Sunday, December 19, 2004

Hollywood Loves ---- ---

I went to see this cartoon (The Incredibles) with my friend Cathy Seipp who insisted on it. (I wanted to see the new Alexander Payne movie Sideways but Cathy says she would not feel comfortable seeing any film with me that is racier than PG (though she did insist on Psycho several months ago, was was rated R).

I understood the movie as a parable of my relationship to Dennis Prager. I was the creepy vengeful Buddy Pine/Syndrome and Dennis was Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible. My unauthorized biography was my revenge on my hero.

When it was all finished, the credits were rolling and we could leave so I could return to my Talmud (and get the Cowboys score, they lost 12-7 to Philadelphia), she asked me if I enjoyed it.

"Yes," I said, seeing no choice in my answer (I did laugh a few times).

"See?" she said, happy to point out a moral to the story. "Every movie doesn't need to have a ------ ---- scene."

Earlier, she had referred to the ---- ---- scene in Lawrence of Arabia. I don't remember any such scene. I think Cathy is more sensitive to suggestions of ---- --- than most people. During the HIV-crisis this Spring, she had me explain to her the meaning of the mysterious phrase "------ ----."

It was quite the talking point between us for a good ten minutes.

Dear Cathy stays awake some nights wondering who is more weird -- our new friend Lewis Fein or me.

Cathy has a long list of complaints that she wants me to bring up with an Australian Orthodox Jew in my community, Peter Lowy, owner of Westfield Shopping Center (and leader of the University of Judaism board).

My reply to Cathy:

* I agree with many of your complaints. I don't like the name Westfield Shoppingtown. I prefer the old name -- Century City Shopping Center. I prefered to be able to park my van in the center. I prefered the old parking rates. But when compared to moral decline sweeping across America, and the need for a local synagogue to have windows so God can properly look in on Peter Lowy's son's bar mitzvah, these are minor matters.

* I don't like to complain to anyone, particularly not a member of my community. Peter donates a lot of money to good causes, so I'm not going to bother the man.

* It is the purpose of business to make as much profit as possible (while staying within the law).

* It is forbidden by almost all theaters to bring in outside food and drink.

* I hate the AMC movie chain because it runs about 10-15 minutes of commercials before every movie, in addition to 10-15 minutes of previews (and many of their screens are small).

* Jesus suffered on the cross so that we could live with him forever. Just as Jesus suffered, so must we. We all have our crosses to bear, and $3 parking for staying six minutes too long at Westfield is minor compared to what the son of God did for us two thousand years ago.

Cathy wanted to bring Sunday's New York Times to lunch with us but I said no. In response, she insisted that I snap out of my affectless staring-out-into-space manner which she attributes to medication but it is really the result of years of deep spiritual work on my part.

Religious people like me do not need to go to cartoons to put some excitement in our lives. For me, getting up at an ungodly hour every morning, stumbling to shul unshaved and unwashed, wrapping myself in leather straps so tightly that it cuts off the blood to my left arm, and repeating the same prayers I've said 5000 times before is about all the excitement I can handle, particularly if there is an attractive 70-year woman saying kaddish in the corner.

The recurring theme of my meetings with Cathy is that the world (and fellow writers in particular) would be a much better place if everyone listened to Cathy, who knows so much more than the average mortal (and you ------- know I'm right, she says).

Cathy wants me to:

* Get a bed.
* Lose my affectless manner and be genuine with people instead of holding them off with irony and sarcasm
* Get a new car
* To submit articles to publications that pay (instead of blogging and self-publishing through IUniverse)
* Be more supportive

Which brings me to Rob Eshman's column in the Jewish Journal this week:

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, took umbrage. “A lot of Catholics in this town are saying, ‘Is that how Jews are looking at us,’” he told The Jewish Week, “‘that you scratch a Catholic and out comes a latent anti-Semite?’”

Last week, Donohue provided the answer to his rhetorical question. And the answer is, in his case, yes.

In a Dec. 10 appearance on MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country,” Donohue railed against the possibility that Michael Moore’s documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” would receive an Oscar nomination, while Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” would not.

“Who really cares what Hollywood thinks?” Donohue said. “All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It’s not a secret, OK? And I’m not afraid to say it. That’s why they hate this movie. It’s about Jesus Christ, and it’s about truth. It’s about the messiah.”

Donohue continued: “Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism. We have nothing in common.”

The host for this Jew-bashing fest was — surprise! — Pat Buchanan. Instead of calling Donohue out, he turned to panelist Rabbi Shmuely Boteach and asked why secular Jews hate America and love Michael Moore.

Read the transcript, and you’ll begin to wonder what looking glass you’ve fallen through. Boteach did a superb job in the role of Moses Nachmanides, the 13th-century scholar who was forced into public disputations over religion with Christian opponents.

“I’m amazed that we’ve made this a discussion about secular Jews,” Boteach said. “I have got to tell you that Bill Donohue, who I otherwise love and so respect, ought to be ashamed of himself, the way he’s spoken about secular Jews hating Christians. That is a bunch of crap, OK?”

Donohue’s accusations, goaded on by Buchanan, turned nastier:

Boteach: The fact is that Jewish people are incredibly charitable, good, decent family people.

Donohue: I didn’t question that.

Boteach: Hollywood has become a cesspit because it’s secular, period. Don’t do this — don’t tell us that it’s secular Jews.

Donohue: So the Catholics are running Hollywood, huh?

Boteach: Soon, you’re going to start telling us that the NBA is violent because it’s black people, all right, Bill? No, no, no. When people behave badly, just hold them individually accountable.

Donohue is clearly on the right flank of the Catholic world, but he is far from a fringe character. His organization, based in New York, claims a membership of 350,000 and has some significant mainstream names attached to it.

On the group’s Web site, Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, offers this endorsement: “I encourage you to join the Catholic League, which defends not only the interests of Catholics but of all victims of anti-religious bigotry.”

Um, almost all.

So far, Donohue hasn’t apologized, and Mahony and others haven’t publicly chastised him, resigned their memberships or done anything to indicate that blaming “secular Jews” for all that is rotten in contemporary culture is perhaps out of bounds.

The comments buzzed through the entertainment community, evoking equal measures of outrage, disbelief and humor. Suffice it to say that in the wake of the scandals concerning priestly pederasty, Donohue didn’t get a pass for his “anal sex” remark.

It seems indecent to have to point out the obvious, but here’s a quick reality check for Donohue:

1. Jews don’t control Hollywood, corporations do. If you have a problem with smut on TV, tell Rupert Murdoch — not a Jew — to sink “Temptation Island.”

2. Hollywood is profit-friendly and risk-averse. Religion and politics are risky subjects. Knowing what they know now, 99.9 percent of studio execs would have green-lit “The Passion” faster than you could say “Scary Movie 7.”

3. The vast majority of Hollywood movies are positive, uplifting and moralistic, anyway. “Ray,” “The Incredibles,” the upcoming “Lemony Snicket” — great entertainment and great values.

I've thought about this a lot and I just can't disagree with Donohue over anything he said. Secular Jews do run Hollywood (about two-thirds of the leading players behind the scenes are secular Jews). They do tend to be hostile to organized religion. The most organized form of religion in America is Roman Catholicism. As some thinker put it, anti-Catholicism is the new anti-Semitism.
I agree with Dennis Prager that if every Jew left Hollywood, it would not raise its moral tone.
Orthodox Jew, talk radio host and movie critic Michael Medved, in his book Hollywood vs America, developed these themes at greater length. As did Dr. William Pierce.

David writes: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but are you citing Medved as an example of someone responsibly looking into the culture of Hollywood, and William Pierce as an, umm, irresponsible example? Thus, an exploration of the role that secular Jews, as such, play in Hollywood can be done legitimately, or as in the case of Pierce, as fuel to bigotry? If so, its a good point."

Yes, that was my point. I never felt comfortable with Pierce's exterminationist thingy.