Sunday, October 15, 2017

over at LA Review of Books Alexis Clements has written about the improbable chance of "success" in the arts in the US.

For those who recall the blogging Warren Throckmorton did about Mark Driscoll's book Real Marriage you may recall, too, the coverage provided by WORLD magazine on Mars Hill Church contracting with Result Source to secure a #1 spot for Real Marriage on the New York Times best seller list in 2012. 

Well, to provide some context we could reference some writing Alexis Clements did not so long ago about a statistic that established what the odds were of actually landing such a #1 spot on the NYT list.

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/chances-success-arts-21st-century/
What Are the Chances? Success in the Arts in the 21st Century
By Alexis Clements


•The chances of your book becoming a New York Times best seller in 2012: 0.002 percent [1]
•The chances that a living artist in the United States would receive a solo exhibition at MoMA in 2015: 0.0006 percent [2]
•The median income of those with art degrees who made their living as artists in New York City in 2012: $25,000 [3]
•The median income for an artist in Canada in 2012: $21,603 [4]
•The percentage of total earnings that came from commissions and/or productions of their plays among a group of 250 working playwrights in the United States surveyed in 2005: 15 percent (or $3,750–$5,999 for the average playwright in that group) [5]
•The minimum fee set by W.A.G.E. for artists receiving solo exhibits in organizations with total annual operating expenses of $3,000,000: $6,000 [6]
•The percentage of artists surveyed by the group W.A.G.E. who received no payment at all for exhibiting or presenting their work in New York City in 2010, not even reimbursement for expenses: 58 percent [7]
•The percentage of artists across the United Kingdom surveyed by the group a-n who received no payment at all for exhibiting or presenting their work in 2010, not even reimbursement for expenses: 59 percent [8]
•Number of years the artist Walid Raad estimated that an artist showing in commercial galleries will achieve “financial success” over the course of their career: four [9]
•Chances of being awarded a Creative Capital grant in 2015 (if you applied): 1.2 percent [10]
•Number of the top 10 most expensive colleges that were arts schools in 2011: eight [11]
•Average cost for a four-year undergraduate degree at one of those eight schools in 2011: $150,312 [12]
•How much whiter the population of working artists in New York City is than the population of the city as a whole: 224 percent [13]


...

So with that in mind, if the chances of you getting on the NYT list is no better than 1 out of 500 even on the assumption that you're already a published author what are the odds for someone who's put out their first book?  Pretty slim ... unless a company decides to sink enough money into promoting a book that a person ends up on the list anyway or by dint of sheer ... celebrity.

But as Clements went on to note, the dream remains, the dream of:
... 
Time and again I encounter people of all ages for whom success for artists looks like some version of the following: 1) making a living entirely from your art, and/or 2) getting to spend all of your time making it. My own version, for most of my 20s, manifested as an intensely vague idea that if I were able to get one of my plays or performances produced by a big enough theater or if I were to win a big enough award or grant, then suddenly I would level up — this new echelon of achievement would beget more achievements. I would unlock a portal to a new world where I would consistently have opportunities to produce and share my artistic work, and lucrative financial support would just materialize to go along with each opportunity. Pretty much every article or essay I have read since then, and all the artists I know or have heard from, indicate that I had entirely the wrong idea.
...

If Clements had the wrong idea it's only the same wrong idea any of us who ever had any education in the arts ever beyond high school, or even from within high school, got from the kind of arts education we received. 

This wouldn't even be a remotely new element of American arts educational culture.  One of my favorite composers complained about this problem as far back as 1949 and 1950, which would be the German émigré composer Paul Hindemith.  In A Composer's World Hindemith opened his chapter on education with the following:

(page 175)
Let us assume that a country has, at a given time, five thousand active music teachers in colleges and music schools a number not too high compared with the number in this country. The duty of these music teachers is, of course, to instruct professional musicians and amateurs, and among the professionals  so instructed, new music teachers are produced. Now, if each music teacher produces not more than two new music teachers each year which is not an exaggerated estimate and if no interfering war, plague, or earthquake hinders this happy propagation, the result can easily be foreseen: after the first year we will have an additional ten thousand music teachers, in the fifteenth year every man, woman and child in the United States will be a music teacher, and after about twenty years the entire population of our planet will consist of nothing but music teachers.

I admit that the example slightly exaggerates the results of our teaching system, but it demonstrates clearly that we are suffering from overproduction. There is in each country a certain capacity for absorbing music teachers. Once the saturation point is reached, they will either go idle or have to look for other jobs. In this country nobody knows this fact better than the directors of music schools and the deans of music departments. Each year the problem of finding teaching jobs for their graduates becomes more and more desperate, because the saturation point is reached.
...
page 176
....

We are teaching each pianist or violinist as if he had a chance to become a Horowitz or a Heifetz, although we know that the entire concert life of the civilized world can hardly absorb more than ten or twelve great soloists in each field. Even if for regional demand in each larger country another ten are acknowledged, what in heaven happens to the remaining hundreds and thousands? [emphases added]
...
pages 176-177

Among those taught by our endless phalanx of pedagogues the nonprofessional, the man who wants instruction for his own amateurish fondness of playing with musical forms, hardly counts at all. He who normally ought to be the music teacher's best customer has, as a numerical factor, dwindled to almost nothing, and as a musical factor he usually wilts away after several years of a training that, instead of flattering and fostering his layman instincts, has administered an indigestible virtuoso treatment. Thus the clan of music teachers is now living in a state of ever growing artistic isolation and infertile self-sufficiency. Their teaching of teachers who in turn teach teachers, a profession based on the resentments of the frustrated concert virtuoso and not aiming at any improvement of human society's civilization, by its very activity removed from the actual demands and duties of a real musical culture, must inevitably lead to the sad goal reached by every other kind of indiscriminate and large-scale inbreeding [emphases added]: after a short period of apparent refinement a gradual degeneration and slow extinction. ...
Hindemith was not, by the way, what people would nowadays call especially progressive or "left", but his complaint, registered with too much bitterness for American scholars and formulated with the assertion that in the arts there is no possibility for genuinely democratic processes of the sort possible or desirable in civic life, can be summed up in his complaint that by the 1950s the arts had descended to the basest level of what someone like Adorno would call the culture industry.

Here in 2017 the prospect of degeneration and slow extinction of a bloated and self-insulating American academic educational culture surrounding the arts is not really up for consideration by those who write about the arts.  We're not talking about the death of any of the arts themselves, since all sorts of artistic activity is being done even now.  But the possible demise of arts education, arts funding, and arts institutions has been a steady threat in the coverage of the arts in the United States for years.  Even the Clements articles I've been quoting note with a measured outrage that the improbability with which you or I can "make a living" in the arts is predicated on the assumption that such a financial living is possible, almost as if there's no artistic life worth living that doesn't pay your bills.  Clements does get to the nature of what's now called privilege and that being of socio-economic caste soon enough:

...
Of course, there are those artists you meet out at events who never really say quite how they make it work, but always seem to spend as much time as they like on their work and never worry about whether or not they have the cash to spend a night out with friends. Robinson offered a clear-eyed assessment of those types: “They haven’t figured something out that you don’t know. That’s the dirty secret of the art world — the people that have the apartments bigger than you inherited them. They are not more talented than you. Nine out of 10 times they walked in with the asset and they left with the asset.”

Which is to say, all signs point to a reality in which no artist, no matter how famous or successful, spends 100 percent of their time on their art, nor do they earn 100 percent of their income from their art alone over the course of their entire career, except perhaps for those with enough support from wealthy families that worrying about the pesky reality of earning a living will never be a thing. [emphasis added]
...
A favorite pastime of many American artists is to wax rhapsodic about the artist’s life in Europe. They love to mention things like Denmark giving small annual stipends to artists, but they generally neglect to mention that it’s only for 275 artists out of a total population of 5.7 million people. What makes a much bigger difference to the well-being of every single artist in Denmark (and in many other European countries) is free healthcare and education, subsidized child care, a national pension system, and guaranteed unemployment benefits for two years, not a handful of stipends for the lucky few.
...
And if you read a book by someone like the Dutch composer John Borstlap you'll find out that complaining bitterly about the injustices of a European nation-state patronage system for the arts can still happen.

