Why Movies Matter

[Pope] John Paul II, in his 1995 message, wrote about the duty of parents to educate their children “in an accurate reading and understanding of the films that enter their homes each day” through television and video players. With platforms for viewing movies increasing, the duty of parents is now even greater.

Sure, there’s a lot seriously wrong with what Hollywood churns out, but if we as parents tune it out completely, we risk not understanding the culture that our children face.

I’m not suggesting that every film is worth seeing — some are definitely not recommended — but as a Catholic father and film critic, I do believe that it is important for Catholics to be aware of current movies because they will be talked about around water coolers, soccer fields, schoolyards and dining tables — those everyday opportunities for evangelization. We must do more than just make sure our children avoid the “wrong” movies; we need to make time to watch movies with them and talk about plots and characters in the light of faith.

— from Why Movies Matter

Posted in pop hermeneutics | Tagged | Leave a comment

“Kids” by MGMT

The song “Kids” by MGMT is about the sad trend of people regarding children as life accessories. They wanted a child, liked the idea of a happy baby crawling around among them, but the reality was something different. The child is too loud, does not control itself, and asks for more than its bare needs.

It’s a very sad song.

You were a child
Crawling on your knees toward it
Making momma so proud
But your voice is too loud

A child is being addressed. The mother is proud of the child for crawling, but this achievement and pride is caveated with the statement that the child is too loud. Child are loud, frequently loud. The mother would prefer that the child be seen and not heard, it seems.

We like to watch you laughing
Picking insects off plants
No time to think of consequences

They like it when the child is happy. Who doesn’t like the sound of laughter? They do not like it so much when the child is loudly unhappy, as has been alluded to earlier.

Control yourself
Take only what you need from it

They are insisting that the child control itself and live strictly according to its needs. Children, generally speaking, are not the best as self-control. In a world that we are warned is overpopulated, in which people consume more than their fair share, it seems transgressive to some to have a child. So, perhaps feeling guilty, they insist that the child not over-consume and control itself.

A family of trees wanted to be haunted

I picture a child crawling around the floor; from its perspective, the legs of the people standing about are like a forest. The family wanted to have a baby among them, like a forest haunted.

The water is warm
But it’s sending me shivers
A baby is born
Crying out for attention
The memories fade
Like looking through a fogged mirror
Decisions to
Decisions are made and not bought
But I thought this wouldn’t hurt a lot
I guess not

The mother had a water birth. Despite the hype about natural home birth, the experience was more painful than was expected.

Posted in pop hermeneutics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Philip Pullman Fails At Being Wicked

I am familiar with Philip Pullman only within the context of his His Dark Materials trilogy, and the interviews that he has given surrounding it. Based on his statements about C.S. Lewis, he seems to be a strange, hateful man. Perhaps he is otherwise a kind, rational man — maybe Lewis is his weak spot; I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I read the trilogy years ago just as the third book was released. I liked the first book, and then felt subsequently more disappointed by each sequel in turn.

The Golden Compass is a neat book. It takes place in an alternate world with its own Oxford. The protagonist is raised by Dons. Everyone has an animal familiar who is connected to them by an invisible tether, which can shape-shift until they reach a certain age and then they become just one animal thing; it is basically an external manifestation of the soul, we learn. There’s “dust”, particles invisible to the naked eye but not to that world’s science, which seems to be connected somehow to original sin. “The Magisterium” runs the world. And there are zepplins and witches and polar bears who can talk and who wear armor and cowboys — basically it is a really great bit of world-building.

And plot-wise the first book is a lot of fun. Pullman is casting “the Church” as the villians, and clearly believes it to be responsible for all the world’s ills, but for all his alleged expertise as a Milton scholar he doesn’t seem to understand it at all. Pullman evidently believes that Christianity is a terrible plague, and does his best to tar it fictionally, but errs, in that his “Magisterium” is not the Christian Church by virtue of that fact that in this world he has created there is no Christ. There never was. (More on that in a moment.)

Pullman’s Magisterium is all very concerned with Adam and Eve and Original Sin — to the point where they want to kill the little girl protagonist because some omen has foretold that she is the new Eve and they don’t want her to commit the original sin anew. (What kind of sense does that make?! If man has already fallen, and you get a second chance, why would you kill the new Eve rather than do everything you can to make sure that she doesn’t eat the apple this time?!) The point is, this world has the Old Testament but not the New, so, despite Pullman’s stated desire to write a wicked anti-Narnia, I think, at most, the book could be considered a bit anti-semitic. Here you have Judaism turned into a world power, “The Church”, that runs everything and it’s thoroughly evil.

The second and third books go increasingly off the rails. Near the end of the last book the protagonists discover that “God” is not God, but is merely the first angel who attained self-awareness, who then lied to all of the other angels and told them that he was their creator and the creator of all. Pullman’s “God” is portrayed as a feeble, doddering old spirit so fragile that he has to be kept in a glass coffin; when the kids open it he falls to dust and blows away in the wind.

It seems to me that that Pullman has done something quite opposite his intentions. He clearly thought he was writing a trilogy in which God is evil and the Church is evil and the rejection of both is the highest freedom. Only, on one hand, there’s no triumph. God blows away in the wind. Every couple, loving and unloving, is parted. The Church doesn’t get to murder the protagonist but they are still in power. (Oh, but everyone is “free”, because now they know the truth, that there is no sin, only free will. I suppose we are meant to assume that the Church will fall over time and more people learn the truth, and Pullman expects will happen in this world. So, at the very best, it seems like a very hollow victory.)

And on the other hand, it’s so much more deliciously inverted than that. Pullman, despite wanting to tar the Christian Church, could not abide having Christ in his world, and despite wanting to tar God, could not allow Him a place in the story and so gave us, in His stead, the deceitful first angel. What we have, then, is some fractional aspect of the premise of the story of Job writ large; it is a story of an entire world in which Lucifer has been given dominion and has installed himself as “God”. What Pullman has written is not a story of the evils of Christianity but rather the evil of a world without Christ, without God’s grace, and without the Christian Church.

I think he makes a very compelling case as to how bleak and meaningless his world is, and how much better off we are in this world, free to love, and be loved by, God.

Posted in alternate takes | Tagged | 2 Comments

Finding God in a Kia Soul commercial

  1. As the video opens a terrible war is raging between two unknown parties. A-Flat is in loud evidence. In fact, if you have a good Bose woofer, the pounding A-Flat explosions shake the floor. The whole landscape and almost everything is in shades of gray, and everything is in ruins. Yes, this is the sour note of A-flat alright: death, violence, barrenness, not a living thing in sight, even the warring parties are robots.
  2. Suddenly into this scene drives a bright green “KIA Soul” with three occupants. Let the green represent life, and the three occupants, represent the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (I know they’re hamsters, but stay with me).
  3. The warring parties stop, stunned by this bright green car, and aim their weapons at it. Out emerge the three living creatures, the Trinity, far more alive than any of the fighting robots. A tense moment ensues.
  4. The middle figure is a Christ figure, for he wears purple, a sign of his royalty and his passion.
  5. Suddenly the Christ figure cries out and all three in the Trinity begin to stop their feet. It is the same pounding A-Flat beat that the robots have been creating by their killing, it is a kind of a sound of death.
  6. But now the Trinity is using the A-Flat beat to dance!
  7. Suddenly, one of the robots starts to tap his foot, other robots quickly join in and before long, all are dancing. Same A-flat beat, but the Trinity has composed a new symphony around it.
  8. Weapons drop and the dancing ensues. Some of the dead even come back to life. The former flying war machines emanate rainbow patterns in the background.
  9. In a very symbolic moment the Christ figure in purple stands atop a concrete circle in the shape of a tree stump, as if Christ on his Cross in triumph dancing to A-Flat. The A-Flat of suffering that leads only to death is becoming life. A-flat doesn’t need to lead to war, if accepted it can lead to glory. The Lord teaches them a new song to the same note.
  10. In the final scene the “Trinity” drive down a road flanked by enthusiastic praises as the A-Flat dance continues.In the distance is the mountain where God dwells on high.

from “Finding God in A Strange Place: Soteriology in a KIA Soul Commercial? Why not?!”

Posted in pop hermeneutics | Tagged | Leave a comment

Evanescence and the Golem

Okay, so this one goes back a few years, but it was on the radio as I was driving home tonight so I got to thinking about it once more.

“It” being the song Bring Me To Life by Evanescence.

(All italicized text following is taken from the lyrics.)

On one level, sure, it’s about someone who has become so numb, dead inside, reaching out to someone who offers a chance to change and pleading with that one to deliver, not wanting to go back now that I know what I’m without.

The singer expresses all of this by telling a golem story. The song is from the point of view of a self-aware golem, a creation of mud and clay. It feels cold and empty (there’s nothing inside), recognizes that something is missing (without a soul), and begs Divinity to name it (call my name), to breathe into me and make me real. The golem longs for its creator to enscribe the its name on its heart, “emet” (the Hebrew word for “truth”) in the clay of its forehead, and then breathe the divine breath upon it, bringing it to life.

Posted in alternate takes | Tagged | Leave a comment

Twilight addendum

Lest someone misunderstand, my defense of the Twilight series should not be taken to mean that I think that there are no questionable aspects to them or that, given the wealth of literature available one should choose to read the Twilight books. My point is that if people are going to read them, especially impressionable teens, then it behooves us to be able to direct them to those positive aspects which can be found therein.

That’s kind of my whole goal in hermeneutics in a nutshell.

