Tag Archives: comedy

Lack of sincerity: What to do when your words get twisted

Last week Rachel played a video of Jerry Seinfeld receiving the 2007 Comedian Award that 1.2 million of you have already seen on YouTube. In it Seinfeld makes fun of the award he is receiving. “I really don’t want to be up here” he said, “I want to be in the back over there or over there saying something funny to somebody about what a crock this whole thing is.”

I appreciate his honesty. In his own way, Seinfeld has been a prophet. One line from his recent Clio Award speech kind of sums up his message: “We live in the world and we know everything stinks.” He has been standing in the back of our rooms talking about how stupid everything is for a couple of decades now. Even more, he drew the so-called Millennials into the back-story of the comedian lifestyle and encouraged most of them to have their own self-conscious lifestyle of being comedic. As a generation, they are prone to standing back and observing how stupid everything is. What’s more, as an “audience” they are so tuned in to people doing “bits” that they are also aware of how you are doing a bit in the middle of a conversation, and are likely to be observing you observing and critiquing how well you are critiquing. Always performing, they might be more interested in how you say something, or how they can make fun of how you said something, than in what you are actually trying to say.

Sincerity is hard to find

So it is no wonder that our pastors suffer so. They are all from the Seinfeld generation and they know that some (if not most) the people their age have been trained by Seinfeld to stay removed and cleverly observe what they have just done. Even if they get a compliment or some affirmation it may be accompanied by a joke, “That’s a really great speech for someone who makes speeches for a living.” Sincerity is always suspicious. If you are putting yourself out there for anything but a self-deprecating joke you are not to be taken seriously.

It is no wonder we have cells full of cell leaders who don’t want to get in line to be the next leader. I don’t think their inhibition is about their conviction or hope or even their supposed fear of commitment. I think it has a lot to do with the requirement to be publicly sincere. Once you come out as someone who cares about Jesus and others (“No, really, I mean it,” we have to say) they fear they will run into “that guy standing in the back” who is going to start observing everything they do and twisting everything they say. In the old days, people would throw the liar out. But these days, self-consciously lying for effect is a respected art form. Like Seinfeld said in his Clio speech, “I love advertising because I love lying.” Then he looked at the laughing audience and dared them to figure out whether he meant it or not.

Jesus vs. Jerry

So leaders of the church need to learn a lesson from Jesus that may be more relevant now than ever. One place to start is John 8, where Jesus has an amazing dialogue with people who are standing back, observing and then attacking him. In one of the funniest moments in the Bible Jesus says “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” His detractors immediately say, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” Whoever is going to stand for God is likely to get similar treatment, only it will not be as straightforward or as unintentionally funny. It will be about twisting what you say for a moment of amusement.

Jesus’ words were most famously twisted by the devil himself. His response provides a good example to follow by anyone who is enduring the same, relentless attack by someone not interested in hearing what you say but very interested in mocking it. Someone was talking about their fear of being mocked the other day, and I suggested they at least begin responding to their fear by trying on the mentality of Jesus.

  1. He doesn’t live by what people say about him. The devil tempted him to make bread from stones, a bit like Seinfeld admittedly makes a living from doing nothing. ”If you are the Son of God” the devil began accusingly –- he’s always good for making every moment conditional rather than true. Jesus told the tempter he could live off what God says. Just avoiding this temptation by never taking on the mantle of leading or caring won’t make it go away. People will keep twisting. Our response either exposes them or saves them.
  1. He knows he is being tested. It is OK to see someone’s snide remark or sarcastic, meaning-diminishing comment as a temptation or even as an attack. They may as well be telling you to prove your worth by jumping from the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus told the devil not to test him. Perhaps you should speak back to a Seinfeld-trained person and tell them not to test you. We can at least not facilitate an atmosphere of insincerity by letting everything be undercut by people trying to convince us that everything is a joke, including us.
  1. He is ready to confront the tempter. “I don’t mean anything by it. We’re just talking. Don’t be so serious.” There are a lot of ways to make something nothing, and people expect us to conform to the nothingness. Practice saying it so you are ready: “Why are you twisting what I am saying?” The pastors and cell leaders, especially, need to discern how to say, “I am giving you my heart and you are not receiving me. I am telling you the truth and you are undermining it.” It might be kind to add, “Is that what you meant to do? Or do you just do it because Seinfeld taught you?”

