Once again, the forces of outrage – in this case, those seeking to defend Catholic virtues and those looking to end homophobia – are clashing in the latest battle over church and state in America.
At the center of the fight is a new TV show about a “typical Irish Catholic” family, as they are described in a trailer advertising the show. The show is entitled "The Real O’Neals." It was just picked up by ABC last week.
As Christine Roussell writes at townhall.com, “It turns out…that a ‘typical’ Irish Catholic family includes a closeted gay son with a girlfriend who is clueless about how contraception works (despite, you know, being a high-school age student living in a major city in today’s world), a kleptomaniac sister, a jock older brother with an eating disorder, and parents who are going through a secret divorce. Also, the priest is portrayed as a hypocrite with a vow of poverty – and a Lexus.”
Swiftly, conservative Catholics and Protestants got together and condemned "The Real O’Neals," which was inspired by the life of prominent gay journalist and activist Dan Savage.
“Thousands of religious and conservative activists are calling on ABC and its corporate parent, Walt Disney Co., to cancel the forthcoming family comedy,” The International Business Times reported this week.
This is just the latest scuffle Disney has had with those fighting anti-Catholicism. Disney’s affiliation with Miramax and other film companies and directors, for example, led to past battles over controversial films such as "Priest" and "Dogma."
There is no release date just yet for "The Real O’Neals," which stars Martha Plimpton and Jay R. Ferguson and is set in Chicago.
Here’s the first thing that needs to be pointed out about this fledgling battle, which may or may not lead to ABC removing the show from its schedule, but has definitely succeeded in getting people to talk about the show: All of this heated rhetoric is based on a trailer promoting the show, which is just over three minutes long.
At this point, not much more is known about the actual content of "The Real O’Neals," though conservative Catholics are not exactly wrong in assuming that a TV show with ties to Savage is going to have harsh things to say Catholic doctrine.
The problem here is that neither side of this debate ends up making a particularly sympathetic argument.
Let’s start with the outraged Christians. First of all, there is the issue that not a single complete episode of "The Real O’Neals" has aired.
Then, there is the little matter of the fact that elements of Catholicism have indeed been hostile to gays, intrusive on sexual matters and out of touch when it comes to issues such as divorce. This is fair game, and not merely something that Savage or anyone else simply made up.
Look at the recent Pew Research Center survey on American religion. Perhaps the most shocking statistic it contained is that in the last seven years, the number of people identifying themselves as Catholic has dropped three percent.
After decades as 25 percent of the U.S. population, Catholics now represent about 20 percent. This is a significant drop, and anger over inflexible doctrinal matters surely played a role in this drop.
On the other hand, it does need to be added that there is a very long and very unsavory and not-very creative tradition of anti-Catholicism in America. Is it hatred and bigotry?
Probably not, especially in the 21st century, when Catholics have been so thoroughly assimilated. Still, bashing the church is often simply too easy, and often comes off as a lazy way to seem “edgy.” Worse, it tends to fire up the paranoid and angry Catholics who’ve chosen to place a decidedly large chip on their shoulders, because they believe everyone is out to get them.
The trailer for "The Real O’Neals" does seem to dabble in some of this “lazy” anti-Catholicism. And that’s a shame, because once actual episodes start airing, the show may well get over its own desire to shock and depict a family sincerely struggling with love and marriage and sexuality and religion.
You know. A typical Irish Catholic family.
(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)