Mark Hemingway on “30 Rock”

Did you watch “30 Rock” the other day and hear a cryptic reference to someone you faintly recall hearing of recently? Well, remember how I mentioned Lutheran journalist and conservative pundit Mark Hemingway the other day? Well, he’s made it to the big time: having his name taken in vain on a sit-com and becoming a pop culture reference.

Now the political insider site Politico is talking about this. It’s a genuinely funny line, and Mark is both taking it in good humor and reveling in the attention.

What else do “30 Rock,” “Politico,” and the Cranach blog have in common?

Evangelism without the gospel

Have you seen the “Receive Jesus” ad on national television? (I can’t find it on the web. If any of you can find it, please post a link.) It has a rather cool-looking guy with a goatee and a black t-shirt against a white background. He says how life is hard. But that Jesus can make an amazing difference in your life. He tells viewers, wherever they are, to “receive Jesus.” It’s rather well-done, better than my description makes it sound.

But the ad nowhere includes the Gospel! He doesn’t say anything about sin or forgiveness or who Jesus is or what He accomplished for us on the Cross.

This is not uncommon, trying to be evangelistic while leaving out the evangel. Just telling someone to “receive Jesus” and encouraging a rote prayer to that effect without proclaiming the Gospel doesn’t make anyone a Christian, does it? I’m sure the makers of this ad do believe that Jesus died for sinners and that His death and resurrection grants forgiveness. So why did they go to all of the expense of this ad without saying that?

I’m all for using the media like this for evangelism and salute the effort, but the Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners surely has to be in the message, doesn’t it?

Speaking truth to power

An exchange between CNN’s Campbell Brown and White House spokesperson Valerie Jarrett:

Brown: So do you think FOX News is biased?
Jarrett: Well, of course they're biased. Of course they are.
Brown: OK. Then do you also think that MSNBC is biased?
Jarrett: Well, you know what? This is the thing. I don't want to–actually, I don't want to just generalize all FOX is biased or that another station is biased. I think what we want to do is look at it on a case-by-case basis. And when we see a pattern of distortion, we're going to be honest about that pattern of distortion.
Brown: But you only see that at FOX News? That's all that–you have spoken out about FOX News.
Jarrett: That's actually not true. I think that what the administration has said very clearly is that we're going to speak truth to power.

Don’t the people in the White House know that THEY are the ones in power? That their crusade against their critics at Fox is trying to SILENCE people speaking truth to power?

The best television show ever?

Michael Anton makes a good case for The Twilight Zone:

“Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible” — that’s how Serling initially described the concept. Every week, the show would have a new setting, a new cast, and a new premise. The unifying theme would be “the unknown” — understood broadly to include space travel and time travel, ESP and immortality, dystopian futures and idyllic pasts, Santa Claus and Mr. Death.

Yet it was precisely The Twilight Zone’s disconnect from reality that gave Serling cover to comment on the issues he most cared about. His favorite topic — revisited again and again — was prejudice. Serling was absolutely marinated in the anti-racism ideology of midcentury liberalism. “The worst aspect of our time is prejudice,” he once said, a sentiment he repeated in nearly identical terms over and over again. Sometimes drawing from this well yielded inspired results, such as the classic episode “Eye of the Beholder,” set on a planet in which a beautiful plastic-surgery patient is considered ugly and all the “normals” look like pigs. But Serling returned too often, burdening the show with clunkers like “He’s Alive” (the “he” being Hitler) and “I Am the Night, Color Me Black” (a melodrama about a lynching).

When he turned his rhetorical guns against authoritarianism, he left nothing standing. One of the most powerful episodes — “The Obsolete Man” — pits a meek, Bible-quoting librarian against a book-banning, atheistic über-state, over which the librarian scores a posthumous victory. There is also a strong streak of anti-Communism in Serling’s work. (Serling was a lifelong patriot who served bravely in World War II; he came to oppose the war in Vietnam because he thought the corrupt Saigon government unworthy of American support.) One underrated episode (“The Mirror”), about a Castro-lookalike Latin American dictator, could have been inspired by Animal Farm or Leo Strauss’s On Tyranny. Another episode makes a punch line out of Nikita Khrushchev.

Not that all, or even most, of the scripts were thinly veiled social criticism. The Twilight Zone was first and foremost entertainment — “good stories, well told,” Serling promised, and largely delivered. Many of the greatest plots had no political undertone at all — and were not even scripted by the boss. Serling wrote an incredible 92 of the show’s 156 episodes, but some of the most beloved and memorable were penned by a quartet of freelance contributors: established sci-fi gurus Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, and newcomers George Clayton Johnson and Earl Hamner Jr. (who went on to create The Waltons).

Serling returned to these men again and again in part because of how well they understood the form. As Matheson put it, “The ideal Twilight Zone started with a really smashing idea that hit you right in the first few seconds, then you played that out, and you had a little flip at the end; that was the structure.” Indeed, the show’s hallmark came to be those sucker-punch endings: “It’s a cookbook!” “Dolls for Christmas . . . ” “U.S. Air Force Space Probe No. 1.” And on and on. They became so characteristic of the show that some wags dubbed it “O. Henry in Outer Space,” after the turn-of-the-century short-story writer’s famous twist finales.

I will accept nominations for other candidates for best TV show ever as well as favorite episodes of the Zone.

The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup proof for God’s existence

USA Today online reports this exchange:

Famed atheist Richard Dawkins appeared on The Colbert Report Wednesday night promoting his new book on evolution, The Greatest Show on Earth.

His conversation with Stephen Colbert went something like this:

Dawkins: “You asked me for the evidence for evolution, where’s the evidence for God?”

Colbert: “Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”

I think that’s a remarkably profound answer. Unpack why that delicious candy bar is evidence for God’s existence.

The gulf between the entertainment world and America

Over 100 Hollywood moguls and insiders–including Woody Allen, Martin Scorcese, David Lynch, and Harvey Weinstein–have signed petitions urging the release of child rapist Roman Polanski, who has been arrested after fleeing a plea bargain 30 years ago. What impresses me is that pretty much the rest of America–the whole range of conservatives, liberals, feminists–are on the other side, demanding that Polanski face justice for raping a 13-year-old (not a statutory rape, but forcible sex against her will), even though he is a famous movie director.

The moral nihilism of the entertainment industry manifests itself again in the case of David Letterman, who admitted to being blackmailed to the tune of $2 million for having sex with his staff members. We’ll doubtless learn more about that, but what struck me is who the blackmailer was. Not a pathetic loser snooping from the shadows, but a big-name, high-powered television executive, Robert “Joe” Halderman, a CBS News producer.