Saturday, October 21, 2006

Madonna's Crucifixion Reported Cancelled

The American Family Association has announced that NBC TV has decided to delete the mock crucifixion scene that was to appear in a concert special starring rock singer Madonna. As reported on this site on September 20,

NBC TV is pondering what to do about rock singer Madonna's upcoming TV special on the network. A video of the middle-aged pop star's latest concert will be broadcast on the network in November. The problem: Madonna sings one song, "Live to Tell," while suspended on a cross, bound by silver cuffs and wearing a crown of thorns.

Madonna crucifiedCatholic and Orthodox church groups have protested the spectacle. Madonna defends it by saying that it is not "anti-Christian, sacrilegious or blasphemous." She says that in fact Jesus himself would be just like her if he were here today: "It is no different than a person wearing a cross or 'taking up the cross' as it says in the Bible. Rather, it is my plea to the audience to encourage mankind to help one another and to see the world as a unified whole. I believe in my heart that if Jesus were alive today he would be doing the same thing."

At that time, I cited an E! Online article reporting that NBC would probably air the scene, quoting NBC President Kevin Reilly as telling "several weeks ago that the scene will probably stay put because Madonna 'felt strongly about it' and considers it a highlight of her show."

NBC has apparently changed course under pressure from groups concerned about the scene. As the AFA's "Action Alert" put it:

AFA supporters have won a great victory! The efforts of AFA Online supporters has forced NBC to cancel a scene in the upcoming Madonna special in which she mocks the crucifixion of Christ!

More than 750,000 AFA supporters emailed NBC asking for the scene to be deleted from the special which is scheduled to air in November. NBC saw a potential loss of $25,000,000 and decided to edit out the scene.

We were effective because we stuck together and combined our voices. Our supporters not only emailed NBC, but they also called their local NBC stations. Those stations contacted NBC and the network listened. The scene is gone!

From Karnick on Culture.

CSI Gets Religion Big-Time

CSI star William PetersonReligion is all over the place on network TV series now. Many programs just can't seem to resist bringing it up, and the treatments are typically fairly sympathetic though by no means without nuance or sophistication.

For example: following up on last week's interesting comment at the end of the program, in which CSI team leader Gil Grissom suggests a sense of moral decline in America (see my article of last week on that episode), this past Thursday night's episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation moved thoroughly into spiritual and religious territory.

The story concerns the investigation into the death of a woman found crucified in the sanctuary of a Catholic church, having been beaten previously and strangled by a rosary. Much suspicion is directed toward a Catholic priest and an automobile dealer, both of whom have known the woman since high school. The priest, it turns out, was having an affair with the woman.

The church holds some very unhappy secrets, you see. But the episode is no slam at the church—it is instead a fairly sophisticated look at how flawed human beings try to live out their relationship with God, and how those who don't have such a relationship get on without it.

The events of the story bring out the religious beliefs, or lack thereof, of some of the central characters in the series. CSI Sarah Sidle makes it clear that she is pretty much of an atheist, though not adamant about it. Detective Brass shows himself to be very unsympathetic toward belief in God.

Marg Helgenberger (as Det. Catherine Willows) and William Peterson (as Det. Gil Grissom) of CSI: Crime Scene InvestigationThe two central characters of the show, however, are both shown to be Christian and in fact Catholic. Early on in the story, detective Catherine Willows—a former stripper and the daughter of a mobster—who is one of the team leaders, lights a candle in the sanctuary, makes the sign of the cross, and says a prayer for her father. Shortly thereafter, in a conversation with Sarah Sidle, Grissom states explicitly that he is a Catholic, though of a non-churchgoing sort who attaches intense spiriitual significance to everday life—suggesting something of an early-Church point of view, a very interesting and laudable approach to Christian faith and worship.

Earlier, in a rather startling moment at the crime scene, Grissom said to Brass, "Christ died for our sins. I wonder whose sins [the murdered woman] died for?"

This bald statement of the central tenet of Christianity is rather a departure for Grissom, who has never shown adherence to this faith before in the program, to my knowledge.

While expressing a strong faith in Christ, Grissom shows a healthy skepticism toward the church and its human failings throughout the episode. In addition, Grissom interprets the events and spiritual implications of the story events with impressive astuteness.

