Friday, July 17, 2015

Eve Tushnet and Richard Brody dissent from the Pixar love this time out, the line between art and propaganda has been indelicately crossed, however clever the film may be

Didn't get around to posting this earlier but it's worth posting with links.  Wenatchee The Hatchet has enjoyed many a Pixar film over the years.  In fact there's likely to be a post later this year ruminating on the 20th anniversary of the studio's landmark film, yep, you know the one, but for now ... :
Pixar’s “Inside Out” is a charming, vividly-imagined film with terrific comic timing. Its insights are sharp and its message accurate. So why was I the only person in the theater who didn’t sniffle?
The movie lays it out for you plainly, and it is true: Sadness allows you to empathize. Sadness brings people together by giving other people the chance to comfort and care for you, and giving you the sorrow that allows you to understand others’ hurts. At times this movie even echoes Allie Brosh’s “My fish is dead” comic about depression, which depicts the way being cheered up can make you feel much worse, and the way that emotional numbness is much worse than sadness or anger.
“Inside Out” is acute (and very, very blunt) in its portrayal of happiness as something parents expect from their kids: American kids almost have a duty to be happy. This movie gives voice to the fear and unhappiness these expectations can bring kids. It has some terrific lines (introducing Anger: “He cares very deeply about things being fair”). It’s replete with poignant images, like the golden happy memory globes turning blue as Sadness touches them.
The thing is, this is a movie that exists to teach kids how to feel their feelings. I couldn’t help being reminded of the picture books my parents would give me to help me with my own “defects of character”: Leo the Lion Takes a Bath, and all that. (“You got soap in my eyes! I HATE it when you get soap in my eyes!!”—actual dialogue, I think.) The use of characters named Sadness and Joy just took this movie too far into the realm of moral lesson, for me. There’s a workbook feeling to this movie, a whiff of the school counselor’s office.
In general I found it hard to believe that a child had reached that age with so few awful memories, persistent shames, or sins. We visit her subconscious and the great lurking fears there are broccoli and the vacuum cleaner. She’s eleven. I led a charmed life as a child, and I had accumulated more Dostoyevskyan angst by age six than this kid seems to harbor at twice that
For all the cleverness of “Inside Out,” I was jolted from the start by its deformation of children and of mental life. I saw a feature-length sales pitch—or, worse, an indoctrination—to mold kids into beings as artificial and uniform as those created, by computer graphics, in the movie. The film is on the wrong track from the beginning, when the first view of the world, through the eyes of the infant Riley, is taken by Joy, and Joy becomes, from that point on, the default leader, Riley’s emotional captain.
In lieu of the mysteries and wonders of life, instead of big dreams and big fears, in place of the cosmic sense of childhood infinity that Terrence Malick thrillingly got at in “The Tree of Life” (the best movie about a child’s inner life that I’ve ever seen), “Inside Out” offers problems to be solved, a narrow range of a narrow life of narrow prospects and narrow experiences, narrow fantasies and narrow desires confined within the margins of a trivialized notion of what Riley’s imagination might entail.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

a return to animation incubating, on how the stories we consider safe enough to tell children reveal the values we think should be most sacred (captain obvious alert)

Hoping to get around to writing about animated stuff before too long.  Have meant to catch the new Pixar film but have instead managed to read a couple of reviews and some interesting dissents.  The dissents are interesting for what they fault the movie for but we won't get into that just yet.

But what's interesting is those faults that have been found seem to be a doppleganger to the faults I found with Legend of Korra.  Actually, I now tend to think of that lately ended show as Legend of Entitlement. There will be more to be said about the series later on but out of a sense of fair play Wenatchee's planning on revisiting the series before revisiting the problems with the cartoon.

Years ago someone incredulously asked why on earth anyone would take a children's cartoon seriously as if it had artistic statements to make.  America being the kind of country it is some of our classic novels are stories for children. Take Huck Finn, for instance.  Or To Kill a Mockingbird. Like it or not many a classic narrative in American literature has emerged from within the genre of stories for children. That "could" signal that American culture is juvenile all around and that our idea of classic music includes stuff written by British boys who transcended the constraints of boy band material .... but that's for some other time. 

But let's not presume it's a bad thing that American classics can so often be stories for children. Take this idea, floated via Slate:
Or was it always just a coming-of-age book? Despite the book’s success, or perhaps because of it, Lee’s fellow Southern writer Flannery O’Connor saw it as kid’s stuff; in her archives at Emory University, where I am the curator of literary collections, O’Connor dismisses Mockingbird as “children’s literature.” In his groundbreaking Love and Death in the American Novel, critic Leslie Fiedler argues that classic American novels—from Huckleberry Finn to the Leatherstocking Tales—are “notoriously at home in the children’s section of the library, their level of sentimentality precisely that of a pre-adolescent.” He means that there’s a certain prepubescent innocence in American literature, once devoid of women except as puritan ideals, but that this innocence married to Gothic horror created the power and paradox of our literature. I would go further: like Huck Finn, children’s literature speaks not just to a book’s young characters and readers but a relatively young country wrestling with a tangled history of race and caste.

For Mockingbird changed literature, especially children’s literature. Fiedler’s provocative comment that “our classic literature is a literature of horror for boys,” [emphases added] though published the same year as Mockingbird, seems out of date exactly because of Mockingbird’s success.
It's not far-fetched to propose that in American literature in particular, and possibly for a majority of Western cultures, at least, the following precept is worth considering--if you want to find out what ideals are incontestably sacred to a culture look at the stories that are shared with children and made for children.  It's impossible to altogether escape a didactic impulse in stories for children. The ideals we impress upon children in the stories we tell them are oftentimes the ideals they grow up to see us perpetually failing to live out in the real world, and for which various types of more adult stories are told. 

There's more on this idea incubating but it'll take some time, plus it's summer and sometimes it's more pleasant to not be at a computer screen on an early summer evening.

Monday, July 13, 2015

a linkathon

Never heard of the Cascadian subduction zone?  Nobody knew it existed forty-some years ago.  Thanks to cross referencing Japanese records of seismic activity to a few stories from American Indian tribes we didn't completely wipe out scientists have been able to piece together that's not a matter of if but when this Cascadian subduction zone gives us another overdue seismic moment that could obliterate everything west of I-5.

So those readers who are dispensationalist futurist types, have Jack and Rexella covered this yet?

There's been a lot of online writing about Bill Cosby you may have already come across.  a sampler

of some note is this:
... Because of harangues like these, Robreno writes, the AP has a legitimate interest in accessing Cosby’s deposition:
The stark contrast between Bill Cosby, the public moralist, and Bill Cosby, the subject of serious allegations concerning improper (and perhaps criminal) conduct, is a matter as to which the AP—and by extension the public—has a significant interest.
Weighing Cosby’s “diminished privacy interest” against the public’s interest in accessing his deposition, Robreno decided that the public’s interest should win out. Cosby failed to show “good cause” as to why his deposition should remain secret. As should usually happen in situations like these, transparency trumped secrecy.

Public moralizing can become a basis for a judge to decide that things said in court can be released after all. 

On a completely different note, it looks like Kyle Gann's book on the Concord Sonata by Charles Ives has a new publisher and will finally get published some time.

On another different note, Wenatchee The Hatchet has learned from a fairly reliable source that Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues are in the home stretch for being prepared for publication through Editions Margaux.  For classical guitarists and composers interested in the guitar this should be pretty amazing!

