Saturday, November 18, 2017

MH Rainer Valley postlude, David Daniels article at Rapzilla about ex-MH pastor 50-track album, discusses his exit from ministry

For those who have read this blog a long time, even you might not recall that one of the topics we looked at was the short-lived pastoral stint of Willie Wilson.

You'll get a 404 error for this content if you try to follow the link but it was preserved in an earlier post here at Wenatchee The Hatchet. a donniehalbgewachs weebly entry indicated on January 27, 2013 that Willie Wilson was the new lead pastor for Mars Hill Rainier Valley.
January 27, 2013

Willie Wilson is the new lead pastor for Mars Hill Rainier Valley. Scripture is filled with "one another" statements such as: encourage one another, serve one another, love one another, and bear one another's burdens. That's what life in the church looks like. Pastor Willie has a passion and vision for building community in the name of Jesus. Find out more information on Mars Hill Rainier Valley.

In case you missed it, watch last month's Mars Hill Monthly and read about what Jesus did at our student camp.

What do you think about urban church planting?

that absence was first noted at Wenatchee The Hatchet in a comment

Anonymous said...
Lead pastor Willie Will from Rainier Valley Mars Hill left around 9/16. On 9/17 Mars Hill erased all links and content of him on there website and on the City.

In light of that comment, we took a look at the departure announcement.

For those who didn't read it at the time, here's a WayBack capture of Wilson's departure, announced in a blog post published August 5, 2013:

Running the race with duffel bags
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1–2
Imagine this: You’re about to run your first marathon. You’re at the starting line with hundreds of other people who will be running with you. You’re wearing a hooded sweatshirt, jeans, boots, and a parka. You’re also carrying a duffel bag, a briefcase, a suitcase, and a bag of groceries. You look ridiculous, but you don’t want to run this race without all the things that you find comfort in.
The gun bangs and you’re off! Hundreds of runners take off and you’re running alongside them. You’re off to a great, quick start. But 100 yards in, you’re already drained, tired, and ready to quit. The other runners are gone ahead of you. You’re now dragging your feet. You want to give up . . . because you’re carrying too much to continue.

Suitcases stuffed with pride

A lot of times, we find ourselves in this very situation in our spiritual lives. We’ve started running the race of faith, but because of the load we’re carrying, we’re not running well. We’re shouldering unconfessed sin, secrets, and things we haven’t repented of but are holding on to. And it’s all weighing us down and holding us back. We’re carrying bags of guilt from past sin, backpacks filled with shame from sin that was committed against us, and suitcases stuffed with pride that keep from admitting that we’re tired and we need help. Jesus already carried our junk and nailed it to the cross, but for some reason, we choose to try and carry it anyway.

 Are you tired of running your race? Are you tired of serving? Tired of loving people? Tired of giving of your time, talent, and treasure? It’s probably because you are carrying some things that you shouldn’t be carrying while running a race. In Hebrews 12:1, we’re instructed to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” What are you carrying that you need to lay aside or cast off? When you’re not carrying a huge load, you’ll see that you have more stamina and endurance to run the race that has been set before you.

He’ll finish what he started

Verse 2 gives us our motivation for running the race in such a way to win the prize: “ . . . looking to Jesus . . . ”

This is a race of faith, and Jesus is both the founder and perfecter of it. This means that he is the starter and the finisher of it. He caused you to start this race by calling you to himself, saving you, and placing you in a loving family who will run alongside you, be there to help you up when you fall and when you hobble along all the way to the finish line. He will make sure you finish and he will make your faith perfect. Jesus is our example of how to run this race, because we see how he ran his race with endurance, enduring the cross. We were his prize, the “joy set before him.”

Run with all your might

Now as we run our race, he is our prize! He is the joy set before us!! At the finish line, we will see Jesus face to face. He will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matt. 25:21, 23).

 Brothers and sisters, run your race with endurance, keeping your eyes on the prize. You’re not running alone, but with tons of witnesses on the sidelines.

 So run wholeheartedly, with all your might and all your strength, and when you finish the race, you will be able to speak the words of the Apostle Paul: “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

At the time there was no explanation as to why Wilson had departed, though the text of the announcement leaned hard on duffel bags and the metaphor of baggage that keeps you from running the race. 

Mars Hill as a culture tended to reduce everything sinful, everything, to pride. I've written in the past about how I do think we can regard pride as a kind of stem cell for sin, that it can transform into any number of sins but that to treat those cells of sin as just being "pride" in some generic Mars Hill sense is damaging and dangerous.  To belabor the metaphor, if stem cells become a liver that has liver poisoning you won't help if you just say the problem is with what happened to the stem cells, man.   Treat the liver.  Not everyone has sins that are realized by pride in the same way.  Some people lie, some people still, some people commit adultery.  Mileage varies. 

By March 25, 2016 it looks like Wilson was willing to talk about how and why he was fired by Mars Hill.  I'm not going to quote from the entire article, though it's short, but I will highlight a couple of things.

David Daniels
Created: 25 March 2016 

 Willie Will released 78 tracks over four albums from 2006-2009 — including Reflection through Beatmart Recordings, a subsidiary of Sony Records — but he said none of it was Christ-centered. His music started to change after a friend invited him to Mars Hill in 2009 to serve with its worship team.  Mars Hill introduced him to reformed theology and pastors like Driscoll, John Piper and Paul Washer, who heavily influenced Willie Will and whose sermon snippets act as interludes on The GIFT. [WtH--no offense meant, but if folks want to go Reformed there are vastly better theologians to go with than Driscoll, Piper or Washer but I digress]

“I was not a theological dude at all,” Willie Will said. “I was listening to Paula White, T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen — a lot of prosperity cats — so everything [Mars Hill] got me around, it’s really my first time hearing. But it’s blowing my mind as far as, I felt like I had been in church for so long, and I never heard of this stuff being preached. I had never heard so much about sin, the cross and the person and work of Jesus. You felt like, man, I’m kind of just now becoming a Christian.”

From this inspiration, Willie Will began to write the original version of The GIFT. He embraced what he learned so much that he also pursued pastoring, which Mars Hill paid for his schooling to do.  However, he admitted that he failed to apply his book smarts to his life.“My theology was changing. My mind was being changed. But my heart had not yet been changed,” Willie Will said. “My heart was set on becoming a pastor, rather than being a follower of Jesus and being a Christian and knowing and living out what that means.”


In 2012, Willie Will became the lead pastor of Mars Hill’s Rainier Valley campus. The following year, his wife informed church elders that he had committed adultery. [emphases added]

“I know I hurt so many people,” said Willie Will, who shared that he and his wife's marriage is still recovering, “people who trusted me as their leader, as their pastor, as their shepherd. I know they feel betrayed ... I was so riddled with guilt and covered by sin to where I just wanted to run. I just wanted to hide because I was so embarrassed. I felt every negative emotion to the point to where I felt hopeless.”


“I may never pastor again,” Willie Will, who's now an Apple Store technician, said, “but I do have a passion for the Gospel to see people changed by it because I was changed by it, because of what God did in me. I’m one who can say, ‘Look, I know the depths of sin, and I know the intenseness and the magnitude of God’s love in the Gospel.’ That’s what I want others to experience with [The GIFT], to see the magnitude of God’s love.”

So, fairly self-explanatory as these things go.  Frankly it's okay if men who were once pastors at Mars Hill do not pastor again.  There are a handful of men who served in pastoral ministry at Mars Hill who are still pastors and have shown themselves to be men I regard as actually fit for ministry, but I have to confess that number is pretty small.  I've mentioned one of those men at this blog enough times I probably don't need to explicitly name him. 

But what I want to highlight about what is shared in this brief story is that we see a man who was, by his own account, steeped in more of a prosperity Gospel before being exposed to teaching at Mars Hill that was different.  Now my friend Wendy Alsup and I have blogged about how inside the culture of Mars Hill there was a kind of secret prosperity Gospel but it was of a sort you couldn't have noticed from the formal preaching and teaching.  But in a sense the nature of that prosperity teaching can be inferred from cases where men who come into what they regard as a real Christian faith do so after arriving at Mars Hill and then find themselves fast-tracked into leadership.  For those unfamiliar with the history of Mars Hill 2009 was a pivotal year in educational terms, it was when Resurgence Training Center was announced and kicked off, back in the middle of 2009.

Mars Hill Church has started a school to serve as the leadership development engine for our global vision. As of August, the inaugural year of The Resurgence Training Center (Re:Train) is well underway.

What is Re:Train?

