I converted to the Lost cult last autumn, and I brought along my father. I thus join millions of others as we patiently wait for the last season of the best show on television. The Onion mocks us well:
I watched the pilot episode when it aired, but I did not follow the show afterward. Indeed, I avoided the cult for years, while my siblings and my friend Andrew tried to proselytize me tirelessly. I gave in last October. It really is an interesting and absorbing show. Kudos to A.B.C. for having the insight to produce and to stick with it.
It feels like Hoth outside!
My brother Aaron notified me of the Star Wars Weather Forecast. If you go to the page, you can type in your city and then receive a basic weather report conveyed by one of the settings in the Star Wars films. Here, it is currently Hoth, “Cold, ice, freezing desolation.” I did a search for Lagos, Nigeria, and I got Yavin IV, “Hot, but with some cloud in the sky.” Cairo was Bespin, “Fog, mist, cloud. Can’t see a thing.” New Orleans was Endor, “Temperate, but grey and cloudy.”
I was saddened that Cairo did not give me Tatooine, which is what I expected. Dubai, however, failed me not, “Hot, dry, occasional sarlacc.”
I fully admit that I am a Star Wars geek; and I have way too much fun trying to get various locations in a galaxy far, far away to tell me the weather of some of Earth’s notable cities. My most sincere gratitude goes to Tom Scott, the site’s designer, for bequeathing such a gift to mankind. His awesome nerdiness ought to astound us all.
What’s your town like right now?
I discovered last week that someone has made the drink featured in Mike Judge’s Idiocracy: Brawndo. If you have never seen Idiocracy, you might enjoy its crass satire as it mocks our lowbrow, trashy mass culture. My favorite part of the movie involves Brawndo, when it features a hilarious parody of moronic ratiocination.
I do not expect the drink to be good, but I found the cheap commercials on the Brawndo web site rather smirk inducing. They are a filthy celebration of the stupid (rated PG-13).
And yet another commercial for Brawndo, the Thirst Mutilator:
Here is the last one—truly a drink fit for the audience of Jackass.
On his View from the Right, Auster frequently explores and expatiates on Voegelin’s ideas about the gnostic impulse in man. See, for instance, this fascinating thread on gnosticism as a flight from uncertainty: “The Escape from Uncertainty: a Theory of Liberalism.” In such a vein, Auster wondered yesterday if the Avatar blues phenomenon that many movier watchers experience after having seen the film has something to do with Leftist gnosticism. I wrote to him about it, and he posted my following message in “Cameron’s Cinematic Liberal Paradise Makes Viewers Hate Reality”:
I sympathize with the poor folks who want to live on Cameron’s imagined eco-utopia. Though I have not seen Avatar (largely because of the discussion on your site), I have often wanted to travel to fictional worlds, and I suppose that such is common. My youth was spent yearning for Tolkien’s Middle Earth, where the exemplars of good and evil—and of virtue and vice—are more striking and obvious. Does not an Ivanhoesque Romantic stirring ever visit your breast, where you long to see the hero conquer the villains and then ride off into the sunset with the princess? Fantasy is full of our projected wishes, and I don’t know if it is gnostic to wish to see the world more clearly alive and wonderful than how we tend to find it. Looking at what the modern West has become makes me more than a little escapist. Of course, such escapism can be debilitating if indulged in too much. Like strong drink, a little bit of fantasy can take the edge off of our despair.
However, you are quite correct in noting that the best forms of fantasy make us see and appreciate the real world better. I would say that reading Tolkien inculcates an appreciation of creation’s splendor. The Inklings have brought to us moderns a glimpse of the premodern view of the world; they have introduced us to Pan. We who have been thoroughly secularized into seeing the world in a lifeless, horizontal, Cartesian way (as something simply to manipulate) easily lose our ability to see woods, rivers, and fields as alive, mysterious, and beautiful—in short, as iconic. The pagans thought that forests, hills, and lakes were sacred and full of spirits. They only erred in ignoring the divine power that manifests itself in such wondrous works. We Christians do not desecrate the world but connect its majesty with the source of such. Such recalls the tenth book of the Confessions:
And what is this God? I asked the earth, and it answered, “I am not he”; and everything in the earth made the same confession. I asked the sea and the deeps and the creeping things, and they replied, “We are not your God; seek above us.” I asked the fleeting winds, and the whole air with its inhabitants answered, “Anaximenes was deceived; I am not God.” I asked the heavens, the sun, moon, and stars; and they answered, “Neither are we the God whom you seek.” And I replied to all these things which stand around the door of my flesh: “You have told me about my God, that you are not he. Tell me something about him.” And with a loud voice they all cried out, “He made us.” My question had come from my observation of them, and their reply came from their beauty of order.
