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Why I teach 1984.

In Books, Movies and Television on January 28, 2017 at 6:54 pm

I feel vindicated.

I have been asked countless times, “Do you still teach that?  I read it when I was in school.”  This past week George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, topped Amazon’s bestseller list.  There is so much that recommends it.  One of the reasons everyone should read Nineteen Eighty-Four is that it is a relevant warning.  It is so masterfully articulated that the terms Orwellian, Big Brother and double-think evoke and almost visceral response in those who’ve read it.  Consequently, these terms are powerful weapons against the abuse of power.

This week, Kellyanne Conway was accused of double-think when she used the phrase “alternative facts” in defence of President Trump’s press secretary’s assertion that 500 000 is greater than 1.8 million.

One of the reasons I am so committed to teaching Nineteen Eighty-Four every year, is to explore with students the necessary conditions that make double-think possible.  These conditions are, apparently, present in our “post truth” culture right now–as is evidenced by the phrase, “alternative fact.”

What are these conditions?

[Spoiler Alert]

One of the main ones is articulated by O’Brian in Part 3 of the novel.  O’Brian’s task is to “cure” Winston from his mistaken view of reality.  Winston’s error?  A belief in objective reality.  In a very early session, Winston objects to O’Brian’s assertion that “we, The Party, control . . . all memories.”  Winston challenges, “It is outside oneself.  How can you control memory?”  Winston is appealing to the existence of an external reality.  O’Brian counters,

But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external.  Reality exists in the human mind and no where else.  Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes . . . only in the mind of the Party.  . . .  Whatever the Party holds to be truth, is the truth.”

(Sound familiar?)

Winston has a hard time understanding this; he argues that the Party doesn’t control the climate or gravity.  O’Brian’s response:

We control matter, because we control the mind.  Reality is inside the skull. . . .  There is nothing we could not do.  Invisibility, levitation–anything.  I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if I wished to.  . . .   You must get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature.  We make the laws of Nature.

O’Brian is simply saying that reality or truth isn’t a thing in itself, it is defined by human minds.   Consequently, if one controls human minds, then one controls reality.

For this conclusion to be true, O’Brian’s first premise must be true.  Is reality defined by human minds or is Winston right, does reality or truth exist outside the skull?

Human beings have always believed that reality or truth exist outside the human–the Ancient Greeks called it the kosmos, Taoists and Buddhists think of it as a transcendent truth, the Jews and Muslims understand it to be in a transcendent God, Christians find it in the person of Jesus Christ  (this is another majority view held by all religions).

Recently, within the last 150 years or so, something changed in our culture–in the West.  We broke with the rest of humanity and began to consider the possibility that the universe might be made up of just material.  This meant that there is no God or gods or transcendent truth.  Objective reality had not place to live but in matter.

All this has lead to a different way of talking about truth.  Truth and fact used to mean different things.  You used to be able to call all sorts of things true, not just things like,

  • water is made up of two hydrogen and one oxygen atom
  • the Battle of Hastings was in 1066
  • 2+2=4

but sentiments could also fall under the heading of “truth”:

  • the waterfall is sublime
  • the Parthenon is beautiful
  • courage is better than cowardice

In a world of only matter, truth is reduced to fact.  The rest of what used to be truth has to find a different place to live–it did.  It took up residence in individual human minds.  The truths in the second list are now “just” opinions–or are said to be merely subjective.

We’ve been going along quite happily so far with our separation of fact and opinion, but it couldn’t last.  As Orwell warned, without an external objective reality, rational facts will eventually go the way of rational sentiments.  If the truth is in the mind, then the, so called, facts have no more chance than did true sentiments.  This is how O’Brian can state with confidence that 2+2=5 if Big Brother says it does.

This is what happened this past week on Meet The Press.  It was officially declared by a representative of the President of the United States of America that 500 000 was greater than 1.8 million.

When we separated the mind from the world outside the mind, the first casualty was the loss of true sentiments, but it was only a matter of time till the facts themselves fell victim to the denial of objective reality.

The only way to get back to reality is to recover the pre-modern idea of objective truth. Objective truth, not only links reason to reality, but grounds sentiment as well. This is expressed in The Abolition of Man, where C. S. Lewis argues that emotions are not “in themselves contrary to reason” (19).   Some sentiments are reasonable or unreasonable only as they conform, or fail to conform, to something else–to some external standard.  He said that “a philosophy which does not accept value as eternal and objective can only lead to ruin” for it “has nothing, in the long run, to divide it from devil worship” (“Poison” 80-81).

It is appropriate to be alarmed by the “double-speak” coming from the White House this past week, but we oughtn’t be surprised–Orwell warned us in Nineteen Eighty-Four that this was coming.  It has apparently arrived.

Abraham, Issac and The Walking Dead Season Premiere

In Books, Movies and Television on October 25, 2016 at 5:14 am

lucilleOf course I watched the season 7 premier of The Walking Dead to find out whose head got smashed with Lucille, in last season’s finale.  I expected Abraham because he’s too much of a soldier; Rick and company need to be vulnerable in the face of Negan.  I was also prepared for Glen because he gets it in the comic books.  However, I was not ready to lose both.  It was intense emotionally, and gory visually.  My twitter feed was full of indignant fans who said, “This time they went too far!”

Maybe they did, but that’s not what I was thinking about as the credits ran.

I was thinking about the event that actually broke Rick, the event that broke the viewing audience.  It’s the central event of the episode that will “change everything”–I was thinking about the near-amputation of Carl’s arm by his own father, called off by Negan at the last second.

This is an obvious allusion to Genesis 22 where God told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and . . .  sacrifice him . . . as a burnt offering.”  Abraham obediently took Isaac to the place designated for the sacrifice. Isaac, ignorant of the plan,  asked his father where the lamb was for the sacrifice.  Abraham was evasive and answered that the Lord would provide the lamb. Once they arrived at the site, Abraham bound Isaac with ropes and put him on the stone altar.

Negan makes the same demand on Rick–“Sacrifice your son!” or at least, permanently maim him.  We are clearly expected to interpret this scene in, in the light of Genesis 22, so here’s some background.

In Hebrew  culture, the first born belongs to God; Yaweh (the Hebrew name for God) has a claim on the first born as representative of the family (Exodus 22, Numbers 3 and 8) — the firstborn’s life is forfeit.

You must give me the firstborn of your sons. Do the same with your cattle and your sheep. Let them stay with their mothers for seven days, but give them to me on the eighth day. (Exodus 22:29-30)

A foundational premise in The Walking Dead, the ancient Hebrews also understood that people were generally guilty of evil, either overtly or in their heart–usually both.  The first born, as the representative of the family, bore the guilt of the entire family and belonged to God as payment for this moral debt.  God’s demand of the sacrifice of Isaac was simply a calling in of the debt.  That’s how Abraham took it anyway.

So Negan is in the position of God, Rick in that of Abraham and Carl, Isaac.  It might be said that Rick and his “family” of survivors, owes Negan.  In season 6, Rick and a number of Alexandrians carried out a pre-emptive attack on Negan’s people, the Saviors.  The reason for the attack is that the Saviors were extorting supplies from the peaceful Hilltop community and Rick expects them to eventually do the same to his Alexandria community, so he proposes the attack.  Morgan, assuming the role of moral conscience, opposes the idea.

As evil as the Saviors are, we ought to have been a little disturbed by the nocturnal attack.  Rick walks into a room and finds a guy sleeping, and he silently presses a knife into his head. The guy never wakes up. This silent execution is repeated by Glenn and Heath.  They admit to each other that they have never killed a living human being. Heath can’t do it, so Glenn murders both in their sleep.  The entire Savior outpost is whipped out in two episodes.  And we see our heroes do some very questionable things.  They aren’t comfortable with them.  Carol even leaves the community because she can no longer handle the guilt of these events.

Negan has been wronged and, like the Hebrew God, is simply calling in the debt.  In the ancient, eye-for-an-eye legal code, he has a right to an arm and a life–this is his declared purpose for killing one of Rick’s people–which turns out to be two.  Both Glen and Abraham were a part of this clandestine first strike on the Saviors.

Although the Abraham of the Bible would have been distressed by the loss of his son, sacrificing Isaac was also an act of giving God his due, but Abraham’s blow never falls on his son.  Before he can carry out the sacrifice, angel of the Lord calls out “Stop.”

The demand for Carl’s arm, and the sudden and unexpected revocation of that demand solidly correlates Negan to Yaweh.  So what is the point of this allusion?

Is it meant to draw a comparison between the harsh demands of the God of the Old Testament?  If this is the case, the writers missed some pretty important elements of the story.  Immediately after the biblical Abraham is commanded to stop the sacrifice,

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram[a] caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  (Genesis 22:13)

In Genesis 22, God himself provided the alternate sacrifice.  The ram functions as a substitute for the first born who is himself a substitute for Abraham’s family.  Christians draw a parallel between the ram and Christ who dies on the Roman cross as a replacement for sinners.  It’s a story where Grace is at the centre. The God of the Bible transfers the punishment for humanity’s moral failings upon himself.  It seems to me, in order to understand this pivotal scene in TWD, we need to look for the substitute, after all, Carl doesn’t lose his arm.   What is sacrificed in it’s place?  Rick’s strength or defiance is destroyed.  Negan can see it in his eyes; Rick is broken.

Negan’s method to achieve Rick’s submission to his will is coercion. Negan threatens to destroy Rick’s whole “family” if he doesn’t comply.  God, as represented in both the New and Old Testaments of the Bible, does not use force.  Although many elements of The Walking Dead’s season premiere and the story in Genesis 22, and the Gospels is similar, this difference is absolutely key.

To illustrate:  Imagine Negan making that whole season 6 finale speech that somebody must die.  And he does the “eeny meeny miny moe” thing, and then stops and says,

You are guilty and all deserve death for what you did to my people and what you’ve done to others since the dead began to walk.  Rick, don’t you know that human beings were made to do wonderful things in the world.  Yeah I know, the zombies complicate things, but they are no excuse.  You got distracted from that purpose, Rick.  And then you killed people.  And I am pissed about that Rick, and someone is going to die because of all the bad stuff you’ve done.

And then he nods and they bring a ram into the circle and smashes its head with Lucille, and they all sit down to a dinner of roast lamb.

A New Testament version would end with:

Remember Rick.  You and your people, all people actually, you were made to thrive, not just to survive.  I want you to get back on track Rick, start thriving.–because I love you Rick.

But that’s another episode.

The allusion breaks down because Negan isn’t comparable to God regarding righteousness.  Negan is far from righteous.  Rick has paid for his sins against Negan with the deaths of Abraham and Glen, but, to use biblical language, Negan is still piling condemnation upon himself.

I don’ think the writers of the show are trying to make some statement on the Old Testament God.  I think they are making a statement on guilt–Rick’s guilt, and that of his band of survivors.  In the world of The Walking Dead, our group of would be survivors might just be a new chosen people, who are called to return to humanity’s purpose.  To thrive in the world despite the zombies.  I am hoping that the allusion to the interrupted sacrifice of Isaac plays out with a form of redemption for Rick and the rest of the “family” as they seek their lost humanity.

Microwave Chicken Teriyaki Jesus

In Books, Movies and Television, The Church on April 1, 2016 at 11:45 pm

I really liked Bryan F. Hurlbutt’s book Tasty Jesus. In it he asserts that Western Christianity holds to various cameos of Christ that aren’t accurate. This is because we tend to reconfigure Jesus to suit our personal preferences. In order to make complex cultural and philosophical ideas accessible, Hurlbutt uses food analogies to illustrate the shortcomings of five most significant “christological malformations” in the Western church. His analysis of these is thorough and nuanced.  But I’m wondering if, perhaps, there is not a configuration that might be added to his list, and a food analogy that would challenge the view of Christ held by many of the readers of this book: Modern evangelicals.