The purpose of the school is to train missional leaders to lead churches to transform cultures for Jesus. Our goal as a church is to start 100 new campuses and 1,000 new churches (in partnership with Acts 29) by 2019. In order to achieve this vision, we need as many men—trained and equipped—to be pastors and leaders within the movement. Pastor Mark Driscoll began The Resurgence a few years ago as a website with lots of free theological resources for missional leaders and the broader church in general. Re:Train is a further extension of this idea, offering premier missional leadership training and education.

What sort of classes does Re:Train offer?

Currently, Re:Train students participate in a yearlong graduate program that culminates in a Master of Missional Leadership. Participants are divided into "cohorts" based on area of interest. Once a month, all 75 students spend a weekend under the teaching of a nationally recognized professor. These classes are taught by men including John Piper, Bruce Ware, Gregg Allison, Ed Stetzer, Sam Storms, and Mars Hill Church Pastors Mark Driscoll and Bill Clem [emphases added]. Lord willing, beginning in the Fall of 2010, Re:Train will also offer university-style courses to equip the Mars Hill Church body in theology, biblical studies, missions, counseling, worship, biblical living, and other areas.

Who can attend Re:Train?

Re:Train participants come from all around the US and Canada. International students are expected next year, and our current student body includes a lot of Mars Hill leaders and members; we hope that many more will step up from within our community. Are you a future campus pastor? A future church planter? A faithful member who will be sent out as part of a core group to help start a new work? If you're interested in attending Re:Train in order to better prepare, we'll soon begin accepting applications for next year's graduate program (info at

Despite the fanfare the Resurgence Training Center had at most a couple of academic years and then seemed to just disappear.  Those people in the best position to explain how and why it failed may not be, and may never be, in a position to really explain what went on but when and if they are there's some chance they know who to get in touch with.

Mars Hill had a culture in which ambitious young men with lively Christian convictions felt called to be in leadership, and some not-so-young but still eager men who wanted to participate in what they regarded as a unique move of God.

One of the things that eventually came to light was that by the time Sutton Turner was looking at the books of Mars Hill financials in earlier 2012 he was concerned that the church was in a big mess.

We'll probably never know where all the money raised by and for Mars Hill Church over it's roughly twenty year run went, altogether, but the feature about Willie Will suggests that one of the things that was purchased by Mars Hill Church could include the education of some of its pastors, although the Rapzilla article didn't seem to mention where Wills education was, but then I might have missed that detail.

The most striking quote from Willie Will/Willie Wilson from the Rapzilla article is his mention that he was so set on becoming a pastor he had not set his heart on being a follower of Christ and understanding what that meant.  It seems tragic that he managed to receive a theological training while at Mars Hill paid for by Mars Hill and yet to go by what was publicly disclosed about the length of time he was formally a pastor at Mars Hill he was only a pastor for months before being removed. 

The more and more stories that are shared about people who were in the leadership culture of Mars Hill the harder it is to ignore that some men were fast-tracked into some kind of pastoral role within the leadership culture of Mars Hill who were relatively new Christians, either altogether or new to what they would identify as a serious evangelical form of faith.  Men who in a more traditional and tradition-minded Christian community would not be considered for pastoral service seemed able to get a green light within Mars Hill.  Back in 2006 when James Noriega was added to the Mars Hill leadership roster as a pastor reports of his second marriage and four felonies were a matter of public record thanks to the reporting of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and yet these did not seem to be red flags to anyone in the culture of Mars Hill leadership in 2006 that perhaps Noriega, though a brother in Christ, should not have been installed in a pastoral capacity then, or perhaps ever.  Informally it seems that Mars Hill culture prized entrepreneurial drive first and theological education second and character ... well ... consider Driscoll himself and what his own Board of Advisors and Accountability had to say about him.

But if Willie Will/Willie Wilson is working a standard day job and working on repairing his marriage rather than being a Mars Hill pastor or the Mars Hill kind of pastor, God bless him.  Of the many men who have come and gone through the ranks of Mars Hill pastorship there have been a handful I don't doubt have the heart of a shepherd.  I've been cumulatively proposing that Mars Hill Church as a corporate culture may be best described as a church culture in which elder qualification was viewed in terms of entrepreneurial drive and media savvy more than doctrinal fidelity or character.  Men were given roles for which they were not yet ready or possibly for which they would never be ready. 
One of the warnings Paul gave Timothy was that men appointed to being bishops should not be recent converts or they would be vulnerable to pride, becoming conceited and fall to condemnation incurred by the devil.  I have had doubts that Mars Hill leadership considered the real gravity of such a warning, give a recent convert of a man the responsibility and role of an overseer too quickly and to too recent a believer the man may become as conceited as a demon.   I've had enough people tell me I've got a cold-blooded arrogant streak that the last thing I'd ever want to be is a pastor.  I've never wanted to be a pastor anyway. 

So over the years Mark Driscoll has claimed he started too soon and too young, that he wished he could go back and do things differently.  Nobody familiar with the bulk of what he wrote and said in the 1990s and early 00s would get the impression he thought he started too young and too soon.  What's more, as stories about pastors who rose and fell within the mercurial Mars Hill system suggest, not only did Driscoll not seem to take seriously the implications of starting too soon for himself, there was a culture of leadership within Mars Hill that seemed able to reward those who leapt into the quest for a leadership role.  If a man like Willie Wills can look at himself and conclude he may never be fit to be a minister of the Gospel again after his sins that man may have more spiritual insight and appreciation of who he is in Christ than a guy more like Mark Driscoll. 

I wasn't planning to write about this or about Mars Hill this weekend but stuff sometimes comes up. The actual catalyst for writing about Mars Hill again was something else involving a recent arrest. 

"bigger than me" experiences, the crisis of of ecology, and thoughts on a film industry that plans to televise and dramatize the ecological apocalypse of which it has been a catalyst

A writer named Steven Tepper published a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education back in 2014.
A decade ago, arts leaders faced a crisis in America. National data indicated significant declines in attendance at venues for virtually every art form—classical music, dance, theater, opera, jazz, museums. Bill Ivey, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and I offered a counternarrative in 2006: We saw a renaissance in creativity and cultural engagement, made possible, in part, by new technology. Guitar sales had tripled in the course of the decade; 25 percent of college students in one study indicated that they had produced their own music and posted it online. "Pro-ams" were on the rise—people who were not making money at their art but were part of robust creative and collaborative communities. More than 100 hours of content uploaded to YouTube every minute suggested the emergence of new forms of online creativity.
I now believe the pendulum has swung too far.
Much of the cultural activity we celebrated in 2006 could be categorized as "iCreativity," emphasizing personal expression, identity, individual customization, convenience, and choice. Too often that has turned into what I will call "me experiences." Market researchers call this the era of IWWIWWIWI (I Want What I Want When I Want It). In both culture and education, what we need are more "bigger-than-me experiences."

Might those bigger-than-me experiences be out there communing with nature?  Since I'm slogging through Adorno this year and can cross reference to Edmund Burke both of these guys wrote to the effect that nature and its beauty can be sublime because it hasn't killed you yet, but it totally could.  Adorno had a passage in Aesthetic Theory where he asserted (as he so often did!) that life in the town being so pedestrian and stifling was what made nature, by comparison, feel so transcendent and liberating.  People stuck out in the wilderness freezing or starving to death didn't tend to think of being out in the wilderness as some glorious experience.  A capacity to view the natural world as getting-in-touch-with-nature depends not on the natural world but on the powerful controls of environment within our urban existence.

That's not just a side track, it's an observation about how a "bigger than me" experience itself is mediated by other things.  You get to feel like you're part of a bigger world by being in the mountains and that's fun, but then you share how you were out in the mountains and had that bigger-than-you experience.  Whether a spiritual mountain-top experience or a literal mountain-top experience, we seem to live in a moment where when once you've posted the picture to social media or written a poem about it or shared it that's when it can be said to have "happened".  That may be the distillation of our cultural conundrum. 

Tepper is on to this aspect of contemporary culture and art, though, too and he brackets it within some surveys of how American high school students reported their self-perceptions:
Self-confidence is great, but not at the expense of considering others. A survey of high-school students that has been repeated for the past 60 years presents a startling picture. In 1950, 12 percent of students agreed with the statement, "I am a very important person." By 1990 that had risen to 80 percent. Other scholars have found that student scores on an index of empathy have been going down over the same period. Moreover, recent research in cognitive science suggests that media overload (often implicated in iCreativity) may reduce compassion, empathy, moral reasoning, and tolerance. For many young people, if they cannot insert themselves into an experience—capture it in what some observers call "life-catching"—and share it online with friends, then it is not worth the effort. [emphasis added]

Despite the fact that a few journalists these days invoke the Frankfurt School as somehow having anticipated the era of Trump (Alex Ross, for instance, comes to mind) I don't see people rushing to quote Adorno much.  It might be because if the sorts of folks who write for The New Yorker (or maybe even The Baffler) were to quote Adorno their own respective publications might come off badly.

