Saturday, May 19, 2012

Kevin Bolk's Avengers parody worthy of Laura Depuy's Bizzare Breasts column at Sequential Tart

You may have seen this already but it's worth it anyway.  Kevin Bolk did a parody of what the male Avengers would pose like if they were drawn like female Avengers.  It is exactly what you would expect.  What you might not have known is that Bolk's parody is in the grand and severely, er, underexposed satirical tradition in comics whose apotheosis was arguably attained in the last twelve years by Laura DePuy in her column Bizarre Breasts over at Sequential Tart.

Who is Laura DePuy, you ask?  She was colorist for The Authority and wrote some killer satirical commentary on how women get drawn in comics.  Alas, dear reader, her visual examples no longer come up more than a decade later.  However, her writing is sharp and crisp. There are acronyms aplenty that may need translating.

Here is chapter one of Bizzare Breasts, The POSE
(prevent onerous sags everywhere)

Here's chapter two, The SWAY and The SNAP
(Spines will appear yanked)
(Spines never articulate properly)

It's seriously a small tragedy of comedy that you can't see what she originally came up with for this chapter.  I almost peed myself laughing so hard at what she came up with.

Fortunately for chapter three, the POINT, some of the art has survived.  What does POINT mean?
(Perverse omnidirectional intuitive nipple tracking)

finally, chapter four

There's too much to allude to in this final chapter. Depuy had a lot of fun at the expense of Image comics.

This is a post full of whimsy, if admittedly a certain delightfully cruel whimsy.  It's really too bad so much of the art in the Bizarre Breasts columns at Sequential Tart is no longer around.  Still DePuy's brilliant evisceration of the Image comics Bad Girl is, quite literally, instructive.

And, again, on opera: Cinemagogue on Spiderman vs the Opera

Really, I feel like this warrants being linked to all on its own, since I'm not sure which of you dear readers made a point of reading what I wrote about Bluebird's Castle in my previous entry.

Friday, May 18, 2012

a night at the opera, thoughts about an unstaged Diamond opera, Bluebird's Castle, and storytelling

Last night I heard some operas with my brother.  Well, parts of an opera in one case and all of another opera.  Last night Seattle Symphony performed six arias from an unstaged opera by David Diamond.  They also performed Bela Bartok's Bluebird's Castle.  As concert music goes I'll admit I'm not the hugest fan of opera as a whole.  I have, however, gone to see Bluebird a total of three times.  I find the story fascinating.

The Diamond piece, though Schwarz may champion it assiduously, is a chore.  I was not surprised when I heard the six arias why the opera was not staged and why it never took off.  Sorry to say but it was a tuneless mash of overwrought doggerel set to even more overwrought music.  Not overwrought isn't always a problem. Schoenberg wrote his share of overwrought musical settings.  It's not like Erwartung is low key but it worked, and it worked as a double bill with Bluebird's Castle back at the Seattle Opera 2009 season.  One opera could be said to be about the disconnect between man and woman while the other could be said to be the same thing but a more profound disconnect within the self.

But what those two operas have that the unstaged Diamond opera seems to have not had is a remorseless disinterest in "realism".  I can't recall much about the premise of the Diamond opera except that it looked like the fifteenth reheating of a story line like The Great Gatsby or Tender it the Night. Opera by its nature can't easily afford to be quotidian.  If you're going to fork over that much time and money and sit on your butt for hours you're not going to expect some aria singing the praises of hot running water (unless you're at a specific opera by Paul Hindemith).  Caricature and even cartoonish stuff is not unheard of in opera. It's okay for a story to have weird and fanciful elements if the psychological trajectory of the character and the story rings true.  We've had Pixar movies around for decades now, after all.

The premise and resolution of the unstaged Diamond opera was telling for me. The woman resolves to be alone and chart out the lonely path of freedom.  Whatever.  The premise is too pedestrian.  To your own self be true is ultimately too tedious and pedestrian a point to be bothered with.  You can get that kind of insight ("Maybe you need to stop looking for your identity in a man and be single for a while") in any third rate advice column in the Life section of a newspaper or a website.  You don't need to write a two or three hour opera about that.

Of course perhaps I'm being unfair to an opera that has never been staged and that the composer gave up on.  As a sometime composer myself, though, I'm willing to admit my bias up front, if even the composer gave up on the project that might be a signal.  And at the risk of trafficking in name-dropping points, how many people, exactly, are die-hard David Diamond fans?

Bluebird's Castle completely eschews realism in favor of a purely psychological drama.  Nothing really happens except opening doors amidst conversation.  Really, I kid you not, that's all that technically "happens" in the opera. But as an exploration of how a husband and wife alternately seek and flee emotional vulnerability the story has a lot of weight to it.  The sheer lack of realism can be funny.  Depending on the way its staged when Bluebird's previous wives are discovered, alive but living so that their blood may feed the garden and their tears fill the placid lake (sorry, couldn't resist), they show up and we see that there's a brunette, a blond, and a redhead. The wives correspond to dawn, noon, and dusk, with Judith herself representing the night with her black hair.  Yes, it's that obvious, Bluebird's harem includes a all the basic colors a guy might be expected to want in a harem.  It's so patently silly to just "one of each" in Bluebird's harem and yet in a way it fits a kind of psychological realism--there are, after all, guys who want "variety" and would prefer whomever the current "in" wife is to not make too much of a point about it.

Though the plot revolves around Bluebird not wishing to divulge himself and Judith trusting her love will illuminate the darkest recesses of her husband's life this fantasy setting retains a core of emotional realism that wouldn't be conveyed by the fantasy trappings.  As Joss Whedon put it about his recent film The Avengers, what genre lets you do is not worry about realism and get straight into the emotional and social undercurrents of a particular idea or concern.  Bartok's opera does not need to traffic in realism to play with the idea that in a marriage a woman labors under the belief that her love will change her man while the man simply hopes that his wife will not figure out everything about him and will not herself change.  Both find their hopes dashed by the end of the opera.  Both resign themselves to their discoveries.  Judith figures out that Bluebird has loved other wives before her even though Bluebird had urged her to not ask questions.  Judith gets what she wants and opens all the doors that shed increasing light on the castle by the fifth door but the sixth and seventh doors are opened at the price of darkness that does not end.

One of my parents told me that one of the common mistakes made going into a marriage is that the woman thinks she'll change her man and the man thinks the woman won't change.  Bluebird's Castle may seem pedestrian if cast in that light but there are some things that shock and amuse because, however pedestrian they are in real life, they never cease to shock and amuse people for whom there is always a first time.  For instance, I could joke that eating food or drinking water might get boring after a while or that people might find sex boring after a while.  It must happen, yet billions of people have demonstrated that some things apparently don't lose their lustre that much over time.

The flip side of the pedestrian is that it is often capable of being profound while the flip side of the profound is that it often ends up seeming pedestrian. Illuminating the profound within the pedestrian is more challenging than trying to go straight for profound. In one of these paths it's easier to establish some possibility for genuine surprise.  Discovering the profound in the pedestrian, if it gets pulled off, is more powerful than trying to go for the profound, even going for the profound in a pedestrian setting.  From the 1930s and 1940s there was still some Socialist Realism stuff going on.  But let's face it, Superman has gotten a few more movies out of him than Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road, right? We don't even need to seriously discuss why at much length, do we?

Yet time and again critics will miss this obvious point, the more realistic and "real" the social trappings and setting of a story become the more irrelevant many details become at a greater remove from the historical moment.  The genre story, the science fiction tale, the fantasy tale, the superhero genre, these genres lack "realism" in terms of social setting but they compensate for this lack by way of having a fairy tale element that permits adaptation.  Captain America is probably an exception that proves the rule, since his World War 2 origins are immutable. By contrast, it's possible to translate the origin of Batman or Superman in mythic terms across almost any modern urban setting and perhaps even pre-industrial societies in some cases (Gotham by Gaslight, for the cogniscenti). When done well genre stories can skip past concerns about period detail and get straight to the relational dynamics that become the core of any story.

I suppose to throw a bone to the Diamond arias the problem with an isolated presentation of arias is they are bereft of any relational context in which they could have any meaning.  The legendary passacaglia from Dido and Aeneus by Henry Purcell is remarkable on its own, of course, but it's real emotional power derives from its context within the opera as a whole. I'm just going to assume you either know what I was talking about or are an even bigger music nerd than I am and know far more about opera than I do.  Having written at some length about opera I feel like I should go back and write more about Batman cartoons.  After all, one art form is not necessarily more profound or relevant than the other.

As Eve Tushnet put it:

"Realism" only works for people whose worldviews are already accepted as realistic. The rest of us must make do with genre. 

David Diamond fans are certainly welcome to champion an unstaged opera with a realistic setting.  As for me and my house, I still prefer Bluebird's Castle.

P.S. 05/19/2012

Watching an actually good opera with a fantastic setting but psychological realism and a "realistic" opera with implausible character arcs and motivations reminded me of a fun comparison/contrast piece between Spiderman 3 and La Boheme James Harleman wrote a few years ago.

I'm obviously not the only Christian who cheerfully jumps from opera to comic books and back. James does a fine job jumping back and forth across the "high" and "low" divide.  Another blog I'm not sure I've linked to in a while (if at all) I want to highlight is Jeffrey Overstreet's.

and I'm still writing stuff for Mockingbird

Not as much as I feel I should be writing (not that you'd know this from my blogging) but I have been writing.  I've been working on more installments for the Mockingbird project.  I have along the way realized there has been a gigantic glaring oversight in my writings about Batman up to this point.  If you've been a loyal reader (thank you) you may have a guess as to what that glaring oversight is.  Well, I'll give you a spoilery clue what that oversight has been by invoking a popular axiom, at night all cats are gray.

Yes, dear reader, I forgot about her!  You really can't write anything about Batman and not write about her.  So I plan to fix that.  If you don't know who she is by now go watch the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises and you'll figure it out. ;-)

Kinnon: One Ed to Rule Them All

The title alone should telegraph the content and tone for this ... if you just supply "Young" after Ed. :-)

HT Phoenix Preacher: Jonathan Haidt on Social Conservatives, New Atheists and Civility at Christian Post

The link is buried so deep into this week's Linkathon I want to plug for the article by posting it as a stand alone entry here. A few years ago I think I read some of what Haidt was discussing about three verses six measures of ethics and that it was becoming more apparent to him that liberals focus on three while social conservatives focus on six.  The challenge is not that liberals and conservatives don't share any common values, Haidt began proposing, it was that conservatives had some additional values liberals don't share that seemed to stymie the possibility for dialogue.  Haidt was, by his own account (and my reading at the time) more liberal than he says he is now.

Anyway, it's a fascinating interview and worth reading. This part is just a sample, and an interesting one in which Haidt explains why he thinks Democrats and Republicans have made a mistake of ramping identity politics.  He also makes what is (to me) an unsurprising distinction between conservative intellectuals and the Republican Party. You may not agree but it's an atheist talking about conservative and liberal politics and religion.  Should any of us expect to agree on everything?

Haidt: First, let me distinguish between Republicans and conservatives. As I say in the book, I think conservatives have a more correct view of human nature than do liberals. But, as I also say, I'm praising conservative intellectuals, not the Republican Party. The Republican Party is now going through a moralistic fervor akin to that which gripped the Democrats in the 70s and 80s when they were into identity politics. I think the Republican Party has circled around a few issues, especially taxes, which are in some ways counter to conservative values and bad for the country.

I think Republicans need to take income inequality more seriously. Not because I favor equality of outcomes. I do not. I think the right is correct to stress merit and earned rewards, not handouts and forced equality. But I think what Republicans are blind to is that power corrupts. Especially in a democracy in which money buys access. I think the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are correct that crony capitalism is a huge problem for our country and I think the Republicans are not sensitive enough to that.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Peter Enns asks the second most obvious question about Adam

The problem for Christian theology is God’s wrath.

A historical Adam, who is first human created without evolutionary predecessor, whose disobedience is somehow put on the shoulders of all humans, gives some rationale for why God is so angry and why that anger needs to be dealt with.

If there is no first man who fell, why is God so mad at everyone?

Well ... if the problem for Christian theology is God's wrath that doesn't fit the vast majority of unbelievers I've met who say the problem for Christian theology is the existence of evil. Now, to be sure, God's wrath is problematic because if God knows everything God should have known better than to create the world we see, which is why atheists stay atheists and why many a former Christian becomes an atheist.

Many a person will note that it seemed silly to claim that a decision by one man should be the basis for the damnation of the entirety of humanity.  Of course the idea seems silly and implausible to someone reading Genesis and not so silly or implausible when someone like George H. W. Bush or Barack Obama sits in the Oval office with the ability to authorize nuclear attacks.  Of course the better send-ups of this level of power over life or death on the planet are more in the vein of Dr. Strangelove. People may think it silly or terrible that so much power could exist in the hands of a single person but wouldn't the more terrifying prospect be that the future of the human race lays in the human race as a whole, or in a small self-selected group?