First, here are Hurlbutt’s five predilections that wield a lot of power in the Christian West:

  1. Theological liberalism has largely naturalistic roots and, consequently, has stripped Jesus of his deity. This is the “creampuff Jesus,” tasty, but of no nutritional value at all.
  2. Fundamentalism is a response to theological liberalism. It tosses out the creampuff, but keeps crossing things off the menu–out with the potatoes, pasta and bread. This no-carb approach eliminates important parts of a balanced diet.  Ultimately, this approach is  spiritually toxic.
  3. More recently, postmodern ideas have influenced ideas of Christ–the core of this stance is relativism. Like a meal at a smorgasbord, this version of Christ can appeal to many diners because it makes no absolute claims. Have some pork chops, top them with ice cream and vegetable soup–whatever.
  4. Gourmet Jesus is the Christ of those who believe in the prosperity gospel–God wants you to be rich. The Biblical promises of spiritual or eternal flourishing are understood to mean material prosperity–God’s wants you to eat lobster thermidor. He clearly says so in the Bible, if you take a few verses out of context.
  5. Pop-culture Jesus–this is a “shallow and spurious” Jesus. Gastronomically, this is the homogenized Jesus, heated to the point where anything dangerous or confusing has been eradicated.  It’s the opposite of the delicious unpasteurized cheese you can buy in Europe.

These are Hurlbutt’s five. There might be a sixth cameo of Christ that is significant enough to be added to this list. It is the view toward which many of the readers of this book might lean.

I called this group Modern Evangelicals.  These terms are so overused that their meaning has become unclear, so let me explain who I’m talking about.  They lean toward Conservatism.  They fall somewhere between the mainline denominations and the Emergent church, of which Hurlbutt is quite critical.  They aren’t like the traditional mainline churches for they have left behind traditional liturgies and no longer hold strictly to their traditional theologies.  Because they are Modern, they take a rational approach to reading the Bible and are suspicious of the magical and mysterious, for instance, they might think of Communion as “just a symbol.”  Paradoxically, they place a high value on the symbolism of believer baptism.  They tend to emphasize the transcendence of Christ and the Bible, perhaps at the expense of their incarnational natures.

They will be quite happy with Hurlbutt’s five cameos because they are not particularly guilty of these. Just as it’s easy for Canadians to see peculiarities in the American view of the world (and vice versa), to which they are themselves blind, so too Modern evangelicals can easily see problems in the Liberal or Fundamentalists stance, but fail to see the plank in their own eye.

What is the gastronomic analogy that might get at some of the limitations of the Modern evangelical take on Jesus?

A microwave Teriyaki Chicken dinner.

It is an individual serving, efficiently prepared with the modern convenience of a microwave. It’s slightly exotic–it’s teriyaki, after all–but it’s largely Westernized. The ingredients are theoretically tasty and nutritious, but the effects of mass production and microwaving have removed most of their structure, taste and probably nutrients. It’s convenient, only requiring a few minutes to prepare and eat–ideal for busy people on the run. Even if you ate it every day, you could do worse–it’s probably healthier than any of the other five diets.

Now, I know plenty of evangelicals that do not have the microwave teriyaki chicken image of Christ. For these, the analogy would be more like a healthy, well-balanced dinner–an herb-roasted chicken with mashed potatoes, steamed asparagus and a  small, sweet dainty for dessert. But I think even this more robust and balanced picture, as compared to the microwave meal, reveals the limitations of the evangelical Christ.

What would be the best gastric analogy for the real Jesus?

I think it would be a family meal, something Middle Eastern. My daughter told me about the meals she ate in Israel. These were family meals. They ate fresh pita and hummus, tzatziki, olives of course, lentils, roasted vegetables, lamb on skewers, lamb in grape leaves. Importantly, this is a balanced meal. But the contents, especially the spices–cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, thyme–were strange to her western palate. She had to humbly look to her hosts, even the children, for some indication of how to eat it and what to put with what. She wasn’t confident; she wasn’t certain. She was repeatedly surprised–sometimes delightfully, at other times, unpleasantly by the flavour combinations. This meal was full of grace and love–the family that prepared it, pulled out all the stops because there were guests at the table. My daughter felt so blessed that such a sacrifice would be made for her.

No analogy can ever begin to capture the true Jesus, but I do think that even evangelicals need to think, not only about other, clearly problematic predilections, but also their own reconfigurations of Christ.

