Tag Archives: evangelism

Big Bang Theory Isn’t That Fucking Good

7 Mar

I’ve been watching seasons of the CBS sitcom Big Bang Theory on DVD recently. It’s a decent sitcom with a serviceable premise: four genius-level nerds with differing and severe social disorders cope with life in Los Angeles, city of beautiful people. Plus, a hot chick lives across the hall from two of them which adds to the stammering merriment. It’s pretty satisfying in the way I feel that most television should be: each episode is fairly well encapsulated and the situation resets to its default by the time each half hour is up. In the current season I’m watching, season three, the main character begins dating the blond woman from across the hall, but this is no more a progression in the story as it is fodder for several more ludicrous premises.


So I’m pretty okay with Big Bang Theory. However, I find it unbelievable that it’s the highest-rated sitcom on Thursday nights and one of the highest-rated comedies on television, period. Thursday night, my patient readers and millions of television watchers will recall, is when NBC runs three hours of comedy programming, at least an hour of which is worthwhile. And the kicker is that one of the more worthwhile shows, Community, goes up against Big Bang Theory head-to-head each week, and loses.


If you’ve never seen either show, well you’ve probably stopped reading this essay by now. But if you’ve seen both shows, then you might be as befuddled as I. Using my New York myopia, I can see how Big Bang Theory might be more palatable to middle America than Community, but the former blows the latter away in ratings every week, practically quadruple the number of viewers. And part of me (the same New York myopia, just a different facet) feels like Big Bang Theory wouldn’t sit will with the Bible Belt and fundamentalist America. I mean, the show’s theme song describes the creation of the universe through the big bang theory and goes on to detail evolution. The main characters are physicists trying to determine the behaviors of subatomic particles. And there was even one episode where the most autistic character decried Christmas as a pointless sham. I don’t think that would fly in Kentucky.


Seems to me that the real culprit here is the Nielsen ratings system, a technique developed by Arthur Nielsen in the 1920s to establish demographic groups, then applied to radio in the 1930s, and finally to television in the 1950s. Even armchair statisticians would be thoroughly impressed with Nielsen’s model, which extrapolates the entire nation’s television viewing habits from a small sample. There’s only one flaw with the Neilsen ratings system, and that is the system doesn’t really work.


I think it worked many decades ago when the sampling was much lower. To have a television in 1950 was a big deal, they were expensive and often entire families and groups of neighbors huddled around them to watch the flickering screen. There were only three broadcast networks which ran during daylight hours; programming was limited. Now, most homes with televisions have two or three in them. The kids have their own, the parents have one in the living room, one in the bedroom. Often, people could be watching PBS downstairs and American Idol upstairs. So the notion of “household viewing” doesn’t apply as much any more. It didn’t even apply when I was a kid and would be watching Growing Pains in my room while my parents watched Some Boring Foreign Movie downstairs, and my grandmother would watch Dynasty or Some Shit on the first floor.


But the main problem with the Nielsen ratings system is the stupidly small size of the absolutely not random sampling of the populace by which they make their determinations. There are twenty-five thousand households participating in the Nielsen system–all of them by choice, all of them aware that they are contributing to these ratings–and that only constitutes 0.02% of the total households in America. So 0.02% of the television watchers in America determine which show is most popular, and therefore which show can charge the most for advertising. I don’t give a shit what anyone says, Community is far and away a better show than Big Bang Theory, though some manufacturers might not bode well the idea of advertising during a prime-time television show where the main character wears hair gel. And so these companies might have a vested interest in perpetuating the outmoded Nielsen technique.


Or maybe not. It may not be a great conspiracy, merely a bumbling, shitty system that we’re saddled with, even though the technology exists today that can determine viewers’ habits to a much more specific degree. Our own cable and digital satellite companies know more about America’s viewing habits than the Nielsen ratings system, for crap’s sake. It seems unfair that a relatively witty and creative show like Community must be relegated to obscurity, and probably an early cancellation, because this one statistics company has turned its sights on a lot of hardcore Big Bang Theory fans instead of taking a better sample. However, the fact that we’re using this antiquated system does give me some hope that perhaps people aren’t as entranced by American Idol as the numbers purport. Now I’m really kidding myself.