Posted in alternate takes, pop hermeneutics | Tagged , | Leave a comment


(May as well start with a big, controversial cultural touchpoint, right?)

I have much more to say on the subject of Twilight, but I will start here.

Top 10 Beneficent Lessons Anyone Can Learn from the Twilight Saga

  1. Reason champions nature. One need not act on one’s base desires, be they for blood or food or sex. We are not controlled by our animal impulses, but have agency for our own actions.
  2. Reason champions love. It is possible to be in love with someone and yet choose not to pursue a relationship with that person. (This is particularly valuable advice when it comes to guys like Jacob, who are, IMHO, creepy and abusive. Bella recognizes that just because she is in love with him does not mean that she should be with him.)
  3. It is possible to love more than one person concurrently, and to make the decision to embrace only one of those loves. (See also #2.)
  4. Storge and Phileo are as important as Agape and Eros, and should not be confused. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean it has to be eros. Family, perhaps especially the family of choice that we create for ourselves, gives us the strength and desire to better ourselves.
  5. Marriage is not the monster. Bella is initially more frightened of marrying Edward than she is of becoming a vampire.
  6. Suffering can be redemptive. Carlisle works as a doctor, surrounded by blood and weakened prey, causing him to suffer, in an effort to use his gifts for good. He does this in spite of his belief that, as a vampire, he is damned regardless.
  7. Immortality and magic powers don’t absolve you of the need to better yourself. Bella doesn’t see much point in going to college when she’s going to be a vampire; Edward knows better. (See also: vampires choosing to be moral)
  8. The is nothing inherently wrong with getting married young. If you intend to spend the rest of your life with someone, why wait? It’s your choice.
  9. Don’t let a poor self-image sabotage your relationships. Bella spends a lot of time refusing to believe that Edward could possibly love her as much as she loves him, sure that he’ll tired of her and leave her. This causes her to make some poor choices.
  10. Regardless of what you’ve done in the past, you can redeem yourself. Tattooed gang members have nothing on mass-murdering vampires. If Jasper can turn his life around, so can you.

And here’s another little morsel to consider:

The Cullen Clan are a celestial family consisting of three couples and Edward. The three couples are the family’s mother and father, Carlisle and Esme, the mystical duo of Alice and Jasper, and the gorgeous hunks Rosalie and Emmett. More obvious than the Trinitarian symbolism of these story ciphers or archetypes is the simple body-mind-spirit triptych obvious in the relationships: Carlisle and Esme are the otherworldly spirit figures of love and self-control to whom the family defers, Alice and Jasper have powers to sense the mental and emotional fabric of the world and the people in it, and Emmett and Rosalie are, well, center-fold portrayals of the body. How they work, live, and get along together is, as with all soul triptychs of this kind since The Brothers Karamazov, a snapshot of the soul’s faculties in its proper hierarchy and harmony, with which image the reader identifies, and, like Bella, wants to join.

from What Twilight Means

Posted in alternate takes | Tagged , | Leave a comment

A new direction.

It doesn’t take a big man to jump on a bandwagon and trash something popular, but it does to find something noble and worthy in pop “trash”.

That is basically the mission statement for the new direction that I’m thinking of taking this blog.

There’s so much art to be found when you eschew snobbery. I can find profundity in a Levis commercial. And doing so is not a waste of time. It ennobles me to find and appreciate it, regardless of what the artist intended.

As Jebediah Springfield would say, “A noble spirit embiggens a man.”

(I have hidden all previous content of this site, save for the most recent post which I believe is still relevant, what with Gaga’s “Born This Way”.)

Posted in site business | Leave a comment

When I chose to be straight.

I came across this video last night. Coincidentally, I had just recently been contemplating the very topic.

I chose to be straight soon after I first began to feel the stirrings of erotic attraction, and every day since.

I have only my own experience to go on, but I don’t understand how anyone can say that they were born only able to love one sex, or even feel attraction to only one sex. How can anyone believe that biology determines something so intangible as feelings? Are we not humans, with reason and the ability to master our animalistic passions?

I don’t have any problem imagining having a relationship with either sex. I can only assume that those who find the idea of a relationship with one sex or the other are victims of blindly accepting the defaults, societal programming, or trauma. Please don’t be offended.

I chose to be straight. I choose to be straight. It’s a lot simpler that way. And I believe that God intends us to be heterosexual and desires that we choose to obey His will in this, as in all things. God blessed Man with reason, and the ability to choose, to control his desires and master himself.

I am married and have five kids. I love and desire my wife. I have never dabbled in homosexuality, and why would I? I don’t need to experiment with behaviors in order to reject them and choose a less deviant alternative.

So when you tell me that you didn’t choose to be straight, or didn’t choose to be gay, on the inside I scoff because, to my mind, of course you did. We all make those choices.

Posted in myself | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment