Saturday, December 26, 2015

some links for the weekend, a theme and variations on art as propaganda reflecting the anxieties and aspirations of empires

Perhaps this has only been brought back to my memory because a friend recently showed me one of his favorite films, Babette's Feast. 

The Myth of 'Easy' Cooking.

That said, many a guy who doesn't cook or says he can't cook has simply lacked the will or interest to cook or considers it the work of others (hint).  Cooking isn't easy but it's something you can do if you set your mind to it.   As culinary competency goes I'm probably more on the end of blues and ragtime for forms rather than fugues, sonatas or fantasias.  But I'm able to cook the stuff I need to get by.

Over in the realm of Oberlin there's plenty for writers to talk about.  Some propose that students are learning the ways to interact with the world to address injustice they see.  Well, every student generation gets to do that.  Friedersdorf's concern is that students at places like Oberlin may be learning ways to address what they consider to be social ills in ways that will be too specific to the academic world and not be useful for the world beyond the walls of the academy.

 http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/12/the-food-fight-at-oberlin-college/421401/
 
Freddie de Boer put it more pointedly:
an undergrad at a $50K/year liberal arts college berating cafe workers making $12/hour in the name of social justice on a human face forever
— Fredrik deBoer (@freddiedeboer) December 19, 2015
These critiques may be harsh, but are not grounded in antagonism toward the students. Were I an Oberlin administrator, I’d diligently inquire into any complaints about poor food quality and negotiate for the best fare possible, given cost constraints, even if students expressed their dissatisfaction in an off-putting manner.

But I like to think I’d call them on their nonsense, too.

It seems to me that staff and administrators at Oberlin ill-serve these students insofar as they accommodate behavior of this sort without offering any critique in response. After all, beyond allowing them to persist in their highly dubious and wildly unpopular beliefs, they’re training students to air grievances in a way that will be counterproductive—and thus serve them ill—everywhere except college campuses. As de Boer wrote, “I'm a college educator. It's the only job I ever wanted. It's my job to take college activists seriously. And this reflects bigger problems … life is full of political injustice, but also full of just sucky and disappointing shit, and you need to know the difference … I have this crazy hang up: I care about student activists so much, I pay attention to whether their tactics can actually win or not.”

A few old links from Richard Brody, whose angle on film I often don't agree with (but particularly the assertion that Michael Bay has and gives more fun than George Miller). However ... Brody's crankiness can still at times be interesting in its aims to illuminate.  Brody has been writing about the dangers he considers the real threat to independent film and to liberalism in cinema and it's not movies by Michael Bay and it's not films made by people who aren't very liberal. 

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/the-real-threat-to-independent-film
 
But there are also aspirational movies—those of the art-house consensus—that feed what might be called “upmarket” or “sophisticated” viewers a pre-packaged set of comforting verities and soothing moods that are, in relation to the rarefied cinema of classical inspiration, what Mantovani is to Beethoven. These movies join a faux-objective aesthetic of ostensibly humanistic realism with comforting, politically liberal enthusiasms to match. The problem isn’t with the point of view (which is one I share) but with its jollying. The large-scale, mass-market demagogy of movies such as “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is no worse than the niche-market demagogy of, say, “Obvious Child.” Both movies appear tailor made to their target audience’s expectations and prejudices.
 
You won't find that link to his take-down of "Obvious Child" by the way.  The New Yorker team pull it down but if you want to read his brutal but terse beat down of what he considered the smug self-congratulatory blue state high-five of the film, the Way Back Machine can help.
 ...
 
It’s natural to worry that the colossal success of a tightly formatted movie such as the new “Transformers” will only stiffen the resolve of studios to repeat it, or will only solidify the shapes of existing pigeonholes and sideline unusual and distinctive movies even further. Yet such concern reduces to a mere snobbery of taste, a straw-person diversion akin to an opera house blaming low attendance at a production of “Salomé” on a Miley Cyrus concert. The most audacious low-budget American independent filmmaking is threatened much more significantly by misplaced critical praise for art-house mediocrities than by Hollywood.
 
Elsewhere Brody wrote that liberal cinema is in danger, paradoxically but perhaps inevitably, from its own self assurance of the rightness of its notions
 
 
...
 
The greatest political filmmakers, from Charlie Chaplin to Jean-Luc Godard, are masters of the imaginary. The uninhibited inner life and the power of art to delve into fantastic elements that grant characters dimensions possibly unsuited to a constructive political program are themselves aspects of a higher politics. That’s why there are so few good political films these days, and why such comedies as “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” and “Norbit,” with their messy (even chaotic) boundary-blurring, are superior to the films listed above as approaches to hot-button issues. And, in an entirely different and grander and finer register, Spike Lee’s “Red Hook Summer” faces the deep unpleasantness that can mark characters who are, in many ways, admirable; revels in their extravagant expressivity, whether to ecstasy or to self-destruction; and dramatizes the warping and self-warping force of the will to document the supposed facts.
 
