to dance or not to dance? it’s not a question.

11 05 2007

This was an interesting article I came across while looking in TIME online. It deals with the separation of church and state in the USA from the angle of how a candidate’s religion affects their chances of election, particularly referring to Mitt Romney’s campaign for Republican candidacy for the presidential election next year.

Romney was, until recently Governor of Massachusetts and is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints having previously served as a LDS missionary in France for two and a half years.

The article can be found by clicking here.

The main news values for this story are:

* Currency – The upcoming US presidential election in 2008 and the selection of candidates for the parties. Also the question of whether America will vote in another Republican president

* Impact – Whoever is elected as the next president of the USA is going to have great impact on the entire world (and indeed much of the universe through their space program) and as such, what the possible candidates believe in is fairly important information to consider

* Prominence – US presidential candidates are generally prominent people already, or soon become so. As Governor of Massachusetts, amongst other high-rating achievements, Romney is quite well-known, particularly in the USA

* Human Interest – Gives the audience a bit of an inside look into the life of the man, creating interest in his beliefs and his ‘human side’


Abtastic Britters and the Hair Oracle

9 05 2007

Not entirely relevant to my topic but hilarious none the less.

from SMH May 3, 2007

Family feud can’t bruise the new, abtastic Britney
Jacqueline Maley
May 3 2007

BRITNEY’S SPEARS’S “people” must be among the busiest “people” in the world.

They put out more public relations grassfires than the Rural Fire Service in January and they are constantly confiscating her drinks and children (often she has one in each hand). Now they are forced to manage the fallout of an ugly intra-family war that makes Joan Crawford’s brood look like the Waltons.

According to this week’s gossip mags, the pop star has been disowned by her family, although Britney herself would only be aware of this if she reads the New York Post, to whom her mother and father released a statement admonishing their daughter. They say she is out of control, a bad mother to her two young sons.

To be sure, such Britney slander is hard to countenance, and would be impossible to believe were it not for Woman’s Day, which gives us a sort of Britney timeline in pictures. It confirms she has not been seen with her children since February 13, and that Britney’s dress sense has not been improved since her stint in rehab. (Mind you, who says you need trousers to stay sober?)

Britney’s riposte comes, rightfully, in OK!, which seems to have entirely reprinted a press release supplied by her “people”. The mag says that “Britney is back to her fighting weight” and is “taking control” after months of uncertainty. The mag even alleges Britters is looking “abtastic”, which is an adjective that could probably have gone without being invented.

OK!‘s services to journalism do not end there. Next comes an interview and photo shoot with David Beckham. Becks has been the subject of a stream of negative articles since he announced he was leaving Europe to play for a Los Angeles football team.

The knockers say that going to the US to play soccer is rather like going to Germany to salsa dance, and that Becks is only doing it for the outlandishly huge amounts of money. That is not all.

There have also been stories about the fragility of his marriage to dear Victoria, who fears calories the way the most of us fear death or dark cellars. It has even been whispered that they sleep in separate beds.

Enter OK! to counter the bad press in a long and saliva-soaked article that hails David as “everything we want in a hero – he’s one of the world’s greatest sportsmen, has looks, style and charisma in spades, and he’s a doting husband and dad”. He is also labelled a “hair oracle”, which is presumably meant as a compliment.

The magazine talks mostly about his hair, but does find time to devote a few sentences to his football career – assuring readers that “although [Beckham’s Los Angeles move] is probably the biggest deal a footballer has ever signed, David is at pains to stress cash isn’t his motivation”.

The hair oracle just wants to make a difference, to spread the gift of soccer to the hitherto soccer-deprived population of Los Angeles. He is like the Angelina Jolie of ball sports. But with better hair.

Also in the mag is an interview with Mel B, aka Scary Spice, who had been largely ignored by the world until she was impregnated by the comedian Eddie Murphy. He then dumped her during a television interview and expressed scepticism over the paternity of the baby. It’s basically your Liz Hurley/Steve Bing plotline redux.

Scary Spice has now had the baby, a girl, and the obligatory gushing photo shoot has been duly shot, although this time with a “Dear God, I hope the father of my poor bastard-child sees this and gives me a chunk of his sizeable fortune”-twist.

As a form of passive-aggressive gossip-mag communication, it is both bold and beautiful. Britney’s people should take note.

“If any religion had the chance of ruling over England, nay Europe within the next hundred years, it could be Islam” – George Bernard Shaw

1 05 2007

I came across this quote whilst trying to find a witty line for the title of this post and was quite astounded at its prophetic nature. Very interesting.

