April 28

Tuesday, April 28th

Good morning, Good morning,

There was book written in 1974, “The Subliminal Seduction,” authored by Wilson Bryan Key, that addressed the art of pyscho-social manipulation in the modern advertising industry.  It was hailed by few and panned by most.  The one saving grace for the book and its contents deals with the author’s familiarity with the wizard of Hollywood’s subculture in promoting itself.  The wizard’s name was Marshall McLuhan, professor from the University of Toronto.  That was the hook for me.  In my mind McLuhan’s insights have always been more prophetic for a future culture rather than a simple classroom distraction.

As a side note.  One of my professors at the John Paul II Institute, Kenneth Schmitz, was also a professor at the University of Toronto and was a very close friend to McLuhan.  He once told a group of us that McLuhan was a very devout Catholic and the two of them would serve as ushers at Mass on Sunday.  McLuhan also invited his students to join him and his family for Sunday night dinner.  The one condition involved the rosary.  Any who would the family for dinner had to stay for the family rosary.  So un-Hollywood.

Of note.  The Subliminal Seduction was probably sold for a couple of dollars when I first read it in 1974.  Today if you try to get it on line from E-bay or Amazon it may cost you between 35 and $70.00.  Hmm?  Somebody wants it.  I leave you with those who panned the book.  skeptoid.com/episodes/4063?gclid=Cj0KCQjwhZr1BRCLARIsALjRVQPOJTQvT3hHYJZ8oaUS9A2RNvS2D6MC4NX4R5si6weOj8PKvop8fA0aAliYEALw_wcB

Why pick the website with the critics of the Subliminal Seduction?  With the criticism I am reminded the Shakespearean Play, “Julius Caesar.”  Mark Antony speaks:  “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” Such has happened in the case of Wilson Bryan Key and his book, “Subliminal Seduction.”

www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/56968/speech-friends-romans-countrymen-lend-me-your-ears

In short the theme of the “Subliminal Seduction” focuses on our ability to be manipulated with the concepts of:  anger, sex, and fear.   In our contemporary world experience we might refer to them as tools of, “fake news.” And, in our lockdown we should be very careful with the many news programs that impact our emotions of anger, fear, and despair.  Too much of a good thing…can be very harmful to our personal attitudes and agendas that impact everyone under the same roof for many weeks on end.  As a take off from the Hill Street Blues Series… Let’s be careful “in” there.  Let us pray for one another.

As such the same themes played out in the ancient Greek plays and now continue to the modern large screen movies as well the small screen television dramas and sitcoms.  The modern medium might involve a sound or theme that prepares one for a frightening display of death and destruction.  If so, just turn off the sound. The medium might be a commercial for battered and neglected pets that so readily twists our emotions of guilt and anger.  If so, change the station or turn off the TV. Some shows make use of canned laughter to help carry the subtle humor.  In the modern social Medias we are easily affected by the subliminal intentions of others.  “Caveat Emptor.” Let the buyer beware.

Long before the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington on September 11, 2001 there was an awareness that Western culture faced a great menace in the spread of communism, and later terrorism, across the planet.  There was nothing new in that concern.  Hollywood has been playing war movies since World War I’s epic, “Wings.” It also offered a substantial number of religious movies following World War II. The religious interests on the big screen would follow to a more subtle introduction of religion into the later shows found on the small screen.

During the 1960s a documentary was presented on the work of movie director John Ford when, during World War II, he joined his video crews going to the warzones in the South Pacific.  It was called, “Hollywood Goes to War.”  Since the attacks on Twin Towers in 2001 there has been an interesting dynamic on how Hollywood ventures into the world.  Oh, there may have been a rise on terrorist movies but there was also a quiet movement to religious themes, by Jews and Christian Directors/Producers, in humor as well as drama.  A new documentary, for our time, should be cast, “Hollywood goes to Church.”

This letter is dedicated to all of us who were weaned on modern television dramas and comedies.  You know, for those who, today, step onto an empty elevator, and in the voice of Jean Luc Picard, calls out, “Bridge.”  Or his ancient counterpart, James T. Kirk, “Make it so.” For years we would hear the words of Telly Savalas, Kojak… “Hey, who loves you baby?” Others may have been affected by the subtle humor that was quick and cynical found in, “Hawkeye Pierce” of Mash.  Or who calls out, “Good night John Boy” when the lights go out at night.  Today, in the post 9/11 world the continental neighbors America/Canada have been introduced to a new and enhanced level of innocence and goodness through the Hallmark Channel.  Each venue exemplifies the subliminal forces that affects the modern culture for better.

For those at home in front of their televisions sets a good many hours of the day during the pandemic let us consider some of the outstanding producers of past media successes.  A good many were Jewish, some more overt than others.  Some were secular Jews whose shows were just that, very secular.  Others, often with the assistance of the Jews, offered a commanding influence of Protestant standards in marriage and family life.  And, finally, there was a Catholic element in the productions in cinema.

The outstanding series of the ‘60s-80s was Star Trek.  Gene Roddenberry was a student of science fiction and incorporated his Jewish religion into the series with a great affect.  Two of his great stars, Spock and Kirk, were themselves Jewish.  Spock, actor Leonard Nimoy, once explained the origin of the Vulcan hand gesture, while he stated “Live long and prosper.” https://www.jweekly.com/2019/11/29/to-boldly-go-where-courageous-jews-have-gone-before/

Another outstanding producer who flaunted his Jewish ancestry…Mel Brooks.  “May the Schwartz be with you.” In the role of comedy there was none better than Brooks.  Who of us remembers Moses coming down the mountain with “three” tablets announcing, “we have fifteen commandments.”  He accidentally drops one, with delayed announcement, “we have ten commandments.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nXeTsWGPT0w He was the all-time comic producer.

