You've found Father McKenzie. But are you really looking for Eleanor Rigby?

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

John Saffran Vs God (Monday 27 Sep 04)

Last night I watched my first episode of John Saffran vs God (http://www.johnsaffranvsgod.com I think). It has been hyped a bit, so I was interested in finding out what it was all about. Although I only caught snippets, here are some observations:

1. John returned to see a Priest in Sicily whom he had met while a contestant on the ABC's race around the world competition. It seems that the Priest had offered John free bed and board back in 1997, and John had responded to the favour by stealing the batteries from the priest's TV remote, and "whacking off" in the priest's bed (sans priest, of course). This became the theme for "confession", with a number of amusing takes with John trying to broach the subject. Ultimately John confesses, but it is the priest's response which intrigued me. he seems to want to laugh out loud, but he held his composure and gave a very measured response. Saffran's
apparent attempt to unnerve the priest instead made John look like a bit of a loser, desperate for a cheap gag but paling in the shadow of the man he attempts to parody.

2. John has a rant about Mormons which seems a little repetitive - crisper writing is needed at this level, but I fear this is a problem with Australian comedy generally. make a gag, repeat it many times, and your (hopefully drunk) audience will keep laughing.

3. John and director then go door-knocking in Salt Lake City Utah, dressed similar to LDS missionaries (with bicycles!) and put themselves across as atheists, trying to convert people to atheism. This was social satire at its best. Very cleverly conceptualized, and well executed. It's golden moments like these that may make the show a repeat viewing for me.

4. A straw poll amongst leftist hippy types with a number of quotes from the HH the Dalai -Lama condemning homosexuality, abortion and sex during the daytime (really). Accompanied by a look-alike Pope and Dalai Lama, Saffran wondered why the Pope is considered an intolerant dogmatic bigot, while the Dalai Lama is the religious King of Cool. He offered the condemnatory quotes to the "progressives" and got them to pick - Pope or Dalai Lama? All chose the Pope, but all quotes were from the Dalai Lama. Apart from some clever editing issues (were the ones who correctly chose the Dalai Lama left on the cutting room floor?) this was another inspired stunt by a man with an axe to grind in search of a stone.

5. John Saffran in India - he goes looking for a guru. He first finds a man who won't answer his questions, especially "What is the meaning of life?", and ends up telling another guru some porky-pies about seeing a vision of Australia in the guru's hand. The local who introduced him was insulted that he should lie, and John looked awkward backpedaling the way he did.
Attempting to excite religious experience in himself or others is one thing, but outright lying makes John seem like a slippery customer, rather than the religious leaders he is toying with.

Saffran eventually links up with the President of India's Rationalist Society, who, like the priest in Sicily, is a much more mature individual than John. Indeed, he uses John's "white skin"
in an expose of street magicians, snake charmers and pain devotees, much to the surprise of John but the amusement of the audience. Seeing Saffran get punctured through the cheek and burnt in the name of reason was an eye-opener, and he bore (no pun intended!) it with good grace.

Verdict: I enjoyed this episode of John Saffran vs God, patchy though it was. To me, Saffran comes across as a shallow experientialist looking for a cheap shot and a gag or two, but on the way he uncovers some profound prejudices and truths, not only within himself, but especially amongst the people he meets. The average perosn's religious sensibilities are profound
enough without us needing John to wipe our noses in it. Nevertheless, definitely worth a second look.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just some thoughts on your thoughts... the thing about John Safran is its hard to ascertain exactly what he's on about. At first glance he's a cynical media prankster and culture jammer and, yes, none too mature minded. But I read a fair bit of press about John Safran vs. God--interviews etc.-- before I actually got around to seeing the show and I was intrigued to hear some very rational, straight-talkin' comments about religion and the indisputable role it plays in *most* people's lives. Safran the quiet interviewee (as opposed to Safran the fearless larrikan you see on your telly) said something about how the self-righteous "left wing pinkos" among us may make fun of stoopif George Bush for being a Christian, for one thing, but the fact remains that religion is an integral part of most people's lives. As a recovering Catholic I found that very hmmm-inducing. John establishes a cult audience of die hards and lefties and then proceeds to say: wait a minute, who do you think YOU are then? Who says YOU'RE allowed to take yourselves seriously? I dunno, is he subverting the subversion? Or is that just another angle?(?) What intrigued me about the man was that there was--maybe--more to him than cheap cynicism.

OK, I'll bugger off out of your blog now ;) 'Scuse me...

Anonymous said...

The final episode of John Saffran Vs God has left me feeling a little cheated. The series presented as a humourous and open minded look at the "apparent" flaws in various religions around the globe but concluded with the personal exorcism of John himself in which the viewer was persuaded that all religions are the path to Satan except (you guessed it) Christianity. Did I miss something ?

Anonymous said...

Or perhaps the entire collection of episodes reflected the kind of searching many people go through to find their salvation. I think there was something profoundly powerful in that final episode, I watched intently, totally captivated. It would seem indeed that John was strongly impacted in that final episode, did you notice how he didn't end it the way the other episodes ended. Instead of the usual rant finished with a "go to hell", from the angry sounding Safran, we instead saw a picture of a meek, humble, and broken Safran, shaking the hand of the man who conducted the deliverance, then the credits rolled. It left me with the stark contrast of a "before and after" experience, and one which I can not argue away.

Anonymous said...

