Monday, April 17, 2006

LA Times Exemplifies the Culture Gap

The headline of the feature story in the Los Angeles Times sounded intriguing, "Passover, Potlucks and Plagues," by Ashley Powers [link provided, but registration required]. An admirable attempt, I thought, by the much-and-deservedly maligned Times to expand its coverage of religion in American life. Then I read the story, and realized what a steep climb it will be for the Times to reach a religious-minded readership.

The story itself is entertaining--an account of the annual Passover seder in the desert conducted by Reform Jewish Temple Beth Hillel, of Valley Village (my neighborhood). Writer Powers also makes sure that the Times readers will understand the background of Passover, and recites that it commemorates the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Egyptian, through Divine miracles culminating in the splitting of the Red Sea, "a story made famous in the movie, 'The Ten Commandments.' "

Until I read that line, I thought that "boggles the mind" was a figurative expression. But I actually felt my mind boggle. It somersaulted and temporarily froze. "Portrayed in the movie," would have been fine, but "made famous in the movie?" How vacuous, how clueless, how ahistorical could the Times writer be? The Bible, in its Jewish, Catholic and Protestant forms, is the best-selling book of all time. Every edition of which I am aware, unless it is limited to the New Testament, contains the story of the Exodus; in fact, a whole book of the Bible is named after it. I am sadly old enough to remember when the Charlton-Heston-as-Moses version of "The Ten Commandments" came out. I was in elementary school. All my friends already knew the story of the Exodus, whether they were Jewish or Christian.*

[*For those readers whose information only comes from the Los Angeles Times, "Christianity" is a religion whose followers believe in redemption through the crucifixtion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a story made famous by the movies "Ben Hur," "The Robe," "The Greatest Story Ever Told," and "The King of Kings."]

Then I thought, is it just the Los Angeles Times, or does this story accurately depict the mental furnishings of most Southern Californians? Has our society become so secularized and unliterary that stories with which our parents and grandparents were intimately familiar are now "made famous" by movies and television, if known at all? Reader input would be welcome.


Blogger The Hedgehog said...

"Has our society become so secularized and unliterary that stories with which our parents and grandparents were intimately familiar are now 'made famous' by movies and television, if known at all?"

Ralph, I fear the answer to your question is yes. My children know the stories of the Bible because we discuss those stories at home. The kids have all gone to sleep with such stories, either by hearing their parents reading to them or by listening to well-produced but inexpensive recordings. Also, they attend church and are taught weekly. What my wife and I find sobering is the extent to which our children's friends -- even the ones attending religious schools-- have a very vague idea at best of what those stories are all about.  

Posted by The Hedgehog

Monday, April 17, 2006 2:18:00 PM  
Anonymous BlueBuffoon said...

Ralph, thanks for pointing out this article. I can hardly wait to share it with my wife. It will bring full circle a similar, but somewhat less astounding, mind-boggling experience we shared a few years ago--and has become a running joke in our home--when we heard a young adult from our congregation exclaim, with no sense of embarrasment, let alone irony: "Last night I watched a great movie on TV, 'The Ten Commandments.' I wish I had read the book first!" To see a similar gap in fundamental comprehension from a newspaper that takes itself seriously (way too seriously, I'm afraid) is harder to take comically.

Posted by BlueBuffoon

Tuesday, April 18, 2006 8:02:00 AM  

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