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This week's Culture Vultures recommend:

Christopher Hitchens, Benny the Bull, and Purple Rain

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[Cover image: Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great]

Andy Eninger, head of the writing program at Second City Training Center, tests his faith with:

God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything I just finished Christopher Hitchens's God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Halfway through, I lost the book—was it God's revenge? Hitchens would argue that it was not. I bought a second copy and good-Christian-soldiered on. Hitchens stomps through all the tenets of the big religions to debunk myths and scold repression. Strangely, the book had an unexpected effect on me: I started going to church more than I had in years. I suddenly missed the easy comfort of a good old Lutheran service, even as I was reading about Christianity's sketchy origins. The more I read about the questionable circumstances, the more I craved the pomp. The quivering hymns, easy sermons, and earnest handshakes. It's like finishing Fast Food Nation and craving a burger: knowing that the meat is ground from horrible things doesn't change the fact that it tastes damn good sometimes.

[photograph of Benny the Bull]
  • AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
  • Benny the Bull

Taylor Kelley, singer/guitarist for Blizzard Babies, imagines starting over as:

Benny the Bull If I had to do it all over again, I'd be a mascot for a pro basketball team. I think I realized this first when, at a Bulls game a few seasons ago, I watched from below as Benny the Bull hung from the rafters of the United Center by invisible cables and beat on a drum, leading the crowd in enthusiastic chants. This was some pagan-legend shit. Had Benny then sprayed blood on us, imbibing us with the strength of all deities, I wouldn't have been surprised. Benny is truly one of the great basketball mascots, in that he's having a great time while also being kind of an asshole. That is my kind of fun: lighthearted and yet marked with popcorn-flinging aggression.

It must also be great to have this kind of fun while hiding behind that giant cartoonish mascot head. It allows the kind of anonymity someone like Joakim Noah, for example, doesn't get to appreciate. The anonymity that means you can walk into any head shop in the city and not worry about having your picture taken. But since I am barely five feet four and could never pull off a cartwheel, I'll keep dreaming.

[still of Apollonia in Purple Rain]
  • Apollonia in Purple Rain

Hawley Shoffner, local folk artist, has found a new obsession in:

Purple Rain I used my "Christmas bonus," meaning a $10 Amazon gift card, to buy Prince's Purple Rain on Blu-ray. I've since watched it to the point where it's skipping in parts. What follows is a walk-through of my thoughts upon each viewing: When Apollonia attempts to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, I have mixed feelings about seeing her naked because she looks a bit like my mom, who was a year younger than her in 1984. As depressing as the domestic violence scenes are, I still laugh at what an awful actress Olga Karlatos is. I'm always struck with the same questions: Why does Prince set the mood with a recording of a girl crying? Why don't men wear hoop earrings anymore? How is it that Prince "doesn't have what it takes to be on top" after playing "Computer Blue" and "Darling Nikki" while oiled up and topless? Nearly three decades after its release, Purple Rain is worth revisiting, or in my case, borderline obsessing over to the point of no longer caring about Prince's height.

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