The facts do not speak for themselves, and there’s a remarkable and disheartening correlation between those who film as if they do and those who, imbuing these facts with a built-in point of view, are unwilling to stand in front of those facts and state that point of view. The underlying question is why movies made by many filmmakers whose point of view is, by and large, so sympathetic, tolerant, and liberal (and whose point of view I tend to share, by the way) are built on such a painful narrowing of experience and a surreptitious attitudinizing—why they’re films of personal commitment that remain, nonetheless, impersonal. It’s as if filmmakers (and, for that matter, critics, playing a surreptitious role as op-ed columnists) were protecting viewers from the potential effect of nasty or regressive or hateful thoughts; their own cultivated selves are are immune from them even if angered by them, but the poor bewildered viewer needs some protection from loose ends of imagination that could potentially lead in the wrong direction.

Which, in its way, is saying that liberal cinema has the same problem that "Christian" cinema does.  Only perhaps we could propose that liberal cinema is more evidently able to be seen as propaganda promoting an ideology to even one of its advocates.  Brody has liberal sympathies and so he's willing to endorse liberalism espoused in cinema. 

But perhaps the distinction between art and propaganda is not whether or not something constitutes advocacy for an ideology but that art is what we call it when we are able to fail to recognize the propaganda for what it is because it embodies our highest ideals.  "Your" art could be "my" propaganda and vice versa.  Take how authors at Salon declared Christopher Nolan to be a fascist on the basis of his Batman films.  Is Nolan actually a fascist?  We've had decades to find out.  In response to a recent piece at The Stranger about the Christian pop music scene that touched upon the history of Mars Hill a commenter stated flatly "Christians should not attempt to make art."  Yet the history of written music in the Western tradition began because of the Church.  The idea that the Christian tradition that did so much to promote literacy and helped to formulate the written customs of Western musical notation is somehow exempt or ineligible to contribute to the continuation of this enterprise is not a claim about the arts so much as an ideological assertion; perhaps for those for whom the liberal arts is itself a religious and ideological commitment those who adhere to a more traditional and formally recognized religion you aren't allowed to love both God and art. 

But it's not like William Byrd didn't write some remarkable choral music as an expression of his recusant Catholic faith.

Brody may be right about his concerns, and it may be the core of the problem is that liberal cinema has simply arrived at the place that evangelical American Christian cinema has never been able to transcend, propaganda.

http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/2015/12/the_truth_about_will_smith_s_concussion_and_bennet_omalu.single.html

We live in an era where a movie depicting football as an evil empire Will Smith has to face down ...

I'm reminded of watching Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises a few years ago.  Let's note but not in passing that there are liberals who are worried about how if some red state darlings get more influence we'll be facing down another Dark Ages.  But what do we mean by another Dark Age?  The Dark Ages began in the West when ... the Roman Empire collapsed.  Do liberals necessarily think through that this necessarily conflates the existence of liberal arts and politics with a massive globe-spanning military-economic empire?  If the neo-conservatives seem to liberals like paranoid war-mongers perhaps Christopher Hitchens was nonetheless right to throw his hat in with a bit of that cause, if only in the sense that as someone who was part of the British empire he was better able to observe what Americans stubbornly evade, that the arts flourish in empires.

Miyazaki's film, to get back to that, has been described by film critics as a meditation on the life of the arts.  It can be that, too, but it's formally about an aeronautical engineer who designs a warplane.  It could be said that Miyazaki, having built a kind of artistic empire and legacy of his own, has been confronting in one of his late films the realization that no matter how beautiful it mayh be, all art that reaches a high level is in some sense a reflection of the aspirations and anxieties of an empire.

Caproni asks Jiro, "Tell me, Japanese boy, which would you choose?  A world with ... or without the pyramids."  The art that survives long enough to be preserved in a fixed form (as opposed to, say, folk art) since the dawn of humanity has not just been art but also, if you will, marking a fence post, staking a claim, declaring a presence.  We can talk on and on about the potency of art for the sake of art in the West because since we long ago moved away from high art that was funded by kings and bishops and cardinals to corporate ventures and do-it-yourself indie projects we've had the luxury of imagining that high art is NOT propaganda.  This is not because it ever STOPPED being propaganda but because we've formulated an ideology that lets us convince ourselves that OUR ART is not propaganda because it promotes ideals we take for granted as universal liberties and rights.

This may be what Richard Brody was getting at in his discussion of a crisis in liberal cinema.  It can certainly explicate his conviction that you have to say what your point of view is up front and not take it for granted.

One reason that this kind of commitment can be so perilous is that, as Jonathan Haidt put it in The Righteous Mind, morality both binds and blinds.

