'Revelations': Armageddon Comes To Prime Time
'Revelations': Armageddon Comes To Prime Time
Interminable coverage of the Schiavo case and the Atlanta 'miracle' release reveals 'permanent vegetative state' of cable television's news channels
by Bill Berkowitz
"Revelations" is the name of an upcoming six-part television series based on the Bible's Book of Revelation. The first episode is scheduled to be aired by NBC on Wednesday night April 13. Unlike other religious-oriented television fare -- "Joan of Arcadia," "Touched by an Angel," and "Highway to Heaven" -- "Revelations" promises to pull no punches in a "The Passion of the Christ" sort of way. To paraphrase the words of famed boxing announcer Michael Buffer, "Let's Get Ready to Rapture!"
"We felt what needed to be done is a television show that expressed itself as Christian," Gavin Polone, the executive producer of, and, according to the New York Times, "the driving force behind 'Revelations,'" told the newspaper. "We're very clear about that here... The words 'Jesus Christ' or 'Christ' are used three times a minute."
"In tumultuous times like those we live in, apocalyptic buzz is always on the rise -- as is spirituality," Kevin Reilly, the president of NBC Entertainment who gave the go-ahead for the series, told the Times.
"Revelations" teams Sister Josepha Montifiore, "a globe-trotting nun" played by Natascha McElhone, with Dr. Richard Massey, "a Harvard astrophysicist (and religious skeptic, of course)," played by Bill Pullman, who try "to determine whether the end of the world is indeed near," the New York Times reported.
Here is how the newspaper described the plot:
Montifiore and Massey "encounter all manner of unexplained phenomena and bizarre characters, including a brain-dead girl who appears to be channeling the spirit of Massey's murdered daughter, a virgin-born infant believed to be either the son of God or the spawn of Satan, and the powerful Satanist, Isaiah Haden... who ritually sacrificed Massey's daughter. "
"Revelations" may be as edgy and engaging as NBC officials are promising and it may prove to be a ratings magnet, drawing the attention -- and purchasing power -- of the so-called values voters' crowd. But will the mini-series really pull no punches? Will it deal with some of the controversial and troubling beliefs of biblical literalists; The Rapture for example? If it does, how will it relate to the fate of those "left behind" -- the millions of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and non-believers doomed to suffer "The Great Tribulation," a seven-year period, the last three and a half years of which contains great misery and devastation?
'Revelations' vs. Religion-Based Reality
"Revelations" is going to have to push a super strong Tyvek envelope to be more edgy than some of the religious-themed dramas that are playing themselves out on television's cable news networks.
A few weeks ago there was the case of Ashley Smith and Brian Nichols. The twenty-six year-old Smith was kidnapped by Nichols -- an accused rapist -- after the 33-year-old man had just killed a judge, a court reporter, and two law-enforcement agents in and around an Atlanta courthouse. Apparently, after Smith read Nichols some passages from Rick Warren's best-selling Christian self-help book called The Purpose Driven Life, Nichols allowed her to go and visit her daughter. Once freed, Smith called the police and they captured him.
The subsequent blather was more about religion and the power of Warren's book than the murder of four innocent people. As The New Republic's Lee Siegel pointed out, while the focus was placed on how Smith's deeply held religious beliefs helped save her life, cable television's talking heads failed to note that "Nichols himself had gone to a Catholic school and had been a religious man, very active in his local church, where he played the organ." This scenario has the makings of a new reality TV program called "Good Religion, Bad Religion."
The Smith/Nichols Affair hit its tipping point on Larry King's CNN talkfest. King brought the man who taught Rick Warren, Reverend Robert Schuller -- the creator of television's "Hour of Power" ministry and the man who started at a drive-in theater and later built the multi-million dollar Garden Grove, California, church known as the Crystal Cathedral. According to Lee Siegel, when Schuller was asked by King if the killings shook his faith, he "responded that they did not because 'killings are a part of life.'"
Schuller then told King that his "teacher had been Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist-author of a once-famous book called Man's Search for Meaning. According to Schuller, Frankl had received the following confidence from none other than Sigmund Freud himself: 'The longer I live, the more I despise the human being.' So Warren's book, read by 20 million of the Christian faithful, had its origin in Frankl's book, which had its origins in Auschwitz," Siegel wrote. All in all, the performance of the media was enough to make one look forward to the "end-times."
And then there's the Terri Schiavo case: What began as one family's tragic story involving the right-to-die has evolved into a mega-spectacle involving a cast of thousands -- mostly peripheral characters -- and cable television's news networks. Christian fundamentalists, who don't believe Schiavo's husband has the right to have her feeding tube removed although she has been in a "persistent vegetative state" for years, flocked to Florida. There are state judges, appeal court judges, the state legislature, members of Congress (including the embattled and ethically-challenged Tom DeLay), and the President of the United States, who signed emergency legislation aimed at prolonging Schiavo's life.
Could there be any better actualities than shots of Christian fundamentalists falling onto their knees in prayer outside Woodside Hospice, in Pinellas Park, Florida? How about a shot of Bo Gritz -- the former Green Beret commander and prominent member of a militant antigovernment movement -- getting arrested while trying to deliver a cup of water to Schiavo?
Other than the role of the Republican Party, which thinks the Schiavo case is a great political issue, the most obscene aspect of the Schiavo story is the presence of Randall Terry, the founder of the radical antiabortion group Operation Rescue and the President of the Society for Truth and Justice. Terry was brought on board by Schiavo's parents, who hoped he could mobilize Christian fundamentalist support for their daughter. "Our family asked Randall Terry to come, and we gave him carte blanche to put Terri's fight in front of the American people," Bob Schindler, Terri's father, said. "He did exactly what we asked, and more. Randall organized vigils and protests, he coordinated the media, he helped us meet with Governor Bush."
As a family spokesperson, Terry has spent much of his time railing against Michael Schiavo, Terri's husband, claiming he had deserted his wife. Somewhere along the way, he has apparently forgotten his own spotty record on marital fidelity and other "family values": A few years ago, Terry deserted his wife and children for a young woman that had worked on his failed congressional campaign; last year, when Terry's son Jamiel revealed that he was gay in Out magazine, he responded with a diatribe in the Rev. Son Myung Moon-owned Washington Times, criticizing his son, writing that: "He is no longer welcome in my home."
The cable's television news networks -- which also appear to be in a persistent vegetative state -- have latched onto the Schiavo case.
As comedian and social commentator Bill Maher pointed out on his Friday, March 18, HBO program, "Real Time With Bill Maher," the major news weeklies have been paying an inordinate amount of attention to religious subjects, featuring religious cover stories a number of times over the past year. Now, NBC is hoping to cash in on America's latest love affair with God. Unfortunately for NBC, not even an edgy and entertaining end-times mini-series may be able to compete with real-life religious-based dramas dominating the news-scape.
For more please see the Bill Berkowitz archive.
Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative
movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch
documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories
and defeats of the American Right.