Hate cancel culture? You should love The Muppet Show’s content warnings

Conservative media is concerned about the Muppets.

Kermit Cancelled? Disney slaps offensive content label on the Muppet Show,” Sunday’s headline on The Daily Wire read. The Daily Mail UK scoffs: “The Muppet Show appears to be the latest victim of political correctness with new warnings over its historic content.” Is Outrage! Snowflake libs are even ruining The Muppet Show! 

They’re upset because when Disney+ re-released The Muppet Show this weekend, sixteen of the episodes came with a content warning reading:

“This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures. These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now. Rather than remove this content, we want to acknowledge its harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.”

As a recovering Rush Limbaugh Conservative, I understand why people are upset. Libs can’t walk three feet without tripping over something that offends them. Things that just used to be good clean fun are now crimes, and everybody’s a victim.

These are things I used to say and think. Like most pernicious ideas, they’re not entirely untrue. You can find far-left activists who really are ridiculous, who really do get offended over nothing, and who really do long to see themselves as victims — and who really do want to squash joy, crush free speech, and silence anyone who disagrees with them. My kids had an English teacher who refused to teach Moby Dick because it didn’t have any female characters and was therefore sexist. That’s just a small example. There’s a push from much more powerful people to crush things that don’t deserve crushing (sometimes cynically shielding actual offenders in the process). 

But content warnings aren’t an example of this; they’re the remedy for it.

The Daily Wire and others have referred to the addition of content warnings as part of “cancel culture.” It’s literally the opposite: Rather than refusing to broadcast the show, they’re showing it. 

Cancel culture says, “This says or implies something I don’t agree with; therefore, it must be gone.” Content warnings say, “This says or implies something you might not agree with. Here it is anyway; you decide if you want to consume it or not.” This strikes me as manifestly conservative: We report, you decide. And they can’t be accused of insensitivity, because they did warn us! Their butts are covered.

Don’t get me wrong: Disney+ is doing this because broadcasting shows makes more money than not broadcasting them.  But in practice, it’s actually the perfect balance of free speech and personal responsibility. It may be the lifeline we need to drag us out of the quagmire of actual cancel culture, which really does make good things disappear. 

That being said, conservatives have made other objections to the inclusion of content warnings. But I think they’re equally bogus. 

The first is an objection to the very fact that there are warnings at all. This is disingenuous, especially coming from conservatives. 

When my kids want to watch a movie or show I’m not familiar with, and I don’t have the time or desire to watch it with them, what do I do? I look it up. I see if it includes nudity or violence or cussing or themes that may not be appropriate for their age. This is standard practice for responsible parents. Different parents are leery of different things, but there’s nothing new or outrageous about offering a content warning so we can make reasonable decisions. Heck, I remember chortling when a Batman movie warned me it would contain “menace.” I hope so!

It’s a core principle of American conservatism that Hollyweird is trying to pervert our youngsters, and we have the right and the duty as responsible parents to know what kind of media they’re consuming and to make independent choices about that. At least in theory, content warnings are an excellent tool to help us do just that. 

Also, memories are faulty, and standards change. Most adults, especially parents, have had the experience of watching a movie or show we haven’t seen in decades, and being shocked at how — something — it is. How sexist, how violent, how racy, how racist, how crude. There are even memes about this phenomenon: Showing a beloved movie to your kids and then leaping for the remote because OH NO I FORGOT THIS SCENE. I’m old and tired, and happy to get an assist, to avoid this kind of thing. 

The second objection has to do with what kinds of things earn a warning in 2021. And this is where conservatives will have a harder time; but if they’re Christians, they probably shouldn’t.

In theory, warnings are useful to parents, left and right, to have a heads-up about content. In practice, they’re are often a little less helpful. Saying “The following may be offensive to some viewers” is about as useful as saying “The sun may rise.” (I had a kid who found owls offensive, reasons unclear.) 

But the specific warnings on the Muppet Show episodes specify that they will “includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures.” In other words, it’s going to include a bit that makes some group of human beings look stupid or crazy or subhuman, for laughs.

I don’t have a list of the specific scenes that earned warnings (Newsweek has a list of the episodes), but I’m guessing the group of human beings are not oligarchs or mean bosses or anyone else who has power and influence. It’s almost certainly groups of people who have less power and less influence: Certain ethnic groups, maybe victims of domestic violence, being treated as if they themselves are jokes.

And this is what is actually at the core of objections against content warnings: Conservatives who are angry about the warnings want to defend punching down. They want to defend the practice of making fun of people who can’t fight back, for the sake of a joke. And they want the practice to go utterly unchallenged, even fleetingly.

This is something I’ve been trying hard to grow out of — or at least to be more consistent about, because I am a Christian. Here’s an example: I once told a funny story that hinged on a Chinese accent, and I got swatted down. I asked why my story was hurtful, when a joke involving a French accent wouldn’t be. And the answer was: Because Chinese accents get treated as evidence of stupidity and backwardness in a way that French accents do not. And that was right. I learned something, and now I’m more careful, because I’m a Christian, and I don’t want to punch down.

Being a parent, and having to think hard about what it will do to a developing young heart to see certain scenes and hear certain phrases on TV, has made me think hard about . . . well, my own heart. I’ve had to change. We’re supposed to change. We’re supposed to take it seriously when we realize we’re wounding someone. At very least, we should think it over, and not dismiss it out of hand as liberal fragility. 

I do understand that, when Disney+ or some other corporation chooses to put a warning on something, they do it inconsistently. They will warn the audience if they’re going to show something that current cultural standards finds offensive, but they don’t bat an eye over something else that’s equally offensive, but not in a popular way. 

My friends, so what? If you know better than Disney+, then good for you. It doesn’t hurt you to see a brief warning. Nobody’s preventing you from watching, and nobody’s making your mind up for you. All they’re doing is saying, “Here’s an idea; take it or leave it.” If your kids see a warning and have questions, then talk to them about what you think, and defend your take, and listen. If you just shut the conversation down and refuse to entertain the possibility that you’re wrong . . . isn’t that  . . . cancel culture? 

 

***

Image by Josh Hallett via Flicker (Creative Commons)

Lent movie review #1: USHPIZIN

We launched this year’s Friday Night Mandatory Lent Film Party last week with the Israeli movie Ushpizin (2004).

Before I say anything else, I recommend this movie if you are cold. This is one of the sunniest films I have ever seen. There’s nothing flashy about the way the movie is filmed, but you absolutely feel like you’re in the blazing hot streets of old Jerusalem. You could warm your hands by the natural light emanating from the screen. 

It’s also very emotionally warming, and I was of two minds about that.

The basic plot: A married couple, Malli and Moshe, who fairly recently converted or reverted to their strict Orthodox Jewish faith, have no child and no money, which brings them great grief. They can’t pay the rent, and they also have no means to celebrate Sukkoth, the holiday commemorating the Jews’ exodus in the desert. You’re supposed to erect a booth outside your home and eat and sleep in it, and supply it with “four species,” including a citron, some sort of highly cultivated ceremonial citrus fruit.

I didn’t really understand why Moshe and his wife Malli doesn’t have any money (he works at the temple but hasn’t been there enough lately, so they don’t pay him?), and I was a little confused about who it was who was miraculously inspired to help him; but the upshot is that the couple’s prayers are answered immediately and spectacularly.

But there’s a hitch! Along with the bounty come some guests, one of whom knows Moshe from before his conversion. This puts a strain on everyone, and how they respond to the strain just about wrecks everything. 

One thing I loved is the intimate, friendly way the couple prayed to God. The motions and rituals of their faith felt very foreign, but listen to how Moshe, almost out of hope, talks to God as he sits on a park bench:

Malli has a similarly cozy and intimate prayer life, at one point calling God “a sweet guy,” if I remember correctly. 

But the way God responds to their prayer is the thing that left me feeling a trace bit uneasy about the movie. It was difficult to know how hard to try to analyze what was happening here, because I’m so ignorant about the culture depicted. I want to say what I think it meant that the guests cut the costly citron that was supposed to bring a blessing for a baby boy, but I’m not sure I understood enough of what it meant on the literal level to analyze it on a metaphorical level.  

In any case, it’s definitely a story about trusting God in the simplest way possible, and maybe not trying to over-analyze or comprehend all the twists and turns of providence, but accepting the whole will of God as-is, including the miraculous and the mundane. The couple explicitly references Sarah and Abraham, the faith-filled but childless couple, and also more obliquely Job, the suffering but bewildered servant who accepts that he can’t comprehend God’s ways. And they’re also Moshe and Malli, who have been married five years and buy their clothes second hand. 

This is a couple who love each other so dearly and love God so affectionately and trustingly, it’s lovely to see — and excruciating when those relationships are under stress. In their particular story, they want some things very desperately, and when they pray hard enough, God gives it to them. I have not noticed that this is how it works in real life! But this is a fairy tale or maybe a folk tale.

It’s also very much a beginning. The couple is fairly young in their faith and their life together. Maybe God is showering bounty on them to give them a good start, and it seems very likely that this couple will be up to the challenges the rest of their life together will surely bring, when prayers don’t get answered so directly.

There is also some gentle exploration of what it means to belong to a community, and whether or not it can be righteous to violate the norms. Moshe and Malli are willing to be a little transgressive because they think it’s the best way to serve God, but they also very much draw their strength from the mandates of the community, which is portrayed with utter respect even as its flaws are revealed. Interesting stuff. 

It’s also a very funny movie, with a kind of childlike goofiness that many people don’t realize is very typical of Jewish culture. The couple are married in real life (Moshe, played by Shuli Rand, wrote the screenplay, but neither had acted before), and the connection between them is authentic and familiar. Lots of wonderful, very human relationships in the movie, between friends, between people who don’t trust each other, between elders and the people they advise, between people who feel more or less comfortable in this tiny, intense community.      

We watched the movie on Amazon prime but it’s currently streaming on several different platforms for a few dollars [where to watch]. If nothing else, it will cure you of the idea that orthodox Jews, with all their elaborate rituals and whatnot, use ceremony or spiritual formulas to replace a relationship with God. It’s so tender, intimate, in turn agonizing and joyful — and, as I said, sunny.

Suitable for all ages, although it does have subtitles. Lots of smoking, so if you’re a quitter, watch out. 

Up next: Probably Song of Bernadette, which several people have noted supplies more than you’d expect from the Golden Age of Catholic Hollywood. 

Double Feature with the Fishers! Episode 2: Rocky and Hard Times

The podcast continues! Last week, we reviewed Moonstruck and The Quiet Man. This week, a change of pace: Rocky and Hard Times, made within a year of each other, definitely Sylvester Stallone’s best movie, and possibly Charles Bronson’s, too, respectively. Both movies about fighters, obviously, and both about relationships, and opportunities, and entanglements, and running out of time, but they are so different in tone and direction and overall sweatiness. We had fun making the podcast and I think you’ll have fun listening to it. 

This episode and all our archives are available to patrons who pledge as little as $1 a month through Patreon. You’ll get an email with the link to the podcast, and my undying thanks for helping keep this website (and our family) afloat! 

If you are a patron and have not been receiving links to the new podcasts, please let me know! 

What’s for supper? Vol. 242: Never never mind your meatloaf heart

Sorry, I know it’s Friday in Lent, sorry. Check out my meat anyway.

SATURDAY
Pizza

Lately I make four or five large, normal pizzas, and then with the last one I just go a little bit cuh-razy. This time we had two pepperoni, two olive, one cheese, and one with red onion, fresh garlic, anchovies, and pesto ricotta. 

GOOOOD stuff. I don’t even want to eat pizza unless is has anchovies on it anymore. Get outta here.

SUNDAY
Meatloaf, roasted potatoes and Brussels sprouts

Terrifically romantic, I made two meatloaves, but Valentine. Here I demonstrate my method:

 

 

I don’t know how people even survived before silicone pans. Actually I remember there was a shop in town, Eaglewood Candies, that used to rent pans. For my eleventh birthday, my mother rented a Garfield pan and spent hours following the pattern of little bloops of frosting to make the design. I hope I said thank you! I do remember her saying, “Never again.” 

Speaking of never again, here is the Raw Meatloaf with Ketchup Glaze:

And here is how it turned out after cooking:

I’ve taken to adding Worcestershire sauce to my meatloaf, and using red wine rather than milk.

Jump to Recipe

To continue or fairy tale-style Valentine’s Day, I cut a bunch of potatoes into discs and roasted them with Brussels sprouts with olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and it was pretty good.

I did cook this in two pans and then combine it in one to finish cooking while the meatloaf cooked. Sometimes I can’t believe someone like me has only one oven. 

The original plan was to make deep fried potato blossoms with my onion blossom machine, but an astute reader pointed out that onions turn into blossoms when cut because they are made of rings.

 

 

 

If you cut something that’s not made of rings, it will come out less of a blossom and more of an octopus. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but I didn’t feel a strong need to make potato octopuses for Valentine’s Day. If I do want to make pork blossoms, I would have to cut the pork into thin slabs and roll them into a spiral and then blossom them. Which I may! But not in Lent. 

We didn’t really have dessert, because the house was full of fancy foods Clara had provided for the Valentine’s Day party earlier. 

The kids also had parties at school, so I consider them well-valentined this year. 

MONDAY
Vegetable lo mein, pork pot stickers, crunchy rice rolls

The plan was chicken nuggets and chips, but I had to run to the store, and I guess it was Chinese New Year. Chinese food at Aldi is actually –well, what’s several steps worse than a crap shoot? I guess just crap. But for some reason, I took a chance on their pork pot stickers, and they were excellent. And cheap! $3.99 for 20, so I got three bags.

I deep fried them and served them with some kind of ginger sauce I had. I also got a bunch of those sweet, crunchy rice rolls they sometimes sell, and I made a big pan of lo mein with sugar snap peas, green peppers, and fresh ginger. 

Jump to Recipe

I used spaghetti for the noodles, which is not ideal because it’s not wide enough to grab up much of the sauce. But it was a tasty and poplar meal overall. I don’t know why I never thought of this, but I finally bought one of those wire ladle skimming things for deep frying, and it’s made my life SO much easier, at least when I’m deep frying. I also got a nice deep and wide Calphalon pot at the dump, and that helps, too. 

TUESDAY
Shrimp cocktail, garlic steak, bread and butter, stray lettuce

Mardi gras! Damien was in charge of the menu, so he brought home a bunch of shrimp and steaks. One kid doesn’t like steak, so he made her a bacon cheeseburger. Then . . . he fried the steaks in bacon fat, with whole garlic cloves. 

Bad picture, great steak. 

WEDNESDAY
Spaghetti, garlic bread

Ash Wednesday. I’m already doing intermittent fasting for weight maintenance, so Ash Wednesday fasting wasn’t that difficult. But I did have to say to a kid who had just sat down with a plate of hot buttered toast heaped with scrambled eggs, “Oh, hey, aren’t you 18?” and that was rough. Then we planned to eat at 5:00 and then book it to 6:00 Mass, but supper was a little late, and then I uh forgot to call one kid, so he ended up having about four minutes to eat before the Communion fast kicked in. I guess I’m just helping sanctify the whole family this year.

Then I had to take a kid to the bathroom during Mass, and that’s how I discovered I had a largish piece of parmesan cheese stuck to my eyelid. I use a fork when I eat, I swear I do. 

THURSDAY
Beef barley soup, beer bread

Soup day! I know someone who just serves soup all through Lent. I would totally go for that, but my family would murder me. I thought it was a good soup, though. I made it in the Instant Pot and the beef got really tender.

Jump to Recipe

I also made two loaves of beer bread, which is so easy (one bowl!) to make and kind of fun. Here’s a quick video. (Next time I make a food video, I’ll turn off the washing machine first. And the radio. And I’ll take the marbles out of my mouth, and eat my spaghetti with a fork.)

 

Beer bread is spongy and tender inside, with a crisp, buckled crust outside.

Jump to Recipe

The secret ingredient (besides beer) is an entire stick of melted butter poured over the top before baking. I thought the sharp, sour taste of the beer went very well with the slightly sweet, tomatoey soup. 

Clara also made a few loaves of strawberry almond bread, which was heavenly. I’ll see if I can snag her recipe. 

FRIDAY
Quesadillas, chips and salsa

And here we are back at Friday again, what do you know about that?

How do you manage Lenten meals at your house? We generally just tone things down a bit, and I avoid any lavish, extravagant meals; but I don’t push lentils or anything, or avoid cloven-hoofed meats or whatever. I always feel bad about posting food posts on Fridays in Lent, but my brain pan is absolutely full and can’t deal with figuring out something that makes more sense. 

Oh, today we begin our Friday Night Mandatory Lent Film Party! I guess I’ll post reviews on Monday like I did last year. Leaning toward The Keys of the Kingdom for tonight’s pick. 

Also stay tuned for our new movie podcast episode later today! In this one, we review Rocky and Hard Times, filmed within a year of each other, Sylvester Stallone’s best and maybe Charles Bronson’s, too. Both movies about fighters, but vastly different in tone and otherwise. Podcasts are available to patrons who pledge as little as a dollar a month. If you’re a patron, you should receive a link to the podcast via Patreon every time a new episode goes up.

And here are the cards de recipe for the week. 

Meatloaf (actually two giant meatloaves)

Ingredients

  • 5 lbs ground beef
  • 2 lbs ground turkey
  • 8 eggs
  • 4 cups breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 cup milk OR red wine
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

plenty of salt, pepper, garlic powder or fresh garlic, onion powder or minced onions, fresh parsley, etc.

  • ketchup for the top

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 450

  2. Mix all meat, eggs, milk, breadcrumbs, and seasonings together with your hands until well blended.

  3. Form meat into two oblong loaves on pan with drainage

  4. Squirt ketchup all over the outside of the loaves and spread to cover with spatula. Don't pretend you're too good for this. It's delicious. 

  5. Bake for an hour or so, until meat is cooked all the way through. Slice and serve. 

basic lo mein

Ingredients

for the sauce

  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sugar

for the rest

  • 6 oz uncooked noodles
  • sesame oil for cooking
  • add-ins (vegetables sliced thin or chopped small, shrimp, chicken, etc.)
  • 2 Tbsp mirin

Instructions

  1. Mix together the sauce ingredients and set aside.

  2. Boil the noodles until slightly underdone. Drain and set aside.

  3. Heat up a pan, add some sesame oil for cooking, and quickly cook your vegetables or whatever add-ins you have chosen.

  4. Add the mirin to the pan and deglaze it.

  5. Add the cooked noodles in, and stir to combine. Add the sauce and stir to combine.

 

Beef barley soup (Instant Pot or stovetop)

Makes about a gallon of lovely soup

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion or red onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 3-4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2-3 lbs beef, cubed
  • 16 oz mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
  • 6 cups beef bouillon
  • 1 cup merlot or other red wine
  • 29 oz canned diced tomatoes (fire roasted is nice) with juice
  • 1 cup uncooked barley
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy pot. If using Instant Pot, choose "saute." Add the minced garlic, diced onion, and diced carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions and carrots are softened. 


  2. Add the cubes of beef and cook until slightly browned.

  3. Add the canned tomatoes with their juice, the beef broth, and the merlot, plus 3 cups of water. Stir and add the mushrooms and barley. 

  4. If cooking on stovetop, cover loosely and let simmer for several hours. If using Instant Pot, close top, close valve, and set to high pressure for 30 minutes. 

  5. Before serving, add pepper to taste. Salt if necessary. 

 

Beer bread

A rich, buttery quick bread that tastes more bready and less cake-y than many quick breads. It's so easy (just one bowl!) but you really do want to sift the flour.

This recipe makes two large loaf pan loaves.

Ingredients

  • 6 cups flour, sifted
  • 2 Tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 12-oz cans beer, preferably something dark
  • 1 stick butter

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375

  2. Butter two large loaf pans. Melt the stick of butter.

  3. I'm sorry, but you really do want to sift the flour.

  4. In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients, and stir in beer until it's all combined and nice and thick.