But, to once again invoke Hindemith's cranky but potentially necessary rebuke to American education and American academic theorizing about art, back in those days when young musicians apprenticed to practical musicians nobody taught music composition as we know it as a scholastic subject.  If anything composition was merely the practical outworking of educating anyone and everyone who was involve in music into a comprehensive musical life.  Composition, the products of musical life and activity, was in many respects merely the side effect of a musical culture and educational culture.  To study all of that music and teach it as though the products of the culture could be taught as a way to compose could be a fatal educational mistake.  To the extent that Clements proposes that if all the expenses of living were moot artists could make a living being artists is somewhat moot itself, if everybody got a universal basic income, for instance, the question as to why anyone would choose to work in the arts just gets back to the questions as to why. 

Why should artists be making a living being artists?  This is not to answer the question with a rhetorical "no" before the question has been asked but I've spent the last year or so reading arts journalism and arts criticism wondering why nearly everyone who writes about arts funding, arts education and arts culture reflexively assumes the only legitimate or possible answer to such a question must always be "yes". 

Clements wrote another piece related to the aforementioned article about the improbability of "success" in the arts, of the sort that would ever actually pay your rent.

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-secret-recipe-for-success-in-the-arts

...

Artists have always had a complex relationship with facts: challenging their meaning, dissecting their sources, refracting the information across differing viewpoints. And that’s important work, to be sure. But I was surprised when someone approached me shortly after the essay was published about a speaking gig. Even though my essay emphasizes that certain notions of success, particularly consistent monetary rewards, are almost entirely unattainable by the vast majority of artists, this person asked if I would talk about how artists who have achieved financial success managed to reach that goal. In other words, he wanted me to tell him how he and others could be the exception — how they could be the 0.002 percent.

There’s something deeply American about that response, and incredibly revealing about how much winning at the game of capital is tied up with many artists’ conscious or subconscious motivations. Certainly many readers will have at least a passing understanding that the high-end visual arts marketplace has largely become a cash-bloated status contest for the wealthy, but I’m not talking about that here. I’m focused on artists themselves, not the markets. And I’m talking about artists working across disciplines, not just in the areas that attract hedge funds willing to store paintings in offshore containers in anticipation of future profits. Artists across fields, even fields with notoriously low earnings, still believe that money equals success. We all know that very few people win that particular game, but we’re convinced there’s a way for us to beat the odds. And we cling to that belief, even when it harms us.

Here in the United States, we’re steeped in these stories from childhood: the underdog; the Horatio Alger figure; the courageous individual who surmounts challenge after challenge to win it all. [emphasis added] But you’ll notice it’s never a story about changing the odds — about making it less hard for more people to succeed. We never seem to flip the script. We prefer to believe in one of the most poisonous and persistent myths the United States has to offer — that our society is a meritocracy. And the American arts suffer enormously under this yoke. We are told over and over that if we work hard and do a good job, we will be rewarded. But “doing a good job” in the arts is not about how well you put together a machine or a spreadsheet; being judged worthy of attention or money in the arts is tied up with our very being, our beliefs and worldviews, our identities — the sources many of us tap to generate art in the first place.

Which sounds more than a little like the delusional idea Hindemith said was at the core of American educational culture surrounding the arts in general and music in particular, that would lead to the eventual atrophy and collapse of the educational culture.  Hindemith's counsel was clearly not to change the odds but to change the foundational premise of all arts education in the United States from "we school you in this so you can make money at it" to "we'll teach you this stuff because it's part of life, it's fun, and you can do it whether you make money at it or not."

Even if we flip the script there's no clear reason why an educational or economic culture should make arts a priority.  American artists and writers and musicians seem to want the arts to be front and cener but the arts are not where our production seems it should be.  We still need farmers and engineers and plumbers and architects and electricians and accountants and people who do all the unglamorous but necessary things in cultural life about which we'll not likely see movies.  I see trailers for American Assasin not American Court Stenographer.  Whether from a proverbial right or left Americans want art that is about revolution and not art about the normal, whether the normal that is or the normal we think should be.  We can never entirely extricate ourselves from art that plays some role in moral instruction and formation and if a whole lot of religious people seem like pious fuddy-duddys for it we can at least credit them for not forgetting that we do want our arts to instruct us and change us in some fashion.  Clements seems to grasp that working in the arts is some kind of priestly craft in a virtually religious mode but we live in a culture in which priests are not held in particularly high regard the way they were in earlier epochs, at least not explicitly religious priests.  Academic and artistic priests are another matter. 

Clements had more to say:
...

Of course, it should be pointed out that many artists of color — as well as women and trans artists, among others — have long known that the meritocracy was a lie. But that myth is internalized so deeply within many Americans and those who seek out this country, that it quietly and subconsciously drives our actions and beliefs, even when we know it’s a lie. It’s tied tightly into the knot of internalized capitalism that tugs on countless little strings within us: making us believe that our value as human beings is tied to our work (or, more precisely, our earnings), whispering to us that, without earnings, we have no value — that poverty, like wealth, is deserved. And if we just worked harder, if we just did better, we would get out of poverty, earn more money.

But that just isn’t true. If there is no significant money in the field you want to enter, or there are thousands of other people there already (which is the case in pretty much every field today), or the folks in charge don’t particularly like you or your perspective, you simply will not be able to sustain middle-class or better earnings over the course of a career from your art-making alone. Period. That has nothing whatsoever to do with your output or your value. And, as I said in the previous essay, time and again you will find that the people who appear to be making substantial incomes from their art alone for long periods of time are often deliberately or tacitly hiding inherited or married-into wealth and privilege, or are quietly running side businesses to keep their finances afloat.

That last point gets to the other deeply insidious American myth — we are all each other’s competition in a zero-sum game. The net effect of that internalized belief is that we isolate ourselves. We pull back into our shells, our studios, our small corners; we hunker down, we hide. We don’t share information with one another and we lean on rumor and suspicion because so many people, particularly those in power, are obscuring or deliberately hiding the facts. This leaves everyone ripe for exploitation.

But at this point it's hard to wonder about the fiscal disaster of not being able to sustain a middle-class or better level of earnings from the arts.  For those who lean left on economic issues it might be helpful to clarify what is meant by middle-class if the middle-class has also been a put-down for ruling class provincialism.  "Should" any artists derive a "middle-class" income from the arts of an American middle class variety in the 21st century?  What may be different now is that where in the past those who spent their days making art were more transparent about the power and privilege of being given patronage.  Hindemith's complaint about the United States educational system was that it harbored the delusion that artistic life could be democratic to the point that everyone was given a promise of being able to be involved in the arts when the history of European culture, at least, showed that it was improbable that very many could pay their bills doing the arts and that, in any case, the exceptional cases were exceptional with cause--America was not likely to embrace a paradigm in which artistic activity was presented as a kind of side-effect of cultural life rather than a goal in itself.  In the end Clements raises some good points worth considering for everyone who is interested in artistic activity but Clements may harbor an idea that is ultimately mistaken.
...
In other words, I would like to suggest that, more than individual professional development, what we need to think about right now are other areas of development. I would like to suggest that the secret recipe for success in the arts is comprised of the following ingredients, rather than anything mentioned in the countless get-rich/famous-quick books that make so much money for their authors:
•universal healthcare;
•universal care for children, seniors, and those with special needs;
•free education and vocational programs for all, from preschool through graduate school;
•affordable housing for all;
•redistribution of wealth through taxation, reparations, and universal basic incomes;
•redistribution of political roles to demographic groups that have been systematically excluded from those roles; and
•workers taking ownership roles in the companies and organizations they work for.


Even if all of this happened this would still do absolutely nothing to establish what success in the arts would be or why anyone "should" pursue the arts as a field of activity.  If you wouldn't pursue this program of activities even if no art were ever made in the future then don't consider it a pre-condition for "success in the arts".  If the history of those who have had money and power are any indication then whoever gets the new power and wealth of the future will not be any more likely to share it equitably than the last group to have gained it which can be summed up in a phrase of rich white males.  There's no compelling reason to believe that giving the wealth accumulated by rich white males to other groups of people will ensure that those people will be more just than rich white capitalists have been.  It's not like the Soviet system of the arts was altogether fair.  It's too easy to forget that what we regard as great and beautiful art has very often been made in spite of and not merely because of the vicissitudes and cruelties of each cultural empire of patronage. 