Anyway, the article I’m writing about here was done as a “SPECIAL HERALD REPORT”: i.e. a series of a couple of features and an online forum. These were all really interesting, especially as there’s such a prevalence of negative stories about Islam in the media. It was refreshing and really informative to see inside the ordinary lives of modern day moderate Muslims and how life is for them.

When I was looking up the online versions of these stories, I came across a page on their series of stories, The Face of Islam.

The specific front-page article which drew me to write about this, Islam in Australia: a diverse society finds a new voice is listed on this page, along with many other reports.

Across all of these stories run a few main news values:

* Currency – the issue of Islam in Australia has been pretty constant and huge in the media, especially since 9/11. With the 2005 Cronulla riots bringing tensions between Islamic Australians and racist bogan Australians to the forefront of media attention, thus these moderate (OK, left, if you insist) articles bring a very different attitude to the public

* Human Interest – investigating the human side of publicly Islamic figures such as Sheikh Taj El Din Al-Hilaly

* Conflict – not so much in the reporting, although this is inevitably a part of some stories, but I think for many readers Islam immediately connotes WARNING: FUNDAMENTALIST TERRORISTS ON THE LOOSE!!!  therefore, articles which dispute this notion of the Islamic faith are immediately controversial

Thank Allah it’s Wednesday – upholding religious diversity in the Texan Senate

6 04 2007

This is neither a very exciting post, nor a long one, but I found this article really interesting/exciting. Especially coming from Texas…

Imam leads first prayer by Muslim cleric on Texas Senate floor

A Dallas-area imam became the first Muslim cleric to offer the Texas Senate’s daily prayer on Wednesday.

The visit raised the eyebrows of a conservative talk-show host turned senator who questioned the religious leader’s background and the timing of his visit.

Sen. Dan Patrick stepped off the floor for Imam Yusuf Kavakci’s prayer, in which he recited a passage from the Koran in Arabic and read an English translation.

“I surely believe that everyone should have the right to speak, but I didn’t want my attendance on the floor to appear that I was endorsing that,” said Patrick, a freshman Republican from Houston.

Patrick later gave a short speech on the Senate floor in which he called Kavakci’s prayer an “extraordinary moment” that underscores that America is a nation “so tolerant of others we bend over backwards to allow others to pray as they wish.”

He pointed out that other countries would not do the same for Christians and Jews, who are observing Easter and Passover this week.

Kavakci said he can’t understand why anyone would have a problem with his prayer or with the text he chose, which he said spoke generically about the mercy of God. He said he does not know Patrick or understand why he would criticize him.

“For my perspective as a Muslim, we are all brothers and sisters and children of Adam and Eve as we say,” Kavakci said. “For us there is no problem really.”

Taken from, 5th April, 2007.

News Values:

* Novelty – come on, an Islam cleric praying in Texas period. Let alone in the senate. Maybe those Texans are more progressive than our stereotypes give them credit for… (just maybe)

* Timeliness – Easter period

Another event of interest since my last post has been the publication of The Devil’s Own Politics, an investigation into the interplay between church and state in contemporary America. An interesting review can be found here.

The saga continues (Choccy Christ Commentary)

2 04 2007

And now for some serious commentary…

This event was pretty widely covered, both in news media and significantly in blogging circles. It seems everyone has an opinion about the artistic credit and/or sacrilegiousness (yes, it is a word) of the Chocolate Jesus. You never know, that could be why we call it art… Still, best to withdraw it from the public eye before we get too much intelligent debate going on!

On 8/4/07, the Canberra Times reported Canberra ahead of the trend when it comes to chocolate Jesus. As Canberra is not known for being the most progressive city in the world, this headline must have been cause for quite a celebration! But seriously, it was a pretty funny article about a similar sculpture produced by local Richard Manderson 13 years ago.

A recent life-sized chocolate sculpture of Jesus caused fury in Manhattan, but Canberra had a chocolate Christ 13 years ago. The nude, anatomically correct sculpture in New York came under further fire when the artist joked people should eat it. But a 1994 photo of Civic near the ACTION terminal shows a crowd of 150 about to munch on a life-sized chocolate crucifix. Canberra’s maker of chocolate Christs, Richard Manderson, was then a philosophy student. He said there was less outcry in Canberra, perhaps because he used Easter egg foil for a loincloth on his statue. ”I think religion is slightly different in Australia from America for one thing,” he said.

No s*%t, Sherlock. I think this contributes to the interest of the story – the issue of the influence wielded by the “religious right” in the USA. Although I’m sure there are many Aussies who would have a similar reaction of abhorrence to the artwork, I really don’t think Australians would be as unreserved about their beliefs.

