Thinking Out Loud

June 1, 2018

When a Sitcom Cancellation is Front Page News

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:34 am

Amid everything else that happened in the world this week, the cancellation of Roseanne Barr’s eponymous #1 hit television show got far more coverage than one would expect in a world of fragmented screen choices. The network news shows, ever searching to balance out hard and soft news, found the rakish Ms. Barr’s latest escapades newsworthy, and there was much discussion about how it’s not what you Tweet, but who you are that determines the extent of the backlash and consequences.

I’m told that 200 people make up the production team. I picture scriptwriters and set designers and costume designers and sound engineers and lighting directors and camera operators. They were all due to start work on Tuesday, following the Memorial Day long weekend. Many of these, including lower-tier actors did not have a guaranteed salary.

This is the entertainment business. Easy come, easy go.

For most of my readers here, who have come to expect a faith focus in what I write, the connection today may seem hard to make, but closer revelation reveals that the program touched on some rather important themes. Generally, the farther away the story-lines stayed from politics, the more universal the message and the comedy; but that’s hard to achieve in these very narcissistic, navel-gazing times in America.

The program gave voice to the struggles of the working class in the area of the U.S. known as The Midwest, the same geographical zone that gave us the TV show The Middle, which is currently being mined for a possible spinoff to fill the Tuesday night slot. They’d have to start filming rather quickly.

Beyond the employment and economic challenges faced by the fictional Conner family, in a short eight-episode season the show dealt with inter-generational families, health care, immigration, shoplifting, gender fluidity, bullying, surrogacy, parenting, pharma-care, addiction, elder care, Muslim neighbors, union labor, FEMA; and many more issues gently alluded to in the very topical scripts.

For those whose aims including writing, acting, directing, etc., the program’s reboot proved that a situation comedy can make a difference. It can bring topics out into the open, sparking constructive discussion.

Again, this is not an unqualified endorsement nor do I agree with making a comedy script politically partisan. But I understand why the cancellation made the evening newscasts. For many people, the show simply mattered. I hope something comes along that can replace the aforementioned benefits.

I also suspect ‘The Rise and Fall of the Roseanne Reboot’ is a story still in the making. Stay tuned.

 

 

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February 27, 2018

Living Biblically: Producers, Writers and Cast Aimed for Accuracy and Sensitivity

Filed under: bible, Christianity, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:20 am

There was both a Christian pastor and a rabbi on the set while they were filming.

That, to me indicates that the creators of the situation comedy Living Biblically which debuted on CBS-TV last night were trying to avoid the many pitfalls of dealing with a sensitive subject: Religion.

Based on — they use the term inspired by — A.J. Jacobs’ book The Year of Living Biblically, the show is about a man distraught over the death of a friend who decides to live for a year (or possibly at least the nine months until his child is born) according to every precept and commandment in the Bible.

Brent McCracken previewed a few episodes for The Gospel Coalition (TGC) and noted the lengths to which the production team had gone to deal respectfully with both the Jewish and Christian faiths which share the book we call The Bible.

Living Biblically wants to be a comedy that both Christians and atheists can watch and laugh at—one that provokes both sides without belittling or dismissing them. This is not an easy task, and we’ll see if the show maintains this balance, without feeling boring or neutered, for the rest of the season.

But you can’t expect a show like this to go deep. McCracken, mindful of the perspective of TGC readers adds,

But is this really what Christianity is about? It remains to be seen whether the show will find Chip encountering Jesus, grace, the cross, and the true gospel (I’ve only previewed three episodes), or whether it will continue exploring faith through the vague, but sadly pervasive lens of moralistic therapeutic deism.

And what about the church? Aside from a few visits to a Catholic confessional booth, Chip’s journey is largely of the “personal path” variety, unencumbered by institutional accountability or ecclesial authority. And in this way his faith is a bit more Protestant. It’s just Chip, the Bible, and his experience, with dashes of “clerical guru” wisdom from his ecumenical God Squad sidekicks.

Though meant for laughs, this one-liner from Leslie (describing her husband’s spirituality) is telling: “He’s not super religious. He’s just living 100 percent by the Bible.”

That may be asking a lot of one program. This is CBS, not TBN.  However as Branson Parler at Think Christian notes:

Later episodes, however, do highlight a more complex take on what it means to live biblically in the modern world. When engaging the question of idolatry, Chip is attuned to the way in which his smartphone functions as an idol. Having smashed his phone in a Moses-like fit of rage, he dons a fanny pack in a futile attempt to replace all the functions of his smartphone. Fanny packs aside, this episode presents a more nuanced way of reading Scripture, of understanding not only the message it contained for the original audience, but thinking through what it means to be people shaped by that text in today’s context.

I only watched the one episode but I also watched a 25-minute Facebook discussion with two of the producers and four of the cast members in which I noted that they themselves had been impacted by participating in the series. Behind the project is Johnny Galecki, better known as Leonard on The Big Bang Theory. They pitched the series simultaneously to four networks and Christian Cinema reported that all four were willing to air the program.

…So why do I write all this?

Watching the comments on Twitter after the show had aired, I have to admit I got baited by a woman who found the program blasphemous. I have to admit, while I know the meaning of the word, this sent me looking for various definitions online.

While various dictionaries suggested it involved being sacrilegious, the Christian sites offered a different meaning. BibleStudy.org wrote,

The word blasphemy is mentioned fourteen times in the King James Bible. It is used only twice in the Old Testament and twelve times in the New. Two of the main Scriptures that use the word are found in the books of Matthew and Revelation. In Matthew, Christ uses the word to warn the Pharisees who accuse him of using the power of the devil to cast out demons. In Revelation, the word is used in reference to the Beast power that will soon take control of the entire world and force the worship of Satan onto all people.

BibleStudyTools.com takes this in greater detail:

In English “blasphemy” denotes any utterance that insults God or Christ (or Allah, or Muhammed) and gives deeply felt offense to their followers. In several states in the United States and in Britain, blasphemy is a criminal offense, although there have been few prosecution in this century. In Islamic countries generally no distinction is made between blasphemy and heresy, so that any perceived rejection of the Prophet or his message, by Muslims or non-Muslims, is regarded as blasphemous.

The biblical concept is very different. There is no Hebrew word equivalent to the English “blasphemy, ” and the Greek root blasphem- [blasfhmevw], which is used fifty-five times in the New Testament, has a wide meaning. In both Testaments the idea of blasphemy as something that offends the religious sensibilities of others is completely absent.

I did not see blasphemy by either definition in this program.

I told her she needed to lighten up. Like many, she fails to grasp the place for humor and satire, something we got into here a few weeks ago in this column.  There I noted,

The enemy of The Church today is not those who poke fun at our sacred cows, but the people who simply walk away. I responded to the woman who left the comment:

…For what it’s worth, “hardened hearts” don’t engage. They walk away. They are apathetic. Most of us read something like this and it’s very easy to resonate with the spirit of it, and that is fully compatible — to me at least — with being indwelt by the Spirit of Christ.

Sadly, the person who wrote to me said I had “lost another reader.” In other words, she chose to walk away rather than engage.

See also this article — especially its second half — on being able to laugh at ourselves.

I thoroughly enjoyed the premiere last night and look forward to next week’s program. It raises some interesting themes, and offers what I would call a healthier Hollywood perspective. I hope the “holy rollers” as one Facebook comment called them don’t mess this up with complaints and criticisms.

The humor in Living Biblically is because of the way in which the characters respond to what the Bible says, not at the expense of the book itself.

 

 

 

August 17, 2017

Skye Jethani on News Media; Then, and Later, and Now

Skye Jethani ran this as a series of 20 Twitter posts on Thursday morning. I thought he’d post it to his blog, but in the absence of that wanted to make sure more people got to see it.

by Skye Jethani

Here’s what’s on my mind: Cultural division, the media, and the Civil War. Does 19th century media explain what’s happening today?

Newspapers before and during the Civil War were hopelessly biased in both the North and South. Many twisted facts into “fake news.”  There’s no doubt a steady diet of biased news fueled the divide between North and South and contributed to the profits of a media industry fueled by the new technology of the telegraph allowing for much faster reporting then ever before. Part of the problem was that neither side engaged reporting from the other. Media was highly regional with the opposing point of view rarely presented fairly. It was a fragmented and siloed media landscape that made generative dialogue difficult if not impossible.