I guess I'd have to say my skepticism about artists advocating for universal health care so they can be artists is comparable to the skepticism I have about American Christians who are evangelical and social conservatives who want revival so that God will make America great again.  It's a different kind of "MAGA" of a progressive variety but I'm just not convinced that it is any left jingoistic, selfish and ultimately reprehensible coming from a liberal arts perspective than a Christian fundamentalist red-state one.  If the checklist is just what we wish everyone could have if that's possible then, fine, I don't argue with healthcare and affordable housing for everybody.  It's just that I don't think we can ignore that in any large technocratic system that injustice ever goes away.  Someone will get scapegoated and someone will get massacred.  Someone will be ignored and artists may want something closer to a Canadian patronage system for the arts, perhaps.

But thinking about this in Christian terms, it could seem as though making art out of love for and gratitude to the mercies of Christ is a reason people can make art.  Adorno wrote in Aesthetic Theory that ever since art became autonomous from religious expression the very question of its basic legitimacy and reason for being has been a crisis.  When I read American writers and artists and musicians talking about what the United States should do it generally reads as if they are saying the empire and its largesse should serve the artists' interests rather than conceding that the largesse of national patronage in the United States won't be any different than it's been in arts patronage regimes since the dawn of the human race, that empires fund artists provided that artists use their gifts to serve the empire. 

Saturday, October 14, 2017

belatedly, commemorating the centennial of the birth of Thelonious Monk

I had gotten into jazz in high school, mainly usual suspects like Miles Davis and John Coltrane.  My brother brought home Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz, which I kinda liked and liked at the very least for the amazing bass duet of Haden and Lafarro (sic?).

I got into Ellington in my college years.  I didn't get around to listening to Monk until shortly after I'd graduated from college.  This was back when I always had trouble falling asleep and was shuffling from lame temp job to lame temp job back in the 1990s.  So I would try to do something with the time by listening to music as I fell asleep.  That was, among other things, how I managed to listen to the Well-Tempered Clavier or the Haydn Op. 76 string quartets. 

In the later 1990s I finally got to Monk.  Monk and Ellington are my favorite jazz composers if I had to pick just two. 

The two things I find appealing about Monk's language are most easily described as his harmonic approach and his gift for melody.  His melodies are not necessarily always starting at the root of a chord.  One of my favorite Monk piece is "Let's Cool One", which is in E flat major but the melody starts on D natural and descends to C natural in the first measure before reaching E flat, the tonic of the key.

Let's Cool One
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M7F5jxJCeRY

You can take that tune, which has an indelible contour and harmonize it in E flat major or you could harmonize it in C minor if you wanted to, or B flat major or ... you could even harmonize that opening head tune in B natural minor if you wanted to accent a Phrygian element in the harmony.  Here's hoping you get the idea that with an opening gesture like the one Monk uses you can harmonize it as if it were in any number of keys depending on whether or not you conceive of the opening note as the root, third, fifth or seventh of a chord.   I'm not sure I'd recommend harmonizing the whole thing as if it were in D natural major but parts of that head tune work even conceived in that key. 

Then there's another famous piece by Monk, Brilliant Corners
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TLEPQZIVOg

You could build a whole fugue or canon out of that glorious first eight measures. 

Ever since Gunther Schuller presented the idea of "third stream" composers and musicians on either side of the jazz and classical divides have expressed some skepticism.  I'm skeptical about skepticism here.  People who venerate J. S. Bach can forget he was a culmination, a proverbial end point.  It took generations of Bachs to get to the J. S. who has been canonized and there's good reason to canonize Bach's music but if there were no Buxtehude or Vivaldi or Sweelinck or Schutz or Monteverdi, if there were not, in sum, the whole arc of the early and middle Baroque idioms Bach wouldn't have happened. 

Let's pretend for a moment that jazz and classical composers aspire to arrive at an organic fusion of jazz with classical.  We don't really have to pretend this is a desired thing because people have been working toward composing such a fusion for generations. The jazz era should be heralded as a great gift to the music of the world and advocates of classical music as it's now called should be grateful for the art.  It's art and not merely entertainment.  Now if someone were to try to say that improvising endlessly on a ground bass or a pre-established and formulaic set of chord changes is entertainment rather than art then whoever says that has to dismiss just about anything and any major composer from the early and middle Baroque periods, which was in many respects the era of variations on a figured bass.  If the Baroque era could be thought of as the era of figured bass realizations the jazz idiom can be thought of as an era of figured treble--we have a melody and prescribed chords but the expectation is that you'll embellish or substitute those chords in some way that makes your performance of the music engaging and special. 

I was reading a book by a Dutch composer who was claiming we'll get a revolution in revived classical music but this author dismisses more or less the idea that jazz is an art form and dismisses the idea that popular musical idioms could be used to revitalize anything about the art music tradition.  But if you're going to cling to the long 19th century as some kind of ars perfecta then don't be surprised if in the wake of the crumbling of that era a new polystylistic era that includes jazz emerges.  For American composers I believe a path forward is to regard the work of the jazz greats like Ellington, Monk, and all of the others that don't even really need to be named for jazz fans to be considered part of the American classical canon.  It's not a big surprise to me that the classical composers most open to drawing inspiration from jazz have also shown an interest in Baroque music and not always just the obvious suspects. 

We don't need to go back and revive the bloated and rambling forms of 19th century continental European romanticism.  All that was any good about that idiom has been preserved in jazz and the American songbook and ragtime.  The great black musicians and composers of popular music preserved everything that was worth preserving about European classical music without displacing that canon.  What we can do now is treat jazz as an art music from which we can draw inspiration in revitalizing forms and idioms that were declared "obsolete" by mid-20th century academic music theory.  As an American composer if I'm going to write a fugue or a sonata I'm more interested in drawing inspiration from Thelonious Monk than from Beethoven and it's not because I don't like Beethoven, it's because Monk's music invites a path forward, a path to explore whereas centuries of musical pedagogical have presented Beethoven as a peak of perfection that can never be surpassed or equaled.   The early Baroque composers saw the perfection of ars perfecta and realized that it had a lot of beauty to commend it but that it could be retained as an older style you had to learn along with newer exploratory styles.

In American music jazz and classical can be thought of as new and old idioms.  It's worth noting that the distance from the end of the ars perfecta and the emrgence of Monteverdi on the one hand and the "culmination" of high Baroque music in the work of Bach and Handel took maybe a century and a half.  The path forward to a new era of musical beauty isn't in Mahler, not for me, it's in Monk.  Mahler has a few lessons to provide about large-scale form but in terms of whose vocabulary of melody and harmony inspires me, Monk. 

a short thought on the axiom that this or that art is dying, critics who lament the death of art may inadvertantly lament the largesse of their own aesthetic gluttony rather than the harm of an art form

In arts coverage and criticism there's been a lot of concern that the arts are in a bad way, especially arts funding.  Yet concern about the inequality and inequity of arts fudning is also a big concern, particularl in an era of intersectionality; being "woke"; and striving to have more diversity in the fine arts.  Well ... in popular arts hip hop has become the dominant musical market presence.

It’s Official – Hip-Hop Dominates Music

The bottom of music sales has been jazz and classical music.  But jazz and classical music have city symphonies and established bands and grant money and so on.

But that's not where I'm thinking for this weekend.  No, I've been thinking about the regularity of bromides about the death of this or that art.  The death of film, for instance, or the death of classical music.  Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music is a relatively easy read overall but it starts as an obituary for the literate musical tradition as a whole.  Taruskin, at least, managed to rethink this obituary certainty by the time he got to volume five! 

But a friend of mine likes to say that any time a film critic laments that Hollywood has run out of ideas they show they don't know that Hollywood never had its own ideas.  The art of film has been parasitically dependent on every other narrative and visual form since its birth.  Taruskin has proposed that opera isn't dead but its social and cultural role has been taken from it by film, which seems fairly accurate.

Believe it or not this is getting to my idea, which is that film critics as a profession lament the decline of their discipline but it's not a shock.  Journalism in traditional print media has been in a tailspin in terms of jobs for decades.  So it's hard to feel bad for professional critics at a lot of levels because I got a journalism degree and have never managed to land the kinds of jobs that someone like Scott Timberg has feared are no longer available for Gen X and beyond.  The discipline of art criticism will endure.

But to say that an art form is dying now?  It seems like that's the confession of someone who consumes too much.  If you think the art of cinema is dying in the 21st century it may just mean yo're watching too many movies.  I love music but I dn't actually like listening to music all day.  That's not how I love music.  I love thinking about music and thinking in musical ways but I don't like to use music as a mood-altering catalyst or even as a way to reflect my mood at a particular time half the time.  I listen to learn and I love learning music that helps me think about music.

This week's been the centennial of Thelonious Monk's birth but I can't think of any sufficienty worthy words about that.

What I have been thinking is that the sorts of people who believe an art is dying aren't even necessarily facing down their own mortality, which is a joke I've seen critics make about other critics, I think perhaps that the kinds of people who complain about the death of an art like film or the travesty of more-of-the-same is this is the sort of urbane put-down uttered by cinematic gluttons who have consumed too much and need to go produce something.  The great big name critics in the 19th century art music scene weren't always just critics.  Schumann and Belrioz wrote music criticism but they also wrote music.  When the disciplines of production and interpretation are so stratified within a market or a social scene as they are now then I think the problem is that critics either sanctify their consumption habits by canon formation or damn the art form of cinema as being boring because these critics have glutted themselves when they should turn to other things.

So that's an admittedly polemical proposal for a weekend.

a reminder of why so many authors at Slate can be hard to take seriously in the era of Trump, confident predictions that "Donald Trump is never going to be the president of the United States". Yet here we are.

Back on October 8, 2016 Slate's Isaac Chotiner wrote:

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/10/donald_trump_could_have_been_president_don_t_forget_it.html

Donald Trump is never going to be the president of the United States. As we sit and digest each successive leak of damaging material, each un-endorsement, each Trump threat to attack Hillary Clinton in the most personal terms imaginable, the fact remains that Trump has almost surely destroyed his chance of ever becoming the most powerful man on Earth. The discussion will now slowly shift to Republican hopes of shoring up down-ballot races and (just wait) the creation of Trump TV. But we cannot and should not forget: A couple days ago it was still fathomable that America could have voted into office the biggest threat to the country in decades.

...

We should never forget that the authors and editors at Slate seemed so dead set in their certainty that Trump could not possibly win that it might confirm what Ellul wrote decades ago about how propagandists are a caste of aristocrats who control and work within mass media who ultimately display contempt toward democratic processes as those who sit in the positions to decide how things are perceived.  That's not a knock on liberal media, that's a knock on the entire media system in the United States.  :)  It's not that red state readers and writers are promulgating fake news, it's that the entire gaggle of authors at Slate believed to some degree or another that Trump couldn't possibly win and then turned out to be spectacularly wrong.

In the David Lean film Lawrence of Arabia one man tells Lawrence that, yes, he lies as part of his political work but Lawrence tells half-lies. One man tells a lie knowing what the truth really is, another man no longer knows what the truth is any more because he forgot where he left it.  The implication in the scene is that the politician is a liar and he knows what he is, whereas Lawrence is telling half-truths that he sincerely believes, half-truths that will turn out to be just as much lies as lies told by a man who knows what the lies are. 

What the liberal press seems to struggle to learn, if indeed they can even learn this, is that the fake news of the other team isn't half as dangerous as the fake news that we think is the truth because it comes from our side.  In this respect the American media empire is potentially the same across any formal differences in the political spectrum. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Megan Garber fields the cult of celebrity at The Atlantic Monthly and propose that the veneration of celebrity is a shared American civic religion

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/10/harvey-weinstein-and-the-power-of-celebrity-exceptionalism/542880/

...

Through the years, one of Polanski’s most vocal defenders, to the extent that Polanski has needed defenders at all, has been Harvey Weinstein. In 2009, the producer helped to circulate a petition among the Hollywood powerful demanding that Polanski be freed after he was arrested in Switzerland. (Polanski had come to Zurich to accept a lifetime achievement award at the city’s film festival.) As one element of the aggressive publicity campaign Weinstein mounted on Polanski’s behalf—Weinstein has been very skilled at waging publicity campaigns—the producer wrote an opinion piece for the U.K.’s Independent newspaper. The column mentioned not just Weinstein himself, but also Thierry Frémaux, the director of the Cannes Film Festival, Quentin Tarantino, Warren Beatty, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Robert Evans, and the then-French president Nicolas Sarkozy—famous name after famous name, all dropped in service to the thesis that Polanski, whatever had “happened in 1977,” is “a man who cares deeply about his art and its place in this world.”
 
The column anticipated, in its genuflections to fame, the remarkable apology Weinstein would issue to the Times on his own behalf, eight years later. In it, Weinstein emphasized that Polanski was “a great artist” and “a humanist.” He reminded readers that Polanski had gone “through the Holocaust and the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate, by the Manson family,” and that he had emerged from tragedy to win the French Legion of Honour. Weinstein quoted Martin Scorsese as saying, “Polanski’s films have influenced me as an artist all these years and his terrible political situation has been something we have all had to suffer through.” In 1977, Weinstein suggested, one thing “happened” to one (unnamed) person; for decades, though, a great artist named Roman Polanski had been happening to the whole world. The one situation simply outweighed the other.

What Weinstein was doing, essentially, was constructing a more nuanced version of Donald Trump’s pronouncement to Billy Bush: He was making a case for Hollywood exceptionalism. He was summoning the idea that celebrity, in America, functions as a secular religion, with good and evil, with gods and monsters, with humans that, through the alchemy of fame, turn into stars. Celebrities are with us, but more to the point they are above us. They transcend our earthbound assumptions. They are soaring; we are small. How can the things that sparkle in the firmament be held to account for humans’ fleshy flaws? [emphasis added]
 
 It is a logic that is infused not just in the transactions of Hollywood, but also in the world of American sports. And the world of American tech. And the world of American politics. And the world of American science. And the world of American academia. The famous are famous, the idea goes—the powerful are powerful—the stars shine above us—because they are, somehow, touched: with talent, with genius, with the capacity to make the things that, in turn, make the world richer and better. “Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion,” Harvey Weinstein told the Los Angeles Times in 2009, defending a man who had pled guilty to raping a 13-year-old. Debra Winger agreed: “The whole art world suffers” when someone like Polanski is arrested, she said. When Jeffrey Toobin wrote of Polanski’s legal troubles for The New Yorker, in December of 2009, his piece was headlined “The Celebrity Defense.” When the “free Polanski” petition circulated that same year, more than 100 of Hollywood’s most prominent people—including David Lynch, Michael Mann, Mike Nichols, and Woody Allen—signed it.

American evangelicalism has its prosperity theology; but American celebrity, too, has knelt before an altar of exceptionalism. Star by star, sin by sin, we have allowed the famous and the rich and the artistic to abide by a different set of rules, a different mode of morality. [emphasis added] The gospel of celebrity was invoked when Mel Gibson, after hitting his girlfriend and calling her a “pig in heat,” returned to filmmaking—and was rewarded with an Oscar nomination. The gospel was invoked when it was announced that the guy who insisted that “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” would be playing a wacky role in Daddy’s Home 2. It was invoked when Bill O’Reilly left the Fox News Channel with a parachute amounting to the tens of millions, and when Roger Ailes left with one amounting to $60 million, and when actors clamor to be featured in the next Woody Allen film, and when the world delights at Bill Clinton playing with balloons, and when Bill Cosby walks free. It is there when Donald Trump brags about being able to do anything, and then proves it by winning the White House.

We Americans are good at many things, but one of our most finely honed skills is our ability to be surgically selective in our vision and our outrage. Double standards drip among the stars in our synthetic firmament. The American flag is sacred, unless it isn’t. Drug addiction is a menace deserving of consternation, unless it’s a crisis deserving of compassion. Celebrities are just like us, unless they’re not. They have been elevated by the brute physics of fame. They have done whatever they have wanted. We have helped them. [emphasis added]

...