Yeah So Rapture Ready! is a Pretty Okay Book

24 Feb

I finished Daniel Radosh’s Rapture Ready! about a week ago, and even though I ruminated on it here and here, I figured I should give it a full review because, well, I said I would. Plus, it’s a reasonably worthwhile book if Evangelical Christian pop culture is something you’re interested in. Frankly, you should be interested in it and you should find the bulk of it hilarious. But I dunno, maybe you’re one of those stuck up types who can’t chuckle at a picture of Jesus on a coffee mug or something.


Radosh’s year-long excursion through the world of retail Evangelism begins at a Christian rock festival, and takes the reader to such disparate settings as the Holy Land Experience in Florida and a Christian rave in Ohio. There’s even Ultimate Christian Wrestling, an idea which is simultaneously obvious and ridiculous considering Christ’s commitment to non-violence. But then if we start dissecting that particular bit of hypocrisy, I’ll never get done with this essay. Throughout the author’s travels, we join him in a bit of snickering about the silliness of it all, but for the most part he is respectful and even-handed concerning the whole crazy circus. Even when he meets Bibleman, he doesn’t just cock his head and suspiciously say to the guy, “Bibleman? Really?” Which is precisely what I would do.


In fact, we do precious little snickering at those wacky Evangelists, and one of the problems with this book. I was surprised to learn that Daniel Radosh has written and staffed for several revered humor publications, because Rapture Ready! didn’t strike me as particularly funny at all. I mean, it wasn’t unfunny, but it certainly wasn’t a guffaw-laden romp through Christian breath mints and Jesus-loving heavy metal bands. The author successfully attempted to humanize the pop Christian world, which effectively takes the fun out of it. I don’t want to respect some kid wearing a t-shirt with a Reese’s logo that’s been changed to “Jesus,” I want to smirk and chortle and think about how much smarter I am. If I wanted to empathize with my fellow man, I’d read the fucking bible.


Still, while it was kind of a dry read, it was still reasonably enjoyable and packed with the kind of anecdotes you want to read upon picking the book up. My favorite interactions are when Radosh informs his hosts that he is Jewish, and they embrace him as part of the new born again Christian support of Israel, the subtext of which is that a Jewish state is integral to the fomenting of Armageddon. I also learned quite a bit reading this book, which I can’t knock. If Christian pop culture is interesting to you, then I’m not sure there’s another book out there to compete with this. But if you’re looking for a highly readable book which points fingers at the religious right wing component of America, well then you’ll probably have to watch Bill Maher or something.

Have You Ever Heard of God?

18 Feb

I have about a hundred pages left in Rapture Ready! by Daniel Radosh. I mentioned the in another essay, but for those who didn’t read it and don’t like to click links, the book details a year of Radosh’s life among Evangelical Christians, soaking up their burgeoning pop culture. It’s a decent read, I’ll probably review it when I’m done, but reading the book has made me recall other brushes with Evangelism in my life.


One sort of funny incident happened when I was in my twenties and visiting a friend at a college in upstate New York. We were hanging out on a porch swing outside an ice cream parlor–yes, it was that innocent–when a kid about our age came over and asked, “Have you ever heard of God?” We all chuckled and I probably made a snide comment. Have I ever heard of God? What the fuck kind of question is that? Most people define themselves by which God, if any, they believe in. As I recall, we jeered him until he sneaked away bashfully into the night. Of all the nerve!


You know, I hadn’t thought about that incident in about fifteen years. I routinely chat up religious pamphleteers and proselytizers because…I don’t know why. I think it’s fun. I don’t try to poke holes in their beliefs, I don’t contest them, but I will lie and say I belong to a religion that I don’t. “I am a lapsed Lutheran,” I might tell a Jew for Jesus, “but I am looking for some kind of spiritual insight.” Part of me wants to hear the spiel, part of me wants to chortle inwardly at another person’s earnestness. However, there is part of me that wants to engage this person because I want them to know that people are listening, even if the chance that I will ever attend a sermon or even seriously consider the literature being handed out is so remote, it’s more likely that I am the son of God than I will ever accept a messiah. It’s sort of a strange tendency I have to prove that people are good when, in fact, all evidence points to the contrary.