So, it may not be that these poor souls are gnostics. They may simply be aware of the void that the modern, atheistic world leaves them. Given the soul crushing materialism, consumerism, and general cowardice and dishonestly that typify our society, do you really blame them for wanting to live on an alien planet with happy pantheists? They are being fed confections from a tainted store, but their hunger is genuine and understandable.
Good luck in bringing the masses substantive meat.
Tracey Ullman is a funny and talented woman—and a master of accents, too. I hope that you enjoy the following clip, which I believe is from Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union. In this latest show, Ullman satirizes life in these United States. Here is the “Wet Wipe Killer.”
My favorite line is “He’s had a horrible childhood.” It just captures the spirit of the times in so many ways. The whole clip is brilliantly but sadly indicative of a perverse trashy subculture in America.
Tonight, some folks and I were discussing our favorite parts of songs and our favorite scenes from movies. One of my favorite scenes in the history of film comes from A Clockwork Orange. In reaction to a demonstration of the government’s new criminal re-educational program, where the state instills in criminals a revulsion to violence and sexuality through repeated association based torture, a prison chaplain exclaims,
Choice. The boy has no real choice, has he? Self-interest, the fear of physical pain drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. Its insincerity was clearly to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.
The response from the Minister of the Interior is one of the greatest moments in cinema:
Padre, these are subtleties. We’re not concerned with motives, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime and with relieving the ghastly congestion in our prisons. He will be your true Christian, ready to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than crucify, sick to the very heart at the thought even of killing a fly! Reclamation! Joy before the angels of God! The point is that it works.
As usual, the power of the moment comes from its placement in the film, but it is remarkable. It is a simple, stark, and, in my opinion, accurate portrayal of modern managerial man. Nothing is sacred or off limits; everything has been flattened down to the metaphysical and moral level of a machine. Nature is to be mastered, but before it is mastered, it must be desecrated. To rule godlessly, one must first kill God, and to kill God (for us, that is), one must erase his divine image in man, rendering him no more than a machine. Moreover, it is all done for the sake of efficiency and the common good.
I may have been too hard on romantic comedies in my post on chick flicks. If I had to mention a romantic comedy that could be liberally considered a chick flick, I would propose Bringing Up Baby. In fact, it is probably my favorite comedy of all time; it is brilliant. The dialogue is witty and the actors, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, are delightful. It is consistently and riotously funny without ever being vulgar or meanspirited. Perhaps, one could argue for its chick flickiness in the sense that women can watch it and laugh without it ever offending their sensibilities.
My favorite scene in the movie is the dinner with the “loon cry.” Of course, one needs to watch the film to appreciate it. So, for the uninitiated, do not watch the following clip. Rather, go watch the movie and enjoy. On second thought, go watch the movie even if you have seen it a dozen times already.
Hepburn’s “It was probably an echo” is one of the greatest comedic lines in cinemagraphic history. I just love it.
Bringing Up Baby is so charmingly ridiculous that I would not classify it as a chick flick. Like Groundhog Day, it transcends the narrow boundaries of romantic comedy and reigns as a masterpiece of American comedic cinema.
After mentioning Julie & Julia, I thought that I should dedicate a post to chick flicks.
The question arises: what is a chick flick? For me, chick flicks are simply movies geared toward women. Yet, even that straightforward definition does not resolve categorization controversy. While home, I watched The Devil Wears Prada with my father, who likes most chick flicks. A couple of days later, though, we had an argument at the local United Dairy Farmers ice cream parlor over whether Groundhog Day was a chick flick. My father insisted that Groundhog Day was one when it manifestly is not, even though I conceded that there was a romantic comedy element in the film. As my main evidence, I summoned exhibit A—the scene where Bill Murray’s character Phil Connors abducts Punxsutawney Phil and tries to commit suicide by driving off a cliff. The scene is so hilariously absurd, simultaneously dark and light, complete with the juxtaposition of Murray and the groundhog behind the steering wheel, that it is obviously oriented toward men. In general, the film is too funny and too philosophically profound to be geared toward the fairer, earthier, and more rigidly humored sex. Clearly, my father was wrong, wrong, wrong.
Yet, he argued further that The Devil Wears Prada was not a chick flick. I almost wondered if he were seriously arguing; for with that claim, taken together with his argument about Groundhog Day, he dismisses himself as a serious speaker in an argument about chick flicks. Can you believe it? It’s one thing to claim that Groundhog Day is a chick flick—unbelievable but at least defensible. It is another to deny that The Devil Wears Prada is a chick flick. But to hold to both propositions appears totally contradictory.
At any rate, I did enjoy The Devil Wears Prada, as I expect to enjoy Julie & Julia. Do I love chick flicks? No. It just depends on the subcategory of chick flicks. I cannot stand the “Lifetime movies” that play on women’s paranoia, hatred of men, and suspicion that every other woman wants to steal her husband and murder/abduct/molest her children. That such films seem to interest American women plays a part in my misogyny. What decent, clear headed population could find such filth entertaining or alluring? Similarly, I have no stomach for chick flicks that focus on sexuality or “intimate relationships,” which are so ridiculously sappy or unintentionally absurd that they are unwatchable. Nonetheless, I do like a lot of movies geared toward women that avoid the grotesque emotional porn of the estrogen set. Such films focus on matters more interesting than silly fears and women’s unintelligible world view of courtship and of men.
A chick flick that I enjoy is Fried Green Tomatoes. There is admittedly a Lifetime element in it; it includes an abusive husband, and it furthermore celebrates his murder and his deposition almost as a comic element. The extra mile taken in the film makes it worthy of a man’s attention. Lifetime she-murder: yawn! Wry, covert cannibalism: genius! However, the film in general focuses on the friendships of two sets of women, and it does it earnestly and beautifully. It reminds me of a female version of Stand be Me—not because the plots are similar (which they are not) but because they evoke similar feelings—of times lost, of friendships and their endurance, of how pain and suffering and joint experience mold us into who we are. For an alternative review that is caustically amusing, read the Film Freak’s review by Walter Chaw. I am no feminist, but I like the film.
As you may know, there is a new movie out called Julie & Julia. I actually want to see it, despite its target audience. I like the idea, I have heard good reviews, and I always support the encouragement of excellence and of the good life—which is what Julia Child represents in her own iconically American way. For she sought to bring real French cooking—and eating—to regular American women who wanted more than quick food for their families and themselves. You may consider it hyperbole, but I prefer to think of Child as a foot soldier in the culture war against the stifling, barbarous tastelessness that arrogantly marches under the banner of modernity, economic efficiency, and convenience.
Anyway, talk of Julia made me interested in seeing the woman in action. I found several videos of her online, including a full episode of The French Chef from A.D. 1964 on P.B.S. called “Elegance with Eggs.” Watch, cook, and eat; bon appétit. And memory eternal, Julia!
I watched the new Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and predictably liked it. Though I have not read any of the books, I have watched all of the films and found them very enjoyable. I am a sucker for the fantastic and the epic, and the Potter films allow me to indulge my escapist, romantic soul, as I like to visit alternate worlds that are more interesting in various respects than our own. That the Potter films are a multifilm series makes such an experience even more enjoyable. For after being introduced to a fascinating, new world, one can visit it multiple times and learn ever more about it. In addition to the awe felt before the wondrously new, one also feels the pleasure of the beloved and the familiar. It is a welcome combination.
