Sunday, July 28, 2013
Friday, July 26, 2013
Last night, while procrastinating when I should have been writing, I stumbled across the following clip.
I don’t know about you, but I found that profoundly moving and inspiring in a way that is very rare today. I can’t really describe it any other way but goodness; the sheer, uncomplicated goodness of the clip simply radiates from it nearly every second. The simple plight of being too nervous to perform, the kind, unaffected advice offered by the guard, the beauty of the image of a Marine standing in reverence before one of the giants of his nation, reading and taking inspiration from the immortal words of Lincoln, and finally the raw power of the song itself, performed with every ounce of Jim Nabors’ considerable talent.
This is goodness, the raw, naked kind that fills you, warms you, and lifts your heart. It shows not only great talent, but also great good-will, a fondness for its audience that wants to leave the viewer happy, feeling saturated by the sheer good being expressed. This is the True America compressed into a few short moments of film.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather have that eight-minute clip than the entire run of The Sopranos or Family Guy or any other recent television show. Because, while the writers of these shows may be very talented indeed (I haven’t seen more than a few clips of them, which are all I want to see), they’re not using their talents to produce anything worth watching. Ambiguity, crassness, debauchery, evil, cruelty; that’s what you’re directing your skills to showing? Well, the writers of Gomer Pyle might not have had your talents, but they sure used such talents they had a hell of a lot better! It’s like the difference between Picasso, who used his great talent to cynically cater to the whims of the elite and make a fortune, but who confessed that he didn’t consider himself a real artist, and Bougereau, who simply sought to find and express beauty without caring whether it was ‘in fashion.’
Most people prefer The Sopranos to Gomer Pyle, just like most people prefer Picasso to Bougereau. That’s their choice, but I think they’re wrong to do so. I think we are all too often dazzled by displays of talent into forgetting to ask “wait, what are they actually saying?” Sophistry, the use of cleverness and subtlety to obscure the truth, isn’t confined to oratory. In any art there are two facets: goodness and beauty. A good work that isn’t beautiful is simply a bad piece of art. A beautiful work that isn’t good is something detestable and dangerous. Great art is both. Simple trash, like you find in the average modern art gallery, is neither. Many things today are either good (expressing truth or virtue) without being beautiful (being unskilled and boring), or beautiful (being done with talent and inspiration) without being good (expressing evil ideas). The clip from Gomer Pyle is, in its modest way, both. That sets it head and shoulders above most of the stuff we see today.
I didn’t mean to turn this into another piece complaining about the state of the modern world. It just goes to show how desperate I (and, I think most people) are for some simple goodness. We’re so glib, so cynical, so soft and jellified that we hardly know what to do when we run up against something solid and real and excellent. For me, I find it to be like a cold draft of water in a desert; it’s wonderful, but it also reminds me of the fact that I’m in a desert, and that even modern shows that I like usually don’t have this kind of raw goodness to them (about the only exception I can think of offhand are some parts of Avatar: The Last Airbender).
I hate it. I hate the fact that this sort of thing has become so rare. I hate the fact that so many children are growing up without ever encountering it. I hate the cynical, sophistic mindset that says what we have now is an improvement because it’s ‘better written’ or ‘more true to life.’ It’s like the critic who claimed that an obscene, pedophilic photograph counted as ‘art’ because of its ‘lighting and composition’ (and no, I did not make that example up). In both cases it may even be true, but so what? It doesn’t change the fact that its ugly, crass, and devoid of virtue.
I’m frankly sick of giving nasty bits of dreariness a pass because they’re well-made or clever. Give me something good, for pity’s sake, if you even know how!
Vive Christus Rex!
Thursday, July 25, 2013
I’m sure all of you are familiar with the origin story of Spider-Man. In whatever form it takes, the essentials are the same. Young Peter Parker, having been gifted with incredible power by a radioactive spider bite, initially tries to use his powers for personal gain. Then he sees a thug running off with stolen cash (often stolen from a guy who has just cheated him), but decides it’s not his problem. Not long after, his beloved Uncle Ben is murdered by the very same thug, forcing Peter to learn the lesson Uncle Ben had been trying to teach him; that with great power comes great responsibility.
It’s a classic story and has been re-told many times. The essential lesson Peter needs to learn is that he can’t shut out the world. His actions have incalculable consequences, consequences that have been magnified tenfold now that he has been gifted with these amazing powers. He needs to be responsible and sacrifice his own wants and desires for the good of others.
