Revelations I

Posted by Dale Marlowe on April 15, 2005 · 13 mins read

The alternative society created in part by Hollywood myopia, and the cynicism-or, depending on your point of view, foresight of The Passion's marketers, has come to fruition. Senate majority leader Bill Frist has decided to exercise what the press and Congressional Republicans call the 'nuclear option' to make it easier for Senate Republicans to bring cloture to filibusters, the Democratic party's last vestige of power. The Senate's own website tells us:

Using the filibuster to delay debate or block legislation has a long history. In the United States, the term filibuster -- from a Dutch word meaning "pirate" -- became popular in the 1850s when it was applied to efforts to hold the Senate floor in order to prevent action on a bill.

In the early years of Congress, representatives as well as senators could use the filibuster technique. As the House grew in numbers, however, it was necessary to revise House rules to limit debate. In the smaller Senate, unlimited debate continued since senators believed any member should have the right to speak as long as necessary.

In 1841, when the Democratic minority hoped to block a bank bill promoted by Henry Clay, Clay threatened to change Senate rules to allow the majority to close debate. Thomas Hart Benton angrily rebuked his colleague, accusing Clay of trying to stifle the Senate's right to unlimited debate. Unlimited debate remained in place in the Senate until 1917. At that time, at the suggestion of President Woodrow Wilson, the Senate adopted a rule (Rule 22) that allowed the Senate to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote -- a tactic known as "cloture."

The new Senate rule was put to the test in 1919, when the Senate invoked cloture to end a filibuster against the Treaty of Versailles. Despite the new cloture rule, however, filibusters continued to be an effective means to block legislation, due in part to the fact that a two-thirds majority vote is difficult to obtain. Over the next several decades, the Senate tried numerous times to evoke cloture, but failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote. Filibusters were particularly useful to southern senators blocking civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1975, the Senate reduced the number of votes required for cloture from two-thirds (67) to three-fifths (60) of the 100-member Senate.

Many Americans are familiar with the hours-long filibuster of Senator Jefferson Smith in Frank Capra's film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but there have been some famous filibusters in the real-life Senate as well. During the 1930s, Senator Huey P. Long effectively used the filibuster against bills that he thought favored the rich over the poor. The Louisiana senator frustrated his colleagues while entertaining spectators with his recitations of Shakespeare and his reading of recipes for "pot-likkers." Long once held the Senate floor for fifteen hours. The record for the longest individual speech goes to South Carolina's J. Strom Thurmond who filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

Instead of justifying his reasons for altering Senate procedures to reduce the power of the minority and eliminate a frustrating, if useful, tradition to the editorial board of the New York Times, or on Meet the Press, or some other secular outlet, Frist plans to build a groundswell of support using the channels of Evangelical America's parallel, influential, and increasingly mainstream, culture.

The lemmings at America's 4th place television network won't be outdone. Attempting to meet this demon where it lives, they've offered up Revelations (sic). Here, instead of an exploitation of the new Christian reality, we're given--at least in the first episode--a great example of how Hollywood doesn't understand American Christian spirituality, and why American Christians hate Hollywood.

Farangi's notes on the script:

The super-sexy co-protagonist is a Catholic nun. I don't get why producers and writers insist on using Catholicism as the de facto representation of American Christianity in entertainment. Only in the last century did Roman Catholics even comprise a plurality of American Christians. Even today, where most Americans are Christians, most are Protestant, and most American Protestants are - gasp - Southern Baptist. I suspect this disconnect survives because Catholicism holds a measure of old-world spookiness for non-believers that makes for good visuals; also, because Catholicism is innately hierarchical, its systems are easier to grasp, especially in the morning, at your word processor, with a huge hangover, with Cliff's Notes on the Bible and Dummie's Guide to the Apocalypse beneath your roach-littered ashtray.

It should be noted that the modern Catholic church doesn't publicly stress or fret or obsess about the "end of days," in the ways we're used to from Protestants. Chances are good the guy you dodge in the sandwich board every morning is a Protestant. Also, Sexxy Sista comes from a group called the 'Eckland Foundation' which a group of evil doctors refer to as a "fundamentalist group seeking to prove the end of the world is real." This might refer to a Catholic group, but that's unlikely, especially since our nun has a degree of autonomy not often seen in Catholic women in vocations. This sounds a lot like the Chick Group or some other overfunded nuthouse. Such groups believe the Catholic Church is the "Great Whore Babylon" and the Pope is at least an anti-Christ, if not the anti-Christ. That a nun would affiliate with such a group stresses credulity. In addition, the nun's positive offering of Tibetan necromancy as exemplary support for the notion that the dead might speak through the living gives too much ecumenical credit to the Church. We're still arguing over Transubstantiation, folks. It'll be a while before we look kindly upon marching the dead up to the podium for the keynote. Please.