Other Jewish producers did very well for themselves in a more secular vain.   Sherwood Schwartz, of Gilligan’s Island fame and the Brady Bunch.  Quinn Martin, of Twelve O’clock High, Barnaby Jones, The Invaders, The Untouchables, and The FBI.  And Jerry Buckheimer with CSI and associate shows.

There were plenty of Protestant producers who brought their Faith into the realm of the big and small screens.  Many, in collaboration with the great Larry Levinson, a Jew, offered a great impact on the Hallmark Chanel with “When Calls the Heart,” or the “Love Comes Softly Series” (My mother’s favorite.) or “Shadow on the Mesa” (Another favorite at home) and many more shows.  Other producers, such as Michael Landon offered a great view of frontier life in “Little House on the Prairie.” He even added Merlin Olson as Fr. Murphy.  The same can be said of the many producers for the Waltons and their portrayal of family life in the mountains of Virginia.

The outstanding Catholic producer was, and is, Donald Bellisario.  He produced:  Magnum PI, Quantum Leap, Airwolf, JAG, and NCIS.  And that is where our story for today finds a start. The early Bellisario shows were fairly simple and secular in their plots.  The one exception was in the final episode of the Quantum Leap series.

The plot of the series featured that there some undefined force guiding a scientist, Dr. Sam Becket, travelling through time to help right the wrongs of certain events in the past.  In the closing scene of the final episode the hero, Sam Becket, finds himself in a bar in a coal mining town in mid-‘50s Pennsylvania coming to grips on identifying the force.  Bellisario ties in the image of the Catholic priesthood with in the final scene of the series with Sam’s overwhelming desire to go home.  Not happening, but he is allowed a sabbatical to correct the marriage failure of his partner, Al, whose wife remarried after assuming he was killed in Vietnam.  The sabbatical was to return to the mid-1960’ inform the wife, Beth, not to give up hope, her husband would return from the Vietnamese Prison and their life would be fulfilled. Well done.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBHaESuz_f0

And now the rest of the story.  The technical advisor to the JAG series, Admiral James “Battleax” Gilchrist USN (ret.) had children and grandchildren who lived in an earlier assignment of mine at St. John’s Parish in McLean, Virginia.  We would meet up at Baptisms and First Communions for the grandkids.  We had a great old time covering the various details and dynamics of his show, JAG. I was an ardent fan.  He once asked me if there was anything I would suggest for the benefit of the series.  I mentioned they cover every aspect of the Navy except the chaplain corps.  And, in some ways, that’s where the world of JAG changed.

Through the admiral, Donald Bellisario sent his regards for the suggestion and he included two episodes from the JAG library that were never aired.  With that I sent a dozen roses to the JAG librarian, Tina Albanese, for the two videos.  She informed me that she had just married the actor from the show, “Bud Roberts,” played by Patrick Labyorteaux.  God bless them.

Patrick and Tina Labyorteaux, and Jeau

Two weeks after my suggestion the producers displayed the opening trailer for the show in which the chaplain corps was playing the JAG corps in a softball game.  A nice start.  Next a series of shows with actor Gerald Rainey, whose character was a former Marine in Vietnam, who lost his chaplain to death and was guiding him from beyond the grave  He could see the chaplain clear as day when no one else could. .  The reception by the fans for the Rainey character was overwhelming.

Another show involved an Irish priest from the Vatican Office for Saints doing an investigation on a dead chaplain who was being considered for Sainthood.  And still a phenomenal episode on Sarah MacKenzie dealing with her dying father and her discussions with the Franciscan chaplain in the Nursing Home.  In the beginning of that particular episode I considered the priest something of a weak sister but by the end with the strength of his convictions and zeal for souls I thought the character was well written … assuming only a priest could have written it that well. (Sorry, please excuse the personal prejudice by the foolish pastor.) It was one of the best shows.  And still more episodes would follow with the father of JAG lawyer, Sturgis Turner.  His father was a Baptist minister-chaplain from the Vietnam era. I don’t know if, in the JAG series, Hollywood found God or God found Hollywood. Bellisario did a nice job in the introduction of both to each other.

On a follow up visit the admiral spoke of an enthusiasm in the production crew and writers.  They wanted more ideas.  I gave them one from my sister Marie Therese, a nurse at Johns Hopkins.  She had a nurse on a US Navy ship out in the distant region of the Pacific Ocean when there was an explosion on board.  Too many wounded for the sick bay.  They stretched out the wounded in the galley for four days before they could get close enough for the wounded to be air lifted out.   That idea was used for the annual Christmas show that year.  As a treat to the fans each year the actors would take on different roles in an episode completely foreign to the JAG series.  The scene for the Christmas show that year was a World War II Hospital Ship attacked by Japanese kamikaze.  Harmon Rab, played by actor David James Elliot, was a wounded Marine.  Sarah McKenzie, played by actress, Catherine Bell, was a Navy Nurse.  The admiral, AJ Chegwhidden, played by actor John J. Jackson, served as the Navy chaplain in the show.  God bless Bellisario… he remembered the chaplain.

The fellas in the rectory asked me after dinner last night what is my favorite movie.  If not “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” it would be, “The Keys of the Kingdom.” Where Hollywood meets God in an extraordinary way.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBHaESuz_f0   I read the book, by AJ Cronin when I was a sophomore in high school and it had a great impact on my thoughts in priesthood that would take me far from home.   Nonetheless, Hollywood did well with Gregory Peck as Fr. Chisum.

Hollywood would repeat itself when they selected Peck to be Fr .Hugh O’Flaherty, in the “Scarlet and the Black.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwZbFtM_AAc&list=PL55qguI2e4DoRcz4ti5hlLrGnqsRbFKXv    Another favorite of mine.

Enjoy.  Let us pray for one another.

 

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