I read The New York Times religiously every morning, in the ink-on-paper version (!), and am thankful that in our increasingly post-print age this institution survives and continues to give me a daily window on the world with plenty of style and personality. Two recent articles stand out for their authors' willingness to seek out some of the deeper layers of story beneath the surface news.
Television critic Ginia Bellafante's "Necks Overflowing With Rivers of Metaphor" was a fun piece about HBO's "True Blood" that sought to answer the question I have asked many times: What's with the vampire thing? She interviewed show creator Alan Ball, who:
works aggressively to prove what a fired-up liberal he is. As if we've consistently skipped those parts of the newspaper that have recounted the scandals of Jim Bakker or Ted Haggard, Mr. Ball insists on telling us that right-wing religious extremism is frequently linked with an untenable moral and sexual hypocrisy.
A Congressional candidate who makes vampire bashing (read: gay bashing) part of his platform is buying V, vampire blood with a Viagra effect on civilians, from a drag queen on the black market. Mr. Ball, as he did in "American Beauty," which he wrote, and "Six Feet Under," which he created and where eros and thanatos did battle every week, shoots his metaphors as if activating an armed squadron. Standing in for a hundred Jerry Falwells and the Curse of American Sexual Paranoia, one detractor on the show declaimed, "Vampires have taken our jobs and our women, and their very blood turns our children into addicts, drug dealers and homosexuals!"
The current season has set up a showdown between a psycho Christian cult called the Fellowship of the Sun, which runs a kind of conversion camp called the Light of Day Institute, and the vampires (and vampire sympathizers) the cult aims to destroy.
Kudos to Bellafante for letting readers know about both the show's religious subtexts and Ball's motives without embracing them or assuming we will do the same. But shouldn't there be some kind of statute of limitations on identifying Jerry Falwell, who died in 2007, as the epicenter of anti-gay (or anti-vampire) activism?
Meanwhile, over in the sports section, Pete Thamel writes about Florida football star Tim Tebow, who:
has a chance during his senior year at Florida to establish himself as one of the most accomplished and recognizable athletes in collegiate sports history. But when Tebow talks about the long-term future, his ultimate hope is that football will provide a way for him to run a charitable empire.
With the same passion he has when he speaks about his teammates, his coaches and winning a third national title, Tebow talks of wide-eyed dreams of opening orphanages, a prison ministry, youth ranches and granting wishes to underprivileged children.
"It's just what my heart is, helping," Tebow said. "That's what I feel passionate about, is trying making a difference for people who can't make a difference for themselves."
The article, which describes Thamel's visit to an orphanage in the Philippines that Tebow supports, provides valuable insight into the charitable work of a Heisman-winning quarterback. But the article left one question unanswered.
Even though the piece uses religious words (Tebow "preaches," his parents are "missionaries," his father is an "evangelist") it never identifies Tebow's religion. Is he a Muslim? A Theosophist?
This was a good article about a devout sports celebrity who wants to use his platform to change the world. It would have been even better if it had helped readers do a better job of connecting the dots between Tebow's faith and his philanthropic work.