The media landscape changed dramatically in the 20th century again due to tech. Radio and then TV created for the first time a national media that could speak to the whole country instantly. It was also an age of external threats where the country rallied together to fight WWI and WWII. The focus on external enemies continued with the Cold War. For much of 20th century regional media differences were overshadowed by a united national media. A handful of outlets spoke to all of us. Remember when Cronkite was the most trusted man in America?

A new wave of tech, this time digital, has erased the unifying media landscape of the 20th century and my childhood. Instead, we’re returning to the pre-Civil War fragmentation where we only hear the voices that agree with us, and where opposition voices are silenced or mis-characterized. The divide is not geographic this time but socio-graphic as social media curates our ‘friends’ and ‘networks’ into like-minded bundled for marketing purposes.

Many look at what’s happening today and the divisions splintering the country as an abnormal, new development. I worry the relative media unity of the 20th century may have been the abnormality, and America is simply returning to the fractured existence that has plagued us since 1776. Without a serious external threat (King George III, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, USSR), and without a common national and trusted media, we may be returning to the unsustainable conditions of the 19th century that ultimately led to civil war.

When we’ve faced such existential threats in the past it was the virtue of great leaders that has kept us united. Washington galvanized thirteen colonies into a single nation. Lincoln preserved the Union with deft leadership and uncommon wisdom. We need that kind of executive vision, virtue, and resolve no less in these times. God help us, we have none.

God help us.


Skye Jethani is an author, speaker, consultant and ordained pastor. He also serves as the co-host of the popular Phil Vischer Podcast and writes the With God daily devotional, emailed to subscribers worldwide. Skye is a former editor for Christianity Today and Leadership Journal magazines. skyejethani.com  @SkyeJethani

March 12, 2016

Sitcom Bait and Switch

Real O'Neals

At first I wasn’t going to watch. My broadcast television viewing — beyond the 6:30 newscasts — is limited to a couple of sitcoms which are basically time to de-stress. Besides, I have to justify owning the monster in the living room. Then I decided I’d give it a couple of episodes after all.

Billed as “an Irish-Catholic comedy,” The Real O’Neals is a mid-season replacement that joins a rather huge stable of ABC family-centered sitcoms such as Last Man Standing, Blackish, Fresh of the Boat, The Middle, The Goldbergs, Modern Family, etc. Only Dr. Ken is primarily workplace-centered.

Make no mistake, there is an Irish element and a Roman Catholic element to each episode. As a religion writer, that’s what drew me in. How would they portray the family? The mom, played by Martha Plimpton — who is somewhat of a carbon copy of the mother in The Goldbergs — had a bit of rant at the beginning of the episode broadcast Tuesday that sounded more Evangelical than anything. And the cross — definitely not a crucifix — in the background of one scene looked like someone in set design missed a detail. At least they got the Bingo Night part right.

Oh, and Jesus appears in each episode, but only one family member can see him.

But make no mistake, The Real O’Neals is the story of gay teenager’s coming out as gay to his family, to his girlfriend, and then to the community at large. Noah Galvin plays Kenneth “Kenny” O’Neal and his character is, in my view, the central one of the show. If anything, Kenny is a role model for gay teens and the program is thereby a “How To” manual for youth in a similar position.

Some in the gay community may feel the show kept a safe distance from some issues, but I’m sure that high school students, gay or straight, would give this a more positive review.

You Me and the Apocalpyse

In a way, the show parallels the British/American co-production, You, Me and the Apocalypse. Despite the presence of a priest or two and a nun, and frequent scripture citations from Revelation in the first few episodes, any religious elements in the plot generally take a backseat to the action, adventure, suspense and intrigue.

There is the element of people claiming that the impending impact on earth of a giant meteor is actually the second coming of Jesus Christ but the key priest, Father Jude, played by a chain-smoking Rob Lowe, who must deal with Messiahs and rumors of Messiahs, is really part of a larger purpose and his clergy status is almost incidental as the series progresses. The show is really about the convergence of four very disparate people and plot-lines

Full disclosure: I bailed after four episodes. My wife watched the whole series — it has already aired in the UK — and filled me on the six scripts I am missing. I found the show terribly dark and have no idea why it aired at 8:00 PM in the U.S.