US Newsweek reported a great quote from Cavallaro, the artist/sculptor, in its article: Belief Watch: Sweet Jesus

The artist himself insists there’s nothing X-rated in his conception, although “I can’t stop people from thinking that way.” Having grown up in a house where crucifixes hung above beds, Cavallaro imagines that Christians took offense because his Christ was “perishable and palatable … It made [Jesus] a real man.”

Montreal Gazette meanwhile says in its uber-long titled article: Critics raise hell over chocolate Jesus; in a bittersweet tale of what is art and what is not, a former Montrealer has suffered death threats and workplace exile

“I’m as good as I can be,” Cavallaro said Thursday from SoHo. “It hurts in the stomach. It’s been disgusting to see people’s reactions.”

After receiving death threats, he had to move out of his Brooklyn apartment. He had already been exiled from his workspace and vilified in the tabloids by New York’s Cardinal Edward Egan, who called the work “a sickening display.”

“All I’m saying is, Jesus is alive,” Cavallaro said. “He’s a man. You can smell him, touch him, taste him. I didn’t see it as offensive, and I still don’t.”

For the record, Cavallaro was raised Catholic, although he is non-practising. He believes critics have assailed him not because the statue is obscene or hateful, but because “it’s too real. It’s not metaphysical. My goal was that it would melt – the body decomposes and all that’s left is the spirit

Quite profound really.

By contrast, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Catholics Outraged by Chocolate Jesus offers a fairly condemning report, not giving the artist a chance to defend himself until toward the end of the 491 word story, giving priority space instead to comments such as these:

“It’s an all-out war on Christianity,” fumed William Donohue, a former sociology professor at La Roche College who is now president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. “They wouldn’t show a depiction of Martin Luther King Jr. with genitals exposed on Martin Luther King Day, and they wouldn’t show Muhammed depicted this way during Ramadan. It’s always Christians, and the timing is deliberate.”

Dominick Bria, a Connecticut resident visiting St. Patrick Cathedral yesterday, bristled at the concept. “It’s disgusting,” he said. “Whoever is doing it is really sick.”

Maria Localio, 45, agreed. “It doesn’t take into account the religious sensitivities of other people,” she said.

Others said they didn’t mind the sculptor’s choice of material, but were offended by the nudity. “He’s not wearing any clothes at all,” said Debbie Charan, 40. “Why would they want to do something like that?”

Other coverage ranges from the radical to the cynical, but all of the coverage manages to sneak in a fair portion of conflict.

Which brings us to… *drum roll*

News Values

* CONFLICT – Big time. Christianity vs Secularism, Church doctrine vs Art, Suppression of Freedom of Expression etcetera etcetera

* Timeliness – Just after the events had occurred, and also during Holy Week

* Currency – Church’s influence in society is always worth a mention. Also around Easter time, so lots of articles about on Christianity and the meaning of Easter etc.

* The Unusual/Novelty – Hello, it’s a sculpture of Jesus made entirely out of chocolate… How much more novelty value could it get?

Get hydrated with a Higher Power

28 03 2007

Holy water…

An interesting article emerged in the Montreal Gazette, among other news sources, over the weekend detailing the release of a new series of Holy Water products available for purchase over the internet and delivered to your home. All with a sin-cleansing guarantee.

Here are the three main front runners on the water-front of the lucrative godly goods market, big business which is forecast to generate $9.5 billion by 2010…

California based Holy Drinking Water

This is the brainchild of California businessman, Brian Germann, who self-professedly “thought people should have something like Holy Water that they could drink and consume and it would help protect them from the devil.” The contents have been blessed by clergy and, according to the label, can cause “burning, intense heat, sweating, skin irritations, rashes, itchiness, vomiting, bloodshot and watery eyes, pale skin colour and oral irritations” when imbibed by those who are “evil in nature.” However, several Catholic authorities disapprove of shopping for salvation, or in church jargon “simony”, as they see this as an abhorrent commercial venture similar to the indulgences sold by their own denomination back in the day of Martin Luther. How could they say such a thing?!?

Holy Drinking Water now has an online donation facility where, due to popular demand, customers can now donate Holy Drinking Water TM to troops in Iraq “for spiritual support and to boost heir spirits.”

