10 October 2009

Hey, hey, is it comedy?

Controversy, worldwide controversy, was sparked last week in Australia. A group of medical doctors performed a skit on a television show on Channel 9. The show, “Hey, hey it’s Saturday!” was a hit for 27 years and many middle-aged folks remember the good old days of their youth. The fun features sketch comedy interlaced with cartoons popping up (much like an MTV popup) and interviews and celebrity guests.

Each two-hour show was packed with a kaleidoscope of guests both new and old plus the fabulous Hey Hey ‘live’ Band. And it wouldn’t be Hey Hey without Red Faces, Plucka Duck, Celebrity Head and many other classic bits.

[Pictured: Ozzie Ostrich and Daryl Somers in 1971]

So what’s the controversy?

Wednesday night on a reunion show, the doctors who performed the same skit 20 years ago, revived the Jackson Jive. (pictured)

Problem is the world is not the same as it was 20 years ago. We have grown and seen our world shrink in a new way. Isolation is not an option in the 21st Century. Good behaviour and bad behaviour are both more universal in scope and recognition.

What brought this to light?

Harry Connick, Jr is no stranger to Aussie television. The New Orleans-born singer has visited Australia many times over the years and even appeared back in the day on “Hey, Hey!” (It went off the air in 1999.) But Harry condemned the skit [, a parody of the Jackson Five in a ''red faces'' segment. The performers' faces were blacked up, apart from that of the comedian playing Michael Jackson] as racist saying the performers make blacks look like buffoons.

Some of the bloggers who defended the Jive said, "There is nothing racist about this ... it is a parody only of the Jackson Five, not black people in general.

Another said, "Michael Jackson hasn't been black in a long time ... race and skin colour are simply not of any significance to us here."

If only! Kudos to Connick. Kudos to Daryl Somers for apologizing on air within minutes of the embarrassing moments. Kudos to those countless bloggers who are in the majority and say “shame” on our country. We are behind the 8-ball and we need to come clean.

Just because ‘we’ve always done that’ or ‘we take the mickey out of everyone’ doesn’t mean it was ever right.

Name calling whether blackfellas or kikes or niggers…it’s just wrong!

Besides that, I thought the doctors/Jive were terrible. Their choreography lacked good timing, the steps were simple enough and they still couldn’t perform in unison. Their singing was flat and tired. I would have gonged them myself, long before the racist trouble; it was a bad routine.

So what about the comedy card? When can comedy parody an existing act? When can Sasha Baron Cohen perform Borat or John Safran play a black man?

The ABC television in Australia is set to air another episode of Safran’s show in a couple weeks. "Episode two will go to air as planned," says an ABC representative. "In this episode John makes a genuine attempt to see what it is like to walk in the shoes of others." Seems John for his new TV show has blackened his whole body.

I remember the book Black Like Me in the 1960s (book 1961, movie 1964) and am proud of Safran, whom I consider a friend, Safran has not just reached for the black shoe polish and a bad wig. His transformation was effected by Brian Sipe and Alexei O'Brien, Hollywood professionals whose credits include The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.”

From Wikipedia: Black Like Me is a non-fiction book by journalist John Howard Griffin first published in 1961. Griffin was a white native of Mansfield, Texas and the book describes his six-week experience travelling on Greyhound buses (occasionally hitchhiking) throughout the racially segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia passing as a black man. Sepia Magazine financed the project in exchange for the right to print the account first as a series of articles.

Griffin kept a journal of his experiences; the 188-page diary was the genesis of the book.

What Safran is doing is so different, it’s not even worth discussing in this context. But is it comedy? And is comedy fair game for out-of-bounds, bad-taste frivolity as we saw on Hey, Hey last Wednesday?

The Boston Globe (Ty Burr) said of Cohen’s Borat, “A comic put-on of awe-inspiring crudity and death-defying satire and by a long shot the funniest film of the year. It is "Jackass" with a brain and Mark Twain with full frontal male nudity.”
While Chicago Reader’s J.R. Jones said, “As clever as he is crude, Cohen alchemizes bad-taste comedy into Strangelovean satire.”

I guess the line is thin, and maybe that’s why so many are arguing and blogging about the crossing of the line with Jackson Jive. Bad is bad, because it is, not because a sociological subset says it is. We don’t have to wait for the black population of New Orleans to vote about the doctors-come-dancers and their bad routine. It was making fun and that’s that. And that’s out of bounds. Nothing redemptive about it; no hope of people learning about another culture.

So maybe that’s part of it. When I watched “Inglorious Basterds“(why is it misspelled?) the other night I thought Tarantino was in his element again. Violent, bloody, harsh, intemperate, and fun, captivating and not-a-lick-of-truth. It all started with “Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France…” and it was a fairy tale. I certainly ‘enjoyed’ Princess Bride as a fairy tale much better, but as a Jew, I found Tarantino a fairy tale we could have wished for.