  5. Pour the batter into the loaf pans and pour the melted butter over the top.

  6. Bake for about 50 minutes until it's crusty and knobbly on top.

Be patient with priests, but not with clericalism

The National Catholic Reporter has published a strange story about what happens to a parish when arrogant, ultra-trad priests move in and start making the church over in their own image. I say it’s a strange story because it’s hard to tell exactly what happened. Some of the details seem damning — book burnings, secrecy around finances — but others sound like they might be innocuous (oh no, incense?) or even commendable.

The pastor, for instance, is accused of bringing the Eucharist to a sick parishioner rather than letting a lay minister do it. Maybe that was an example of the priest trying to control everything, or maybe it was an example of the priest trying to serve his flock because that’s his job.

Let’s assume for a moment that what the article describes really is part of the great traddening of the Church, wherein rigid hardliners bulldoze over their goodhearted congregation and drive out love and tolerance with inflexibility and retrograde thinking. That is a thing that happens; I’ve seen it.

I’m also old enough to remember priests doing something very similar to our local church. Only they weren’t ultraconservative; they were ultra liberal. In a very short time, they laid waste to building and to the liturgy, removing the ornate crucifix and replacing it with a modernist corpus sans cross dangling in midair. They had clown masses and balloon masses, and they taught frank heresy in the school, in marriage preparation, and from the pulpit.

They tore the tabernacle off the wall and reinstalled it somewhere out of sight. And — I remember this so clearly — there had been a lovely midnight blue half-dome wall decorated with golden stars behind the altar. This, they painted over, and made it flat beige.

I was only a little kid at the time. I knew my parents were upset about something or other at church, but most of the changes went over my head. But when they took away the golden stars, it felt unforgivable. Why would they do such a thing? Who would want that?

Someone must have wanted it, and the more profound changes it symbolized, but many more did not, and I was not the only one who felt dismayed and betrayed. My parents, fairly new Catholics themselves, did their best to push back against the most egregious changes that were so abruptly imposed, but after they were kicked off parish groups for the crime of adhering to basic doctrine, they eventually gave in and found a new place to worship, where things weren’t perfect, but at least they weren’t bonkers.

I wondered how many others did the same, but ended up outside the Catholic church — not so much because they didn’t like the way things were, but because the people making the decisions clearly didn’t care what they needed. They were there not to serve, but to exert control.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

 
DAlanHirt, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

10 ways to let the pandemic shape your Lent

Didn’t we just have Lent? Aren’t we going through it still?

It comes as a shock every year when I look at the calendar and see that it’s almost Ash Wednesday; but this year feels especially unreasonable. The pandemic and all its wretched offspring have made most of 2020 and all of the new year feel so very penitential.

Almost everyone I know has lost someone to COVID. And we’ve lost so many other things that make life pleasant and rich: Eating together, gathering with friends, traveling, visiting family. Many of us can’t even go back to Mass yet. Adoration isn’t safe; confession takes massive planning and coordination. Weddings and other sacraments have been postponed or sadly muted. Even if we haven’t lost anyone we love, we have all lost so much.

So when I think about what we will do for Lent this year, I feel dull and discouraged. What to do? I know intellectually that people throughout history have suffered through much tougher times, but that doesn’t make it easier to muster up any enthusiasm for the coming season of penitence.

The only sensible plan I can think of is to accept that the pandemic is going to make things different this year, and to lean into that. To try to accept our situation as a gift from God, and to use the pandemic as a framework for Lent.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

 
Image by mfbj from Pixabay

Friday Night Mandatory Lent Film Party, 2021 edition

During Lent this year, our family be doing the same thing we did last year: Going screen-free from 7-9 PM, except on Fridays, when we will come together to watch an edifying, well-made movie, preferably with some spiritual theme. The kids were not crazy about this idea, but they ended up liking some of the movies in spite of themselves, and we had some good conversations even about the ones they didn’t like. 

Our proposed watch list for this year includes some that we didn’t get around to last year, and a few new ideas:

Fátima (2020) I don’t think much of Barbara Nicolosi’s work in general, but Steve Greydanus found this movie an improvement over previous movies about Fatima, and it sounds like the didn’t go all oogy-boogy with special effects. 