Time and Despair

In Books, Movies and Television, Time on February 21, 2016 at 9:03 pm

Time and DespairWe modern folks have a very modern view of time.   Having emptied time of transcendence, we think of it as mere chronology or sequence. Still, this sequence can be viewed optimistically; in our culture we tend to find meaning in time in terms of human progress. But there is a darker view of time in the absence of higher things. If God doesn’t exist, are Goodness, Truth, Beauty possible? Some say no, and despair.

This is the case of Maneck in A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. Time and its relationship to meaning is woven through the novel, most often through the words and musings of this young man. For instance, there is the idea that life is essentially tragic because it is embedded in sequential time:

Our lives are but a sequence of accidents–a clanking chain of chance events. A string of choices, casual or deliberate, which add up to that one big calamity we call LIFE.

Why does Maneck see life as tragic and time as meaningless? It’s because for him there is no God who is active in his creation.  He has this conversation with landlady, Dina:

‘God is dead,’ said Maneck. ‘That’s what a German philosopher wrote.’

She was shocked. ‘Trust the Germans to say such things,’ she frowned. ‘And do you believe it?’

‘I used to. But now I prefer to think that God is a giant quilt maker. With an infinite variety of designs. And the quilt is grown so big and confusing, the pattern is impossible to see, the squares and diamonds and triangles don’t fit well together anymore, it’s all become meaningless. So He has abandoned it.’

In the novel, we find reflections on the nature of time as we experience it–no minute is like another minute. Where I find this a piece of an argument for meaning in time, Maneck ends up using the same phenomenon as evidence against meaning:

What an unreliable thing is time–when I want it to fly, the hours stick to me like glue. And what a changeable thing, too. Time is the twine to tie our lives into parcels of years and months. Or a rubber band stretched to suit our fancy. Time can be the pretty ribbon in a little girl’s hair. Or the lines in your face, stealing your youthful colour and your hair. …. But in the end, time is a noose around the neck, strangling slowly.

On his return home after the spreading of his father’s ashes, Maneck sits on the porch and begins

escorting a hose of memories through his troubled mind.” His mother’s interruption of his thoughts irritated him “as though he could have recaptured, reconstructed, redeemed those happy times if only he had been given long enough.” While he sits in the deepening dusk he spies a lizard. “He hated its shape, its colour, its ugly snout. The manner in which it flicked its evil tongue. Its ruthless way of swallowing flies. The way time swallowed human efforts and joy. Time, the ultimate grandmaster that could never be checkmated. There was no way out of its distended belly. He wanted to destroy the loathsome creature.

In a world where God does not exist, or has gone far away, if we are to find meaning in time we must find it someplace else. Some will find all attempts to find meaning under these conditions impossible. They, like Maneck, may despair.

Why I am not a Conservatyve

In Books, Movies and Television, Why I am not a "Liberal" or "Conservative" on January 10, 2016 at 12:46 am

BibleI am not a Conservatyve because of three books.

Before I get to the books, let me just say that there are a lot of intelligent liberals and conservatives who hold their views because of careful thought and research.  I’m not talking about those. I’m talking about cheap imitations. My wife refers to inferior derivations of good things as being “spelled with a ‘y’.” So cheap over-processed cheese, she’d call “cheese spelled with a ‘y’,” as in “cheyse.”

I don’t really like to use the terms “liberal” and “conservative” because they have become caricatures–Lyberil and Conservatyve.  When I wrote a post about Why I am not a Liberal, people quite correctly took me to task for mischaracterizing what a liberal is, at least there version of it.  The reason that people push back against these labels is exactly the reason I am writing this post–there really is no such thing as a Lyberal or a Conservatyve.  The Lyberal exists only in the mind of the conservative, and vice-versa, but scratch beneath the surface and you will find all sorts of gradations.  Having said this, I do have my doubts–when I hear what some people write in the comments section of blogs and Facebook posts, I wonder if the caricatures might actually be becoming descriptive.

I don’t know where the truth lies between the extremes on the continuum, but I am confident that for most issues it lies somewhere in between and my instinct tells me it’s usually toward the centre.  How do we discover where truth lies?  Dialogue is one of the best ways.  Sadly in a world of Lyberals and Conservatyves, there can be no dialogue, only diatribe.  So this post is an attempt to drag one or two issues toward the centre.

I am not a Conservatyve because of three books.