Why do I bring it up? Well, the theme of power and responsibility, that no man is an island and that we need to consider much more than our own wishes has a lot to do with what I want to talk about today.
Most people agree with all the above; power must come with responsibility, that our personal wishes must often give way if they might be detrimental to others, and that we are all much more connected than we usually think. That is, most of us admit this in general terms. Applying it is usually much harder, and there is one area of life in which we really like to forget it.
The general rule about sexuality is that, as long as it’s between consenting adults, there can’t be anything wrong with it. It’s all about the self (or the selves) involved; self-expression, self-discovery, self-actualization, and all sorts of other ‘self’ things.
Here’s the problem: if there is one aspect of the human experience in which the phrase “this is not all about you” applies with particular force, it’s the issue of sex.
“But it’s my body!” you might be pleading “It doesn’t affect anyone else! It’s no one else’s business what I do in my bedroom!”
Well, as the Israelites said when they were brought to Babylon…
Take a step back from your feminist literature and hip sitcoms and consider just what sex is. It’s the gateway to life. It’s the foundation of society. It’s the next generation in the making. In short, sex means babies, which means children, which means future citizens.
“Aha!” You say, “we’ve beaten you there! You see, we have contraception now; sex doesn’t necessarily mean babies anymore!”
Like the dying swordsman, you missed the point.
It’s the same point which we have tried very hard to forget in today’s world: the only way the next generation can come into existence is through sex. Our attitude, our behavior in this regard must affect the next generation whether we like it or not, just like our behavior towards our children affects how they will grow up whether we like it or not. The existence of effective contraception does nothing to change that fact: it’s simply another factor that influences the consequences (and usually not in a good way, which I’ll get to in a minute). If we treat sex as a self-centered act, then we will be self-centered towards our children and teach them to be self-centered as well. Poison the seed and the tree will grow sick, if it grows at all.
That, you see, is why every previous society has imposed rules and regulations on sexual behavior: because the sexual activities of its citizens determine how, or even if that society will be passed on. Children born into stable, healthy relationships from healthy, self-controlled adults generally become better citizens than children born out of wedlock or into broken, unstable homes with feckless, irresponsible parents. Not to say that the latter can’t become good citizens of course (or that single parents can’t be good parents), only that the former have a much better chance to, and since a society is only as good as its citizens, it is in society’s best interest to promote anything that will give the next generation the best possible chance of becoming good citizens (if you don’t care about society, feel free to substitute ‘people’ for ‘citizens.’ It’s true either way. If you don’t care about society or people in general, but only your own precious self, then you’re cordially invited to go jump in a lake).
In other words, yes, it is my business what you do in your bedroom, because what you do in your bedroom affects who is going to be running my community, teaching my children, protecting my country, and managing my businesses twenty or thirty years down the road!
“But I’m not having children! I use contraception!”
Well, to put it bluntly, so what?
Even if Contraception were 100% effective (which it isn’t in any form) this still would affect me too, both in the way outlined above and in another way. You see, as every other society in history understood, purposefully reducing your own population and encouraging sterility is a very. Bad. Idea! This is true for any number of reasons. For instance, think about it economically: less people = less commerce = less jobs = less prosperity = lower quality of life. Or socially: if one group doesn’t want to have children, another group will eagerly pick up the slack, which means your particular culture and way of life goes bye-bye. It’s simple mathematics; the culture that has more children wins. If one culture purposefully decreases, another will be happy to increase. We can see this happening already: Europe, which was saved by the blood of Crusaders, is being overrun by Islam largely because Muslims are having children and the Europeans aren’t. Japan, where the government spent decades promoting contraception, is on the fast-road to extinction, wiping out a millennia-old civilization in the process (in other words, a culture that survived nuclear weapons is being destroyed by contraception). Contraception, as anyone who bothered to think things through could have told us (*cough* Humanae Vitae), is simply the surest way to cultural suicide.
So, your decision to use contraception so you can have sterile sex puts my society, my culture, and my quality of life in jeopardy. That sounds like my business.
“Oh, come on!” you might be saying. “My choosing to use contraception or to sleep around isn’t enough to endanger our culture and way of life!”
Okay, go watch A Bug’s Life. Now pay close attention to the scene where Hopper demonstrates how dangerous the ants actually are by brutally murdering the guys who dismissed them as ‘puny.’
Here’s the clip:
Damn, Kevin Spacey makes a great villain!