I am like this with girlfriends, too. There have been more than a few women I’ve dated because their stories about being mistreated by men in the past touched me deeply, and I wanted to prove that all men aren’t the same. So I went through the motions of being a Good Boyfriend, offered lots of platitudes and promises for the future. Eventually, reality catches up with the facade: I can’t rightly pretend to be deeply in love for the rest of my life. The truth that I don’t really give a shit comes before too long. That’s usually what happens, and these relationships end with me ironically being the worst boyfriend that woman’s ever had.


But back to this kid who asked if we’d ever heard of God, in reading Rapture Ready! I’ve come to see this kid (who could be a pedophile meth addict now, I have no idea) as being particularly brave, if a little naive. “Have you ever heard of God?” is a pretty good ice-breaker, it makes people chuckle and puts them at ease for the bombshell about God’s wrath you’re about to disseminate. Another good opener might be, “Has anyone seen God? He was right here a second ago but I can’t find him.” There’s a lot going on in the question, “Have you ever heard of God?” It personifies God, implies that God is someone you can know, and also allows a dialogue where someone can begin telling their side of the story, i.e. “You’ve heard of God, but here’s the truth about the dude.”


The main problem with that kind of opener, and it’s a problem I see with a lot of witnessing in America, is that it’s only ready for a few types of responses. The best would be “Of course I have heard of God, I am a Christian.” That leaves the person asking the question a lane where he or she can start expressing what they think God’s about. However, that question isn’t ready for a response like, “I heard of God, he’s the guy who gave my grandmother cancer.” Or “I have heard of God, and what I’ve heard is a bunch of retarded bullshit.” Whatever the response to the question, the person asking it is only prepared to answer with the same shtick. You could say, “Yeah, God and I are butt buddies,” and the person asking can only reply with tales of creationism and God’s love, or they can walk away in disgust, a tacit win for the secular world.


I am a big fan of the Prayer Channel because much of the programming is so insipid and ridiculous. One of my favorite shows is The Way of the Master, which is a witnessing technique developed by some dude that looks like he deals pot to junior high school students. Kirk Cameron is the spokesperson for this thing and is heavily featured on the program, which consists of Christians stopping people on the street and harassing them. “Do you think you’ll go to heaven?” is often the first question, to which the person being asked responds in the affirmative. “Have you ever lied?” is the next question, which is also replied to affirmatively. The Way of the Master disciple then proves that the person being grilled is a sinner and is going to Hell, based on quoted scripture, and that they essentially aren’t being pious enough.


I suppose this works if the person being targeted considers themselves a good Christian. But what if they don’t give a fuck? Does Way of the Master’s way only work to guilt existing Christians into being even better Christians? If someone asked me if I thought I was going to Heaven, I would tell them that I don’t. I think it’s a stupid concept and its inconsistencies are so many that I have neither the space or time to go into them. What first needs to happen, then, is for me to be convinced about Heaven existing. Asking me if I’ve lied or if I’ve ever lusted is inconsequential. Of course I’ve fucking lied and I don’t give a shit. I lied to you at the beginning of this conversation when I said I was a lapsed Lutheran.


I guess my point is that I have to respect someone who can gather up the nerve to approach someone else and share their thoughts on theology. At the same time, it’s stupid for an interviewer to ask questions when they’re only prepared to deal with a certain set of answers. If Evangelists really want to convert people for their own good, then approaching them with such an obvious agenda is probably not the best idea. It’s like if I wanted to advertise a brand of cream soda, I wouldn’t approach someone drinking root beer and tell them they’re sipping it wrong. Instead, I’d point out that I have a drink they can use in the same way as the beverage they’re currently drinking, but it will taste a whole lot better! Only after I get them hooked on my cream soda do I ask for a tithing.