The first book is the Bible.  I believe that the Bible is the world of God.  When I read the Bible, Old and New Testaments, I see a pretty clear and consistent message that He wants all people, but especially his chosen ones, to think more about how they can bless other people rather than to grab for money and power so as to gratify their own needs.  There are regular injunctions to take care of the poor and, for those in power, to make sure there is justice for the poor.  It is also apparent from the Holy Scriptures that God is an environmentalist and that He wishes, in some respects, Americans were more like the French.  The Conservatyve seems to be against these things.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck changed my life.  It’s about people who are poor.  They are poor to begin with, but things get a lot worse when the big banks and big business turn them off the land, leaving them with no means to feed themselves or their families.  Beginning with the used-car salesmen who sell them junk vehicles, their journey from Oklahoma to California is filled with people abusing them, ignoring their desperation or taking advantage of their plight.  It’s been a long time since I read it so I might have the details wrong, but in one rare act of kindness the family on whose journey the narrative is focused received a bit of beef fat.  The mother mixed the rendered fat with flour and made some dumplings.  In the context of their desperate condition, this meagre meal was a feast.  Ever since, I have never looked at discarded fat, bone and gristle the same way.  Importantly, these people were not in this condition because they were lazy, they were in this condition because of vast forces like government policies, climate, geography, economics, and (not insignificantly) human greed and corruption.

I have just finished reading A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry.  If I hadn’t read The Grapes of Wrath, this novel would have saved me from Conservatysm.  The setting of A Fine Balance is India, and it too explores the life of the poor which is not really all that different than that of the Joad family in Steinbeck’s novel.  It’s frustrating at times to experience vicariously what it is like to live between hope and despair–with despair usually in the ascendant.  Here again, the Conservatyve myth that the poor are poor because they are lazy is shown as the lie that it is.

People are usually poor, for the same reason people are rich–not because they did or didn’t work hard, not because they made good decisions or not, not because they had initiative or not.  People are rich or poor because of government policies, climate, geography, economics, and human greed.  The only difference between the rich and the poor is into which circumstance one was born.

I found myself responding to these novels in two ways–compassion and gratitude.  Conservatyves aren’t very compassionate and that’s because they aren’t very grateful.

These two novels are great works of literature.  One of the functions of literature is to broaden and deepen our understanding–I am a Canadian in 2016–I don’t know what it’s like to be poor; I didn’t live in the 1930s, or in India.  I get enough of a glimpse of what it might be like through these novels–and they changed me.  They move me toward an understanding of others and their lives and, consequently, bring me closer to dialogue.

I don’t think Conservatyves read–or they don’t read the right things.

Please read these books.

 

 

You Gotta Read War and Peace!

In Books, Movies and Television on October 4, 2015 at 5:37 pm

I just finished reading War and Peace. I knew it was long, but I didn’t know it was awesome!

  • If you like stories about the two lovers finally overcoming their own pride and prejudice, like you find in Jane Austen novels,
  • If you like stories where individuals get are overcome by forces far bigger than themselves, like you find Thomas Hardy novels,
  • If you like the witty critique of human foibles and foolishness, like you find in Flannery O’Connor’s stories,
  • If you like epic events carried out in fascinating, expansive and strange worlds like that found in Tolkien,
  • If you like the brilliant use of analogy in the critique of rationalism and historicism like you find in C. S. Lewis,

then you will love War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

Some notes about Hollywood Films

In Books, Movies and Television on June 29, 2015 at 3:57 am

Movies and Rality

“Can’t we just watch it?!”

When watching a movie in class, many of my students complain when I stop it in order to engage in a discussion of what the movie is presenting.  My response to their “Can’t we just watch it?” is always, sure.  “Sure, this Friday night, in your living room.”  But to be truthful, I don’t believe that we should ever “just watch” a movie.  We need to be aware of what they are presenting as truth or reality.

I’ve written about movies before: R Rated Movies, Does Movie Violence Affect the Viewer?, Language, Sex and Violence–What will we Watch?, The Demonic and the Stupid, A Negative Times a Negative Equals a Positive.  Here are some notes that I don’t think I’ve yet posted:

Movies always show a hero who needs something.