And this week, the stars that remain, in Hollywood and beyond, have been flooding the world with their public condemnations of Harvey Weinstein. That is itself suggestive of changing norms, of new assumptions, of a shift in what Americans will tolerate from their celebrities—and what they will no longer. It is at this point extraordinarily difficult to imagine a scenario in which Weinstein has not permanently plummeted from celebrity’s stratosphere. It is hard to imagine that the world, now that his “open secret” is secret no more, hasn’t been in some small way transformed. There are surely more stories to be told, and there is surely more work to be done. But fame, it seems, does not inoculate as it once did. Celebrity is no longer its own justification. When you’re a star, they let you do it. Until they don’t.

Recently I blogged about how in evangelicalism and American Christianity some men who were found unfit for ministry have, nonetheless, made their way back into ministry.  There's an American religion of "grace" that says we should welcome these Christian celebrities back into pulpits because God can so mightily use these people. 

My reply to that sort of assertion is to say that the kinds of celebrity Christian propagandists, who are being promoted as deserving a place behind a pulpit and a shot at "redemption" and "grace", are not shepherds in any sense that would have been traditionally understood prior to the advent of mass media entertainment in American society.  We are being asked to accept this or that Christian celebrity back from having "fallen" into their real roles, that of being celebrity propagandists for a particular flavor of Christian media.  It's not really about whether or not men and women who, upon careful examination and by earlier standards of Christian doctrine and praxis, would have and should have never become celebrities, would have been in formal ministry because by those lights we wouldn't know who some of these people are. 

In the wake of the demise of Mars Hill Church in Washington state the temptation has no doubt been great for people to say this or that set of people was the reason for the downfall.  Some of Justin Dean's interviews since the Mark Driscoll resignation have seemed to suggest that Mars Hill was not prepared to do battle with the full fury of liberal secular media.  Now liberal secular media in Seattle would probably love to take credit for having "taken out" Mark Driscoll but that was never the case.  If anything the public contrasts between men like Dan Savage and Mark Driscoll was synergistically beneficial to both celebrities.  Giving a secular press credit for having damaged the reputation of Mark Driscoll plays into the myth of the enemy liberal secular media.  It's a myth that American evangelicals need to dispense with in the case of Mark Driscoll because the journalistic document of the fall of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill shows us otherwise.  It's not like WORLD magazine is full of devotees of the Frankfurt school or that Janet Mefferd is on the same page as Dan Savage.  The way Driscoll conducted himself behind the closed doors of leadership cultures came to light because fairly conventionally conservative Christian publications shed light on what Driscoll and Mars Hill's leadership culture had done. 

The most trenchant preserved criticisms of Mark Driscoll were not just from secularists, feminists and political liberals (though they had important contributions to make to the public discourse).  There were equally significant criticisms of Mark Driscoll from within the Reformed scene in American Christianity.  Nobody could really claim that Janet Mefferd or Carl Trueman are particularly liberal about much of anything.  Mark Driscoll's plagiarism scandal was not launched in an interview on The View but a conversation with Janet Mefferd.  Rachel Held Evans never documented the evidence that Mark Driscoll had not adequately cited sources that he and Grace Driscoll were provably influenced by in Real Marriage

If in American evangelicalism a megachurch pastor can publish a marriage book in which he plainly states he concluded the cure for his moodiness and depression was getting more sex from his wife there's no place for American evangelicals to act as if now is the time to take aim at rock stars or athletes or film-makers and this is not simply just because evangelicalism itself may be rife with a rotten underbelly of sexual abuse and exploitation.

It would also be because when so much of what the American idea of powerful evangelism is consists simply in celebrity conversion, getting one of those celebrities from athletics or music or film or politics or academia on board the Christian celebrity wagon. Let's just be deliberately mean about this and propose it's a vaguely pseudo-Kuyperian gambit in which Anglo-American evangelicals hope that by landing the right sort of celebrity convert from some other field (maybe a C. S. Lewis or appropriating some other actually influential Christian of some never-actually-American-evangelical-type into the American-evangelical cause (Bonhoeffer, for instance)) a new and powerful agent of cultural change can be enlisted to make society look more legitimately Christian, at least in the way that a certain strata of American Christians conceive of Christianity. 

This isn't merely some strictly "red state" thing, it's not just a Mark Driscoll, it's also a Rachel Held Evans.  It's not just a Pat Robertson, it can also be a Tony Jones or a Tony Campolo.  The actual platform is less significant than the medium of presentation, the Christian celebrity. It's not so much that conservative/evangelical Americans are special about this flaw compared to others, they may just have a cultural milieu that is more loathe to admit that this is a goal than other groups.  Hollywood may be a land of vice but they have absolutely no qualms about using celebrity to stump for social and political causes.  Just because American Christianity across some red-blue divide has more of a bad conscious (if that's even true) about resorting to this set of idols rather than preaching Christ could simply mean that they have a bad conscience of some sort about where they think the real power of their message comes from--it's supposed to be all about Jesus but people need to see the celebrity.  It's not like I never thought about this being the damning reality underneath the "all about Jesus" bromides at Mars Hill over the years.  If it is all about Jesus then the celebrities can vanish.

But as we see how different the rules are by which celebrities are measured compared to the rank and file perhaps we should step back and remind ourselves that these men and women are just mortal men and women, not gods and goddesses.  There really is no reason they should be able to get away with doing the kinds of things that should get people fired or arrested for gross misconduct and criminal activity.  But perhaps what's creepiest about these cults of celebrity is that they will endure because rather than confront the cruelties and double standards of these celebrity cults it will be safer to displace the vices of "our" preferred cult onto the "their" cult. 

Or ... here's a late-night thought for the weekend, what if one of the stranger things about the cult of celebrity could be that celebrity is imbued with a desire to go easy on fellow celebrities at the lower rungs? 

How different can these rules by for the Christian celebrity compared to your frustrating Facebook friend or Twitter contact or people making vitriolic comments on a Youtube video?  Well ... let's go back and revisit some things Jonathan Merritt wrote in 2014 about Mark Driscoll.

http://religionnews.com/2014/08/04/accept-mark-driscolls-apology/

...

This means that there must be grace for the abused and the abuser, for the oppressed and the oppressor, for Mark Driscoll and for all those he has hurt. If we Christians have now arrived at a point where grace has run dry or is only available to some, let us abandon this whole Jesus way and join those who have no hope.

I’m a tough critic–perhaps too tough on occasion. But this situation has reminded me that the Christian community must be as generous with the salve of forgiveness as we are with the acid of criticism. If we can learn this, we will take a step closer to walking as Jesus did. And maybe then we can, with the dearly departed Brennan Manning, dare to whisper the ragamuffin’s rumor:

ALL. IS. GRACE.

http://religionnews.com/2014/08/24/mark-driscoll-resign-mars-hill-christians-celebrate/
...
There is no doubt that Driscoll should have stepped down–and for a lot longer than six measly weeks, if you ask me. I say this not because I believe in the myth of the perfect preacher who resides in an ivory tower and lives more righteously than others. But rather, because his patterns of behavior seem to illustrate instability of his emotional state and have resulted in the harm of others. I hope he receives help from a professional. (I know firsthand the difference that counseling can make.)

So in the wake of this news, I find myself relieved but not gleeful. I’m relieved the spiritual abuse is beginning to end. I’m relieved that I won’t have to wake to another one of Mark’s hurtful comments trickling down my twitterfeed. I’m relieved that I won’t have to tell another non-Christian friend, “He doesn’t speak for most of us.” I’m relieved, even as I grieve that the story did not have a happier ending.

Yes, I am relieved but I cannot rejoice. For when we celebrate the demise of another, we wake to realize we are also celebrating our own.

Driscoll's resignation would be announced later in 2014 in October.

When we celebrate the demise of another we wake to realize we are also celebrating our own?  Seriously?  Did Deborah and Barak celebrate their own demise when singing the song that ended up in Judges 5 where they sang the praises of Jael for killing Sisera with a tent peg?  What about "I will sing unto the Lord ... "celebrating how Yahweh destroyed the Egyptians?  Celebrating the demise of the wicked is so commonplace in the Old Testament it's impossible to see how Merritt could have written his pious bromides about Mark Driscoll with any seriousness if what he was working from was anything in the Bible.

But ... in a way ... it makes sense if the measure is not of something in the Christian Bible or the Jewish Torah but is, instead, a bromide from within the confines of an American Christian celebrity culture.

