Subject: AAFWD: Theistwatch for 2/29 (THEISTWATCH is a service of AMERICAN ATHEISTS, a nat
Subject: AAFWD: Theistwatch for 2/29
(THEISTWATCH is a service of AMERICAN ATHEISTS, a nationwide movement founded
by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total,
absolute separation of government and religion. It is distributed to members
and supporters on the AAFWD list; our thanks to Rich Daniel for operating
this list. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer)
Those of you who are AMERICAN ATHEISTS members -- we've got news for you.
For starters, the American Atheist Magazine is ready for shipment; this is
the August, '95 issue which the Murray O'Hairs had nearly completed before
their disappearance. The few un-finished pages were "fleshed in" with
topical articles, and the finished product has been assembled under the
direction of Spike Tyson, our new office manager at ghq. It is being
prepared for shipment as you read this e-mail.
The American Atheist Magazine and the AA Newsletter will be edited by Mr.
Frank Zindler. Many of you have seen Frank's postings on this list, or read
his articles in the magazine, or perhaps have heard him on radio debating
creationists and other religious zanies. Mr. Zindler served as director of
our former Ohio Chapter, and is currently a translator and linguist, with a
specialty in ancient languages. Frank faces the task of getting both of
these publications back on a regular schedule; but we wanted to let all of
you know that "regular business" is being handled. In addition, book and
product orders are being processed at the Austin office by our new staff.
Production is still going on for our site on the world wide web. You'll
be able to order books and other products from our on-line catalogue, and we
will feature a special "news flash" section with current news and
information. We'll let you know the URL when the site is operational. We
are also working on the various electronic lists. We will feature this
discussion list, THEISTWATCH, a list for news and press releases, and other
If you have a back order or other business, PLEASE DO NOT CALL THE GHQ.
We are still building the office staff up to full-strength, and Spike has
his hands full -- literally -- with things to do. The phones are all
automated, and there is no way at the present time that we can handle the
deluge of calls.
If you were a contact person for the AMERICAN ATHEIST TV FORUM, you should
know that we are making plans to duplicate and distribute the Forum tapes
once again, using the "Atheist Viewpoint" show presently done by Ellen
Johnson and Ron Barrier. This will take some additional time, however, since
Mr. Tyson will have to train a new staff for that job. While we have made
considerable progress in the last few months in "jumpstarting" American
Atheists, we still have a long, long way to go.
Other news: we are re-printing books as quickly as possible to fill
orders. We have at least three new books (including a possible children's
book) "in the pipeline", with others planned. Ms. Wait is pulling the FaxNet
together, and Neal Cary will be taking over as National Outreach Director.
American Atheists has the goal of having State Directors in each state in
the near future, our trained "eyes and ears" to keep track of relevant First
So, please be patient. We have been working hard to resurrect this
operation;to borrow a phrase, "we've been blessed" with some dedicated and
hard-working folks such as Ellen Johnson and Spike Tyson. And TW will keep
you posted as things progress.
THEISTWATCH ON THE CULTURE FRONT
One effect of the slew of religious conservative candidates begging for
public office jobs has been President Clinton's steady move to the right.
Bill is fast shedding his image of a being a "didn't inhale" kinda'guy who
invited the well-padded members of Fleetwood Mac to play at his Innaugural
shindig, in favor of a sterner, mainline family man. To whit: first, he and
Al Gore (and you KNOW that Second Lady Tipper had a role in this one...)
pushed through the Telecommunications Bill with its provisions against
"obscentiy" , and the mandatory V-Chip. Supposedly, this Big Brother device
will have to be installed on new television sets over a certain size to
"assist" families in "planning" their viewing schedule.
There's evidence, however, that this could backfire. A University of
Wisconsin study suggests that older youngsters, especially boys, actually
prefer movies with an R-rated over its G-rated counterpart. For instance,
when asked if they preferred a version of the 1964 Disney movie "The
Moon-Spinners" starring a young Peter McEneary and Hayley Mills, girls in the
5-9 age range picked the sanitized verion by a 6-1 margin. Girls in the
10-14 range, however, chose the G-version, 29.2% to 11.1%.
The shift was even more dramatic for the boys. The 5-9 year old males
picked the G-version, 2)% to 4.8%. But the 10-14 year-old males wanted the
R-version. 50% chose the more adventuresome version of "The Moon Spinners",
and none (0%) picked the G-rated version.
Some recent studies also suggest that the issue of TV "violence" is
over-stated. USA TODAY noted that one survey found "many parents do heed
on-air advisories and shield young children from the most violent TV films."
It was also observed that when mom and dad aren't glued to the TV box,
though, "a ratings system could backfire, making movies more attractive."
Meanwhile, there is a scramble of TV execs and politicians trying to make
hay out of this cultural sunshine, before the public consciousness moves on
to a new fad (or, "heaven" forbid, a more substantive issue.) Media Mogul
Rupert Murdock is on the stump, insisting that his brassy Fox Network is
"serving the public interest." The "public interest" as determined by the
government or the American Family Association, though, seems distinctly
different from that measured in the marketplace. Certain programs -- some
good, others bad -- attract large, enthused audiences. Which raises a
long-overdue question, again...who decides?
Murdock has his own rating system ready for takeoff, which has irritated
his counterparts at the Big Three of CBS, ABC and NBC. He's threatened to
act "unilaterally if necessary." But the head of News Corporation is more an
expert in political judo than straight-on boxing and clubbing; Murdock, a
pioneer in zesty tabloid journalism, KNOWS that a stable of titillating
ratings will only attract more of the viewers he seeks.