One of those strange ironies of history and polemic seems to be that after centuries of the First World becoming the First World a bunch of people in the First World are afraid the Second World and the Third World might try to catch up with the First World ... and the worry is there aren't enough natural resources for everyone to pursue a First World existence.  But we are creatures of comfort, aren't we? How many people who are worried about the rampant consumerism of the First World are going to live in a Second or Third World way?  "Sustainable living" is the kind of concern that, in many ways, is a "First World problem" of the first order.  We're the ones who would seem to have made the problems that come hand in hand with the ideals we have striven toward.

If there was no historical Adam then that's what it is, but it might also show how much even those who don't subscribe to the tale can be influenced by elements of the story.  The Na'vi are yet another pandering homage to a story that imagines that if we just got back to Whatever Was Before Us we'd be in touch when the narrative of Genesis 3 tells us that whatever we might imagine about that home we can't go back there again.  The harder we try to restore Eden, it seems, the more we make the world a Hell.  The importance of Adam and Eve (and the serpent) is that creation itself contains moral agency that goes against what God is said to have created, that garden and all. It's true that in the Old Testament we see God gets angry at all sorts of times. The question that comes up is never "Why is God mad at us?" There's usually an explanation.  Enns must surely realize that Revelation has a whole lot of wrath in it, too. It's not usual for figures in the Bible to question God's wrath in general.

What figures in the biblical books do push back on is when they tell God, "Is your being angry reason enough to do this!?"  Abraham bargains with God over how few righteous people can dwell in Sodom so that the Lord won't destroy the city.  God is talked out of destroying Israel by Moses so that the Egyptians will not mock the name of Yahweh.  Job questions point blank the assumption that what God allowed to happen to him was the result of some sin. The believer and the unbeliever thus both turn to consider the misery and death in the world and ask, "Is this warranted by anyone who would claim to have made everything?" The different answers the believer and unbeliever come to about this question don't need to be rehearsed.

We scapegoat groups and individuals as regularly now as in the days when Genesis 3 was written, don't we?  We can come up with more sophisticated ways of reasoning at a variety of levels.  But even in a secular society there seem to be equivalents to what theologians have called "natural headship", "federal headship" and "imputation". Adam and Eve are the ones whose decisions are considered to have ruined things for the rest of us.  They are the first humans humans can identify as being to blame. There's no buck to pass back to further than that except Satan and, beyond Satan, God. But the moral agency of Adam and Eve don't go away.  If the failure of the first family is a typology what we "might" lose is the ability to talk historically about the consequences of our actions changing the world we live in for the worse.

If Adam, in some fashion, existed and made a decision to disobey God what was the nature of that decision? An Adam who can know a command and disobey it anyone, even as a kind of poetic expression, can make a decision where the consequences make sense.  Obviously if we made a decision dumb enough God could get mad at us, which is what Genesis 3 details. If we just came into being and the world is the way it is with as much suffering that humans inflict upon themselves, to say nothing of the rest of the world, then, well ... a lot of what Genesis 3 on describes is God letting people deal with the consequences of decisions they've made and letting those consequences spin out into generations so far out that time slips away from us all. As Bonhoeffer put it, even talking about the role of the serpent doesn't dodge the essential problem, that evil emerged from within the creation that God Himself called good. The believer struggles to affirm how suffering, death, and evil exist within creation while saying the Creator is still good.  The unbeliever, of course ,never has this particular problem, at least not the secularist.

Electric cars could kill you (because you won't hear them coming)

Electric cars are too quiet, quiet enough that blind people seem to have been hit by some of them.  What a comforting thought for visually handicapable people everywhere in this country, eh?  The electric car could be the death of someone.  Well, one author at Slate helpfully suggests sleighbells, in obviously tongue-in-cheek fashion.

Phoenix Preacher: Hearing from God

Point 3 from yesterday couldn't get made without some enquiries as to what was meant by it.  Ergo, clarification and expansion.