Holy Bottled Water

Alberta based Holy Bottled Water (Yes, the photo shows the actual packaging of the beverage… Subtle, me thinks)

Alas, it is not just the bible-belt US cashing in on Jesus. Canadian Holy Bottled Water has also jumped on the bandwagon, labelling their produce with a lovely biblical proverb and caliming to have been “produced by man under the inspiration of God.” Since they’ve just finished extolling the virtues of the Rocky Mountain springs from whence the water came, I am a little puzzled as to where the “production” side really comes in. Let alone the “inspired” production.
Finally, and most hilariously…

Holy Spring Water

OK, I admit this one is not actually a serious company. The satisfaction guarantee on their website (worth a visit for some fine hilarity) reads:

Of the thousands of bottles that we have sold, we have only had a handful of returns, and no one has gone to hell. Our goal is to make our customers happy and free from the guilt of venial sin… Finally, and most importantly, that if you drink our water and follow the directions carefully, we guarantee that you will NOT GO TO HELL.

The FAQ section gives details ranging from the thermodynamics of hell to the punishment awaiting Bill Gates upon his arrival down below. Upon trying to order some of the brew, one is greeted with the message:

Your order has been placed, the confirmation number is 5551212.

God knows everything, so we don’t need your address and we don’t need your credit card number.

Thank you for your order.

However, whilst this site parodies the legitimate salvation product companies (which, amusingly, it also hosts ads for) it’s exaggeration is not really all that far from the truth, and it serves as a pretty convincing hoax.

And just in case some of you sinners out there were thinking of trying the stuff…

Vomiting SinnerSweating SinnerIrritated Sinner


All of the articles I read about this topic seemed to take a very light approach to the telling of the story. Clearly the news value most prevalent is the unusual or novelty value of the story. This is, at best a silly, light and amusing tale. At worst, it shows the utter tragedy of the commercialisation rife in contemporary society, particularly in America.

It’s hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning – Calvin and Hobbes

18 03 2007

GnuUpon walking into the newsagent last Friday, I was accosted by a flying lady throwing magazines at me. The one (out of three…) that I caught was the week’s edition of “The Bulletin”. Since I would usually struggle to grasp a falling gnu in my outspread arms, I took this as a sign from God that I ought to purchase a copy. Well, that and the arresting “Jesus Loves Money” headline splashed across a silhouetted angel (which suggested a faint possibility of the innards being of relevance to this topic…)

The headline turned out to refer to a fascinating article (7/3/2007), “Book of Revelations“*, discussing the internal workings of the controversial Hillsong Church. The crux of the article tells of Tanya Levin, a disillusioned ex-member of the church, whose book “People in glass houses: how Hillsong became an assembly of Gods” was recently axed from publication by Allen and Unwin, citing legal reasons.

Though these reasons are unclear in this article, a previous Bulletin article (27/2/2007), “Unhappy Clappy“* mentions the publishing house’s concerns about defamation claims by the church. Although corporations cannot sue, the Church, which has an estimated annual tax-free turnover of $50 million, is considered a not-for-profit organisation, and is therefore able to sue away to its (well-obscured) heart’s content.

The withdrawal from publication has caused quite a public reaction, not only due to the disappointment caused to those anticipating the book’s release, but also sparking concerns about the power of religious institutions in society and the apparency of influence on censorship and freedom of speech.

The 8 page feature includes an extract from Levin’s novel consisting of personal anecdotes of life in the church as well as facts on Brian and Bobbie Houston, the couple who founded the Hillsong Church back in 1983. Included also is a column on “Christianese,” a “list of phrases you might encounter at Hillsong, but … can also be useful for interpreting any TV evangelist.” The list includes satirical definitions from “AWESOME: Originally a Valley Girl word, used at Hillsong as a high holy word,” through to “THE THRONE ZONE”, an epitomical evangelist term for Heaven.

Levin explains aspects of the Houstons’ notion of “Prosperity Theology”: the general idea being that money is a panacaea for the world’s ills, justifying Brian’s Harley Davidson bike as “the best way of demonstrating the blessing of God in his life.”

Apart from her own dissatisfaction with the materialism this theology promotes, Levin also tells of a touching encounter with a prison inmate who had been involved in the “Jesus [rehab] program” with the church.

An inmate in a NSW jail was bailed to a Hillsong rehabilitation service. On the first day he was there, one of the young millionaire businessmen leaders took him out to show him his sports car. The idea was to get the client to realise that with a bit of elbow grease and some commitment to the Jesus program, he to could have a car like that one day.

“Tanya he tried to impress me with money,” the young man told me from the jail, where he chose to return rather than continue under the Jesus program. “We’re drug dealers, criminals, working girls. We’ve seen more money than most people. We know what money can do to people. We don’t want to learn how to make money. We need to know how to handle what we’ve got.”

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