No, one individual who misuses sex won’t destroy our society. A whole country of people misusing it, on the other hand, is a different story. Right now, the whole of Western Civilization is in the process of being crushed by thousands and thousands of pieces of grain, all stamped with “it doesn’t affect anyone else.”
It’s similar to the bystander effect: the more people who say “someone else will take care of this,” the more certain it is that no one will take care of it. The more widespread the “it doesn’t affect anyone else” attitude becomes, the more certain it is that it will affect everyone else.
Now, I mentioned earlier that, as a general rule, the only sexual activity we view as unacceptable are those committed without the other person’s consent (whether forcibly or because the person cannot reasonably give consent). In other words, they’re sins of injustice: violating another person’s rights. What I have attempted to do in this rambling essay of mine is to show that, actually, all sexual sins are sins of injustice to a greater or lesser extent. They are acts of injustice against the next generation and against society as a whole. Playing around with the means to create life has incalculable consequences for both any individual you happen to create and for whatever society you happen to be a part of, and that ought to be a sobering thought.
“But you can’t sin against the next generation!” you say. “It doesn’t exist yet!”
A few points you seem to have missed: first of all, barring the Apocalypse, it certainly will exist, so you can commit a wrong against it. It’s called “duty to posterity,” and it’s one of the basic moral laws of the human race. Two, you’re presenting that argument in favor of doing something that will ensure the next generation will get here. In effect, you’re trying to create the next generation while arguing that you have no duty towards it. Do you see the problem there?
But you’re not having children because you use contraception, so you shouldn’t have to worry about it. Leaving aside that those who have children would probably disagree with the idea that you don’t have to worry about what their life is going to be like, you’re still performing an act that, by definition, can create life. You can inject yourself with chemicals or set-up latex barriers all you like, but you’re still potentially creating a new human being every time you hop into bed while arguing that it’s fine because you’re not responsible towards that human being because you don’t intend to create it. You’re still up one human being that, judging by your attitude, you’re not ready to be responsible for. You’ve therefore taken something from him (the chance at a responsible and loving family) in the very act of creating him.
In other words, every time you have sex, contraception or no, you are volunteering to have a child. You are, in fact, telling your body that you want to have a child. Contraception reduces the likelihood that you will succeed but it doesn’t change the nature of what you are doing. Therefore, whenever you have sex, you are gambling with bringing another person into this world. You are, whether you like it or not, offering to take on the responsibility of someone's entire life and character.
This brings up another serious problem with the “it doesn’t affect anyone else” idea. Since sex, by its very nature, has the potential to create its own third party for the consequences to fall upon, it’s logically impossible to say for sure that it won’t affect anyone else until a few days after you’ve already done it. It’s like saying “I know that time bomb won’t hurt anyone because there was no one around when I set it.”
So, even on a purely individual level, your sexual decisions are not all about you. They are also about anyone who happens to be brought into existence through your actions. Like Dr. Frankenstein before you, you are responsible for your creation, whether it turns out the way you intended or not. Simply put: if you aren’t ready for children, you aren’t ready for sex.
There’s an episode of the show Burn Notice where, as part of his plot to integrate himself with a psychotic terrorist, ex-spy Michael Weston has to employ his best friend and partner, Sam, to steal several weeks’ worth of flight data, which Sam reluctantly does. While searching the data, Sam discovers the one flight plan the terrorist is after and tells Michael that it’s the only one they’ll give him. Michael objects that the terrorist requested all the plans and that they risk blowing the operation if they don’t go along with it. Sam, however, puts his foot down: they are not going to risk the lives of thousands of people by giving a month’s worth of flight plans to a known psychopath under any circumstances. Michael says that they’ll stop the guy before he causes any havoc. Sam says that, yes, they will, by not giving him the chance. Whereupon he gathers up all the data and walks out, refusing to give Michael anything until he agrees to do it Sam’s way.
Now, that scene could be considered a metaphor for extra-marital sex (uh, don’t read too much into that). There’s Michael, whose attitude is that it’s better to risk the consequences to achieve what he wants (pleasure, a strengthened relationship, self-expression, what have you) and to try later to ‘cut off’ the consequences before they can manifest (contraception), and there’s Sam, who sees that the potential worst case scenario (conceiving a child in an unstable environment) is far too serious to risk ‘trying later’ and won’t go along with the plan until they ensure that it won’t happen (by forming the stable, permanent relationship first before risking a new human being). Michael is being irresponsible to get what he wants; Sam is being responsible by thinking of the potential consequences of their actions and how they will affect other people.
