Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why is TLC Afraid of Religion?

This Thursday, the new season of one of my guiltier pleasures, What Not To Wear, premieres on TLC. The gimmick of this particular episode is that they're doing a makeover on a former child star. And that child star is...

Mayim Bialik, a.k.a. lil' Bette Middler, a.k.a. Blossom! Now, having gotten a sneak preview of the episode, I can tell you that Mayim Bialik is the most likeable guest in the show's history. She's unabashedly brainy (she has a PHD in neuroscience!), down-to-earth (she won't buy tops she can't nurse her baby in), and sweet (she donates the standard new-wardrobe money to charity and foots the bill herself). Also, she doesn't own a single pair of pants.

That's right - no pants. Now, I've seen an embarrassing number of episodes of What Not to Wear, but I have never, ever seen someone on that show who doesn't own at least one pair of jeans. My first thought was that Mayim was just quirky, but out of curiosity, I did some research...

...and learned that, yes, Mayim Bialik is a Conservative Jew, bordering on Orthodox ("Conservadox," as she puts it). She keeps Shabbos, keeps kosher, and follows family purity laws. And presumably, her wardrobe of below-the-knee skirts and long sleeves conforms to Jewish laws of modesty.

So why doesn't the show bother to mention this? It's not like they're afraid to get personal: when discussing her wardrobe, Mayim talks candidly about nursing, weight loss, and body image issues. And it's not a tangent; her religious beliefs directly affect her choice of clothing, both the "old" wardrobe and the new one TLC helps her select. But never once do they mention religion at all: she's just a kooky girl who loves her skirts.

My guess is that the network was afraid of alienating viewers, particularly the Heartland mamas who live vicariously through "What Not To Wear"'s NYC shopping sprees. Maybe they thought that showing Mayim as a conservative Jew would make her too different, not enough girl-next-door.

This isn't the first time that TLC has side-stepped the central issue of religion. Jon and Kate (of "Plus Eight" fame) are active churchgoers, and their conservative Christianity is the reason that Kate didn't selectively reduce her mega-pregnancy in the first place. In their books and on their website, the Gosselins talk about Jesus obsessively. But we never see them doing it on the show.

A counter-example is 18 Kids and Counting, the TLC show about the Duggar family. With the Duggars, it's impossible not to talk about religion; as leading members of the uber-conservative "Quiverfull" movement, they believe in strict, non-maninstream gender roles and behavioral codes (not to mention having dozens of babies as a form of Evangelism). The Duggars chat with the cameras about God's role in their lives, explain why kissing before marriage is sinful, and visit the Creation Museum.

So, in this basic cable version of reality, there are two kinds of religion: extreme and nonexistent. Even though religion is a part of most Americans' lives, it's somehow taboo to show day-to-day religious practices -- or even mention them! -- when it comes to "normal" reality TV stars. Given the premium on shock value on reality TV these days, it's hard to believe that anything is off-limits -- but there you have it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Find the Religion! "Lost" Finale (Spoilers Abound)

So, first off, we meet these two guys we've never seen on the show before, hanging out on the island, weaving and fishing. This one, as it turns out, is heretofore-unseen-Island-leader Jacob:

And the other one is... well, we never find out. But he and Jacob are clearly well-acquainted (brothers, perhaps?), and one of the first things we hear out of his mouth is that he intends to kill Jacob. I'm betting good money that this guy's name is Esau.

Next, we finally (finally!) get a glimpse of the statue attached to the four-toed foot that I have, frankly, been a little obsessed with:

And the statue looks like...

The Egyptian god Anubis! More or less. We don't actually see it head-on, just a profile shot. So there's a possibility it could be, say, Sobek the crocodile god...

But thematically, Anubis -- the jackal-headed god who guards the Underworld, determining who may enter -- makes a whole lot more sense. Lost afficianado Sledgeweb (from whom I took the foot/statue screencap) even makes a convincing case that Anubis had four toes. Also, according to the unofficial wiki Lostpedia, we've actually seen Anubis on the island before...

... battling the Smoke Monster in Temple hieroglyphics. (Update: now that images have been posted, the statue's looking less like a jackal to me. There's a strong argument to be made, as Melinda does in the comments, that the statue is actually Taweret, the pregnant hippo god. And the blog Jezebel is now making a persuasive case for Sobek. See Lostpedia's giant round-up of who's-that-god theories here.)

Moving on. Flashbacks... bomb... flashbacks... In the flashback of Locke being pushed from a high-rise window (the event that paralyzes him), we see Jacob reading Flannery O'Connor's short story collection Everything that Rises Must Converge:

Flannery O'Connor was a Southern Catholic writer, known for grotesque, disturbing "morality tales" about the failure of ordinary, well-meaning people to do God's will. She was also a little obsessed with heaven, hell and the apocalypse, which may be why they selected this book for Jacob to read... or maybe it's just that the title ties in with the episode theme.

Later on, in Hurley's flashback, Jacob appears and tells Hurley that his ability to see dead people isn't a curse -- it's a blessing. So Hurley is blessed? By whom, I wonder?

Bomb... more fighting... more bomb...

Toward the end of the episode, Ilana asks Richard (whom she calls Ricardus), "What lies in the shadow of the statue?" He reponds in Latin. And thanks, again, to Sledgeweb, we know what he said: "He who will save us all."

That's awfully Messianic of you, Richard. So who's the savior? Locke? Ben? Nameless-probably-Esau-guy-in-Locke's body? I'm gonna go with Locke, who has already been resurrected at least once. Though how he will save them, or what he will save them from, or who "them" is? Couldn't tell you.

So, given the H-bomb, time travel, Egyptian and Biblical mythology, destiny and everything else, the big unanswered question on my mind going into next season seems almost petty: who are Adam and Eve?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Road to Hell is Paved with Gelato

The above advertisement (for Antonio Federici Gelato Italiano) is currently under investigation by the UK Advertising Standards Authority for blasphemy. As Ad Freak put it: "A good rule of thumb when you're trying to figure out if your ice-cream ad is blasphemous: If it could be mistaken for the cover of a fetishistic, nun-themed adult movie, you've crossed a line."

Personally, I find the ad more confusing than shocking; are they implying that eating gelato a "gateway sin," leading otherwise chaste religious authorities to start madly breaking their vows? Or that if you're going to sin anyway, you might as well pack a few extra calories in afterwards?