Sunday, February 25, 2007


Jesus Camp brings back those wonderful days spent in the creepy churches my maternal grandparents attended. People lathered and spitting gibberish, the laying on of hands, continuous re-interpretation of the news using The Book of Revelations. One fun afternoon featured the condemnation of a waitress at the local Denny's as a witch because one church-goer got ill after her Grand Slam breakfast: eye of newt, frog's leg, mandrake and salmonella. Fortunately Evangelical cultists can't sally forth with brands and ignite the targets of their wrath any more. At least not yet.

There are terrifying scenes of brainwashed children hugging a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, and several close-ups of beautiful babies bawling out their desire for righteous judges made me want to contact social services. But I'm not so horrified by this documentary as other lefties. I lived through many Vacation Bible School experiences, complete with End Times Puppet Theater and the condemnation of everyone whose mindset didn't precisely mirror the conventional wisdom of rural Adams County, PA. I have faith that many of the charismatic, talented, and bright kids featured in Jesus Camp will end up like the youngins I knew at VBS: suspicious of the entire Jesus industry at the least, and diehard contrary to organized faith at best. We always found a place during break to smoke and play doctor just behind the brick barbecue on the far side of the parking lot, and I don't doubt the same things go on at Jesus Camp, where the kids are compelled for a variety of reasons to behave a certain way while the parents are around.

Ironically in my experience the most devout Bible-thumpers get knocked up at 16 and have abortions, then start in on Glade huffing before moving to less aromatic crystal meth use. The firebrand preacher at Gramma's Gettysburg looney bin absconded with the church till after being found with a suitcase full of heroin in the rectory. He ended up in China.

Many Evangelicals whose shuttered beliefs are based in fiery self-loathing find fuel in hateful churches, and none of us should get too exercised about them. Yes, they are alarming, their views are painfully moribund and childish, and their Christianity is buffoonish thuggery based in the worst bits of Leviticus. There are many millions of them to boot, and they are organized and powerful and anti-democratic.

But they have always been organized, powerful, and anti-democratic, and the Republic has fumbled forward. Read any page at random in the collected works of H.L. Mencken, who had the best solution. Expose their foolishness, hypocrisy, and influence wherever possible, and drive a stake of bitter satire through their hearts. Let's hope the crashing fall of Bush and his fundy crowd minimizes Evangelical/Pentecostal political influence for a generation at least.

Most of the right-wing end-timers I grew up around were good citizens with limited exposure to outside ideas. Perhaps we need secularist missions to go deep into red country, funded by Soros.

I like best documentaries about things I don't know, and I know very little about the hardcore scene in the early 1980s. I was living in northern Baltimore County at the time, attending a school with its own space/time fabric. We didn't even have suburbia to rebel against. Any movement whose primary goal was anti-Reaganism is alright by me, and American Hardcore brings those days back with a vengeance.

There were a handful of Black Flag devotees at Hereford High, but they were merely another clan amongst the dozens of others: burnouts, jocks, hippies, cheerleaders, nerds, metal heads, etc. They didn't fit in with the prevailing Southern Rock aesthetics to say the least.

American Hardcore
has lots of VHS footage of old shows by bands like Bad Brains, DOA, the Circle Jerks, Jerry's Kids, etc. There are interesting interviews about the scene with lots of key players from DC, LA, Austin, OC. My favorite part was a great clip of some guy in the audience trying to get into a fight with Henry Rollins, who tautingly plays with his tormentor before punching the shit out of him. A good time was had by all. I'm sure fans will kvetch that certain bands are ignored, but I'm out of the loop there.

What ties the doc together most are its fantastic graphics and innovative design. Love the clever logo play and the appropriately gloomy gray and black maps. Excellent use of montage and rapid-fire collage. Very polished and engaging.

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