Miss you, Jos.
Happy Sunday, Everyone. Today would’ve been my sister Joscelyne’s 33rd birthday. Well, it still is to me. As I do everyday, I miss her. So Happy Birthday to my Baby, I will love you always.
Last week, I didn’t post a “Some… Stuff”, so time to play a bit of catch up here. To the links! First up, an Atlantic story by Victor Tan Chen on the political Left’s religiosity (H/T: Britt):
One criticism of college students today is that they’ve fallen into a kind of fundamentalism in their efforts to call out racism, sexism, and other forms of intolerance. When they pressure university officials to un-invite conservative speakers, or demand that heads roll for insensitive comments, conservative critics argue that they too are engaging in intolerance. Even some liberal voices have urged students to dial back their outrage. John McWhorter, a professor at Columbia University, argued last month that student activists are tackling legitimate issues, but they go too far when they ban speakers from campus in a belief they will “pollute the space with their words,” or when they hector those ignorant of the politically correct way to express their thoughts.
At the core of the issue is a troubling tendency, on both the left and right, that goes well beyond college campuses: a consuming obsession with sin. Given the right’s religious base, it’s not all that surprising that conservatives focus on moral transgressions—whether they violate God’s divine law, America’s founding ideals of liberty, ’50s-style norms of sexual behavior and good housekeeping, or other codes of conduct. But the left can be prudish and judgmental about the evils it holds in special contempt, too. On college campuses in particular, activists often take an almost religious approach to politics, rooted in a belief—sometimes stated, sometimes implied—in the irredeemable sin of America and its mainstream. Their work on vital issues gets diverted from real-world objectives and takes on the character of a church revival, with rituals to express its believers’ sin and salvation, and a fundamentalist attention to language and doctrine.
The late American philosopher Richard Rorty famously argued in his 1998 book, Achieving Our Country, that this inward-looking dogmatism and zealotry was a major problem for the left. To a self-destructive degree, activists rejected dissent and criticism of their hallowed principles. They alienated the uninitiated with their join-us-or-else self-righteousness, undermining public support for the important causes they cared about. They turned away with disdain from any whiff of political power, elitism, or national pride, thus depriving themselves of some of the tools they needed to bring about tangible changes to policy.
The left, Rorty claimed, had become too enamored with ideas of purity and sin. The sin at issue, though, was not about violating biblical commandments. It was the sin of bigotry, imperialism, and power: the accumulation of heinous acts in America’s history that, in some critics’ eyes, had moved the nation beyond redemption.
The New Left of cultural warriors that became influential in the 1960s, he argued in Achieving Our Country, led America on a very different path than the one blazed for them by union organizers, progressive activists, and the other architects of the New Deal state and postwar economy. The “cultural left,” as he called it, took concerns over Jim Crow and the Vietnam War and transformed them into a fiery jeremiad against American society and its principles. A kind of political nihilism emerged, Rorty observed, as anti-war activists arrived at the view that the Vietnam War “not only could never be forgiven, but had shown us to be a nation conceived in sin, and irredeemable.” At the same time, the new generation of activists did not follow through on the egalitarian economic agenda and savvy political strategizing of their predecessors, which would have provided a useful counterweight to their idealism. As a result, Rorty claimed, America’s left became trapped in its own indignation and skepticism, substituting sound and fury in the secular pews over the sorts of constructive, pragmatic, and unabashedly power-hungry action required to change an oppressive system. Importantly, it gave up on the white working class, neglecting their concerns about the disappearance of good jobs and the growth of economic inequality, and leaving that crucial voting bloc to be wooed by America-first conservatives like Pat Buchanan—and, later, Donald Trump.
Let’s stay with The Atlantic and click over to this interesting article that asks “Why are there no new major religions?” Jon Emont writes:
Cipinang prison stands like a huge fortress in East Jakarta, its massive walls and guard towers separating the city’s bustling traffic from the criminals held within its gates. I visited in March, sitting at a noisy mess hall filled with hardened, tattooed Indonesian prisoners who greeted their wives and children with hugs and pats on the head. The prison is known for housing many of the country’s most notorious drug criminals and convicted terrorists. But across from me sat a trio of prisoners in bright orange fatigues charged with a different crime entirely: daring to start a new religious movement.
The leader of the group, Ahmad Mushaddeq, a broad-shouldered man with bright gray eyes and a winning smile, is a former national badminton coach turned preacher. In the late 1990s, he said, it was revealed to him that he was the son of God. His followers proclaimed him to be the prophet to succeed Muhammad, sparking a new religious movement based on his teachings, which was eventually called Millah Abraham. The new faith was adopted mainly by disenchanted Muslims. It spread quickly across Indonesia and Malaysia to more than 50,000 followers, according to the group. Mushaddeq’s followers also established a parallel back-to-the-land social movement, called Gafatar, which promoted organic farming and agricultural self-sufficiency, considered by Millah Abraham to be two of the real-life applications of their vaguely New-Age faith.
As strange as Millah Abraham’s beliefs may seem, scholars of religion say the group is simply in the early stages of a process nearly as old as humanity: starting a new religion.