The super-stoic co-protagonist is a Harvard semi-scientist who lost his daughter to a Satanic ritual killer, whom he visits in prison like Starling calling on Lecter. The Satanist character, frankly, has the depth of my empties' backwash. The Satanism thing is as weak as it is tired, and what's worse is that our writer (who allegedly wrote the scary-as-shit Omen and should know better) seems to have merged the Occult and Satanism, as shown by a lazy mix of anecdote, motif and dialogue. The character spouts longwinded speeches, quotes the bible, fixates on the "game of hearts," and is the subject of awed respect by those who deal with him.

Satanists are by definition within the Judeo-Christian tradition, because they agree to its premises but protest them through sacrilege. In fact, Satanism as we know it is the product of 1950's San Fransisco, and a former carnie named Anton LaVey. The thoughts buttressing Satanism existed for centuries, but it took LaVey to bundle them to a cache of Nietzche and anonymous esoteric texts--some of them quite interesting from historical, literary and philosophical perspectives and, prior to Lavey smudging them, worthy of further critical examination--declare them a 'Satanic Bible' found a 'church' and commence to hosting highly theatrical orgies with starlets like Jayne Mansfield and bon vivants like Sammy Davis, Jr.

LaVey's inverted pentagram glyph, made a fetish by 80's metal bands, is an explicit rejection of the 'Occult' which we shall call, for the sake of space, a mutant amalgamation of some of Europe and Asia's pre-Christian philosophical and religious traditions--necessarily outside the Christian tradition. Most occult traditions respect the pentagram as a symbol of the completeness of man's relationship to natural cycles, hence LaVey's inversion-i.e., man transcendent over all moral strictures.

Further, I was struck by the weirdly awed comment of a prison guard, describing the Satanist character: "He says he only needs to breathe once a minute, and then goes into a trance." Now, basic knowledge of the Occult will tell you that the 1:4:2 ratio one-minute breath cycle comes into 'Western" consciousness from Arthur Avalon, Aliester Crowley, and H.P. Blavatsky, and was cribbed from Central Asian Sufis and Indian Yogis.

The most cursory application of the scientific method will demonstrate that this is actually called 'meditation' or, even 'prayer' and is unworthy of mention, or awe from a prison guard. This confusion shows contempt for the intelligence of its audience. Its facile employment of the 'other" is more evidence of Hollywood stupidity and reliance on irresponsible portrayls of ideals and traditions for the quick jolt. Its lack of nuance exempifies further to the dumbing of America from on high.

In addition, as though to deflect criticism aimed toward the pilfered Lecter character, the writer actually draws more on a character whose copyright has long expired. The Satanist character is an inferior facsmilie of Stoker's Reinfeld, who in Dracula howls the way as the vampire's John the Baptist. Instead of an asylum, we have a prison, instead of the vampire, we have the Anti-Christ. I'm all about a cover tune, yo, but damn. Try to make it yours, or do it better.

I have nothing further to write of Pullman or his character-self proclaimed, alas, 'scientist, realist, Devil's advocate' except that Pullman the man seems mortified to be playing this role, and what passes for his bewilderment and grief at the loss of his daughter actually seems, on further examination, to be hate for his fellow cast members. Cut-to's of old interviews with Carl Sagan and the staff of the scientific fundamentalists at CSICOP would be more enlightening and entertaining. At least we wouldn't be waiting for their inevitable conversion, a la X-files Scully.

The exploitation of the Schaivo tragedy is so horrible here that the NBC execs who greenlighted this turkey-or changes to this turkey-should be tarred and feathered. A prophesying dead girl, struck by lightning and in, I shit you not, 'a persistent vegetative state' is in constant danger of having her organs harvested by greedy athiest doctors and skeptical hospital staff, who, because the girl is a ward of the state, aren't making any money by keeping her alive. They actually stalk her via security camera like vultures, awaiting a legal excuse to flip the switch. Conflicting decisions come from various courts-each side picking its legal champions, and the only real thing keeping the girl alive is that she occasionally shouts in Latin, and draws pictures identical to the ones Pullman's character's daughter drew before the Satanist cut her heart out. Enter the plaigarisation of Blatty's Exorcist, Stigmata, and the talking Sturgeon that a few years back terrorized some Orthodox Jews in New York. It's refreshing for me to see smug doctors and the medical-pharmaceutical establishment in for a drubbing as the story's initial antagonists, but would it have been so hard not to completely ape the real-life, and far more complicated, tragedy in Florida? Shame. Shame on them.

