But not a real green dress, that’s cruel

But not a real green dress, that’s cruel March 13, 2024

• I don’t think most normal white evangelicals understand how full-gonzo nutbags Charisma magazine is. It really is off the charts.

Name any three new religious movements at random and then name three more beyond-the-fringe cults that even the most cautious religion scholars would agree to describe using that word and you’ll find Charisma embracing and promoting ideas that outstrip anything imagined by all six of those groups. Every week there’s stuff posted at Charismanews that would make the surviving members of Heaven’s Gate or Chloe from Smallville balk, saying, “Whoa — those people seem like whackjobs.”

If you called up Coast to Coast AM and started reading stuff from Charismanews, George Noory would hang up on you so that he could get back to legitimate callers talking about more sensible topics, like Bigfoot or how aliens built Stonehenge.

Part of the reason that mainstream white evangelicalism has trouble confronting the reality of what Charisma has become is that an accurate, honest, dispassionate evaluation of it would seem, well, rude. To name or even attempt to describe something so unseemly strikes most normal, decent people as itself unseemly. They doubt others’ accurate descriptions of what Charisma publishes because those descriptions, if at all accurate, are bound to seem hostile or pejorative.

This instinctive distrust kicks in even when it’s their own two eyes doing the describing. Even when they look at it, they can’t quite bring themselves to believe that it’s as batshit loony as their own eyes tell them it actually is.

And so every criticism of Charisma will be dismissed as “over the top” because Charisma is, itself, so over the top.

Take a look this piece from Charisma, “Has Hollywood’s Satanic Activity Been Exposed?

The post-awards-show column decoding and condemning the alleged “Satanic” symbols or rituals invoked by celebrities is a standard feature at Charisma, but this year’s Academy Awards show posed a problem. The show featured what seemed like an easy and obvious target for the latest recitation of that column: Becky G’s performance of the Oscar-nominated song, “The Fire Inside.” The singer performed in an “immodest,” witch-black dress before a giant wall of animated Hellfire, soon joined by small children in ritual robes who made an array of hand-gestures throughout the number.

Any Charisma writer could’ve turned that into a column about “Hollywood’s Satanic Activity” without breaking a sweat.

Alas, though, this Dianne Warren (now 0-for-15) song was from the movie Flamin’ Hot, recounting the rags-to-riches story of a man who worked as a janitor at Frito Lay as a teenager and later rose to become an executive at the company who, it turns out, had nothing to do with the invention of its most popular variety of Cheeto. The movie had a faith-friendly, “inspirational” message and it had the smarmy right-wing Christian politico Samuel Rodriguez — a Charisma ally — as one of its producers.

So despite all the flames and black dresses and whatnot, “The Fire Inside” was off-limits for this column.

And so Charisma’s Abby Trivett had to settle instead for a column claiming that John Cena’s amusing bit — commemorating the anniversary of the Oscar Streaker by appearing in the same outfit — was somehow an Illuminati initiation ritual involving public humiliation.

That’s nonsense, of course, because … well, just look at John Cena. Yes, he’s a surprisingly talented comic actor, and he did a capable job of pretending to be embarrassed at being on that stage nearly naked, but it’s a stretch to suggest that it’s any form of humiliation for that body to be exposed.

You may be reading this and thinking “Where does Charisma come up with this stuff?” And that’s the important question — because they’re not just making it up on their own.

Trivett’s article is based on — and directly cites — claims from the morally and financially bankrupt conspiracy peddler Alex Jones and from the far-right “manosphere” YouTuber Andrew Tate, who is currently awaiting trial in Romania for human trafficking, rape, and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women.

Both Jones and Tate are mentioned by name in the article — cited as authorities that Charisma readers can and should trust.

Again, this isn’t me hyperbolically criticizing Charisma by saying “You might as well be listening to Alex Jones and Andrew Tate.” This is Charisma itself recommending these charlatans as credible sources and laundering their conspiracy theories through a Christian lens for their willfully gullible readers.

