Maybe This Shouldn’t Have Survived, Netflix

As an occasional binge-watcher of various shows, I enjoyed the first season of Designated Survivor from its ABC days. The second season certainly declined in quality, but kept me watching. Then ABC killed the show and Netflix picked it up.

Netflix didn’t ruin Longmire when they did the same thing. If anything, the final seasons of that show were better than the A&E seasons. But these days, the streaming juggernaut has determined to make everything as coarse and as politically skewed as possible. Let me give a few examples.

Let’s start with some of the easy pickings. In Season 3, it feels as if DS had a quota of f-bombs to drop. At least twice in the first five episodes, characters have actually commented on their foul language: “Can I talk like that in the White House?” My reply is, “Yes, you can, but you can’t do it in my living room.”

Then there’s the sex. Did we really need the somewhat graphic and decidedly casual gay sex scene between a social-media aide and a Secret Service agent? And what ever happened to Dante’s boyfriend from earlier? I’ve resigned myself to the idea that every show needs a gay character if the executive producers want to be invited to all the right parties, but this scene was excessive and pointless. It was as pointless as the scene with Kiefer on the toilet. I know everybody poops, but I don’t want to watch. We also were treated to the campaign manager Lorraine Zimmer (Julie White) dismissing a bare-butted male prostitute. Did this advance the plot or significantly develop her character? Not hardly.

All of this is enough for me to stop watching, but I did get far enough along to recognize that the politics is just what we’ve come to expect from Netflix’s offerings. There are some nice jabs taken at the press, but that’s about the only redeeming thing. Instead, we’re treated to a series–at least one per episode–of standard 2019 SJW fare. We’ve got your transgender story line to go with immigration, American hypocrisy, racism, sexism, and much, much more.

The producers love to insert brief videos that we’re told were shot unscripted from real people. I don’t doubt that they were, but the shots are obviously cherry-picked, not just for quality but for content. If these videos and the attitudes of Designated Survivor were to be believed, then everybody in America is a libertarian eagerly waiting for the government to fix all the same things. (And yes, I’m aware that my last sentence, just like much of the worldview of DS doesn’t exactly make sense.)

I’ve watched The West Wing twice through. While Aaron Sorkin and I do not share much in the way of political outlook, I respected the nuance and complexity of that show. Yes, it had its bias, but everyone and everything has a bias. At least The West Wing represented the complexity of human interactions and didn’t portray every conservative as a knuckle-dragger.

The closest thing that Designated Survivor gets to nuance is when President Kirkman has a hissy fit about “child marriage” in Saudi Arabia only to discover that many American states allow marriage below the magical age of 18. This plot line–and really, it’s generous to call this a plot line rather than an excuse for polemics–allows for a Saudi diplomat to walk into the Oval Office and lecture the president on all manner of ways that the United States is not measuring up. Frankly, this entire sequence is the strongest argument for why Tom Kirkman really is unfitted for high office.

I would like to believe that the average American is smart enough to see when they’re being manipulated. However, we might be mistaken, if the writers of the show are indicative. In one episode, teacher strikes spread ominously across the land as educators demand “a living wage.” The solution is so simple that we wonder how nobody thought of it before.

President Kirkman gets a bunch of rich foundations to pony up $3 billion, leaving the strikes ended and the stars aligned. Did nobody in the writer’s room do the math? Take that $3 billion and divide it among the nation’s 3.8 million teachers and you can give them a life-changing $833 this year (and nothing next year), leaving no money for the class supplies also demanded. If these supposedly educated writers think that striking teachers can be bought off for a one-time $833 or if American teachers are really that short-sighted, then I worry about the future.

Mr. Ratburn Explains It All

“It’s the end of the world as we know it!” Yes, PBS decided to go full SJW and portray a same-sex marriage on Arthur. I wasn’t aware that there was a character named Mr. Ratburn, but I’m really disturbed that he came out as gay after twenty-plus years and that PBS decided to portray that to the impressionable kids of America.

Or maybe I’m just rolling my eyes and saying, “Ah! It’s the obligatory homosexual character.” Every show pretty much has to have one these days. Relevance to the plot is completely optional. In response to the “coming out,” I actually saw one tweet that complained that Marvel hadn’t done this yet, suggesting that the failure to action indicated that the comic titan doesn’t care about LGBTQ+ lives. Really, how many more people have to die before Marvel will act?!

Although I’m not thrilled with the choices at PBS, what else is new? Knuckle-dragging social conservatives like me should know the world in which we live. And if we think that Mr. Ratburn’s trip down the aisle is going to cause the fall of Western civilization, then we don’t know the much stronger indoctrination that is flowing through our schools.

But here’s where I will complain. Those who applaud the Arthur decision, perhaps heralding it as bold and courageous, probably argue that young people–straight and otherwise–need to see good role models–straight and otherwise–in their media diet. It’s like an African-American kid who never sees African-Americans as teachers or doctors or whatever. I understand that logic.

If that logic is sound, however, I have to wonder if it isn’t similarly vital that we portray Christians in a positive light. Shouldn’t kids–believing and otherwise–be exposed to good Christian role models in movies and TV and the like? Is there an openly Christian character on Arthur? There is a Jewish girl, Francine Frensky, but where should the impressionable young Christian kids go to find a role model?

Honestly, how many Christian characters have come out on mainstream TV or movies? When people are portrayed as Christian, they are typically shown as bigots and haters. At best, they come off as hypocrites and fools. It’s the modern-day version of all those stereotype characters we wouldn’t tolerate today. Seriously, how many such characters can you name? Since many hundreds of characters are portrayed in various productions and since a significant percentage of people identify as Christian, must we assume that Hollywood is just keeping those characters closeted?

Today, a young person is watching television. Between shows, this child wonders, “What’s wrong with me? Am I maybe Christian?” Doesn’t that child deserve to see positive portrayals just as much as the ones who might benefit from Mr. Ratburn?

Surely they do deserve that. Unless, of course, the message is that there’s something shameful and wrong with being a believer.  But that couldn’t be, could it?

Dancing through the Past

I’ll admit it. Some of my ancestors owned slaves. One of them, Henry Woolery, was a carpenter and held several people enslaved when his family moved from Kentucky to Missouri. My guess is that these people did the heavy lifting, and maybe a good deal of skilled work, when Henry plied his trade.

The Woolerys were also among the founders of a church that will celebrate its 200th anniversary next year. Sure slavery remained legal in both Kentucky and Missouri, but shouldn’t good Christian people have seen the problem with chattel slavery? Shouldn’t they have at least said, “No, that’s not for me,” if not turning into strident abolitionists? We’d like to think so, but that would ignore thousands of years of human history.

Yesterday, I took a fairly healthy swipe at Elizabeth A. Johnson and her book Creation and the Cross. Johnson tries to “blame” Christianity’s centuries-long focus on sin being corrected through the cross of Jesus on a social construction by Anselm of Canterbury nearly a thousand years ago. Her thesis is that Anselm’s theology simply reflected the prevailing judicial norms of his day.

While I think she overreaches in that conclusion, we should confess that it is impossible–or at least incredibly difficult–for Christians or anyone to completely transcend their milieu and write objectively (whatever that means). That might explain why Henry Woolery could hold slaves and go to church with a clear conscience.

Here’s a case in point. My own faith community, Baptists, have long been opposed to dancing. There’s an old joke: “Why are Baptists opposed to sex? They’re afraid it’ll lead to dancing.” Supposedly, my alma mater, William Jewell College, had a building constructed around a hundred years ago with the stipulation from the donors that if a dance were ever held on the campus, the building would be razed. Through my years there, we had homecoming concerts rather than dances, with occasional “rhythmic activities” held off campus.

Is the Baptist aversion to dancing Biblical? Where did it come from? I haven’t studied this, but I’d surmise that Baptists of another day saw dancing often associated with misuse of alcohol and problematic romantic encounters. Like the Pharisees before them, these Baptists determined to prevent one sin by eliminating the activity that often led to it. I blame these people for my utter inability to move with grace.

What sort of arrogance would allow me to believe that everybody–and I mean everybody–from history had their worldview, including their theology shaped at least somewhat by the cultural biases and currents of their day? We can laugh at the adherence of Medieval Catholics to the cult of relics. We can shake our heads gravely at the denizens of Massachusetts who erupted into the witch trials. We can smile at the inability of most Baptists to dance. But we fool ourselves when we insist on our own objectivity.

How did Henry Woolery reconcile his slave-holding with his (apparent) Christianity? I find that less urgent than to know what foolish thoughts I’m holding simply because of the intellectual currents of the day.

A Bible for Today–or Yesterday

My Bible is newer than yours! How old is your Bible? More than any physical Bible, I now use online resources, which, we could argue, means that my Bible is created and destroyed with every new search and closed web page. So mine is newer than yours.

8039Then there’s the Book of Kells, the Irish treasure dating from around A.D. 800. This book–actually it is currently bound in four volumes–contains the Latin text of the four gospels as well as some remarkable decoration and artwork.

I’m currently taking a four-week course on this Medieval treasure. You can too if you like. In going through some of the materials concerning the way that the book was created, I read this about its history.

[I]n 1826, the manuscript was entrusted into the care of binder George Mullen Jnr. Belonging to an era when ‘tidiness’ was the preferred aesthetic, Mullen’s intervention has since been described as ‘disastrous’.

Mullen first washed the manuscript, causing the pages to shrink unevenly, and then pressed them together to flatten them, causing considerable loss of colour. He then painted some of the margins with white oil paint, and filled and tinted flaws in the vellum. Worst of all, he trimmed the formerly uneven edges of the manuscript so that the edges could be gilded, removing parts of decoration of some of the pages in the process.

We have a name for somebody like George Mullen: vandal.