Perhaps the most challenging application for me of the observation that God provides, which I've written about before, is that very often God providentially chooses to provide through His people or through people who aren't necessarily believers. In some ways a residual "me and God" relationship can still kick in.  In some places I've been that would get chalked up as pride and there'd be some truth to that.

At another level I've wondered how proud people can be in some professions. I spent close to a decade doing non-profit work and, don't get me wrong, I like non-profit work. At the risk of making a deliberately polemical observation those of us who have worked in non-profit are essentially professional beggars, begging on behalf of helping others. That goes triple for any church employee if you think about it, so pride in a church employee should be obscene. After all, if you work for a church you're working for an institution that, at least in the United States, is probably a non-profit (if not a 501(c)3 etc). You're supposed to not be a lover of money to even get a job there (not that this hasn't stopped legions of those who are lovers of money from getting jobs but that's another topic for some other day).

You're also supposed to recognize that even having this faith in Christ to share with others (or whichever faith it might be if you're not a Christian) is a gift to be shared.  If you raise funds for the work of the church where would pride come in?  That you're a better than average professional beggar?  I suppose there's "some" basis for pride in that if the pride is in the accomplishment of helping others.  Maybe Roy Baumeister would say that a person can have pleasure in the power of making a difference in someone's life, ergo the actions of wealthy philanthropists toward those they can't possibly get to know. You see, at various levels, the whole thing about pride as a problem is itself fraught with problems. If you keep running with this morbid introspection it never ends. It may be precisely why authors of scripture urge self-examination for a time but get back to fixing our eyes upon Christ.

I'm an ex-Pentecostal and if there is something I don't miss it's a mystical requirement of having some spiritual destiny, maybe connected in some way to End Times stuff. In my teens I was still Pentecostal and dispensationalist. I still took seriously the possibility that we were in the End Times in some Hal Lindsey way.  In the 1980s the Beast was being discussed as some supercomputer in Belgium associated with the European Common Market. The Antichrist was either going to come from the EU (revived Roman Empire, remember?) or maybe from Syria (since there was some shot at Syria brokering some deal between Israel and Palestinians in some fashion ... though I remember this far less clearly or accurately.  The main thing was if Jesus was coming back to Rapture away all the real Christians before the Tribulation you were either on the right team or you weren't.

People I know later admitted to me that not having kids before 2000 was partly due to concerns about the possibility that maybe this Tribulation stuff might even be true.  I had given up on the plausibility of the Rapture as a way to interpret biblical texts around 1992 but I certainly wasn't married and had jettisoned dispensationalist readings of Revelation by that time. I had come to the conclusion I was probably not cut out for married life on grounds other than that the End Times were so at hand it would be a waste of time to marry if Jesus was coming back and in the age to come no one would be married anyway. Other people, as Headless Unicorn Guy has mentioned here in some comments, decided to take the path of "Do not let the Rapture take you away a virgin, go get married now."  I never encountered anyone who got married just to get laid before Jesus came back.  I remember reading Michael Spenser's blog post "Wretched Urgency" but HUG's stories seem to bring a whole new level of meta to "desperate".

But at more mundane levels I get the urgency to know "what" God wants a person to do over who God wants a person to be. Nothing alleviates uncertainty about destiny or purpose quite like a god, right? If you can convince yourself, and especially others, that God has a destiny for you and you never waiver from that in any public setting (you can admit later that you had private doubts but that's to better cement the public certainty of your given destiny) then you can retain a pretty secure job.  You might even be able to set up an organization with 501(c)3 status, eventually.

A Christian I know once told me that if the promises of God aren't good for anything but the age to come they aren't really good ofr anything.  Well, there's always not being a Christian. The resurrection of the dead, particularly the resurrection of Jesus, and teh promise of a life to come is pretty much the focal point of the Christian faith.  Benefits accrued in this life are matters of providence (i.e. you get lucky and SOMETIMES may be wise). If you live in the United States and have a job and maybe weigh a little more than you should it means you're blessed beyond the imagination of many people across the world.  Life stinks at times but everyone dies at some point.

We're promised through Christ that in the age to come we will live and reign with Him.  Paul wrote, "Do you not know that we will judge the angels?" But it's no surprise if many of us are tempted to get some of that divine eternal destiny in this life, preferably as soon as possible! Then again in some parables Jesus taught that those who had rewards and their fill in this life would not have it so awesome later. We don't know what awaits us so it would be silly to imagine that the big shots who claim to be Christians in this life will be shining the shoes of believers who died of a water-borne illness in Bangladesh. That isn't really what Jesus was getting at saying that many who are first shall be last and many who are last shall be first, however tempting it might be for people who are sure they're coming up last may like that idea.