Jesus and RBF — the Savior and the Fake Syndrome.

I pause to be excited with Taylor Orsi, an aspiring comedienne, who came up with a little video. Now she is a youtube star. She and her boyfriend, Jared, invented a “syndrome” and created a fake PSA (public service announcement) for it. It has more than three million hits so far; it got them featured on the Today Show; and, finally, it was misquoted in my cell meeting last week.taylor orsi

In my cell their fake syndrome was named “accidental bitch face.” One of our members was tagged with it by her boyfriend, because when she is not smiling, her face has a natural downward turn to it and she looks sad, or even like she might be scowling. Taylor Orsi calls that “resting bitchy face” and made a video about it. The video included the male counterpart: “resting asshole face.” For those of you still interested in the culture being formed here in America, here is their video: http://youtu.be/3v98CPXNiSk

Appropriate scorn

It is always hard to respond to these things, since it is so tempting to give Taylor and Jared exactly what they dish out: mockery. We have all been repeatedly taught to do that, by the last 25 years of comedy. I don’t want to play that game, but I do want to scorn a movement that invaded my cell with shame (in the name of fun, of course) and sent three million people fanning out into the population to look for certain faces to mock. And I do want to be amazed (and deliberately not accepting) that we can appeal to the now-built-in narcissism of American youth who have been told to “say cheese” so much that they are rebel against it by pointing out people who get tagged for not doing it all day.

taylor oris todayThe Today Show people treated their joke as an actual syndrome and Taylor treated her appearance as an actual star turn. For those of you still able to watch the Today Show, here is the segment: http://youtu.be/Xf-zXyfO7X8.

It is always hard to take these things seriously, because it is very hard to figure out whether the media is making fun of itself and secretly mocking their “reality” guests. The way I see it, Taylor Orsi found a group of people to exploit; then the Today Show found her and exploited her hope of fame to use her wit for a few minutes. The producers brought in their plastic surgeon expert to talk about how faces work. The staff lifestyle coach said that if you have the condition you can help yourself out by remembering to smile. She really said that. They filmed it.

What is the media teaching us?

Lessons from the culture:

  1. Smile all the time, it will keep you safe.
  2. Exploit people (even if it shames unsuspecting victims) to get well-known.
  3. Make fun of yourself or act like everything is “no worries” to keep yourself unaccountable.
  4. Women, especially, are expected to be smiley all the time like Today Show hosts, even when making real news into fake news [Erin Burnett].

It is hard to move with Jesus into these things. But where else would he be but with the bitches and assholes? And who else would he be instructing but the new Pharisees, judging people with their powerful media and rules of behavior, replete with experts to back up their claims?

Can Jesus save us?

I think this whole situation needs a Savior, even if I will be mocked for getting serious about something that was just a joke to begin with.

Jesus might start off by affirming Taylor who implied that her whole bit could be summed up with a moral to the story: “we should give each other a break.”

But I think he might go deeper than that to suggest that rather than just being accepted, everyone needs to be forgiven. Leaving people alone is not quite the same as loving them with a self-giving love. How about looking at yourself in the mirror and considering whether you can even see yourself the way God sees you: the forgiven, the beloved who is destined for your unique fullness?

And I don’t think Jesus would shy away from showing a little fury toward the powers that be (like the Today Show). Through Isaiah he says:

The Lord enters into judgment
against the elders and leaders of his people:
“It is you who have ruined my vineyard;
the plunder from the poor is in your houses.
What do you mean by crushing my people
and grinding the faces of the poor?”
declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty. (Isaiah 3:14-15)

What do you mean when you mock and exploit people? Or don’t you know you are supposed to mean something?

When you get a momentary boost at someone else’s expense, what does that mean? Or don’t you know that what you do makes a difference?

Enhanced by Zemanta