But as I thought about this matter, it occurred to me that this is a fairly common way that apparently genuine believers treat the Word of God. We like to shave off the bits that seem uneven and wash off the soiled parts. Mostly, we try to make God’s Word conform to the preferred aesthetic of our day.

  • It appears in apologetics both for and against capital punishment.
  • It used to show up in arguments both for and against human slavery.
  • That’s what happens when people try to do exegetical gymnastics to escape the passages that condemn homosexuality.
  • It’s what we see when conservatives struggle with the seemingly socialist lifestyle described in Acts.

There’s something to discomfit just about everybody in the pages of scripture, but that’s part of its charm and much of its power. The bottom line is that we cannot scrub or trim away the inconvenient messiness that seems to be lurking around our Bibles. My Bible may be instantaneously new, but I hope to read it as close to the original as I can manage.

Tonight in Dietland…

As I was driving home from a race this morning, licking my wounds after being beaten by one-tenth of a second by a guy in a hand-bike, I happened to hear an interview with Sarai Walker supporting her novel, Dietland. There aren’t a lot of novels that focus on militant fat people, but apparently Walker’s is just such a novel. And I hasten to add that I use the word “fat” because she used that word rather than “heavy” or “full-figured” or somesuch.

I’ve never been a fat (or heavy or full-figured) woman, so I’m not all that well equipped to comment in this area. For most of my life I was a fat man–not huge, but certainly carrying around sufficient weight that I would never make the cover of GQ. Does that count?

If Sarai walker is correct, then being a fat woman is a dreadful thing. She tells the interviewer as much on behalf of her main character.

You know, society hates fat people and she’s been stigmatized her whole life, so of course she hates herself and she wants to lose weight, which is of course understandable. But then when she meets the women of Calliope House, she begins to think about her relationship with her fat body in a different way. She begins to think, you know, maybe there’s nothing wrong with my body; maybe it’s the way that other people are treating me. And so I think that she comes to see it as a politicized issue, because it is. I mean, a fat body is always a politicized body.

I can’t argue that society has a dreadful bias against people who do not conform to expectations of appearance. I also can’t argue that this bias is more pronounced with regard to women than to men. Men, by and large, can get away with being fatter than women. That’s not fair.

My question, though, is whether unfair bias in one direction means that we should simply embrace fatness and dismiss it as irrelevant. Or do we shift the threshold for “fat” upward.

It’s important within the church that we look at people, as much as we are able, in the way that God sees us. In God’s eyes, minus the transformative power of Christ, we are all pitiful creatures swimming around in a cesspool. The “beautiful” people might only be 95% covered with sewage, while the outcasts–the fat, the skinny, the ugly, the scarred–are 98% covered. Would you really brag about that sort of difference? We also have to recognize that we have surfaces other than the exterior that can smeared with foulness. After all, didn’t Jesus say something about white-washed tombs?

At the same time that we attempt to look with eyes of love at others, regardless of their bodily defects, we all need to admit the 95% or 98% coverage of nastiness upon us and work toward cleaning ourselves up.

Sarai Walker seems to sympathize with her band of Fat Terrorists, as if being looked at in an unkind way justifies violent behavior. I’d have to disagree with her on that count. But I can’t ignore the fact that the fellow on the handbike is a bit “heavy.” If I had beaten him, who knows how he might have reacted.

Who was James Pouillon?

Does the name James Pouillon ring a bell to you?

How about George Tiller?

My guess is that far more people will recognize the name of Tiller, the Wichita abortion doctor, murdered at the end of May 2009 than that of Mr. Pouillon, the anti-abortion protestor murdered September 11, 2009. A Lexis-Nexis search for the two men’s names returned 422 hits for Tiller in major U.S. and world publications. How many for Pouillon? Can you believe 13?

I will grant that Tiller’s murder deserved somewhat more coverage. He was, after all, a medical doctor. Pouillon was a mere human being and therefore less worthy of the attention. Tiller was gunned down inside his church, while Pouillon was shot outside a school. (Oddly, Harland Drake, the killer of Pouillon, claimed to be motivated by the lurid signs the protester carried outside a school. Apparently the pair of bodies he left were preferable to graphic signs.) Perhaps most significantly, Tiller had gained previous notoriety as a target of anti-abortion protests. I truly do expect that his killing would gain more attention, but 32 times as much?

Scott Roeder, the convicted killer of Tiller, is mentioned in 233 articles. Harland Drake’s name shows up in not a single article. Granted, Drake was only sentenced a little over two months ago. Perhaps some of those major news outlets have not gotten around to the story just yet.

While one can spin this disparate coverage in any desired direction, the bottom line seems fairly obvious. By a gigantic margin, our journalism establishment finds the murder of an abortion provider to be more significant than that of an abortion protester. Or perhaps the press simply does not desire to cover a story that runs counter to the grand narrative they like to advance.

Regardless, if you don’t know who James Pouillon was, it’s really not your fault.