Pinsky, Mark I. 1947-

views updated

PINSKY, Mark I. 1947-

PERSONAL: Born 1947, in Miami, FL; married Sarah M. "Sallie" Brown (a photojournalist), 1981; children: Asher Joseph, Liza Charlotte. Education: Duke University, bachelor's degree, 1970; Columbia University, M.S.J., 1972. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES: Home—Maitland, FL. Agent—DeChant-Hughes and Associates, Inc., 1440 N. Kingsbury St., Ste. 123, Chicago, IL 60622. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Writer and journalist. Worked for Associated Press and as freelance writer for various newspapers and magazines, 1970s and early 1980s; New China News Agency, editorial adviser, 1982–83; Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, staff writer, 1984–1995; Orlando Sentinel, Orlando, FL, religion writer and senior reporter, 1995–. Military service: Civilian volunteer with Israeli army, 1967.

AWARDS, HONORS: Grants from Fund for Investigative Journalism; Sloan fellowship in economics journalism, Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School, 1978.

WRITINGS:

NONFICTION

The Gospel according to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville, KY), 2001.

(With Samuel F. Parvin) The Gospel according to The Simpsons: Leader's Guide for Group Study, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville, KY), 2002.

The Gospel according to Disney: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville, KY), 2004.

Contributor of articles to periodicals, including Columbia Journalism Review and Quill.

SIDELIGHTS: Mark I. Pinsky, the author of books on religion as filtered through popular culture, has had a long and varied career as a journalist. As a freelance writer in the 1970s and 1980s, he covered several highprofile trials, such as those involving serial murderer Ted Bundy; Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald, who was convicted of killing his wife and children; and the killing of five anti-Ku Klux Klan protesters in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1979, the last a trial that resulted in the acquittal of the defendants. He also wrote about economic development and occupational health and safety, and his articles appeared in newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Newsday, Christian Science Monitor, Miami Herald, the Nation, and the Progressive. As a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, he covered a variety of topics, while religion, especially Evangelical Christianity, has been his primary beat at the Orlando Sentinel.

The Gospel according to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family finds Pinsky immersed in religion. He analyzes the cartoon sitcom's characters and their beliefs: Homer Simpson attends a Christian church but understands little of its theology; his daughter Lisa is the voice of the social gospel; the Simpsons' fundamentalist neighbor Ned Flanders may irritate some people with his zeal, but he's sincere and kind; Hindu shopkeeper Apu is faithful and gentle, yet his business practices are a bit questionable. All the characters may act immorally somewhere along the line, but in the end they make moral, humane choices. The program, which is often irreverent, is not about religion, Pinsky notes, but it does consider the role spiritual beliefs play for its characters. "Because of that," he writes in his book's introduction, "it more accurately reflects the faith lives of Americans than any other show in the medium."

Several critics maintained that Pinsky succeeds in demonstrating that The Simpsons treats religion in a thoughtful and thought-provoking manner. He makes "some pretty provocative, and fun, arguments for the theological heft" of the program, remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Booklist contributor John Green, calling the book "seriously funny," observed that it shows the program's attitude toward spiritual matters to be "complicated and sympathetic." In the Orlando Sentinel, Tom Lassiter summed up the book as "highly readable though firmly grounded in scholarly and broad-based theology" and reported that it "enriches the enjoyment of this most animated family. The parables played out in 'The Simpsons' illuminate the foibles of our society, instructing while entertaining."

Pinsky probes the spirituality depicted in Disney films in The Gospel according to Disney: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust. Scrutinizing about thirty of the studio's most popular movies, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and The Lion King, he concludes that their messages are not specifically religious but do reflect Judeo-Christian values and act to reassure audiences that good forces will consistently win out over evil ones. In life, he notes, goodness is not always victorious, and he has reservations about films that send such an unrealistic message, but he advises parents to use this to start discussions with their children. Pinsky also is uncomfortable with the fact that Disney's admirable characters tend to be beautiful, and with the presentation of racial stereotypes in the older releases. In addition to dealing with the company's films, he discusses its theme parks, the religious beliefs of founder Walt Disney and the studio's subsequent executives, and the Southern Baptist Convention's boycott of Disney products because the church considered the company too welcoming to gay employees and audiences.

The Gospel according to Disney is "more encyclopedic" than The Gospel according to The Simpsons;, related Jason Byassee in Christian Century, but like that work, it offers insight on "values that viewers might have overlooked." A Publishers Weekly critic commented that Disney is "a larger, yet more elusive target" than The Simpsons, but praised "Pinsky's cogent observations about Disney classics." Mary Prokop, writing in Booklist, deemed the work "a comprehensive and quite readable account," while Midwest Book Review contributor John Taylor pronounced it "astutely researched and written." Pinsky, Byassee added, has "a justly earned reputation for offering clear and lively commentary on the intersections between religion and popular culture."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, August, 2001, John Green, review of The Gospel according to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family, p. 2073.

Books & Culture, January-February, 2005, Andy Crouch, "The Gospel according to …," p. 16.

Christian Century, November 16, 2004, Jason Byassee, "Pop Pulpits: Mickey's Gospel, Buffy's Spirituality," p. 22.

Columbia Journalism Review, January-February, 2005, Mark I. Pinsky, "Among the Evangelicals: How One Reporter Got Religion," p. 8.

Library Journal, September 1, 2004, Mary Prokop, review of The Gospel according to Disney: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust, p. 160.

Midwest Book Review, January, 2005, John Taylor, review of The Gospel according to Disney.

Orlando Sentinel, September 2, 2001, Tom Lassiter, "The Simpsons Keep the Faith: Don't Have a (Holy) Cow," p. F4.

Publishers Weekly, July 30, 2001, "Homer, Marge, and Jesus," p. 30; August 13, 2001, review of The Gospel according to The Simpsons, p. 307; July 12, 2004, review of The Gospel according to Disney, p. 60.

ONLINE

Christianity Today Online, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ (October 26, 2004), Mark Perry, "The Gospel Truth about Disney."

FaithfulReader.com, http://www.faithfulreader.com/ (June 15, 2005), Marcia Ford, review of The Gospel according to Disney.

Mark Pinsky Home Page, http://www.markpinsky.com (June 15, 2005).