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Posts Tagged ‘Dystopian Fiction’

“Gotta Serve Somebody”

In Devotional on December 30, 2014 at 6:43 am

godsHuman beings always serve something. We always put something in the centre of our life, a thing against which we measure all other things. Perhaps it’s an ideology or a religion or a nation or a cause. Or partying or sex or work. Maybe the arts or sports or fine food and fast cars. Even abstract concepts like freedom or charity or happiness. Today I heard on the radio that the highest value was “universal human rights.”

We make gods of things.

And it’s dehumanizing.

If you make a thing more important that human beings, you have made humanity a lesser thing.

  • Religion says that the needs of the god are more important than those of humanity.
  • Nationalism means that the nation is more important than human beings.
  • If I worship sex, getting some is more important than the person I’m getting it with.
  • If freedom is the most important thing, then we sacrifice some people on the alters of that freedom.
  • If you are committed to your own personal flourishing, that of others is subjugated.

We seem to know innately that this is an inappropriate shift. Humanity is inherently valuable. Freedom, nation, happiness, sex, sports, arts, and charity are all good things, but when one of them is made into the ultimate thing, we start to see problems. This idea is at the core dystopian literature and film–Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, The Hunger Games, Logan’s Run, Bladerunner, Minority Report, Gattaca, The Island, and I, Robot. All these present a world gone very wrong–in each humanity was dethroned and replaced by some good thing–political power, pleasure, peace, elimination of murder, and long life. Bad things happen when we make good things into ultimate things. Good things are ill suited to occupy the position of a god.

Surrendering to an object or an idea is dehumanizing. The only possible way to serve something, which is part of our nature, but avoid dehumanization at the same time, is to surrender to another person. You might object that surrendering to another human being can also be dehumanizing. This is true, there are a lot of one-sided relationships where people that are happy to take whatever they can get from you and give very little in return, and they end up being the only ones that are thriving. This is usually (always?) because they are serving a thing or an idea.

There are other relationships based on sacrificial love, they are far from dehumanizing. We have this for our children–we give far more than we receive, and we don’t care because we are so interested in their flourishing. Some marriages are like this, where both put the other’s needs ahead of their own. You give a lot in these relationships, but by some magic you get back so much more than you give up.

This is was what we were made for, that’s why we flourish by these relationships.

Human beings were not only created to have relationships with each other, but also with God.

Not God as an idea, but as a person. The God of the Bible was always a personal God, but when he became human, he got way more personal. Submission to him isn’t dehumanizing, first of all because he is a person. But also because he’s not one of those gods–like Baal, Nation or Universal Human Rights–who demands we conform our lives to his desires in order to gain acceptance. Rather he conformed to us by becoming human and then dying for his enemies (myself included), and while we tortured and killed him he forgave us. What can we do but respond to this grace with a life of gratitude.

If you are going to serve, and you certainly will serve something, it might as well be to the God who served you first. Not just because it makes sense, but because it was for this relationship that we were made.

(This post is a complement for my post on cureforzombies.com — Check it out here)

Hunger Games: Catching Fire — Cosmetics and Self-Sacrifice

In Books, Movies and Television, False Dichotomies - the lines between on November 29, 2013 at 5:58 am

Catching FireLoved it!

OK, now the thing that really set me off.

Before I was a kid, the film was preceded by newsreels — meaningful because it was informative with a little propaganda thrown in for good measure.

When I was a kid, the movie was preceded by a cartoon–meaningless, but entertaining.

Now, the film is preceded by commercials–demeaningful.  They are demeaning.  They reduce audiences of people to mere consumers.

One of the commercials that preceded the latest adventure of Katniss Everdeen as she, once again, squares off against the evils of them Capital, was for a new line of makeup for Cover Girl.

And the name of this new, somewhat outlandish line?

The CAPITAL Line!

The trilogy written by Suzanne Collins is in the genre of dystopian fiction. That is, it presents a horrible world against which the protagonist must contend. The whole point of this genre, and therefore this particular movie, is to be a warning. By exaggerating and projecting into the future an aspect or aspects of our present day culture, this movie makes us more aware of our vice, or (at least) our folly.

The Capital is frivolous and exploitive. One scene in particular, brings this home. Our heroes are forced to attend a Capital party where there are so many good things to eat, Peeta laments he cannot try them all. He is immediately offered a beverage that will empty his stomach of its contents so that he may start all over again. The irony of this is not lost on Katniss who comments that many in the districts starve while they provide all the resources for those in the Capital to maintain their lifestyle of excess. Oh, and as an external symbol of the Capital’s excess –meaningless adornment.

Enter Cover Girl’s Capital Line of cosmetics.

If the audience were capable of absorbing the core meaning of this film, Cover Girl would right now be attempting to recover from one of the greatest advertising dabacles in history.  Young women would be rushing home from the theatre to post pictures to Facebook of them destroying all their Cover Girl products, or shooting kabob skewers at magazine-ad targets with bows made of pencils and rubber-bands.

But alas, Cover Girl didn’t make a mistake.

They know that we are capable of believing one thing, and doing another.

. . . crossing the line between knowing and doing

We can root for Katniss and everything she stands for, while in our theatre seats, but when we walk into the air, we become, once again, the citizens of the Capital, blind to our frivolous and exploitive lifestyle.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with Cover Girl, particularly. I’m sure they no longer test their products on baby seals, but that they succeed in selling a product line based on the antagonist shows a disconnect.

Imagine an Anglo-Saxon buying a compact car called the Grendel, or the medieval peasants wearing Turk Brand jeans, or the British public ordering up a pint of Prussian Ale–in 1916. It wouldn’t be possible.

Why can Cover Girl get away with it today?

Because we are different than our predecessors.  For them truth and action were inseparable.

For us, there is a gap between knowing and doing.

Not so, in the movie.  The main virtue celebrated in the film was doing what one knew.  Katniss, and the rest of the good guys, knew the Capital was wrong in their exploitation of others and that things needed to change, so they did something about it, even in the face of great pressure to do otherwise.  They each embodied the anti-Capital attitude of self-sacrifice.  As a matter of fact, this is the primary error of President Snow–he assumes that once in the arena, Katniss she will betray her professed altruistic values and become the killing machine he knows her to be.  He is right that if she does this, the revolution will be over.  All of the revolutionaries are banking on her constancy–and she lives up to these expectations.  It is not only Katniss that embodies the anti-Capital attitude of self-sacrifice; for Peeta, Gale, Haymitch, Cinna, Mags, Fennick, and Prim there is no gap between knowing and doing.

I loved this movie, because it was true, but does it really do any good if we don’t act on that truth?

And do we really live in an age when art no longer has any effect?