Interestingly, TV execs have brought in former Kennedy White House man
Jack Valentin to do some damage control; Valenti is head of the Motion
Picture Association of America, and is now charged with being the spin-doctor
for media conglomerates faced with public calls for regulation and
censorship. But how soon we forget the past, no? The absurd "ratings
system" in movies was basically an outgrowth of the conspitation and social
paranoia of the fifties. The Roman Catholic Church and the Legion of Decency
were beating the drums against adultery and drinking being portrayed on the
big screen; Liz Taylor was a major target back then, not only for her role in
movies like "Cleopatra" and "The Sandpiper", but for her on-and-off
relationship with Richard Burton. From pulpits across the land echoes the
charge that Hollywood was peddling immoral filth; "something" had to be done!
Like "violent" or "suggestive" TV programs or movies today, the targets of
righteous wrath were often chosen by religious prudes in cohort with the
politically ambitious. And they drew large audiences. One suspects that
many a Catholic snuck off to see Mr. Burton agonize over his dual role as a
priest and a man, tempted by the seductive eroticism of Ms. Taylor; and
today, those "action films" exercise a similar lure, racking up big audiences
at both the theater and the video rental outlets.
True, we can stand only so much Schwartzenegger and Stallone; but the same
has to be said of "good, clean, wholesome" family fare ground out in a
repetative formula by the Disney folks.
Is any of this really relevant, though? Concern over the propriety of
television programs may have been understandable during the B.C. era of
history ("before cable"). Back then, there was a small offering, usually the
Big Three with the inevitable local "independent" channel which aired bad
commercials for community businesses and whatever re-runs it could afford.
Later there was the "educational channel", which at first aired only a few
hours each day, and often featured a college professor discussing abstract
The situation is remarkably different today. There is already a dedicated
"children's network" with several imitators, and programs like "Sesame
Street" and "Shining Times Station" can easilly be found. There are hundreds
of video tapes for children and other youngsters. There is an exploding
market of inter-active instructional CD-ROMS. And there is the public
library or the local bookstore, with shelves ready to collapse under the
weight of the year's current offering of new kids books. Older children are
reading authors such as R.L.Stine whose "Goosebumps" series threatens to
displace Stephen King as the Master of Horror.
So, do we really need the legislative intervention of solons like Ernest
Hollings (D-S.C.), who is busy pushing a bill which would mandate that ONLY
programs suitable for "family viewing" be broadcast when kids "make up a
majority" of the potential audience? Does this make sense in the era of
direct-satellite broadcasts, dedicated children's networks (around the
clock), and 500-channel options?
President Clinton, however, cannot appear weak, immoral or (even worse!)
reluctant to heed the call of the religious right about "values" and
"family", and exploit it for his own political advantage. Mr. Buchanan, who
barring a miracle will not be moving into the White House next year, has
nevertheless succeeded in shifting the locus of political discourse
substantially to the right. We are in trouble when Senator Dole appears as a
moderate, or Mr. Clinton, intoxicated with his own newly-discovered
pro-family agenda, is a "progressive."
And who would have imagined four short years ago that the President of the
United States (especially the one who promised to focus on "real issues" such
as the economy and un-employment "like a laser beam!") would instead be using
his office as a bully pulpit for SCHOOL UNIFORMS?
The Education Department is set to distribute manuals to the nation's
16,000 school districts"offering legal guidance" on this faddist, hot issue.
Mr. Clinton even used his State of the Union message to admonish us that "if
it (school uniforms) means that teen-agers will stop killing ech other over
designer jackets," then by all means let's start making the kids wear them!
There is the usual spate of "studies" and annecdotal tales about how
uniforms magically decrease the incidents of violence. The same "get tough"
ethos that results in praise for the revival of prison chain gangs or public
whippings finds a new outlet. And a generation of Clinton-aged yuppies which
grew up questioning things like uniforms, arbitrary stands for hair length
and even the military draft now see the "answer" in dealing with their own
rebellious sibblings as a Catholic-esque tradition -- uniforms.
Knowing better than to offend the religious, though, Clinton has
instructed the Education Department to remind school boards that any policies
concerning unfiroms "should accomodate items worn as part of religious
expression." (USA TODAY, 2/27). A kid may not wear a sweater, or jeans, or
sneakers or "gang colors" that don't fit the "uni", but it is more than
permissible -- in fact, it is encouraged -- to wear turbans, crosses,
yarmulkes. One hesistates to ask what children raised in voodoo cults might
wish to wear in announcing THEIR religious affiliation...
If kids squabble over the clothes on their back (something that at least
in popular accounts has gone on for generations), imagine what happens when
uniforms reduce the bulk of the student body to a bland UNIFORMITY, but
accentuate differences of those who will invariably insist on advertising
their religious beliefs. Surely, the new social doctrine of
"uniformitarianism" resonates the with the warning of observers such as
Umberto Eco that we live in an age of tempting "ur-fascism", where social
regimentation, the cult of a nostalgic past, and religious fundamentalism all
Few want to question any of this, however. Ratings, unforms, religious
ritual in the public square are all part of the triumph of form over
substance, of quickie "feel-good" fixes over the requirements for critical
though and skepticism. Bill Clinton once supposedly represented a generation
that wanted to change the world. He still does. But the question is: into
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