Take this definition of philistinism:

Aesthetic Theory
Theodore Adorno
Copyright (c) 1997 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota

page 346
... Aesthetic experience first of all places the observer at a distance from the object. This resonates
in the idea of disinterested observation. Philistines are those whose relation to artworks is ruled by whether and to what degree they can, for example, put themselves in the place of the actors as they come forth; this is what all parts of the culture industry are based on and they foster it insistently in their customers. ...

Let's propose for the sake of weekend reflection that the culture industry does not just include mass media entertainment but the entire higher educational culture of the United States, too, educators and educated alike.  What education can ideally foster is a way for young people to stop being philistines in this Adornian definition of the term, people whose relation to artworks is ruled entirely by whether and to what degree they can put themselves or find themselves in the works they are watching.  The irony of Adorno's comment that such a mentality is the foundation of the culture industry and what the culture industry itself promotes is that if that's the case then the quest for representation in the arts and entertainment industry isn't a progressive impulse at all but the very embodiment of philistinism presented as a kind of progressive aspiration.  Then again, as I've read about the Frankfurt School it wasn't a surprise to discover Adorno considered the then nascent New Left to be as totalitarian in its aims and means as the actual fascists he encountered in Europe before emigration.  

I've started (and may not even finish) A. O. Scott's Better Living Through Criticism.  I have this nagging feeling that it's going to be a plea for the value of art religion in the form of art criticism religion but without being so formally labeled.  Then again, I'm getting the vibe from Adorno, too.  Dismantling bourgeois art religion doesn't mean an alternative has been set up.  Well, for Adorno that alternative was Marxism but Marxism itself can be thought of as the ultimate realization of the total work of art, depending on how you define the total work of art. 

I've been thinking about the religious devotion to art and entertainment we have in contemporary Western culture.  My friend James Harleman published a book years ago called Cinemagogue that I haven't reviewed here but hope to review one day--in that book and in his presentations on film he's pointed out that we have hundreds of films released each year in this country for an art form that's more or less barely over a century old.  Through in television and film into a single basket of cinematic entertainment and these stories are the stories we immerse ourselves in, often to medicate ourselves through narrative.  It was something Harleman said he realized he was doing in his younger years but that's something to save for some other post.  What he's proposed in his writing and speaking as that cinema and discussion of cinema has become a full-blown religious activity for contemporary Westerners but they often don't think of it as a religious devotion, but they can and do spend more hours binge-watching shows than they may spend in religious services or devoting themselves to the study of scripture. 

The trouble with film as the "bigger than me" experience is that it's an experience, yes, but it's also a product that you have to buy. I don't feel like linking to the list of attributed in the "bigger than me" experience table because it's pre-cooked in favor of BTM.  Instead, we'll get back to the piece:
"Me experiences" are different from "bigger-than-me experiences." Me experiences are about voice; they help students express themselves. The underlying question they begin with is, "What do I have to say?" BTM experiences are about insight; they start with, "What don’t I know?" Voice comes after reflection. Me experiences are about jumping into a project and making something—an idea, an artifact, a piece of media. BTM focuses on John Dewey’s notion of "undergoing"—making something happen in the world, which requires, first, a shift in our own subjectivity. We must anticipate problems, struggle with ideas, seek some resolution. It’s a process.
Me experiences aim at maximizing pleasure, rewards, and positive affect. Getting an A on an exam; getting a dozen "likes" on a Facebook or Instagram post; being the center of attention. On the other hand, bigger-than-me experiences pursue positive relations with others, feeling a sense of purpose, helping solve a collective problem. They also promote an attribute central to creativity: imagination. In me experiences, the ego shapes imagination, providing us with material to envision who we are and what we might become. BTM experiences help us develop our empathic imagination—putting ourselves in another’s shoes, adopting a different perspective, and trying to identify with a different place, time, or people.
If contemporary Western narcissism is as bad as this and other articles might suggest and if overpopulation and climate change are as serious matters as the film industry tends to agree it is why is there no crisis of faith in the legitimacy of film as an art form?  Think of all the cars, all the plastics, all the oil-derived products that have been involved in the history of film since its inception through to the present day.  Not just feature-length fictional narratives. Let's think about photographs. Let's think about instructional videos, let's think about everything at every stage of film-making that has made use of petroleum based products.

But let's suppose we were to try to implement a ban on the entire industry and culture of film for the sake of the ecological well-being of the planet.  That would be regarded as a despotic move and people could point out, with cause, that the film industry could be the fastest way the world of humanity could know that overpopulation and climate change are putting the planet and the fate of its humanity in peril.  Depending on what writers you read it's either already too late to forestall substantial climate change or the things we'd have to stop doing would be so onerous implementing the proposed changes would seem like an attack on Western civilization itself to go by conservative responses I've seen off and on over the last twenty years.

Sometimes it can seem as though the industrial revolutions shouldn't have happened.   Here we are a thousand years on from a Catholic cleric or two worrying that the unwashed masses need to reproduce as little as possible to prevent systemic food shortages and overpopulation.  Then the Black Death hit and Europe had a population gut.  If the bromide in Jurassic Park was "life finds a way" a counterpoint to all of that would be death finds a way, too.

There have been years where it seems that the best minds in Western civilization are freaking out about the pending doom of the human race that has been brought about by centuries of the secondary effects of innovations brought about by the best minds in Western civilization.  While it's easy for secularists to lament that the Abrahamic religions ruined everything there was a political movement that emphatically believed that the Abrahamic religion that started them all was a problem that had to be given a final solution.  We all know that story and how it played out.  There's no sustained and systematic critique of the negative influence of the entire range of Abrahamic religions that won't eventually Godwin itself at this point, if the sum of the influence of the Abrahamic religions can only be cast in negative rather than mixed terms you've Godwined yourself out of being taken seriously on moral grounds.

But the problem I've seen in the worries about overpopulation and food and clean water shortages and climate change that no amount of contraception can ultimately alleviate is the question as to when and how the survivability of the entire human race has to be considered more important than the dignity and value of individual human lives.  It's as though Western civilization is terrified that if the rest of the world catches up to participation in the Western way of life the entire planet will be doomed and humanity will live a collective life not worth living.

Does this lead the West to repudiate everything that defines Western living here and now?  No ... population control seems to be more about making sure all the wrong sorts of people don't breed too much and that we shift the nature of our consumption to renewable energy without questioning the nature of the consumption itself.  Running water, electricity and smart phones are not human rights.  They're great to have, to be sure, but I sometimes wonder what Westerners have come to define as human rights are standards of Western consumption options standards. 

This has been on my mind since the release of mother!, which I still haven't seen and honestly never even plan to see.  If Aronofsky and others are concerned to make films depicting how our way of life is destroying the earth and leading to a catastrophe that will wipe out much of humanity then why make film?  Isn't there a point at which telling us that the Western consumer way of life is going to decimate the global biome is the more ethical approach than trying to show us by way of an arthouse film that bombed at the box office and divided film critics and got beaten out in box office returns by a Hasbro derived film (whether My Little Pony or Transformers: The Last Night).

The irony of this last mentioned film is that for forty years the whole Transformers franchise has run on the idea that the Autobots and Decepticons are pitched in battle over who will gain access to and/or control the resources of the planet earth in a bid to revive the dead planet of Cyberton.  If Optimus Prime were to give a speech about how the planet earth has not enough resources for even the flesh and blood species it couldn't have the resources that would be needed to revive an entirely robotic population such as used to exist on Cyberton. 

Byand large film critics can't even be bothered to familiarize themselves enough with the Transformers franchise to get that even this apparently mammoth and often very stupid franchise had at its robotic heart an obsession with battle over resource control and resource scarcity.  Megatron's view is that any and all resource extraction, no matter how mercenary, is worth the trouble if it revitalizes Cyberton. Optimus Prime, believing freedom is the right of all sentient beings, insists that the earthlings should be given the right of refusal on issues of helping Autobots.  As bad as the Bay-formers films have been all across the board, remarkably, the story of the two robot teams battling over the fate of the Earths' natural resources as a parable about the consumption trends of contemporary Western civilization has remained quite durable.  Optimus Prime will pay any price and bear any burden to keep Megatron and his associates from strip-mining the entire planet of every resource that could revitalize robot sentience at the expense of flesh and blood life.

Despite the fact that the Michael Bay Transformers franchise has grossed billions of dollars in worldwide ticket sales film critics just keep talking about how stupid and mindless the franchise is and how incoherent the plots are.  There are surely problems with the formal plotting done in the Transformers franchise!  But the floundering of mother! at the box office the Transformers franchise success (against all better judgment) Over the last forty years this franchise has stayed on point about two groups battling over how to deal with the consequences of a world they have doomed through their own war on consumption by way of bringing that battle to our world as a blunt parable about what we're doing with our planet.  The longevity of the franchise against mainstream critical judgment could be a testimony to how bad the franchise is, but an additional possibility is that Transformers as a brand taps into something more axiomatic about human nature and a subject like global behavior-modified climate change, there may be a point at which you'd better tell rather than show what you're getting at.  Aronofsky's mother! tried to show but baffled and bewildered even film critics. When Optimus Prime tells us our planet is in peril there's no mistaking what he's getting at, whether in the films themselves or the world full of us humans who watched him talk in those films. 


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

another gentle irony alert from authors published at Slate, on how in the era of Trump liberals are described as less likely to believe in lies when Slate contributors seemed pretty sure Trump couldn't possibly win

In light of pieces previously published at Slate such as
Donald Trump Could Have Been President
Let’s never forget what a terrifying thing we almost did.
Donald Trump is never going to be the president of the United States. As we sit and digest each successive leak of damaging material, each un-endorsement, each Trump threat to attack Hillary Clinton in the most personal terms imaginable, the fact remains that Trump has almost surely destroyed his chance of ever becoming the most powerful man on Earth. The discussion will now slowly shift to Republican hopes of shoring up down-ballot races and (just wait) the creation of Trump TV. But we cannot and should not forget: A couple days ago it was still fathomable that America could have voted into office the biggest threat to the country in decades.
previously mentioned here
There's something pitiably charming about a piece like this, in which a Slate author has an article leading with the headline that proposes why it is conservatives are more likely to believe in lies than liberals.
Although Freud is out of favor with many contemporary psychologists, modern cognitive psychology suggests that he was on the right track. The tenacity of many of the right’s beliefs in the face of evidence, rational arguments, and common sense suggest that these beliefs are not merely alternate interpretations of facts but are instead illusions rooted in unconscious wishes.
This is a very human thing to do. As popular writers such as Daniel Kahneman, Cass Sunstein, and Richard Thaler have pointed out, we often use shortcuts when we reason, shortcuts that enable us to make decisions quickly and with little expenditure of mental energy. But they also often lead us astray—we underestimate the risks of events that unfold slowly and whose consequences are felt only over the long term (think global warming) and overestimate the likelihood of events that unfold rapidly and have immediate consequences (think terrorist attacks).
Our reasoning is also influenced (motivated, psychologists would say) by our emotions and instincts. This manifests in all kinds of ways: We need to maintain a positive self-image, to stave off anxiety and guilt, and to preserve social relationships. We also seek to maintain consistency in our beliefs, meaning that when people simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values,
Twenty years ago when Bill Clinton was facing things like an impeachment process and allegations of sexual misconduct one of the arguments made in his favor was that how a man behaves as a private citizen should have no immediate bearing on consideration of whether he is fit for political office.  When people ask, almost always rhetorically, how conservatives got to a point where they were willing to endorse and vote for Trump despite his history with women the answer may turn out to be that red state voters just decided that they wanted a Bill Clinton of their own, what's good for the goose could be good for the gander.  It doesn't make either side "right" but the turnabout-is-fair-play gambit doesn't seem that hard to understand.  It just means that what I've been suggesting here about how the red state and blue state civic religions are ultimately observably the same cynical power-hungry realpolitik might be at least partly correct.
I still think that Trump and Clinton securing the nominations was an irremediable disaster for the United States but I've also seen how for the partisans who committed to those two candidates there's probably no point in attempting to reason with those teams. 

Amanda Hess asks "Can we now do away with the idea of `separating the art from the artist?'" which seems like an indisputable point but ...

even if Hess raises a point that should seem to be easy to agree with, that we shouldn't keep separating the art from the artist, there will always be some guy who insists we need to keep them separate out of admiration for some artist or another.  Why?
Because in the history of Anglo-American arts discourse someone will always bring up the Puritans as a trump card for why we shouldn't conflate art and artist.  Sure, someone "could" recall that someone said that out of the abundance of the mouth the heart speaks and that the overflow of the heart informs artistic exploration.  Sure, someone could suggest that what you choose to depict in the arts could depict what you think about so regularly it becomes a kind of mental/emotional surplus that reflects who you are, but .... the Puritans.
Still, even keeping that in mind, here's some of what Hess has argued.
Amanda Hess
Can we now do away with the idea of “separating the art from the artist”?
Whenever a creative type (usually a man) is accused of mistreating people (usually women), a call arises to prevent those pesky biographical details from sneaking into our assessments of the artist’s work. But the Hollywood players accused of sexual harassment or worse — Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K., to name a few from the ever-expanding list — have never seemed too interested in separating their art from their misdeeds. We’re learning more every day about how the entertainment industry has been shaped by their abuses of power. It’s time to consider how their art has been, too.
These men stand accused of using their creative positions to offend — turning film sets into hunting grounds; grooming young victims in acting classes; and luring female colleagues close on the pretext of networking, only to trap them in uninvited sexual situations. The performances we watch onscreen have been shaped by those actions. And their offenses have affected the paths of other artists, determining which rise to prominence and which are harassed or shamed out of work. In turn, the critical acclaim and economic clout afforded their projects have worked to insulate them from the consequences of their behavior.
This idea of assessing an artist’s work in light of his biography is, to some critics, blasphemous. Roman Polanski’s 2009 arrest inspired a New York Times round table on whether we ought to “separate the work of artists from the artists themselves, despite evidence of reprehensible or even criminal behavior.” It stands as a useful artifact of the prevailing attitude on the question in the early 21st century. The screenwriter and critic Jay Parini wrote, “Being an artist has absolutely nothing — nothing — to do with one’s personal behavior.” Mark Anthony Neal, an African-American studies scholar at Duke University, put it this way: “Let the art stand for itself, and these men stand in judgment, and never the twain shall meet.”
But Mr. Polanski stood charged of inviting a 13-year-old girl into Jack Nicholson’s hot tub on the pretext of photographing her as a model, and then drugging and raping her. The twain have met.
That tradition lives on today. Recently, the New Yorker film critic Richard Brody responded to sexual assault accusations against Mr. Weinstein by suggesting that while outside information about filmmakers “can be illuminating,” the “better a film is, the likelier that the biography only fills in details regarding what should already have been apparent to a cleareyed viewing.” That’s a bizarre calculation that dismisses discussions of bad deeds based on the talent of the person performing them. The journalist Gay Talese was blunter in his dismissal of Anthony Rapp, the “Rent” star who accused Kevin Spacey of preying on him when he was 14. “I hate that actor that ruined that guy’s career,” he said.
Over at IndieWire there's a battery of film critics who, perhaps predictably, say that things may be murkier than they appear.  The question asked was, "How should the backstory of a film and / or its makers impact the way we receive it?"  The question was not Hess' question, can we finally set aside the assumption that art must be separated from artist, obviously.  There's an explicit, if still subtextual to the text of the question itself, backdoor kept open in the question of "how should ... ?"  With that established, answers.
Kate Erbland (@katerbland), IndieWire

When horrifying accusations like the ones waged against Harvey Weinstein come to light, it’s very easy to scream for a boycott and move on (and, as we often see in cases like these, then actually ignoring it and not even holding fast to such public pronouncements), but when it comes to the question of what to actually do and how to really proceed, it gets murkier. And when it comes to cases like this, where years and years of art and cinema, mostly made by other people, are liable to be effected, it’s even trickier.

Harvey didn’t make these films, even if he produced them or distributed them or, as so many people know he loves to do, edited them in his own shape, and there’s a tremendous amount of work that went on far beyond his reach. But they do feel tainted now, and likely always will.

How do we watch? With an eye to the good people and talented artists who helped make them, and with a tremendous amount of care and respect when they involve women who have spoken out against Weinstein, who have voiced their own allegations. To ignore the films is to also ignore them, and that’s not something that should make anyone feel good. The key, however, is to watch and remember with respect and care. Think about the women who persevered to make their art, not the man who tried to stop them or change them for his own sick gains.

At the risk of asking an obvious question what is it about the label "producer" that precludes a man like Harvey Weinstein making a film?  Maybe it's just because I've been slogging through Adorno but reading Marxist arts criticism makes it hard to just ignore that any common-sense reading of "producer" would suggest that if a producer didn't decide to produce something it wouldn't get made at all or it would be produced by some other producer, right?  Or does that common-sense reading not apply in the art of cinema or music? 

Joshua Rothkopf (@joshrothkopf), Time Out New York

It’s the flip side to auteurism in a way: When we critics fabricate a connection between a filmmaker’s output — from year to year, project to project — we’re engaging in a kind of pop psychology that desires a coherence that may not exist. But isn’t it equally as valid to suggest that an artist’s actual life (personal indiscretions and all) might be the real skeleton holding a career together? That’s why auteurism only goes so far for me — it often leaves out the dirty stuff. Directors are complicated people. I want to engage with that complexity, for better or worse. So it’s much more exciting for me to think about “mother!” as a massively expensive piece of public therapy made by an egotistical yet honestly self-critical artist, instead of some bullshit allegory about Gaea or Mother Earth.
It's impossible to resist the observation that the new My Little Pony film has higher global box office returns than mother!  The question as to who Aronofsky was ultimately making his movie for and why it was worth making has not really come up among film critics.  It can be easy to grant that maybe an artist's life or interests should be considered a foundation for the art that he or she makes and then the case study is a film that has managed to make budget in global box office terms but that hasn't exactly made a ton of money.  Still, these quoted sentiments are better than what Richard Brody came up with.

Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker

Whatever a viewer knows about a film and a filmmaker can be illuminating. Criticism is a matter of making the useful connections. But the better a film is, the likelier that the biography only fills in details regarding what should already have been apparent to a clear-eyed viewing.
What should have been apparent to a clear-eyed viewing is a film critic who can think Lady Susan Vernon is somehow the sympathetic hero of Love & Friendship isn't nearly as capable of a clear-eyed viewing as he seems to think he is.  What part of a character explicitly saying of Vernon "She's a fiend" did Brody miss?

Slate's Dan Stevens, whose enthusiasm for Louis C. K. has never been difficult to find, sat down and reviewed his latest film in the wake of allegations made against the comedian, allegations the comedian has since confirmed to be true.  Stevens' review is longer than what will be quoted here, but there's a passage that sticks with me.

I was alone on my couch for a reason: My partner, who normally likes the same shows I do, couldn’t get into Louie, nor quite express why. He abandoned it a few episodes in, which I considered a lapse in taste I would generously overlook. But I continued watching on my own, saving up a few episodes to consume in a row as a treat. I’d be teased, on my way to watch “my Louies,” about my crush on Louis C.K., sometimes with variations on the theme of how, the more perverse his humor got, the more I liked him. And here’s the hard part to write now: That characterization wasn’t inaccurate. His willingness to visit what seemed like the darkest places of his own psyche (as it turned out, there were darker places) read as vulnerability. And vulnerability—God damn it, even this observation sounds creepy now—can be sexy.

and then, if you haven't inferred this by now, it stopped being sexy and began to seem repellant, nauseating and gross in light of new information about the character and conduct of the artist.

See, at the risk of pointing out the obvious I've documented the peak and decline of the Mars Hill Church era in Puget Sound without necessarily setting out to do so in the roughly eleven years I've done blogging.  I started off as someone who was frustrated with things I considered bad about the culture of Mars Hill but felt the positives outweighed the negatives.  Over the course of ten years I began to regard the negatives as dramatically, even exponentially outweighing the positives I thought I saw in the corporate culture.  But I also came to a realization that there's always a cult in every culture, and it's a lot easier to label something a cult if it's a culture you don't relate to while regarding the cult of your own culture as essentially, if not comprehensively, inviolate.  I haven't seen what Louis C. K. is known for but I can't help but wonder whether those people who have admired his work and enjoyed what he's done up until very, very recently, couldn't do a comparison contrast to a couple of sermons by Mark Driscoll and ask themselves what the differences are when it comes to bros being bros. 

It seems fair to ask, admittedly as a rhetorical question, whether the reason we want to separate the art from the artist is precisely because we know the artist has said and done things that we don't think a moral and socially well-adjusted person should ever do.  But it's not just Christians of the most conservative sort who have a pious bias.  Stevens tipped us off to something sacred, something sexy, a kind of vulnerability that is perceived (or perhaps simply read into) some kind of art that is venerated.  It may be that even among arts critics there's always a temptation to transpose ourselves on to the art we admire and in that sense Adorno was probably wrong, every arts critic has a philistine, if by philistine we take Adorno's definition of the person who only enjoys or admires work to the extent that he can find himself in the artwork.  There's no reason to assume Adorno himself didn't have his own philistine, though.  And the philistine in Adorno disliked jazz but that's another topic for another time.

The more challenging process in art interpretation might not be separating the artist from the art but learning to separate your admiration for some quality about the art you admire from your understanding if who you are and what your convictions are.  The propensity to read yourself onto work you admire is inescapable in the end but you can step back and ask yourself what you admire about an artist or a realm of art.  I admire the visual inventiveness and beauty of Hayao Miyazaki's films without subscribing to pantheism, which I fundamentally disagree with.  I can admire what, in Christian terms, could be construed as Miyazaki presenting humanity as broken yet bearing within it a divine spark.  Miyazaki regards that spark as a sign of pantheism and as a Christian I regard that as being made in the image of God, while an atheist would perhaps see some kind of general human dignity if they're into Miyazaki's films. 

What this process entails is respecting the metaphysical differences between yourself as a person and the artist as a person.  It's possible to admire the work of artists you regard as fundamentally wrong about the most essential metaphysical questions in life or even as morally terrible people on some issue while admiring their best traits in some other field of activity. I adore the music of Haydn and admire him in many respects as a man while regarding him as having been a terrible husband.  Bad people can be brilliant artists and remarkably decent people can be terrible artists but I don't really go in for the Lord Byron Romantic era garbage about how artists who are great enough can be however bad they want.  People who seriously endorse that sort of view don't understand that, at the most essential level, they've had to endorse a view that allowed thousands of people to say that Mark Driscoll had his flaws but he was still ultimately a great guy.

If the Puritans seem bad to so many Americans for declining to separate art from artists our very critique of them depends upon taking the refusal to completely separate art from artist seriously.  In other words, Americans will always be stuck in the double bind of wanting to condemn the Puritans for ultimately failing to fully live out the very criteria by which we're stuck finding them wanting.  They failed in several ways to grasp that they could one day perpetrate and perpetuate themselves the kinds of injustices they saw the institutions of their day perpetrating and perpetuating.  We all face that problem whether we want to admit to it or not.

But arts critics are going to have to face it in a unique way since while many people choose to overlook what they regard as moral failures on account of productive results the entertainment industry has tried to have it both ways on moral condemnation of others while hiding its own venality, much like any number of people associated with Religious Right causes turn out to have been doing for a generation, too.  We can't admit that we're turning out to be bad people but we can admit that we think those other people are bad, even if it's turning out that their team has been doing more or less the same terrible stuff our team has been doing. 

Here's an idea to mull over, for whatever little it may be worth, when scandals about the conduct of powerful people emerge the temptation to impute that conduct to the ideals or politics espoused by the person is overwhelming and the kinds of people who take to social media to say so are swift to equate the conduct with the ideology or dogmas expressed by whoever has turned out to be on the baddest behavior.  Christopher Hitchens could snipe that moral crusaders would turn out to have been immoral.  Fair enough, so long as Hitchens himself isn't exempted from dreading "Islamo-fascism" on the one hand and advocating pre-emptive war on the part of the United States against threats the validity and viability of which is still subject to at least some debate. When the best an atheist can do is formulate a "no true Scotsman" fallacy to exempt men from being atheists who played a role in totalitarian regimes on account of the "as if it were a religion" then the bad faith of the case should be obvious to anyone who can extricate themselves from motivated reasoning long enough to see that there's no inherent reason being an atheist or a theist in and of itself makes you a good or bad person.  Even Christians have a sacred text that admonishes us to watch our life and doctrine closely because the doctrine by itself can be affirmed by even demons. 

And if artists behave like demons but their art is considered admirable enough, well, we'll always have people attempting to separate art from the artist. It's easier to do that than to have a reckoning with ourselves for why we enjoy and admire art by people we regard as actually bad people on one issue or another. I have not really bothered to read A. O. Scott's Better Living Through Criticism (yet) because the title embodies and distills an error I think has been permeating Anglo-American arts journalism for probably a generation--to borrow the useful phrases, the bourgeois art religion has become meta in the era of post-modernism, so the art religion has shifted from art itself to arts criticism.  In a way it's all too easy to invoke the Frankfurt school without quoting Adorno at the start of Aesthetic Theory:

Aesthetic Theory
Theodore Adorno
Copyright (c) 1997 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota

ISBN 0-8264-6757-1

page 1
It is self-evident that nothing concerning art is self-evident anymore, not its inner life, not its relation to the world, not even its right to exist. ...

page 2
As a result of its inevitable withdrawal from theology, from the unqualified claim to the truth of salvation, a secularization without which art would never have developed, art is condemned to provide the world as it exists with a consolation that—shorn of any hope of a world beyond—strengthens the spell of that from which the autonomy of art wants to free itself. ...

And yet here we are in the 21st century and A. O. Scott has a book called Better Living Through Criticism.  The unqualified claim to the truth of salvation moved from art to criticism.  And, depending on your mileage, some might include blogging in criticism.  That's too insider a joke, but I finished reading a book about public relations and church where the author says that no less than the Gospel is involved in whether your church decides to blog about it.  That's best saved for some other time, but I mention it because the trope of salvation through judicious media use is something professional Christians can say in all seriousness, so it's hardly something we can't find implicitly said in the realm of arts criticism.  A. O. Scott just happened to make that the official title of a book he wrote, maybe the rest just hope it can be implied.

Arts critics seem to want to run with the assumption that the necessity as well as the right of art to exist is so self-evident that any questions as to its why and what is beyond consideration. It's easier to debate whether mother! is an ecological parable than to ask why anyone would spend close to forty million dollars making such a parable when not making any movies might be a faster way to reduce the use of fossil fuels and associated products. This transforms into a claim that religion won't save the world but art will, even if the means of producing art depends on the very technologies and resource consumption processes that may do more to imperil the long-term health of the biosphere than just about anything else.  But American studios would rather make blockbuster movies about how our way of life will imperil the planet than ... just stop making new movies.

On the whole the responses published at IndieWire reminded me why I felt inspired to write a haiku a few years back that goes as follows.

every arts critic
must consecrate consumption
to live with their craft.

you can learn something new every day, like how some corporations have tried to hand off their patens to Native American tribes so they don't have to be subjected to Patent Trial and Appeal Board review

Given the frequency with which Native American tribes have had promises broken by the federal government you'd think people would never have thought the prospect of assigning a patent to a tribe so as to preclude some kind of review process would never have been considered a good idea to begin with.
Well, you can learn something new every day. 
 Part of the rationale behind the implementation of the PTAB and a new IPR procedure was to address the heavy volume of patent litigation in the courts brought by non-practicing entities (“NPEs”) seeking to obtain revenue from patent portfolios they obtained and were seeking to monetize, essentially providing an alternate mechanism for post-grant review of patent claims (albeit on limited grounds based upon prior art). Since its implementation, IPRs in the PTAB have resulted in far more patents being completely invalidated (as opposed to just some, or none, of the claims in the patents at issue), becoming a weapon of choice to patent defendants seeking to invalidate the patents being asserted against them. Without question, IPRs have had a significant impact on patent practice and patent portfolios.
In yet another effort to game the system, ever-creative legal minds have found a way to theoretically bypass PTAB scrutiny by placing patents in the hands of Native American tribes in exchange for royalties, using sovereign immunity to evade PTAB jurisdiction. For example, Irish pharmaceutical company Allergan PLC recently transferred the patents to its popular eye drug Restasis to the Saint Regis Mohawk tribe in the State of New York, with an exclusive grant-back license to Allergan for an upfront fee and ongoing royalty. Allergan has been quite forthcoming that its rationale for doing so has been to “ strengthen the defense” of its Restasis patents in IPRs in the PTAB. [emphasis added]
While hiding behind the shield of sovereign immunity is an intriguing strategy, state versus tribal sovereign immunity are very, very different things. Native American tribes are subject to sovereign immunity through congressional action, while the states enjoy sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment of the U.S Constitution. Amending the Constitution is far less likely than an act of Congress, and I wouldn’t bet on a patent protection strategy that is subject to congressional whim. In fact, Congress has opened an investigation into the Allergan transfer, and Senator Claire McCaskill has already submitted (albeit hastily) a bill in the Senate to prohibit transfers to Native American tribes that are structured to take advantage of tribal sovereign immunity. Given the tumultuous times in Washington, D.C. as of late, it’s good to remember: What Congress giveth, Congress can take away.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Jonathan Sturgeon on Spielberg's role in freezing our culture in adolescence, but he doesn't suggest that Spielberg's trick is to vicariously re-enchant the world for adults through cinematic children or attempt to propose what's wrong with that

There will probably never be a shortage of high-brow disdain for the not-high-enough-brow arts.  Spielberg has been a reliable target for a generation or two now, as has George Lucas.  Spielberg may be a more convenient target because amid the highs and lows of his filmography he doesn't exactly have a set of Star Wars prequels.  But Sturgeon's piece is pedestrian in its condescension and indignation.  It's the easiest thing in the contemporary literary world to say that Spielberg's entire filmography is some kind of kitsch.  But that won't stop Sturgeon from underlining the point in case people forgot or, in case there's some possibility that the argument could convince those who might otherwise still be fans of Spielberg's films or the designated (by Sturgeon) heirs of Spielberg are naked emperors.
Who is Spielberg? Hollywood’s vanishing mediator, Spielberg is hard to know, but it’s not hard to know why. Susan Lacy, the director of the HBO documentary, has been candid about the lack of crisis in the director’s personal history, which began in a benign suburb of Phoenix. His dad was an important computer scientist, and his mom was a concert pianist. The climacteric of his entire life, Spielberg says, was their divorce, which he long blamed on his father’s lack of vigor; his frustration once boiled over when he repeatedly shouted “crybaby!” at his dad, who wept silently at dinner. (The scene was later recreated in Close Encounters of the Third Kind). In what would amount to the greatest irony he’d ever know—which may explain the near-total lack of irony in his films—it turned out that his mother was in love with his father’s best friend, which led her to ask for divorce.
Rather than be honest about the humdrum inscrutability of Spielberg, Lacy follows Spielberg’s own example and mythologizes childhood—Spielberg’s childhood. The idea is that Spielberg, a lonely child from a somewhat broken family, withdrew into a fantasy realm of ameliorating make-believe which inspired his later filmmaking. (It is never considered that Spielberg could simply afford a camera at an early age, or that family connections may have helped him get an early start in Hollywood.) Spielberg then reproduced this sense of childhood wonderment in the many young protagonists and aliens and adventures of his franchises. This narrative seems true to me, at least in one respect: the Spielberg model of childhood is very much with us today, and it demands that children prefer robust “worlds” and escapist fantasies and formulaic genres to art that finds weirdness in our own shared world. Even now the vacuous franchises that were offered to Gen-X children by New Hollywood are being forced on their own children, who are now babysat with the idea that full-bodied worlds can substitute for the missing love from a mother or a father.
Twenty-first century Hollywood, too, acts as a child of divorce—its imagination thrives in the dead zone of separation between a dwindling filmgoing public and any idea this public might have of a collective project (or meaningful social life). And it acts as a child of divorce because it is, like many of us, the progeny of Spielbergism. The opportunistic self-referencing found in the current Marvel superhero “universe” films descends from comic books, yes, but it’s also an evolution of the ultra-successful experiment in cross-referencing hatched by Spielberg and George Lucas, who made entertainments together, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, and alluded to each other’s work in their films. “The walls of the children’s bedrooms in Poltergeist,” noted critic Andrew Britton in the 1980s, “are festooned with Star Wars memorabilia.”
Almost no one would argue that Spielberg’s films are good, and yet he continues to make them with impunity. This is the fault of film critics like David Edelstein and A.O. Scott, who defend Spielberg in Spielberg by shortchanging his detractors: What’s the point of criticizing Spielberg? What’s so bad about being a director of quality entertainments? This defense comes from Spielberg himself. When asked to respond to one unnamed critic’s assertion that his films shouldn’t be confused with art, Spielberg gets about as mad as a rich man can. “Sometimes,” he says, “I think that statements like that are pretentious in themselves because it says that art is serious and that art can’t move you; art can’t be on a bicycle and fly across the moon—that that can’t be art.” It’s mesmerizing to behold: Spielberg’s self-defense becomes self-reference. Why can’t art be E.T.? Why can’t E.T. be art?
In Aesthetic Theory even Adorno quoted an axiom by a writer who said that there can be bad good art and good bad art.  How certain is an author like Sturgeon that Spielberg can't be good bad art rather than bad bad art, seeing as it's a foregone conclusion that Spielberg is excluded from being good good art?
Contemporary Hollywood films, like all of Spielberg’s films, get worse with repeated viewings. Yet almost any person you talk to will attempt to justify the intake of Hollywood garbage by way of the Spielbergian defense: What’s so wrong with consuming expensively made trash? This suggests that there is indeed something drug-like about twenty-first century entertainment, and it’s frustrating to admit that the comparison between Hollywood and “our national addiction to foreign oil” is a worthwhile one. (If it’s not Hollywood, it’s “binging” on streaming TV.) And this druggishness explains in part why filmmakers like Spielberg and Christopher Nolan (another child of divorce who reconvenes broken families in his films) rely heavily on the idea of “the cinematic experience”; if their films can drown you in wonderment—loud sounds, 70mm images, fully realized worlds—the first time, you’ll revisit them over and again, even though they are bad, in a bid to reclaim the original high. The high inevitably diminishes, and the dependency grows.
When has Christopher Nolan reconvened broken families in his films?  Does Leonard get his wife back in Memento?  Does Pacino's character in the remake of Insomnia get reunited with a relative instead of dying at the end?  When did Bruce Wayne get his parents back anywhere in the Batman trilogy?  Jackman's character doesn't get his wife back in The Prestige, he discovers he's been a murderer.  Cobb was never in the real world for the super-majority of Inception and he doesn't get his wife back, although he admits he believes he was directly responsible for her suicide. Sturgeon's assertion that Nolan reconvenes broken families in his films seems hard to square with my having watched pretty much every Christopher Nolan film.  Just because the father and daughter reunite (at the moment of her death) in Interstellar doesn't mean such reunions are the norm in Nolan's work.  There's a more plausible case to be made that every Nolan male protagonist reaches a point where he realizes he's guilty of murder either by an act of commission or by an act of omission.  Since we never get a clear resolution as to whether Cobb returned to the real world the reunion of that family in Inception deliberately ends on a question mark.

I doubt my life will be appreciably better if I read James Joyce, on the other hand.  I'm not even really a fan of Spielberg overall.  But rather than suggest that children of divorce who go on to make movies are trapped in some kind of juvenile mindset or in infantilism by way of literary implication, it might be useful to come up with some ideas for why broken families and the formation of family surrogates has permeated pop culture.  After all, couldn't people suggest that the formation and celebration of surrogate family life is a thread in, oh, gay cinema?  Not that I'm really in the habit of watching gay cinema but I have a gay friend or two who persuaded me to watch a film or two that were regarded as landmark films in that scene.  The trouble with a Sturgeon approach is that merely declaring that directors like Spielberg and Nolan are fixated on blockbuster filmmaking is less an act of informative film criticism and more an act of aesthetic (and not necessarily even moral) judgment.
Let's see if we can do one better than a bromide about juvenile entertainment.  Why would a storyteller like Spielberg, who came from a family with divorce, might keep coming back to childhood or reform families.  The wish-fulfillment of knitting families together seems obvious enough, artists can desire to obtain within their art what they fail to accomplish in life.  Someone could even suggest that a composer like Mozart strove to achieve a balance in art he never came close to achieving in life.
But let's try another, related angle of attack.  Kitsch is said to be fabricated emotion but what's being fabricated?  In a film by Spielberg, especially something like E.T.,  or Spielberg's cinematic descendants we're getting stories in genres where the world is not as pedestrian and stifling and closed off as it feels like it is for people living in cities or suburbs. If we're living in an era in which the supernatural is rejected as being outside the realm of possible or rationally thinkable then you can't re-enchant the world that way in art.  What you "can" do is re-enchant the world vicariously for grown-ups through the way the often choose to re-enchant the world for themselves vicariously, through children, most often their own children but someone else's children can do in a pinch or the swipe of a card at the cinema.  The problem with this formula is that it's a formula, it can be picked up and broken down into stages and thanks to Lucas fans it's been broken down into stages countless times by way of the Hero's Journey. 
Merely saying there is a spell being cast in these films does nothing to break the spell.  The trouble is that if the films of Spielberg exemplify a new opioid for the masses what do you plan to replace it with? 
Not everyone who goes through divorce tries to vicariously reassemble the family or re-enchant the world the way Spielberg does.  Some take the discovery of moral evil and betrayal and transform that into musings on how men convince themselves they are the heroes of their own narratives without realizing they're actually villains.  That is, in a sentence, where Christopher Nolan has gone in the majority of his films, yes, even his Batman films.  What makes Sturgeon's invocation of Spielberg and Nolan seem just a bit too pat is that I've never heard a line in a Nolan film comparable to Jeff Goldblum's "Life finds a way".  There's not exactly a moment that corresponds to the "I could have done more" line in Schindler's List.  The self-deluding man who kills for what he regards as a righteous cause that is ultimately self-serving is such a recurring motif in Nolan's films it would seem like an easy thing for a writer like Sturgeon to look at but that wasn't the point of interest for Sturgeon.

Instead, the idea is that Nolan can be understood as an heir of the Spielbergian cinematic formula by simple way of the medium as if there's no distinguishing message.  Even if the thread of the lies people tell themselves and each other to maintain the illusion of civilization keeps showing up in Nolan's work (yes, even in Dunkirk, for those who saw the twist at the end where the child who got murdered by a panicking escaped soldier is described as a war hero rather than a victim) that's probably just not the kind of theme or thread that would get attention from the writers who publish at The Baffler, perhaps.  But then the lineage of highbrow disdain for lowbrow media seems hard to avoid for journalists who cover the visual arts scenes in Anglo-American coverage.  The possibility that, whatever their limitations, Gil Kane and Steve Ditko made more memorable drawings than Frank Stella made paintings might just not be on the table. To get back to Adorno's reference, it may be possible there's good bad art and bad good art whether or not we feel any obligation to agree with an Adorno or a Sturgeon. 

But with Spielberg it doesn't seem particularly difficult to propose that across many of his films he resorts to children as a way to vicariously re-enchant the world so that we who watch his films can have the world vicariously re-enchanted for ourselves through the cinematic child.  It would only have taken a few more sentences to have touched on that trope in Spielberg's work but it just didn't come up.  It wouldn't be that difficult to suggest that in an increasingly irreligious society in terms of formal dogmas that the new opiate of the masses is something like television or film but that pedestrian punchline was pulled off more memorably by Bill Watterson in Calvin & Hobbes decades ago. 

I know this was published in The Baffler but it read more like a piece I'd expect to see in Jacobin.

a Baffler piece "on the liberal cult of the cognitive elite" made it pretty easy to remember a few pieces from in advocacy of things that only make sense to self-identified cognitive elites
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was an intellectual sophisticate par excellence, and one of the titans of the early twentieth-century Progressive movement. In 1927 he wrote for an 8-1 Supreme Court majority that included another Progressive titan, Louis Brandeis. In this landmark ruling, the court found that the surgical sterilization of a woman named Carrie Buck was constitutional. The 1924 state law under examination in the case of Buck v. Bell affirmed, as Holmes summarized, that “the health of the patient and the welfare of society may be promoted in certain cases by the sterilization of mental defectives, under careful safeguard.” That was because “the Commonwealth [of Virginia] is supporting in various institutions many defective persons who, if now discharged, would become a menace, but, if incapable of procreating, might be discharged with safety and become self-supporting with benefit to themselves and to society.” Buck, you see, was “the daughter of a feeble minded mother in the same institution, and the mother of an illegitimate feeble minded child.” “Three generations of imbeciles are enough,” Holmes concluded in the most infamous sentence in the history of American jurisprudence.
Holmes ruled as a liberal. As he explained, the welfare of Miss Buck, who, according to the superintendent of the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-minded, had a mental age of nine, “will be promoted by her sterilization.” After all, now that she could no longer become the parent of another “socially inadequate offspring,” she could be released from the state institution. Although Holmes, good liberal that he was, regretted the necessary unfairness of his decision, constitutional principle demanding he rule narrowly, which meant that he could grant this magnanimous gift only to imbeciles domiciled in Virginia. He sighed, “the law does all that is needed when it does all that it can,” adding that he hoped “the equality aimed at will be more nearly reached” once other state legislatures took advantage of the sanction of the highest court in the land to follow Virginia’s example. They did; in short order, dozens of states passed statutes modeled upon Virginia’s, and the golden age of American eugenics was upon us.
Stupidity, Holmes explained, was a threat to national security. And the state had the power, nay the duty, to respond to national security emergencies. For example, the government sometimes compels its citizens to fight and die in wars. “It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence.”

