Tuesday, November 15, 2005

God and Michael Moore Go AWOL

Two very odd programmes last night.
In a way, something not happening was central to both of them.

Priest Idol (Channel 4) should have been about priests competing to be appointed to a moribund Church of England parish in Barnsley. But when only one person applied the programme makers decided to go ahead with the series anyway and stick with the same title.
The sole applicant was a young chap from America - not one of your Charismatic Christians in any sense of that adjective.

He was shown round by the departing incumbent, a portly, High Church, rather camp man who gave much better camera, if there is such an expression. Well, there is now.
At his interview, the young American, who had an appearance of pre-pubescent asexuality rather than any more problematic leanings, was asked his view on homosexual bishops. He was against them. His predesessor said they were tough questions: "I'm glad I wasn't him".
Bet you were, said the viewers in unison, like a liturgical response.

This was apparently the most godless parish in England. Just in case a church attendance that rarely reached double figures didn't make the point, someone had helpfully painted 'Fuck God' on one of the church buildings. It was spelt correctly too, so the Government's literacy programme must be working.

There was plenty of slightly guilty schadenfreude for secularists. After a week of intensive leafleting and door-knocking, church attendance increased by three. I can't remember if that figure included the new priest's parents who had flown over from America where seven out of ten people attend church regularly.

God featured prominently, not just in the graffiti, but as always his ways were mysterious. The young American had been called to Barnsley by God. On the scale of divine messages, this was fairly innocuous, certainly when compared with God telling George Bush to invade Iraq. When the Archdeacon was asked if the insipid American was the right man to convert the Chavs of south Yorkshire, he simply said that God had sent him. I think he added 'Praise be!' The Archdeacon is much given to saying 'Praise be!', a curiously incomplete ejaculation. Praise be what?

Since God wasn't being much help in increasing church attendance ( and faith is supposed to be a gift from God, after all), the church called in the marketing men. I suspect it was actually the production company that called in the marketing men, given that their initial concept had collapsed and they desperately needed a narrative for a three part series.
Julian and Sandy - sorry, Julian and Steve - roared into the derelict church precincts in what looked like a Porsche. God must have been hovering somewhere in the backgound because when they came out it was still there and so were its wheels.
They asked the young priest if he wanted to target low-hanging fruit and young James was understandably relieved to learn that this phrase meant increasing the number of older people coming to church.
But hey, Our Lord never went for the easy option. Walking on water and rising from the dead was serious stuff. So James spurned the low-hanging, soft fruit of the over-50s and the easy-peasy windfalls of the under-12s and said he wanted to climb heavenwards to the topmost branches of the demographic tree and harvest the teenagers - the hoodie-wearing, smack-injecting, graffiti-writing, serial-shagging hordes who had filled his churchyard with empty Fosters cans and discarded underwear.
Julian and Steve walked away scratching their heads. One of them said "Why are they always so keen to get young people into their church?" There's a distasteful and in this case unwarranted answer to that one which I shall avoid.
"It's because they're the future" said the other marketing man before laughing and choking on the cliché.

The attempt to engage with young people provided the most excruciating footage in this film. One gambit was serving free pizza in the church hall after school. Another was going into local schools to talk to children.
Most of these children were not apostates who had drifted away from religion. They had never known religion and the gulf was unbridgeable. They couldn't understand why an American had come to Barnsley, not realising that there are places in America that make Barnsley seem like New York. They couldn't understand why James didn't go out at weekends and get pissed or why he was prepared to work for a low salary. But most of all they couldn't understand why someone who appeared sane and rational believed in God. Indeed, one boy asked one of the marketing people if the new vicar believed in God. The apparent absurdity of that question just emphasised the depth of his incomprehension. Since it's an incomprehension I share I had rather more empathy with the Barnsley youth sucking on his Argos necklace than the hapless vicar did.

This was a poor community with high unemployment. It was surprising to see smoke belching from the chimneys of so many houses, perhaps a hang-over from the now defunct mining industry, but something you rarely see down south now. But although the clergy might not have high salaries they do get free housing and I doubt they burn coal. The new priest had been provided with a smart new house in the most affluent part of the village. His predecessor's home would also not have looked out of place in one of the Sunday supplements. The contrast with the lifestyles of many of their parishioners and with the shabby, decaying church could not have been more striking. One felt there was more than just a spiritual gulf here between the churchmen and their flock.
And when young James tried to show a schoolboy who was umbilically connected to the consumer society that there was no connection between material possessions and happiness, my mind wandered to the Church of England's shareholdings and I remembered that they were major stakeholders in Gateshead's temple of consumerism, the giant Metrocentre shopping complex.
Pots and kettles, motes and beams.......Priest Idol or False Idols?
Vote now on 08008.........sorry, wrong programme.


Not much room left for Janet Street-Porter's hatchet job on Michael Moore on Murdoch's Sky One.
This was built around Michael Moore not meeting Street-Porter to be interviewed. It was like looking for God in Barnsley. Since one of her tactics was to stand at the end of his very long driveway and holler into the trees like a fishwife, she's lucky not to have been taken away by men in white coats.

The gist of it was that Michael Moore has a giant ego and can be very rude to people. Or so claimed Janet Street-Porter. Yes, I know. Pots and kettles again.
Oh, and some of his films are guilty of chronological inexactitudes. Not that his films have caused as many deaths as the factual inaccuracies that justified the war in Iraq of course.

I'm quite prepared to believe that Michael Moore can be deeply unpleasant. I just don't see the relevance of that to his opinions. He's never claimed to be Jesus Christ. And if he can be elusive and is surrounded by bodyguards, that seems eminently sensible behaviour in someone who has taken on the American right and the National Rifle Association.

A mostly pointless programme, except for Janet Street-Porter who got to swan around America and do some shopping in New York and presumably got a fat cheque as well. Glad it was Rupert's money and not the BBC's.


At 7:42 PM, Anonymous Intern said...

Re: Michael Moore documentary. I only caught the last half of it but it seemed to me to display all the one-sided narrative J S-P accused Morre of.

I met Moore when he came to speak at my uni and he seemed an amiable kind of guy when I approached him to sign my book.

But perhaps a more convincing defence of Moore relates to his show in London. I went one night, where he revealed on stage that he had received, that night, a death threat pinned to his dressing-room door from the fascist group combat-17. This might go some way to explain why he was a little rude and unfriendly to some of the stage hands (if one of them, with access to his dressing-room, threatened to kill him). This was reported the following weekend in the Sunday Times, so was there for anyone with a modicum of research skills to unearth. J S-P, of course, failed to mention anything about this, and instead reported how he threw an apple pie in the bin (while perhaps hypocritically insultingly calling him fat throughout the programme) as if it were some crime of the century. I seriously wonder how that woman, displaying such spurious journalistic ability, managed to edit a national paper.

At 9:11 PM, Blogger Cut-Rate Parasite said...

Priest Idol sounds wonderful. I miss British TV, especially when I hear of shows like this. I remember it being almost as vacuous as American TV, but simultaneously cuter and more cutting. How do you manage that simultaneity? Stunning.

"Praise be." Yes, some of the Christians here say that. I have no clue as to why. They don't either, but they have Faith, and as feel exempt from needing aforementioned clue.

I strongly doubt that 7 out of 10 Americans attend church regularly, by the way. They may tell survey takers that, but they don't really. That's kind of hypocrite we have. They know they should, unlike the French, who probably go to church but say they don't, for the same reason, only reversed.

(They do, however, put chrome fish decals on the back of their vast, gas guzzling vehicles, and go to a lot of trouble erecting vast, non-denominational churches that play insipid pop music with refrains like "Praise Be! ... Praise Be! ... Yeah-eah!" But they don't actually attend these churches).

At 7:53 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

intern: that's interesting background information.
It also explains why Moore wasn't keen to eat an apple pie delivered to the theatre by a woman who claimed to be a friend of his mother.
J S-P also ran a TV station, Live TV, and we all know what a beacon of intelligent broadcasting that was!
Well, those few of us who ever saw it during its brief life.

CRP: I suspect that statistic (which was stated as fact in the programme) came from the churches. They lie shamelessly about these things.
I once wrote here about the claim, never disputed, that there are one billion Catholics in the world. On investigation, it turned out to be nonsense. I am included in that gloriously round figure. I daresay Hitler is too, even though he's dead, because he was baptised a Catholic.

At 8:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re: Praise be

Perhaps it's just short for "Praise be unto the Lord", which is itself highly reminiscent of the custom of some devout Muslims of adding the words "praise be unto him" or the abbreviation "pbuh" in brackets after every written mention of "Mohammed" or "The Prophet".

I was brought up in the CofE. I attended Sunday school regularly. My sister was assistant organist at the local church. I subsequently joined the choir at the town's parish church and spent what seems like all my free time there. Then at the age of thirteen, some one asked me: "Do you believe in God?". I replied in the affirmative. "Why?" he asked. I became an atheist in an instant. I guess that faith can be a habit rather than a gift, eh?

- Tony -

At 9:16 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

Tony: I too became an atheist abruptly at about the same age.
Instant atheism: Praise Be!

At 11:41 AM, Anonymous robin said...

I have seen similar church attendance stats, but they may be misleadingly high, being partly (as ever) a matter of defining terms. 'Regularly' can mean as little as twice a year and therefore can catch all those who attend merely at Easter and Xmas, a set of believers given the title Christers or Eastmas or some such elision.

Michael Moore can be unsubtle and heavy handed in the way he assembles his films. There's a well known incident in which he tried to get Pete Townsend to agree to grant permission for some music, was refused and took it very badly.

At 8:05 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

robin: it reminds me of the early days of the web when people could be bamboozled by misleading website stats.

There are many justified criticisms that can be made of Moore. But his great achievement is to have created a mass market for political polemicism, and that includes huge numbers of young people.

At 9:12 PM, Blogger David Bullock said...

I have just seen the latest instalment of "Priest Idol" (or is it "I’m a cleric get me out of here")- the one where the marketing men are trying to push the concept of Church lite. Sorry I have to say this program sickens me. Strangely because I would not even describe myself as Christian (in any conventional sense). However, I find the increasing commodification of every aspect of human life repellent. To reduce Christian thought to a brand is to cheapen not just the church but all of humanity. If the most sacred and profound beliefs can be replaced with slogans and marketing demographics then we are truly without hope. If getting people through the doors at any cost is the answer, then turn Church into a shopping mall, but this seems to miss the point somehow. If we are more godless as a nation these days it is precisely because we have devalued everything through relentless marketing. To "sell" God this way is to truly make a pact with the devil.

(a sad atheist)

At 6:41 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

David: I totally agree and have quoted you in my review of last night's episode which I've just watched on tape.


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