These pieces by Merritt were confounding back in 2014 because it seemed he had no clear idea how deep-seated the problems in the leadership culture of Mars Hill really were. What on earth was Merritt's idea of a "happier ending" for Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill?  It was hard to shake the sensation that Merritt was pulling punches not because he ever agreed with Driscoll on much of anything but because there might be, to put it in terms informed by Megan Garber's recent piece, some kind of Christian celebrity code.  Don't rip on a guy too much or he might bounce back a bigger celebrity than before. 

Still, longtime readers of the blog know I published "Pussified Nation" because I believed it was necessary to preserve for public record what Mark Driscoll wrote as William Wallace II.  And, of course, for folks who might want to read or read about Jacques Ellul, I used Ellul's writings on propaganda as a way to explicate the combination of "Pussified Nation" with Dead Men as a pivotal moment in the history of Mars Hill.  Perhaps it would be best to summarily say that I found it hard to take Merritt seriously when he said we should accept Mark Driscoll's apology.  A man like King Saul can be apologetic about the results of acts that he would keep on doing.  That was how it seemed Mark Driscoll was handling things in 2014 and his resignation confirmed rather than disproved this interpretation of how he was dealing with the controversies that surrounded his speech and conduct.

But a question has lingered since the year of Driscoll's resignation and the recent firestorm of coverage related to Harvey Weinstein has brought the question back into my thoughts--if a guy like Mark Driscoll had not been a Christian celebrity to begin with would it have taken so long to have reprimanded him to the point where he decided to resign rather than stay submitted to the eldership he claimed to submit to?

at Mere O. Jake Meador fields ecclesiology and the zombie pastors with a cover photo of Mark Driscoll, while Mere O blogger Samuel D James has had a history of imploring Christians to never start watchdog blogs and to not "follow Mark Driscoll around"

https://mereorthodoxy.com/zombie-pastors/

A brief note on the furor surrounding Patheos’s decision to add Mark Driscoll to their Evangelical channel: One of the common responses when something like this hits the press is for evangelicals, self-lacerating sorts that we are, to say that we need more institutional accountability, more safety measures in place to protect against “this sort of thing.”

One problem: When it comes to folks like Driscoll, that usually isn’t the problem. To be sure, in parish churches with a bad pastor, some institutional structure and accountability can go a long way. I grew up in an independent church. I know how bad it can get when there isn’t accountability. So none of this should be taken as a dismissal of ecclesial structure and accountability in general. That said, in the case of people like Driscoll I tend to think the problem is decidedly not one of polity.

Remember, after all, that Driscoll has been disciplined by ecclesial structures. Acts 29 removed him from leadership. After facing mounting pressure from the church, Driscoll resigned at Mars Hill. Did the process take longer than it should have? Probably, though it’s hard for me to say much in any direction on that since I’m such an outsider to the process. The point is that eventually something was done, Driscoll was ousted, and the recovery process began.

This point is worth making because oftentimes evangelicals, particularly evangelical Anglicans, are prone to thinking that our institutional safety measures failed when actually they worked just fine. The problem wasn’t the safety measures. Those did their job. The problem isn’t the lack of structure in evangelicalism. It’s the evangelicals themselves.

How and why Mark Driscoll claimed to received a divine exemption from having to follow the kind of pastoral advice he used to give from the pulpit has been documented here at some length.

Here's a diachronic survey of the roughly half-dozen accounts that were available in the post-resignation period (starting from the day of the resignation of Mark Driscoll proper) through to more recent accounts.

Here's a long-form analysis of the transcript interview Sheila Walsh and Randy Robison had with Mark Driscoll earlier this 2017.  The series is in eight parts and is, admittedly, long and that by necessity. 

And to commemorate the 10th anniversary of some controversial firings at what was once Mars Hill, there's a post that sets those firings in the context of intra-Mars Hill politics regarding governance, power, influence and the eventually public disclosure of those conflicts from about 2012 through to the end of Mars Hill in the 2014-2015 period.

Further, there's even a blog post that did a survey of some things that emerged in the lives of those who endorsed the 2012 Driscoll book Real Marriage, with an emphasis on controversies and questions that swirled around those endorsers. The Parrotts endorsed the book, for instance, and turned out to have made use of Result Source in promoting one of their books.  That's relatively innocuous compared to what came to be discovered about Boy Coy or Darrin Patrick. 

So there's all that and "that", if you haven't inferred it by now, is an awful lot of material to cover in terms of American evangelical history.  That formal institutions were in place that proved to have no capacity to constrain or limit Mark Driscoll seems pretty readily granted by everyone.  Not even Mark Driscoll himself could really contest the point by now, not least because he resigned and left the disciplinary procedure he said he agreed (at first) to submit to.

Meador has a point in saying that the problem doesn't seem to have been that there were no disciplinary protocols in place in a formal sense.  But for those more intimately acquainted with the power structures that were set up in Mars Hill history (i.e. the constitution and bylaws) it's possible to contest that the governance and disciplinary procedures did their job in one basic respect--those familiar with Meyer and Petry's objections to the 2007 bylaws could say the concerns they raised were that the formalities in place were more likely designed to preclude the accountability in practice that was promised at the level of formality.  What former leaders of Mars Hill realized too late was that not ultimately keeping Mark Driscoll accountable in terms of formal governance began to seem to many members and leaders to be a feature rather than a bug in the formal systems and informal culture. 

That at some practical levels the failures were a feature and not a bug may seem like a controversial proposal but in the wake of a torrent of stories about Harvey Weinstein it may be possible that Meador's take is a soft-pedal rather than a blunt truth.  Given what we've seen written about some of the men whom Mark Driscoll claimed were around to keep him accountable, it's not at all clear why anyone should have had confidence that the formal systems were going to accomplish anything like real accountability.  Certainly Paul Tripp indicated he did not think it was possible to have external accountability when he resigned from the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability. 

Take, for instance, Darrin Patrick, a man whom Mark Driscoll once described as "he's my pastor, you know" here at this blog.  Patrick himself ended up being removed from eldership last year, wasn't it?
https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2016/04/in-light-of-darrin-patrick-news-lets.html

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2016/04/12/darrin-patrick-has-been-relieved-of-pastoral-duties-at-the-journey/

http://www.acts29.com/statement-regarding-darrin-patrick/
By Acts 29
April 14, 2016

It is with deep sadness that we have accepted the resignation of Darrin Patrick from the Board of Acts 29, and removed him as Vice-President and a member. We have taken these steps to respect, honour and affirm the decision and process of the elders at The Journey. ...

http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/april/darrin-patrick-removed-acts-29-megachurch-journey.html
...
Darrin Patrick, vice president of the Acts 29 church planting network and founding pastor of The Journey megachurch in St. Louis, has been fired for violating his duties as a pastor.
The Journey cited a range of ongoing sinful behaviors over the past few years including manipulation, domineering, lack of biblical community, and “a history of building his identity through ministry and media platforms.”
 
In a letter announcing its lead pastor’s removal after 14 years of leadership, the church clarified that adultery was not a factor, though elders looked into inappropriate interactions with two women.

http://www.worldmag.com/2016/04/darrin_patrick_commits_to_restoration_process

A years-long pattern of sin led to the dismissal this week of Darrin Patrick, lead pastor of The Journey, a St. Louis, Mo., megachurch. While the reconciliation process is underway, an expert in pastoral crisis management who was called in to work with the church said Patrick’s restoration could take as long as his undoing. He does not expect Patrick to return to ministry anytime soon.
 
After confirming “substantive allegations of pastoral misconduct … combined with deep historical patterns of sin,” the elders of The Journey this week called for Patrick’s removal. He also resigned as vice president of the board of Acts 29, a church-planting network of congregations, which includes The Journey. 
...
http://theresurgence.com/2008/04/07/question-and-answer-with-mark-driscoll-video
http://www.theresurgence.com/mark_driscoll_2008-02-27_video_tnc_qa
http://www.acts29network.org/sermon/qa-with-mark-driscoll/
 (starts at 00:31:52)

Q. How do you lead staff who are your best friends?Do you want the honest answer or should I punt? 
... You can't. ... you can't.

