Tag Archives: church

A God-Forsaken Protest

By Jason Menard

While the old Hollywood adage is that all publicity is good publicity, it’s hard to understand the motivations behind the congregation of the Westboro Baptist Church and its decision to protest the funeral of a nine-year-old girl.

The Topeka, Kansas church members are planning to protest at Christina Green’s funeral. The young girl was killed during the attempted assassination of U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords. Continue reading

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Fishing for the Force of Celebrity

By Jason Menard

We question why a fish, once he’s escaped certain death at the end of a hook, would so readily lust after that oddly hanging, totally-out-of-its-element, worm the next time it cross its path. But it does, just as we do whenever Madonna goes out on tour.

They say fish have painfully short memories, but what’s our excuse for biting down again on the same old tired bait.

Newspapers, television shows, and the Internet are rife with images of the largely Immaterial Girl symbolically crucifying herself on a mirrored cross. And, instead of ignoring the bait, the Catholic League just couldn’t resist and now finds itself dancing on the line that is Madonna’s publicity machine.

Really, do we care what Madonna does? Are we at all surprised with what she does on stage? Should we be? Honestly, it’s not as if this is Barry Manilow we’re talking about here. It’s not like Madonna doesn’t have a history of turning taboos into television time. Yet, like the spoiled child who gets attention by throwing a temper tantrum, Madonna is able to use outrageous behaviour to gain her attention when, perhaps, her music no longer warrants it.

Cone bras, bisexualism, dancing as a peep show stripper with an underage child, alleged carnal explorations of Dennis Rodman and Vanilla Ice, burning crosses in Pepsi ads, simulated masturbation on stage – really, did nobody see the precedent here? Are we really supposed to be shocked?

If she managed to come out with a movie that didn’t suck – then, that would warrant attention. But no, we’re hooked like fish on a two-pronged rod – one reeling us in, the other one hooked into our wallets – and Madonna manages to leverage her lifetime membership in the Cult of Celebrity.

What is it about us that values style over substance? Madonna’s imagery was always an interesting side project to the fact that her music was, in large part, entertaining and danceable. Before she was a trend-setter, now she jumps from trend to trend, canoodling with today’s starlets (hello Ms. Spears) in an attempt to have their star power rub off on her. She, like so many other entertainers before her, is living off her legacy and has long moved past the stage of titillating into the realm of creepy, reserving space on the discount rack next to Sharon Stone’s Basic Instinct sequel.

It seems when superstars reach a certain status, their need to actually put out quality work lessens – for a time. While U2 is back on top of their game, there were quite a few albums there where it appeared they were just going through the motions. Yet fans would still try to justify the work, analyze their new directions, and come up with plausible explanations for why the new stuff sucked.

Here’s a news flash. Musicians can suck. Actors can plateau. Life moves on. Talent isn’t absolute. Keanu Reeves: good in Bill & Ted’s, bad in everything else. Yet, somehow he continues to get roles – including a new film with the similarly inexplicable Sandra Bullock — despite showing the acting range of the average piece of theatre popcorn. Al Pacino, once a celluloid force is now just cashing checks and shouting his way through scenes where he once gave consideration to acting. And what deal with the devil has kept Bon Jovi recording albums while similarly (un)talented acts like Helix and Nelson are pushing brooms in the local mini-mart?

Celebrity is an odd force. It’s inexplicable and defies talent. The magazine racks are filled with images of starlet racks. Their talent is secondary to their “talents.” Going by the gossip mags, our Hollywood celebrities spend most of their time in bikinis. But sex sells — which may explain Paris Hilton. Our modern-day Zsa Zsa Gabor, famous for being famous, Hilton represents everything that’s both wrong and right about fame.

It’s mercurial, it’s fortuitous, and it’s inexplicable. It can prop up the talentless, while crushing the dreams of those with real acting or singing chops. It’s a force of nature that we’re all moved by but have no control over. And it makes us suspend our otherwise common sensibilities and blinds us to reality.

So the next time Madonna does something predictably outrageous, feel free to be offended. After all, it’s just the force of celebrity moving you to take the bait, yet again.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Opportunity Knocks in the Form of Tom Hanks

By Jason Menard

Batten down the hatches! Shield your children’s ears. The day of the Apocalypse is upon us! Verily, the very foundations upon which Western society has been built are set to crumble.