Maybe we'll just end as we began, with a link to a New Yorker article

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Evolution of Markulinity: seed of implosion, a blue collar Jesus for a white collar male? Driscoll's quest to get the college-educated establishment of tomorrow was going to cost him his blue collar base in the end

I've made a lot of mistakes and one of them was going too fast. There's the Lord's calling and there's the Lord's timing and I should have waited longer. I should have been under godly spiritual authority, for Grace and I to be under a godly couple, that was [a] senior pastor, so that we could learn and grow. I, I, my character was not caught up with my gifting and I did start to young. And I believe God called us to start the church and he was very, very, very gracious to us, uh, but had I to do it over again I would not look at a 25-year old and say, "Do what I did." :

... We went into the urban core and we felt, specifically, called to go after young, college-educated males. That was really my heart. I wanted everybody to meet Jesus but I felt particularly if we were gonna make in the city and the legacy of families and, you know, the way that women and children and culture treated, that getting young men to love Jesus would be paramount. [emphasis added] So that was really the focus and I didn't think the church would amount to much. The first three years we didn't collect a salary; it was very small; we met at night; we moved a lot because we kept losing our rental location; the offices were in our house, so it wasn't a big deal and we didn't anticipate that it would become what it ultimately did.

... young men aren't going to church. Young men aren't going to college. Young men aren't marrying women. Young men are not raising their children and I have such a deep burden and passion to see men--you know, 1 Corinthians 13--I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I acted like a child. When I became a man I put childish ways behind me--I want, I want to compel young men to grow up, to take responsibility. And sometimes, in doing that, I have communicated that in a way that demeans women and that's not helpful and that's not right. In the grace of God I need to repent and be better about that  but I still want, I mean no one would say young men are, in the Western world, highly impressive and we're all encouraged. There's a lot of work to be done. [emphasis added]
The interview with Brian Houston has inadvertently highlighted another tension within Driscoll's approach toward men, masculinity and evangelism.  Let's consider how long and how steadily he formulated his blue collar version of Jesus, the guy who grew up in a dumpy rural hick town with a dad named Joe who swung a hammer for a living.  Mark leaned on that plenty and also leaned on that being his own background.  Even if we set aside the potential and latent (or the neither potential nor latent) self-importation involved in the narrative, let's look at Driscoll's words "young, college-educated males".  That would fit with what Bent Meyer described as an interest on the part of Mars Hill leadership in getting the young men who would be the future establishment and make the culture.  Driscoll's use of "upstream" has been prevalent enough.  But at some point there was going to be a fracture point between the blue collar dude Jesus Mark Driscoll kept using to appeal to the masses (and for the moment we'll just do nothing more than allude to "Masscult and Midcult" there on that) and the actual target demographic he's been saying he was going for. 

Something that Wenatchee The Hatchet has observed about Mark Driscoll's responses to insiders and outsiders in controversy is that for the inside group he leveraged his blue collar ghetto narrative and for outsiders, particularly from 2012 controversies, he was more apt to highlight his credentials, whether academic or professional.  Most notably he leaned on his college education and journalistic credentials (though he never managed to prove he ever had the latter) when blogging about the Justin Brierley interview.  When the Liberty University "kerfuffle" happened he also leaned on his formal credentials.  When the plagiarism controversy erupted Driscoll mentioned he'd be taking over editorial duties at Resurgence. During that stint he mentioned having written a few things. The controversies of 2012 inside and outside Mars Hill seemed to show us that for insiders Mark Driscoll emphasized his blue collar street cred and when it came to controversies that either involved outsiders like Justin Brierley Driscoll leaned heavily on his white collar, "upstream" credentials. 

At the time that rhetorical savvy regarding audience was pretty shrewd but in a more long-game sense it revealed a weakness--ultimately the kinds of future Establishment college-educated dudes Mark Driscoll most wanted to get were not the same guys who maybe only finished high school and were working at dead end joe jobs working on cars or construction.

As popular as it has been for those who were never part of Mars Hill to write about Mark Driscoll and Driscoll alone, those who were at Mars Hill circa 1995-2002 will likely still recall how necessary Mike Gunn and Lief Moi were to the formative years of the church.  If we revisit Driscoll's modes of markulinity in light of what can be observed and (we can hope) be further shared by those who interacted with the early founders, we can see that whether blue or white collar, Mark Driscoll's persona depended in some ways on Gunn and Moi.  Moi had construction companies and the radio program Street Talk. Mike Gunn had an M. Div and worked with Athletes in Action over at the University of Washington, if memory serves.  In other words Gunn and Moi had local school cred and street cred that the newcomer Mark Driscoll didn't have on either front, but he had their interest and trust in the viability of planting a church and a nascent Christian community interested in the arts and in interacting with people in the Puget Sound area. As mentioned earlier in this series (maybe?) Driscoll was Kirk, and Kirk needed Spock and McCoy to complete his role, so to speak. Or we could say that Blossom needed Bubbles and Buttercup ... actually ... that analogy sounds cooler to Wenatchee The Hatchet at the moment. Anyway ...

If a person were able to survey a majority of public testimonies about the shifting ideas and conduct of Mark Driscoll as a public figure there seems to have been a shift past 2002 when Mike Gunn departed and Lief Moi's role began to recede.  Driscoll's blue collar manly Jesus could work as a rhetorical approach and a persona for as long as it could be embodied but by 2005 with the videology approach Mark Driscoll was no longer accessible to the vast majority of people at the church he helped start. 

By 2012 he'd pulled up stakes and forsaken King County altogether, though he scrupulously avoided mentioning that he'd moved to Woodway (it seems) when he was writing in 2013 about the travails of his family in "The Hardest Part of Ministry".  Driscoll's church had become Driscoll's church, and by that point it had mutated into the kind of "God box" he warned Mars Hill about back in 2004 or so.  He had by this time isolated himself from even much campus leadership, let alone rank and file members.  In contrast to an obscure figure such as Chaplain M. S. Evers, whose clean, manly evangelicalism was very compelling for soldiers in World War I because he lived it out in the trenches, very literally, with them, Mark Driscoll's blue collar Jesus had long stopped being incarnated in any kind of life shared with the men he claimed he cared to reach. 

By 2012 he had also symbolically disconnected himself from being plausibly identified as Reformed by claiming T. D. Jakes was Trinitarian and a brother in Christ in spite of having never addressed what to say about Jakes' alleged word-faith teaching--let's remember that in 2007 Driscoll himself had denounced T. D. Jakes as a word-faith wingnut to church leaders. By 2012 he'd made nice overtures about Joel Osteen and shook hands with T. D. Jakes.  The men he'd denounced as false teachers or heretics or those teaching dangerous doctrines had by turns become part of a "tribe" he now seems to be grooming himself to join.  And with that he jettisoned any meaningful connection to the Reformed traditions he's alleged he endorses. It seems more accurate to say that under-educated religion reporters mistook Mark Driscoll's posturing and name-dropping as being the same as endorsing Reformed ecclesiology, soteriology, and the like. 

And then we get to the 2013-2014 plagiarism controversy and the Result Source controversy.  If Driscoll's aim was to reach college-educated young men, any realistic shot he had at connecting to them was going to run into trouble when he was confronted and accused of plagiarism.  That's the sort of thing that can get a young guy failed out of a class.  As Driscoll apologized in one or two isolated incidents it went largely unremarked upon by members of the press that an early reaction on the part of Mars Hill to the plagiarism controversy was to shift blame to Driscoll's research assistants from the past.  Driscoll claimed Janet Mefferd was being "accusatory and unkind".  But Thomas Nelson ended up changing Real Marriage. The fact that nobody opted to litigate over copyright infringement was not a sign that nothing had gone wrong.  Newer editions of the 2012 book have acknowledged a debt of influence to Dan Allender that was not acknowledged in the first print edition of the book. 

