Megan Fox, glossolalia and AP Style (you read that right)

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law is a lot of things and it fills a lot of roles. With good cause, thousands of media professionals call it the bible of mainstream journalism. However, this omnipresent spiral volume doesn’t answer a whole lot of complex questions that scribes will encounter trying to cover life on the modern religion beat.

For example, it offers no help whatsoever to a reporter who is trying to figure out how to write out a direct quote from someone who is speaking in an ecstatic, celestial, unknown tongue. The technical term here is “glossolalia.”

Of course, the proper theological response — according to the New Testament — is to quote the person present who has been given the spiritual gift of interpretation. Try explaining that to your metro editor.

The stylebook on my desk does offer this information, referring to the fastest growing form of Christianity in the world:

“Pentecostalism: A movement that arose in the early 20th century and separated from historic Protestant denominations. It is distinguished by the belief in tangible manifestations of the Holy Spirit, often in demonstrative, emotional ways such as ‘speaking in tongues’ and healing. …”

Of course, many charismatic and Pentecostal believers will argue that their movement dates back to, well, Pentecost. It’s also important to recognizes that the reality of miraculous spiritual gifts can be seen in the lives of many saints — East and West — through the ages. Hardly anyone believes that these gifts went away for a millennium or so. Needless to say, it’s hard for a journalism reference book to settle all of these kinds of issues.

The bottom line, however, is that Pentecostal believers are all over the place these days and journalists need to face that.

One even showed up on a typically racy Esquire cover the other day.

Now I am sure that some GetReligion readers have been shocked at how long it took us to get around to the following passage in that story about the human screensaver known as Megan Fox. One of the main headlines even contained a hint of spiritual content: “Megan Fox Saves Herself.

The story contains typically artsy reflections on the meaning of a bombshell babe in a postmodern age, including the degree to which people attempting to merchandize her flesh are walking in the metaphorical footsteps of the Aztecs who practiced human sacrifice. Then, suddenly, there is this:

Today, unfettered sexual beauty is an impediment. To be serious and respected, it is better to be homely or cute. Or else you must disfigure yourself, like Charlize Theron in Monster. Or you must allow yourself to be brutalized, like Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball. Or you must pretend that you’re really just average, like Tina Fey.

There’s no doubt that this transformation has been overwhelmingly excellent. But we’re losing something in this process. Because creativity is, was, and always will be sexual. Some of the very first works of art were figures of hugely fecund women dropped all over Europe tens of thousands of years ago. American movies expressed that great fusion of sex and art, too. They are magnificent pagan dreams, utterly profane and glorious. Such movies need bombshells. They need to consume beautiful flesh in their sacrifices. They need women like Megan Fox.

She is preparing for the end times.

“I’ve read the Book of Revelation a million times,” Megan Fox says. “It does not make sense, obviously. It needs to be decoded. What is the dragon? What is the prostitute? What are these things? What is this imagery? What was John seeing? And I was just thinking, What is the Antichrist?”

She’s relaxed now. She’s much more comfortable talking about the Antichrist than her career.

Yes, you read that right.

Readers veer into a shallow pool of information about Fox and her family. Then suddenly, readers shoot back into a discussion of how her beauty keeps taking over her career, dragging her closer and closer to a professional cliff. Thus, the symbolic and poignant tattoo of Marilyn Monroe on her right arm.

Then, boom, there is the passage that is getting all of the edgy commentary online:

[Read more...]

India and rape: Spotting some tricky ghosts

YouTube Preview Image

In about 99 percent of the mainstream news reports you will ever read about India and religion, there will be a reference that reads something like the following, from a Washington Post story that I have been meaning to get to for a week or so. This is part of the wave of coverage — totally justifiable, methinks — about rape and women’s rights in that land.

The crucial language, as is the norm, comes right at the end of the feature-style lede that frames this hellish drama:

BANWASA, India – The teenage girl was overpowered by four men at a railway crossing near this village and bundled into a car. For five days she was kept, imprisoned and naked, in a windowless outhouse on nearby farmland and raped repeatedly.

Despite its brutality, the September incident merited just a few lines in a domestic news-agency story about a string of such crimes in the northern state of Haryana. It was headlined simply: “Four more rape cases.”

Thousands of Indians have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest the rape of a young woman on a moving bus in New Delhi. But in rural areas just a few hours’ drive from India’s capital, where police and activists say rapes are common and increasing, such incidents draw scarcely any attention, let alone outrage.

In India’s modernizing but still deeply traditional society, social and women’s rights activists say rapes occur with virtual impunity, and women who betray flickers of independent thought and challenge the male-dominated status quo are especially vulnerable.

The key words are found in that passing reference to India being a “deeply traditional society.”

What, precisely, does that mean? What are these traditions? Might they have something to do with religion?

I have several friends who work in the mainstream press in India and, in conversations with them over the years about American media coverage of their land, they have expressed amazement at the degree to which U.S. journalists are afraid to talk about the elephant in the living room in these stories — the caste system.

Is it more common for police and other officials to look the other way when crimes are committed against members of the lower castes? Of course it is. In India, ignoring the role of the caste system would be akin to ignoring the role of gravity in physics. Yet many journalists are afraid to venture into that maze of, yes, religion and tradition. It’s safer to simply call India a “deeply traditional society” — wink, wink — and then move on.

However, this story caught my attention because, after the usual “traditional society” language, the team at the Post foreign desk delivered some crucial details that added depth and reality to the news.

For example, consider this transition passage:

The regularity of rapes and the resentment of women who question traditional roles are just two examples of this country’s vast gender inequality and wobbly rule of law — among the factors economists say are keeping India from its goal of being a global power. According to government statistics, the number of rapes reported nationwide rose 50 percent between 2001 and 2011, when police registered 23,582 cases. Over the same period in Haryana, a state of 25 million people, the figure rose nearly 85 percent, to 733. Police and activists say part of the increase might be attributable to more reporting, but they also insist that incidents are rising.

In October, a senior Haryana police officer interviewed by an Indian magazine blamed the increase on girls and women who are “easily influenced” and wear Western clothes. Police interviewed after the New Delhi case were more circumspect, vaguely blaming socioeconomic factors.

Some right-wing Hindu nationalists have tried to blame rapes on the influx of Western values or portray them as an urban phenomenon. But in rural India, the status of women is so low — and a family’s honor their exclusive burden — that such crimes often go unrecorded. When police do take up rape cases, rural communities tend to rally around the accused and ostracize the accusers.

As I read this story, I wondered if the Post would dare to GO THERE, citing the ultimate example of sexism and the low status of women in this unbelievably complex land.

Imagine my surprise when I read the following:

[Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X