…With both The O’Neals and Apocalypse, I think the producers are playing on the American interest in all things spiritual while in fact furthering a different agenda. It’s not that Christians are misrepresented, but that the religious element is almost secondary to the larger plot.

 

October 3, 2015

Weekend Link List

Thought we'd spend a Saturday on the links.

Thought we’d spend a Saturday on the links

blank calendarIf you’re the type that tracks blood moons and Shemitah years, in North America, the change to Standard Time this month is the same night as Halloween. I’m sure this must mean something to John Hagee and Jonathan Cahn.

Selections from the cutting room floor this week, and recent additions:

  • “‘Kids, put away the phones and iPads,’ I announced. ‘We’re going to watch a movie and all look at the same screen the way God intended.'” Skye Jethani looks at what it means to be alone together.
  • The campus newspaper of the state university in Idaho refused an advertisement from a creationist group saying, “many of their claims could be construed as overtly belligerent to our readership.” The university defended the newspaper’s actions.
  • Al Menconi reviews Joe Amaral’s The Story in the Stars DVD. “I’m convinced that Story In The Stars needs to be seen and understood by every Christian in the world and should be taught in every Bible class and science class at every Christian school in the world. This isn’t just an interesting documentary, it is a biblical way to understand what has been right in front of our eyes for thousands of years.”
  • Tensions in the SBC summarized: “We have been pulling on a loose thread for quite some time. Now, it is finally unraveling.” The author expresses five concerns, the fifth of which concerns the role of Dr. Russell Moore: “Moore speaks when I would be silent and remains silent when I would speak. Most of the time, I do not find him representing my views as a Southern Baptist in the public square. Rather, he lectures me on what he thinks my views ought to be.”
  • Zondervan releases a new book by Alan Chambers, former President of Exodus International: “After closing Exodus, the Chambers thought of starting a new organization, but realized quickly that they wanted off the public stage. ‘We wanted to be Alan and Leslie Chambers for a time,’ he said.Around the same time, the couple apologized to the LGBT community on national TV for any hurt Exodus may have caused with their assertion that reorientation of same-sex attraction is possible. “’We wanted people to know we had a sincere change of heart,’ said Chambers.” A review of My Exodus at Publisher’s Weekly.
  • “A Colorado court has issued an arrest warrant for Teen Mania Ministries founder Ron Luce for failing to appear at a hearing last month, according to court documents…in connection to Compassion International’s lawsuit against Teen Mania…Charity Navigator ranks Teen Mania as the nation’s fifth-most insolvent charity with a net worth of negative-$5.2 million.” More at World Magazine.
  • Essay of the Weekend: The new ABC-TV prime time version of The Muppets flies in the face of Jim Henson’s original vision. “…the show suffers from what, since the finale of Seinfeld, has become an overused writing gimmick: no real resolution to the characters’ problems.That’s a far cry from Henson’s original hope of leaving the world a little better than he found it.” I guess it’s not easy being green.
  • Canadian Corner: For this academic, with an federal election just a few weeks away, the problem isn’t that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is Evangelical, it’s that he’s not Evangelical enough. “Ironically, it might be well for the Prime Minister to be a little more afraid than he seems to be about the end of the world: whether brought on by global climate change, the proliferation of war, or the pent-up fury of oppressed peoples.” The environment is a critical issue in the October 19th vote.
  • Finally, the next time you’re eating pecans think of this: Federal labor law enforces say that children from the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, some as young as 6 or 7 were forced to work as much as 14-hour days, including kids who had peanut allergies.

December 28, 2010

1,000,000 Channel World

Filed under: media — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:48 pm

Seth Godin blogged this a few days before Christmas, where it appeared under the title…

Three ways TV changed everything (and what’s next)

TV changes everyone it touches.

TV brings mass. For fifty years, TV meant that programmers and advertisers had a very good chance to reach everyone, or almost everyone, at the same time. TV integrates a culture, because there’s instant common touchstones being generated daily. (When I say, “yadda yadda yadda” or “where’s the beef,” you know what I mean, right?)

