Some primary schools in the U.K. recently espoused a “no best friends policy,” a move that mirrors practices described in a 2010 article of The New York Times: “A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding.” Both plans illustrate anxiety with the exclusivity that comes with best friendships and seek to discourage those tight bonds to avoid bullying, cliques, and the pain that can accompany friendship “breakups.” While I agree that educators should encourage children to work with different people and to practice respect and kindness, I think there are several problems with the elimination of the “best friend.” For one thing, forcing some children to socialize only in large groups will mean that those children don’t really socialize at all; this policy smacks of extroversion, and for children who are introverted or reserved, a close friend can be the sole comfort that makes large group interactions possible. Such a policy could prohibit introverted children from learning how to work with large groups, whereas a close friend could actually facilitate that process.
A Slate article titled “The Buddy System” speaks to this issue as particularly critical for middle-school boys, for whom a single close friend can ease any number of adolescent transitions. Of course, as any grown-up knows, friendships come and go, and the demise (especially of tight-knit bonds) can be incredibly painful at every age and stage of life. But prohibiting children from forming close friendships (if such a prohibition is even possible) doesn’t teach people how to practice—or dissolve—intimacy with compassion and love. Nor does it teach young people that principle of loving our neighbors, even when we like some of them significantly more than others. To me, it rings false to pretend that we relate to and like everyone the same amount; it seems natural to prefer the company of some over the company of others. The lesson within that natural tendency should not be exclusiveness or wholesale inclusion but recognition of different temperaments and gifts and a respect for each individual.
Of course, I come to this topic as an introvert, married to an introvert (who wonders how he found a spouse even more introverted than him) with a child who expresses definite introverted tendencies. I see my toddler’s intense attachment to a few people in her life, as well as her evident discomfort in crowds and large social groups. I need to teach her friendliness in a way that some parents don’t have to think about (their kids smile, apparently, without a ton of coaching), and I work on strategies to help her in contexts where there are a lot of people. If her father and I are any indication, she can learn to survive those contexts, but she won’t ever enjoy them or flourish in them. And most likely she will rely on a few key relationships in her life to help her navigate a social space that feels contrived, superficial, and cold. Institutional policies that require us all to serve as interchangeable parts miss the point that we are gifted differently to serve differently. That’s the body. Some members may thrive in the thick of the social scene, but for some of us, those “best friends” are the lifelines that equip us to mingle at all.
Christ and Pop Culture
Recently I have been in a few different bookstores with display signs proclaiming, “If you loved The Hunger Games, try this!” Beneath which are stacks of Koushun Takami’s novel Battle Royale.
A Japanese novel first translated into English about ten years ago, then retranslated in 2009, Battle Royale is something of a cult novel. I don’t know if it will use The Hunger Games to piggyback into the mainstream, but it’s already well-known enough that there are plenty of blog and forum posts claiming that Suzanne Collins ripped it off.
While that’s a debate I don’t really care to explore, the similarities between the books are striking. Battle Royale posits a totalitarian Republic of Greater East Asia, whose government annually kidnaps a class of middle schoolers, puts them in an arena with an uneven distribution of supplies and weapons, and forces the children to kill each other until there is only one left alive.
There are significant differences, as well. Unlike the Hunger Games of Collins’ books, the battle here is done in secret, with only government agents watching. Battle Royale is told in a third-person narrative voice, and it manages to invest each of its forty characters with at least the amount of life needed to make their deaths meaningful. It is an extremely violent novel—it makes the violence in The Hunger Games look somewhat tame—but it strikes me that if violence ever has a purpose in fiction, it certainly does here. The violence is not glorified, it is simply shown, as if the author is saying, “This is what we mean when we talk flippantly about war, murder, etc.” At the same time, the violence is used to show the depravity with which human beings—even children—will behave, if given permission. Like its literary ancestor Lord of the Flies, this novel could be read as an essay on original sin.
Like Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games too, Battle Royale could be read as an indictment. I don’t know enough about Japanese culture or recent history to pick up on any subtle political agendas that might be there, but Takami’s and Collins’s books are both indictments of the complacency necessary to create a culture in which children are regularly murdered and nothing is done to stop it. Both books seems to me to ask the question, How close is this to happening? And to answer, closer than you think.
Is Battle Royale worth reading? I am loath to recommend a book based on its last line, but the last line of Battle Royale is one of the most striking I have ever read. It is this ending that lets the book avoid the accusation of voyeurism and acts in a similar way to the psychologist who says, “Every person in a dream is you.” Battle Royale is an indictment of sin, on a societal level and a personal level. As such, it is a book I think Christians would do well to read and carefully consider.
Christ and Pop Culture
Steven Greydanus isn’t just a great film critic, he’s also a thoughtful blogger. Case in point, “How should we speak of the dead?”, which uses the recent death of Andrew Breitbart as an opportunity to explore how we should talk about our ideological enemies when they shuffle off this mortal coil.
On one level, it seems to me that to take a man’s death as the occasion for attacking his shortcomings as we see them, however serious they may be, is not entirely unlike walking into a wedding reception and starting to complain loudly about the groom’s scofflaw ways or the bride’s shabby treatment of her family.
The fundamental point, I think, is that our first response to the news of death (or any calamity) befalling anyone be one of human solidarity rather than drawing lines and casting stones. This is not to say that there is no place for drawing lines or casting stones at all. Beyond that, it is a matter of human intuition, culture and understanding.
A thought experiment that may or may not be helpful. What if the news had been, not that our ideological enemy had died, but that he had been in a car crash and was now a quadriplegic? What if we heard that he had lost his children in a plane crash?
How would we respond to such news? As an occasion to comment on our differences with his theology and public stances? Or as an occasion for a moment of human (and Christian) solidarity?
Greydanus’ article reminds me of something I read a few years back on Crooks And Liars, a well-known liberal blog. When White House Press Secretary Tony Snow announced that his cancer had returned, the blog — who had been very critical of Snow in the past — put aside political differences for a moment. Nicole Belle wrote:
We give a lot of grief to Tony Snow (and not without cause), but as someone who had a cancer scare of my own, this is the last news any cancer patient wants to hear. And as we sent thoughts and prayers to Elizabeth Edwards, so too, should we send them to Tony Snow and his family, for what they are about to face. This isn’t about partisanship, this is about humanity.
Christ and Pop Culture
Posted by Admin
Categories: Christian Pop Music
| Tagged: Dead
Stephen Hawkins, an AP Basketball writer, recently wrote an on-line piece about the rise of Baylor athletics. Baylor President and former White House prosecutor Ken Starr told Hawkins:
Athletics provide a voice through which the university speaks to the entire world.
“I’m so proud of the way our athletes use their God-given gifts coupled with their very hard work to bring great joy and pride to all of Baylor nation,” Starr said. “The voice of Baylor athletics is quite eloquent right now.”
Hawkins was able to calculate what I was not able to calculate, in terms of the link between athletic success and enrollment figures:
[At Baylor University] There are more than 40,000 applications for the upcoming fall semester for only about 3,000 freshman spots. That’s up from 15,458 applicants for the Fall 2005 class, right after the Lady Bears won their first national title. Average SAT and ACT scores for incoming freshmen also have significantly increased during that time
As mentioned in the CaPC Hoops Feature, success in college sports reveal a particular university’s influence on American culture. This is also why the CaPC Hoops Tournament matters.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2012/03/21/national/a015240D67.DTL&ao=2#ixzz1plOBGc3v
Christ and Pop Culture
Each week in The Moviegoer, Nick Olson examines new and upcoming films.
Unless you haven’t read a review of Disney’s box office-failing film, John Carter (Stanton, 2012), then you’re probably aware of the unanimous conclusion that Disney badly botched the 0 million film with its advertising campaign. I remember seeing the first trailer and thinking, “That looks positively uninteresting.” This was before I knew that the film was directed by Andrew Stanton, the Pixar alum well known for his critically acclaimed gems Finding Nemo and WALL-E. Of course, this isn’t to say that Stanton gets a free pass or is incapable of having a poor outing, but a strong directorial track record inspires a level of trust between director and critic, and it was this level of trust that led me to give John Carter a chance.
Adapted from Edgar Rice Borroughs’s A Princess of Mars — the first novel in his 11 volume Barsoom series — John Carter tells the story of a Confederate Civil War veteran who, in his 1868 quest to find gold, is mysteriously transported to Mars (or “Barsoom,” depending on the character perspective). John Carter’s (Taylor Kitsch) adventure begins when he humorously discovers that he has a super-human ability to jump around on Mars, and only intensifies when he must survive as a captive of the Tharks — a rudimentary clan of green outer space creatures with tusks, four arms, and a gladiatorial temperament. Eventually, Carter and the Tharks find themselves caught up in what is, at least on the surface, a politically driven war between two Barsoom cities: Helium (lovers of peaceful coexistence) and Zodanga (plunderers seeking domination). However, controlling the conflict are the Therns, a race of supposedly immortal beings with seemingly endless power.
Pressed by Princess Dejah (Lynn Collins in a spotlight-stealing performance) to help the people of Helium, Carter must decide if he is going to be a savior “willing to lay down his life for the people” of Mars, or if he is content to wallow in his unruly existence on Earth, stuck mourning past tragedies that grieve his existence.
As most critics have pointed out, the film’s problems start with its title character. Carter is too bland of a character for the first half of the movie, in particular. When we find out about the past tragedy that befell Carter’s earthly family, it’s too much of a revelation in the sense that his character doesn’t exude the depths of those hurts. Up until that reveal, it didn’t make sense to me why Carter comes across as purely indifferent: His apathy seems unaccompanied by emotional pain. The internal conflict intended in the lead-up to Carter’s decision to stay or leave Barsoom falls flat, because, aside from a clue or two, there’s not much of a fully embodied indication that Kitsch is playing an embittered character.
Additionally, there’s not really a defining fight with an enemy for John Carter. The two most significant challengers — Tal Hajus (Thomas Haden Church) in the arena and Sab Than (Dominic West) in the end of the film — both fall rather abruptly and uneventfully. Couple this with the previous point about John Carter as a lacking central character in the film, and my lasting problem with John Carter is that none of the stakes felt weighty enough. I was often absorbed in the film’s alternate world and action sequences, but rarely because of the central narrative itself.
Yet, after the film, I felt an overriding sense of satisfaction at how thoroughly entertaining John Carter was for most of its 2+ hour duration. This is first (and mostly) a credit to Stanton’s technical and visual achievement. The landscapes, the creatures, the vehicles, the sounds — it all comes together in a fully imagined world that is colorful, that is parallel to our own in appropriate thematic ways, and that generally features successful high-flying spectacle. There are a handful of genuinely exciting action sequences that, instead of ruining them, I’ll say left me expressing to my wife, that was awesome. Stanton’s consistent visual achievement also seems to aid his ability to make somewhat unwieldy and sometimes unintentionally comedic source material not only manageable but also interesting.
My above summary seems like it would be more convoluted than it actually plays on screen. Stanton brings a comedy to the source material that enables its silliness without undermining the whole thing. Additionally, the film’s “frame” works well, particularly given how it ends in such a way that is satisfying enough, while leaving me wanting to know what happens next on both Earth and Mars. It functions well as both an attention-grabbing introduction and a clever “twist” conclusion.
Finally, as Steven D. Greydanus and Jeffrey Overstreet have pointed out, there are some interesting Christological allusions littered throughout the film. While I think it mistaken to see a “Christ figure” in the film, some of the allusions are too noticeable to be coincidental (particularly given Stanton’s profession of Christian belief). One aspect of John Carter that I found most interesting is that Carter finds restoration, fulfillment, and a sense of purpose — new life, you might say — in another world. But by “another world,” I mean in ways that are a testament to the this-worldly truthfulness of fantasy itself. The alternate worlds we create are largely about emphasizing the metaphysical world we inhabit. And in this film, Carter regains his sense of humanity when he aligns with a certain teleology — one where he willingly and lovingly puts his life at stake for others.
John Carter is not a sci-fi adventure fantasy to be considered among the greats, but it’s also grandiose, entertaining, and visually engrossing enough to be far from a dud (in terms of quality). John Carter’s disappointment is that it clearly displays the potential to have been great, without quite realizing that potential. This doesn’t make it a failure, just a really expensive good movie. Go see John Carter, because it’s worth it (and because it just might assuage leftover Phantom Menace disappointment). But also go see it so that Stanton may have an opportunity at a trilogy that I have a feeling would only improve with each sequel.
Christ and Pop Culture
If you live in Beverly Hills, you will soon be able to get your late-night sugar fix with a Sprinkles cupcake. Instead of keeping late hours, a few of the Sprinkles stores are in the process of installing automated cupcake machines stocked with 600 treats each day. The article in the Washington Post explains:
The automat is the brainchild of founder and “Cupcake Wars” judge Candace Nelson. “I conceived the idea of an automatic cupcake machine after having late-night sugar cravings while pregnant with my second son,” Nelson said. “Even as Sprinkles’ founder, I couldn’t get my midnight cupcake fix!” . . . The machine will not be restocked while the bakery is closed (approximately 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.), but Schwartz does not expect the automated supply to run out.
So we could lament our society’s obsession with instant gratification or how this will only exasperate the obesity problem. Or we could rejoice in the creativity of this business to meet demand during off hours and we could enjoy them as sweet treats (key word being treat, in that it is an exception, not a habit).
It’s a good thing I live in central Illinois, because this is my kind of ATM.
Christ and Pop Culture
Bill Reiter, a reporter for Fox Sports, spent an afternoon in Waco with Baylor Men’s Basketball coach Scott Drew. Their first encounter? At Highland Baptist Church (Where I just so happen to be one of the pastors).
Reiter’s column is worth the read, if not for his perspective on the hot topic of March Madness. But, Reiter also talks openly about his perception of local church community, the testimonies of the faithful, and Drew’s involvement in church life:
People shared. A wife healed of cancer: glory to God in the highest! A woman who got a kidney: praise be! A father finally sober: all praise him! The incantations and sharing went on, true things, real problems, people spilling their secrets and their miracles and their need for a miracle of their own as Drew clapped and nodded and murmured “Amen” with every shared moment of faith.
I sat there, my own hands clasped together, both moved by the moment and reminded again that in matters of the divine no one really knows, not what’s out there and not what any one person has in their heart, Scott Drew included. Faith, indeed.
You can read the whole story here.
Christ and Pop Culture
Each Wednesday in What Memes Mean, Kirk Bozeman questions the significance, humor, and subtexts of viral videos, memes, and other Internet fads.
A few years ago, a ragtag documentary titled Invisible Children made the rounds among college ministries and churches, and I attended a viewing at the time. This was right on the cusp of Africa-awareness, just before the general public began to learn about the serious social issues occurring on the continent. The film struck a chord, spawning an impassioned grassroots movement of the same name (as often happens) centering around the video’s central issue: the abduction of children into child armies on the African continent. I, for one, was affected and have thus always had an affinity for the organization (full disclosure).
Recently, the organization posted a video to the ‘net that has gone viral to the extreme. There’s hardly need to mention it: In the past few weeks, most of us have taken 30 minutes out of a day (the length of an entire episode of 30 Rock or The Big Bang Theory) to voluntarily watch and re-post a video about an issue of social justice (which is pretty amazing in itself). Created by filmmaker and organization founder Jason Russell, the video relates the story of Joseph Kony, a man who has kidnapped and enslaved upwards of 30,000 children in the past 20 years or more under the banner of the “Lord’s Resistance Army,” and attempts to call us to action through a number of (mostly viral) means.
And, of course, there has been much, much backlash. I personally take the stance that the video was done to create awareness, not provide final resolution, and should be dealt with as such — so I think we should see this video as a very good thing. Russell has already been able to do something most folks of his ilk are never able to do — he got everybody seriously talking about social justice.
Sometimes this talking has become a discussion of the purpose of nonprofits and their budgetary practices, or a discussion of the public’s ignorance and avoidance of already-existing social justice issues, or maybe how social justice can even be meaningfully pursued by (so-called) rich, comfortable, entitled Westerners. And at its most serious, it has raised the question of whether (or how) government and military can (or should) get involved. This talking is taking different forms, but it’s seriously occurring. Russell is making us face issues most of us would prefer to remain ignorant of.
And at the end of the day, the harrowing injustice that this video presents to the world trumps all critics and contrarians to some extent; everyone will admit to that. Even the most hardened pragmatic ethicist feels ire over this: For heaven’s sake, there is a person in the world kidnapping children and making them into killers and sex slaves. Solving the problem (atrocity) absolutely requires much, much further discussion (leading to action), but we certainly weren’t discussing any of this a month ago. And we will certainly find it hard to forget — this time the world of meme has imprinted on us a bit deeper than usual.