Beyond the problematic story of a Driscoll marriage almost perpetually on the rocks until Mark could convince Grace to put out more sex, there was by 2013 and 2014 the problematic revelation that to the extent that Mark Driscoll had original ideas they were weak ones that could not be supported by a thorough exegetical or historical method, and to the extent that the Driscoll book conveyed any actually good ideas, research by authors like Janet Mefferd and Warren Throckmorton revealed that even Driscoll's good ideas turned out to be second-hand. Whether by the measure of blue collar or white collar manhood, Mark Driscoll was turning out to be a very bad joke. 

So now we come to 2015.  Driscoll hasn't had any plausible connection to the blue collar Jesus from a dumpy rural hick town whose dad Joe swung a hammer for a living.  But Driscoll's never competently or convincingly passed himself off as a scholar of any merit, either.  The plagiarism controversy of 2013-2014 revealed he was at most a second-rate hack who appropriated the ideas of others second-hand and sometimes didn't remember to give credit where it was due.  He also agreed to have one of his books rigged a spot on the New York Times bestseller list, to boot. If Driscoll had hoped to reach young men he had by 2014, when he resigned, reached a point where he revealed he was willing to resign rather than stay on at the only church he was ever a member of. There's no indication at all he's a member of a church now.

The one plausible shot Mark Driscoll might have at turning things around seems the thing he's least likely to do.  Driscoll should forsake any public ministry and any ministry.  He should become a member of a church and just be a rank and file tithing guy for at least five years, submitted to the spiritual authority of whomever he'd be willing to actually submit to.  Then if the elders in spiritual authority over him consider his life to merit the suggestion, maybe he could be reconsidered for some kind of ministry within the confines of the existing church structure or denominational apparatus in which he decides to submit himself. Who knows, he might actually be considering this.

But it seems like a long shot Mark Driscoll would do such a thing. After having spent decades advising others to submit to spiritual authority and have regard for their discipline he pulled a "God told me" move that gave him the occasion to quit the only church he was ever a member at, the church he planted.  Driscoll's credibility has been destroyed by his own arrogance and domineering approach.  Driscoll has also at length revealed that whether the blue collar or the white collar, he has failed to live up to the ideals of masculinity he has admonished other men to live by. It may also be proposed that he never lived up to them to begin with. 

For as long as there was a mostly impermeable boundary between what insiders at Mars Hill could read or hear and what outsiders could be aware of, Mark Driscoll could keep employing the blue collar rhetorical style internally while selectively employing a white collar style for outside scandal in 2012.  The trouble was that by 2012 a controversy had erupted for which it turned out The City had no walls.  So when Mark Driscoll declared to Mars Hill via The City "we're not a wealthy church" it was not difficult to raise the question of what it was about a roughly $30 million dollar annual budget that made Mars Hill poor.

Over time, whether internally or externally, the gap between the ideal and the rhetorical style on the one hand and the economic and social realities of Mars Hill on the other, became too significant to ignore. If everything within Mars Hill was precisely as advertised inside and out would anyone have leaked anything? What if 2012 was a turning point because between internal and external controversies it became a year in which Driscoll's previously separable rhetorical styles for insiders and outsiders became easier to compare and contrast.  Eh, that's just proposing an idea for consideration, it's not necessarily the best one. But what we're discussing here is the gap between the image and the actual, as well as the tension inherent in a blue collar and a white collar approach to manliness.

It is not without cause a Lutheran could say of Mark Driscoll he has a whole lot of Law but lacks the Gospel. We can see the plausibility of such a proposal in what Mark Driscoll told Brian Houston in this year's interview, " ... I want to compel men to grow up, to take responsibility ... ." But why should they?  Why should they be compelled to grow up and take responsibility on the basis of a "how dare you!?" from a Mark Driscoll?  The man could not even live out his own preaching and teaching in the way he chose to resign membership and eldership from his own church in 2014. As with his marriage, so with his church leadership and approach to membership, his words and actions seem to say "Do as I say the Bible says you should do, not as I have done or as I'm doing right now." If that's the case neither a blue-collar nor a white-collar version of manliness should do him any good.