Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Copaganda and History

August 28, 2020

In light of yesterday’s post and the issues swirling in our country at the moment around police, this article detailing copaganda in the United States was very interesting. For those unaware (like myself, about an hour ago), copaganda is a term used to describe a perceived whitewashing of police and their work in our communities. It is a derogatory term, presuming that bucolic and benign depictions of police through programs such as Officer Friendly are patently false, deliberate efforts to brainwash the population (children in particular) into trusting police officers who, in reality, are an implied danger and threat to the population.

Copaganda of course belies a particular point of view. Whether it’s a full on distrust or disavowal of any form of authority or something more particular to the police force is a matter of degree. The underlying assumption is that the police are not there to benefit the population but rather to control and, by extension, fleece it in some way, although the article above doesn’t make clear at all what such whitewashing efforts actually accomplish and how they are dishonest. The fact that sometimes police officers do their jobs poorly – either because they are sinful humans who are prone to error or because they are sinful humans who sometimes deliberately do bad things – is taken as evidence that any positive understanding of police officers in general is false.

While I can’t remember any specific Officer Friendly presentations in school I no doubt had them. The name Officer Friendly is familiar even if the specifics of who might have talked to us and when are lost in the haze of aging memory.

What this and other articles fail to take into account is the rising level of violence in our society over the last century and particularly over the last 60-some years. I can understand why police officers and other law enforcement officials are a bit more reserved and cautious these days, especially in certain areas of town. They face threats that were likely impossible to even conceive of 60 years ago. While perhaps law enforcement has always been described as a field of service where you put your life on the line, it would appear in our country that has only grown more and more true over the passing decades.

But I’ll point out that depictions of police officers as friendly and well-intentioned is not simply a public relations move from the 60’s to 80’s, but rather how our culture as a whole viewed the police and, I would argue, everyone.

I’m philosophically opposed to the practice of binge-watching that seems all the rage these days. But the one series I am working my way through systematically (though slowly) is the original The Twilight Zone series. As a kid I loved when I could find this on Saturday afternoon reruns, and my fondness for the slightly tilted surreal reality hasn’t faded with time or with subsequent, disappointing efforts to revive the series. Combined with this is my sheer amazement at the output of Rod Serling and others associated with the show. Truly impressive from a creative standpoint!

The show is also a fascinating time capsule. It captures the sort of Everyman nuances from mid-century America, nuances that ideas like copaganda directly contradict and claim were false. What I see in those shows is a culture vastly different from today. It doesn’t shirk from portraying bad people, but it’s well-understood that they are bad and wrong and also atypical. The underlying assumption is that most people are honest and well-intentioned, trying to get through life. The trouble-makers and problems invariably end up being those who see themselves as somehow above such mundane matters, as exceptions to the rule, as smarter or better than everyone else. Their assumptions are invariably proven to be wrong, and not just wrong but dangerously wrong. Usually for themselves but also sometimes for many other people or all other people. If there’s a myth that needs dispelling, it might well be the myths of copaganda and exceptionalism that is so prevalent today rather than the boring assumptions of averageness 60 years ago.

In shows like The Twilight Zone, or Andy Griffith or any number of other successful mid-century shows, police are invariably depicted as basically good. Not perfect. Sometimes bumbling. Sometimes bad but in that case it’s clear the badness is their personal issue rather than a systemic problem with police as a concept. These might be futuristic, interstellar police such as in the first season episode The Lonely. They might be more ‘typical’ figures such as in the episode The Night of the Meek, where the policeman functions both as an Everyman kind of figure, a person just like you and I rather than a dark and sinister agent of nefarious groups and ideologies, but also as a protector, as the one charged with being objective when having to determine the truth in a given situation. We’re reminded that left to our own devices we are very capable of misreading others and accusing them of false things based on our preconceptions, and the local police officer who knows his beat and the people on it can serve as a protection for the marginalized. This is a theme also prevalent in Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?

It’s not that the series ignores the dangers of abused authority, as in The Obsolete Man. But perhaps closer to the horrors of Hitler and Mussolini, there’s an awareness of a profound difference between human frailty and flawed judgment in a moment of crisis, and a deliberate misuse of power to systematically oppress people. The series as a whole is far more prone to prowl and probe the dark corners of our souls and hearts as common citizens rather than to seek to pin blame on an external person or authority. After all, the abuses (perceived or otherwise) of a group in power are only possible because of the sinfulness and brokenness (as well as the ignorance) in our individual hearts and minds.