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2015/12/fitzgibbon_media_shuts_down_over_sexual_assault_and_sexual_harassment_allegations.single.html

With the closing of Fitzgibbon Media a person could propose there was a "nice guy fallacy" at work, per the title of the Slate piece (which, given how things work in journalism, may no have been the author's idea for a title at all). Having blogged for half a decade about the life and times of Mars Hill and its leadership culture I think there's a potentially better way of describing what happened with the Fitzgibbon Media situation.  It's not necessarily "just" a nice guy fallacy, it's a "not my team" fallacy.  Just as for years it was not open to consideration among conservative evangelicals that Mark Driscoll's writings may have featured a whole lot of second-hand insight (to put it mildly) until the plagiarism controversy emerged, so it was apparently not open to discussion within the progressive camp that a man well-known in that camp was a bad dude when it came to how he treated women, again, to put it mildly.  What it seems like I'm seeing here is that people on the left and right can easily succumb to the temptation to think that "their" team is full of scoundrels while "my" team is on the side of angels.

The internet hardly helps things here when authors can damn Gandhi for being a racist and a misogynist in a way that can take it for granted that what Gandhi did in advocating for Indian independence is not in itself valuable.  In an era where the fallibility and imperfection of every human being is more easily established than ever in the era of the internet we want our heroes and our victims to be ever more perfect.  Back when I began to discuss the matter of how much of Allender's work Mark and Grace Driscoll used without credit, I noticed that at a web discussion venue that the topic came up and one woman's reaction was "So maybe Grace Driscoll is a plagiarist?  So what?  What about her being a victim of abuse?"  So what?  Does being a victim of abuse, terrible though that is, excuse Grace Driscoll from not giving credit to Dan Allender in the first print edition of Real Marriage, a book that was rigged a spot on the NYT best seller list? 

Back when Mars Hill was distributing God's Work, Our Witness, it was not difficult to suss out that this was a fundraising pitch.  The thing was distributed along with an annual report.  The film was well put together, told an interesting if remarkably selective narrative of Mars Hill and featured stories shared by people I know and like.  I still like those people, by the way.  But what I knew I was looking at, thanks to more than just a couple of years of experience working in supporting fundraising activities in non-profit, was that this movie I was looking at was propaganda.  Maybe it was not "just" propaganda but the idea that an artistic creation can only be just one or the other may be one of the grand delusions of the post-modern West. 

What was striking about the Driscoll plagiarism controversy as it played out was seeing evangelical Christians say that basically copyright is unchristian.  Really?  This is proposed in spite of the history of conflation of church and state in the West and the life-threatening risk of producing English translations of the Bible?  If anything the progressive and conservative evangelical wings are more committed, at a functional level, to a basically authoritarian approach to the press and media than in many a time since the dawn of the Reformation.  The plagiarism controversy connected to Mark Driscoll highlights, for those who kept track on how pervasive the matter was in Driscoll's published work, the question of ethical constancy  was or wasn't in play for an entire industry, the popular Christian publishing empire.  To say that journalists at Rolling Stone have invented things is to misrepresent and misunderstand what happened there.  In both cases we can simply propose that what was going on was propaganda.

Liberals and conservatives have ideological commitments they want to stick to that highlight difference and minimize overlap.  A Mark Driscoll will stick to a heteronormative biological determinism in which any guy who has a boner needs a woman to put it in, most likely. A Rob Bell can stop pastoring and go Oprah.   But both men can still be reflections of the Emergent church and where it has gone, and Alastair Roberts' surmise that Rob Bell's is the "Ad Man's Gospel" can apply to Driscoll.  If the sixteenth century theologian was a lawyer, per Roberts, then the 21st century theologian is a marketing representative.  Neo-cons will stick with the idea that war in Iraq was necessary for promoting freedom.  A contributor to Salon will celebrate Planned Parenthood helping her get the abortion she sought and both the neo-con and the abortion champion end up championing the same American luxury of pre-emptively employing lethal force to preserve a consumer set of options.  The trouble with their respective ideologies is that they are able to see each other as more different than they may ultimately be. 

It would seem we live in a world in which the difference between art and propaganda is not just about production values but also about whether or not I already agree with the ideas.  If I already agree with the ideas I think are in the product, then its art.  If not, then its propaganda.  In a culture that values art for the sake of art I wonder if we've thought through that one of the potentially unavoidable end points for art for its own sake with the reproduction technologies we have is that the commodification of art is unavoidable.  The way to counteract the complete objectification of art, however, can seem to be, itself, an ideological gambit.  The ideologies that we embrace that the arts may express are the ways in which art can be sacralized beyond being "just" a commodity.  It isn't propaganda if the art is made by the team you've gained admittance to, is it?

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas, "Star in the East", an Advent hymn from the shape note tradition performed by the Rose Ensemble

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_29KjzCuh7U

One of my favorite hymns for the Advent season generally and from the American shape note tradition particularly. This isn't as rough-hewn as the original work but it's a beautifully done arrangement. 


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Stranger has a retrospective on how Christianity infilitrated the Seattle music scene with help from Mars Hill and a city council decision

http://www.thestranger.com/music/feature/2015/12/23/23297826/how-christianity-infiltrated-seattles-music-scene-with-a-little-help-from-mars-hill-church-and-the-city-council

One of the things that's been too easy for people to do is write about the history of Mars Hill as if it was simply a history of Mark Driscoll.  Driscoll was determined to play the defining role, fairly obviously, but there were other people.  Co-founding pastors Lief Moi and Mike Gunn played important parts and it was the dynamic of the trio that I found encouraging, not Mark Driscoll's generally self-congratulatory frat boy persona.

