27 December 2004 

Homebrewed Media Criticism

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of catching an old Saved By the Bell Christmas special. It's the one in which Zach falls for a homeless girl, Laura, when he meets her at the mall. The story gets rather involved, a sample of dialogue should suffice:

Laura: "It's nice to have friends again, Zach..."

Zach: "What do you mean?"

Laura: "People shy away from you when you're homeless, it's almost like it's contagious."

The thrust of the story is, as you can see, that homeless people are just like everyone else (especially around the holidays.) I'm interested in what this story really says about the homeless: what kinds of assertions is it making in front of impressionable youth? What story is being told about homelessness through the weirdo landscape of the Saturday morning sitcom for preteens?

The episode ends with a holiday living room chat in the Morris' house. Zach asks Tom, Laura's father, how they became homeless. Mrs. Morris chastises her son, but Tom is glad to oblige. Tom explains that he was laid off from a job at a computer factory, tried to find another job but ran out of money in the process. The rent was due, he didn't have the money and he and Laura had to hit the streets. "We came to California hoping to find opportunities and so far all we've found is a warmer place to be unemployed..."

Now I realize that it may seem incredibly silly to care about what this has to say, given the nature of television and it's relationship to being craptacular, but I'm going to do it anyway: I was oddly refreshed to see that they made a homeless father and daughter out to be bright, talented and wellspoken people who got screwed over by circumstance. Now, I definitely do not watch a lot of television anymore, but I cannot remember the last time I saw a homeless person, or even poor folks generally, portrayed as having it together mentally on that tube. I've certainly met some kooky people who live on the street and struggle with addiction and mental health problems, but that has not been the majority of them. Most people's stories are a lot more complicated than that (and, as far as this episode goes, it oversimplifies things, too.)

I'm certainly no expert on homelessness, and I haven't been the most committed person in the world, but I do know this: struggling with, talking with and trying to understand the "least of these" that live without permanent shelter has certainly taught me a lot about that Jew who wandered (without permanent shelter) around Palestine some 2,000 years ago. So that's why I care about their portrayal in the media: if it's done right, then there's something there that's breaking in through the cracks. The Spectacle, if you will, functions less well when it reveals to you that there are those who are without, that survive with less.

(I have, of course, entirely neglected the fact that the package which started this whole post was utterly absurd and had an unrealistic ending. (Tom and Laura get to stay with the Morris family until Tom finds a job.) )


25 December 2004 


Yes, it's Christmas.

First of all, I have to say something about the title of this post and the reason that I haven't updated this thing for 3 months (not that anyone is reading it.) I set myself up for failure by un-prayerfully striking out with an agenda. I was unwilling to listen. Looking back and trying to figure out what I was thinking with that first post I am reminded of a zinger from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: "
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious." (from Life Together.)

When I first read that about a year ago (or was it longer?), I was repulsed by it. I could spend a long time explaining why, but the long and short of it is that it upset my vision of who I was to become: Michael Moore mixed with Edward Gorey and maybe Oscar Romero; cameras rolling like the twin guns of a John Woo flick. My enemies would fall helpless at my command of Scripture (you know: that passage in James about the rich.)

The past is fuzzy.

Now, after this past semester, I can see what Bonhoeffer was talking about.

I would not, for instance, have stumbled back into church if I hadn't been feeling so broken and lonely in my faith that I would join in with them, the institutionalists! The visionary dreamer in me couldn't do that because he has a standard to uphold and a giant neon cross to bear. (See, he said, you strap it on your back and people can see it for miles and miles. Chicks dig it.) But, somehow, that part of me is smaller these days.

It's hard for me to say, exactly, what I want to say. I want to summarize these past few months as a time of great change, increasing depth, listening to God. I want to repeat object lessons about driving crack addicts around and about struggling to see Jesus in the poor and learning how to read Scripture and new friendships. It's too much for display, and I would be far too apt to leave out the nasty bits about me hurting people and running away from God as fast and as hard as I can. I wouldn't talk about how confusing things still are for me. I'm tempted to paint a picture with no shadows.

So, instead, I'm going to start this thing anew. Here's the new theme: the struggles and joys of my walk with Jesus to what end I can make them public without being obscene, irresponsible or utterly irreverant. Why? Well, one thing I did learn this semester is that I need more bullshit* detection in my writing and in my thinking. The Internet, and hopefully you, electronic stranger, will help me with that, if only for the fact that I will not dare write the same kind of drivel here that I put down in my journal. This is silly, it is inevitably going to self-indulgent but, gosh-darnit, I'm going to just do it without constantly worrying about that because I'd just end up in the pit of false humility that Paul talks about if I did.

(Before I start trying to edit this thing:) "Here goes...something!"

*This blog will occassionally feature curse words.