Daily Archives: September 26, 2015

A Pope of the People?

There once was a cardinal from a country with a large Catholic population but a secular, anti-Catholic government. He had something of a reputation in his homeland, in Rome, and among the Catholic commentariat, if you will, but wasn’t really known to the average priest or layperson, or especially most non-Catholics. As a bishop and Cardinal, he seemed to be just like the bishop in Les Miserables. He didn’t like to be addressed as “Your Emminence,” “Your Excellency,” or even “Father,” but told people to call him “Uncle.” He enjoyed hiking and outdoor sports, and preferred hanging out with laity to clergy, and when he hung out with clergy, he didn’t “pull rank”–even to the extent that, on a weekend vacation with various priests, an old monseignor, not knowing who he was, decided to boss around the unassuming middle-aged “priest,” until the monseignor was embarrased to learn he had spent the weekend ordering a cardinal to fetch his tea or his newspaper.
When a papacy was suddenly cut short, there was an emergency conclave though it seemed one had just happened recently. There were rumors that this cardinal had been a front runner during the previous conclave, or that another cardinal had actually been elected first then rejected because of political lobbying, but either way people suggested for almost his entire papacy that this popular, populist cardinal was actually a communist agent.
He was elected Pope, and shocked the world with his unassuming greeting. For the first few years of his Papacy, he seemed to embody the “hopes” of the Vatican II generation for a “radical” who would strip away wall the remaining trappings and traditions. He appointed some key bishops and cardinals who emphasized a “pastoral” approach. He shunned some of the security measures and other trappings of the papacy to be “close to the people.” A few of his appointments, most notably his Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, seemed to have a more “conservative” or “traditional” bent. His erstwhile admirers began to be concerned that that he wasn’t the Pope they’d been looking for, although those inclined to mistrust him largely retained their mistrust.
Then, after a time, something happened. He was shot. After, he adopted more security. His teachings became more bold. His appointments became, generally, more “traditional.” Within a few years, though some of those who suspected he was a secret Communist never relinquished that view, even as he helped topple communist and other secular regimes around the world, but the progressives who had embraced him early on began to denounce him as a traditonalist and a reactionary. They began to express hope that he’d die soon so they could get a “Pope who will get rid of all that canon law stuff, allow contraception and divorce and abortion and women priests. . . . ” When he or his prefects at the CDF and the CDW issued strong statements on moral or liturgical issues, they’d say things like, “he’s trying to stop his successor from making the changes we want.” Yet when his CDF prefect became his successor, they ignored him.
And now I think we’re seeing the same process with Francis that we saw 30 years ago with St. John Paul II.

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Of Monsters and Muppets: Cynicism and kids

After “Miss Piggy,” always a satire of feminism, proclaimed herself “pro-choice” in a promotional appearance for ABC’s new _Muppets_, I was ready to completely boycott it, but having seen such conflicting responses, I decided to watch and review it myself.

First, I’d like to recommend this review, the best I’ve seen:

What were previously sly winks to a grownup audience are now grotesque full-body grimaces, delivered with depressing sledgehammer brutality. In one scene, Animal laments his consequence-free promiscuity. In another, Zoot from The Electric Mayhem is outed as an alcoholic. And then, most heartbreakingly of all, there’s Kermit.

This version of Kermit is absolutely unrecognisable from anything that’s ever come before. This Kermit badmouths fellow celebrities, openly discusses his sex life and, at one point, describes his life as “a living hell”. That’s not who Kermit is. Kermit is the perennial wide-eyed optimist, the figure who grounds the chaos around him in sincerity. Kermit is the dreamer who believes in the power of people. He’s the one who sings The Rainbow Connection. He is most definitely not the stress-eating, coffee-drinking executive that The Muppets paints him as. It physically hurts to see what ABC have done to him.

As Steven D. Graydanus put it on Facebook, “they’ve given us the Moopets, ‘A hard, cynical act for a hard, cynical world.'”

On the other hand, many viewers are saying there is not much of a difference, and the “Million Moms” group and others who complain are confusing The Muppet Show with Sesame Street.

To an extent, I’m surprised to say I agree with the latter group.

Superficially, the humor is the same, and I laughed quite a bit.  If the reality-show-parody sitcom is outdated now, what about the Vaudeville format of _The Muppet Show_?

The reference to Animal being a womanizer?

Cynicism?

And, speaking of Sam the American Eagle, it always amuses me how the same basic situation will be praised or condemned by the same people.  Age of Ultron depicts everyone teasing Captain America for calling people on their profanity, and people say, “It’s great seeing a character do that.”  Sam does it on The Muppets, and people are focusing on the language itself.

Nevertheless, there is something missing.  The examples above are cynical, but playful.  The new show is just kind of nasty.  It embodies so much of what’s wrong in most comedy of the past quarter century or so, the world of Comedy Central, of Letterman, Stewart and Colbert, where cynicism and satire are confused, and pure bullying nastiness is seen as humor.

One of the funniest moments in 1987’s Muppet Family Christmas is when Kermit says, “The heck you say.” Anyone who was watching was aware he was euphemizing, but that’s what makes it funny.  The attempt to “make Kermit edgy” by saying “bacon-wrapped hell on earth” was not nearly as funny as “bacon-wrapped heck” would have been.

In  Monsters, Inc., (2001), “today’s” kids are too cynical to be scared by monsters in their closets, so the monsters turn to comedy.  The new Muppets tells us that our society is too cynical to appreciate whimsy and fun.