TV brings pluralism and diversity.  This seems to contradict the first, but it doesn’t. Once TV has opened a channel to the brain, it can bring in whatever it chooses, without clearing it with you first. So, the viewer can discover that people-who-don’t-look-like-us aren’t so different, or that women might be good cops, or that a member of the [insert oppressed group] might also be a person too.

and finally, TV brings dissatisfaction.  Advertising needs to make you dissatisfied to work. And picture perfect sitcom families have more money and less trouble than most folks (because they’re not real).

Now, of course, TV isn’t what it used to be. No more three-channel universe. That means that the cable/internet virus changes everyone in a very different way. Call it the million channel world (mcw).

The mcw brings addressability. There is no mass any more. You can’t reach everyone. Mad Men is a hit and yet it has only been seen by 2% of the people in the USA.

The mcw bring silos, angry tribes and insularity. Fox News makes a fortune by pitting people against one another. Talkingpointsmemo is custom tailored for people who are sure that the other side is wrong. You can spend your entire day consuming media and never encounter a thought you don’t agree with, don’t like or don’t want to see.

And finally, I have no idea if the mcw is making us happy. Surely, a substantial use is time wasting social network polishing, and that’s not really building anyone’s long-term happiness. And the mcw makes it easier to get angry, to waste time (there’s never ‘nothing on’) or become isolated. Without a doubt, the short-term impact of mcw is that it makes it easy to spread terror and harder to settle on the truth. At the same time, there’s no doubt that more people are connected to more people, belong to more tribes, have more friends, and engage more often than they did before it got here. We got rid of some gatekeepers, but there’s a race for some new ones. In the meantime, a lot of smart people are fending for themselves, which isn’t so bad.

One thing we learned from the TV age that’s still true: more media is not always better, particularly when we abdicate our power to filter and choose.

March 3, 2010

B(link) and You’ll Miss It

Don’t miss this week’s links or else!

  • The blog Man of Depravity considers why websites like Church Rater are a bad idea;  and then, the next day, considers why they might be a good great idea.
  • Catholic seminarian Mike G. provides our “classic art meets modern convenience” photo images at right, from his blog The Night Is Passing.
  • It was actually a good week for discovering Catholic bloggers.  That’s where I discovered Nick Alexander aka the Catholic Weird Al Yankovic.  This YouTube video explains the traditions of Lent and Ash Wednesday.  (Also recommended for fans of The Police!) [HT: The Ironic Catholic]
  • Blog of the Week:  You think you know a thing or two about Bibles don’t you?   But forget translation for a minute; what about types of leather, binding, gilding, fonts, features, etc?   That’s where you need to know someone like J. Mark Bertrand at the Bible Design Blog. [HT: Christian Book Shop Talk]
  • Pastor Ed Young raps his way through an admonition to pastors to be themselves in a video simply called UBU.  [HT: Wil Mancini]
  • New word of the week: “Acedia.”   If you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, you may be in the company of early church saints, therefore Catholic author Kathleen Norris wants you to know this word.
  • David Housholder explains why you’ve never met any missional Lutherans, or read any Lutheran prophecy books for that matter, at this lengthy but extremely interesting and well-written post at his Journal blog.  Seriously, don’t miss this one.
  • Ruth Wilkinson (who may or may not be related to me) now has a new relationship to crucifixes.
  • Book Review:  Jamie Arpin-Ricci looks at The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray (Herald Press) (forward by Greg Boyd) in this excellent summary.
  • Storytime:  Mark Sayers walks us through The Parable of the Lotus, The Impossiblly Handsome Man and The Church.   A must read for pastors and leaders especially.
  • Here are some pictures of the damage in Chili from the weekend earthquake at Boston.Com’s The Big Picture.
  • Internal Link:  I really thought Friday’s piece on Peter Rollins’ interpretation of The Prodigal Son story would have evoked a comment or two.   When did the younger son actually repent?
  • A USAToday article about sex on television warns that things are scheduled to get worse.  [HT: Brett Hendrix at Changing Lanes]
  • For the third week in a row we return to Baptist Press for our cartoon, this one is Doug Michael at Beyond The Ark.

October 7, 2009

Robert Schuller Broadcast Date Announced

OK, so I’m a slave to blog stats.   Nothing drives traffic here like updated info on the rather public family feud between Robert A. Schuller (the younger) and Robert H. Schuller (the elder).   However, some are finding the information hard to come by, so I suppose we’re performing a valid service here.

