood and violence. For some reason, though, this is what added that twist and gave it the bizarre feel that carried through pretty much the whole film

More than that, it was funny – not laugh your ass off funny over and over again, but good lines with good laughs interspersed pretty regularly. An element I was not expecting (it seems like there were a lot) was the human touch. The conversations between a lot of the characters, particularly as the stoned scenes went, were shockingly realistic, personal and sometimes touching. Sometimes I don’t find Seth Rogen’s speech patterns particularly realistic, but in this movie I thought he was different – maybe due to the dynamic with James Franco. In any case, the conversation was natural and felt real – perhaps that’s what they call good acting.

There’s more to say, but since I think at this point you can probably decide whether or not it’s for you, I’m going to go ahead and bow out with a surprising rating of 8 Chocolate Salty Balls. Good laughs, weird action and mostly more bizarre than I could have expected.

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Wanted: Action-Packed but Something’s Wanting

Boy was that a lot of blood. Yep, good job people – way to give us a lot of blood. Was it entertaining blood and entertaining action? Yes, fortunately, it was.

How was the plot? Well, when a guild of weavers suddenly becomes the world’s most powerful band of assassins, shaping world affairs according to a giant magical loom that spins a secret textilic language guided by the hand of – yep, you guessed it – fate, you have to wonder who in Hollywood decided not to ask for a few minutes of crafty rewriting. But, hey, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie (and no, you don’t see her topless – just the top of her ass-crack), and some no-name kid give us a reasonable show.

Well, honestly, I don’t know why the main character was who he was. He was a decent actor (though why he got on my ass at the end I’m not sure), but I don’t think he fit the part. I got him for the beginning but I just never bought him as the action-driving super-dude he was supposed to become. And this was the case for the rest of the movie. I never really got sucked into it: the plot, the characters or any of it really. I wanted to be sucked in and am very forthcoming when it comes to allowing myself to get into a movie, but this just never brought me there.

Overall, I only feel comfortable giving it 5 Chocolate Salty Balls, an average score for an average movie. Have you seen it? What did you think? Did Angelina Jolie look anorexic to you? Get your own copy of Wanted

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Get Smart: Savvy, Sophisticated and Good Old Fashioned Fun

I’m pleased to say that I really enjoyed Get Smart. I didn’t expect to. As a fan of the old television show, I expected them to butcher the concept and not really make me laugh. Not only did they manage to pay tribute (tastefully, I might add) to the original show, but they made me laugh pretty consistently throughout. Paricularly enjoyable was the spin they put on Maxwell, who was not the usual lucky dufus of the show but actually savvy and capable while a bit clumsy.

Steve Carell was, as usual, excellent. By combining his ability for excellent scene staging and awkwardness from The Office with his usual wit and charm (an odd combination for a man like him but qualities I’ve always found that he possessed) Carell delivered a great performance. Anne Hathaway provided a surprisingly consistent leading female role (unexpected); Alan Arkin was spectacular (probably had my favorite line: “were you thinking…”) and Dwayne Johnson (no longer The Rock) did a nice job too.

The cameos were also good – not necessarily The Incredible Hulk good, but pretty good. Bill Murray made an appearance as well as the original bad guy from the tv series (man in car who talks about getting run over). Also, as you may recall, the original show was by Mel Brooks and he produced this as well – hence a great Yiddish joke about Nudnick Shpilkes.

The action was quality. The plot was reasonable. The humor was consistent – the dance scene being one of my favorites – and I never had to look at my watch. What’s more is that this movie is for all (or a lot of) ages. I know many 50+ year olds who have thoroughly enjoyed themselves and a number of my friends – all mid twenties – had a great time too.

I’m going to award Get Smart 8 Chocolate Salty Balls.

Did you see it? What did you think?

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