Tag Archives: fundamentalism

Better Dead Than Red State

It’s not hard to mock the Westboro Baptist Church. I mean, come on: picketing military funerals? Adopting “God hates fags” as their motto”? Recording childish, homophobic parodies of Lady Gaga songs? The satire practically writes itself. You’d think an experienced filmmaker like Kevin Smith, with a string of juvenile, stoner-inflected comedies under his belt, would have a field day with this material. But you’d be dead wrong.

Because Red State is anything but a “field day.” 90-minute death march through a morass of terrible dialogue and meaningless violence? That’s more like it. Its set-up is ripped off from every horror movie ever made: three teenage boys meet up with a woman for sex, she drugs them, and they end up inside a WBC-style cult compound, about to be crucified. And you know, theoretically, I have nothing wrong with Smith making his own riff on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I love the idea of a comedy director breaking into horror. But Red State provides the worst of both worlds, as it blends the horny/homophobic banter of a typical Smith outing with the paper-thin characters and plot “twists” of a low-rent Saw imitation. The most frightening aspect of this “horror” movie is that it makes Dogma look like a masterpiece by comparison.

And just as Red State’s meager plot is starting up, it stops. Kevin Smith is so blindingly in love with his own authorial voice that he has his evil preacher deliver the mother of all monologues—a 10-minute rant that apes Fred Phelps’s rhetoric without skewering it. It has no wit or humor or imagination; it’s just a totally straight-faced run-through of fundamentalist talking points, and it goes on forever. Why turn your movie into a soapbox for a homophobic, long-winded lunatic? I have no idea, but this choice torpedoes the movie before it even fully comes to life. The remaining hour is like watching debris settle in slow-motion.

It’s almost eerie how bad Smith’s writing is here. His debut Clerks became a cult hit on the strength of its profane, naturalistic dialogue; 17 years later, he’s hauling John Goodman onscreen to have him spit out reams of clunky, tedious exposition. (Exposition which, by the way, adds not an iota to our understanding of the plot.) This dialogue doesn’t show, and it doesn’t really tell. Instead it tries to push information toward the audience in ugly, tone-deaf paragraphs. Thankfully, it all but disappears during the film’s protracted climax, as ATF agents exchange endless gunfire with the fundamentalists. Then it’s just a matter of watching the characters die off, one by one, as Red State creaks to an end.

I don’t know what the worst part of this movie is. Maybe how it wastes Goodman, Melissa Leo, and Stephen Root; maybe the way Smith hyped it up with his embarrassing Sundance antics and overpriced roadshow tour; or maybe how spectacularly it fails in its anti-fundamentalist mission. Hell, I haven’t even touched on its handheld camera abuse or its hacky editing. Red State gives joyless dreck a bad name.

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Link Dump: #27

Oh, that poor kitty from Drag Me to Hell. Clearly Alison Lohman just cannot be entrusted with animals. At least it got to spend its last moments on earth bein’ all cute and lying around in a laundry basket. Sorry that the Link Dumps have been MIA for the past two weeks, but between a lack of Internet access, moving back and forth, and preparing frantically for MoCCA Fest, it’s been hard to sit down long enough to post them. So here you go, as compensation: a compilation of the best (non-Rebecca-Black-related) Internet stuff from the past two weeks.

  • Here’s a fucking brilliant piece by Michael Dwyer of PopThought all about Blue Valentine, the MPAA, and American attitudes toward sexuality. This is sophisticated cultural commentary.
  • We all knew the Phelps family (of Westboro Baptist Church fame) was more than a little fucked up. Now we have proof, from the mouth of Fred Phelps’s son Nathan, who explains some of the disturbing but unsurprising secrets behind his family’s behavior.
  • Did you know that the anti-choice movement is also the Thought Police? A woman in Iowa was  jailed for thinking about having an abortion.
  • In less ragey news, what’s a collaboration that we’ve all always fucking wanted? Tom Waits and David Lynch.
  • Empire Online has the “Ultimate Shirt And Tie Picture Quiz,” wherein you match the suit to the movie. I got 8; how well can you do?
  • Todd Brown of Twitch has a pretty sophisticated piece about the effect of the PG-13 rating on movies for kids ages 10-13.
  • Rue Morgue offers up “100 Alternative Horror Films,” with some fun, relatively obscure additions like The Changeling, Martin, and Wait Until Dark.
  • Courtesy of our friends at Dead Homer Society, we have Fredrik Larsson’s medley of Simpsons song covers. He has a great voice and does wonderful segues; definitely go watch that video.

