Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Harriet Hayes Update

Last week I wrote about the "openly Christian" character in the new NBC series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, one Harriet Hayes. (No, I'm not going to give you a link; just look upstream a couple of posts.) I opined that she is a symbol of irony, because one of the axes she grinds is that Hollywood doesn't get Christianity, but the very ways the script writers have her make that point only serve to demonstrate that they, in fact, do not get Christianity.

Anyway...I told you so. In last night's episode, while trying to achieve that elusive quality of clarity in her relationship with ex-boyfriend and current boss Matt, Harriet says something along the lines of, "Of course it would have never worked out between us. You're an east coast Jewish atheist and I'm a Southern Baptist who believes you're going to burn in hell." (I assume she meant Southern Baptist and not southern Baptist--there is a significant difference, but would Aaron Sorkin actually know that?) OK, even allowing for a certain element of hyperbole, that is more than a little over the top. Now, I will grant you, there are Christians who are inordinately fascinated by questions of who gets to burn in hell. I even know a couple. But I don't think there are nearly as many such Christians as there are non-Christians who are incensed that such Christians exist in any quantity whatsoever and who salve their indignation by projecting the offending attitude onto the entire class of Christians. Poor fictional Harriet Hayes is only the most recent victim of such religious profiling.

I'm tempted to conclude by saying something like, "If you don't agree with me you can just go burn in hell." But then someone might not get that I'm trying to be wry and ironic, and that would not be good.

3 comments:

Douglas LeBlanc said...

Most of the reports I've seen about Studio 60 say that Harriet Hayes is based on Aaron Sorkin's former girlfriend, actress Kristin Chenowyth, who appeared on The West Wing in 2004-06. This item confirms it, I think.

Compared to the hysterical depiction of Christians in Sorkin's screenplays for A Few Good Men and The American President, Studio 60 is a festival of subtlety. I agree, though, that Sorkin remains largely tone-deaf about how evangelicals actually talk.

Dan Martins said...

Ah, yes, Annabeth, who was just getting something going with Leo when they had to write him out of the script. Well, she appears to be taking exploitation like a grownup. And let me add, I think Aaron Sorkin is immensely talented, and I enjoy his work. He just gets the Christian thing wrong.

Now, my memory isn't what it should be, but I've seen both the movies Douglas LeBlanc mentions, and I can't remember anything about Christianity. What did I sleep through?

(BTW, Doug, I'm honored that you looked at my humble blog. I've been an admiring reader of your work for years.)

Douglas LeBlanc said...

Forgive my belated response to your comment, Father Dan. I failed to subscribe to the Comments feed for this post, and I forgot to check back.

Regarding the Christian-bashing in the two movies I mentioned:

In A Few Good Men, the character of Lt. Jonathan Kendrick (played by Kiefer Sutherland) is a tightly wound, rage-filled man unable to distinguish between Christianity and the United States Marine Corps.

Internet Movie Database provides one of the damning quotes:

I have two books at my bedside, Lieutenant: the Marine Corps Code of Conduct and the King James Bible. The only proper authorities I am aware of are my commanding officer, Colonel Nathan R. Jessep, and the Lord our God.

Here's the more damning quote, from an online version of the screenplay:

Commander, I believe in God, and in his son Jesus Christ, and because I do, I can say this: Private Santiago is dead and that's a tragedy. But he's dead because he had no code. He's dead because he had no honor. And God was watching.

For fans of Kiefer Sutherland, I should also point out that he was outstanding in the film To End All Wars, which provided a remarkably sympathetic portrayal of Christians held as prisoners of war during World War II.

I searched the Web to see if I could find what it was in The American President that bugged me so much. I found that it wasn't a matter of attacks on Christians but on the social conservatism that is synonymous with the religious right (at least in the minds of people who bemoan the religious right's existence).

I think the closest thing to an open blast at the religious right is in this segment of a press conference given by President Andrew Shepherd, who is criticizing his Republican challenger Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss):

And whatever your particular problem is, friend, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: Making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and personal character. Then you have an old photo of the President's girlfriend. You scream about patriotism and you tell them she's to blame for their lot in life, you go on television and you call her a whore.

All told, I'm probably confusing The American President with The Contender (written by Rod Lurie), which all but proclaimed abortion on demand a sacrament.