Just as telling in these shows is the relatively rare presence of police and other officials. People more often than not have to figure things out for themselves rather than rely on the opinions of anonymous experts or authority figures, whether that involves an interdimensional rescue or a group of neighbors coming to grips with imminent atomic holocaust. If the implication of copaganda is that we are victims of a police state, there’s very little presence of police in these shows. That overall absence also belies the fundamental assumptions that people are essentially trying to be decent and can often, if imperfectly, deal with situations on their own.

It will no doubt be claimed that shows such as The Twilight Zone represent only one slice of human experience, and that however accurate they might be in that one slice they don’t cover every possible experience. That’s true. As it’s true of everything, including copaganda. The fact that some people have negative experiences with the police does not in and of itself prove that all police or the concept of a police force is evil and wrong. Recent events in Seattle where the police were forced out in favor of a presumably better and more benevolent self-rule are good reminders this is true, and that without the restraint provided by an authority presence, we quickly revert, Lord of the Flies style, to a basic system of rule by force and the abuse of the weak and marginalized (even if that category now becomes made up of those who were formerly not marginalized).

It might also be argued that shows like these are less depictions of what is and more wishful thinking about what could or should be, or even of what once was. But I’d argue the depiction of law enforcement in such shows is not attempting to be exceptional or in any way mythic or imaginative. What makes the shows work is that police officers – whether supporting characters or the main character – are believable. The law enforcement characters are not the fantastical ones, and that even if Andy Griffith is a bit stylized, it’s not a character beyond the realm of reality for the viewers. He doesn’t completely contradict reality and experience, even if his even-keeled temperament never gets ruffled in the course of a typical 20-minute episode.

We’re sinful and broken. For some that sinfulness and brokenness is going to be more severe and pose a greater risk to others. In an industrialized and urban society (another factor copaganda doesn’t deal with) where most often neighbors don’t know each other very well and extended family bonds are often non-existent we apparently require a group of people to help maintain order and provide assistance in emergencies. Recent events have shown that though police officers are not perfect (as nobody is!) their presence is far better, ultimately, than an absence of their presence.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. This doesn’t mean there isn’t reason to question certain aspects of law enforcement. And it certainly doesn’t mean than when bad apples are discovered we don’t deal with them. It just means that the presence of bad apples doesn’t necessarily prove a theory of an entire system and everyone in it being corrupt and a threat to the people they claim to serve. And if some police officers have to deal with inner city violence and drug and human trafficking, it doesn’t mean that some others have far more docile beats where they are indeed able to assist in visiting schools and being a proactive positive influence in young people’s lives.

Highly Illogical

March 27, 2020

Sometimes it’s the little things that are inspiring and surprising.

As a casual Trekkie and somewhat more than casual admirer of J.R.R. Tolkien, I found a curious blending of the two a few years ago after the Star Trek movie reboot.  Namely, a very delightful if slightly corny Audi commercial starring the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, and his reboot alter-ego, Zachary Quinto.  It’s a cute commercial but I never understood the song Nimoy was singing.  I thought it was just a nonsensical sort of thing to compare his outdatedness with Quinto’s more with-it persona and car.

Now I find out  there’s a history to what Nimoy is singing about Bilbo Baggins.  A history that goes all the way back to 1967 when Nimoy, in addition to starring in a new series called Star Trek, was releasing musical albums.  Two at this point.  And he sang this original song called The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins on one of his albums, and then lip-synced it for a campy TV show during the summer of 1967.

Mind blown.  I respect the Audi commercial even more now for their attention to detail – even a detail many would miss!


Twilight Zone

March 13, 2017

I grew up watching reruns of The Twilight Zone and loved it.  Recently when Netflix was streaming them we watched a few of them as a family.  I was surprised at how they held my kids’ interest, and how they actually enjoyed them.  I had expected the shows to be too old-fashioned compared to the rapidity of video games and modern movies.

But the shows are still good.  They engage at a deep level, resonating on themes that never really go away – loneliness, paranoia and fear, love.  And yes, we can learn a lot about ourselves and how we are and how we should be from these shows.  The lessons aren’t original for certain, but viewing them in a more modern context can be very helpful.

Visiting History

January 9, 2017

It’s kind of a strange thing, to think that people (or at least me) would be drawn to visit a location for a fantasy, an imagining, as opposed to a location where something historical happened.  What is the nature of history, in the first place?  What is worth commemorating and remembering and visiting?