It's tough to convey to people who weren't there that there was this evangelical art commune component.  That Driscoll was shrewd enough to exploit it is not quite the same thing as assuming you know the scene itself.  Having written just recently on Mark Driscoll's virtuosity in formulating pseudo-events, it's convenient that The Stranger looked at another side of the big messy history of this region, there was a Christian musical culture, in some senses underground, that was genuinely a part of the Seattle scene.  That Driscoll eventually found it useful to exploit that movement as part of cementing his empire is certainly what it is, but it's possible, at least given that I've come to know people who have been part of the music scene in Seattle, to make a distinction between ... at the risk of putting it rather obscurely and polemically, the distinction between Obadiahs who served in the court of Ahab and king Ahab.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

HT Phoenix Preacher, Joe Carter writes at The Gospel Coalition about pseudo-events and evangelical outrage, revisiting a case study in the pseudo event generated from within the evangelical culture

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/are-evangelicals-addicted-to-pseudo-events-and-social-media-outrage

Are Evangelicals Addicted to Pseudo-Events and Media Outrage?    
December 8, 2015


...

Because there is not enough news to fill our insatiable demand, the media (including social media) feasts on what Boorstin refers to as pseudo-events:
A pseudo-event, then, is a happening that possesses the following characteristics:
 
(1) It is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it. Typically, it is not a train wreck or an earthquake, but an interview.
 
(2) It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced. Therefore, its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media. Its success is measured by how widely it is reported. Time relations in it are commonly fictitious or factitious; the announcement is given out in advance “for future release” and written as if the event had occurred in the past. The question, “Is it real?” is less important than, “Is it newsworthy?”
 
(3) Its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous. Its interest arises largely from this very ambiguity. Concerning a pseudo-event the question, “What does it mean?” has a new dimension. While the news interest in a train wreck is in what happened and in the real consequences, the interest in an interview is always, in a sense, in whether it really happened and in what might have been the motives. Did the statement really mean what it said? Without some of this ambiguity a pseudo-event cannot be very interesting.
 
(4) Usually it is intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The hotel's 30th-anniversary celebration, by saying that the hotel is a distinguished institution, actually makes it one.
 
...
 
The media, politicians, or public figures create most pseudo-events. But the advent of social media has allowed the common man to get in on the act.
 
A prime example is the “call to denunciation.”
 
Not all calls to denounce the comments or actions of a public figure are cynical and unwarranted, of course. You can usually tell which are genuine because they tend to be broad and generic (e.g., “All people of goodwill should denounce such violent rhetoric.”) They tend to become “pseudo-events,” though, when they share certain characteristics:
 
(1) Person A calls for Person/Group B to denounce Person/Group C—although A has no personal relationship to either B or C.
(2) B has no real connection to C, other than both being members of a large, generic group (e.g., Muslims, evangelicals).
(3) The addition of a time element (e.g., “It’s been three whole hours and B hasn’t yet publicly denounced C!”).
(4) A isn’t as interested in the comments or actions of C as in trying to find a reason to criticize B.
 
Search through your social media and you’ll find examples of this trend. On just about any given day someone in your social media circle is complaining because Pastor X or Organization Y didn’t denounce a comment made by some pastor they have no association with or some politician they would never, ever vote for. In the age of instant media, it’s not enough to simply be our brother’s keeper. Now, we must also be their round-the-clock, always-on-call denunciator too.
 
Some well made points.  And you know what's interesting about the schematic?  What we can do here is introduce a prelude and a postlude to the pseudo-event as it plays out.  It could go something like this.
 
 
Prelude: Person/Group C decides to post something to the internet that is sweeping in its generalization and without qualification or that invites an open season response in a given venue. This may be posted in a publicly accessible venue in which it may be observed by person A.
 
(1) Person A calls for Person/Group B to denounce Person/Group C—although A has no personal relationship to either B or C.
(2) B has no real connection to C, other than both being members of a large, generic group (e.g., Muslims, evangelicals).
(3) The addition of a time element (e.g., “It’s been three whole hours and B hasn’t yet publicly denounced C!”).
(4) A isn’t as interested in the comments or actions of C as in trying to find a reason to criticize B.
 
Now we get to ...
Postlude:  Person/Group C decides to blog about the whole situation and introduces a bunch of background narrative and qualifying information that was not presented in the initial inciting/inspiring remark on social media that Person A denounced.
 
So in the history of this blog is it possible to imagine a scenario in which this slightly modified account of a pseudo-event can be described as applying, possibly, to a particularly situation.
 
Yup.
 
July 13, 2011
 
This week the Christian blogosphere worked itself into a frenzy over a Facebook status posted by Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle. The status, which was later removed, read, "So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you've ever personally witnessed?"
 