The opportunities to hear from God are, very often, mundane, so mundane it would be easy to suppose (as unbelievers obviously do) that God does not even speak through them. One of the things psychologists and neuroscientists have been discovering over the last forty years is that attention is directional and a limited resource. Go look up "The Invisible Gorilla".  When you are looking for X intently and actively you're not looking for Y and if you somehow manage to notice both X and Y you'll overlook Z.  One of the sobering things about Christian life that is also encouraging is that as a quest for destiny in this life goes the Christian faith reminds us that rather than laying out the options of A through Z our destiny, our legacy as Christians, is not ultimately even in that alphabet and that judging the success or failure of people on the basis of that alphabet is still, ultimately, a worldly point of view.

It's easy for people with upper end five-figure incomes (or more) to talk about identity and how important it is.  There's a kind of obsession with the grand meaning of life and legacy that comes form having the luxury of fretting about ultimate meaning and purpose.  Considering ultimate destiny and legacy may be the most uniquely luxurious of first world problems. Obviously these are questions that have consumed people since the dawn of humanity, but some Americans (and some Christians among them) have the discontent of wanting to change the world, as though just having a room named after them in some building were too small a legacy in this life.

Remember that in the second half of Hebrews there were a bunch of people who were described as dying, as starving, as cast off and you know what? They don't even get names. In an even more fitting irony we don't know the names of anyone who got the letter to the Hebrews. More amusingly ironic than even that, we don't even know who wrote the letter to the Hebrews! For that matter, traditional ascription withstanding, the gospels are anonymous. Often I want to hear from God about what to do and what will happen to me. I can see from psalms that I'm not alone in wondering these things. David himself had anxiety that the promises be kept and gave Solomon advice concerned with how to make sure that happened.  There's a bitter yet amusing irony in that if you want to go back and read that.

Sometimes I wonder if the big scandal for a lot of American Christians is having a boring, normal, uneventful life rather than an on-fire, sold-out, burning Gospel legacy that changes the world kind of life. It is, of course, a wonderful thing to have a life that matters and impacts people positively. I just wonder, as I have over the last few years, if that isn't the number one fast track for becoming a Pharisee.

Orthocuban on Constantine and conservative Protestant culture warriors

Orthoduck admits in comments he bollixed what he was trying to get across but the point is still interesting--conservative evangelical Protestants will have a hard time complaining about how Constantine ruined the church given the passion with which they attempt to get the State to impose good moral law on everyone else if the core problem of Constantinian Christianity was conflating Church and State.  Andrew's observation that North Americans seem to think they have a corner on the market for reasons Constantinian Christianity has been bad is a fun one. David Fitch (I think) suggested that one of the reasons there might arguably not be a "Reformed" movement in North America was because (and he may have been partly joking, I don't recall) that there were no churches or institutions to reform in the new continent they were there were in Europe.

Orthoduck's main point, which he clarifies in a comment, is that the American Anabaptist who would have avoided Church/State entanglement now seeks to wade into politics and social reform. I suppose whether it's the Religious Left or the Religious Right that much might be something people could agree on.  Things have changed in the last century.

I suspect that Evangelicals today are actually doing the opposite of what they think Constantine did. If he allegedly made the Church the tool of the State (I would argue he did not do that; this would not really happen until the Erastian regimes of Protestant Western Europe following the Reformation and, sadly, in Russia after the abolition of the Patriarchate), well, it seems that THEY are trying to make the state the tool of the Church at least insofar as they feel they must use the state to impose a certain moral code on the country as a whole. In this effort, it seems they are willing to make common cause with people whose theology differs greatly from their own, whether it be Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or…Mormon.

I would also note that in pursuing such a strategy, they are, in effect, trying to do what the Pope actually did in the Middle Ages in the West, making the Church supreme over the secular powers. Of course, we know how THAT worked out!

