As I’ve mentioned here before, I don’t live with cable television. For the most part, this is a good thing, as I am one that succumbs easily to many lost hours on the couch channel surfing, watching everything and absolutely nothing all at once. With that said, I do miss keeping up with some of our most revered televised cultural critics and polemicists, like John Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Another personality that fits this category is Bill Maher. Whether talking about war, politics, sex or just about anything else you can imagine, he champions, as far as I can tell, the importance of staunch critics, even if that means not fitting neatly into a category, or at times being contradictory. You can imagine how my curiosity was piqued when I caught wind of this forthcoming documentary called Religulous, a collaboration between Maher and writer/producer, funny-man Larry Charles.
After a twenty-minute screening this past weekend at the Toronto Film Festival, the two filmmakers discussed the unfinished project, which clearly is meant to poke fun at the current religious climates of the world (especially in Judaism, Islam and Christianity). The YouTube clip below pretty much sums up the movie’s approach.
In my explorations of the visual manifestations of religious and secular icons, both in Madonna of the Toast and on this here blog, I have never sought to discredit these phenomena or the people that make them public. I have been critical of certain of their ramifications and I do think the prevalence of 21st century media (cell phone cameras, eBay, etc.) in many of these stories says quite a bit about culture at large. In the above clip, Maher tells Larry King that he cannot stomach people telling him what happens when we die. And of course, no one truly has this answer, regardless of religion or lack thereof. Maher takes issue with the proselytizers and zealots that try to convert everyone in their path to agree with a specific doctrine. I take issue with this, too. What I don’t agree with is how Maher isolates a specific breed of believer in order to mock all believers. It strikes me as too easy, a distraction from the more relevant issues at hand, like how we as individuals understand our respective places in this shared world.
Belief, the same as how people decipher the shape of a water stain, is subjective. The real questions are these: What do you see? What do you believe? The emphasis must be placed on the individual so the “you” does not get crammed unfairly into the “them.”
Perhaps I’ll get the chance to discuss this with Bill Maher one of these days, as I have reported on the visual manifestations of icons from Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Doubtless, the frequency of such events plays into the film’s assessment of contemporary religion being Religulous, if the poster is any indicator.