deplorables

Yo, MSM: Anyone planning to stalk Jesusland religion ghosts lurking in 'The Hunt' movie?

Yo, MSM: Anyone planning to stalk Jesusland religion ghosts lurking in 'The Hunt' movie?

What a country we live in, these days. If you have been following the controversy surrounding the now-delayed movie “The Hunt,” you know that this is — according to mainstream media reports — yet another controversy about politics, anger, guns, violence and America’s Tweeter In Chief.

Oh, and there is no way to avoid the dangerous word “elites” when talking about this Hollywood vs. flyover country saga. However, if you probe this media storm you will find hints that religion ghosts are hiding in the fine print — due to the movie’s alleged references to “deplorables” and “anti-choice” Americans.

But let’s start with a minimalist report at The Washington Post that ran with this headline: “Universal cancels satirical thriller about ‘elites’ hunting ‘deplorables’ in wake of shootings.” Here’s the overture:

Universal Pictures has canceled its plan to release “The Hunt,” a satirical thriller about “elites” hunting self-described “normal people,” amid a series of mass shootings and criticism that the film could increase tensions.

“We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film,” Universal said in a statement.

The studio already had paused its marketing campaign for the R-rated movie, which was slated for release on Sept. 27. … “The Hunt,” directed by Craig Zobel (“Z for Zachariah”) and produced by Blumhouse Productions, follows 12 strangers who are brought to a remote house to be killed for sport. 

Everything in this media-drama hinges on how this movie is alleged to have described the beliefs and behaviors of these “normal” Americans — who are stalked by rich, progressive folks defined by high-class culture and political anger issues. The elites are led by a character played by Oscar-winner Hilary Swank.

If you are looking for facts in this oh so Donald Trump-era mess, journalists at The Hollywood Reporter claim to have details deeper than the innuendoes glimpsed in the hyper-violent trailers for the movie (trailers that appear to be vanishing online). Here is a chunk of that story, which is referenced — aggregation style — in “news” reports all over the place.

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Hit piece or masterpiece? Digesting that Washington Post story on rural Baptists who voted for Trump

Hit piece or masterpiece? Digesting that Washington Post story on rural Baptists who voted for Trump

If you spend any time on social media, you undoubtedly have heard about the Washington Post's front-page story Sunday on a rural Alabama congregation whose members support President Donald Trump.

A lot of people — particularly those who still can't believe that Hillary Clinton lost and that 81 percent of evangelicals voted for someone with Trump's moral character — loved the long, long piece.

"It's magnificently crafted, beautifully told, riveting and suspenseful," said one of the writer's Washington Post colleagues.

An investigative reporter at the rival New York Times called it "a suspenseful, transporting tale."

Even Ed Stetzer, a leading evangelical voice, praised the piece: "We need more long-form religion reporting like this. It seeks to understand, points out the tension, and does not shy away from the problems."

Others had different takes.

"Everybody quoted in this article sounds like a moron," one reader said.

Yep, pretty much.

The question: Is that because they really are morons or because that's how the Post chose to frame the story?

Another reader suggested: "WaPo paints these people as rural rubes, supporting a guy who flaunts immorality, when of course they're all just as sophisticated as the reporters, probably more, and have made a very simple calculation about who will deliver their policy preferences."

I'll admit that I'm still trying to digest the piece. I know this much: I didn't love it.

Why didn't I love it? I'm still trying to figure out precisely what rubbed me the wrong way. I'll offer a few thoughts that perhaps hit at my journalistic concerns.

But first, the basics on the story: It ran with the headline "Judgment Days" and this subhead:

In a small Alabama town, an evangelical congregation reckons with God, Trump and morality

The lede:

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The Economist explains 2016: Evangelicals sure love money and Donald Trump

The Economist explains 2016: Evangelicals sure love money and Donald Trump

It's certainly one of the iconic images from the early 2016 rallies that, to the shock of the all-wise politicos everywhere, helped push Citizen Donald Trump into the White House.

I am referring to the viral image at the top of this post, a picture -- with mocking variations -- that can be found all over the place in cyberspace.

What made this image so perfect? Perhaps it was something about the combination of reality-TV ecstasy on certain faces and that "Thank You Lord Jesus for President Trump" sign.

For many journalists it perfectly captured what they wanted to believe, which was that Trump was the official candidate of white evangelical Protestants. The most deplorable of the deplorables.

After the election, this simplistic view of the primaries evolved into a similar verdict on election 2016, which was that if you wanted to know who to blame (yes, yes, yes) for President Trump that would be angry white men in blue collars and/or white evangelicals. From a true-blue cultural perspective, what's the difference?

Actually, there are lots of differences. As one pollster told me, there's a big difference between Saturday night conservatives and Sunday morning conservatives. There are bar conservatives and church conservatives. In the primaries, the church crowd was really divided and highly conflicted, in terms of backing (to one degree or another) Trump. He had some key old-right religious backers, in the primaries, but there was zero evangelical unity.

This brings me to a stunningly simplistic essay in a source where you aren't supposed to find simplistic journalism -- The Economist. The headline: "Why evangelicals love Donald Trump."

So right there you have trouble. You know that this really means white evangelicals. Or how about Latino evangelicals, who may have given Trump Florida?

Never mind. Here's the overture:

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Weekend think piece: The New York Times offers R.R. Reno's take on America's new cold war

Weekend think piece: The New York Times offers R.R. Reno's take on America's new cold war

If you have been paying attention to gossip about the news industry lately, you may have heard that many New York Times readers were not amused when the leaders of the great Gray Lady's editorial pages decided to add another conservative voice to the mix

Ever since the first column by one Bret Stephens -- a piece criticizing how the cultural left pushes climate change (but he does not reject the reality of climate change) -- large numbers of Times nation citizens have been voicing their wrath about this invasion of a beloved safe space, primarily by canceling their subscriptions.

I have not heard of a similar reaction to the recent Times opinion essay by the Catholic scribe R.R. Reno, who is editor of the conservative interfaith journal First Things. The title: "Republicans Are Now the ‘America First’ Party."

Now, let me stress that this Reno think piece does not contain large chunks of theology or commentary about religion. Instead, it's about how one Donald Trump has moved the ground under the feet of Republicans who had, for a long time, assumed that the GOP orthodoxy of Ronald Reagan would last 1,000 years or so.

The central theme: The new GOP enemy is globalism, not big government.

As I read this Reno piece, I kept waiting for religious material, for cultural and moral material, to show up. After all, I read newspapers through the lens of the great historian Martin Marty, as described in an "On Religion" column I wrote a year after 9/11 (at an event that started the dominoes falling that led to the birth of GetReligion). Here is the top of that 2002 column (this is long, but essential):

It is Martin Marty's custom to rise at 4:44 a.m. for coffee and prayer, while awaiting the familiar thump of four newspapers on his porch. ... America's most famous church historian prepared for a lecture in Nebraska by ripping up enough newsprint to bury his table in headlines and copy slashed with a yellow pen.
A former WorldCom CEO kept teaching his Sunday school class. A researcher sought the lost tribe of Israel. Believers clashed in Sudan. Mormon and evangelical statistics were up – again. A Zambian bishop said he got married to shock the Vatican. U.S. bishops kept wrestling with clergy sexual abuse. Pakistani police continued to study the death of journalist Daniel Pearl.
Marty tore out more pages, connecting the dots. Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey feared an Anglican schism. Public-school students prayed at flagpoles. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia explored the border between church and state. And there were dozens of stories linked to Sept. 11, 2001.

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Ah, those mysterious Protestant Evangelicals, as pondered by our cultural elites

Ah, those mysterious Protestant Evangelicals, as pondered by our cultural elites

Just when you thought you’d seen enough analysis of those U.S. Protestant Evangelicals to last a lifetime or two, a major April release is commanding yet more ink: “The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America” by Frances FitzGerald (Simon & Schuster).

Any book from FitzGerald, a boldface author who won the Pulitzer Prize for her Vietnam lament “Fire in the Lake” (1972), gets guaranteed media attention. Her latest, hailed as “masterful” by Time magazine, will surely be mandatory reading for religion writers. This blockbuster has already gained major reviews from highbrow analysts Randall Balmer, Alan Wolfe and Garry Wills (also a Pulitzer medalist).

The Religion Guy has yet to read this 740-pager but is wary after learning that FitzGerald pays so much attention to figures like Rousas Rushdoony. His idiosyncratic theocracy scheme frightens the journalism natives, but is hardly representative of mainstream evangelicalism, or even of its most politicized segments.

Otherwise, the reviews provide  significant cultural indicators of how elitists view a movement that’s somehow so mystifying and unnerving to outsiders, and the way adherents are ogled with condescension, particularly after so many voted for Donald J. Trump. Irredeemable deplorables, anyone?    

Balmer, Dartmouth’s religion chair and the author of a somewhat competing 2016 title, “Evangelicalism in America” (Baylor University Press), says having such a “distinguished author” undertake this topic should be “cause for celebration.” But he finds the result “curiously pinched and narrow.”

One of his criticisms, echoed by others, is that FitzGerald’s narrative omits African-American Protestants. That’s an important choice that the Religion Guy finds justifiable because these believers, as well as Latino Protestants, have such  distinct subcultures. Explaining the larger population of “white” evangelicals is more than enough for one book.

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New York Times correspondent pays faith-free visit to #NeverTrump #NeverHillary territory

New York Times correspondent pays faith-free visit to #NeverTrump #NeverHillary territory

As we stagger closer to election day, the political desk at The Washington Post has produced several stories focusing on the fact that many centrist voters (Catholics in particular) are sickened by the thought of going into a voting booth and supporting either Donald Trump or Hillary Rodham Clinton.

What’s the problem? It’s something called “values,” apparently.

However, it appears that journalists believe that this has nothing to do with the whole “values voter” phenomenon seen in recent elections. In other words, this panic out there in many corners of the heartland has nothing to do with faith, morality, culture, religion or what have you. Yes, I have written several posts about this Post trend. In particular, see the recent post with this headline: “Washington Post: USA more pessimistic, divided than ever (and don’t ask about religion).”

Now, the New York Times political desk has bravely sent a correspondent into the heartland and found pretty much the same thing. Lots of folks in red zip codes are upset about the Donald vs. Hillary situation and, what do you know, it appears that there is more to this anger than the state of the economy. The Times headline proclaims: “Reliably Red Ohio County Finds Both Trump and Clinton Hard to Stomach.”

As you can see in the overture, the Gray Lady team visited a rust-free part of Ohio in which the economy is doing just fine. 

DELAWARE, Ohio -- Donald J. Trump is not popular in this prospering county north of Columbus. The Republican nominee’s dystopian language does not resonate here. Signs that read “Now Hiring” outnumber “Trump” campaign placards.
But many residents of this reliably Republican county, which last voted for a Democratic president in 1916, simply cannot imagine voting for Mr. Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. And that goes a long way toward explaining why she has struggled to separate herself from Mr. Trump in this bellwether state.

This doesn’t fit the received wisdom among the chattering-class elites.

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