So the official date is now set:  Thanksgiving Weekend.   (That’s U.S. Thanksgiving for my Canadian readers, not ours, which is this weekend.)  Sunday, November 29th to be specific.

The show will launch on American Life Network (ALN) and the “thirteen week scripted dramatic series” titled Everyday Life will kick off as a holiday special.

Schuller Everyday Life article that wouldn't copy and paste

In other words, using narrative story instead of traditional preaching.   Brian McLaren and Donald Miller should like this approach.

You can read more here.

October 1, 2009

Can a Christian Watch Oprah?

Filed under: issues, Religion — Tags: , , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:34 pm

O magazineNo, actually I am being serious.   I’m just wondering how long it takes — past the special guests and the new care giveaways — before Oprah’s worldview starts to infect her viewers.

And with this question I’m not talking about viewers in general, I’m talking about otherwise discerning Christians.   Or maybe not so discerning.

Oprah’s worldview is shaped by a number of factors, not the least of which is the books she reads, a few of which become the books she recommends.   And without fail, all of these books are titles and authors that many Christian leaders find somewhat disturbing.   (And no, The Shack was never an Oprah book club selection.)

So whaddya think?   How long before Oprah’s spirituality and philosophy becomes yours?  But remember when you comment that this blogger has never actually watched more than about five minutes of the program.

Comments
Some people like to comment on ‘current’ blog posts and won’t touch anything with yesterday’s date.   Please remember — especially readers outside North America — that we’re at the end of the timezone continuum here in the US and Canada; plus this blog generally posts late in the day.   So don’t let it stop you from weighing in here at Thinking Out Loud.

February 16, 2009

Parents: Do You Know What Your Kids Are Watching on YouTube?

As a responsible parent you’re probably up-to-date on everything that your cable or satellite provider has to offer; but what about the video content provider of choice for most tweens, YouTube?    Here’s a question to ask yourself, can you name the rather innocent looking kid in the picture below?

lucas-cruikshank-fred-youtube

The actor’s name is Lucas Cruikshank and he’s 15 years old.   But that’s irrelevant.   Your kids know him as Fred Figglehorn and the character he represents is only 6 years old.   The Fred channel on YouTube is described by Wikipedia as: “… the most subscribed and most viewed, with over 800,000 subscribers.”  This has brought Cruikshank over $100,000 (USD) in advertising income, not to mention the future prospects of product merchandising, endorsements, and appearances on more mainstream media, such as today’s appearance on iCarly on Nickelodeon.

The character Fred speaks in a seemingly helium-induced high voice — actually it’s just film sped up — and is based on Cruikshank’s two younger siblings.   With some of the short videos having received over 10 million views, and a total of over 158 million for the series,  it would seem like all is well.

Not even close.   Parents should be concerned upon discovery of the more disturbing elements in the  ‘plotline’ of these innocent looking vids.   I’ve watched about ten of them over the past few days; here’s a mix of what Wikipedia says with some observations of my own:

  • fred-in-characterFred has real anger management issues; he ‘loses it’ frequently
  • Fred regularly breaks into his friend Judy’s house, more or less ransacking her bedroom or crashing her parties
  • With a character age of only six, Fred posts his videos using his mom’s YouTube account
  • His mom is an alcoholic who the Wikipedia article states, “gets money from standing on street corners.”   Hmm…
  • His father is in prison on death row
  • One episode implied that Fred has been a victim of child abuse, locked in a dog cage for three days
  • Fred has befriended a stray cat in the garage who he calls, “the cat with rabies;” he also befriends local small dogs which he thinks are squirrels
  • While actress Lily Tomlin regularly played the preschool child Edith Anne, there are elements of Cruikshank’s portrayal of a six-year old, that are somewhat creepy and not true to the supposed age.
  • Despite the above,  an internet filter would probably not kick in to block the videos

New media are delivering images to your computer faster than mainstream media can keep you, the parent, properly informed.    My suggestion is that you watch several of these — either with your child or better yet, while the kids are at school — and decide for yourself if this gets a thumbs up or thumbs down in your house. My guess is that regular readers of this blog will decide on the thumbs down approach, even if “all the other kids at school get to watch it.”

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