What really interests me: I wonder if in a decade or so some brilliant leader of another new, meaningful, effective nonprofit organization, deeply concerned with taking down some other form of social injustice, states in an interview, “I didn’t care about any this stuff until my friends and I watched that Kony video in college, you know?” Social justice has to start somewhere, maybe even with a video intentionally crafted to hijack the vehicle of meme for grander ends. I, for one, at least think it’s worth a shot.
Christ and Pop Culture
In a move that surprised just about everyone, the old school right-wing Christian evangelist Pat Robertson recently announced support for marijuana legalization. He apparently has made passing comments in previous episodes of The 700 Club, but really “came out of the closet” this week on his show.
“I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol,” Mr. Robertson said in an interview on Wednesday. “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”
The comments add even more unclarity to this redefining of the GOP that is going on. We’ve already seen the future generations of the Religious Right vote become the Religious Independent vote, but now we’ve got Pat Robertson trying to sound like Ron Paul. As the race for the GOP nomination continues to be unclear, the Republican party seems more divided than ever before.
Christ and Pop Culture
When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say to say about who we are and the world we live in.
Interactivity distinguishes games from other media. This simultaneously makes games a fascinating medium and one that can easily be exploited and one that opens games up to a great host of experiences. Authoring meaning in game design can be particularly difficult to achieve because no matter how the developers intend for their games to be played, the mere fact that they will be “played” opens their games up to a host of divergent experiences.
Thus you have guys like Daniel Mullins who is playing Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as a pacifist and Ben Abraham (and many others) who conducted permadeath playthroughs of Far Cry 2. Additionally there are gamers who regularly conduct “Iron Man runs” (attempts at perfectly running through entire games without ever dying) through platformers like Super Mario Br0thers or the more heinous Super Meat Boy.
These three different “styles” of play illustrate three very different game experiences. Mullin’s approach to Elder Scrolls is one that would likely require saving the game a lot–particularly early in the game. A permadeath playthrough of Far Cry 2 would obviously require very little saving and lots of careful calculation. And finally an Iron Man Run through Super Meat Boy would surely require a tremendous amount of practice, memorization, and dexterity. These various styles of play are ways that the developers who made the game probably didn’t think a lot about as they made them.
Skyrim was certainly developed with certain quests that provide the player with nonviolent options but the game also constantly tries to force the player to take violent action against violent bandits and creatures. At the end of each level in Super Meat Boy the player is treated with a simultaneous replay of his every attempt to complete it–thus Edmund McMillan understood that he had made an incredibly difficult game and integrated that realization into its design.
Thus, there are a whole host of ways to play games that their designers may or may not have anticipated–this makes videogames a particularly difficult medium to pin down. Its possible that the silliest and poorest made games could be approached by players in meaningful ways. Its also quite possible that the most meaningful games could be approached by players in ways demean the experience.
Last night I loaded up one of my favorite games, Shadow of the Colossus and attempted to take on the third Colossi. To access this battle, I had to jump from one platform to another–the platform was at the top of a long ramp that curled around a huge cylindrical platform about 200 feet tall. Missing the jump does not kill you but causes you to fall into a vast pool of water and forces you to swim back to the ramp and walk up it again–it’s a long walk–each time took me about 2 minutes. For some reason, I could not make this jump–I tried and tried and tried again. I even got onto Youtube and watched a walkthrough video (something I very rarely do) to make sure I wasn’t missing something obvious–the player on Youtube made the jump with ease.
I was home alone while my wife was at a book club meeting. My 8 month old daughter had just gone down for a nap–it was a rare moment when I could game uninterrupted. 30 minutes passed and my daughter woke up and started crying. I spent that entire 30 minutes trying and failing to make that silly little jump in Shadow of the Colossus. A game that represents one of the single most meaningful experiences I have ever had gaming was utterly frustrating—I turned it off and spent the rest of the evening playing with my daughter.
I recognize that my problems with Shadow of the Colossus were personal–I searched but couldn’t find any angry forum posts by other gamers who couldn’t make that jump. Nevertheless–my incredibly frustrating experience with Shadow illustrates how risky it is to put an interactive piece of art in the hands of a player whose experiences can dramatically vary. This experience did not make me angry at Team ICO (developers of Shadow of the Colossus)–it actually made me respect them for their daring to make the game despite the presence of idiots like me who for some reason can’t make a simple jump.
Christ and Pop Culture