The news of this post quickly drew responses from bloggers like Rachel Held Evans, who called Driscoll a bully, and Tyler Clark, who reflected on his own experience as an oft-labeled effeminate male. These responses consequently elicited counter-responses from writers like Anthony Bradley, who accused Evans of libel, only to be met with counter-counter-responses, such as Brian McLaren's contribution to The Washington Post. The discussion finally culminated with Driscoll issuing his own response, admitting his comment was both "flippant" and failed to address "real issues with real content in a real context."
 
 
...

Some Backstory

I had a recent conversation with a stereotypical, blue-collar guy who drives his truck with his tools, lunchbox, and hard hat to his job site every day. He said he wasn’t a Christian, but he was open and wanted to learn what the Bible said. In that conversation, he told me he’d visited a church but that the guy doing the music made him feel uncomfortable because he was effeminate (he used another more colorful word, but that one will suffice in its place). He asked some questions about the Bible, and whether the Bible said anything about the kind of guy who should do the music. I explained the main guy doing the music in the Bible was David, who was a warrior king who started killing people as a boy and who was also a songwriter and musician.
 
I then put a flippant comment on Facebook, and a raging debate on gender and related issues ensued. As a man under authority, my executive elders sat me down and said I need to do better by hitting real issues with real content in a real context. And, they’re right. Praise God I have elders who keep me accountable and that I am under authority.
 

Real Issues in a Fuller Context

So, we are working on a new website where I can speak to these real issues in a fuller context. Lord willing, sometime in September, after my trip to Europe with my family and a lot of other people, and then some recovery time, we will launch a new website. 
 
In the past, I’ve not had a regular place to work out personal commentary on social issues, and so I’ve erred in sometimes doing so in places like Facebook, Twitter, and the media, where you can have a good fight but don’t have the room to make a good case.
 
The first content on the new website will be about gender, and much of it will be around a book my wife, Grace, and I have completed together called Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, to be published by our friends at Thomas Nelson in January. 
 
Both Grace and I will be blogging at the new site on issues related to gender and marriage, including mistakes we’ve made, sins we’ve committed, and convictions we agree on. And, we’ll have lots of other content on other issues as well. Until then, have a great summer, and a sincere thanks to all my critics who sometimes have good wisdom that helps me out. 
 
Now notice how much back story Driscoll included only after the internet caught fire for a hardly contextualized general invitation.  Driscoll simply asked on a Facebook page for people to share stories of the most effeminate anatomically male worship leaders people had come across.  Cue the reactions from the likes of Rachel Held Evans and others in the summer of 2011. 
 
What's most important to note here in Driscoll's response, however, is not just the lengthy backstory that wasn't included in the initial process.  What's critical to observe is that once Driscoll was the focus of so much attention what did he do?  He presented the rambling backstory to show, more or less, how out of proportion and crazy all the adverse reactions were.  He set up an elegantly false dichotomy asking a rhetorical question whether gender was either a social construct or a reflection of nature.  By now most people who think on the topic at all agree some mixture of nature and nurture, doubtless complex, informs things like gender and sexuality.  But a figure like Driscoll depends on binaries, perhaps most so when those binaries are artificially introduce, in this 2011 case post hoc.
 
But the real conclusion?  Driscoll promoted his forthcoming Pastor Mark TV website and, yup, forthcoming book Real Marriage.  This was not news, Jimmy Balmer would assure us, this was t-t-totally an ad.  This was arguably a pseudo-event par excellence. 
 
Driscoll could fit the slightly modified taxonomy of Joe Carter's Person C and Rachel Held Evans could be described as the Person A in the denunciation scenario.  Rachel Held Evans found it easy to criticize Driscoll for remarks that came off as demeaning gays and women.  It was handy to call Driscoll a bully during the year she also had a book to promote.  It can sometimes seem that whether it's a Mark Driscoll or a Donald Trump that Rachel Held Evans speaks up but if you only do shooting fish in the barrel criticism any partisan can do that. 
 
Now there's more discussion of Driscoll's use of social media, playing the public victim card, and how it shaped his persona. You can read about that over here.
 
For now just the 2011 incident will suffice as a case study in which an evangelical was the focus of a pseudo-event. If anything a case could be made that by writing what he did when he did, and in the way he did, that Mark Driscoll created a pseudo-event that was well calibrated to get a heated response which would allow him to further "clarify" things by describing what new products were going to be out there to promote and that could be bought. 
 
... 
The problem is not that we notice pseudo-events or that we occasionally comment on them. The problem is that we evangelicals appear to share the culture’s addiction to pseudo-events and social media outrage. If you’re enaged in the practice every single day or week then you should really ask yourself, Is this incessant focus on daily trivia the best use of my God-given time and energy?

As Christians, we’re expected to take an eternal perspective, viewing events not just in their historical context but also in their eschatological context. But we can’t do that while focusing on the pseudo-events and social media outrages of the last 24 hours. We can’t keep an eye on what is important while we are furiously scripting our reactions to pseudo-events that will be forgotten within a week.