Something else you might be saying: “BIGOT CHAUVANIST HATEFUL SEXIST PATRIARCH PRUDE HYPOCRITE!” But assuming you’re being rational and engaging the argument, you might be saying “okay, say I agree with you. But you said that, if only a few people disobey and sleep around and contracept and the rest it wouldn’t matter so much. Well, why shouldn’t I be one of the few and leave others to be responsible?”
The real question is, “who are you to be exempt?” What, exactly, lets you off following the rules that everyone else needs to follow, and which, by your own argument, you are depending on their following? As noted, the more people who adopt the “I don’t have to worry about this” attitude, the more certain it is that they’ll cause problems for everyone. Morality is not a volunteer position: you’re drafted from the moment you’re born. Just like in war, one man who shirks his duty weakens the whole line. It can survive two or three cowards and deserters, but not half the regiment. As for you, if you decide to desert, to just look out for number one and say the heck with everyone else, then you are weakening the whole. It may not be much, but it is a crime against your fellow men nonetheless.
No regiment worth its pay would tolerate even one coward or deserter. No more should we excuse even one person who declares “well, I don’t have to go along with that.”
The point of all this is that our attitude towards sex is simply irrational and dangerous for individuals and for our society. We can’t try to isolate ourselves in this issue, because it doesn’t allow for isolation. Society has a vested interest in promoting healthy, stable, exclusive sexual relations (i.e. marriage) to raise plenty of healthy, stable, mature citizens. Even if we were willing to ignore that for some strange reason, there' still the fact that sex is the only action in the world that has the potential to create a third party whose rights also must be considered. This means that, unfortunately, what you do in your own bedroom is not simply your own business. What you do in your bedroom, and what you encourage other people to do in their bedrooms, affects whoever is produced by those acts and the entire community in which you live. Sex is, we tend to forget, an immensely powerful act, one of the most powerful we can perform. And you know what comes with great power, don't you?
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
As some of you may know, I play the violin.
I’m also a big fan of the Legend of Zelda series.
What do you get if you combine the two? Awesomeness.
What happens if you throw in a very attractive violin player?
You get this:
You know, the internet rules sometimes.
Vive Christus Rex!
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Here’s a quick guide, the careful application of which would negate roughly 90% of modern arguments.
Judging: To form an opinion or make a statement pertaining to the inherent worth of a person or the state of their soul. Forbidden.
Admonishing: To inform a person that what he has done or is currently doing is wrong and that he needs to stop, including warnings of what might happen if he doesn’t. Commanded.
So simple, yet I don’t think I’ve seen anyone else make the distinction (kudos to you if you have!). This is the easy response to “stop judging me!” “I’m not judging; I’m admonishing. Big difference.”
Admonish the Sinner is one of the seven spiritual works of mercy. Our Lord Himself commanded us to admonish the sinner (Matt. 18:15), as did St. James (James 5: 19-20), and I'm sure there are plenty of other passages that I'm missing.
So, when someone tells you not to judge them, remember that you aren’t judging; you’re admonishing. If they tell you to stop admonishing them, just say no. You don't have to be afraid of saying 'no,' you know.
Now, I suppose the response is that in admonishing you are also judging, because you are judging yourself to have the authority or necessary righteousness to admonish. Well, in the first place, I do have the authority and necessary righteousness by dint of the fact that I’m an adult human being with a fairly functional brain and the capacity to reason. That’s really all the authority or righteousness I need for that particular purpose. Admonishing isn’t a matter of moral authority; it’s a matter of simple awareness. You don’t have to be a qualified steamroller driver (‘steamrollerer’?) to tell someone “look out for that steamroller!” or even “I don’t think a steamroller counts as an amphibious vehicle.”
Moreover, even assuming you are a steamrollerer, the fact that you sometimes make mistakes or use your steamroller to make obscene prints when your boss isn’t looking doesn’t mean that you can’t recognize someone else’s mistakes and point them out. If you say to your co-worker “look out! You’re headed for Mr. Mannheim’s car!” it would be unreasonable of him to say “who are you to correct me? You squashed that family of endangered squirrels last week!” and just keep driving.
“No, steamroller joy-rides are a bad idea!”
Admonishing is telling someone “you’re doing something wrong and you need to stop” or “you did something wrong and you need to repent.” It says nothing about the state of either person’s soul; it’s simply a bald statement of fact. Statements of fact are completely unaffected by a person’s moral status. “The world is round” did not suddenly become false whenever Stalin said it. Likewise, “rape is wrong and you shouldn’t do it” remains true whether it’s said by Mother Theresa or Margaret Sanger.
Likewise, there’s a big difference between saying “you’re going to Hell!” and “you could go to Hell for that.” The first makes a statement about the person; the second about the action, just like “you’re gonna die!” and “that could kill you.” Part of admonishing includes warning of what could result. “Murder is a mortal sin that could land you in Hell” is a perfectly legitimate statement for at Christian to make. “You’re a murderer and I hope you rot in Hell!” is not.
All of this is a long way of saying “No, America, Christians aren’t violating our own religion when we tell you that killing babies or trying to have sex with people of the same gender is wrong and you shouldn’t do it. You’ll need to come up with a better response than ‘don’t judge me.’”
Vive Christus Rex!
Monday, July 22, 2013
Allow me to present the following:
Ugly, aren’t they?
Now how about this:
Aren’t these beautiful?
Now, if you’re one of those rational people I keep hearing about, you probably had a reaction somewhere along the lines of “are you nuts?” to both of my assertions.
Funny, I thought standards of beauty were arbitrary and subjective? You know, just an expression of opinion; of things we happen to like. But the odd thing is that a lot of people seem to express the same personal, subjective opinions regarding both Grace Kelly and the open sewer. As a matter of fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who reversed their opinions regarding the two; who said that Princess Grace was ugly and the sewer was beautiful (and you’d find even fewer who weren’t just trying to be contradictory).
Now, you might find someone who says “I just don’t find Grace Kelly very attractive,” but that wouldn’t be the same thing as saying “I think she’s ugly.” I personally don’t find Marilyn Monroe very attractive, but I’d never claim she was ugly; that’d be too obviously false.
The trouble is that we’ve somehow concluded that the two phrases “I find this attractive” and “this is beautiful” are interchangeable. They aren’t. To say “I find this attractive” means that I am drawn to it; that it is the kind of thing I would like to ‘have.’ So, when I say that I find Audrey Hepburn more attractive than Marilyn Monroe, I mean that Hepburn comes across as more like the kind of woman I would like to get to know and spend time with and Monroe doesn’t. To say “This is beautiful” means that it possesses the quality of beauty to an appreciable degree; that it is pleasing to the senses and to the soul. So, while I don’t personally find Marilyn Monroe very attractive, I can’t help but acknowledge that she was a beautiful woman.
Attraction is subjective; Beauty is objective. The two very often overlap, of course (very few people are ever attracted to something ugly), but they are not the same. You might say that attraction is the subjective aspect of beauty, as enjoyment is the subjective aspect of goodness. Everyone and everything is possessed of some level of beauty, since everything comes from God. But some things posses this more than others and in different aspects: a woman may be physically gorgeous but have a lousy voice (see Singing in the Rain) or vice-versa. A man may be physically handsome but rotten to the core, or may be homely yet with a soul of purest gold.
But the interesting thing is this; typically you will find that your attraction to someone will lessen or increase depending on the level of goodness you discover in them. A plain woman may grow, on acquaintance, into the most entrancing figure you’ve ever beheld (for more information read the Lord Peter Wimsey novels) and a supermodel may become nauseating to look at. We become attracted to things by perceiving the beauty within them; if, in digging deeper, we find more beauty, we become more attracted. If we find ugliness, our attraction fades.
This is the truth behind that insufferable nonsense “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
“No it isn’t! Run!”
(So many needless deaths...)
No, beauty is in the object beheld. The eye of the beholder may be more sensitive to beauty, or it may be better able to discern beauty underneath apparent ugliness, or it may simply have had the time and the will to discover beauty, but beauty is never in the eye of the beholder. It isn’t something you impart to what you see (if that were the case, then why on earth would we have a concept of ugliness? Who would want to see ugliness if he could, if he chose, see beauty?). It is something you recognize and acknowledge. It can sometimes be hard to recognize, just like it can sometimes be hard to figure out an anagram, but it’s not something that comes from within your own perception.
“Ah!” you may be saying, “but what about the different standards of beauty that different cultures have had at different times? Doesn’t that prove that it’s subjective?”
You might as well say that there is no such thing as a tree because different languages have different words for it. As I noted above, all objects by dint of the fact that they are made by God, contain some beauty. At different times and in different places, people have recognized it through different elements: at one time plump women were generally considered more attractive, at another skinny women, at another athletic women, at another weak women, and so on. This doesn’t mean that “oh, well, they’re none of them really beautiful.” It means that fallen man, searching for beauty, has lurched back and forth trying to pin it down, rather like a carpenter trying to balance a stubborn cross-beam by adjusting first one side then the other. And note this; at no point and in no culture (as far as I know, and I have good reason to assume this to be the case) has the standard of beauty been universally accepted. There were men who were on fire for skinny women when plumpness was all the rage and men who preferred athletic women when weakness was in fashion. The mere fact that we can discern beauty contrary to societal norms indicates that beauty is not simply a subjective social construct.
Yes, I did just use fetishes to prove the reality of beauty. Eat that, relativism!
So beauty is obviously not a social construct, and my initial examples pretty well demonstrate that it’s not a personal construct either. Therefore, it is something objective; something inherent in the beautiful object. It’s not always obvious: “All that is gold does not glitter” and it’s sometimes very superficial, like gilding: “All is not gold that glitters.” Like gilding, though, the beauty is real even if it’s only skin-deep.Now, to go all the way back to attraction, you can’t be attracted to something that isn’t good, true, or beautiful. No one is attracted to something ugly. To be attracted to something (or someone) who has a less-than-stellar appearance means to find some other beauty within them that attracts you. So my point, as usual, is simply let’s be honest: there are such things as beauty and ugliness. We ought to be attracted to what is beautiful and spurn what is ugly. Calling something ‘beautiful’ is not a superficial or subjective statement; it’s saying something about a specific object that is either true or false. The same thing with calling something ‘ugly.’ There’s no need to be shy about it: beauty and ugliness exist and are real, tangible realities. It’s just that sometimes the one hides under the other.
Vive Christus Rex!
Sunday, July 21, 2013
Steven Greydanus’s Decent Films review of The Lone Ranger is a depressing read. Of course, I had small hopes for that movie ever since the first reports came out of its running millions of dollars over budget (it’s a frickin’ Long Ranger movie! How much CGI do you need!?). Then my hopes grew even smaller with the awful trailers featuring trains blowing up right and left, bullets flying ceaselessly, and a patently-miscast Johnny Depp stumbling about as a painted, be-feathered Tonto (you know, Hollywood, your constant blathering about race and equality would be a lot more believable if you did things like casting actual Native Americans in Native American roles!). The news that it’s just as bad as it looks merely cements my misgivings and the film will remain unseen by me.
So why do I bring it up? Because Greydanus points out something especially troubling that I would like to discuss; the fact that we don’t seem to have any real heroes anymore. At least, we don’t have any shining images of iconic goodness. It’s as though we just don’t want to accept truly good, heroic characters; we need them to have deep flaws, or be swallowed up with angst or self-doubt. A confident, morally-centered, idealistic hero is something we haven’t seen in a long time.
Now, when I say ‘image of iconic goodness,’ I don’t mean a character that never does anything wrong or is hard-pressed or has no flaws. What I mean is, succinctly, a character you could use in one of those ‘what would X do?’ bracelets to help clarify a moral decision. I love the Iron Man movies (well, at least the first two), but no one in their right mind would ask “what would Tony Stark do?”
Take Man of Steel, for instance. There we have a grim, morally-compromised Superman, weighed down with his sense of alienation, willing to let innocent people (including his own foster father) die rather than risk revealing himself to the world. In my review of that movie, I commented that it felt as though the filmmakers didn’t even have an idea of what a figure of exemplary goodness would actually look like.
“Well,” you say. “That’s more realistic than the outgoing, friendly, morally-upright Superman of other works…”
One: No, it’s not!
I wish I could find some way of getting it through people’s heads that making a character more morally ambiguous or darker or whatever you like to call it does not, ipso-facto, make him more ‘realistic;’ it just makes him less enjoyable. Moreover, the fact is that Superman is never going to be realistic. You can make him as gritty as you like, but he’s still an alien from a world light-years removed from Earth who is nevertheless completely human, to the point that he can produce children with his human wife, and whose only biological difference is that, for some reason, sunlight makes him invulnerable, able to defy all known laws of gravity and physics, and gives him the power to shoot lasers from his eyes. Realism is kind of a moot point by now!