This piece at The Baffler reminded me of two of the more idiotic pieces I read at

The first one was a proposal that if we re-assigned babies to be raised by people of different races and ethnicities than that of the birth parents that racism could be wiped out and that genetic chauvinism should not impede our consideration of what the authors apparently regarded as a rational social policy.
Imagine a world in which all the babies born each day were randomly redistributed among the biological parents. The infant assigned to any given set of parents could be white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, or any combination thereof (and that’s just the US); the baby could be perfectly healthy or grossly deformed. Parents would know only that their child was not their biological child. Let us call this social mixing.

This plan is of course politically impossible, perhaps even repellent. Our goal, however, is to engage the reader in a thought experiment, to examine why it stirs up such uncomfortable feelings.

Now you might think that the first reason to object to such a plan for social mixing is that there's no assurance it would even work and the second reason to object to such a plan for social mixing is that to even implement such a stupid idea requires a functionally totalitarian apparatus.  But, no, as if to confirm a quip someone made about how some ideas are so idiotic only intellectuals can believe in them ...

Is the idea so frightening? Yes it is. It is a frightening thought that your own biological child, the one sitting there now doing her homework, might have gone to an impoverished mother or a drug addict, perhaps have been beaten, perhaps starved. But why, save for genetic chauvinism, do we view with comparative equanimity the everyday reality of other people’s children subject to the same treatment by their own biological mothers?

the superficial connection between colour and culture would be severed. Racism would be wiped out. Racial ghettos would disappear; children of all races would live in all neighbourhoods. Any white child could have black parents and any black child could have white parents. Imagine the US president flanked by his or her black, white, Asian and Hispanic children. Imagine if social mixing had been in effect 100 years ago in Germany, Bosnia, Palestine or the Congo. Racial, religious, and social genocide would not have happened.
Genetic chauvinism lives on very strongly in our culture. Modern fiction and cinema often present adoptees’ searches for biological parents and siblings in a highly positive light. The law in child custody cases is biased towards biological parents over real parents. You might claim that this bias itself is ‘natural’. It is so common as to seem part of our biological makeup. But subjugation of women was also common in primitive human cultures and remains so in many cultures today. Unnatural as it sounds, social mixing promises many advantages. If we are not willing to adopt it, we should consider carefully why. And if naturalness is the key, we should ask ourselves why on this matter, ungoverned nature should trump social cohesion.

So wholesale ignoring the possibility that this kind of social mixing violates the spirit and aim of the Fourth Amendment, and likely necessitate an exemption clause in order to avoid violating the Fourth Amendment  notwithstanding ... .

The superficial connection between color and culture "might" get severed but does anyone really believe for a minute that the conflicts in the Middle East that have spanned millennia were just about skin color?  Even if racism were wiped out slavery would not be, and since a great swath of slavery was socio-economic in nature and established on the basis of class there's no reason to suppose that eliminating racism, if we even grant that social mixing could eliminate that, would eliminate the majority of the most egregious forms of injustice. 

The idea that if social mixing were enforced racial, religious and social genocide would not have happened is so patently idiotic on its face it's hard to understand why any authors would imagine that social mixing would even be plausible.  Wanting to eliminate racism is praiseworthy but it's not praiseworthy if professors can seriously think that their proposed social mixing would do anything other than establish a state that can enforce social mixing.  The idea that a technocratic administrative system could eliminate racism seems too stupid to be believed but there are two authors who proposed it, perhaps in one of the drier forms of satire ever implemented on a website ... because if the proposal were made in earnest it's a stupid one. 

One of my co-workers is Chinese American and he told me that when he's visited China he's discovered that  mainland Chinese are some of the most racist people he's ever met in his life.  Any culture that is sufficiently monolithic or homogenous will be virulently racist.  The paradox, in connection to the aforementioned aeon piece is that the fuel for racism is actually social cohesion.

A way to sum things up about in general would be a piece like this one.

Who should hold power: the few or the many? Concentrating power in the hands of a few – in monarchy, dictatorship or oligarchy – tends to result in power for personal benefit at the expense of others. Yet in spreading power among the many – as in a democracy – individual votes no longer matter, and so most voters remain ignorant, biased and misinformed.

We have a dilemma.

Republican, representative democracy tries to split the difference. Checks and balances, judicial reviews, bills of rights and elected representatives are all designed to hold leaders accountable to the people while also constraining the foolishness of the ignorant masses. Overall, these institutions work well: in general, people in democracies have the highest standards of living. But what if we could do better?
Consider an alternative political system called epistocracy. Epistocracies retain the same institutions as representative democracies, including imposing liberal constitutional limits on power, bills of rights, checks and balances, elected representatives and judicial review. But while democracies give every citizen an equal right to vote, epistocracies apportion political power, by law, according to knowledge or competence.

The idea here is not that knowledgeable people deserve to rule – of course they don’t – but that the rest of us deserve not to be subjected to incompetently made political decisions. Political decisions are high stakes, and democracies entrust some of these high-stakes decisions to the ignorant and incompetent. Democracies tend to pass laws and policies that appeal to the median voter, yet the median voter would fail Econ, History, Sociology, and Poli Sci 101. Empirical work generally shows that voters would support different policies if they were better informed. [emphasis added]

Voters tend to mean well, but voting well takes more than a kind heart. It requires tremendous social scientific knowledge: knowledge that most citizens lack. Most voters know nothing, but some know a great deal, and some know less than nothing. The goal of liberal republican epistocracy is to protect against democracy’s downsides, by reducing the power of the least-informed voters, or increasing the power of better-informed ones.

There are many ways of instituting epistocracy, some of which would work better than others. For instance, an epistocracy might deny citizens the franchise unless they can pass a test of basic political knowledge. They might give every citizen one vote, but grant additional votes to citizens who pass certain tests or obtain certain credentials. They might pass all laws through normal democratic means, but then permit bands of experts to veto badly designed legislation. For instance, a board of economic advisors might have the right to veto rent-control laws, just as the Supreme Court can veto laws that violate the Constitution.


Of course, any epistocratic system would face abuse. It’s easy to imagine all the things that might go wrong. But that’s also true of democracy. The more interesting question is which system, warts and all, would work best. In the end, it’s a mistake to picture epistocracy as being the rule of an elite band of technocrats or ‘philosopher kings’. Rather, the idea is: do what democracy does, but better. Democracy and epistocracy both spread power among the many, but epistocracy tries to make sure the informed many are not drowned out by the ignorant or misinformed many.

If academics wonder why there could be even a possible groundswell of loathing and resentment against college professors and instructors as having elitist and essentially anti-democratic convictions might be an illuminating slice of a larger pie of pseudo-academic elite think-piecing toward antidemocratic societies.  

Perhaps the most savory irony of contemporary academics who advocate for liberal policies now is that a good chunk of them will imagine that their ideas and ideals are steps beyond medieval notions but ... this would not necessarily be true.  The priests were the academics of the medieval period and at least some priests felt, at the time, that there was a risk of too many people breeding too many babies.

A History of Political Thought: The Middle Ages
Walter Ullman
Penguin Books
first published 1965
 ISBN-10: 0140207783
ISBN-13: 978-0140207781

The continuator of his commentaries on the Politics, his [Thomas Aquinas'] pupil at Paris and later Bishop of Claremont, Peter of Auvergne, struck up quite radical naturalist chords, particularly in connexion with social and economic questions and problems connected with marriage. For instance, he held that, since the State had to be self-sufficient, it was imperative to limit the number of citizens, otherwise poverty would follow. Hence he advocated limitations in the size of families. Aristotle's suggestion of abortion was not endorsed, but in order to avoid over-population he suggested restrictions of procreation between the ages of 37 and 55 with men and 18 to 37 with women, because then fewer children would be born. Beyond these age groups there should not be sexual intercourse with a view to procreation, but simply for the sake of health or some other valid reason.

When American academics advocate for some kind of epistocracy do they know whether or not they aren't just replicating the elitism of priestly academics whose ideas and assumptions, looked at from the remove of ten centuries, seem repressive? 

If American academics wonder why there seems to be such an anti-intellectual streak (as some of them like to call it) the seeds of that anti-intellectual streak might not be animus against the life of the mind but against elitist proposals that the unwashed ignorant masses be denied the franchise because people in academia don't like the idea that people dumber than them could decide the future of a nation-state. 

Fortunately none of the names I've seen published at that I can recall have popped up as ever having actual spots from which policy could be influenced.