Gil Grissom has always been the emotional and moral center of the team, and this explicit embrace of Christianity suggests an interesting new direction for the show. It could be a one-off, of course, but that seems unlikely given the explicitness and directness of the religious treatment in this most recents episode, and in any case the knowledge of Grissom's and Willows's spiritual backgrounds will continue to color our perceptions of the show.

From Karnick on Culture.

Murder City, and an Unorthodox TV Detective

Promo shot for BBC TV program Murder CityI've been watching the British ITV mystery series Murder City since it began a few weeks ago on BBC America, up to its season 2 finale which ran last Thursday night. (BBC America has shown all 10 episodes of the program's first two seasons in weekly installments.)

The show is a rather typical police procedural program in most ways. As the BBC promo site notes, the series "stars Amanda Donahoe (L.A. Law, The Madness of King George) as tough, methodical detective, Susan Alembic, and Kris Marshall (Love Actually, Doctor Zhivago, My Family) as Luke Stone, her highly creative, unorthodox junior partner."

That sounds very ordinary, if course, and in most ways the program is indeed fairly conventional. The crimes are interesting, and there is usually something rather odd about them, but that is actually typical of cop shows today.

However, there is one thing that is a bit unusual about Murder City: Amanda Donohoe's "tough, methodical detective Susan Alembic" is actually much more interesting than that description suggests. An alembic is an apparatus that refines or distills something else. Susan Alembic's way of solving crimes is to take the tide of information that comes to her and distill it to understand what it really means. That's what all good fictional (or real) detectives do, of course, and the name is a good choice.

But where Alembic really shines is in her attitude. The grim crimes with which she's confronted do affect her emotionally, although they elicit considerably stronger reactions from her gawky, rather unstable partner and subaltern, Luke. Alembic is married, apparently happily so (and is very disturbed when a criminal suspect's flirtation with her becomes increasingly serious in "Wives and Lovers," season 2 ep. 1, and in particular her own vulnerability to it), and is a highly mature, sensible, confident, and optimistic individual.

These characteristics are unusual for a current-day TV police detective, to say the least, and especially so for a supervisor. Contrast Susan Alembic with Gil Grissom of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Mandy Patinkin's character in Criminal Minds, for example. Where the latter are grim and let the crimes disturb them deeply, Alembic is able to detach herself in a very healthy and exemplary way.

Promo shot for BBC TV series Murder City

Donohoe expresses these attitudes superbly in her vocal inflections and bodily posture: she sounds confident even when she may not be pleased with the way things are going, because she knows she's doing the right thing and therefore all will ultimately work out as well as possible, for she's not preventing it from doing so; and she stands with a posture that is somewhat jaunty and suggests a healthy dose of skepticism. Often she pulls her head back a bit as if to say, "Did you really mean that?"

Even more impressively, Donohoe's facial expressions are perfect: her raised eyebrows and typical half-smile suggest a person who knows and understands what's really going on behind the chaos around her, and who will not be beaten down by either the criminals or the departmant bureaucrats. The camera often reeals an actual twinkle in her eye as she watches another person speak. (The ability to convey thought while listening to another character is to me the mark of a good actor.)

A detective who smiles readily is a precious commodity on television today, and I certainly hope that in any further installments of Murder City this character will retain her charms. Alembic is something of a throwback to great detectives of the past such as Reggie Fortune, Lord Peter Wimsey, Lt. Phillip Columbo, and Banacek, and it would be a very good thing indeed to see more detectives of this sort both in television and in other media such as movies and books.

The final episode of season 2 ran this past Thursday on BBC America. No reruns of the series are scheduled as yet, according to the BBC America website, but the station typically repeats series fairly quickly, so you'll do well to check your listings for this one.

From Karnick on Culture.

Oliver Stone to Revisit 9/11 Aftermath

Oliver Stone, writer-director of numerous melodramatic films, several of which have had controversial political themes, has announced his plans to film Jawbreaker, based in part on the book of the same name by former CIA officer Gary Bernstein. The film will tell the story of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and hunt for terror chieftan Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

Director Oliver Stone during a photocall at San Sebastian International Film Festival, September 28, 2006. In a follow-up to his recent 'World Trade Centre,' the filmmaker plans to direct a movie about the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and hunt for Osama bin Laden, Paramount Pictures said on Monday. (Pablo Sanchez/Reuters)

The announcement has brought forth some controversy, because Bernstein's book claims that U.S. troops could have killed or captured bin Laden in 2001 in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, but failed to do so because the Bush administration did not send 800 additional troops Bernstein requested.

