Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fail of Biblical Proportions: Leviticus vs. Psalm 23

Arriving in good time to make it onto my  personal “Best Parodies of the 20th Century” list, came Ian Frazier’s incomparable 1997 Atlantic Monthly essay, “Lamentations of the Father”.

As Atlantic editor, Robert Vare, wrote, it is “a comedic tour de force -- a pitch-perfect application of the fire-and-brimstone injunctions of the Pentateuch to the mundane travails of middle-class parenting”.

One parodies the Bible at one’s peril. Any such effort had not only better be better than good, but must circumspectly navigate the narrow path between satire and sacrilege.  

Frazier aced those hurdles.

In stark contrast, we come to Mark Helprin’s jape in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, an attempt at biblical parody that gives new meaning to the phrase, heavy-handed.

Helprin is a gifted author whose arresting novelette, “Ellis Island”, and his luminous novel, “Winter’s Tale”, did much to inform my perception of the heights to which imaginative literature could aspire. But neither imagination nor gift for pasquinade is to be found in his op-ed piece, “Psalm 23, Newly Revised According to to Modern Principles”, an aimless hodgepodge of formulaic Obama bashing awkwardly interlaced with biblical locutions.

Helprin’s present-tense reference to Hillary Rodham [stet] as a member of “his [Obama’s] staff” leaves us wondering whether he’s been reading the papers or -- more likely -- whether his piece had been spiked by the editors awaiting a slow Saturday to foist it upon a less captious weekend readership. Furthermore, shoehorning the Amalekites between “the President” and “the EPA” as presumed fiscal profligates, fatally challenges one’s willingness to suspend belief for the sake of a good story.

I would respectfully remind Mr. Helprin and the editors that skewering the powerful is a skill best practiced with a rapier, not a cleaver.

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