Friday, April 27, 2007
Of course, if they'd checked this out beforehand, they'd have known it was a waste of time...
- At 2Blowhards, Michael offers an excellent piece on the latest disturbing, exhaustingly trying trend: crying at the office. In this confessional, Oprahfied, touchy-feely culture we've developed, I suppose this shouldn't be surprising. The stat of the day, from Michael: "One shrink estimates that 'the average college student in 2006 was 30% more narcissistic than the average student in 1982.' Given how self-centered college kids were back in the early '80s, that's a frightening figure." And that, as I am wont to say, explains a lot.
- At Architecture and Morality, Relievedebtor asks whether the Imus flap hurts or helps conservatives. Does the almost complete ban on serious discussion of issues such as race mean, as Relievedebtor fears, that "unless there is enormous push-back among voters and consumers, the sensitive nature of political correctness in America Imus exposed will make it much harder for a conservative to now be elected president," or will it be that "If the frustration over what happened to Imus and the subsequent debate about hip-hop and hypocrisy in the media builds, an outspoken conservative may be able to awaken the sleeping Republicans." I hope for the second, but fear the first. But I agree wholeheartedly with his conclusion, that "ideas must continue to be of primary importance, not the opinions of others." Including bloggers!
- Two wildly differing opinions on Puccini's Il Trittico, which appears tomorrow afternoon as the Met's final moviecast of the season. An Unamplified Voice was distinctly unimpressed with it, while Jay Nordlinger at the New York Sun was far more favoribly disposed. I always enjoy reading Nordlinger; his opinions are frequently reliable, and when he doesn't like something he has a way of letting you know without resorting to the cattiness so often present in reviews of this type. So who's right? Perhaps we'll know after the live broadcast tomorrow.
- Mstislav Rostropovich, one of the greatest cellists ever and a staunch opponent of Communism, died earlier today. A friend of Solzhenitsyn, Rostropovich was outspoken in fighting for the rights of dissidents and eventually fled the Soviet Union in the 70s. He memorably performed Bach at the base of the crumbling Berlin Wall, returned to Russia during the abortive Communist coup attempt in 1991, and will remain a giant of classical music long for as long as there is classical music. R.I.P.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
"But feminism was always wrong to pretend that women could 'have it all.' It is not male society but mother nature who lays the heaviest burden on woman. No husband or day-care center can ever adequately substitute for a mother's attention. My feminist models are the boldly independent and childless Amelia Earhart and Katharine Hepburn, whohas been outspoken in her opposition to the delusion of 'having it all.'
"Women must take personal responsibility for the path they choose and stop whining about the options they have thereby lost. There is nothing more important than motherhood - not because it is 'caregiving' but because it is the primal source of all life and contains its own dark, ambiguous dualities.
"The well-heeled yuppies who dump their newborns off at day care six weeks after deliver and streak back to the office with screeching tires don't have a clue about motherhood or anything else."
Camille Paglia, Sex, Art, and American Culture
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
The latest issue of First Things has an intriguing article (not yet available online) by Ross Douthat entitled “Lost and Saved on Television.” Douthat writes about the underlying questions of religion, morality and salvation (some obvious, others allegorical) that appear in several of today's most successful TV shows, such as Lost (obviously, judging from the title of the article), Battlestar Galactica, and The Sopranos (full disclosure: these are shows that don't air in this household, although any good cultural archaeologist would certainly be familiar with them). It's a good piece, one that should be read on its own merits.
However, of particular interest, especially to the aspiring artist, is the following section:
The question, of course, is whether the audience gets the point, or whether The Sporanos’ faithful viewers are in it for the same reasons the mobsters are: the adrenaline rush that comes with any violent or sexual encounter, no matter how degrading it may be. This is the problem for any artist who seeks to show sin as it is. Does depicting an act make you complicit in it, even when you stand in judgment? Last Tango in Paris makes loveless sex look like hell on earth, for instance, but there are still people who watch it for titillation, just as there must be some segment of The Sopranos’ audience – young men, in particular – who spend their time cheering on the killers, identifying with the mobsters instead of profiting from their hell-bound example.
[I]s it the chance to see the story of Christ’s Passion as Mel Gibson reimagined it – blood-drenched and harrowing and brilliant – worth giving the same R-rated carte blanche to Quentin Tarantino, or worse, the makers of torture-porn thrillers like Hostel and The Hills Have Eyes?
I don't know how far Douthat intended to go down this particular avenue, but here we have an issue that works on many levels, radiating from one central question which Douthat asks: Are you glamorizing sin?
We've talked often in these pages about the relationship between art and the artist, and the moral responsibility thrust upon the artist by his art. This gets dangerously close to Drew’s territory (Nazi artists and whatnot), so we'll defer to him for the most part on the historical analysis.
But one cannot look at this without thinking of art as a creation, and the artist as creator. And while the idea of art for art's sake is an old one, it would seem that at least a secondary effect of art is the depiction - the revelation, if you will - of the artist himself. Art doesn't create itself, and it seems as if separating the art from the artist, even if one could do so, would leave the creation incomplete, lacking in some fundamental way. For example, we cannot know that God is good simply by looking at His creation, but we can know that His creation is good by looking at Him.
And therefore, one must read into the creation itself the personality of the creator, which in turn will tell you not only about the creation, but the creator as well.
Taking this back into the world of art, specifically the medium of the written word, it seems safe to say that much of what a reader knows about an author comes from the author's own words. The conclusions they draw about the author are to a great extent based on what they read, and that judgment of the author's character in turn helps to determine the weight to which they give those words.
So the writer returns to the question posited by Douthat - are you responsible for how people interpret your art? Can you plead innocence, even in cases where you ought to know better, as to what that interpretation is? Can you be held responsible for drawing your readers into, say, the proximate cause of sin? As Douthat asks, "Does depicting an act make you complicit in it, even when you stand in judgment?" For the author who attempts to portray man's rise from sin to salvation, what kind of risks does he assume when he takes on the mantle of sin itself?
This is an issue that confronts me directly in several of the fictional stories I work on, one of which features as its heroine a stripper, another with a professional assassin as the protagonist. What can be gained, despite the literary quality of these stories, by delving into such territory? Can it be justified by invoking the name of Art Itself? And does the author assume the responsibility for everything the reader takes from his work, even if it runs contrary to the author's own desire?
Is there a psychological or sociological justification which can be cited, for example, the desire to explore the Big Question? For one with a fertile, inquiring mind it is a road that begs invitingly. Certainly I think such a case exists, or else I wouldn't be investing time in it myself. I think that in terms both of self-expression and the desire to lead the reader into areas of the mind that might not previously have been considered, the author has a responsibility to honestly confront these issues as best he can.
It's possible, of course, that this could also simply be some kind of self-justification wrapped in denial. I wouldn't dismiss it.
But there can be no denying that the work will rub off on in some way on the writer, and will color the impression of said writer in the eyes of the reader. Which is why, once again, it is so important for the writer to assume responsibility - good or bad - for what he writes. If the writer wants to be taken seriously, if the writer seeks to influence or inspire, if the writer intents to pose serious questions to which he requests serious answers - all this will depend on how he conducts himself, both in public and in private. His writing may appear to apply only to the public arena, but surely the reader will interpolate its contents into the writer's private life as well.
So do I worry about glamorizing sin, about making sex too sexual and violence too violent? Absolutely. It presents a constant struggle within the creative process. A good many writers whose work I admire appear to go through similar struggles, with varying outcomes - some of which I quesiton, some with which I disagree totally. I can never know completely how they arrived at that process (although in the confessional world of the blogosphere I can come closer), and so I must content myself with my own personal struggles.
But this is a question worth posing, not only for the moral theorist but for the creative writer. In choosing the subjects one pursues and the words one sets down, the consideration of the effect these words have on those who read it can never be put far from one's mind.
Or, in other, simpler terms, think before you write.
It's a lesson those in the blogosphere could mull over more often.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Nation Prepares for Unveiling of Bonds-Landis Monument
Famed Cultural Archaeologist Looks Back at His Landmark Find
(April 25, 2274, Jerrylewisburg) – This Saturday the nation prepares for the formal dedication of what is already considered one of its greatest monuments: the unveiling of the sculptures of the landmark 21st Century leaders Barry Bonds and Floyd Landis at the picturesque mountain that bears their names.
On the eve of the ceremony of Mount Bonds-Landis, Dr. Walter Leibowitz took time out from his busy schedule to discuss the discovery which brought him overnight fame.
It was Leibowitz, currently the Hadley Chair of Cultural Archaeology at Harris University, who as a young man was responsible for one of the greatest cultural finds of the 23rd Century, the discovery of the Bonds-Landis civilization.
“As is the case with so many great finds, the discovery of the Bonds-Landis civilization was purely accidental,” Leibowitz said with his characteristic modesty. “While rummaging through what we assumed was some type of storeroom, we came across several small vials containing an amber liquid. Subsequent analysis showed that they were samples of body fluids which had been carefully preserved for at least two centuries. Many of these vials were unlabeled, but we found two with faded writing that our cryptologists were able to decipher: B. Bonds and F. Landis. At first we didn’t know what we had, but even then it was clear we’d stumbled onto something of great significance.
“The rest,” Leibowitz said with a smile, “was history.”
Almost six years of continuous research followed, allowing archaeologists to fill in some of the blanks surrounding the lives of Bonds and Landis, and while many aspects of their lives remain unknown, Leibowitz says one thing is for certain.
“These two men were widely admired and respected. There can be no doubt of this. For a civilization to preserve these mementos and enshrine them as relics speaks volumes to the regard in which they were held. We can only speculate as to some of their accomplishments, but the scattered references we’ve discovered lead us to believe that they were certainly leaders, quite probably warrior-kings of some kind.”
The eventual collapse of the Bonds-Landis civilization, occurring sometime in the mid-21st Century, indicates an inability to replace the two men, Leibowitz said. “Evidence of the ‘Great Man’ theory of history is prevalent throughout the ages. Some leaders are simply irreplaceable, as were Bonds and Landis.”
Of the two men, Bonds is the most accessible to historians. “The evidence regarding the greatness of Bonds is undeniable,” Leibowitz said. “Why else would anyone seek to preserve the body fluids of another individual except as an act of reverence? We are currently searching for traces of ceremonies that might have been performed using the specimen in some fashion.
“In addition, we have fragments of announcements made by what appears to be an oracle of some type, judging by his stentorian voice, named Ber-Man, in which he refers to ‘Barry “U.S.” Bonds,’ which we take to be proof that Bonds was, indeed, considered the father of his country.
“And finally,” Leibowitz added, “there are the pictures.” He gestured toward the climate-controlled container encased in bullet-proof transparent glass, behind which are displayed the two portraits believed to be those of Bonds himself. Pointing to the word “GIANTS” written across the front of Bonds’ shirt, Leibowitz cited the pictures as the most graphic evidence of Bonds’ stature in his society. “The fact that Bonds was required to wear this – I suppose you’d call it a uniform of some type, although the helmet he’s wearing and club he’s holding suggest it might have been armor used in warfare – the fact that he wore this in public would indicate that his own people recognized his greatness in his own time. We can surmise that he must have worn it with some reluctance – it would be quite uncomfortable for a man of such humility to have it proclaimed across his chest like that.”
The historical evidence for Landis’ greatness is more obscure, Leibowitz said. “The mentions of ‘Floyd Landis’ appear to be confined to a relatively brief period, perhaps no longer than a year or two.” Fellow historians speculate that Landis may have been a boy king who died at an early age, or perhaps a martyr for the faith. However, "the existence of the ‘Landis’ specimen is clearly proof of his importance to this society.”
The use of the plural form of “Giant,” Leibowitz continued, probably was a reference to Landis’ co-equal status in his countrymen’s eyes. “A picture of Landis wearing the “GIANTS” shirt would probably be the greatest archaeological find of the century,” he said wistfully. “But such is the life of a cultural archaeologist – one challenge after another.” Security measures, Leibowitz said, probably prevented the two men from appearing together in public.
Referring to the nameless vials, Leibowitz said the full story would probably never be known. “Who can imagine those other pioneers of this civilization, their names known but to God? It’s not a stretch to think that we owe much to these unknown heroes.”
With regard to Bonds and Landis, however, history has given us clear evidence of their greatness. “One thing we can be sure of is that neither man disgraced himself in the eyes of his fellow countrymen,” Leibowitz concluded. “To have lived and died with such admiration from their peers – well, the shirts say it all. They truly were giants.”
As you know from some of the posts we put up here, we're all about things like classic TV (although I'm not sure about Mitchell's TV Guide collection...) which is one reason we link to great classic TV sites like TVParty. They've got a pretty good blog too, which is one reason why it troubles me to see posts like the March 30 entry, in which Billy Ingram sticks up for Rosie O'Donnell's 9/11 conspiracy theories. (There doesn't appear to be a direct link to each post, so I'll simply link to the blog and you can check out the entry for yourself.)
Rosie O'Donnell (not a big fan) has stated on The View that the collapse of the Twin Towers looks like it was done with explosives. If she thinks she's been slimed before, the talking bobble heads will really go after her now. I have to say, however, after looking at the 'evidence' it looks like that could be the case. The whole official storyline of 9/11 stinks to high heaven and I haven't even seen Michael Moore's movie.
Now, it doesn't bother me in the least (well, maybe a little bit) that Rosie O'Donnell talks about things like this - after all, this is a free country (despite what some of the liberals might think). But conspiracies have become such a crutch for a souless society that seems increasingly unable to believe in anything.
And a couple other things: first of all, I don't think it's accurate to say that anyone who disagrees with Rosie (especially those who refer to the comprehensive Popular Mechanics investigation into 9/11) is "sliming" her. Unless, that is, free speech doesn't extend to pointing out the facts. But have you noticed how many times someone will accuse you of "sliming" them, but it's "pointing out the facts" when they do it? (As Ben Franklin once said, rebellion is always legal in the first person - such as "our" rebellion. It's only in the third person - "their" rebellion - that it is illegal.)
Second, I don't know if it really serves any purpose to use such loaded words as "bobble heads" to describe Rosie's critics. Recall that a week or two ago Mitchell asked the question whether or not we could ever use the phrase "honest difference of opinion." When you have so little respect for your intellectual adversaries, you're really not going to get a very productive conversation out of it. Perhaps Billy would be open to honest dialogue about the scientific analysis of 9/11 - but based on what we see here (which is all we have to go on), it doesn't seem likely. (Especially when you consider the "evidence" he cites.)
I know from reading the TV Party blog that Billy Ingram has a somewhat liberal slant, and I'm fine with that - we have a somewhat conservative slant at Our Word. Besides, Billy usually has some pretty great stuff on his site. But why, oh why, do so many writers (particularly, though not exclusively liberal) feel like they've got to interject their own personal idological opinions into an otherwise perfectly enjoyable situation? I know, we've been over this before (and before, and before) but the question continues to beg itself. Is there nowhere we can leave well enough alone and just stick to doing well what we do well?
Or do we all have to feign knowledge, to pretend that we're informed and educated about a topic, in order to fool others - and perhaps ourselves?
UPDATE: I always want to give credit where credit is due, especially to a site I'm inclined to like. In his piece on the Virginia Tech massacre, I thought Billy was particularly reasoned (without seeming to be snarky) on the hottest button issue, that of gun control:
There will be the inevitable conflict over whether more or less guns on campus are called for. Here's a paragraph from a CBS News report: "Ironically, the school specifically banned the possession of firearms in dormitories or classrooms - the exact locations of today's unthinkable violence." What some might see as a 'ironic' others will see as the reason the second massacre was allowed to happen. If there had been armed students in the dorms could lives have been saved? Would the gunman have thought twice if he knew the students in that building were potentially armed? Of course, I find the idea of readily available guns and college students a recipe for disaster.
I know that we have our differences about the media, but if he's not offended by it I'd like to offer that this paragraph is a good example of what being "fair and balanced" really means!
Friday, April 20, 2007
It is finally pleasing to see that the United States Supreme Court, which has long tilted towards allowing foreign countries to overrule the United States when it comes to lawmaking (and metaphorically, make Bruxelles, Belgique our nation's capital), has been put down to its pieces by this week's 5-4 ruling declaring legal a federal law making a crime an act where a baby in the process of being born in breach (feet comes first through the birthcanal) is then decapitated before the head appears.
It is the first time since the gruesome and tragic day of January 22, 1973 (a day where in Jamaica that night, Howard Cosell called "Down goes Frazier!" in the Foreman-Frazier fight) that the United States Supreme Court has restored sanity to this battle in favor of life.
After over 34 years, it is a scene to see sanity has been partially restored by prohibiting the practice of infanticide which had been declared legal by courts using "invented lawmaking" which has created the "constitutional right to an abortion," and "constitutional right to sodomy," both of which declared legal by a "right to privacy" to invent these rights.
The "right to privacy" not only has created incentives to do immoral acts, even criminals have taken advantage of this. Over the Christmas week, a criminal went to our shop and paid for a computer repair bill with a forged check, looking perfectly legitimate, with someone else's name and address, and phone number on the front, and a second victim's Community Resource Bank (AMEX: SCB) account number on the check, with the bank's former name written on the check and base city misspelled, and a different bank's code numbers on the top, and topped it off with a false driver's license. The check initially cleared the bank, but two months later, after the victim of the check fraud reported the incident, the check was returned unpaid. I contacted authorities and they could not continue the investigation because the officer noted the right to privacy made it impossible to trace the phone number of the criminal.
Considering the costs of "right to privacy," and who pays for the criminal acts which are being permitted, it is a blessing finally to see the United States Supreme Court return to some form of sanity by banning this gruesome form of infanticide.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Last night in Indy. Tomorrow at this time I'll be somewhere between here and Minneapolis. But in the meantime, I wanted to empty my inbasket and pass along this thought. Stella Borealis Ray (formerly Hadleyblogger Ray) forwards us this terrific piece from Tony Long (The Luddite) at Wired, entitled "The Blogosphere, Where a Tawdry Culture Goes to Die."
Long makes many points similar to those you've read here in the past:
Before you can expect a bunch of utterly spoiled, self-indulgent bloggers (i.e. the kind who indulge in their online mudslinging) to practice civility, you might try restoring a bit of it to what passes for civilization these days.
Civility is all about self-restraint. It's not about being told by someone else to say "no," but finding the inner resolve to say it to yourself. Call it self-discipline. Call it having a little class. Whatever name you give it, it's almost completely absent from modern society.
And in a culture where idolatry of the crass and vulgar encourages the mantra of instant gratification and me-so-important, what the hell do you expect?
He dismisses as unlikely Tim O'Reilly's call for a code of conduct in the blogosphere. As Long says, "you can't just pass a bunch of rules to make incivility go away." Nonetheless, I think members of the blogosphere - especially the Catholic blogosphere - have an obligation to give it a try. The way some of us carry on while we're online, we should be spending most of our time in the Confessional.
One of the harsh lessons learned from almost 25 years in organized politics is that you can't change the world by passing laws. You can do it only by converting hearts, and that's the kind of think that usually happens only one at a time. It starts with your family, your friends, your loved ones; your neighbors, your co-workers, people you come in contact with. It's not only the standard to which you hold yourself, it's that which you use as an example for others. And trust me, that kind of witness does not go unnoticed.
As our friend Cathy of Alex has noted, we have leaned heavily on this issue at this blog. While we speak of it mostly in terms of the blogosphere, it is a problem that extends to society as well, for it is from that society, that culture (or lack of it) that the problem occurs in the first place. But while we may be a champion of blog civility, we by no means seek to corner the market on it.
And so that's why I want to address this to our friends in the blogosphere, again especially in the Catholic sector. We have an obligation to rise above pettiness and common cruelty, to truly serve as witnesses to our faith. Too many of us fail that obligation, especially in the blogosphere, where our failures may not only be more obvious but may affect more people. So if you agree with us on this, please speak up. You don't have to link to this article; post one of your own. But pass the message along - in your blogs, via email, to those who share your feeling. As responsible bloggers, we need to start a serious conversation on it, rather than simply complain about it. It won't change the entire blogosphere, but it may change one corner of it. Even if it's only your own corner - because trust me, it won't stop there.
And if we don't - the consequences won't stop there, either.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
It's hard to put together much of any length while you're on the road (Indianapolis, third day), but TV and pop culture fans can't let the moment go by without acknolwedging the death of Kitty Carlisle Hart today, at the age of 96.
She was a staple of the game show circuit, always bringing class and dignity to whatever show she appeared on. She was a regular on To Tell the Truth, but she also appeared on What's My Line (most famously on the first program following Dorothy Kilgallen's death) and other Goodson-Todman shows, was in the Marx Brothers classic "A Night at the Opera," and even appeared at the real opera, the Met, in Die Fledermaus.
She was a graceful presence who graced the entertainment industry for seven decades. Her son Christopher said, "She had such a wonderful life, and a great long run, it was a blessing." A blessing for her, and for all of us who enjoyed her.
As a postscript to this week's Virginia Tech shootings, you hear a lot about how this was the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. It was not, however, the first to occur on a college campus. Charles Whitman was the sniper who, on August 1, 1966, killed 15 people from his perch atop the 27-story tower at the University of Texas.
Read here for more information about this equally bleak moment in American history. And if you get a moment, check out You Tube for KRLN-TV's disturbing live coverage of the shooting as it happened. (We'll try to provide a link for this later in the week.)
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Mitchell here, still live from Indianapolis.
For those of you still doubting the existence of God, you need look no further than the July 8, 1965 episode of the classic game show Password, which I just finished editing. On that episode, the celebrity contestants were Nancy Sinatra and Woody Allen.
I'm sure some of you already see the irony in this paring. For the rest of you, I'll continue.
Nancy Sinatra's father was, of course, Frank Sinatra. Just over a year from the airing of this show, Frank Sinatra married Mia Farrow. (The marriage lasted less than two years.) In the late 1980s, Mia Farrow began a long relationship with - Woody Allen. The same Woody Allen who would later cheat on her with her adopted daughter, Soon-Yi, an incident which prompted Frank to offer to have Allen's legs broken for.
So, in other words, Nancy Sinatra's father winds up threatening severe bodily harm against the guy with whom she's currently playing Password. And, of course, none of them have any clue as to what the future holds in store.
And therefore, you need no further proof that God exists, for no mere mortal could make something like this up.
Monday, April 16, 2007
In A Face in the Crowd, Andy Griffith gives one of his greatest dramatic performances (and that's not sarcasm; Griffith was a terrific dramatic actor who must have been frustrated by the lack of range available to him in his long run as Sheriff Andy Taylor) as Lonesome Rhodes, a small-time crook turned radio personality who makes it in local TV with his outrageous personality, charming his audience with tricks such as insulting his sponsors (with a twinkle in his eye). This "Peck's Bad Boy" act of biting the hand that feeds you (think Arthur Godfrey) strikes a cord with his audience, and soon Rhodes has his own network show, "Cracker Barrel."
Rhodes becomes a huge star, and it's no wonder why; he's the very image of down-home common sense, with his homespun words of wisdom striking a cord with his audience. In private, however, he's an egomaniac, dominating and berating his staff, including head writer Mel (Walter Matthau), abusing and betraying his lover Marcia (Patricia Neal), who discovered promoted him, and speaking scornfully of his adoring audience as suckers who will fall for anything he pitches. As his sponsor says, "the masses had to be guided with a strong hand by a responsible elite." Soon, Rhodes begins to cultivate the support of politicians, who crave identification with Rhodes' popularity. With his sponsor's encouragement, he assumes the role of kingmaker to the somewhat stuffy Senator Worthington Fuller, presidential wannabe. He quickly dubs the balding Fuller "Curly" and creats for him a friendly, folksy style. Fuller's popularity grows, and with it Rhodes' power. He now fancies himself a real powerbroker, one whose advice and wisdom is sought-after by politicians everywhere.
Like many a woman with low self-esteem, Marcia has turned a blind eye to Rhodes' abuses and indiscretions, continuing to come back for more. However, when Rhodes announces that he will be hosting a party for the nation's political elite, at which he will be named "U.S. Secretary for National Morale," Marcia realizes she's created a monster, one that only she can bring down.
As the final credits roll on his show that night, Marcia, up in the control booth, secretly turns up the sound on the set, allowing the viewers to hear Rhodes mocking them as slobs and gullible fools. The damage is done - the network is deluged by complaints from viewers, sponsors withdraw their support, and the politicians desert him in droves. Marcia, with Mel's support, tells Rhodes it was she who sabotaged his program. Rhodes vows he'll come back, and tries to talk her into staying with him, but she and Mel turn to leave. Rhodes, in the movie's verison of an operatic mad scene, is left in his hotel suite, alone and deserted, the empty chairs and drooping banners the only sign of the party that never was, posing to the sound of pre-recorded applause.
Not before Mel delivers Rhodes the final verdict, however, playing the Greek chorus, with his parting shot: "What's going to happen to you? I'll tell you what's going to happen to you. You'll get a show all right, but it won't be a major network like you had before. Some station after a little while will say, 'Let's try him again. He was big.' You'll have an audience, but it won't be hundreds of millions you had before. You'll make money, but it won't be the same kind of money... And soon someone will come along, a new flavor of the month to captivate the public, and they'll wonder whatever happened to what's-his-name, you remember?..."
And so the movie fades to black, much as Don Imus' career appears to have done. I couldn't help but think, though, that Matthau's speech could just as easily be about Imus. For he will be back, I suspect - the public does have a short memory, and has always been eager to forgive. Then too, there is the sense of hypocracy about the whole thing - Imus being nailed for comments that pale in comparison to some of the language used by blacks and hip-hoppers, not to mention the roles played by bottom-feeders like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.
But the lesson for Don Imus has been a harsh one, and he finds, like Lonesome Rhodes, that fame is fleeting. He may find, as Fitzgerald said, that there are no second acts in America - few to compare to the first acts, at least. Yes, they'll remember Imus when he comes back (probably on satellite radio), and yes, he'll be a star. But it won't be the same - not the fame, perhaps, not the money, and almost certainly not the influence that he so obviously enjoyed. Those that used him have deserted him, those that befriended him will lay low for awhile, those that listened to him will find other amusements to preoccupy them.
The irony of it all is so heavy it could be cut with a knife. It truly is spellbinding, to watch Matthau's final speech with Imus in mind, substituting the names as appropriate. If nothing else, it proves that there really is nothing new under the sun. Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad. A more suitable movie for this time, I could not have chosen. ◙
Yes, Our Word is on the road this week, in the Hoosier State for a work conference. Reporting will be occasional, but we'll try to keep in touch.
One of the interesting things about conferences like this is the people you meet. For example, today I was sharing the room with not one, but two former Miss America contestants. (It's a tough life.)
On the other hand, one of the gentlemen in our class was receiving constant text messages from his son, who is a student at Virginia Tech and was in the dorm next to the one that figured in the shooting today. Fortunately, he was all right. Interestingly enough, nobody in class made a big deal out of this - a few people had talked to him during one of the breaks (people were gathered around the TVs watching the continuous coverage on the news channels) and knew what was going on, but it isn't as if there was a big announcement or anything. I guess there are places where decorum still rules.
Speaking of which, a thought with which to leave you - the Virginia Tech football coach was quoted as saying something to the effect that he couldn't believe how much one person could affect things. Well, in a way this should provide some consolation to those who wonder if one person can still make a difference. Of course they can. One person can always make a difference - sometimes it's for the better, sometimes for the worse. And when that one person (or one Person, if you will) makes a difference for good, it can make all the difference.
Stay tuned for more from Indianapolis tomorrow!
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
I just cringe when I see posts like this over at Amy Welborn's site, on the Pope's Easter Sunday comments abour Iraq. I'm not blaming Amy for it - it's a legitimate, and important, story after all.
I cringe because you know how this is going to unfold. You know the nutburgers on all sides are going to come pouring into the combox. If you play any drinking games with these kinds of discussions, you're going to get drunk on this one. And probably less than 10% of the commentors are interested in calm, rational, good-faith dialog on this issue.
The rest of them are looking for ego gratification, one-uppsmanship, political grandstanding, theological grandstanding, or any one of a hundred other kinds of uncharitable commentary. Some will be caught up in telling the Pope how to run the Vatican, while others will be bursting at the seams to accuse some of being covert tools of the Republican party. Accusations will be made, integrities will be challenged, faiths will be questioned, name-calling will run rampant. We'll hear from all the usual suspects, some of them multiple times. The only thing most will agree on is that it's a black-and-white issue - no room for divergent opinions.
I don't mean to sound uncharitable about this myself, and that's not my intent. But what, precisely, is served by this kind of discussion? Surely it's not the image of the Church, which will undoubtedly be tarnished in the eyes of those who already think we don't practice what we preach. We're probably not going to have a meaningful conversation. We're probably not going to change any minds or convert any hearts. We're only going to see yet another nasty argument amongst opinionated people, no different than thousands which have gone before.
The internet is a wonderful tool, and the blogosphere provides a valuable service. And I am sick and tired of seeing people wreck havoc on it like a 70s rock group trashing a hotel room. When it's being done in the Catholic blogosphere, the tragedy is compounded.
Yes, The Fool Killer is overwhelmed by his opportunity...
Cross Posted to Stella Borealis Catholic Roundtable
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Friday, April 6, 2007
It’s become something of a Good Friday tradition here to meditate on the meaning of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, one of our favorite operas, a work always closely associated with Good Friday. Wagner himself claimed to have been inspired to begin work on Parsifal on Good Friday, 1857, although this is a suspect claim at best. Nevertheless, for the musicologist as well as the theologian, there is much to ponder in Parsifal, starting with Wagner’s own words.
Near the end of his life, Wagner wrote, "When religion becomes artificial, art has a duty to rescue it. Art can show that the symbols which religions would have us believe literally true are actually figurative. Art can idealize those symbols, and so reveal the profound truths they contain." This is not surprising for a man with as monumental an ego as Wagner, who truly believed in the ability of art to redeem man (not an altogether foolish notion) and therefore saw himself in the role of a redeemer (well, let’s not go that far).
On the other hand, in 1858 Wagner wrote to Mathilde Wesendonk: "... if this suffering can have a purpose, it is simply to awaken a sense of fellow-suffering in man, who thereby absorbs the creature's defective existence and becomes the Redeemer of the world by recognizing the error of all existence. (This meaning will one day become clearer to you from the Good Friday morning scene in the third act of [Parsifal])."Parsifal was and remains one of Wagner's most controversial works, and also one of his most moving. (It's also, at an average running time of four-and-a-half hours - not including intermissions - one of the longest operas ever written.) And it's tempting to read too much into Parsifal. Tempting, and also dangerous.
Nietzsche, who started out as a big fan of Wagner, broke with him over Parsifal. He saw it as some kind of pseudo-Christian piece and hated it for that, saying, "Here the cunning in his alliance of beauty and sickness goes so far that, as it were, it casts a shadow over Wagner's earlier art - which now seems too bright, too healthy. ...How he thus wages war against us! us, the free spirits! How he indulges every cowardice of the modern soul with the tones of magic maidens! - Never before has there been such a deadly hatred of the search for knowledge! - One has to be a cynic in order not to be seduced here; one has to be able to bite in order not to worship here. Well, then, you old seducer, the cynic warns you - cave canem." (On the other hand, he did admit that the music was sublime.)
Although Wagner's references seem obviously to refer to Christ, others have said that they could apply to Buddhist doctrine as well. Derrick Everett notes the connection:
As Carl Suneson has suggested, Wagner's spiritual hero Parsifal can be seen as a bodhisattva in the Buddhist Maháyána tradition, as well as a Christ-figure. These alternatives are not mutually exclusive, since some Buddhists have accepted Christ as a bodhisattva and thus integrated Jesus into their own belief-system.
In fact, if you read the libretto of the opera you'll notice that Parsifal himself speaks only of the Redeemer - in the famous Good Friday scene it is only Gurnemanz who mentions the name of God. Michael Tanner, in his essay The Total Work of Art, uses this to suggest that Parsifal is a work about religion, more precisely the psychopathology of religious belief, rather than a religious work.Wagner saw compassion as the defining characteristic, the one which ultimately would redeem mankind. As Wagner biographer Michael Tanner points out:
[Wagner was] still convinced of the pain inherent in being alive, and of the sovereign value of the identification of one's own sufferings with those of others. It is only in terms of this ethic of compassion, founded on a metaphysic of the unity of living things, that Parsifal makes sense. As soon as one has grasped that, the apparently Christian elements in the work, which can be embarrassing or seem merely added for colour, function much more actively as constituents in a profound drama of spiritual awakening and fulfilment. New life is brought to the Grail community, and it will be able to continue, invigorated, not through any injection of supernatural energy-boosters, but through the radiant example of Parsifal, showing the possibility of emerging triumphant from gruelling ordeals, neither complacent in his achievement nor exhausted by it.
In addition, Wagner was, of course, a notorious anti-Semite, which makes Christian use of his words particularly dicey. Pace Wikipedia,
Some suggesting that Parsifal was written in support of the ideas of Arthur de Gobineau who advocated Aryanism. Parsifal is proposed as the "pure-blooded" (ie Aryan) hero who overcomes Klingsor, who is perceived as a Jewish stereotype, particularly since he opposes the quasi-Christian Knights of the Grail. Such claims remain heavily debated, since there is nothing explicit in the libretto to support them, and Cosima Wagner's diaries, which relate in great detail Wagner's thoughts over the last 14 years of his life (including the period covering the composition and first performance of Parsifal) never mention once any such intention. Wagner first met Gobineau very briefly in 1876, but he only read Gobineau's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races in 1880. However, Wagner had completed the libretto for Parsifal by 1877, and the original drafts of the story date back to 1857. Despite this lack of chronology, Gobineau is frequently cited as a major inspiration for Parsifal.
If Parsifal so clearly expressed the concept of Aryan supremacy then it would doubtless have been popular with the Nazi party in 20th Century Germany. In fact, the Nazis placed a de facto ban on performances of Parsifal because of its "pacifist undertones".
(Interestingly enough, the conductor at the initial performance of Parsifal was a Jew, Hermann Levi.)
And Wagner was never particularly accurate in his theology in the first place - he sees the Holy Grail as not only the vessel used by Jesus at the Last Supper, but also the receptacle for the Blood that flowed after He was pierced by the Spear. (The sacred Spear is also crucial to the plot of Parsifal.) Read this essay from the 2003 Met Opera broadcast of Parsifal for more on Wagner's confused theology.
Some point to Wagner's use of Good Friday (rather than Easter) as the day of redemption as a further misunderstanding of Christianity. But here I think we may be onto something. As we have stated many times in these pages, Catholics have what is perhaps a unique insight into the nature and necessity of suffering. Wagner recognizes, even if it's only inadvertenty, that without Christ's sacrifice on Good Friday there can be no Easter Sunday. This is the purpose for which He was born: to suffer and die for our sins, so that in His Resurrection we might all be reborn into eternal life.One of our favorite poets, T.S. Eliot, drew on Parsifal in his poem The Waste Land. We see that influence in the following notes on The Waste Land:
Eliot’s reliance on Jesse Weston’s From Ritual to Romance (1920) is recorded in his own notes (which were prepared for the book publication of the poem in 1922). The argument of Weston’s book is that the Arthurian legends of the quest for the Holy Grail are founded on basic fertility myths and rituals, such as those described by Sir James George Frazer in The Golden Bough, a work of Victorian scholarship that argued all myths derive from common concerns of human survival—namely, the fertility and cultivation of the soil, seasonal changes, and other relevant natural phenomena. According to Weston, “In Arthurian legend, a Fisher King (the fish being an ancient symbol of life) has been maimed or killed, and his country has therefore become a dry Waste Land; he can only be regenerated and his land restored to fertility by a knight (Parsifal) who perseveres through various ordeals to the Perilous Chapel and learns the answers to certain ritual questions about the Grail.” And, we should add, the lance. The Grail (or Holy Cup) and the lance are the crucial symbols of Arthurian legend for Weston. They are obvious symbols of fertility—Cup=Mother, and Lance=Father. In the syncretic mythography (the anthropological study of myth designed to discover common sources for different cultural myths) of Weston, the Fisher King is the archetype for Christian (Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection), Greek (the myth of Aphrodite and Adonis), Egyptian (the seasonal dismemberment and reconstruction of Osiris) vegetation and fertility myths linked to seasonal cycles and the regeneration of plant, animal, and human life.
(For more on how Wagner influenced various artists, read the marvelous Fr. Owen Lee’s essay here.)
So what, ultimately, do we make of Parsifal?
As we've seen, it is not particularly accurate to call Parsifal a “Christian” work. However, although it may be impossible for us to ever know exactly what Wagner had it mind when he wrote Parsifal, the fact remains that it has always been associated with Easter. Most classical music radio stations play selections from it on Good Friday (usually an arrangement featuring the Prelude and Transformation Scene in Act I and the Good Friday music from Act III). When the Met stages it, it's done around Eastertime, with the radio broadcast on the Saturday before Palm Sunday and a performance on Good Friday itself. Whatever Wagner might have intended, the popular interpretation (such as it is) is that it is a Christian work.The music, some of Wagner's most stunning and lovely, emphasizes Alan Wagner's comment that "The contradictions melt away, transfigured, in the incredible beauty of his music." For those disposed to view it through a Christian lens, the symbolism and meaning are powerful and moving. For an opera there are unusually long stretches where there is no singing at all, just the "beauty of his music."And the message is there: in the Act I commemoration of the Last Supper, and of Parsifal's sharing in the suffering of Amfortas, ailing leader of the knights who serve as guardians of the Holy Grail (Parsifal feels in his heart the pain from the wound in Amfortas' side, a wound that is the result of past sin, a wound that refuses to heal).
In Act II, where the temptress Kundry attempts to seduce Parsifal into sin (as she had Amfortas) - first by an appeal to sensual pleasures with a kiss (the kiss of betrayal?), then by pity for the life she has led (having been cursed to eternal life for having mocked Christ on the Cross). In an echo of the Devil's tempting of Eve in the Garden ("your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."), Kundry tells Parsifal "If you are a redeemer, what evil stops you, from uniting with me for my salvation?" Parsifal resists Kundry's temptations and regains the Spear from the evil Klingsor.
And in Act III, where after a search of many years (reflected in the slow, weary atmosphere of Wagner's music for the act's Prelude; music that you'd never hear at the beginning of a 4 1/2 hour opera), Parsifal relocates the knights of the Holy Grail, baptizes Kundry, and uses the Spear to heal the wound in the side of Amfortas, thus winning redemption both for Kundry (who finally can experience death, and therefore rest), and Amfortas (whose wound is healed by the relic of Christ's sacrifice).
As we said, one must be careful here. Christ is never mentioned by name - the description above is the Christian interpretation. But, as Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has said, "The Catholic sensibility, however, going back to the patristic era and its happy use of 'the spoils of Egypt,' is inclined to embracing truth wherever it is found." And Parsifal is far from what one would describe as "the spoils of Egypt." If God is present in everything, then it's surely not hard to believe that the truth of His sacrifice is present in Parsifal as well – whether Wagner understood it or not.
Thursday, April 5, 2007
By MitchellOne of the pleasures of cultural archeology is that you never know what you’re going to run across next. Case in point.
- Does anyone out there remember the Swedish-American actress Inger Stevens? She was a very attractive television star of the 1960s, probably best known for her series The Farmer's Daughter. I've run across Inger Stevens three times in the last week: first, on a tape I was editing of an apperance on the old TV game show Password. She pops up again in a DVD I recent obtained covering ABC's coverage of the assassination of JFK, in a promo for The Farmer's Daughter, which was the last commercial anyone would see on ABC for the next four days.
In the article, Stevens, then 28, is asked by the interviewer Robert De Roos if she wanted to get married. “Yah, very much,” she said.” [Yes, she did talk that way!] “I love men. But I think it would be unfair to get married when I’m tied up with the series. I’ve no time for a husband.”
What’s ironic about this comment is that at the very time she issued it, she was married – to actor Ike Jones, who happened to be black – and had been since 1961 (they remained secretly married until her death). It reminds us again of how times have changed – often, marriage was seen as a liability for an attractive young actress whom the moguls hoped would have the right kind of sex appeal to the audience. Add to that the explosive connotations of interracial marriage in the early 1960s, and, as Paul Harvey would say, now you know the rest of the story.
Knowing how that story ends, one searches the interview for some hint, some clue as to what was to come. She’s interested in working with children, she says. She doubts acting is all there is to life: “I like acting and I’m not knocking the theater. It’s just that I don’t know whether acting is the way I ought to spend my life.” As for the rest of that life, which at this point has less than seven years to run: “I’m working so hard I feel I’m wasting time. … When I lie down at the end of the road, I’ll want to have left something behind – even if it is just having helped one other person. I would like to utilize myself to the best possible advantage.” One wonders what went through her mind in those last moments of life – did she feel she’d left anything behind at all?
- In the same issue of TV Guide we also have a reminder of how much sports on TV have changed, with a closeup of the opening game of the 1963 World Series, between the Dodgers and the Yankees. Nothing particularly new there, except for the starting time: noon (11:00 Central time) on Wednesday, October 2. In an age where nighttime Series games played in the shadow of Halloween seldom finish before midnight, the thought of a game starting at noon (regular afternoon programming scheduled to resume at 2:30 p.m.) on a crisp autumn day is almost unthinkable. Is there anyone out there who can even remember such a time, except us?
- And just to demonstrate that you really never do know what you’re going to run across, there’s this program listing for Monday, September 30 – a new game show, hosted by Merv Griffin, called “Word for Word.” The premise: a “word game, played like anagrams. The contestant who accumulates the most words in a best two-out-of-three series is then pitted against the electronic Word-Ometer.” Merv created as well as hosted this short-lived game show, and one can almost imagine him thinking, “hmm, that anagram word game didn’t go over so well. But I still like the word idea – hey, what about a game based on hangman?” The rest, of course, is history…
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Star Player’s Death Leaves Gaping Hole in Lineup, Family Finances
(Middle Southeastern State, NE) - A sense of shock still reverberated around the campus of Middle Southeastern State University Friday, one day after All-American point guard and virtually certain first round NBA pick D'Moron (D-Lo) Lohandro was gunned down during a convenience store robbery five blocks north of the Middle Southeastern State campus.
“I don’t know what to say,” head basketball coach Duke Rawlings said in a press conference Friday afternoon. “Our kids don’t know what to say. We’ve had our whole season taken away from us. One week away from the conference tournament and something like this happens. And I’ll tell you, there’s nobody on the bench who can fill D-Lo’s shoes out there on the court. You might be able to replace the person, but there’s no way you can replace the player.”
According to police, Lohandro and several of his friends were involved in the attempted robbery at 3:14 a.m. at Presto’s Pit Stop, 1184 Poeurville Road . The 6’8” Lohandro, who was currently leading the Prairie State Conference in scoring and assists and was third in rebounding, was allegedly acting as the trigger man when he was shot and killed by store owner Ligui Presto. Three other accomplices were taken into custody without further incident. Although the motive is uncertain, police speculate that the desire for money may have been a factor.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t know much about D'Moron as a person,” Rawlings said. “I’m a basketball coach, not a parent. D'Moron was an incredible point guard, and that’s about all I know. Maybe he was just a kid in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I’ll tell you, I never could say that about him on the basketball court.
“I can’t imagine what his parents must be going through at a time like this,” Rawlings added. “I mean, to go from a son that was a certain first-round draft pick, instant multimillionaire, product endorsements – and just like that, it’s all gone. D-Lo always talked about how after he was drafted he was going to buy them a new home, but now they’re just stuck where they are. Sure they’ve got other kids, but do any of them have that kind of earning potential?”
When Rawlings was asked by a reporter how his team was coping with the sudden tragedy, he lost patience. “How do you think they feel?” he snapped. “To find out that your starting point guard, averaging 25.4 points a game, 9.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and thirteen triple-doubles this season, is gone just like that? And it’s not like he’s just on the disabled list or something like that. He’s never coming back. And you can’t rebuild that kind of team chemistry just like that, not this late in the season. How would you feel?”
Starting center Cliff Williams spoke of the surprise many of Lohandro’s teammates felt. “D-Lo was just this, you know, stud on the court. But his personal life? I’m surprised this didn’t happen earlier, you know? He was always messing around with the wrong people, goin' places he shouldn't be, doing crazy things like wearin' masks that covered his face, stuff like that. How he lasted this long, I don’t know. I’m so surprised, I can’t talk about it no more.”
Said Rawlings in summing it up, “It truly is a tragic day, not only for the Middle Southeastern State University family, but for D-Lo’s family as well. After all, anyone can have a kid – but a point guard is something special."
Monday, April 2, 2007
Herb Carneal was never as well known as he should have been, and that was to his credit.
The Hall-of-Fame radio voice of the Minnesota Twins died at age 83 on Sunday, the eve of the season opener. Due to ill health, Carneal had cut back on his schedule over the years, and as recently as last week had announced that he wasn't up to broadcasting opening day, although he hoped to make it back some time during the season.
Herb Carneal was a throwback to the glory days of baseball on radio, the days when imagination ruled and the home team announcer was a friend who came into your home every evening to share a couple of hours talking about your favorite pasttime and his, baseball.
Carneal broadcast other sports - he did football on CBS, and I believe even did some bowl games on the radio, but it was his gig with the Twins, which began in 1962, that earned him the enduring affection of baseball fans throughout the Midwest, who picked up the Twins games on WCCO-AM's 50,000 watt clear-channel signal.
And although he became an institution in much the same way as Waite Hoyt in Cincinnati, Phil Rizzuto and Mel Allen in N.Y., Ernie Harwell in Detroit, Red Barber in Brooklyn and Vin Scully in L.A., he never made the big time the way his talent merited it. Part of the reason was that the Twins fielded such lousy teams for so many years, they were seldom in the national spotlight.
But there was a more important reason. Herb Carneal never tried to make himself the story, never thought to upstage the game itself. He had no glib catchphrases save his trademark opening, "Well, hi everybody," the kind of greeting that you might give a friend when you met him on the corner. He didn't shout or scream, but let his smooth baritone paint the picture and allowed your imagination to do the rest. It was that skill, that lack of flamboyance (you never got the idea Herb Carneal was auditioning for open-mike nite at the improv) that caused him to be overshadowed by other, louder voices.
Louder they may have been, and better known, but few were better at the mike than Herb Carneal. Baseball in Minnesota is richer for his having been here, and poorer for his absence.