  • What they need is often not what they think they need.
  • Friends, trials, even enemies help the hero to realize what they need.
  • In the end, the hero has an opportunity to take it.
  • It’s interesting to analyze movies on the basis of what the story tellers insist the hero needs.
  • In Hollywood it’s usually, it’s romantic love.

_____________________

Masculinity, Femininity, Love and Sex

  • Male heroes often have a problem with authority–they need freedom?
  • Masculinity in the movies is muscles, emotional restraint, dominance, aggression, sexual prowess and the capacity for violence.
  • Femininity in movies presents the woman as passive and finding her identity in the man. She is expected to be sexually chaste and resist the advances of the male.
  • Sex is a physical expression of romantic love. She was chaste until she realized that she was “in love,” and this is within the rules.
  • Love in Hollywood: Romantic love is passionate, irresistible and able to conquer anything, including barriers of social class, age, race and ethnicity, and personal conflicts.

______________________

Hopeful and Materialistic

  • We like things to wrap up nicely and leave us with a sense of hope for the future.
  • Hollywood films must be rational.  We need a knowable, physical cause for everything.

Mad Max: Fury Road

In Books, Movies and Television on June 17, 2015 at 6:41 am

I just got back from watching Mad Max: Fury Road [SPOILER ALERT]. It didn’t take me too long to wonder if I had made a mistake–it’s a bit over the top. The world into which we are dropped is pretty terrible–I expected it to be terrible, but not that gross. But the film makers are building upon so many other movies in this genre since the original post-apocalyptic Mad Max and it’s sequel, Road Warrior, that they obviously felt they needed to ratchet up the terribleness a notch or two. I can’t say that I ever got to the point where I felt all the dirt, defects, and disgusting were worth it, but the movie does make an pretty important and interesting religious statement. Mad Max? Religious? Yes, the terms hope, redemption and salvation are uttered by the characters and the story is built upon these religious ideas.

It’s an allegory. We live in a world that’s pretty horrible–scarcity, exploitation and religious fanaticism are the order of the day. At the top are the exploiters. Their power is maintained through a combination of withholding life giving water, and other physical necessities, occasionally offering a meager “gift” from their bounty and letting people fight each other for it, and through promises of rewards in the afterlife for loyalty and sacrifice in this world. These are the basic evils that concern your average middle class North American.

The allegory continues: Human beings have a longing for a better world–C. S. Lewis uses the German word Sehnsucht to describe this inherent “longing,” or “yearning” that results from knowing we live in a world that we know this isn’t the way it is supposed to be. Imperator Furiosa, played by Charlize Theron, is a character of Sehnsucht; her dissatisfaction with the world comes from a childhood memory of “The Green Place”–read, The Garden of Eden. It is her mission to get back to the green place with four beautiful women who have been used as breeders for the corrupt warlord of The Citadel.

It is interesting that where the Biblical narrative moves from a garden in Genesis to a city in The Book of Revelation, the story in the new Mad Max movie moves from city to garden. This reversal is central to the religious statement the film is making.

One of the things I like about this movie is that the women are actually heroic rather than passive victims waiting to be rescued by a man. This is also a reflection of a positive trend in our culture. There are two men that help out a lot, but the success and fulfillment of the women does not rest solely in the hands of the male heroes. Max and Furiosa are equally heroic and they even swap traditional gender roles; Furiosa is the better shot, where Max is the healer.  The rest of the band of heroes are comprised of young and beautiful, but also capable, girls and the old, sandy, wizened, desert women which are also formidable in their fight against the exclusively male band of evil guys.

Firiosa is going to lead her crew, sans Max, across the salt flats where they hope they can find a place to begin life again and perhaps plant the invaluable seeds that they carry. They are going to, allegorically, re-establish the Garden, but, in the context of the movie, the garden is blended into the future hope of Heaven. Max turns them from this goal–interestingly, it’s not certain that this better world, “heaven,” doesn’t exist, but they do know that The Citadel certainly has enough water to begin again. They turn toward certainty–and it is a certainty. As movie goers, we know that some of them will make it and succeed in creating, if not Heaven, at least a garden, on earth.

And that’s exactly what happens.