Besides which, what kind of sick, cynical mindset says that unless a character has great, obvious flaws he isn’t realistic? Or that, to make sure people understand that he has flaws, they have to be placed front and center and made the most important thing about the character? Is that even our experience in real life? Granted, none of us have ever known a perfect human being on Earth, but surely all of us have encountered people who strike us as particularly good, upright, and noble. If we are unlucky enough to not have run into such people, nothing is easier than to find them in history. Take any saint you like, for instance. Or in the political field, take George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Theodore Roosevelt. In the military field, take, say, Joshua Chamberlain, Robert E. Lee, Alvin York, or George C. Marshall. None of them perfect, but all exemplary figures of courage, honor, decency, and so forth. Heroes are as much a part of the human experience as anything else, and always trying to sabotage or hamstring them in fiction is every bit as unrealistic as a flying alien raised in Kansas.
Two: It doesn’t matter!
Superman is not supposed to be realistic, and trying too hard to make him so only cheapens him. The whole point of the character is that he’s as morally upright and decent as he is physically powerful; he’s the champion of the little guy, of truth, justice, and the American Way. He’s wish-fulfillment of the most uplifting kind: someone who actually can do what the rest of us, in our best moments, would wish we could do. Compromise that, and you lose most of what makes him worth watching and are left with only empty spectacle.
For instance, the other day I watched an episode of Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman from the 90’s. In it there was a funny scene where Clark is playing poker with Perry and Lois. He’s losing badly, so he’s sorely tempted to use his x-ray vision to cheat and look at Perry’s cards. But he resists because he knows that “Superman should be above that sort of thing.”
Now, for my money that one scene is more true to life, more applicable, and more interesting than all the angst and alienation stuff in Man of Steel. That’s the sort of thing Superman should be about: a man with the powers of a god who is determined to use them only for good, even in such a minor issue as a card-game. It’s realistic in a way that Man of Steel isn’t; because it asks important questions and offers decent answers. What questions does Man of Steel ask? “How might humanity react to a god-like alien?” Wow, that’s deep, man. And no one has ever asked the ‘how do we respond to the different and/or superhuman’ question before, unless you count nearly every sci-fi or fantasy film of the last decade.
The point of iconic heroes like Superman or the Lone Ranger is that they’re ‘realistic,’ not in the sense of ‘deeply flawed,’ but in the sense that they address real questions about right and wrong. The difference is that heroes react as they ought to react. If you have a hero who just goes along with the shady deal because you think that’s more realistic, then what the Hell was the point of having him in the first place? If you’re going to make Superman an angst-ridden, morally compromised character, then why bother writing a Superman story at all? There are dozens of angsty, morally-grey characters out there; write a story about one of them if that’s what you’re interested in.
Now, the excuse we usually hear is that this kind of iconic goodness is ‘boring.’ Oh, that must be why characters like Superman, Captain America, the Lone Ranger, Zorro, and so on have been so popular for so long: because they’re boring.
The fact is, goodness is not in the least boring, even in fiction. A story is boring if there’s a lack of conflict and a character is boring if he isn’t challenged or if he has no defining features, but a character is no less interesting because he is good and honorable. Actually, I don’t think I’m alone in finding characters like the ones I listed above to be far more interesting than yet-another sort-of hero incessantly plagued with doubts and regrets.
We need characters to look up to and admire at least as much as we need characters to identify with or characters to hate and despise. These days, with so few on the market, we need them even more. We need shining examples of goodness that are not torn down, but elevated and vindicated. Superman was supposed to be that. So was the Lone Ranger. Our children deserve heroes, and it is our job to give them that.
Vive Christus Rex!
Vive Christus Rex!
Saturday, July 20, 2013
Monday, July 15, 2013
I am a fan of many things. As a matter of fact, I’m of such a temperament that if I like something at all, I usually love it and become at least temporarily obsessed with it. Yet, if I were asked “what are you a fan of?” and given only one choice from all of fiction, I would say “I am a Godzilla fan.”
I always have trouble pinning down the appeal that the character has for me. I’m certainly not one of those ‘camp’ fans who enjoy the series for its low-production values and dubbing (and I have little sympathy with them). Nor am I the kind of fan who simply enjoys the spectacle (though I do enjoy it on that level). Simply put, I love it because I honestly think it’s a good story centered around a truly fascinating figure.
Godzilla has, with few exceptions, remained a remarkably consistent character throughout his nearly-sixty year history and diverse roles; the ‘heroic’ Godzilla is recognizably the same character as the ‘villain’ Godzilla, only with his vast energies channeled in a different direction. The transition, from violent destroyer to semi-friendly protector, was done smoothly and intelligently over the course of several films, allowing us to see the stages in which Godzilla and humanity warily circle each other while making complementary gestures of reconciliation.