That might suggest that Stone plans to do a hit job on the Bush administration in a film released just before the election to decide his successor. Stone, however, says his objective with Jawbreaker will be to "create compelling drama, not a polemic," according to Reuters News Service.

Lending credence to Stone's claim that he is not planning a left-wing polemic is his choice as screenwriter for the second draft of the screenplay for Jawbreaker: Cyrus Nowrasteh, writer-producer of the ABC-TV miniseries The Path to 9/11. Nowrasteh was criticized severely by the left and by prominent Democrats in particular, as they alleged that his assessment of the Clinton's administration's culpability for 9/11 was significantly greater than they thought justified. In the conclusion of the two-part miniseries ,Nowrasteh held the Bush administration to an equally high standard, but complaints from the right were pretty much nonexistent.

Nowrasteh's miniseries, that is, was quite fair, and he correctly refused to exonerate either the Clinton or Bush administrations. In watching the series it was easy to see what led to the tragic mistakes that ended up allowing the 9/11 attacks to occur. Nowrasteh and Stone seem to share a fairly realistic view of how flawed most politicians are and how quickly events can spin out of control. If the two filmmakers are as fair-minded as they were in The Path to 9/11 and World Trade Center, respectively, it might make some politicians uncomfortable but should be an interesting and reasonable treatment of the subject matter.

At least we can have some reason to hope so. With Stone, anything can happen.

For more on the Stone story, see the Reuters article on the announcement, here.

From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Secular Academics?

Not as much as you might think. A few interesting nuggets from this study. "Born-again" Christians make up almost 20% of the professoriate, but only 1% at elite institutions. Only 69% of professors at "religiously affiliated universities" claim a belief in God. Pretty interesting stuff.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The NC False Prosecution Scandal—and What It Means

Your intrepid correspondent went on record early criticizing Durham, North Carolina, prosecutor Thomas Nifong for his outrageous rush to prosecute three Duke lacrosse players accused of rape by a stripper. On May 3 I wrote my first words on the subject for the Reform Club site, as follows:
The recent case in North Carolina—in which a prosecutor rushed forward with indictments against two Duke University lacrosse players [a third would be indicted shortly after I wrote this] despite a complete lack of plausible evidence against them and openly disregarded undeniable exculpatory evidence regarding one of them, in order to court votes from people of the same skin color as the accuser during primary elections that were then just a couple 0f weeks away—was just one of the more blatant examples of prosecutorial misconduct in recent months.
Subsequently, I wrote in great detail about what I characterized as Nifong's outrageous railroading of the Duke players, in light of two excellent articles on the subject in National Review Online a month later, available here and here. I returned to the story several times, continually pointing out that Nifong had no case and was pursuing it solely as a vote-getting measure, knowing that it would fall apart eventually but hoping he could hold the line until the November elections had passed.

That is becoming an increasingly dicey proposition, as is evident in light of last night's 60 Minutes broadcast and several blistering recent criticisms of the press's unquestioning acceptance of Nifong's absurd claims, such as Kurt Anderson's influential New York magazine piece on the New York Times's obscenely credulous coverage of the case.

Instead of referring to it as the Duke lacrosse case or something of that sort, I continually referred to it as the "North Carolina false prosecution scandal." It is clear that events have continued to show this description to be the accurate one. On June 6 I called for Nifong's impeachment, the resignation of Duke University president Richard Brodhead (who collaborated in the public pillorying of the innocent men), and the prosecution of the accuser.

None of these things have come to pass, of course, but it is increasingly obvious that these measures are called for (even though Nifong's term is almost over), so I call for them once again.

The best coverage I've seen of the case is at Durham-in-Wonderland, where K. C Johnson, a history prof at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center has done yeoman work reporting regularly on the case since a couple weeks after its inception. I highly recommend it for those interested in all the sordid details of this prime specimen of prosecutorial misconduct.

For those who don't wish to wade through a full retelling of the horror that was the Duke prosecution, I'll summarize it briefly:
  1. A desperate prosecutor latched onto a non-case pregnant with racial, class, and sexual implications in order to boost his fading chances of winning his party's primary nomination to keep his job, with the vote just a few weeks away.

