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Annoy a Whacko — Watch TV on Friday

Thursday, January 5, 2006, 22:37 EST Leave a comment Go to comments

Doing something for the primary purpose of ticking someone off may be a sin, but I’ll take my chances. I plan to spend tomorrow evening glued to channel 7 in Boston for the premiere of NBC’s mid-season replacement series, The Book of Daniel. The program piqued my curiosity when I first heard about it, but it’s the subsequent uproar on the part of "Christians" with thin skins that has me really excited.

The program, which has stirred up some controversy, deals with Rev. Daniel Webster, the title character described by his portrayer, Aidan Quinn, as "an Episcopalian priest who struggles with a little self-medication problem, and I have a 23-year-old son who’s gay, and a 16-year-old daughter who’s caught dealing pot, and another son who’s jumping on every high school girl he sees, and a wife who’s very loving but also likes her martinis." Some people (read hyper-traditionalist Christians who haven’t seen the show) are objecting to the series’ purportedly "bigoted" portrayal of Christianity.

"Bigoted" is probably an overreaction. "Exaggerated" may be more like it. I doubt there exists anywhere an Episcopal priest whose every family member is embroiled in some sort of controversy. But aren’t all television programs notoriously unrealistic? Sure they are, but most of us wouldn’t watch them if they weren’t.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t something to object to in any given program. My mother, a registered nurse for 45 years, can’t stand watching ER because she insists no real hospital could function with so much personal melodrama, professional malfeasance, and general chaos going on. My co-worker Nancy, a former Navy lawyer, has said that JAG bore no resemblance to any of the mostly mundane work she did during her years of service. My friend Bruce, a retired federal agent, once told me that he drew his gun in the line of duty fewer times in 30 years than the average TV cop does in one episode (and he never fired it off the practice range).

The difference is that the American Nurses Association, the Pentagon, or the FBI don’t call for boycotts on the grounds that such dramatic misrepresentations disrespect their professions. So why would anyone expect The Book of Daniel to be any truer to the life of a real Episcopal priest than any other show on the air?

Better ask the American Family Association, a group whose designated issues include "Culture & Society", "Gambling", and "the Homosexual Agenda". They’ve been on a rampage about Daniel since they heard about it. Not since they’ve seen it; no one has seen it yet. But that hasn’t stopped the AFA from vilifying it. Their own press release bashing Daniel seems as distressed by the fact that the series’ writer is "a practicing homosexual" interested in reincarnation than by the content of the program itself.

I admit that I find the American Family Association to be ridiculous. Even on the issues with which I agree with them, abortion and euthanasia, going off track as they did with their recent boycott of American Girl dolls and books. The American Girl company is apparently associated with Girls Inc. whose web site describes a program "for girls who choose to be sexually active to have access to necessary reproductive health, testing, and contraception services." It isn’t just that the AFA objects to the abortion reference; they don’t support birth control either.

But back to The Book of Daniel. I figure that any television show that has drawn the ire of reactionaries deserves a look. If I find it offensive, I’ll stop watching. But I suspect it will be an entertaining and thought-provoking portrayal of one particular man of God doing his best to face the challenges in his life, as we all must.

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