Wednesday, February 24, 2010

License to Shrill: The Bible Says So

Once again there is controversy in the California Miss USA pageant. Coming off the heels of the Carrie Prejean "opposite marriage" comments last year, the self-proclaimed Miss Beverly Hill USA Lauren Ashley states that the Bible is "pretty black and white" on the whole gay issue. She refers to Leviticus 20:13 "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them." This verse is commonly used not only to denouse gay marriage, but also recently in Uganda it was used to create a law that would execute gay persons.

I am about to make some assumptions about Miss Ashley. I could be wrong, but if I was a betting man I would be I'm going to be right. I assume that Miss Ashley hasn't been trained in Biblical exegesis. I assume that she probably has never read the Bible completely or even reads it on a regular basis. I am also going to assume that she does not attend church regularly. Here is a person, with no qualifications to exegete any part of the Bible, proof-texting that old stand-by from Leviticus. Those of us who understand basic Biblical scholarship see this statement for what it is, stupidity and homophobia. We could allow this kind of garbage go unnoticed and unchallenged. However, there are those with limited biblical understanding and hate embedded in their hearts who see words like this as a holy mandate to kill or hurt GBLT people. There are also those people who long to hear another voice from the Church. One not of hate, but of the love and grace demonstrated by Jesus Christ.

Why do people automatically assume they are biblical scholars just because they've read the Bible front to back? I could read a textbook on quantum physics. I would understand the language. I know what the words mean, but I most assuredly would not comprehend what I was reading. Just because you or I have read the Bible front to back does not mean that we have comprehended every jot and tittle. There are scholars who spent their entire careers studying and scrutinizing the Bible in the original Hebrew and Greek and they STILL do not comprehend every jot and tittle. We show great arrogance when we claim that we know the exact will and word of God.

Perhaps there needs to be a licensing system put into place. One would need a license before randomly proof-texting verses to suit one's own agenda. A crazy idea? One needs to demonstrate proficiency before driving a car or handling explosives. Misusing holy Scriptures, the self-professed Word of God, is equally dangerous. People have and continue to die because of it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Just Like Everyone Else

There is a new controversy, new controversies seem to come with the regularity of the rising Sun, between Sarah Palin and her family and the writers and producers of the adult cartoon Family Guy. The controversy stems from an episode of Family Guy that aired last Sunday, February 14th where one of the teen character's, Chris, dates a teen girl with Downs's Syndrome. During their first date the girl tells Chris that her mother was the "former governor of Alaska." This is of course a jab at Sarah Palin and some would say her infant son Trig who has Down's. Ms. Palin, and her daughter Bristol, have responded via Ms. Pailn's Facebook account.

First, let me say that I am a fan of Family Guy. The writers take jabs at every perceivable group without prejudice. I watched the episode in question and when Chris was dating a girl with Down's I knew a Palin joke was coming, especially with Ms. Palin calling for the firing of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for using the term "retarded" in a recent metting. I thought the joke in question was pretty lame. It was simply a cheap shot for the sake of a cheap shot. Family Guy creator Seth McFarlene usually writes with more creativity and intelligence. Is Sarah Palin's response another attempt to garner favor with special needs parents? Throughout the 2008 election, Ms. Palin received criticism for parading her children in public and perhaps using her special needs son to garner votes. I don't know if this is the case here. Her reaction might match the initial reaction of any other mother with a special needs child. I would, however, offer a differing view, not on the joke itself, but the episode as a whole.

The girl in the show with Down's Syndrome acted like any other teenage girl with an attitude. She acts like a diva and Chris gives it to her straight. "You know, I used to hear that people with Down syndrome were different than the rest of us. But you're not! You're not different at all! You're just a bunch of [BLEEPS!] like everyone else!" I give that sentiment resounding AMEN!

Why? As a husband of person with special needs, one of the most frustrating things for my me and my wife is when people treat her differently because she is in a wheelchair. They talk to my 29 year old wife like they would a 6 year old just because she cannot walk. It makes me livid especially when it is people who should know better. I cannot count how many times people at Church functions or at Vanderbilt Divinity School, a place that prides itself on diversity, spoke to my wife as though she were a child. People with disabilities want to be treated like everyone else that includes crakcing jokes at their expense. But in order for that to happen people need to see them like everyone else. People see the chair before they see Angie. People see the physical characteristics of Down's Syndrome before they see the person. People see the drool and uncontrollable arm and head movement of Cerebral Palsy and not the person. Our initial reaction to a person with special needs is to either look the other way or pity them. People with special needs need to be seen and they damn sure don't need your pity.

You can make jokes about everyone, just not people with special needs, that's just cruel. It would be cruel to make fun of the disability itself, which is what happens behind closed doors, but to joke around with a person with disability is the ultimate way of treating them like everyone else. There is a guy I went to school with who has CP. I was hanging out with him and group of other guys and they were all joking around like guys do. They gave him as much hell as they gave each other. At first I thought it was cruel, but then one of the group said "What is crueler joking around with him or leaving him out because he is different?"

Family Guy did not make fun of this girl's Down's Syndrome. They just included a girl who happened to have Down's Syndrome. They treated her like any other teenage girl. The real shame is that their real treatment of a girl with special needs will be overshadowed by the Palin controversy. People are people and to treat people with dignity is not to treat them entirely differently because they happen to have a special need. This only serves to alienate them from the community.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Super Bowl Ads: Sexism or Satire?

This week there is a lot of talk about the ads broadcast on the Super Bowl. Most of the complaints are that the ads were sexist and racy. I watched the Super Bowl and re-watched the commercials online and a really did not see the blatant sexism that everyone else seems to see. Yes, the GoDaddy! commercials were somewhat racy, but they were mostly just really stupid and very poorly made. (To the GoDaddy! folks, I think that niche has run it's course.) Other complaints were for the Bud Light commercial with the book club. They seem to think that it makes men seem stupid because a man would rather play softball than attend a book club unless...there's Bud Light. Another commerical from a company called FloTV depicted a man being led around the mall by his wife/girlfriend instead of watching "the big game." Still another commerical for Dodge insists that a man will perform all the duties require by his wife/girlfriend as long as he drives his muscle car.

Are these commercials sexist or even worse misogynist? In my humble opinion, no. This was the Super Bowl, the biggest manTV moment all year. Naturally, the commercials are going to be geared toward a male audience. Secondly, most of the commercials were satirical in nature. They began with a premise that mot men, at least married men, can identify with and then purposefully went over the top for the sake of humor. Granted that some commercials achieved this better than others. It is still satire. Thirdly, I think that this was a reaction against the political correctness of the last 15-20 years.

Do these commercials take us back "to the Dark Ages" of the pre-feminist 1950's? Are women "the new targets" of advertising wrath? I really don't think so. I am sure that I will get some flak from my more liberal colleagues, but just because I did not think these particular set of commercials were sexist doesn't make me a chauvinist or misogynist. But if you know me you already knew that.