  2. Slavering over the salacious and politics-packed nature of the obviously false accusation, the largely leftist U.S. press corps leapt to convict the innocent young men through a trial by media, to feed the left's ongoing myth that powerful caucasian males continuously exploit women, "people of color," and those inclined toward unusual sexual practices in these here United States.

  3. Both the prosecutor and his bootlickers in the press were disgustingly wrong and should be horsewhipped and cast out of polite society.
From Karnick on Culture.

American TV Popular in "America-Hating" Europe

The reports of an increasingly tense relationship between the United States and Europe may be a bit exaggerated. That's a likely conclusion to draw from the great surge in U.S. TV program becoming available in Europe.

Advertisement for UK TV channel devoted solely to U.S. programming

What politicians say and do is one thing, but everywhere in the world, TV viewers vote with their remotes. In Europe, the increasing anti-Americanism of many politicians is belied by the mass audiences' great interest in, and presumably enjoyment of, American TV programs. In an article accurately titled, "As U.S. Is Reviled Abroad, American TV Charms," the New York Times reports:
In the parliaments and pubs of Europe, the United States may wallow in least-favored-nation status. But on European television, American shows have been enjoying a popularity not seen since the 1980’s heyday of “Dallas,” “Dynasty” and “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

“What a difference,” said Gerhard Zeiler, chief executive of the RTL Group, the Luxembourg-based broadcaster that owns Five US and other channels across Europe. “Five or six years ago, you could barely find any U.S. series on the prime-time schedules of the market leaders. Now they are back, pretty much on all the major European commercial channels.”

RTL, which is owned by the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann, recently created an all-American Tuesday night lineup at its flagship channel in Germany, the biggest commercial broadcaster in that country. It starts with “CSI: Miami,” a spin-off of the “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” franchise, and continues with “House,” “Monk” and “Law & Order.”

RTL’s biggest commercial rival, ProSieben, owned by ProSiebenSat.1, counters with “Charmed,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Buoyed by strong ratings, RTL said last week that it planned to add a second night of American shows on Thursdays, starting Nov. 9. As recently as 1999, Mr. Zeiler noted, the only American programs shown during prime time on RTL in Germany were reruns of “Quincy,” as audiences tired of the formulaic American sitcoms and dramas that had once filled the airwaves. . . .

United States producers are taking more risks, creating edgier shows, analysts say, and they are spending more on them in an effort to appeal to European audiences. With revenue from sales of American rights flat, they are also increasingly dependent on international sales to recover costs.
The Times's angle on the story is that in response to improvements in U.S. TV programming, European viewers are showing an increased ability to enjoy offerings from a nation whose politics they still nonetheless hate:
Nick Thorogood, controller of Five US, said British viewers set aside any anti-American sentiments when they settle down on the sofa.

“We are seeing bright, intelligent and beautifully made drama coming out of America,” he said. “In the U.K., many people abhor the politics of the U.S. but eagerly embrace the culture.”
But I suspect that the real duality is not largely within the individuals themselves but in the population as a whole. The Times story opens with the observation that a recent British ad campaign for a new UK channel that offers only American programming "reflected a not-uncommon European complaint about the United States at a time of international disenchantment with its foreign policy. 'Nothing good ever came out of America,' the posters read, in plain, white-on-black block lettering." These were teaser ads that were soon replace with ones saying, "Who says nothing good ever came out of America?" the Times observes.

Well, who does say that? European and American leftist elites, that's who. Yes, European voters elect leftist governments because, as Ben Franklin observed, they seek safety over liberty for themselves (and shall have neither), but that doesn't mean they hate America.

As they vote with their remotes to support U.S. TV programming, the populations of these nations are demonstrating that the real divide may not be between Europe and the United States but between leftist elites on both continents and the much more reasonable general population they want to rule. And it's highly possible that European poll numbers and voting patterns might start to reflect this difference. After all, advertisers both here and in Europe spend pots of money on the premise that TV can spur people to action, and a greater presence of U.S. TV programming ought to help Europeans understand our more individualistic mindset and sympathize with it more readily.

This greater interest in U.S. TV programs could be a warning shot for European politicians who make a living by despising America and taking every opportunity to thwart our government's policies. Such politiicians may be pleasing a much smaller group of people than they think, and their own political futures may ultimately reflect that choice.

From Karnick on Culture.