We had the occasional bizarre search term over the last few weeks. Some highlights include “pretend rape goes wrong”—I don’t even want to think about how it went wrong—and “Эмбер Хёрд,” which Google Translate informs me is Russian for “Amber Heard.” Someone was obviously very confused about the concept of pussy; how else to explain “pussy-???.???.???.???” Someone else was just confused in general, asking “what to do with myself”? Finally, I’m kind of honored: someone actually searched directly for “black swan andreas stoehr.” Hopefully they found the words of wisdom they were (presumably) looking for.

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Link Dump: #19

As you may have noticed, Pussy Goes Grrr has been postless for almost a solid week. The reasons for this are twofold: 1) Ashley’s classes recently started and 2) I am still buried, à la Ted Danson in Creepshow, in my 25-page comps (i.e., giant senior project) on female sexuality in horror. But never fear! Starting probably next week, we’ll have some new, exciting blogging surprises in store for you. Potentially including something really, really awesome. Be sure to tune in and find out! (I love talking about the Internet like it’s a radio.)

In other news, Angela Bettis plays a great neurotic/psychotic in May (2002), which is what 1/4 of my comps is about, but Anna Faris as her lesbian coworker is just so goofy and lovable that she steals every scene she’s in. She’s the malapropism-wielding yang to May’s awkward, understated yin. “Do you like pussy… cats?” That should be this blog’s motto. That said, here are some links:

  • William Ahearn writes extensively about the origins of the term “film noir.”
  • Simon Hattenstone of The Guardian profiles influential (and awesome) feminist artist Cindy Sherman.
  • Not Coming to a Theater Near You has a piece on private eye movies of the 1970s, when Elliott Gould was the new Bogart.
  • EdenCafe gives us “Self-Love, Sex Toys, and Men,” which could also be titled “How NOT to Write About Sex Toys.” It’s comically atrocious, and inane enough to make an entertaining read.
  • Speaking of horrible things, Family Research Council leader Tony Perkins wants you to know that The Kids Are All Right sucks because it didn’t make enough money, and it’s about lesbians. Also the Golden Globes are evil. And MLK apparently agrees with him.
  • After making a jackass of himself at the NYFCC awards last week, professional martyr Armond White explains in voluminous, self-aggrandizing detail why he has been wronged. By the Internet, naturally. Then J. Hoberman responds. (If you can’t tell, I’m not a fan of White’s personality or his obfuscation-happy criticism.)
  • Gasp! Breaking news: Archie Comics is dropping the Comics Code Authority seal of approval from its products! Tony Perkins was right; the liberals are destroying American culture!

We had so many wacky search terms this week that I had to prune the list. We can’t just let any ol’ search term into the hall of shame, like the unimpressive “frog vag,” “leg cast fucking,” or “best looking vagina in 2010.” No, they had to be extra weird this week. Some I picked because of the phrasings: “you might gonna get raped maybe” sounds so indecisive that it renders itself meaningless, while “nope can’t go to hell,” with its unpunctuated urgency, makes me imagine a sequel to Rain Man where Dustin Hoffman travels to the underworld – flying Qantas, I assume.

From the “Bizarre Free Association” Department comes “bus ride,clit,” and we have another oddity that combines bad grammar and redundancy, “she are fucking a female cow.” The last (and best?) brings together unbelievable vileness, forcefulness, and length, and wins our Yuckiest Search Terms of the Week award (I guess), because it’s “i am going to hold you and that dog is going to fuck your pussie video.”