Tomorrow, another exegesis. And we'll talk about Jenkins and LaHaye, and why the best selling books in the history of publishing are a dramatization of the modern premillenial dispensationalist understanding of the 'end times' and how that understanding has less to do with scripture and tradition and more, so much more, to do with geopolitics and the rise of the American right.


Chris | April 15, 2005

Maybe you are expecting too much from Hollywood. I kinda liked it, though its shortocmings are obvious. Of course, I love most end-of-the-world SciFi, whether religious or secular. Here is what I posted on Revelations: I pointed out some of the same shortcomings you did, most notably having Catholics focusedg about the end times in what is usually an evangelical game. But hey, Baptist preachers don't speak latin or wear crucifixes. And yes, the satanist is corny and I'm curious to see how the Eckland Group plays out. I did think that the NBC website for Revelations is above average, with a decent intro to the real Book of Revelation and various links to skeptical, apologetic, and scholarly resources about the Book of Revelation and prophecy.

farangi | April 15, 2005

All fair. Thanks, Chris.

Andrew Reeves | April 16, 2005

Farangi, I'm glad that you and others are out there bravely watching dreck so that the rest of us don't have to. You are a patient person. That, and your writing is a joy and a delight. It's nice to find people with a solid grasp on the ins and outs of the American Evangelical Protestant subculture.

Araby | April 18, 2005

Farangi, I consider your discourse on NBC's "Revelations" to be entirely over the top and, I believe, shows quite a thin grasp of well as an incorrect take on the show. To begin with it is true that the Catholic church does not spend much time focusing on the "end of times", it spends wuite a bit of time looking into miracles and the like. This is what the fictional Eckland Group in "Revelations" does...researches miracles and other events that point to the end of the world...a very plausible organization for the Catholic church to be a part of. As far as the idea that Catholocism is represented..or presented..more often than Protestantism in movies or television...that is absolutely true. The reasons for that, I would think are quite obvious. Catholicism is an international is an old religion..the true religion, if you are Catholic. It's beliefs and symbols are recognized beyond the borders of the United States. Mysteries, visions, miracles, saints, martyrs,posession...all of these things are part of the Catholic church, so in a show of this nature,OF COURSE it would involve the Church. I haven't heard of too many Baptists traveling the world to investigate weeping statues, stigmatas or visions. Catholicism acknowledges that there are mysteries..that Christ does grant personal revelations, so it is not hard to believe that a Catholic nun is working with an organization investigating possible signs of the end of the world. I can pretty much guarantee that were these signs really occuring SOMEONE from the Church would be assigned to investigate their credibility. So, your spin on that is completely incorrect. As far as the acting goes...that is open to anyone's interpretation. Ideas that were presented in the Exorcist and other films are of course going to be recurring elsewhere because they are notions held by many people and , once again, a ready part of the Catholic Church. If you don't like the show..that is your right...but have accurate information if you are going to discuss the role of a certain religion. By the by, I have 2 family members that are priests, and one whom is a Bishop. He and I discussed the show "Revelations" after both watching it and he found it to be intriguing. My advice to you is to read up on the Church before attempting to discuss it.

farangi | April 19, 2005

Araby, You'll notice I'm usually pretty careful to qualify my statements with "unlikely," etc. For pride if nothing else, I usually try to leave myself a rhetorical escape hatch, though in this case, at least from your complaints, I'm not sure I need it. You claim I have been inaccurate, but you fail to point to a single instance--though I admit, in the examples that concern you, to being snide. That's sort of my job here. Read again, will you? My comments about Hollywood and representations of Catholicism were explicitly confined to the United States, though I appreciate your taking the opportunity as a prompt to remind us there are oodles of Catholics elsewhere. I hear there are even some gathered in Rome, as we write. Your comments seem inspired more by my stance, than my thoughts, and you appear to have fallen prey to the impulse to put the existence of ideas of people with whom you disagree down to "lack of education." Ever think maybe somebody could both disagree with you and have a clue what he's talking about? Perhaps that's a possibility, though it could also be a Mystery. Sit tight. Anyone who thinks he knows anything about anything will eventually come in for a spanking in my space, including me. That is, except for the Moorish Mohammedans, because they tend to be angered easily, prideful and prone to violence. CM editorial guidelines allow us one response per comment, because Sepoy thinks our readers should be allowed the last word. So you have the floor and the last at-bat, if you want it.