Friday, February 15, 2008

Pure Gold

I know he drives some people nuts, and some question his appropriateness on the opinion section of a major newspaper, but I love Joel Stein. He just's so LA. He's exactly right for our paper. And this week's column was pure solid comic gold (last week's, on Obamaphilia, was pretty great too). I simply have to reproduce it here for your amusement. If you've ever been a Christian in Hollywood like I have, it will resonate on even more levels. Enjoy. Try not to snort coffee out your nose (I'm talking to you, MBW, you big snorter you).

Peter Principle of award shows
A night at the Christian Oscars.
Joel Stein
February 15, 2008

Christians never do pop culture right. Their rock songs are clogged with nature metaphors, their video games are too soft, their Orlando amusement park houses an attraction called "The Scriptorium: Center for Biblical Antiquities." So when I found out about the Christian Oscars -- the nickname for the Movieguide Faith and Values Awards -- I had to see how they'd ruin an awards show. Could their movie stars masterself-congratulations? Act happy for people they don't really like? Could this be the pop culture arena Christians do better than heathens?

Though I expected a small, pious event, I learned there are no small awards shows anymore. Not even on a Tuesday. The red carpet at the Beverly Hilton was so clogged -- "Extra," "Entertainment Tonight," the Christian version of "Extra," the Christian version of "Entertainment Tonight" -- that the fire marshal turned reporters away. There were also plenty of celebrities: Macy Gray, Louis Gossett Jr., Stephen Baldwin, Buzz Aldrin, Lee Meriwether, Jane Russell. This was such a big deal that even dead people came.

Inside the same ballroom where the Golden Globes are held, I was seated at a table full of Dutch and German Christians. To my right was Jutta Renz, who told me she introduced muffins to Germany and is known there as "Miss Muffin." She has written 12 muffin cookbooks, created muffin cartoon characters and, divinely inspired, dashed off an entire muffin-based musical in one night. She's in L.A. for a few weeks looking for an agent to handle her hyphenate talents (her card says "music-media-muffins"). But she doesn't like what she's learning: "An agent gets 10%? I'd rather give it to a good person."

Though the Christian Oscars looked just like any other awards show, there were some differences. The Oscars don't start with a prayer. And they don't have a letter in their program from President Bush wishing them a successful event. I stared at it for a long time, wondering if all his correspondence begins, "I send greetings." I got the feeling that Bush expected that, during his presidency, he'd get to meet aliens.

Also, there's no PowerPoint at the Oscars. Ted Baehr, who runs Movieguide, gives a great slide show, only one frame of which mentioned "cussing." One slide explained that, back in 1985, when he first started his organization, only one movie -- "Trip to Bountiful" -- had faith and values. Now 51.7% of movies do, including "Live Free or Die Hard." The definition might have expanded a little.

Typical award winners simply thank God for deciding that the People's Choice Award should go to them. But at the Christian Oscars, a simple thanks won't do. Bailey Madison, just 8 years old yet accepting one of several awards given to "Saving Sarah Cain," said, "Every morning I wake up and say a prayer to let God shine his light through me." When I was 8, I just wanted God to keep making more "Garfield" cartoons.

Not everyone at the Movieguide awards was part of the Christian right. Some were just looking for attention, even if that meant Christian attention. Asked about her Christian-ness, presenter Adrienne Janic, host of TLC's car show "Overhaulin'," would only say she was "a good person." When I pressed her on her favorite value, she chose "fun." Also, she might not have dressed appropriately. "Did you notice I've got two napkins on my lap? That's because the slit goes all the way up my dress," she said. When she was warned of the long-term implications of wearing that dress to this event, she said, "Oh, I've got a mansion in hell."

But most of the people there really did want to make films and shows with faith and values. Actress Ali Landry, who won an award for the film "Bella," may have once been the hot Doritos girl, but she has become an observant Catholic. "I had a big event in my personal life. Then I reevaluated and started going to theology class, and then I found my husband," she said. That big event was Mario Lopez cheating on her.

God really does work in mysterious ways.

As the show went on, I got a little overwhelmed by the Jesus stuff. And all the well-intentioned attempts to squeak clean the culture didn't convince me that sex and violence in art isn't truthful and cathartic. Shakespeare, after all, would never win a Faith and Values award. But "Alvin and the Chipmunks" did.

Everyone went home with a gift bag that consisted of a Bible. I don't think that book is an answer to the world's problems, but maybe it's better than praying at the altar of celebrity. Though they could have thrown in some face cream, sunglasses and a gym membership. Christians still have a lot to learn.

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