Sunday, January 22, 2006


“Jesus” talks to Episcopalian Minister Daniel Webster (Aidan Quinn) in NBC’s controversial “The Book of Daniel”

(This column will appear in the January 27, 2006, THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

“Almost all TV produced after the 1980’s is nothing but garbage, but we are talking about an outright attack on Christianity with ‘The book of Daniel.’”

“We live in the United States of America and are free to watch whatever we want on TV. If you do not want to watch ‘Book of Daniel,’ simply turn the channel and quit showboating.”

Albany Herald Squawkbox comments.

I like television. I always have, dating back to the days of The Lone Ranger and The Mickey Mouse Club. I still remember as a six year old when our family flew to Hawaii to visit my grandparents (it was so long ago that the plane from Los Angeles to Honolulu had propellers) that I was seriously worried that local television wouldn’t carry Annette Funicello and the other Mouseketeers.

In the decades since there have been shows ranging from the truly awful- The Jerry Springer Show and Fear Factor come to mind, to the truly inspired- Northern Exposure and M*A*S*H, to the hilarious- every Saturday Night Live hosted by Steve Martin, Cheers, and The Daily Show. These days we can watch scintillating television drama with real world political figures on the figurative hot seat- Meet the Press and Sixty Minutes, intelligent fictional political drama- The West Wing, or raunchy cartoon political satire- South Park.

So the recent controversy about the NBC series, The Book of Daniel, is nothing new in the television universe. But I have to wonder- do the narrow minded boycotters realize that their relentless public outcry has been a windfall of free publicity for the show? Heck, I even tuned in the first hour of the pilot to see what all the fuss was about.

My verdict? What could have been either a ripping satire or an insightful family drama was merely stupid, with low end stereotypes wildly miscast, the most obvious of which is the adopted Chinese “adolescent” who appears to be played by an actor in his mid twenties. Rarely original in any case, screenwriters really scraped the bottom of the barrel with this rip-off of Joan of Arcadia (Joan talked to God, Aidan Quinn’s Protestant minister has confabs with Jesus in the front seat of his car- perhaps so he can ride in the HOV lane?) and Desperate Housewives (everybody is either randy, on drugs, or both, with a lame criminal subplot- embezzlement- thrown in to keep the plot spicy).

I’ll never know if Daniel gets any better, because I don’t plan on watching another minute of the show. My take is that if the producers and NBC were pulling out all the stops and putting their best foot forward in the pilot, then it’s gotta be all downhill from there. Besides, watching that Friday night 10:00 show would mean I’d miss NUMB3RS, the CBS show starring David Krumholz, Rob Morrow, and Judd Hirsch, which is produced by brothers Ridley Scott (Gladiator) and Tony Scott (Top Gun). NUMB3RS satisfies my brain’s Sherlock Holmes cravings as it pits a mathematician (!) against violent criminals. But instead of a gun, his weapons of choice are his brain, a chalkboard, and probability theory.

Karl Marx supposedly said that “religion is the opiate of the masses,” but if he did, he got that one backwards. If you want to stir up the masses, just mess with their religion- it’s like stomping on a fire ant mound. Karl wasn’t pharmacologically savvy, so perhaps he really meant to say that “religion is the crystal meth of the masses.” Throughout history religion has precipitated intolerance, violence, and killing, all too often in the name of the Prince of Peace, the Crusades and the Inquisition being two infamous examples.

When it comes to religion, politicians and televangelists can’t resist stirring the pot, but for many true believers the pot was near boiling to begin with, precipitating controversies over posting the Ten Commandments in public places, the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the battle against evolution by proponents of “intelligent design.” Our country has become so insane on the subject that the phrase “Happy Holidays” has become an invitation to a fistfight.

And that’s only in America. Around the world, in places as disparate as Nigeria and Iran, you can earn yourself a Fatwah death threat if you so much as hint a negative thought about the prophet Mohammed or Islam. Just ask Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, who has carried a death sentence for more than twenty years after his book was published. Muslims killing Jews in Israel, Christians killing Muslims in Bosnia, and Christians killing Christians in Ireland- this is the stuff of our daily newspapers, not just the history books.

Television, on the other hand, has dulled and diminished our children’s brains to the point that many if not most high school and college graduates can’t focus enough to read a newspaper. And too many can’t spell, can’t write coherent sentences, and are not only unaware of their nation’s history, but have no idea what happened in the world more than 24 hours ago when the last television news cycle ended. As much as I liked television growing up, I also loved to read, and regularly consumed 50 to 100 books a year from the public and school libraries. You would be hard put to find many students today who read a book a decade.

So parents, if you are incensed by The Book of Daniel, do your children a favor. Don’t switch the channel and don’t protest NBC, WALB, or the show’s sponsors. Turn off the TV, unplug it, and take your kids on a trek to the local library. They might actually learn something from reading a book. For instance, reading a book this morning I just learned that a diet of vegetables and water is healthier than meat and wine:

“Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse [pulse is made from wind-dried organic whole foods] and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenances of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat. So he consented to them in this matter and proved them ten days. And at the end of the ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat.”

My source? The real “The Book of Daniel,”, Chapter 1, verses 12- 16:


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