But what is this striking character at the center of it all, which has remained so consistent in the transition of villain to hero? The picture that emerges out of the many films, books, and so on is of an intelligent, possible even sapient creature, one who combines startling violence and anger with a fierce kind of nobility and courage. In one of Mark Cerasini’s novels, he describes the typical reaction people have to him: “Like all who saw Godzilla in the flesh, he felt awe and respect as well as fear.”
Godzilla, then, is something much more complex than simply a rampaging animal. He’s an iron-willed, short-tempered, courageous individual burning with rage over the wrongs he has suffered. At first he simply lashes out at anyone and anything he comes into contact with, but as time goes on he begins to harness his anger and direct it against his real enemies. In this way he becomes a force for good, but even then he doesn’t become exactly ‘safe’ (at least, when they try to make him safe the movies take a sharp nose-dive). He’s still dangerous, still something you need to be at least a little afraid of.
Why do I bring all this up? Because I see in Godzilla something that the modern Christian should aspire to. Godzilla will never ‘fit in’ with the world; the world views him with mingled fear and hatred, an unpleasant fact that it would remove if it could. Similarly, the world hates and fears Christianity and would destroy it if it could. Yet Godzilla stands firm and defiant against the world’s hatred; no matter what mankind throws at him, he’ll fight it off and strike back twice as hard. He’s a warrior; indomitable and unflinching in battle, standing before the entire world as a pillar of defiance saying “However much you hate me, you cannot destroy me. However much you fight me, I will not back down.”
That, I think, is the kind of attitude we Christians need to cultivate; this implacable, defiant, even ferocious courage. You see, we’ve been trying very hard to go along to get along with the world; we’ve tried to be gentle and accepting. We’ve decried “judgmental” attitudes and watered down the Christian faith almost as far as it will go. It doesn’t work. All we have to show for it is a decreasing Mass attendance and an emboldened secular culture poised to drive us back into the catacombs in the name of tolerance and diversity. As soon as the world senses weakness, it pounces upon it like King Ghidorah pouncing on the larval Mothra. We need to be bolder. We need to stop letting “don’t judge me!” or other such nonsense silence us. We need to stop letting ourselves be bullied because we don’t want to be offensive. In God’s name, we ought to be offensive! We ought to experience hatred and ridicule and contempt for Christ’s sake. Didn’t He tell us we would? Didn’t He say that we should rejoice at the world’s hatred?
It’s noted in one movie that when Godzilla is attacked, he always advances rather than retreats, and he keeps advancing until he’s destroyed his opponent. That’s the kind of attitude we should have; when we’re attacked, we should take it as an opportunity to proclaim the faith. Pope Leo XIII declared “Christians are born for combat,” and we need to start acting like it.
“If the world is against Christ,” said St. Athanasius. “Then I am against the world!” Whenever I see Godzilla, that’s the kind of sentiment that comes to mind; the cry of “do your worst, but I will fight you to the end!” Godzilla has this in common with the Saints; he never backs down or flees. No matter what the odds, he stands and fights until he either triumphs or can fight no more. Whether it’s the fiery defiance of St. Athanasius or St. Dominic, or the cold-blooded martyrdom of St. Thomas More, the Saints are implacable before the world. And why shouldn’t they be? They are Christ’s, and Christ has conquered the world.
This doesn’t mean that Christians should be abrasive or fierce in everyday life, but that the potential for a kind of ferocity should exist. The Christian should be strong, at least as strong (in his own way) as Godzilla; the kind of strength that can overcome armies and rip through mountains. We shouldn’t be rude or confrontational all the time, but we should be willing to be if necessary. Confrontations must arise, and it does no good to back down because “that would be rude” or “who am I to judge?” Like Godzilla, the world will hate us whether we back down or not; we may as well stand and fight it out.
So for goodness sakes, let’s stop this limp, conciliatory attitude we’ve had for the past few decades. We must be clear: there is no compromise to be had, any more than there can be a compromise between Mothra and King Ghidorah. Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and there is no other. As far as the world refuses to accept that, it will always hate us and seek our destruction, and we must always fight it and seek its conversion. Moreover, we can’t keep trying to play both sides; to be equally acceptable to both the World and to Christ. In the end, we must conform to either one or the other, just like Godzilla cannot keep going his own way and must in the end either become more like Ghidorah, a cruel, wanton destroyer, or more like Mothra, a protector of the innocent. Either we are with Christ with all that means regarding the favorite sins of the age, or we are with the world. There are no two ways about it.
Vive Christus Rex!