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Link Dump: #18

See? Even the unnamed couple from Alain Resnais’s Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) loved kitties. They probably also loved links to cool things on the Internet, too… or at least they would’ve, if they were alive today. Anyway, here are those links:

  • Letters of Note has some cool documentation of Kubrick’s attempts to make his Napeoleon movie in the late ’60s, including his invitation to the semi-retired Audrey Hepburn to have her play Josephine.
  • If you’re like me (or, you know, not a fundamentalist psycho), you probably hate Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church. Here’s a documentary about them and their Lady Gaga-hating ways, as well as an article about an Arizona law banning them from protesting funerals after last week’s shootings.
  • What’s better than Criterion-style covers for new releases by a Criterion cover designer? Nothing. They’re just beautiful. Especially Toy Story 3 and Black Swan.
  • Shakesville has a well-written piece on the media’s treatment of work discrimination complaints.
  • The Advocate has an article on the gayest cities in America… and #1? Minneapolis! Yay, Twin Cities pride.
  • Vulture has the worst movies of 2010 – but really, Black Swan‘s on there? Vocal minority or not, that’s a stretch, especially in a year that saw Yogi Bear and Devil.
  • Holy fuck, there’s a plant that eats rats?!

Alas, we’re short on good search terms this week, but here are two vagina-centric ones: “niece wet cunt,” which I hope was a misspelling of “nice wet cunt,” because the other option is just kind of gross and weird, and “stolen pussy comics.” I’m not sure if that refers to comics about stolen pussy, or pussy comics that were stolen. Either way… weird.

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Link Dump: #17

Welcome to a new year at Pussy Goes Grrr! We’re celebrating with a kitty from The Great Mouse Detective, one of the most underrated items in the Disney catalog. As you may have noticed, posting has been scarce lately. As usual, it’s because of that curse called “real life”; Ashley is about to start a new semester, and I’m neck-deep in my horror-themed comps project. Therefore, dear reader, I’ve got a question for you: what do you want? What would you like to read more of? Comment below! Reader feedback is like sweet manna from heaven to us unpaid writers. And seriously, thank you for reading. You’re the reason this blog is here.

With that, let’s start another year of kitties and Link Dumps! We’ve got werewolves, sex, politics, and more:

  • Fun fact: while working in Mexican television, Guillermo del Toro directed and starred in an Alka Seltzer commercial. And it’s scary.
  • The Hathor Legacy has a post about the Bechdel test; it’s snarky and painfully true.
  • In the aftermath of #MooreandMe, Jaclyn Friedman clears up some myths about enthusiastic consent and how it’s like, you know, a good thing to get clear, expressed consent when having sex with someone.
  • A homophobic pastor who wanted to save children from the gays was also a pedophile?! I know, it’s shocking (and ironic).
  • You may have heard about a new edition of Huck Finn with the N-word removed; Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post has this to say. Neil Gaiman adds this: “It’s public domain, so you can make Huck a Klingon if you want, but it’s not Mark Twain’s book.”
  • According to the wacky, math-loving fundamentalists at ebiblefellowship.com, the world’s going to end on October 21! Good to know.
  • Self-promotion time! So: I wrote a graphic novella, which was drawn by a talented team of collaborators. It’s called Spring Lake Massacre. You can read it online and, soon, buy physical copies. I’ll probably be plugging this a lot more in the future.

For this week’s weird/creepy search terms, we have the very accurate “maggots scare the hell out of me.” Yes, maggots do indeed scare the hell out of me. Especially all those maggots in Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead. From the “Incredibly Specific, but Unrelated to This Blog” files, we’ve got “tightly woven wicker paper plate holders.” Yes, those exist. No, we do not have them. Somebody searched for “blow up fanny videos,” which really can’t mean anything good, and finally, we’ve got the very blunt “fuck i don’t know.” I think we can all sympathize with that one.

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Link Dump: #8

[Via Nordenwald]

I’m not shy about my love of George Sanders. His worldly, acerbic presence was the cherry on top of many great movies. And hey, since it’s October, why not think about all the great scary movies that got the George Sanders treatment? Like Rebecca (1940), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), Lured (1947), Village of the Damned (1960), and many more, especially toward the end of his career. Sanders was always witty, even with bad dialogue, and wit is one of my favorite traits in a horror movie. Plus, he voiced worldly, acerbic kitty in a Disney movie. What’s not to love? Now, for this week’s links…

  • Last week was Banned Books Week, but don’t forget that some library books are just awful. This hilarious website shows some of them. (Of course, even the most awful books shouldn’t be banned; that’s just silly.)
  • To follow up on our coverage of Satoshi Kon’s passing a few weeks ago, here’s a piece from Filmwell discussing his all-too-short career.
  • Look! Weird Danish comics!
  • This is truly incredible: the theme from Psycho played on a church organ.
  • In the last Link Dump, I mentioned Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project. Well, it’s inspired a flood of responses. Here’s an article on Jezebel defending the project against criticisms from within the LGBT community; a new project called Make It Better that takes Savage’s one step further; and two very powerful, touching pieces on the film blogs Billy Loves Stu and I’m Not Patty.
  • If there’s anything we love to hate, it’s wacky fundamentalist websites. Movieguide.org is like Jack Chick writing movie reviews; I can’t recommend it highly enough. It gave me hours of lolz. Princess Mononoke is “demonic”? Palindromes is “putrid”? Oh yes, and there’s more ahead! (Hint: If a movie has any queer content… outlook not so good.) Alas, their web design is not as immaculate as their souls, so the site’s pretty hard to navigate.
  • Speaking of fundamentalist wackos, here’s a satirical piece about the evils of Glee. Best line: “Sports are essential for keeping fit, strong and attractive!”
  • And still speaking of fundamentalist wackos, here’s a story about a teacher who was driven out of her job by censorship done, you know, in the best interest of the children.
  • Jezebel has the scoop on the smutty side of Edith Wharton.
  • Everybody loves gendered stereotypes, right? Here’s a Twitter feed full of them called GuysTruths! Sample tweet: the classic “Fellas, when you see a girl cry, just hug her.”
  • Super Punch had a Calvin and Hobbes art contest, which includes awesome Let the Right One In and The Sandman parodies; the last entry on here (reading “Playtime is over”) is by a friend and former classmate of mine.
  • Finally, do you like webcomics? Do you like them funky and sexy? Scott has what you need with Funky Sexy Jazzmen, updated weekly.

On the search terms front, the last couple weeks haven’t seen anything especially exciting. I think I’ve seen “nipple masturbation” and “pregnant gore” juxtaposed so often that I’m officially desensitized to all the words involved. However, one search did manage to weird even me out: “fire extinguisher pussy.” That phrase has unpleasant implications I don’t want to explore. Somebody searched for everyone’s least favorite kind of hipster, the “public masturbation hipster.” I hate those hipsters so much, always masturbating in public! Some cool news: Pussy Goes Grrr is officially the #1 hit on the search “emilie karsunke,” which is the real name of Mieze from Berlin Alexanderplatz. And lastly, someone posed the all-important question, “how big is a whales pussy”? I’m stumped on this one. But, for some fascinating whale pussy-related trivia, I turn to Spencer Tinker’s Whales of the World, page 96:

A very unusual structure called the vaginal “plug” is found in the vagina of some toothed whales (Odontoceti), but does not occur in any known species of whalebone whales (Mysticeti). This puzzling structure is formed by secretions from the wall of the vagina and is composed in part of hard, calcareous substances. The purpose of this “plug” is doubtless related to reproduction, possibly copulation.

Thank you for reading.

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Pop culture and the world of Jack Chick

And now, after another (couple of) sad weeks of blogging inactivity, I return. Since Ashley now has Internet, she’ll hopefully be inspired into a spate of blogging soon, but until that happens, this will have to suffice. It’s important, after all, to keep on writing, generating ideas, weaving this giant ball of digital ideas together. I’m really tired from two consecutive nights of very little sleep, but nonetheless I’ll try to write coherently. I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately, and intend to discuss the Oscars soon, but first, I must discuss a vital topic very near and dear to my heart.

That’s right: the art of fundamentalist cuckoo Jack Chick. I’ve gone on at length about Chick’s extremely idiosyncratic style and his wackily illogical messages before, and I feel like it’s worth doing again. He’s one of those artists toward whom I have a strange yet powerful set of mixed reactions. He’s full of acidic hatred aimed at millions of people, but his art is so out there, so irrational, and so un-self-aware that it somehow becomes compelling. He has these immediately visible authorial trademarks, from his mediocre and often nonsensical drawing style to his attitude of seething, pervasive paranoia. His comics are so very easy to mock, but so intensely sincere that they couldn’t be an elaborate prank, although sometimes it feels like they can be nothing else.

So today I specifically want to address Chick’s relationship to the rest of the world – you know, the comparatively “normal” world you and I inhabit – and the language it speaks, namely pop culture. Unsurprisingly, considering that he’s an 85-year-old religious extremist who considers Bewitched sinful, Chick doesn’t really have his hand on the pulse of today’s youth. But knowing nothing about young people, to say nothing of how they think or behave, doesn’t stop Chick from making America’s youth one of the primary markets for his evangelism. Countless tracts feature “hip,” dissolute young folk on the road to hell, sinning freely until a tract-brandishing Christian shows them the way. Granted, a lot of tracts also appeal to little kids (easier to convince) or middle-aged men, but teenagers seem to be a special target for Chick.

And naturally, in trying to appeal to kids, Chick tries to speak to them in their own argot by referencing pop culture. But he makes a mistake common to uptight old people who want kids to do what they say: he tries too hard to come across as cool, and ends up sounding dated, desperate, and clueless (which, to be honest, he is). To make my point, I’ll make use of three similar tracts that each drive home a typical Chick argument – i.e., that Satan lures the youth into hell through witchcraft – Dark Dungeons (1984), The Poor Little Witch (1987), and The Nervous Witch (2002).

Dark Dungeons was and still is perhaps the most notorious of all Chick’s tracts. It’s far from the most morally extreme or artistically absurd, but it’s a perfect representation for a mainstream audience of the one-of-a-kind brand of crazy that is Jack Chick. Dungeons & Dragons was first released in 1974, but the big panic didn’t start until the ’80s, prompted by the 1979 disappearance of James Dallas Eggbert III, and the subsequent book and TV movie very loosely based on his case, Mazes and Monsters. (The latter of which starred Tom Hanks.) Not one to be left out of a moral panic, Chick jumped all over it, both by publishing two pieces by Bill Schnoebelen and, of course, by writing Dark Dungeons.

With Dark Dungeons, Chick tries to reach vulnerable teens in the most heavy-handed and poorly thought-out of ways, and as a result depicts a world which exists only in his paranoid, puritanical imagination. Admittedly, I’ve never played D&D or had any interest in it, but as someone who’s been generally a part of nerd communities since high school, I can easily debunk a few aspects of the tract. For example: D&D as something played obsessively by covens? As a gateway to actual magical powers? As a game played in equal numbers by boys and girls? Each of these representations are demonstrably untrue. (Besides, among other questions, if playing D&D gives you access to “mind bondage” spells, why the hell would you then sit in a grungy basement playing D&D?)

It’s not hard to see why Dark Dungeons is seen as the archetypal Chick tract,  serving as the model for many parody strips like Daniel Clowes’ “Devil Doll?” It follows the usual tract storyline to a T – sinner goes on the path to hell, gets saved, old friends go to hell – and, so early on and so memorably, it showed how out of touch Chick was with any part of youth culture. But he wasn’t about to let up. Oh, no. Only 3 years later he struck again with The Poor Little Witch. This time around, he dropped D&D as a gateway into satanism, and broadened his scope to the general high school experience.

Chick does have a definite cultural touchstone here; however, it’s presented pretty obliquely. He’s borrowing liberally from Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976), which had already been out for over a decade at the time this tract was written. But instead of the female outsider developing psychic powers and using them on her peers, her peers are the ones with the powers, which they’re willing to share with her. Chick uses some familiar names and images from Carrie – the volleyball scene that opens the film and tract, the last name White, even the biblical quote “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live…” – and repurposes them in his own incoherent, self-contradictory ways.

As usual in Chick’s visions of the world, the devil is everywhere (here he goes under the name “Bruth”). Whereas De Palma and Stephen King saw the cruelties of Carrie’s classmates as an evil of its own, Chick portrays it, along with their influence on his Carrie stand-in “Mandy,” their tendencies to drink the blood of infants, and the hypocrisies of the local church as all manifestations of the same big evil in the service of Satan. Chick starts out with a similar premise, but veers off in his own formulaic, counterintuitive directions, unwilling to stop until Mandy has been thoroughly converted by fundamentalists. No matter how convoluted and implausible the storyline becomes, Chick insists on each tract reaching this identical ending.

And just as he shoehorns his stories into these neat little finales, dictating who goes to heaven and hell, Chick has to shoehorn his worldview into his faith, no matter how far the end result may depart from what the world is actually like. Obviously pressures to drink baby blood weren’t the greatest form of evil confronting American girls, but to Chick it only makes sense that blood-guzzling satanists would be causing this decline in teenage morality. After all, it allows him to divide the world up into good and bad, “Christian” and “Satanist,” without having to face any kind of moral ambiguity.

So Chick isn’t just out of touch with the youth culture because he’s ignorant; it’s also because he’s too ethically and intellectually lazy to accept that anything other than Satan himself acts as an obstacle in teenagers’ everyday lives (or that anything other than loving Jesus could give them real satisfaction). The most recent of the tracts I’m discussing, The Nervous Witch, is pretty much a revamp of the other two, reworking the same themes of peer pressure and the occult.

Comparatively, though, it kind of falls flat, since Chick leaves behind the cultural specificity of D&D or the paranoid fantasy of a small town under Satan’s thumb that dominated The Poor Little Witch, and instead creates a mano-a-mano spiritual battle between Sam and Holly, two girls who think that “God… loves us witches!” and Sam’s saintly uncle Bob. (In retrospect, “Bob Williams, Demon Hunter” would have made for a far more compelling title.) The battle never really climaxes, though, since Holly just walks off (and presumably goes to hell), while Bob literally pulls the evil spirit out of Sam.

The tract also suffers, as do so many of them, since the storyline is stopped dead for a heavily-anotated Bible story, immediately and sensibly decried by Sam as “lousy.” (Also, how mature is Bob’s retort to Holly’s “And we win!” with “No, you lose“?) But beyond this poor pacing and his apparent assumption that all pairs of young female friends are also God-hating witches, Chick manages to make even more outlandish, audience-alienating claims.

Bob: Tell me, Samantha… How did you and Holly get into the craft?

Sam: Through the Harry Potter books! We wanted his powers… so we called for spirit guides. Then they came into us… They led us into stuff we found in the Harry Potter* books – tarot cards, ouija boards, crystal balls…

That’s right: never one to be left off of a moralistic bandwagon, Chick takes this last-minute chance to hammer away at the Harry Potter series. By 2002, four books had already been released. The fundamentalist furor against them had already reached its peak, even resulting in an Onion parody in 2000. But Chick, of course, wants to remind everybody that he knows what’s new in the world of evil! Chick somehow even outdoes the Onion‘s coverage of the outrage, going so far as to mention magical phenomena – spirit guides, tarot cards, and Ouija boards – that are completely absent from the books.

The tract then concludes with a good old-fashioned bonfire of demonic paraphernalia, showing that Chick hasn’t really tuned in to pop culture since John Lennon said something about being bigger than Jesus. In the end, comparing these tracts does lead to a few revelations: Chick takes an extraordinarily reductionistic, one-size-fits-all view of morality. This probably helps explain why so many of his tracts follow these rigid narrative patterns. Whether the issue at stake is D&D, Harry Potter, or generic witchcraft, Chick can’t conceive of any cause that doesn’t involve satanic intervention, or any solution that doesn’t involve turning to Christ.

This also points the way to Chick’s greater understanding of humanity itself: basically, we’re all puppets. Even though Chick believes passionately that salvation comes from belief in Jesus Christ and that alone, he still thinks that bad behavior comes from demonic prodding, and good behavior from… well, that’s unclear. Chick demands to eat his cake and have it too in every situation, to the point that Uncle Bob can fail to convince Sam or Holly with his “lousy story,” yet still somehow “win” by the end of the tract.

Chick can also have his treacherous reverend quote the “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” line and give its biblical attribution, then undermine it with another Bible quote. This is one aspect of the tracts that makes them so compelling: their total lack of internal consistency. As long as the final outcome is the same (somebody goes up before God and is either accepted or condemned), it doesn’t matter what came before. And if the logical puzzle pieces don’t quite fit, Chick will nibble on the ends until they do. It doesn’t matter if Harry Potter doesn’t use tarot cards, or if D&D just doesn’t work that way at all. Truth or reality are always a distant second to Chick’s all-consuming faith. Don’t bother trying to figure out how his world works, because it’s not like ours. Jack Chick, you see, is a fundamentalist.

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