While digging around for a friend on things to do in the Los Angeles area, I stumbled upon this.  It is the site where the television series M*A*S*H was filmed.  I loved this series when I was a kid, despite not understanding probably 70% of the cultural commentary.  It looks like a fun afternoon jaunt!

Wednesday Musings

December 16, 2015

Some miscellaneous sharings this morning.

First, check out this poetic meditation on baptism from Chad Bird.  Very beautiful indeed.

Because I grew up with the A Charlie Brown Christmas, I get kinda sentimental about it.  I thought that this little observation was interesting.  I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this particular aspect of the show, and it is poetic as well.

Twilight Zoney

August 29, 2015

While not exactly the same, this article reminded me of the very first Twilight Zone episode.  Which would be a spoiler I suppose, if the episode wasn’t 56 years old already.


June 14, 2015

That’s the first time I can ever remember spelling that word – awkward.  It looks so…awkward.  Curious.


I haven’t watched Game of Thrones, (or Seth Meyers, for that matter) but this little clip seems so appropriate for the Church in so many ways.  This is how Church seems these days.  Awkward.  Dealing with a reality that is much larger and harsher and at the same time more mind-numbingly beautiful than what our culture is willing and able to recognize.  Culture wants to prattle on about Bruce/Caitlyn or global warming or who Taylor Swift is dating, blissfully ignorant or ignoring the nightmare that haunts our steps and seeks our souls; rejecting the gift of life and love and joy in the God who created us and redeemed us and promises to make us holy.

Being awkward is no fun.  The Church, being comprised of broken, sinful human beings such as myself, often would just rather fit in.  Would rather try to forget for a few moments the dark howls beyond that parapets, would like to focus on itself a bit more, maybe meet a pretty girl and chat a bit.  The Church is constantly being counseled to change the tone, water down the rhetoric a bit, go easy on the whole sin and death business, emphasize love and acceptance and hope and joy a bit more, muddying all of them together until we have the appeal – and usefulness – of, at best, a motivational speaker.

I don’t like feeling awkward.  It hurts to watch faithful members of my congregation struggle with that same awkwardness, that same growing cultural irrelevance.  It’s hard to know that these people grieve spouses and children and grandchildren who are physically alive but spiritually dead.  It’s hard to know that, like me, there are relationships where the Gospel can’t be brought up without people rolling their eyes, without long pauses at the dinner table.  Without awkwardness.

Truth and reality are awkward.  Evil is real but God is more real.  Forge ahead.  Watch.  Wait.  Pray.  Don’t lose heart.  Don’t sacrifice the importance of the Gift that has been given for a few fleeting moments of relevance or the allure of a pretty set of eyes.  Winter is here, but spring has come and summer is coming.

Theology & Scooby Doo

April 26, 2014

Growing up with these cartoons, and now watching my children devour the originals as well as all of the subsequent spin-offs and modified shows, this essay hit a soft spot in me.

I’ve often mused (because I have nothing better to do, obviously) that Scooby Doo is a snapshot of our culture.  The series began with the kids stumbling into events well out of their league.  But tenacious curiosity triumphed over fear and terror, allowing the gang to unravel mysteries time and time again.  In later iterations of the show, there isn’t even a pretense of belief that any of the odd creatures and events they encounter might be real.  The assumption has become that it’s a cover up for something and someone else.  Initial fear is still there -we can’t control that primal response to the unexpected – but the entire premise is that in overcoming fear and applying our minds, logic and reason will show without a doubt that the supernatural doesn’t exist.  
We can explain everything, given enough time and clues.
I like this essay a lot, though I don’t agree with his conclusions.  Yes, greed and power are traditionally behind the occult, the desire to personally be like God (or more accurately, to displace God and be God) that has been at the heart of sin since Eden.  But Scooby Doo is alleging that these ‘demons’ are nothing more than the playing out of our own issues.  The demons aren’t real, because all of these motivations come from within.  I believe that Scooby Doo really does mirror our cultural insistence that we can explain and control everything.  Our human frailties set us up to do wrong, but that wrong will be conquered by application of the intellect.  
If we just think properly, we can expunge the ‘demons’ from within us, even the age-old demons of desiring to be God.
In which case, Scooby Doo is wrong, just as modernism and the scientific mindset that is both it’s ancestor and offspring is ultimately flawed in this assumption.  We can and should explain a great deal.  But that doesn’t necessitate that there is nothing inexplicable, nothing beyond our ability to understand, nothing supernatural, whether angelic or demonic.  
But that would wreck the model that has made Scooby Doo a success for over 40 years, so I can’t really expect them to change!