I hate to tell you that. ... Deep down in your gut you know if you're best friends and someone works for you that changes the relationship. Right? Because you can fire them. Of course you want to be friends with your elders and the people you work with. I mean, we're a church. I mean you wanna, you NEED to love the people you work with. But one of the hardest things, and only the lead guy gets this. Nobody else on staff even understands what I'm talking about. When you're the lead guy you wear multiple hats. Say it's someone who works with you and they're a good friend. You wear the "Hey, we're buddies" hat. We're friends. We go on vacation. We hang out. We do 
dinner. We're friends.
...

Does that make any sense? The best thing is if you have a best friend maybe the best thing to do is not have them work with you.  Or if they do have them work under someone else. And to also pursue good friendships with people outside of your church. Some of my dearest friends today are not at Mars Hill, they're also pastors of other churches. Darrin Patrick is here, Vice-President of Acts 29. I love him. He's a brother. He's the guy I call. ... He's a pastor to me, you know?  Matt Chandler is here. I count as a friend. By God's Grace, C. J. Mahaney, I count as a friend. [emphasis added]...

Good luck finding the original audio for that, unfortunately.   One of the challenges of writing a blog like this is that so many people purged so much content from so many platforms online directing people to primary source audio, video and transcript can be challenging precisely because the powers that be occasionally get inspired to purge any trace of this or that thing, person or event from the internet; sometimes people even introduce robots.txt to preclude the use of search engines, too.

What all these guys ranging from Mark Driscoll to Mahaney to Piper to Patrick to Chandler don't seem to have answered is how, if they believe they have been given spiritual discernment of some kind or another, they didn't discern all this stuff.  Cessationists could, I suppose, be able to plea that secret sins are eventually found out but don't always rise to the surface but these seem to have all been guys open to the idea of spiritual gifts and spiritual discernment.  So ... where was that discernment?  What was being discerned?  If Mark Driscoll was submitted to Darrin Patrick and it turned out that Darrin Patrick had his own issues for being unfit for ministry even while making a public declaration by way of Acts 29 as to why Mark Driscoll had been shown unfit for ministry then, well, sometimes the question can seem to be who's qualified or if qualifications matter at all.  We know they're supposed to matter and that they do matter but I'm thinking lately that the issue is not necessarily the standards themselves but selectivity in application. 

Regular readers won't be surprised to see this proposal but I have begun to think in the last few years that a common denominator we might find in all these men is that they are ultimately not shepherds but propagandists, masters of wielding multi-media platforms to convey a message of some kind in our society.  They aren't shepherds, though, and to the extent that they aren't shepherds they have no business being pastors and had no business being pastors.  Yet because American evangelicalism has been so steeped in propagandistic technique as the baseline for understanding what a uniquely American approach to "pastoral" life is supposed to be (with books and speaking engagements and film and so on) we have people in the evangelical and liberal wings of American Christianity who are presented as pastors and ministers who are motivational speakers and marketers but not shepherds who can assist Christians in their spiritual lives. You can have all the best institutional checks and balances in place but if your conception of what a minister of the Gospel even is to begin with is defined by a mastery of propagandistic technique rather than being a shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep then the checks and balances will only work on a propagandist who decides to "let them" work--otherwise what we'll see is what we've seen, that propagandist who is marketed as a pastor just finds a new market to work in.

So ... let's get back to Meador's blog post:
...
The problem of evangelical corruption and undead celebrity pastors will not be resolved by more stringent institutional standards. Indeed, there is not even the means within evangelical ecclesiology to provide structures with the kind of authority that many pursuing this line of thought desire: You need a magisterium for that. And if you’re ready to accept a magisterium, it’s time to buy some swimwear and make your way to the Tiber.

The reality when it comes to dealing with men like Driscoll and Tchividjian is far more basic: There is no replacement for virtue, good judgment, and a certain indifference to the allure of fame, money, and earthly success. If there is a lesson to the Driscoll, Tchividjian, and Patrick sagas, that lesson is probably not unlike the lesson we should have learned from Donald Trump: Until evangelicals care more about truth than they do fame, our moral witness will be hopelessly compromised.
...
Of course if crossing the Tiber meant anything in and of itself for the prevention of abusive leaders then movies like Spotlight would have never been made.  One of the illusions harbored by those who have embrace a high liturgical path (which I'm not necessarily against, just to be clear) is that the formal and institutional history is some kind of check against moral evil.  This is clearly not the case, any more than it's the case that a low church and informal or anti-high-liturgical approach ensures anything like rectitude and transparency in an institutional or cultural system. 

So, no, not all of us even think that having a magisterium improves the odds of reducing abuse even if there could be cases made for why a magisterium of some kind could or should exist.  Israel went into exile despite having the Mosaic law and a divinely appointed king or two over its pre-exilic history.  But more than just a handful of prophets whose literary warnings have been preserved in Scripture for us had stern warnings about how nobody should presume upon the givenness of scriptural revelation and laws would, in and of itself, ensure that God's people were never going to have to worry about judgment or exile.  Having these things meant they had a higher rather than a lower standard to consider.

Still, Meador's got a very good point, until evangelicals care more about truth than they do fame (or "influence" or the prestige of having publicly recognized intellectuals, etc) our moral witness will be hopelessly compromised.  In that respect evangelicalism is not unlike Hollywood in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein news.  Or, to cast about for controversy in intra-Christian circles, those who believe John Howard Yoder's ideas regarding violence and power are worth consideration can't altogether skip past how he treated women.  If anything how Yoder treated women makes his failure to apply some of his ideas about authority and aggression more pressing. 

But there's a caveat even in making this kind of observation.  Everyone is capable of being a hypocrite.  Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees and legal experts was not "just" about them being hypocrites.  Sinners fail to live by the perfection of the law.  What Jesus condemned included that many of these self-appointed men we could describe in the contemporary jargon of being "thought leaders" and influencers insisted that men and women of the common rabble lived by a set of rules that these leaders did not bother to adhere to themselves.  The contemporary colloquialism that seems to describe this is that people in the big leagues have double standards about what they can get away with that ordinary people cannot and should not be allowed to get away with.

But the thing is, while I can agree with several basic ideas Jake Meador presented at Mere Orthodoxy there's another contributor who's joined Mere Orthodoxy over the last few years who seems to have had a different set of convictions with respect to megachurch pastor types.  We've looked at the blogging of Samuel D James a couple of times in the past but his blogging is worth looking at again.

It seemed pretty naïve to me back in November 2014 and it seems naïve now but it's worth revisiting because back in 2014 there were obviously some guys in evangelicalism who didn't think that Driscoll was going to rebound so quickly back into public ministry.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/inklingations/2014/11/11/to-christian-bloggers-from-a-pastors-kid-dont-follow-mark-driscoll-around/
https://web.archive.org/web/20141115184929/http://www.patheos.com:80/blogs/inklingations/2014/11/11/to-christian-bloggers-from-a-pastors-kid-dont-follow-mark-driscoll-around/

Christian bloggers, please don’t report on the movements of Mark Driscoll. I’ll give you four reasons:

1) It really serves no good purpose. Driscoll has been publicly rebuked and has lost his ministry. As bad as Driscoll may have been in leadership, as potentially disqualified as he was from the pastorate, and as much damage as his actions have done to Christian witness, there is no godly or compelling reason to keep tabs on where he goes. I say “no godly reason” because I suspect much of the post-Mars Hill blogging will be driven by personal animus and a desire to see Driscoll fail wherever he goes. I say “no compelling reason” because even if one objects that we must protect other people from Driscoll, writing copious amounts of innuendo on him is hardly going to prevent those who want to be near him from doing so. The right measures have been taken in response to Driscoll’s actions. Continuing to report on him isn’t a right measure.

2) It obscures Christian forgiveness. Hear me carefully: I am not saying that Christian forgiveness means Driscoll should get a shiny new pastorate any day now. Nor am I saying that opposition to continued influence and ministry is tantamount to a withholding of forgiveness from anyone. What I am saying is that fixating on Driscoll even beyond his pastoral exit stokes the flames of bitterness and resentment that many people, understandably in many cases, feel towards Driscoll and towards his ministry. What those people should be doing is praying for Driscoll’s restoration, not merely his continued exile. Again, I am not saying that Driscoll is entitled to new ministry or authority (he’s not). I am merely speaking of helping those who struggle to extend forgiveness. I doubt that the “Driscoll beat” helps them.