Anyway, a few ideas tossed out there for consideration.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mockingbird: Joss Whedon on Genre Filmmaking, Objectification, and sympathy for the Devil

Any time a superhero film comes out there are invariably critics bemoaning the plethora of such films and asking why on earth anyone watches them and doesn't watch movies about the real world and deal with real life.  Some British critics were particularly indignant at the popularity of the Lord of the Rings films in the midst of the war on terror and so on and so forth.  The idea that stories can have subtexts is something many critics appreciate except in genre films, in which case the subtext is either not supposed to be there or the critic feels his/her intelligence insulted by the obviousness of a subtext or metatext.  With great power comes great responsibility but too many superhero stories take Ducard's advice about theatricality a bit literally, right?

Whedon's comment that most intrigues me is that we are all caught between the impulse to objectify and genuine attraction.

If you’re not exploiting the dark side of something, if you’re not saying that the urge to objectify exists, you are not going to make a meaningful piece of work.

The temptation to objectify is pretty abstract, and it's pretty difficult to concede the point, isn't it?

Objectification and identification are at war but they’re at war in the way that people are, that narrative is, that creates art and humanity and life. Like they have to be at war. You have to root for the girl and the monster. It’s something nobody wants to admit

Which is to say we always want things to be both ways but can't admit it. To take up this idea and really run with it in just one deliberately idiosyncratic direction, there are people who want the good guys to be good and the bad guys to be bad and for the bad guys to get defeated.  Some people have said they like this because it's not like real life, where working those things out is difficult.  I'm going to suggest an even more prosaic reasoning for this, it can appeal to people who want the monster defeated and the girl to be safe because they will never concede there might be a bit of monster inside them, or something that could, if unchecked, become a monster. There can't be any "old man" or "new man" battling within us, can there? We're new creations, right?   Where's the old man to put off?

I could write more about objectification and identification but I don't really feel like it.  This is just noting some interesting stuff over at Mockingbird and being playful than trying to get to some actual point.

from Phoenix Preach: The Things I Think

The reason you think you’re not hearing from God is that He’s talking to you about your character, not your plans.

I'm a former Pentecostal, which is to say some people would say I'm a former enthusiast.  In that tradition it is not, to put it mildly, unexpected to anticipate or hope for specific direction from God about what to do with your life.  For a tradition so often steeped in synergistic soteriology and emphasizing the freedom of the individual it has been one of those strange paradoxes to realize that many Christians who talk so freely about free will seem obsessed with finding God's perfect will as though God had mapped out the entire alphabet for their lives and they desperately needed to make sure they got to letter K without being sidetracked by a number that turns out to lead into another alphabet.

People I have met who subscribe to monergistic soteriology, by contrast, have often had precisely the opposite practical approach, which is to say that since the Holy Spirit elects and saves you then as long as you're not going out sinning there's no particular plan God has any obligation to tell you about.  God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life in both cases but in the second case there's no point fretting about what that plan might be whereas in the first case it's paramount that you not "miss God's perfect will for your life."

But for mature and maturing Christians in either camp I have noticed, over decades, that they have concluded that seeking God desperately about "what" is never as important as seeking God about "who" or about "how".  This is, at the risk of making the wrong inference from Michael's point 3 at today's "The Things I Think" is what I have heard from other Christians over the years.  Maybe God's chief concern is less about the bullet-pointed life-plan you want coming to pass than about who you are no matter what does or doesn't happen in your life.  God the Father, Son and Spirit do not love you less or forsake you if you fail to live up to any of your dreams.

Whether or not I'm always comfortable making that observation (or anyone else in America is) is often the recurring struggle of faith for people in a country as affluent as the United States.  I wonder how often it is that you or I may consider our "fit" in "God's will" to be little more than whether or not we've realized our dreams, dreams that may or may not have anything to do with the development of our character as believers. It's awfully tempting to be defined by the "what" of accomplishments, knowledge, influence, or prestige rather than be defined by character (i.e. the fruit of the spirit).

I think the temptation for me is to consider myself a failure because of what I haven't accomplished and what I haven't accomplished is often basic stuff like having a steady job or staying in touch with friends and family because finances are tight. I also can't fit into pants I wore six years ago, which is another thing that sometimes dogs me a bit. Time and gravity will defeat us all, I have often said, but there are times when I admit I wish the inevitable victory of time and gravity felt like it was further off than the breath which a human life is.  The psalmists remind us that life is a breath.  Perhaps one of the perennial temptations for those of us in America is if you've got one breath in this life you want to hold on to it as long as possible and not just breathe that one breath like you were an ordinary person.