Marriage and Sex

January 29, 2014

Bet that title caught your attention?

Thanks to J.P. for sending me this essay referring to Sunday’s Grammy Awards and the performance of Mr. & Mrs. Carter – aka Jay Z and Beyonce.  The author’s premise is that the married couple gave a smoldering and powerful testimony to the sexiness of marriage.  The author writes from a Christian vantage point on the issue, arguing that Christians should be happy about the performance and the message that it sends about how sexy marriage can be, drawing comparisons with the song/performance and the Biblical Song of Solomon.  
But this isn’t how fans are going to hear or see this song.
Nothing in the song or the performance is specific to marriage.  It’s about passion all right, but our culture teaches that passion can be found anywhere you want, with anyone you want.     And when the passion is gone, move on.  Nothing in this song contradicts that.  The song could be sung or grooved to by anyone, in any situation.  It’s rather coincidental that the performers are married.  
Coincidental because smoldering and powerful songs about sensuality and sexuality have defined the careers of both these people, and not just after they were married.  While there are undoubtedly far more qualified people to analyze the collective works of Jay Z and Beyonce to see if there is a shift in their music, philosophy, or theology regarding sexuality, I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that there isn’t any shift.  Therefore we shouldn’t read this song and performance as an ode to Biblical marriage.    
Christians are desperate to find affirmation of our beliefs and values in someone popular and hip.  It’s tempting to try and claim the reigning king and queen of hip and sexy for our own, but this is dangerous and myopic.  We need to be careful to identify momentary overlaps in expressions as just that and not necessarily anything more.  I wish Mr. & Mrs. Carter a life-long and happy marriage.  But let’s not try to appropriate them as spokespersons for Biblical marriage.  At least not until we have some evidence that this is actually what they profess.  

Johnny Be Good

November 15, 2013

I want my kids to be good.  I want them to mind when their parents tell them something, to be kind to one another and everyone else for that matter, to respect themselves as well as others regardless of their age, to be honest and responsible. I want my kids to be good.

But this isn’t the same thing as raising Christian kids.  This blogger reminds us of this fact.  The fact that he quotes Phil Vischer is also interesting.
As with many Christian parents, when our kids came along and we were looking for good material for them to watch, Veggie Tales was at the top of the list.  They weren’t nearly as insipid as Barney or Teletubbies, they were Christian-based – what more could you want?  Our kids loved them, and so did my wife and I.  They were that rare mix of production that engages with young minds while also keeping the adult in the room from nodding off into a coma.  
In Seminary I remember being disgusted with one of the profs who criticized Veggie Tales.  They weren’t preaching the Gospel, he said.  And while I didn’t disagree with his assessment of the shows, I didn’t feel that it was a major issue, either.  After all, we need to teach kids all sorts of things, including how to be good people.  The shows may not have taught the Gospel, but that’s OK – not everything has to.  The Gospel can be taught another way.
Unless you get confused and assume that just because something uses Jesus and the Bible as a basis, it’s teaching the Christian faith and the Gospel.  In which case, you’re apt to not go out of your way to teach the Gospel otherwise, which means your kids grow up knowing they ought to be good people, but not knowing about Jesus and how He fits into that.  And when they hit high school and college and life, and find out that lots of religions teach people to be good people, suddenly there isn’t much compelling about the Christian faith and the Bible.  All these religions must be teaching the same thing, because they all want people to be good.  
This is a good reminder to my wife and I that we have to be intentional about conveying the Gospel.  While our kids have by and large outgrown Veggie Tales (although all of us still get a kick out of some of the Silly Songs with Larry segments), we need to continue teaching them the Gospel, and the rather counter-intuitive idea that while they are to be good people, they ultimately aren’t good people in terms of God.  Which is the unique and amazing message of the Gospel – that while the rest of the world and the religions and philosophies therein work their hardest to get people to be good (whether for social good or salvation/enlightenment/hereafter stuff), the Gospel recognizes that we can’t
That’s going to take some time to flesh out and discuss and clarify and pray about.  At least 18 years.  Hopefully not too much longer than that.   Right?