The Amazing Race: Rick Perry and God

In America we love our competition reality TV, and with the big showdown coming in 2012, the lead-up to the presidential elections has yet to disappoint. Of course, it’s the GOP we’re all watching; it seems like the field of players grows every week, and every week one of them says or does something that makes you wonder if this whole thing is scripted and the GOP is making a Oscar-worthy documentary, Joaquin Phoenix-style.

One character that’s starting see more screen time is Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Touting his state’s booming economy and job growth, Perry believes that it is his fiscal leadership that has led Texas to recover faster than many other states. In a June appearance on Fox News, Perry claimed that Texas jobs accounted for 48% of the total number of jobs created in the US since April 2009. Politifact found the claim to be neither completely true nor completely false; stats on job creation in Texas are heavily disputed, ranging anywhere from 18% to 54%, depending on the time frame and who you’re talking to.

There’s no denying that Texas’ economy is doing well, but the growth comes at a price; Texas reportedly added over 211,000 jobs in 2010, 76,000 (37%) of which paid at or below minimum wage. In a New York Times Room for Debate discussion, “The Texas Jobs Juggernaut,” editor of The Texas Observer Dave Mann writes,

Texas now leads the nation in minimum-wage workers (550,000 in all). That hasn’t improved our income inequality. Despite the good economy, Texas remains a state of extreme wealth and desperate poverty. The low-tax structure means the state is chronically short of money and, this year, saddled with a huge budget shortfall. Social services and public schools are woefully underfunded. Our graduation rate is low, our dropout rate high. One in four Texans lacks health insurance, by far the highest percentage in the nation.

Mann explains that many of the driving factors of the state’s economic boom—”inexpensive cost of living and low-tax, anti-regulatory policies “—preceded Perry’s arrival to the statehouse and will remain after he’s gone.

What is most fascinating (and disturbing) about Perry singing the praises of his own economic prowess lays in his ultimate plan for fixing the US economy: God.

When speaking to an evangelical group in May, Perry repeated the beloved GOP/Tea Party line that the nation’s current policies are a threat to the founder’s vision of America, saying “Our founding fathers understood that [private property] was a very important part of the pursuit of happiness. Being able to own things that are your own is one of the things that makes America unique. But I happen to think that it’s in jeopardy. It’s in jeopardy because of taxes; it’s in jeopardy because of regulation; it’s in jeopardy because of a legal system that’s run amok. And I think it’s time for us to just hand it over to God and say, “God, You’re going to have to fix this.

Last time I looked, God was not a financial planner, so it doesn’t matter much that Perry thinks he has a direct line to the Almighty ever since He “called” upon the Gov. to help fix America after us damn liberals came in with our crazy socialist ideas, wanting to close the wealth gap and insure all citizens equally. Besides, not even God would be merciful enough to take a cabinet position to fix this mess, as one commenter posted on New York Magazine‘s website in response to Perry’s pronouncement, “God is like, ‘no thanks man, I’m cool.'”

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Never Talk Politics or Religion.

My Mom always said “never talk politics or religion in mixed company.”  Clearly TV show creators have never heard this saying.

In Season 5 of Bones, the forensic laboratory that provides the background for Fox’s procedural drama, goes about solving crimes with the aid of rotating interns, one of whom is a devout Muslim. In previous episodes the audience sees Arastoo Vaziri taking time from solving murders to pray; as a regular viewer of this show, I often felt that this depiction could be interpreted as the character putting his faith before catching the bad guy.  At a time when Americans are already wary of Islam, the portrayal of a Muslim stopping a criminal investigation so he can worship might not be the best way to encourage familiarity with the religion.  In a fit of anger Vaziri accidently drops his accent and it is revealed that he is not actually Middle Eastern but American-born.  The blog Muslim Media Review explains it best saying, “he reveals that affecting a foreign accent allows him to avoid questions from his mostly nonreligious colleagues about his religion. In other words, scientists would accept that a “fresh off the boat” Third Worlder would cling to archaic religious beliefs but they would be less tolerant of a religious scientist who grew up in the United States. The episode ends with a rather honest conversation about Arastoo’s religious beliefs and practices.”

What could have formally been percieved as a negative portrayal of Muslims became more of a question about the characteristics of the absolutist scientist/atheist.

If you have Netflix, you can view the episode here.

Bones was able to turn around their poor representation of Muslims but this is often not the case when TV shows are dealing with religion.  When it comes to religion, chances are, you will always be offending someone (perhaps sometimes on purpose).  In HBO’s southern vampiric drama True Blood, set in an alternate version of America where vampire’s have “come out of the coffin,” the Fellowship of the Sun mega-church leads the national conversation in anti-vampire politics.

If you are from the south, chances are, you have probably seen an ad somewhat like the picture to the left; mega-churches are a steadily growing enterprise throughout the US.  And we all heard Pat Robertson blame Hurricane Katrina on all the sin in New Orleans — it was God’s wrath and what not.  True Blood‘s creator’s certainly knew who they using as their frame of reference when they wrote the Fellowship of the Sun into the plot, but are the portrayals accurate?  As a liberal who has met my fair share of born-again Christians, I would say yes… to a point.  But this is perhaps when stereotypes go astray — by being too accurate.

Personally, I am a huge fan of True Blood and think the Fellowship of the Sun story arc was a fantastic addition to the second season.  Besides, its HBO, they push buttons.  Why else would you pay for it?