‘Radio Rebel’ Disney Movie, ‘Pump Up the Volume’ Rip-Off?

The Disney Channel has been plugging the newest Disney original movie Radio Rebel starring ultra-cute Disney star Debby Ryan (previously aired). If you’ve seen the promos and are still in your teens you may not realize that this concept has been done before on the big screen with Christian Slater (when he was a teen sensation). The movie was Pump Up the Volume (1990). Let’s compare: Sweet, innocent Debby Ryan, professed Christian who got her start singing in churches and acting parts in such subversive shows as Barney and The Suite Life or Christian Slater whose first big role was in The Name of the Rose about murder amongst monks and a scathing storyline exposing hypocrisy, heresy and torture.

I’m not slamming on Debby Ryan. She’s a nice kid, very talented for the family movie lineup, but that’s the point. She’s not a rebel. What the hell would she be rebelling about in the Disney world of family-style movies? Disney movies are about trivial sitcom problems glossing over much of the real world’s darkness. I do think Disney Channel’s advocacy campaign for environmental concerns is admirable. Beyond that, I don’t expect anything deep from Disney. They’re a corporate money-maker aiming at their target audience. Radio Rebel is an obnoxious concept considering it’s already been done and done better.

To be fair, this movie was a book before it was turned into a movie. For all I know the book is darker and more in the rebellious vein and then was Disneyfied (my assumption is the book is a bunch of fluff too though). Pump Up the Volume isn’t exactly a nineties masterpiece, but it hit the necessary chords. In it, Mark Hunter is a shy kid, so shy he can’t socially function at times, whose personality erupts onto radio (and not a podcast like Radio Rebel, he runs an actual pirate radio station all on his own). He plays music like Leonard Cohen, Soundgarden, Henry Rollins and other musicians that aren’t going to compare to Debby Ryan singing a cover song of “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Go’s. Hunter identifies with isolated students who are suicidal or bullied gays or students abused by the school system. The underlining message of the film is to “talk hard” and get your own voice out there (which is what we may now have with the Internet). Christian Slater came off like Lenny Bruce reincarnated with obscenities, opinions,  fake masturbation gags and lots of teenage angst. It was over the top, sometimes goofy, but what it wasn’t was sickly sweet, clean entertainment.

The closest comparison I have is if Disney made their own version of Rebel Without a Cause. You can’t quite put your finger on why you’re annoyed, but you know it’s not right. It’s basically the sanitization of rebellion.

Might I also add there is a nice love interest in Pump Up the Volume with Samantha Mathis. At the time, I thought she was the perfect girlfriend (secretly, since I wasn’t supposed to watch these kinds of films due to my Christian upbringing). It was the idea of being the loner who is discovered by the pretty girl who is not a cheerleader or in a popular clique–a regular high school girl with a brain whom you could connect with. Oh yeah, and she isn’t a prude. If you were discovered by Debby Ryan or rather you discovered Debby Ryan as the Rebellious Radio DJ, don’t count on getting laid any time soon–you’ll get a lecture on purity and abstinence.

Radio Rebel with Debby Ryan? Let her hang out with the Disney Princesses, but we don’t need this kind of rebellious voice. It’s hollow and it can’t be taken seriously.

Star Trek Phaser Built For Real?

I’m not sure I’m buying into this yet, but if you go to MSN.com they are featuring a video of a guy who built his own Star Trek phaser. He tests it out and it works like a toy until he pops a balloon with it. It wouldn’t be a hard stretch for me to imagine a laser popping a balloon (heat?), but I’m no expert on how lasers work.

What is disappointing is that MSN.com leaves it up to us to decide if it is real or not. How about giving some information on lasers or any science behind lasers that would aid us in verifying if the video is true or just doctored (like one comment by a reader who suggested they used a BB gun off to the side). What kind of reporting is that?

Julia Sweeney’s ‘Letting Go of God,’ She Got it Right

Letting Go of God review, ****Stars

The one thing I’ve noticed about various intellectuals in the “new atheism” movement is that they can be very good at explaining science or philosophy in a dumbed down form (let’s face it, we’re not all university professors so I appreciate this approach), but when it comes to entertainment they often fall short. I remember seeing a couple of early examples of skeptic organizations trying to create TV Shows or TV spots that were supposed to grab viewer attention and, frankly, they were kind of boring and failed. Along come some Hollywood veterans like The Mythbusters and Penn & Teller’s Bullshit and suddenly you have shows that are great introductions to skeptical thinking which have spawned other like-minded shows.

I don’t believe we’ve seen that happen with atheism yet. We’re still in that awkward stage with very little entertainment and whole hell of a lot of information. There are films like The God Who Wasn’t There  and Religilous which relate personal stories, but are not quite what I call entertainment, more like editorials. I’m not knocking these entries or the numerous documentaries on religion, these are valuable, but what would you recommend to a friend or relative who is trying to understand your atheism? What would you recommend as an introduction to unbelief that isn’t going to deluge the viewer with so many arguments they’ll tune out? Or, let’s face it, that will offend them so much they’ll ignore anything being said (I know Penn & Teller and Bill Maher can rub people the wrong way and the language is hard for some Christians to take).

Julia Sweeney’s Letting Go of God has been around for quite some time now, it was filmed in 2007 and premiered in 2008. I had seen clips of it and the TED version where she did the introduction to her monologue, but never the whole stage show until I rented it off Netflix. This is the DVD I would give to someone trying to understand atheism. There are laughs, there are tears and there a moments of revelation. Even if you disagree with the direction Sweeney went in her life, it all adds up. It’s not like she woke up one day and was–KAPOW–an atheist! It was a process of time and questioning and self-examination. It was, in a way, a spiritual journey as she confronted something bigger than herself–not God, but the universe and the implications of there not being a god (s).

I shared this with my “believing” wife, she tolerates my “biased” documentaries and other “atheist” entertainment, and she found much of it interesting because she also came from a Catholic background like Sweeney. Letting Go of God didn’t suddenly make her let go of God, but it gave her some insight in to how I felt and where I left god behind. The stage show is genuinely funny and very personal because it often has to do with family and their reactions to their “crazy” daughter asking all kinds of questions and then rejecting basic arguments for God that no longer make sense. Julia uses her talent to make it all come alive for the audience as she depicts her mother and a priest and various characters in her life she finally had to diagree with. There’s no mean-spirited attitudes, it’s all very sweet and, honestly, comes close to some of the presentations I saw as a kid at my church with Christian testimonies. Maybe that’s what we need, more atheist testimonies about lost faith. People think when someone becomes an atheist they fall down a set of stairs into a dark dwelling filled with depression and hopelessness and usually this is the farthest thing from the truth. In my situation, I felt like a big burden had been lifted. I no longer had to worry about heaven and hell and defending the contradictions of the Bible…I could relax and study and observe how things really were. It’s not always pretty, but knowing what you’re up against prepares you. It allows you to live life realistically versus jumping into prayer everytime something goes wrong.

Letting Go of God isn’t an entertainment blockbuster (it wasn’t meant to be, again, it’s very personal), but it does show a direction that can be taken to communicate with believers and even those who don’t believe but think atheism is horrid (because it goes too far). Really, I’m referring to creating similar story-like films (inspired by real life or completely new stories) with characters who happen to be atheist and how their unbelief affects their lives and others around them. This is territory that we need to tread into. Yes, we could start “The Atheist Hallmark” channel!  The horsemen, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens (now passed), are all great in what they have written and/or created, only I don’t consider them to be entertainers, but educators. I think life stories like Sweeney’s may make larger inroads to a believing public and the reason is that  life stories are easier to be drawn into than logic and science and apologetics. Religion overrides logic to begin with, it is above questioning.  Religion, in general, thrives on stories (almost every sermon I hear includes anecdotes and analogies). People will listen to a story over a lecture any day. Once someone starts to “get it” then maybe it’s time for heavier material like Dawkin’s The God Delusion.

I expect to see more direct films about atheism in the future, not just ones that hint at unbelief or that a freethinking audience can claim as their own for a freethinking theme. I think Julia Sweeney’s work is inspirational for doing this even as it is only a stage show. It works, it is early Freethunk! (my term for freethinking entertainment), and I know if you’re a Christian reading this, you may be adverse to seeing Letting Go of God. Don’t worry, it won’t make you an atheist. It’s simply a way of understanding atheism or your atheist friends. Now from there, if you go studying some of the things Julia studied, then don’t blame me or her…

19, Partial Vision is No Good

And if you really want to see “The Eye Argument” here’s a brief overview of why even 5 percent of an eye is still an advantage… Bertrand’s theory is still being worked on, he’ll get back to you later on that.

BTW: if you notice, our little hero has forgotten his nudity in a room full of women. It happens to most guys when we’re spouting opinions. We let it all hang out.