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Posts Tagged ‘The Daily Show’

As promised, I wanted to continue exploring some of the issues brought about by the recent release of “Religulous,” starring Bill Maher. To be clear, the intention in my first post was really to bring up some of the issues that surface when we consider the premise of Maher’s film. I cannot review the film itself, as I have not seen it, though from reviews and trailers I did offer a few reasons why it may not be worthy of any serious consideration, save that it provides an opportunity to share the Truth. I therefore agree with commenter smhjr: Religulous is not a threat, but an opportunity, and perhaps a catalyst spurring others to ask good questions about faith and religion (questions, mind you, for which Christianity has satisfying answers, so long as you’re willing to dig deep enough, and perhaps even talk to people other than those on the fringe of reason).

However, I do find the genre of Religulous more troublesome, hence the promised “real danger” I mentioned in the teaser at the end of my first post. For me, my worry is that films like Religulous, or similar media that lampoon people or institutions on moral grounds, foster an unhealthy attitude towards important issues. In this sense, Religulous is worthy of serious consideration.

Consider The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Each day politicians or the media that cover them are sliced and diced with great skill. Double talk, direct contradictions, or otherwise ridiculous statements are put right out in the open thanks to some brilliant editing and smart writing. The result is the fulfillment of Stewart’s admitted intention: Many “schnicks and giggles.” A comparison of Maher’s work and Stewart’s reveals similarities in method, intent, and result.

I must make the point upfront that Stewart and Maher are not “harmless” by virtue of their profession. In other words, we can’t say “Relax, it’s just a joke.” Your chosen profession or genre does not absolve you from social responsibility. Comedians writing comedy ought to be held responsible for taking a part in shaping public opinions and attitudes as much as anybody else. Repeatedly making the president of our country look incompetent is perfectly legal in our country, but it has real consequences for the social milieu. The same applies to Maher and religion.

That said, whence the resultant “danger” of Religulous, The Daily Show, and their like? First, I believe that such humor, if viewed frequently and uncritically, will subtly desensitize us to the gravity of some of the issues at stake. What, after all, is intrinsically funny about people killing each other over religious differences? Or (ostensibly) corrupt politicians running our country aground? Comedy by its nature requires some trivialization and/or emotional distance from the issue(s) at stake. Most of us have made the social faux pas of telling a joke at a party about a certain issue only to find that somebody nearby has suffered greatly from that about which we poke fun. Popularizing humor that plays on serious issues requires a loosening of sensitivities to real suffering. Suffering which, for most who are laughing, happens “out there.”

Second, Stewart and Maher do such a good job of making their point that in the end you’re left feeling helpless. For Maher, we’re proffered the notion that any member of an organized religion is ipso facto irrational. In Stewart’s case, we’re sold that politicians and the news media are so hopelessly bankrupt that there’s no point in actually doing something about it. In the end, any real engagement with serious issues is so futile or pointless that laughing about it is all we can do. Where I live, cynicism about politics and religion is rampant, and media like Maher’s and Stewart’s fuel that cynicism. At my last check, cynicism rarely brought about any lasting good, if any good at all.

The “real danger,” then, of Religulous is more subtle than the knee-jerk offense it may create. Like The Daily Show, and others of similar stripe, these media engender cynicism or apathy to serious issues. If indeed said issues are worthy of the moral offense that underlies the comedy itself, for all their intelligence, Maher and Stewart are a part of the very problems they purport to condemn.

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