Truly important events are not always captured on the front page of a daily paper or found in your social media feed. ...
 
There's much about Carter's critique of the pseudo event and associated outrage I find agreeable.  I would add a small modification, which is to point out that not only are evangelicals (and others, really) addicted to this pseudo-event cycle and its associated outrage, there are figtures within evangelicalism who have made the dynamics of the pseudo event with the clarifying modifications I've provided central to their public persona.  Not just Mark Driscoll did this.  After all ... earlier this year some dude blogged about why he thought Christian girls were prettier and the internet lit up and then, oh gosh, the dude just had to blog about how crazy it was he was getting, like, friendly fire.   Doug Wilson and company retracted A Justice Primer and there's something to be said for that, but that doesn't really change how remarkably well Doug Wilson's public blogging career can be understood as including in its utility kit the occasional pseudo-event.  Doug Wilson can opine on this or that topic in a way that just so happens to inspire the ire of those whom he identifies as "intoleristas" and he can back up and winsomely and gently explain how what he said was misconstrued and willfully misunderstood. 
 
We've discussed this little incident that could be described as another pseudo-event in the past. 
 
 http://www.mortificationofspin.org/mos/postcards-from-palookaville/eitheror#.VgrCv2fbK71
Posted on Wednesday, September 23, 2015 by Carl Trueman
Over at his blog, Douglas Wilson has an interesting post on why Christian women are prettier.  [that was Tuesday, September 22, 2015] I was particularly struck by this paragraph:
 
"Unbelieving women either compete for the attention of men through outlandish messages that communicate some variation of “easy lay,” or in the grip of resentment they give up the endeavor entirely, which is how we get lumberjack dykes. The former is an avid reader of Cosmopolitan and thinks she knows 15K ways to please a man in bed. The latter is just plain surly about the fact that there even are any men."
 
So there you have it.  That is Mr Wilson's sophisticated take on the psychology of non-Christian women: they either aspire to be sex mad prostitutes or, failing that, turn into butch lesbians.
 
I guess he must be describing my mother because she is not a Christian -- but I am not sure at what point in her life she quite fitted this description.  I must have missed it.  When she married, still chaste, at 20?  Throughout her 46 years of faithful, devoted marriage to dad?  When she patiently and lovingly nursed him through his long, final, painful illness, administering his meds, lifting him on and off the toilet, attending to his most basic and undignified bodily needs? During the years since his death when she has been faithful to the memory of 'the only man I will ever love', to use her phrase?
 
To be sure, she is not a Christian.  She needs Jesus as her saviour.  But I suspect the reduction of non-Christian women to whores or lesbians says more about the psychology of the writer than it does about my mother.  And maybe other mothers too?
 
Wilson, for his part ...

http://dougwils.com/s7-engaging-the-culture/in-which-i-toss-another-cinder-block-into-the-goldfish-bowl.html
Thursday, September 24, 2015

Well, you’ve gone and put your foot in it now, Wilson. Why, what have I done? It’s all very well to aspire to become the bad boy of Reformed letters, but there are supposed to be limits. But this piques my curiosity. To what might you be referring? Yes, you pretend to be ignorant, but you know very well what you have done. Well, yes, I actually do know. I did toss a cinder block into the goldfish bowl.

As I mount the gallows and look out over the crowd gathered for the festivities, the chaplain accompanying the hangman asks me if I ever thought it would end this way. Well, kinda, I did, but to be honest, I hadn’t anticipated that it would be for believing that Christian women were prettier.

The only thing worse in this scenario than garnering controversy is to not get attention.  Now some of you readers may be noting, fairly, that perhaps Wenatchee The Hatchet could just ignore guys like Doug Wilson and Mark Driscoll already.  That would be nice, really, but these are guys who insist on staying in the public sphere against what some might consider better judgment.  Moreover, Driscoll, long ago in his blog post for the Brits, boasted in his professional credentials in media and journalism and also on behalf of the credentials of his wife.  Driscoll, in other words, was saying to us "we're professionals."  Indeed.  It could seem that Driscoll's mastery of the pseudo-event gives us some evidence for Driscoll's interest in and, indeed, at least partial mastery of, the tools of spin and counterspin in social media.
 
If he's insisted on telling the world how qualified he is for that sort of game and insists on staying in the public eye then it doesn't hurt to remind the world that Joe Carter's concern is a legitimate one.  It's also worth noting that at least one former member of the Gospel Coalition itself has some history of pseudo-event generation.  If Doug Wilson's got any observable history of inciting pseudo-events that might be something for The Gospel Coalition folks to consider.  If we're going to rise above the temptation to participate in pseudo-events and vent spleen it would really help if we survey our own team and aks whether any of us, whatever our team is, isn't guilty of leveraging and creating pseudo-events to promote products and causes instead of covering actual news and observing important historical events.

After all, we've since learned that when it came to things Mars Hill inking a deal to rig the New York Times bestseller list was incontestably a bigger deal than the summer publicity stunt Driscoll did that Rachel Held Evans and a whole lot of other people got played by. Carter's right that truly important events are not always captured on the front page of a daily paper or in your social media feed.  That had everything to do with why Wenatchee The Hatchet spent half a decade blogging about the history of Mars Hill and the decisions of its leadership culture. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

some riffs over at Slate, some interesting some embarrassingly belated.

Some movies so telegraph their righteous moral in the trailer you don't really even need to bother seeing the film at all.  Wasn't going to waste any time on the Fifth Estate even though Cumberbatch is fun enough on screen.

The latest OScar bait big idea moralizing film for the season is probably Concussion.   Not particularly interested in either football so probably not going to get to seeing it but somebody considers the rhetorical game played by the film to be so dishonest as to require an extended rebutta.

http://www.slate.com/articles/sports/sports_nut/2015/12/the_truth_about_will_smith_s_concussion_and_bennet_omalu.single.html

Was it Ebert who wrote a while back that films never traffic in rational discourse and ideas but play straight to emotional manipulation?  Film even ostensibly documentary film, is paying with emotions and pushing buttons.  It's a show-and-tell medium.  Even those films that might be described as not telling you too much show you things, and there are films that permit you to read yourself on to the film but this, too, is still a form of emotional steering, if less direct. 

Now maybe this is an unfair proposal, but in some sense any kind of film is some kind of propaganda for something.  That's just how humans are.  If your message film rides the crest of a wave of social activism and manages to be well-timed you get to have your moment at a moment when people pay attention.  If you have your big message badly timed and you make your pitch too late then you come across as having made propaganda untimely born. 

Well, take this piece over at XX.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2015/12/18/how_did_america_get_so_pussified.html

Evangelical pastor Mark Driscoll, who’s been castigated by his own flock for his misogynist, sex-obsessed teachings, thinks the labia mania started at the very dawn of the human race. From a 2000 post in an online forum:
It all began with Adam, the first of the pussified nation, who kept his mouth shut and watched everything fall headlong down the slippery slide of hell/feminism when he shut his mouth and listened to his wife who thought Satan was a good theologian when he should have lead her and exercised his delegated authority as king of the planet.
What would a truly, madly, deeply pussified America look like?

It only took about four years of slow and steady networking to finally dredge up the William Wallace II writings.  It took a while.  Some of the weirdest stuff "Using Your Penis" wasn't even all that widely circulated.  It's perhaps too characteristic of the piece that the references are second and third hand before getting to the google docs cache.  And, as Driscoll's posse put it last year, this was commentary on culture dating back to 2000.  Wenatchee The Hatchet brought the content back not because it was of recent vintage but because the moutning evidence of Driscoll's views suggested his fundamental thinking had not changed over the course of those 14 years.  He's never actually repudiated any o fthe ideas he had or espoused, just told Brian Houston he feels differently.  So a Trump/Driscoll comparison might not be all that unwarranted, really.

It's just that Slate was behind the curve even a couple of years ago. 
asdf


just because, the Austen family (yes, that Austen's family) music books, available to peruse at archive.org

https://archive.org/details/austenfamilymusicbooks

some of them require a login before you can read them, though.

Which is a reason why if you're going to adapt Austen it would be a good idea to avail yourself of musical ideas from that time.  So much of the music from that era's so grandly public domain that it would seem establishing period detail via music shouldn't be too difficult.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

on the general imcompetence of Jedi, and a rumination on how Star Wars is a battle of text, subtext and metatext

Looking back on Episodes 1-3 it's hard to escape the impression that for all his sanctimony and the appearance of wisdom Yoda was an imcompetent blowhard. Contrary to the axiom that the Jedi uses the force for defense and never for attack Yoda seemed pretty able and willing to do offensive moves in the prequels.  So if youre not angry or afraid and just kill people, though, that's no the Dark Side.  Well, great, so if it's nothing personal when you take someone's life then Heath Ledger's Joker could totally be a Jedi knight.  No hard feelings, buddy, you have to die for the sake of a good cuase, the Jedi retaining their influence in the Galactic Senate for no clearly defined reason.

Now I enjoyed Episode 7 but there is a question in that backstory there (spoilers ahead).  How exactly did one apprentice manage to take down a nascent Jedi school and the master/teacher managed to fail to do anything to observe warning signs and/or stop it?  Now if we stick to prequel paradigms and propose there's an inversely proportional dynamic between how revered a Jedi knight is and how copetent that Jedi is then, okay, Luke might be second to Yoda in terms of overall fame (or have some other numeric ranking) but the inverse of prestige kicks in and .... Luke fails.

So long as you can run with the idea that the Jedi can never get things together long enough to avoid being massacred then, yay!  The story holds up. 