“Often cults are seen as aberrations, or a psychological phenomenon. Psychologists would see cult leaders as having delusions of grandeur. But I see them as something different—as baby religions,” said Susan Palmer, a sociologist and scholar of new religions at Concordia University in Montreal. “I think people are unaware how many of them there are, how constant they are.”
Al Makin, an Indonesian scholar of new religions, estimates that Indonesia alone has seen over 600 new religious movements in its modern history. In this regard the archipelago is hardly unique: New religions spring up regularly in the United States, Canada, Russia—everywhere government authorities are flexible enough to allow them.
And like many other new religious movements, Millah Abraham is dreaming big, with hopes to supersede Christianity and Islam as the dominant Abrahamic faith. Millah Abraham’s followers believe that every Abrahamic faith, from Judaism onward, is fated to lose its way, becoming corrupt and power-hungry, until eventually it is succeeded by a new prophet who will restore the original Abrahamic relationship to God. Followers of Millah Abraham believe that the near-constant wars in the Middle East are just one indication that Islam has fallen and it is Mushaddeq’s turn to continue the eternal cycle and establish the next iteration of Abrahamic faith. In the same way that Judaism was succeeded by Christianity, and Christianity by Islam, Islam is to be succeeded by Millah Abraham.
Though its prophet is in prison, it’s still possible Millah Abraham will succeed in becoming a globally influential faith. There have, after all, been unexpected successes before. “If we had been observers of the religious scene in the year 50 AD, I wonder if we would have bet on that small religious group in the corner of the Roman empire,” said Jean-François Mayer, a Swiss scholar of new religious movements, referring to ancient Christianity. Still, he acknowledges that the odds appear to be very much against Millah Abraham, even without persecution from the Indonesian government.
Not since the angel Gabriel visited Muhammad in a cave around 610 AD, informing him that he is God’s prophet, has there been a new globally influential religion with hundreds of millions of followers. Though the world’s religions are very dynamic, and major faiths continue to shift and evolve in ritual and doctrine, the world today is dominated by the same four faiths that dominated the globe a millennium ago: Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. According to a 2012 Pew study, 92 percent of religiously affiliated people around the globe belong to one of these four faiths.
While some relatively recent faiths have succeeded in recruiting millions of followers—such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism), Scientology, and Baha’i—their numbers of adherents are dwarfed in scale by these earlier four. The Baha’i, for example, are a relatively numerous recent faith with an estimated 7 million adherents. That sounds impressive, but it still means that just 0.1 percent of humanity has joined Baha’ism—and the faith has been around for 150 years (since 1863).
Andy Warhol meeting Pope John Paul II. (Image Source)
Staying on the subject of religion, let’s head over to Rolling Stone to this article by Nick Ripatrazone on Andy Warhol’s religious faith:
We don’t know if Andy Warhol got his wish “to be reincarnated as a great big ring on Elizabeth Taylor’s finger,” but his 1987 memorial service was a spectacle. Yoko Ono, Richard Gere, Roy Lichtenstein, Calvin Klein, Raquel Welch, Grace Jones, Debbie Harry, Halston and more packed St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni “hovered and watched” the pageantry; she worked at the Warhol Studio. She was the last employee that Andy had ever hired.
After Andy, Fraser-Cavassoni’s memoir, is an endlessly quotable romp that captures the melancholy and magnificence of Warhol’s final days and legacy. “I started the book with Andy’s memorial because it captured his world – a far-reaching one that included fashion and society, as well as art,” she tells Rolling Stone. “Memorials celebrate a life.”
Fraser-Cavassoni’s entire book is an elegiac celebration of a world that died with Warhol, but is slowly being resurrected. “Toward the end of his life, Warhol felt profoundly undervalued and ignored,” she explains. But now, 30 years later, he’s been born anew: collectors pine for his work; major museums exhibit his creations; his art has skyrocketed in value. Alice Cooper recently discovered his “Little Electric Chair” print, that was part of Warhol’s Death and Disaster series, which he bought for $2,500. In 2015, a similar print sold at auction for $11.6 million.
The ultimate Warhol insider, Fraser-Cavassoni was drawn to and inspired by Warhol, but was no stranger to fame. Her mother is the historian and novelist Lady Antonia Fraser, and her stepfather was the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter. Fraser-Cavassoni followed in their literary footsteps, becoming a fashion journalist and biographer; her first book was an eye-opening examination of legendary producer Sam Spiegel. After Andy demonstrates her storytelling chops as the book masterfully winds through anecdotes, scenes and interviews with scores of Warhol’s associates, acquaintances and admirers. It is breezy without ever feeling light, channeling Warhol’s enigmatic presence.
And it is the puzzle at the center of that enigma which Fraser-Cavassoni captures: Warhol’s Catholicism. At the memorial service, art historian John Richardson eulogized that Warhol “fooled the world into believing that his only obsessions were money, fame, and glamor and that he was cool to the point of callousness.” As a fellow Catholic (like her mother, she attended St. Mary’s Ascot convent school in Berkshire), Fraser-Cavassoni gets Warhol’s religion.