It is an allegory that describes how a lot of people in our culture understand hope, redemption and salvation. Our world has some big problems and we need salvation from the rich or powerful or religious exploiters if we are going to have a better world. Our redemption will not, likely, come from an afterlife–our only hope is to do something for the here and now. This will take courage and sacrifice (and men and women working together), but we just might have a chance if we get out from under the control of the 1% and the religious leaders who exploit the rest of us for their own personal gain.

Although many found this movie entertaining, I’m afraid they won’t find it satisfying. The Sehnsucht we are experiencing will not be satisfied by crawling out from under the thumbs of the exploiters. Nor will it result from the flight back to the Garden. Our true longings will only be satisfied when we live in the city for which we were made–the City described in Revelation 21.

Now those are some good lyrics . . .

In Books, Movies and Television on April 12, 2015 at 6:12 pm

Praise 1I’m a big fan of Josh Garrels and his latest album, Home, was just released.  (He’s giving it away! Click here to download. [Don’t forget to give a tip.])

I often lament that the lyrics of so many of the songs Christians sing are artless.

Not so with Josh Garrels.

Here are a few fragments of Josh’s lyrics from this new album.  This artful poetry combined with his incredible talent as a musician (and his unique voice) make Josh Garrels my favourite singer songwriter, Christian or otherwise.

From “Born Again”:

Instincts are guiding me

Like a beast to some blood

And I can’t get enough

From “Born Again”

Running scared in between what I hate

And what I need

Savior and enemy are both trying

To take my soul

From “Colors”

So let all the creatures sing

Praises over everything

Colors are meant to bring

Glory to the light

From “A Long Way”

There’s a time in our lives

To return, sacrifice

Wild grass has grown high

On the path between our lives

From “The Arrow”

How on earth did it all go down like this? I’ve got no words to make sense of it My shield, my fight for righteousness Could not protect me from myself

From “At the Table”

‘Cause I lost some nameless things

My innocence flew away from me

She had to hide her face from my desire

To embrace forbidden fire

But at night I dream

She’s singing over me

Oh, oh, my child

From “Benediction”

As the days unfold

Hold your breath to see

Life is a mystery

And joy, it is severe

When the way is rough and steep

But love will make your days complete

The Equalizer

In Books, Movies and Television, Devotional on January 13, 2015 at 3:28 am

EqualizerI just finished watching The Equalizer starring Denzel Washington. It’s a movie like many in the genre. [SPOILER ALERT] There are bad guys and the good guy kills them all. The bad guys are dirty cops and various levels of the Russian mafia. They make a lot of money doing bad things to everybody, but what makes them really despicable is that they do bad things to young girls. Like I said, they are bad. Then there’s our hero–he’s good because he protects the young girls and other meeker people. Although he looks like a mild mannered Home Depot guy (the movie uses a different name, but they ain’t fooling anybody) who likes to read books and drink tea in his spare time, he four armed thugs in less than 30 seconds.

We’ve seen this movie hundreds of times, the only thing in this sort of movie is if the hero dies at the end or not–always in exchange for the life and/or happiness of the former victim. I won’t tell you if Denzel survives or not since that will be the only “surprise” in this movie.

Still, I liked the movie. And I’ve liked most of the hundred that I already saw. The one with Clint or Jean Claude or Arnold or Harrison or Wesley or Steven or Bruce or Jackie. You get the idea.

Why do we like these movies so much? Why do they get away with giving us the same story again and again.

It’s because we really want it to be true. We want to watch the bad people get what’s coming to them, and we want to the innocent to be rescued and given their life back. We want to see justice–we need to see justice.

It’s interesting that this impulse is so strong in Western movie goers who rarely experience the sorts of injustices that are daily fare in many other parts of the world. If experiencing justice is such a rush for us, imagine how important it is for those who actually experience the intense injustice that we only experience in the theatre.

We also know that we will never see the kind of justice we crave, unless this is true.

Here is my servant whom I have chosen,

the one I love, in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him,

and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

He will not quarrel or cry out;

no one will hear his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break,

and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,

till he has brought justice through to victory.

In his name the nations will put their hope.

(Isaiah 42:1-4, see also Matthew 12:15-21)