That’s where they get this stuff from. Alex Jones, manosphere YouTubers, 4chan, 8kun — these are the sources of many of the “prophetic revelations” that Charisma routinely shares with its readers.

• This whole attempt to weave a conspiracy theory around John Cena’s sketch also ticks me off because it claims his “humiliation ritual” involves the Bohemian Grove. That’s a real place — an exclusive resort for billionaires and their hired politicians and judges. It’s one of the places the Davos jet-set goes to get away from it all — as if any of those folks are ever not away from it all.

The Bohemian Grove is literally one of the places where Clarence Thomas parks his luxury RV so he can hang out with Harlan Crow and the Koch brothers.

Conspiracy theorists aren’t exactly wrong when they say that this is a place where small cabals of powerful cronies gather to plot world domination, but the folks at Charisma are, as a rule, huge fans of all of those cabalists and all of their plots.

Here’s a famous photo of one of the wild “ritual gatherings” at the Bohemian Grove:

Look how wild and crazy it gets there — neither Reagan nor Nixon is even wearing a tie!

Yes, it’s a real place. And, yes, ultra-powerful, secretive billionaires regularly gather there to coordinate their efforts for the betterment of all ultra-powerful, secretive billionaires everywhere. But those billionaires run across a wide political spectrum ranging from “Very Conservative” to “Even More Conservative” to “Way, Way, Way More Conservative Than Even That.”

I’m actually kind of surprised that Steve Strang allowed conspiracy theorizing about the Bohemian Grove to be published by Charisma. The guy has made millions of dollars fleecing his flock and pushing American Christianity into wild grotesquerie, but he’s still hundreds of millions away from his heart’s desire of someday sitting at that table in the picture above. I bet he’s mad that his columnist just made it less likely he’ll ever be invited.

Paul Campos at Lawyers, Guns & Money quotes from George Orwell’s essay on Charles Dickens, so of course I’m gonna link to that.

Campos isn’t quoting the bits of that essay that I’m endlessly repeating here — the stuff about Dickens’ lack of any structural or systemic vision, or the stuff about Dickens’ “Bible Christian” sentiments revealing themselves in his instinctive siding with the underdog. He instead looks at the parts where Orwell reflects on Dickens’ inability to portray or imagine meaningful work or vocation for anyone who wasn’t a novelist.

The happily ever after Dickens’ imagines for his protagonists, Orwell notes, is always some vague “radiant idleness.” It seems as boring and meaningless as the harps-and-clouds “heaven” of old New Yorker cartoons. What are these people living for? And if Dickens didn’t know, and the reader doesn’t know, and the characters themselves don’t know, then is this pointless happily ever after really, you know, happy?

If you didn’t have to work, what would you do and why would you do it?

• “If I had a million dollars …” I’d become an amateur detective investigating “The Biggest Art Fraud in History.”

Jordan Michael Smith writes for The Smithsonian about how “A decades-long forgery scheme ensnared Canada’s most famous Indigenous artist, a rock musician turned sleuth and several top museums. Here’s how investigators unraveled the incredible scam.”

The “rock musician turned sleuth” there is Barenaked Ladies keyboard player Kevin Hearn, who purchased a painting by the revered First Nations artist Norval Morrisseau only to learn later that it was a forgery. Hearn didn’t take that sitting down. And that’s just part of this wild story. If you don’t want to click through to read the whole thing, at least click through to see all the wonderful examples of Morrisseau’s work:

His big, bold works were filled with swirls of bright paints portraying people and animals as receptacles for ancient spiritual myths. He viewed his art as a sort of therapy, and not necessarily for himself. “Why am I alive?” he once said. “To heal you guys who’re more screwed up than I am. How can I heal you? With color.”

Like Charles Dickens, and unlike Dickens’ characters, Morrisseau couldn’t imagine being content with “a sort of radiant idleness.” It seems Kevin Hearn can’t either. He knows there’s more to living than being able to afford the fanciest Dijon ketchups.

• The title for this post, of course, comes from Barenaked Ladies’ “If I Had a Million Dollars“:

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