Christians, You Freak Me Out

16 Feb

I’ve been reading Rapture Ready! by Daniel Radosh. It’s a fairly good book, the writing is not amazing but it’s certainly engaging enough. So far, it’s about Radosh’s travels around America sampling bits and pieces of Christian pop culture, most of which are enough to send the average New York liberal into his reinforced 9/11 bunker. Being a lifelong New Yorker, as well as having been raised Unitarian Universalist, I haven’t had much experience with Evangelical Christians. I know a lot of Christians but few have ever tried to seriously convert me.


Reading Rapture Ready! has caused me to reflect on my upbringing. I was raised in a predominantly Roman Catholic neighborhood where virtually all of my peers went to one of two local churches. On Wednesdays during grade school, when my friends were allowed to leave a little early to attend Confirmation Class, the only kids left in the room were myself, a Jewish girl, and a smelly kid of unknown religious affiliation. I was jealous that my schoolmates were allowed to leave early until I found out what they were being taught. I wasn’t too popular as a little kid, but I wasn’t totally friendless. I think I was ostracized in part for not being Catholic, but largely for being a weird nerd in so many other dazzling ways.


I remember being in the first grade and blithely informing my friends that I didn’t believe in God. If I had been more articulate, I might have explained that what I was rejecting was this bizarre paternal figure who we’re told is peaceful and compassionate, yet heaps vengeance and punishment on people all the time. If I wasn’t six, I could have said that I didn’t subscribe to an anthropomorphic God, an all-knowing creator who gives a shit about our daily comings and goings. However, I had neither the vocabulary or the cognition to express myself fully, so I dropped my non-believer bombshell and my first grade classmates slowly moved away from me in terror. “You’re going to Hell!” they cautioned, or taunted, or both. “God hates you,” explained one girl, sadly, though she didn’t further clarify why I should care what a fictional character thinks of me. Possessing none of the emotional fortitude necessary for theological discussion, I burst into tears. I was still crying when I got home and told my grandma what happened. “Don’t worry,” she said in an exhale of cigarette smoke, “you’ll believe in God eventually.”


When I was around nineteen, I worked at a liquor store during the summer with a guy who was a self-professed born-again Christian. More than his being a Christian, I remember this dude was the BIGGEST Debbie Gibson fan I’d ever met. He had all of her albums and singles in every available format, and his most prized possessions were a half dozen unopened bottles of Gibson’s perfume, “Electric Youth.” He was a little weird and most of our co-workers avoided him, but I’d chat him up from time to time. “Being a Christian is the ultimate rebellion,” he explained to me one day, “because everywhere you go, you’re persecuted for what you believe.” I was confused by this statement, I had certainly known no one to be persecuted for being Christian in my neighborhood. Seemed to me that most everyone was Christian, meanwhile I was teased and called a Jew even though I had set foot in synagogues maybe three times in my life.


At the heart of this belief some Christians seem to share, that they are righteous and persecuted and need to keep up the good fight, is pretty much why Christians routinely freak me out. I think we should tolerate other beliefs, it’s part of harmonious society and people are so fixed in their trust in crazy shit that it’s less work to accept their craziness than it is to rectify it. However, part of my tolerance includes you not explaining any part of your belief system to me. Chances are, it’s ridiculous and going into detail about it will only make me lose respect for you. Virgin births, resurrection, wheels turning within wheels…it’s all a bit much, isn’t it? You’ll get fewer stares claiming to believe in Bigfoot than you will trying to explain the inner workings of the Mormon church. And the ridiculous part is that there’s no shortage of Mormons lining up to tell me all about it.


I guess my point is that I don’t really care if someone is a Christian any more than I care if they are homosexual. That’s something they do on their own time and it shouldn’t affect me. Similarly, I want to hear about your personal relationship with Jesus Christ about as much as I would like to see two dudes screwing. Or anyone screwing, really. I mean when you really watch two people have sex, even if the people are attractive, it’s pretty gross. But you don’t have to take my word for it, attend the next sermon this coming Sunday at my Church of Sextology. Bring a friend!

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