I enjoyed Episode 7, it's the first time I enjoyed a Star Wars film while I was in the theater watching it since 1983.  But it may be Lucas lowered the bar so very low with the prequel episodes that we're breathing a collective sigh of relief and forgetting that this narrative universe has always been about absurd coincidences and begging questions big enough to fly a Star Destroyer through. 

In this case, the backstory is a big "really?" 

But then what has been brought back to the franchise is something the rpequels lacked.  Let's put it this way, Star Wars in some sense exists as a tension between text, subtext and metatext.  The text was, well, we know the story.  The subsext Lucas said was behind Star Wars (Ep 4) was America as the empire and the Rebellion as Vietnam. Of course we were kind of out of Vietnam by the time Star Wars got released.  Chalk this up to Lucas' attempt at political relevance not lasting long enough to get the film released.  But that's okay, he turned to Joseph Campbell for the monomyth in which Americans imagine that our conception of mythology explains mythology across the world.  Yep.

But there's another mythology in America that basically overrode George Lucas' subtext, a metatext, a kidn of metamythology in which we Americans could see ourselves as relating t the Rebels who defied the Empire of the King of England.  Lucas' attempt at a subtext was overpowered by the cultural influence of what I'm calling the metatext.  He drew on so many pulp influences steeped in American popular imagination that the movies came to be interpretable as within that pulp framework and its attendant mythologies. 

Well, okay, with the prequels Lucas could try again and recast the subtext as the American war on Terror and the Bush administration.  This was supposed to be Anakin's story of temptation and fall.  Well, it was boring, painfully and tediously and insultingly dull for the most part.  The biggest narrative problem was its oucome was a foregone conclusion but Lucas and company failed to generate sympathy for Anakin along the way.

But if Star Wars exists in the ambient space in which text, subtext and metatext are actually in conflict then that's where the suspense can come from.  We had some actua suspense whether Luke would decide to kill his father.  After all, it sure seemed as if Kenobi was sure that if Luke wasn't willing to kill his dad the Emperor has already won.  Yoda doesn't deny the point.  So the Jedi seem to be telling Luke the only way to save the galaxy is being willing to kill Vader even though Yoda had explicitly told Luke in Ep 5 that a Jedi uses the force for defense, never for attack.  Luke, it seems, would have to figure out how to be a better Jedi than the masters who instructed him.  The conflict between a personal ethical code and set of emotional loyalties with what is expected of a role to fulfill isn't just in the Star Wars franchise.  It's also what we see in The Last Airbender series.  The real engine of tension isn't whether Aang is going to defeat the Firelord.  The tension is between how Aang wants to realize that act of defeating evil with how his allies tell him he must do it.  There's a lot more I could say abuot that but I'm saving that for later.

Star Wars is a uniquely American franchise and perhaps the most distinctly American thing about it is its ardent desire to eat its cake and have it, too.  We want a remarkable destiny we can't outrun or escape but we want 100% percent personal agency, too. This was sent up wonderfully in a South Park episode where Toweliee decides that of two things he chooses both and he gets to.  American stories love to traffic in the dichotomy of a choice between two mutually exclusive things but getting to have it both ways.  That convention was so worn down in, say, th Batman franchise that Nolan rocked the boat by having the Joker present Batman with an either-or in which NEITHER o fthe people Batman hoped to save ultimately survived. 

What seems to be back in the Star Wars franchise is paradoxically not the binary ontology of the dark and the light in the abstract but the idea that there's some kind of tension between the two in which active battle remains an element.  Star Wars may never be able to overcome the necessity of eternal dualistic conflict because that's what it needed.  The only way to bring balance to the Frce would be to snuff out the Force itself and if it's an energy field created by all living things (rather than emitted by midichlorians) then only in a lifeless cosmos could there be no Force. 

But it's apparent we're only going to see balance achieved by the never ending struggle between the light and the ark.  There won't and can't be a galaxy suffused only with the light or dark side of the force because there's too much money to be made from making more of these movies, first of all.  Let's not forget this.  Second of all, in terms of the ontology of the Force in this cinematic universe, it would only be within the context of an eternal battle that there would be balance in the Force, a matter that is not necessarily adequately addressed by any of the films.

And maybe not addressing the actual questions inherent in the set-up is another way this franchise is uniquely American. 

POSTSCRIPT

You know ... it seems Yoda said something about how the Dark side of the force isn't stronger but it is quicker and easier.  And it would seem that any time Jedi deign to train people the most promising pupils shift over to the Dark side ... or maybe it's the laziest students?  Still, if you're training to be a knight and you only train on defense rather than offense ... .

But then it seems that the Sith had this habit of mooching off of the padawans of Jedi, sorta like an American multinational that leverages a buy out of local potentially promising firms?  ;)  You know, like the Jedi in training is some local microbrew and the Sith are Budweiser; or the Jedi in training is some small locavore coffee company and the Sith are Starbucks.  Just mulling this over a bit.  The Sith or those who practice the Dark side tend to poach the most glamorous pupils of the Jedi ... which is why no member of the Sith ever tried poaching Yoda, who was able to get super old without falling prey to the Dark side.