Or perhaps the entire collection of episodes reflected the kind of searching many people go through to find their salvation. I think there was something profoundly powerful in that final episode, I watched intently, totally captivated. It would seem indeed that John was strongly impacted in that final episode, did you notice how he didn't end it the way the other episodes ended. Instead of the usual rant finished with a "go to hell", from the angry sounding Safran, we instead saw a picture of a meek, humble, and broken Safran, shaking the hand of the man who conducted the deliverance, then the credits rolled. It left me with the stark contrast of a "before and after" experience, and one which I can not argue away.

Anonymous said...

...or perhaps it was just the biggest piss-take yet, a well acted riff designed to give the series structure. Okay, it was JS vs God, and God won. The charm of it is we'll likely never know...

Anonymous said...

...or perhaps it was just the biggest piss-take yet, a well acted riff designed to give the series structure. Okay, it was JS vs God, and God won. The charm of it is we'll likely never know...

Stephen said...

Or perhaps it was . . . who knows? I missed it, unfortunately. I shall have to save up to buy the inevitable DVD.

I wonder what is next for Mr Safran? Now he has raced around the world, had a music jamboree, and gone toe to toe with G-d, there doesn't seem much left to do.

Run for PM, perhaps? There always next time.

Anonymous said...

I appreciated the keen and all very good observations which helped me to garner my own thoughts, particularly on that final kick ass show. Not your average viewing was it. I thought the last show was really focussed on how easily people can be taken in - even by the likes of the the pathethic mind controlling arrogant bad hair transpant victim posing as the exorcist. I felt saddened by the congreations delusions under this mans spell and appreciative of the exposure - the exorcists techniques were obvious as were the parade of others on previous shows. John Saffron demonstrated how easily people could be influenced by the patheic fraudsters that inhabit all humanity.

I dont think it there an attempt to score a win for atheism but more so a win over the charlatans that enslave the minds of our people. Occasionaly revolting maybe but rare and powerful work.

Anonymous said...

Further comment from the poster above.

Seemed like the possible give away was the peculiar manner that John put on pre exorcism - he planned to play this one to the limit - or perhaps that was the result of the alledged exorcists mind programing techniques . I think i could identify quite a few of these but professionals in this areas should comment to confirm. The crew certainly had that schoolkid ghost story in the dark thing going on but this would not be that hard to bullshit in my view. I am not ready to buy into any demon line - I have a long background with a friend who over the years has been assessed as quite mentally ill and is deteriorating - he attributes this (at times) to demons and spiritual attack by demons and recounts vivid recollections of attacks which at times can be compelling. As a result i was quite focussed on many details (clues??) One odd thing was the "micro-expressions" on Johns face that appeared a few times during the alledged exorcism which seemed to me to display a foul hatred and mocking. The FBI uses the analysis of such expressions which appear for a tiny instant as a sophisticated lie detection technique and the emotion behind such an expression can not readily be faked - although under hypnosis who knows. People would have read these consciously and/or sub-conciously and it seems people believe that John was genuinely affected - but by what? Hypnosis and suggestion or what? For me it was hard to imagine John being takin in by such a by what bigot - i mean he picked on zen buddhism - a religion where they respect all life profoundly - if i was a demon would i want to inhabit a buddhist monk eg no sex and cant even step on an ant - thats the definition of frustration. I would have to hear the argument on how such a faith is demonic otehr than it makes me flypaper. The episode scared my wife and affected and was compelling viewing for me and strongly affected many others.

We were clearly meant to note the overly dominant handshake with John by and the aledged exorcist at the close - which for me is another clue left by the producers about the legitimacy of this individual.

Tas said...

Hi, I've read accounts of other excorcisms performed by willing subjects under biblical guidance and some are similar, others more violent, some quite subdued. It is a topic discussed with some sobriety and reverence among christian circles and the genuineness is strictly linked to the particpants. To the observer, judgement rests on what one is prepared to believe but i would say it is dangerous ground to judge the intentions of people we dont know and things we poorly understand until we investigate it. If the group were sincere i hope John wasnt wasting their time, i would feel for their deception - It did make for some impressive viewing tho! (remember, its controversy and bums on seats that makes good TV) His extensive list of occult confessions was pretty fierce - anyone know if that were for real? Upon reading transcripts of such events one with the ability and conviction to his cause (such as JS) could perform that stunt and cack about it down the pub a bit later. Pretty bold puttin that personal stuff on TV if he's sincere. LSD? U dont just snap out of that!! Other medications can be very short acting and hallucinogenic but all show up in urine or blood and would leave the group very open to legal recourse - stupid! Hypnosis or suggestion relys largely on a willing and informed or very weak character as participant (not JS?) However, we may confidently say that if John Saffran is not sincere in his (often amusing, sometimes lame) public search for God he has clearly piited himself against fallible man, not God. Ruse or move of God? Stay tuned...

Anonymous said...

This is 2 years too late but I hired it out on DVD and was deeply astonished with the Exorcism part.

The reason why Saffron didnt have any "flaws" on Christianity is because he realised what the truth was involving Religions.

We now know why Muslims want to blow themselves in the name of the false God "Allah".

There is no time for political correctness. Believe and be saved! Jesus loves you all!

The show was very entertaining and I recoommend it to anyone. :)

Stephen said...

It has been two years! i just re-read my own post and couldn't believe it was my own writing. My old self of two years ago speaks to me now!

All I can say is, thanks John Saffran, for un-bewitching the Socceroos and clearing us of that Hoodoo the Africans put on us all those years ago. Now, all we need to do about those Italians is have a word to the Pope. After all, he is a German...