3) It empowers skepticism towards the local church. One of the most lamentable features of the millennial generation is an attitude of deep distrust towards local church institutions. This is a disastrous development for young Christians. It prevents them from living life in close community the way Christ intended, and enables wrong, broad-brush beliefs about what pastors and churches are like. I’m not saying that ignorance is bliss, nor that churches are infallible or should always be given the benefit of the doubt. What I am saying is that somewhere there are young adults whose feelings of antipathy towards God’s people are being built up with the aid of the Christian Tabloid. When Christian culture gets in the way of Christian mission, it’s time to change the culture.

4) Finally, it punishes Driscoll’s family. I say this because I am a pastor’s kid, whose father was never disqualified from ministry and yet who was slandered, lied about, and dishonored publicly for self-serving reasons. Children of ministers bear the burdens of their fathers in ways that non-PKs cannot fully understand. Driscoll has opened up publicly about the toll that the recent controveries have taken on his family, saying that they have been forced to move multiple times and endure physical attacks on their house. Constant reporting about what Driscoll is up to puts his entire family in a vulnerable position where they can be preyed on by those with no legitimate motivations.

Please, Christian blogosphere, do not fixate on one man, nor make his comings and goings what the unbelieving world sees most clearly in the church. Frankly, wasn’t that the mistake we all made in the first place?

We've addressed a few of those points in the past.  Driscoll chose to resign rather than continue submitting to the disciplinary process he said he invited.  So reporting those facts as conveyed by none other than Mark Driscoll himself was worth doing. Samuel James, by now, has to be aware that Mark Driscoll gave himself a shiny new ministry and church and that it has the support of a few men who believe Driscoll deserves another shot.  So the plea that bloggers not follow Driscoll around might have made sense in a time and place where one could somehow assume that Mark Driscoll wasn't and would not end up in a new church leadership role within a calendar year of resignation; but we know by now that Driscoll lost pretty little time getting back on the conference circuit and setting up a new base of ministry.

By now almost anyone who has even heard of this blog knows what this blog has been known for.  That this blog has devoted hundreds of thousands of words to documenting the life and times of what was Mars Hill probably goes without saying much of the time.  If Samuel D. James had meant to say that bloggers who were not acquainted with all three co-founding elders of Mars Hill Church should refrain from blogging I'd actually agree with that sentiment.  But for those of us who saw what Mars Hill once was and what it became in its dying years I'd say that there's a moral and journalistic obligation to keep things available for the public record.  I'm not sure that Samuel D. James, who has identified himself as a pastor's kid, can entirely separate his distrust of a watchdog blog from his experiences as a PK. 

Had Mark Driscoll not insisted upon making himself a public figure he wouldn't be one.  But James' tendency when blogging about bloggers who might blog about churches has been moderately consistent.  Take this old post from an earlier Patheos era of blogging.

https://web.archive.org/web/20150508160636/http://www.patheos.com/blogs/inklingations/2015/05/07/what-not-to-do-when-a-fellow-christian-embarrasses-the-rest-of-us/
...
7) Don’t start a “watchdog blog.” Seriously, don’t ever.
8) Don’t read the comments.
9) Don’t leave a comment.

That led to enough commentary that James ended up writing the following:
https://web.archive.org/web/20150518011923/http://www.patheos.com:80/blogs/inklingations/2015/05/12/for-whom-the-blog-trolls-a-drama-in-10-acts/

Then it was taken down later in the wake of some journalistic commentary, it seems.
http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/july/blogging-truth-to-power.html?paging=off#comments

Now the reason it's significant Marlena Graves wrote the CT piece is because she was one of the people who co-interviewed Driscoll regarding the 2012 Real Marriage book.  It's worth revisiting that to see that Mark Driscoll was willing to tell Graves and her co-interviewer that he and Grace were both virgins when they met despite the fact that in the pages of Real Marriage itself the Driscolls said NEITHER of them were virgins when they met each other.

http://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2015/07/mark-driscoll-told-christianity-today.html
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2012/januaryweb-only/mark-driscoll-sex-marriage.html
 Interview by Katelyn Beaty and Marlena Graves/ January 5, 2012
...
M[ark Driscoll]: No, and for us, we sinned, quite frankly. We were virgins when we met and were sleeping together as high-school boyfriend and girlfriend.  Then Grace came back to Christ, and I came to Christ in college, so we had to stop sinning sexually. I'd say if we both could go back and rewrite history and change one thing, that would probably be the thing we would change. But we did repent and met with our pastor. And then we did get married, between our junior and senior years of college.

Of course now you have to be a registered participant in things CT to even read any of this so if that's not your deal, Wenatchee The Hatchet quoted the pertinent sections back when they were publicly accessible. 

So in the case of Mark Driscoll, people had an opportunity to establish that Mark Driscoll told flatly irreconcilable narratives about his sex life during just the promotion of his 2012 book.  Either he was a virgin when he met Grace or he wasn't and when Mark Driscoll testified that he wasn't in more than one of his books the question as to why he'd tell a journalist writing for Christianity Today that he was, in fact, a virgin, when he met Grace Martin is just one of those inescapable questions.  It's germane to Samuel D. James' previously stated concern that Christian bloggers not follow Mark Driscoll around. 

Certainly people can feel they're standing up for a principle but one of the difficulties of our age is that for those who are ensconced in media for a living it can seem as though what is depressingly clearer and clear about the cultures of mass media is that there are double standards.  Whether we're talking about a man with a history of gambling or a history of getting a church in debt through real estate acquisitions; or perhaps a man with a history of vitriolic language and a hair-trigger temper; or a man who turns out to have been pursuing multiple women for sexual relationships; or a man who was discovered to have cribbed a bunch of material without citation, what American Christians across the conventional blue and red divides are showing is that, within the realm of media empires, the celebrities get pleas for clemency after they've been caught doing any number of things that would get normal people some kind of church discipline or at the very least fired from their jobs in a more conventional world. 

This is not so much a conservative thing or a liberal thing.  For those who might still defend a Mark Driscoll there have been those who have defended the histories of people like Tony Jones, too.  The base line is not red or blue or conservative or liberal.  No, the base line seems to be that Americans want to defend their celebrities and in the case of Americans who identify as Christians they want to defend their celebrities much the same way fans of film-makers want to defend their favorite celebrities and power brokers. 

Way back in 2011 I blogged something called "we have the same ethics because we worship the same idols". It was about American evangelicals and their veneration of sex specifically, but I was thinking about Americans more generally, too.  Back in 2013 I wrote another blog post that was called "Mars Hill and the idol of social media"  Lately I think that the veneration of celebrity and partisanship at the expense of character and conduct may be another realm in which liberal and conservative Christians in America are ultimately more American than Christian, whether we're talking about a liberal or conservative in the conventional newspaper article sense. 

The preferred hue does nothing to change the foundational praxis, which favors the celebrity as having the rights and privileges to get away with things the rank and file would generally get punished for.  Now that we have so many men who showed themselves unfit for pastoral ministry in one capacity or another diving right back into the public eye it seems that there might have to be a sequel essay called "we have the same ethics because we worship the same idols" about celebrity propagandists in popular American Christianity.  The conventional red/blue divides are all the more convenient to mask the reality that there are likely moral equivalents of Harvey Weinsteins throughout American media-driven Christianity and that so long as sufficient fealty is paid by celebrities to the talismanic divisions of red or blue the egregious acts and words of the celebrities will not only be forgiven but defended. In the wake of the demise of Mars Hill people who went there may be tempted to double down on going as blue as they can in reaction to what they felt was Mark Driscoll's toxic red-state gospel.  That will be a fatal mistake, too.  There's no Gospel in Americanism, regardless of the formal color, the poison is ultimately the same. 

The quest for a kind of Christian celebrity seems endemic to the whole gamut of American media Christianity.  There's no real reason to be outraged at the recent reports of the conduct of a Harvey Weinstein if what Americans in the proverbially "red" and "blue" leaning Christian industries want is to have more A-list celebrities to get the message out.  If McLuhan's bromide about the medium being the message is to have any possibility of warning for American Christians regardless of political and economic convictions the warning should be that just as you cannot love both God and Mammon you can't love both Christ and celebrity. 

But it seems that across the American spectrum celebrity is what we really love.