“Almost everyone who remained relevant in Andy’s life was Catholic,” she explains, “whether it was Paul Morrissey, Fred Hughes, Bob Colacello, the photographer Christopher Makos and Vincent Fremont.” She continues: “Being brought up Catholic gives a sense of hierarchical order, discipline and faith. Faith, when embraced, anchors the creative … I think it would also be fair to say that the romantically rich and multi-layered religion that forgives all – lest we forget! – allows unconventional traditionalists.”
Warhol’s religious paradox sharpened after 1968, when writer Valerie Solanas shot and wounded him in the Factory. Fraser-Cavassoni says it was a pivotal moment: “Andy changed. He almost died. Then rose again – somewhat symbolic – and allowed Fred Hughes to turn his talent into an international business.” There’s a refrain in After Andy of Warhol saying, “I’ve got to keep the lights on,” a blue-collar sentiment that, in classic Warhol fashion, carries a more spiritual double-meaning. Warhol attended daily Mass, and served food to the homeless during holidays – actions that Fraser-Cavassoni says were signs “of his eternal gratitude.” She even notes “when he met Pope John Paul II in 1980, Andy was wearing a tie and a low-key version of his signature wig; both suggesting a sign of his respect.”
But does Kel still love orange soda? Kel Mitchell and Kenan Thompson in the 90s Nickelodeon hit “Good Burger”. (Image Source)
Chasing the success of their prior hits, You Can’t Do That On Television, and Roundhouse, Nickelodeon began casting another sketch show in 1992 that they hoped would become a Saturday Night Live for kids. Named as both a slang term for coolness and a reference to the varietal nature of the program, All That debuted in 1994 as a an hour special. Once it was picked up for series, the show began shooting in front of live audiences in Nickelodeon Studios at Universal Studios, Orlando, before moving to Los Angeles at the start of the third season. With its memorable characters, random humor (before random humor was an obnoxious cliche), and top notch actor and musical guests, All That became a tentpole of the SNICK programming block for over 10 seasons, acting as a launchpad for the careers of celebs like Amanda Bynes and Nick Cannon. But even in its infancy, one particular sketch and one stand-out pair, Kel Mitchell and Kenan Thompson showed real signs of promise.
Brian Robbins: All That, which is where Good Burger came from, was a Nickelodeon sketch show that myself, Mike Tollin, and Dan Schneider created. “Good Burger” was one of the most popular sketches to come out of it.
Kevin Kopelow: We wrote so many sketches before we even started shooting, and “Good Burger” was one of the first. I worked at a restaurant and some of the jokes came directly from that. Someone would say “I didn’t order it this way. This is well done,” and I’d go “Oh, thank you!”
Brian Robbins: We thought we’d do a sketch about that guy at the fast food restaurant who’d be just like Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Kel’s basically doing Spicoli.
Kel Mitchell: I really liked Keanu Reeves, and he has that type of voice with “via con Dios” and all that, so I took it from there and watched a lot of Saved by the Bell and mixed those into this “dude” voice I would do all the time in [my hometown] Chicago for my friends.
Heath Seifert: Kel had actually done that surfer guy in another sketch.
Kel Mitchell: Ed was introduced in a sketch called “Dream Remote,” where there was this pizza guy and Josh Server played a kid who had this dream remote control. So, the pizza guy who came was played by me and had this voice. They liked that voice and created Ed around that.
Kevin Kopelow: It was me, Heath, and Dan Schneider and we pitched it to Dan and Brian and we all took it from there as a group. Dan came up with the name “Good Burger,” and we wrote it. Then, when we got it on its feet, Kel put on that wig and started coming up with the voice and then it all came together.
Kel Mitchell: I used to love to go to the makeup and wardrobe room and add stuff to my characters. I walked into the hair room and found these Milli Vanilli/Brandy “I Wanna Be Down” braids.
(Image Source: “30 for 30″/Twitter)
Read the rest of this throwback sesh here. As I mentioned previously, I’m a fan of ESPN’s “30 for 30” podcasts (and their documentaries, period), and their season ending episode, “The Fighter Indside” really stood out. A quick description:
How does a professional boxer, convicted of armed robbery in 1975, end up rising in the ranks of the sport — from inside a state penitentiary? The Fighter Inside is the unlikely story of an inmate who wanted to continue his boxing career while behind bars, and the visionary prison warden who made his dream a reality.
Full disclosure: I grew up and lived most of my life in Linden, a city just to the north of Rahway, where that state penitentary is located. So you can start to imagine my life in mostly-working class Union County, NJ, chock full of pollution, factories, cape cod homes on little parcels of highly taxed property, and the smell of trash from Staten Island landfills drifting over the polluted river… ah, Hometown Glory! Anyway, this story really rocks and you can listen to it below:
And finally, in memory of Jos, Brandy’s “Full Moon”. Here’s to riding shot gun while you drove me around… for a change. Ha. Have a great week everyone.