 

Ushpizin (2004) My mother was always begging and pleading with everyone to watch this movie, and I never got around to it. It looks really worth while. 
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes:

Moshe (Shuli Rand) and Malli (Michal Bat-Sheva Rand), an Orthodox Jewish couple in Jerusalem, are childless and without means to celebrate the weeklong holiday of Succoth. After much prayer, they receive unexpected money, and Moshe is told about an abandoned shack where he and Malli can properly deprive themselves and receive guests. However, they are visited by two ex-convicts with an unexpected link to Moshe’s past, and the celebration becomes a series of emotional trials.

 

The Keys To the Kingdom
Synopsis from imdb:

A young priest, Father Chisholm is sent to China to establish a Catholic parish among the non-Christian Chinese. While his boyhood friend, also a priest, flourishes in his calling as a priest in a more Christian area of the world, Father Chisholm struggles. He encounters hostility, isolation, disease, poverty and a variety of set backs which humble him, but make him more determined than ever to succeed. Over the span of many years he gains acceptance and a growing congregation among the Chinese, through his quiet determination, understanding and patience. 

 

 

Calvary Definitely just for the oldest kids.

Silence Also for the oldest kids.

Of Gods and Men. Somehow this completely passed me by when it came out in 2010. Synopsis:

“Eight French Christian monks live in harmony with their Muslim brothers in a monastery perched in the mountains of North Africa in the 1990s. When a crew of foreign workers is massacred by an Islamic fundamentalist group, fear sweeps though the region. The army offers them protection, but the monks refuse. Should they leave? Despite the growing menace in their midst, they slowly realize that they have no choice but to stay… come what may. This film is loosely based on the life of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, from 1993 until their kidnapping in 1996.”

The Passion of Joan of Arc, maybe?? This one looks pretty bonkers but gorgeous. One kid is taking a film class in high school and the other got a subscription to the Critereon Collection for Christmas, so there has been some Widening Of Horizons lately, and I think a silent movie might be well received. 

Fiddler on the Roof. This one doesn’t uhhh quite fit in with the others, but we haven’t seen it in ages and ages, and nobody’s ever in the mood to start it. I think the older kids remember it as mostly a tragedy, which is certainly is not. I like having a lot of options, so we can choose something that makes sense at the time. 

A Hidden Life (although, three hours, I dunno!)

The Young Messiah 

Paul, Apostle of Christ. Less excited about this one, but it’s supposed to be pretty solid. 

Millions. A bit of stretch. We saw this movie years ago and I remember thinking, “What the hell was that?” But it was interesting, probably worth another watch. Same director who did Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire.

Other possibilities:

Beckett or A Man For All Seasons, but probably not both. I actually bitterly disliked both these movies when I was young, but I should probably give them another viewing as an adult. 

Song of Bernadette I’ve still never seen this movie. I have less and less patience for Hollywood Catholicism, but I’m willing to be talked into it, especially since this list needs more movies that the younger kids can watch.

Well, that should be enough to keep us busy. 

Here’s my reviews for the movies we watched last year:

I Confess

The Robe

The Trouble With Angels

Babette’s Feast

Lilies of the Field

We also watched The Miracle Maker, but I don’t seem to have reviewed this one. We thought it was weird but powerful, and we overall gave a thumbs-up to the portrayal of Jesus. 

(The Passion of the Christ) We didn’t watch this one, but I did write a review of it a few years ago.

 

NH Reporter: Legion school sheltered several more abusers than originally reported

The Legionaries of Christ acknowledged in a 2019 report that it had two sexual abusers in its ranks in NH, for a total of four in all of North America. But according to police records, at least four other abusers were reported in Center Harbor, NH, which was home to an all-boys Legion school. The chief of police in Center Harbor also believes the Legion habitually moved the accused out of the country to avoid investigation.

The founder of the school only notified state investigators about one abuse allegation after he became aware journalists were talking to the victim. 

Read the entire story with extensive original reporting by my husband, Damien Fisher, at NHReporter.com.

***

Related: A year ago, we reported on how the Legion lied to police when a victim reported abuse to them, and how they classify criminal abuse as “boundary violations” to make it seem like they have fewer abusers in their ranks than they really do.

 

Photo: Immaculate Conception Apostolic School in Center Harbor, NH. Photo copyright Damien Fisher

 

Movie Night with the Fishers: The podcast returns!

Believe it or not, not our podcast is back!

After a horribly long hiatus, Damien and I have started recording weekly podcasts again. We still begin by pouring a drink, and it’s still politics-free, but we’ve tightened it right up, and now the entire podcast is about movies. Although we have very disparate tastes, we’re willing to watch just about anything together, as long as it’s not boring. And if it is boring, we want to talk about why. 

The episodes we’ve recorded so far are double headers, in which we discuss two movies that are linked in some way. Episode one covers Moonstruck and The Quiet Man, hoo-de-hoo-hoo! Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

The full episode is available to anyone who pledges $1 a month or more through Patreon. I sent the link to patrons earlier today. If you’re a patron and didn’t get the link, please let me know! If you’re not a patron, well, my goodness. It’s so easy and so cheap. 

Why is the podcast just for patrons? 
I wrote out and deleted a long explanation about how awesome I am and how awesome you are for helping me be this awesome, but nobody needs that. Basically, a dollar a month (or more! or more!) goes a long way to helping our family stay afloat and helping me stay independent so I can write what I want, for better or worse. And yes, you are awesome, and have been for a long time. 

 

 

 

The Britney Spears documentary is ambiguous but not (very) exploitative

The New York Times documentary on Britney Spears isn’t about her music. It’s not even entirely about Britney Spears. “Framing Britney Spears” is largely about the media, and the people who consume it. I watched to see if the Times could thread that needle, honestly critiquing media exploitation without being exploitative itself. I’m not sure if they pulled it off. 

The Times chose to tell her story now because she is in the midst of a long legal battle with her father over her conservatorship, by which Jamie Spears together with an attorney with the Dickensian name of “Wallet” has controlled almost every aspect of his daughter’s life since 2008. Such legal arrangements are usually made for elderly or infirm people who can’t be trusted to care for themselves or their money. Spears is 39. 

It is beyond dispute that her legal situation is odd. Her father, who was largely absent through her young adulthood, petitioned for legal control of her affairs after her series of public breakdowns; but the conservatorship continues even after Spears’ celebrated comeback and lucrative residency in Las Vegas. The lawyer Wallet petitioned the court to increase his share of her earnings, arguing that the conservatorship should be considered “more of a hybrid business model.” 

In other words, she is well enough to perform and make money hand over fist, but not well enough to decide what to do with that money. (Six days after the documentary first aired, Spears won a small concession concerning investment powers; but the bulk of financial control remains in her father’s hands. Another hearing is scheduled for next month, and Spears is expected to continue petitioning the court to remove her father as conservator.)

Most Americans are familiar with Britney Spears’s story: A small-town girl with a big voice is hurtled into fame, and she soon emerges from the safe and shiny world of “The Mickey Mouse Club”and uses every means but skywriting to announce that she is now a sexy and powerful woman in control of her own destiny. The world eagerly responds by alternately slut-shaming her and demanding more details about her breasts, her virginity, her sexual conquests. 

Lit by a constant strobe of camera flashes, she has an excruciatingly public romance and rift with Justin Timberlake, marries dancer Kevin Federline, has a baby and then another baby, checks in and out of rehab, divorces, shaves her head, attacks a paparazzo with an umbrella and is involuntarily committed to psychiatric care. It is a Russian novel of a life, lurid, pathetic, savage and ridiculous, and as it plays out it is played for laughs, with the whole world apparently in on the joke of this lunatic star who can’t seem to get it together just because everyone is watching her fail. 

I remembered all the details of her coming apart, but I gasped when I saw the clip of the game show “Family Feud” in the documentary. Contestants are asked to list things that Spears had lost that year, and the crowd laughs and cheers when they offer answers like “her hair,” “her dignity,” “her marriage,” “her mind.” It is breathtakingly cruel. And I remember how those who defended her were mocked, as well. 

There is no doubt that the media—invasive and predatory tabloids, as well as allegedly respectable journalists—did their best to destroy Britney Spears for ratings. It does not appear that she ever had anyone willing and truly able to defend her, or even to be fair to her. This documentary strives mightily to do both. 

Read the rest of my review for America magazine

Image: Screenshot from “Framing Britney Spears” on Hulu