But did the buffoon watch note anything about Germans? Or about Americans? Or about filmgoers? Or drinking Englishmen?

That’s when comedy or satire makes us think less of people of a certain colour or size or religion.

The world has changed; we have to keep changing.

So, I’m proud of Harry Connick , Jr. And I’m proud of Daryl Somers for quickly apologizing. And we can all learn, and need to learn, and learn to live together in honesty and fairness. No more jokes involving kikes or niggers, ok? Let’s even go beyond that and say good things about each other. Wow, what a wonderful world that will be!

08 October 2009

Muslim leader wants Temple rebuilt

With apologies, this is a bit dated...
Posted: August 06, 2009

Originally found at

By Joel Richardson

In a historically unprecedented development, a famous Turkish Muslim leader and a prominent group of Israeli rabbis have joined together on one of their declared goals, to rebuild the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Adnan Oktar, who uses the pen name of Harun Yahya, is a controversial but highly influential Muslim intellectual and author with over 65 million of his books in circulation worldwide. Oktar recently met with three representatives from the re-established Jewish Sanhedrin, a group of 71 Orthodox rabbis and scholars from Israel, to discuss how religious Muslims, Jews and Christians can work together.

The objectives of the alliance include waging a joint intellectual and spiritual battle against the worldwide growing tide of irreligiousness, unbelief and immorality. But even more unusual is their agreement with regard to the need to rebuild the Jewish Temple, a structure Oktar refers to as the "Masjid (Mosque)" or the "Palace of Solomon." An official statement about the meeting has been published on the Sanhedrin's website. Concluding the statement is the following call:

Out of a sense of collective responsibility for world peace and for all humanity, we have found it timely to call to the world and exclaim that there is a way out for all peoples. It is etched in a call to all humanity: We are all the sons of one father, the descendants of Adam, and all humanity is but a single family. Peace among nations will be achieved through building the House of G-d, where all peoples will serve as foreseen by King Solomon in his prayers at the dedication of the First Holy Temple. Come let us love and respect one another, and love and honor and hold our heavenly Father in awe. Let us establish a house of prayer in His name in order to worship and serve Him together, for the sake of His great compassion. He surely does not want the blood of His creations spilled, but prefers love and peace among all mankind. We pray to the Almighty Creator, that you harken to our Call. Together – each according to his or her ability – we shall work towards the building of the House of Prayer for All Nations on the Temple Mount in peace and mutual understanding.

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I was also able to meet recently with Mr. Oktar in Istanbul where he described to me his vision for the rebuilding of Solomon's Temple:

The Palace of Solomon is a historically important palace, and rebuilding it would be a very wonderful thing. It is something that any Jew, a Christian or a Muslim should welcome with enthusiasm. Every Muslim, every believer will want to return to those days, to experience those days again and, albeit partially, to bring the beauty of those days back to life.

Oktar has also stated that the Temple of Solomon "will be rebuilt and all believers will worship there in tranquility." During his meeting with the Sanhedrin rabbis, Oktar expressed his belief that the Temple could be rebuilt in one year:

It could be done in a year at most. It could be built to the same perfection and beauty. The Torah says it was built in 13 years, if I remember correctly. It could be rebuilt in a year in its perfect form.

Since the meeting took place, I have also had the privilege to discuss these things in some detail with Rabbi Abrahamson and Rabbi Hollander, two of the rabbis who met with Mr. Oktar. Regarding the rebuilding of the Temple, Rabbi Hollander explained, "The building of the Temple is one of the stages in the Messianic process." But another possibility that has been presented is that the Dome of the Rock that sits so prominently on the Temple Mount be used as "a place of prayer for all nations." This title is found in the book of the Prophet Isaiah.

"This should be fairly simple," explained Rabbi Hollander. "It is said that the structure of the Dome in Haram E-Sharrif (the Temple Mount) was originally meant by (Caliph) Omar to be a House of Prayer for Jews, and the Al-Aqsa for Muslims." However, he also explained that religious Jews would not be able to enter the Dome of the Rock unless they had first been ritually cleansed according to Jewish halakhic regulations.

While the prominence of the figures involved in this joint call to rebuild the Jewish Temple is highly noteworthy, other groups have also recently made news with unique vision for the Temple Mount. Yoav Frankel, an Orthodox Jew who has been deeply involved in interfaith dialogue with Muslims, also envisions a shared Temple Mount. This project is called "God's Holy Mountain" and is an effort of the Interfaith Encounter Association, a group dedicated to promoting peace in the Middle East. What is unique about the God's Holy Mountain project is that it envisions the day when the Jewish Temple will exist side by side with the Dome of the Rock.

"This vision of religious shrines in peaceful proximity can transform the Temple Mount from a place of contention to its original sacred role as a place of worship shared by Jews, Muslims and Christians," said Frankel in a Jerusalem Post interview. A colorful painting of this vision features prominently on Frankel's website.

Muslims, Jews and Christians share the Temple Mount in harmony.

A paper on the God's Holy Mountain website, written by an unnamed Muslim scholar, asks the following question: "Would a Jewish synagogue erected on the Temple Mount or the Noble Sanctuary make the Blessed Land less blessed? It will certainly add to its blessing because it will invite more voices that exalt and glorify the One God, to whom we all pray."

The vision of God's Holy Mountain may not be all that far off. The Obama administration has also suggested that Jerusalem could become an international city that would be shared by peoples from all three Abrahamic faiths.

Even the Knesset is getting in on the discussion. Members of the Israeli Knesset gathered together last week with several Jewish scholars to discuss the role of the Jewish Temple in Jewish life. Referring to those Muslims who do not acknowledge the Jewish history of the Temple Mount, Dr. Mordechai Keidar stated, "The struggle for Jerusalem is not territorial, it is theological. … Do we give in to the Muslim claim that Judaism is no longer relevant?"

While religious Jews have yearned for the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple literally for two millennia, some skeptical left-wing commentators have mocked the notion that this will ever take place. One anti-religion blogger recently claimed that, "most Israelis have no interest in a 'Third Temple' and would resent the way such a thing would symbolize the power of an already overbearing religious establishment." He then mocked the idea as something that only exists "on the outer fringes in the Israel of the real world" while any Christian expectation of a future Temple is mere "Christian fundamentalist fantasy." Yet, according to a recent poll conducted for Ynet News and the Gesher organization, over two-thirds of the Israeli public desires to see the Jewish Temple rebuilt, including almost half of the non-religious. According to Ynet News, 64 percent of those questioned responded favorably to the idea of rebuilding the Temple, while 36 percent were not in favor of such a project:

An analysis of the answers showed that not only the ultra-Orthodox and the religious look forward to the rebuilding of the Temple (100 percent and 97 percent respectively), but also the traditional public (91 percent) and many seculars – 47 percent.

Meanwhile, the work of the Temple Institute, a group that has openly dedicated itself for years to rebuilding the Jewish Temple goes on. They have already created many of the most significant priestly utensils and pieces of furniture necessary for the Temple once it is ready. In a recent video release, entitled "Dare to Dream / Dare to Build," several on-the-street interviews reveal the passion for the Temple that are held by many average Israelis. One young man expressed his belief that the building of the Jewish Temple "will bring harmony, some tranquility in the world, some peace." Another women joyfully states, "The entire purpose of creation is that we build the Holy Temple."

The suggestion of rebuilding the Jewish Temple is deeply significant to Christians, particularly those who are students of Bible prophecy. According to the Bible, an imposter messiah known as the Antichrist will someday invade the land of Israel and "set himself up" in the "God's Temple." The Apostle Paul lays this out quite clearly:

He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's Temple, proclaiming himself to be God. – 2 Thessalonians 2:4

As a result, many Christians who understand the biblical teaching regarding the last days take note of this news with a deep measure of caution and trepidation.

Another serious cause for concern is the fact that, according to Islamic sacred tradition, the Mahdi, Islam's primary messiah figure, will one day invade the land of Israel and establish his seat of authority on the Temple Mount. According to one sacred tradition, an Islamic army will come from Iran and conquer Jerusalem:

(Armies carrying) black flags will come from Khurasan (Iran). No power will be able to stop them and they will finally reach Eela (Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem) where they will erect their flags. – Sunan Al-Tirmidhi

Commenting on this particular tradition, Egyptian authors Muhammad ibn Izzat and Muhammd 'Arif comment:

The Mahdi will be victorious and eradicate those pigs and dogs. … Jerusalem will be the location of the rightly guided caliphate and the center of Islamic rule, which will be headed by Imam al-Mahdi. … That will abolish the leadership of the Jews.

As a Christian theologian who is well-versed in these matters, I expressed the reasons for my caution to the Sanhedrin rabbis. But in the end, while all three Abrahamic religions do share many common beliefs and characteristics, many differences remain. While the prophecies of the Bible and the dark nature of some of the Islamic traditions cause me deep unease, from an Orthodox Jewish perspective, my apprehension is entirely unnecessary.

Says Rabbi Abrahamson, "There is a Jewish teaching, referring to the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. that says, 'Had the nations of the world known how much they benefit and are blessed by the Holy Temple they would have surrounded it with legions of armies to protect it from any harm.'"