Community: Comparative Religion

“Ho ho ho! Merry Happy!”

Knock, knock: a Christian, a Muslim, a Jehovah’s Witness, a Jew (say the whole word!), an atheist, an agnostic (lazy man’s atheist!), and a level-five laser lotus in a Buddhist community walk into a study room. Who’s there?

Religious satire isn’t easy, especially given the limitations of network television’s dependence on keeping everyone happy. Satire—a critique of an aspect of society—always has an implicit solution. Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” for instance, presents the problem of cruelty and implies the solution of not treating the Irish like cattle. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show presents the problem of ignorance and offers the solution of education and tolerant secularism. But what solution can Community possibly provide to the problem of how to conduct ourselves as people of faith (or without faith) in a non-like-minded group situated within an (allegedly secular but increasingly Christian) country that assumes everyone participates in Christmas, even if it’s just for the gifts?

The solution is, of course, community, friendship, and loving respect for one another. Community introduce the false tension of fighting like toddlers vs. the loving kindness implicit in some religions—which could possibly win out? Yeah, it’s loving kindness.

Just not for the other guys. The study group, in Jeff’s words, showed up and had his back against “those fly dancers” led by Anthony Michael Hall, and thereby reaffirmed the trans-doctrinal dictates of friendship and taking care of one another. Some mild slaughter to mark a religious occasion has some precedent, too. (I’m thinking of Anya’s “It’s a ritual sacrifice. With pie.”)

Community sidesteps the question of religious difference, replacing it with a firm us-versus-them dynamic that is either a touching demonstration of the power of love (optimistic reading) or a horrifying example of immature, violent behavior that values atavistic behavior over rational discourse (pessimistic reading).

And it works. Our affinity for the study group—and our dislike of mustachioed men who cut the sleeves off their sweatshirts—means we delight in seeing our group affirmed and support the violence they have engaged in, because it brought everyone (we care about) closer together. Community dangles the possibility of religious satire in front of us, and presents us with what ought to be a troubling demonstration of blind, violent adherence to the notion of “us” when confronted with the problem of “them.” But it does so with such subtlety that we feel warmed rather than warned, even as we are aware of the dark underpinnings of this portrayal of group loyalty.

All that sounds rather negative, so I feel compelled to offer a disclaimer: I don’t like the assumption so prevalent on television that we all engage in some form of Christmas, as though it were a secular holiday and everyone is just a Christian waiting to happen, anyway. We don’t see people coming together and realizing the power of a weekly Shabbat that emphasizes family, friends, and not answering phones from Friday night to Saturday night—even though that simple act, while inspired by religion, is often in practice far more secular and valuing of community than the consumerist nightmare that is Christmas. And I say all of that as someone who was raised Catholic, has very few objections to Catholicism (the ones I do have are mostly the obvious ones), and regularly celebrates and enjoys Christmas with such traditional activities as family time, roast beast, church, and presents. But as long as we Americans continue to implicitly assume the Christian-as-default-setting idea, we’re setting the stage for the increased intrusion of religious values into secular discourse. And the only people who think that’s a good idea are those whose religious values are the ones making such intrusions.

Mark Says...

I've never really been one for Christmas episodes. Not because I don't like Christmas. I love it, but strictly from a materialistic perspective. I'm in it for the gifts and the sweets. Nothing more. All that sentimental 'God bless us, everyone' malarkey just isn't for me. And that's partially why I find Christmas episodes off-putting. They are just too schmaltzy for my liking.

I wasn't raised by a family that watched It's A Wonderful Life. No, I'm from a family that considers Die Hard and Gremlins to be the only acceptable forms of festive entertainment (and The Muppet Christmas Carol, obviously). I grew up expecting Christmas to be a time of conflict and chaos, massive property destruction, terrorist takeovers, little green monsters running amuck and Yippee ki-yays, motherf**kers!

For me Christmas just isn't Christmas if there isn't at least a boat load of violence, death and mayhem (and Muppets, obviously). Which is why I'm rather fond of this episode. It is the heart-warming story of a culturally diverse group of friends, coming together at Christmas time to help beat the crap out of a gang of bullies lead by one of The Breakfast Club. And also to learn about the most effective use of the Forrest Whitaker eye:


Very good, Troy. Jeff, I think yours needs a little more work.


A little less Spock, a bit more Ghost Dog.

Cool Cool Cool:

• Dean Pelton: “Rumor has it that non-denominational Mr. Winter is on his way to the student lounge.”

• Shirley: “Oh, Annie, I didn’t know you were…not Christian.”
Annie: “Yes. One might even say I’m Jewish.”

• Troy: “Do you know how foolish you sound? What else do you believe in, blood transfusions?”

• Anthony Michael Hall: “Dude, my life is a gym!”

• Guy: “Please, it’s Christmas!”
Shirley: “It’s December tenth.”

Three out of four Christmas Troys.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

6 comments:

celticmarc said...

roast beast !!??!

Really ? We used to go with turkey (but hey, I'm Canadian) (different tastes I guess)

Seeing your reviews these days give me an interest of rewatching the fist season again. But, that Island already keeps me busy....

Josie Kafka said...

It's actually a strange...pork Wellington? thing that we have each Christmas. I have no idea how it's made, and I absolutely love it.

But "roast beast" is a line from Charlie Brown, I think, that gets repeated once or twice on Buffy.

Anonymous said...

Roast beast is from The Grinch (the cartoon, not that horrible live-action mess, though they probably mentioned it in that, too).

Die Hard is by far the best Christmas movie ever made, though Scrooged is a close second (love Bill Murray).

Maybe around Christmas time (or Winter Solstice time, which is what I prefer to celebrate) we could do a list on best Christmas movies/television episodes.

KAM

celticmarc said...

I haven't watched a Peanuts special in a LONG time LOL

Oups, I NEVER watched Buffy....

Billie Doux said...

One of the best Christmas episodes ever: A very Supernatural Christmas. Totally twisted, frightening, and somehow touching.

ChrisB said...

What a great review! At the beginning of the episode, I was a bit worried that it was going to get too preachy, but the writers did a wonderful job. I especially loved the PC carols.

And, how glad I am that we fulfilled KAM's request to do a Christmas episode post.