After seeing a movie, I like to read the critics’ reviews. I thus found Matt Brunson, who wrote that the Potter series has held up more in quality than any other series larger than a trilogy. I agree, and this continued level of quality allows for the previously mentioned joy in revisiting the world of Harry, Hogwarts, and his friends. Consider the pain that a geeky fan experiences when he suffers through unworthy sequels. Of course, he watches the lesser films because he so craves the thrill of being able to enter once again the looking glass (or the wardrobe or the star gate). However, Hollywood often cares more for money than quality, and the movie studios will milk a franchise after the teats have withered and gone dry. Fans should not have to witness such an indignity toward their beloved fantasy worlds.
Speaking of series larger than a trilogy, not many come to mind. Brunson offers Dirty Harry as a fitting second to our young, magical Harry. Otherwise, there is Star Wars, of which the prequels are unworthy. There is Star Trek, the quality of which varies widely depending on the film. Only the first Alien (perhaps the second, as well) was good. James Bond has several duds, as Brunson notes. The teen horror franchises are so awful that they do not deserve mention.
Looking forward, I hope that the Chronicles of Narnia movies hold up as well as the Harry Potter films. The series has a similar advantage to the Potter films in that it is also based on books rather than on the acquisitive desires of movie moguls. Maybe, such is the crucial difference.
Back to Potter . . . As for the cultural significance and effect of the books and movies, I do not share the worry about witchcraft that many Christians have expressed. I have read several articles that attempt to distinguish the “acceptable” fantasy of Tolkien and Lewis from the “harmful” fantasy of Rowling. Some people give Tolkien and Lewis a pass for being Christians. Well, so is Rowling (though we might argue about the qualifying merits of Presbyterians to claim any religious status). Others hold that the fictional worlds of Tolkien and Lewis are other worlds, while Rowling’s occurs in the hidden midst (and hidden mist) of modern Britain. Yet, Middle Earth is clearly meant to be ancient earth, and Lewis’ Narnia and Space Trilogy stories occur in the context of the real world. The Pevensie children are English kids who travel to another world. Where is the “separation” that makes Narnia acceptable? Lewis gave us a wardrobe; Rowling offers a train ride. In both, the fantastic exists alongside our mundane existence. Still others mention that we ought not suffer a witch to live. Such is an issue in semantics. For it is not clear how Istari power and elven wisdom differ from witchcraft, unless one assumes that witchcraft is the manipulation of natural power without any respect of nature’s ends. However, such critics would then find the entire modern, Cartesian world unacceptable. I doubt the consistency of such Rowling haters.
Nevertheless, I find other elements of the Potter series objectionable—namely, its occasional Leftist values and vision, though I recognize that any popular, contemporary product will likely be tainted with the unpleasant odor of our decadent Zeitgeist. The worst example of this is the sustained depiction of the elite, the wealthy, the refined, and the “pure blooded” as evil and objectionable. Consider, for example, the depiction of the Malfoys. Rowling appears to be another example of Britain’s postwar Marxism, where aristocrats and prestige are despised as agents and symbols of injustice and oppression.
Concerning vice and evil, I think that one would more easily find them in the council estates. Yet, what is probability to Leftists? Stereotypes are not indications of truth or of partisan allegiance for them; rather, bigoted depictions are merely strategic instruments in the Left’s attempt to “control the narrative” of the culture wars.
Nonetheless, I pardon Rowling for her Leftist follies. The good aspects of her stories outweigh the bad, as she consistently extols the virtues and upholds the good in an intelligent and morally insightful manner. In Rowling’s world, life offers us choices, and those choices determine the range of our future choices and ultimately our characters—and ourselves. Moreover, Rowling does appreciate and celebrate a nobility of the spirit. Harry is a hero for what he does, and Rowling offers him as a model to be emulated. It is heartening that Rowling makes plenty of space for greatness. Furthermore, Harry is a boy with an inherited legacy. How Leftist can the egalitarian Rowling be when family, history, friendship, and character all have a place in our moral landscape? Perhaps, she is a traditionalist, after all, who simply cannot get completely over her class animosity.