And the culprit? For years rumours have abounded that the Anti-Christ walks among us and now we have seen his face. The one to send humanity to its fire and brimstone end? Tom Hanks.

With the release of the DaVinci Code movie, defenders of the Christian faith are wringing their hands nervously at the allegations and potentially devastating revelations that were first popularized in Dan Brown’s novel and now have made the big screen in an easy-to-digest, two-hour format. And Tom Hanks, with his everyman appeal and Midas Touch at the box office is a perfect vessel from which evil can pour forth.

Think about it. What if the Holy Grail isn’t a chalice or the living bloodline of Christ through a marriage to Mary Magdalene, as the DaVinci Code claims? What if the elusive Grail is actually a hidden item that inexplicably allows people to reach unheard of levels of fame despite not doing too much?

I mean, the evidence is there. Hanks has made a career being Hanks. Save for his performance in Philadelphia, he’s never really done anything that’s beyond the everyman, pleasant guy. SplashBig? Even Forrest Gump was a pleasant Everyguy with some developmental challenges. Cast Away? Everyguy on a beach with a volleyball. That Thing You DoThe LadykillersRoad to Perdition? Everyguy in period dress.

Hell – no pun intended – for someone as pleasantly bland as Hanks is there must be something that he’s drawing upon to unleash the forces necessary to survive bombs like Joe Versus the Volcano and Turner and Hooch. Maybe the grail is shared amongst Hollywood glitterati – which would explain why I know Zsa Zsa Gabor’s name and why I can’t walk past a newsstand without seeing her next-gen copy Paris Hilton – allowing people to be famous just for being famous.

No, Hanks is just Nice Guy on Screen with an Impressive Rolodex (or compromising pictures of Ron Howard.) Which is why it’s so intriguing to see Christians losing their minds over something as innocuous as a movie. Yes, the issues are challenging and appear to be unflattering to the Church as an institution. But in their zeal to repress discussion of the book, its contents, and Hanks’ performance (which may not be a bad idea…) the Church has ignored the greatest opportunity of all. And that is the chance to be relevant.

The DaVinci Code was not the first source for these Grail theories. Nor are alternative versions of the life of Christ or Christianity in general restricted to the here and now. But people are talking. Religion is relevant. For a Church that’s been hemorrhaging parishioners for years, instead of boarding up the doors with dogma, the Church should be engaging these newly interested people in discussions about religion.

Having faith does not preclude having curiosity. Questioning one’s religion does not constitute a crisis of faith. It is a factor in what makes us human.

I am not religious. I am spiritual. I suppose it’s a factor of not being able to drink the whole glass of Kool-Aid for any one religion. However, I also believe that if God is going to punish me for being a good person, being respectful of others, raising my kids and loving my wife to the best of my ability, and for thirsting for knowledge, then that’s a deity that I’m just ready to get down with.

Many others are like me. They are fed up of religions that choose to dictate to their followers as opposed to engaging them in the discussion. Many religions employ a top-down model of faith, wherein a select few are in the know while the followers must swear blind allegiance.

Why can’t we question our faith? Does a belief in a deity preclude curiosity? Does it eliminate free thought? Or can religion not open itself up and engage those who are interested in thoughtful debate and discussion. Not everything has to be black and white – there’s room for metaphor and there’s room for leaps of faith – but shutting people out of the discussion process is counterproductive.

For the first time in years, religious discussion is cool. But instead of embracing the opportunity that Pop Religion books, movies, and texts are presenting, the Church is boarding up the doors and hoping to ride out the swirling winds of questions and interest. Too bad they aren’t realizing that these questions are an invitation to engage in discussion and teaching, not just a challenge to the Church’s authority.

In the end Tom Hanks, Dan Brown, or any other anthropologist, writer, or historian isn’t the Anti-Christ. In fact, if used properly to stimulate an open debate and inclusionary nature in the Church, they could in fact be part of Christianity’s salvation. And after all, we all know the position of Anti-Christ has already been filled – by Chuck Woolery.

Opportunity is knocking. But will the Church finally answer its call or keep the door barred?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved