Perspective

When I was a teenager, I rejected youth group because there wasn’t anything particularly Catholic about it.  At the time, I knew nothing of The Reform of the Reform movement.  Though my temperament was generally traditional, I was more concerned with traditional theology and piety than liturgy.  Going to youth group functions, though, and encountering nothing particularly Catholic–just socializing and some smattering of New Age spirituality, I didn’t see the point.  And where my rejection was in favor of spirituality over socialization, I saw my peers rejecting the shallowness in favor of more appealing social activities elsewhere.  

Later, as I read articles from Crisis, Adoremus, etc., about Haugen-Haas liturgical songs, I took the position, expressed by some of the writers, that such music, when not heretical, can have a place in a parish hall,  one’s private music collection, or even in devotional exercises at church, but not in the Mass or the Office.  

For the past year, our eldest has been attending a middle school youth group with some of her homeschool/AHG friends.  On first Fridays, they have a holy hour.  They open with O Salutaris and close with Tantum Ergo and Benediction.  This makes it heads and tails above the “Holy Hour” we attended once in another city, where they used an illicit, politically correct “translation” of Vespers and sang Amazing Grace for Benediction.  

The priest who leads it is a very orthodox young priest from Poland.  He hears confessions.  They have music and Bible readings.  While they use contemporary music for the devotions, the actual liturgical parts are chanted.  A. goes to confession every time, and has read one of the Bible readings on at least one occasion, even though it’s not our parish.  

Given that the options for devotions during a public Exposition are fairly broad, and seeing the effect it’s had on A., I’d have to say that, beyond my initial discomfort, given my experiences, it’s minimally a “pick your battles” situation, but more like “way to go,” that they are getting it right.  

Ca. 1991-1997, I’d have been happy they were doing adoration at all.  Ca. 1997-2005, I’d have been angry.  Ca. 2005-2011, I’d have been disappointed and maybe mocked it but ultimately shrugged my shoulders (as I did with VBS).  Post-dissection, and definitely post-Dark Night, I’m far more accepting of things and trusting of the Holy Spirit.

_The Abolition of Man_ has arrived

The principle  argument of C. S. Lewis’s _The Abolition of Man_ is that, if we remove objective values from society, we will lose our humanity.  Lewis begins with an analysis of an English textbook he calls the _Green Book_, which says that statements of objective beauty are impossible. From this, he builds to the existence of objective moral standards, which to appeal to a neutral audience, he refers to as the Tau, rather than the Natural Law.
He also modifies Plato’s theory of the Tripartite Soul.  Where Plato says the “head” is the essential part of a person, and Freud says the gut is, Lewis argues that it is the “chest” which makes us human–our passions, and our ability to control them, are what separate human nature from the angels, which are pure intelligence and the animals, which are pure body.
Then making the case for a Natural Law and a Natural Lawgiver, regardless of the particular deity–that’s a topic he covers in _Mere Christianity_
Finally, in the third section, he warns how the efforts of science to “conquer nature” are really the efforts of a few men to conquer other men using nature as the means.  He warns how our modern conveniences, which supposedly increase our power, actually increase our servitude.  He gives the examples of “the airplane, the wireless and the contraceptive.”  Now, as the use of airplanes and wireless radios (or, now, devices in general) are not intrinsically evil, his inclusion of contraceptives, as one feminist critic but admirer of Lewis put it, “sound like a list of Lewis’s pet peeves.”
However, it is interesting that the concerns raised by Lewis (echoing Chesterton) about those particular devices correspond to the early 19th century prophecies attributed to Our Lady of La Salette–prophecies which, though published later and called into doubt by some sources, uncannily predict the 20th Century. She specifically mentions devices that will allow people to travel in the air and communicate over great distances.
On  contraception, though, Lewis warns of the effects it would have on children’s psyches to know they are “planned” by their parents.  He says that the Western Democracies are more likely to achieve the “abolition of man” than the Nazis or Communists.
At the end of _That Hideous Strength_, often seen as a novelization of the ideas Lewis addresses in _Abolition of Man_, Dr. Ransom tells reformed feminist Jane Studdock to go be with her husband.  Jane asks, “Am I no more than an animal in heat?”
Ransom replies, “More, but not less.  Go, and have no more dreams: have children instead.”

The Culture of Death has created the very “Men without Chests [that is, consciences]” Lewis warned us of.  20 years ago, my Dad realized that his students didn’t understand Shakespeare because they didn’t understand the idea of transcendent morality.  Why would Hamlet hesitate to “off” the guy who killed his dad?  To those born in a culture of abortion and violent movies, killing an inconvenient person was no big deal.

In 1992’s _Planned Parenthood v. Casey_, as well as other decisions, Justice Anthony Kennedy argued, as a positive, what Lewis presented as a negative: that the “right to liberty” implies the liberty to decide for oneself what a person is.  Kennedy argues that people can and should determine whether they are alive, and if a child is inside that magical barrier of a few inches, the mother can determine whether or not her child is a person.  Kennedy has applied this “reasoning” to other culture war cases, including recent decisions in which he has argued for people to define for themselves what “marriage” is.

On Riots, Racism, and Standardized Testing: All you need is Love, and that means Christ

Our nation is in turmoil.  Everything distopian novelists and “crazy conspiracy theorists” have written about seems to be coming true.  Early in the Obama administration, for example, people said he’d create a national crisis to declare Martial Law and establish a dictatorship.  Well, the tensions are arising, and Obama  established aprogram under everyone’s noses to begin nationalizing local police forces.  Major cities keep erupting in race riots.  The Supreme Court is likely to overturn every state law on marriage and establish yet another fictious constitutional “Right.” Some people are being driven out of business for expressing thir Christian beliefs while other businesses are denying Christians their services.   Hillary Clinton says if (and when) she’s “elected” President, she wants to force all religions to accept abortion.

All of it just shows society’ need for Christ.   

Attempts to “fix” broken schools with more money and more legislative interference for 50-60 years have only made things worse.  All we have is a “race to nowhere” with high stakes standardized tests that demonstrate nothing about real learning, line the pockets of educational conglomerates, and cause students to burn out, or worse, from the stress.  When I was in elementary school, the teachers would say, discussing the differences between the US and Communist countries, taht Communists made students take tests that determined their entire lives.  When I was a young adult, a teacher friend went through a few years where a faculty member had a heart attack or stroke during standardized testing, because it was so stressful.  

We can’t fix something unless we know why it’s broken, and what’s broken is a lack of transcendent values.   
If the reason people riot is lack of advantage, or discrimination by police, what is served by looting or burning small businesses and charities?  One of the reasons the July 1832 revolt that Hugo immortalized failed was that most of “the people” were mad at the students for stealing their stuff.  But, at least they knew whom they were revolting against (a just, Catholic king who was popular for giving he people more rights than the “Republic” or Napoleon) and why (they believed that secular government could and should end poverty). I saw a meme pointing out how people riot over sports games, and implying that race riots at least have a point.  The way I see it, it’s equally meaningless: unbridled anger, expressed in random violence.  If revolution is ever effective or just–and the Church has always been wary of revolution, even in the case of the Cristeros–it needs to be focused on the right enemy.  

I often refer to Catechism 676, the passage that tells us to beware of any movement that claims to try and solve all the world’s problems through  secular means because that is the “spirit of Antichrist.”  This was the reason the Church condemned Freemasonry.  It’s what Pope Benedict XVI expounded on in _Caritas in Veritate_, saying taht charity must be from love and truth, both of which are personfied in Christ, and that since the Church is the arbiter of Christ’s teachings and the Natural Law, economic justice cannot be divorced from the Church.

Prayer, fasting and forgiveness are the only solutions to these crises.  The more we abandon Christ as a society, the worse thigns will get.  If as 1 Samuel warns us, we choose a “King” over God, the warnings Samuel gave to the Israelites will continue to be proven. 

Cindee-relly

Having discussed people’s criticisms of the recent “revisionist” trends in Disney movies, and how they are celebrating Branagh’s Cinderella for a fairly straight-up remake of the classic Disney animated version, I’d like to express my agreement with “catholic All Year” that _Cinderella_ is probably the best movie I’ve seen since _Les Miserables_.

When I was in graduate school, in my Shakespeare course, we had a unit on “Shakespeare in film,” and one of the things we did was compare the Olivier and Branagh versions of _Henry V_. The professor talked about Branagh’s use of cinematic allusions. She showed us Branagh’s version of Act I, scene 2 and said how it’s an homage to a scene in _Citizen Kane_. She asked us to see if we could catch any other references. I’d seen the film many times before, but I never thought of it till she asked. As soon as the black figure of Henry’s silhouette entered, his cape flowing around him, and he began stalking through the line of soldiers, with Patrick Doyle’s score dramatically thumping, I raised my hand. The professor paused the video, and I said, “Darth Vader!”
Thus, I was pleased to catch at least one self-reference, besides the presence of Derek Jacobi as the king and Doyle as the composer. Without giving away spoilers, it’s in the climax.

Then there are the fairy tale archetypes. Surprisingly, Branagh cuts out the Three tasks, a motif dating back to the Cupid and Psyche archetype from which most European princess fairy tales derive. However, he introduces the hunt for a stag, a common motif in many stories, using it as an opportunity for the characters to meet before the ball. They actually have a sincere conversation, and their love is based on something more than superficial attraction but rather shared values.

This Cinderella is not the animated version, flying to a man for escape–indeed, she’s happy to return to her life of slavery just to know she has a friend. She’s not Rapunzel, falling head over heels for the first man she meets. She’s more like the animated Aurora–indeed, it’s a very similar scene–having a brief but meaningful conversation.

Another element the folklorist in me liked was the part derived from “Beauty and the Beast”–Ella’s request to her father when he leaves on his last business trip.

As far as fitting with 21st century sensibilities while remaining fairly traditional (or, as I noted in my previous post, returning somewhat to what real fairy tales are like), the film does make Lady Tremaine a more sympathetic figure without going all-out _Maleficent_. There is a slight disjoint, though, in the final act. We see her pain watching her new husband ignore her, favoring his daughter over her and even agreeing with his daughter that her stepmother and stepsisters are “trying.” She tells Cinderella how she herself married for love, had her heart broken, and then married for money and lost that. She never really explains, though, why she’s quite so antagonistic to Ella. They say that a well-written and acted villain is the hero of his or her own story. This was supposedly the goal of _Maleficent_, and while it was nice that they kept her evil, one of the film’s few real flaws was *not* falling into “cookie cutter” mode. In general, the characters’ motivations are better developed.

The other element of the film that plays on post-_Shrek_ approaches is the repeated use of the adjective “charming.”
It was fun picking out the who’s-who of Disney movies, Branagh movies and/or movie musicals.

Perhaps the best part of all, though, is how the feminists are ticked off by the film. That alone was reason to pay to see it.
Some are criticizing how “unrealistically thin” her waist is, and how it’s obviously modified with CGI (I think the actual movie is a bit wider than some of the promotional images or trailers).
Cinderella Poster
But you know what else is unrealistic? Anthropomorphic mice and fairy godmothers. Depictions of women’s bodies are a matter for another discussion, but think about this: 

 

 Meanwhile, in the context of the film, I’d say her waist is fine; it’s the rest of her that doesn’t make sense. She’s doing an entire household of manual labor 16+ hours a day, sleeping either in the attic or on the floor in front of the fireplace. She’s fed table scraps and shares them with her mice friends (she is apparently a bit nutty, a trait shared by all our shut-in princesses). She *should* be completely emaciated.
Of course, to the “progressives,” it’s not just her appearance but her behavior they find revolting: she offers up her suffering. She follows her mother’ dying advice to “have courage and be kind.” Normally, I would be suspicious of “kindness” as the standard for virtue, but her understanding of kindness is far more like the virtue of caritas. She understands, like C. S. Lewis’s presentation of Psyche, the Christian values of humility and self-sacrifice. Those who love the philosophy of “no right, no wrong, no rules,” who agree with Satan’s “non serviam,” find Mary’s “fiat mihi” repulsive and oppressive. Christianity is seen as a tool of “oppression” by those who say, with Milton’s Beelzebub, “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” Yet the lie, as Elsa realizes in _Frozen_, is that no one really reigns in Hell–one either becomes a slave, or imprisoned in frozen isolation.
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” “Though He was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. . . . ” In the Orwellian society we live in, these teachings are condemned as “evil.” Whether either the writer-director or his character are aware, Cinderella epitomizes Christlike behavior, and this is why those who celebrate _Maleficent_ hate _Cinderella_, and vice versa.

If I were to suggest one thing to movie studios about remakes and adaptations, it would be to have Shakespearians write and/or direct them. The amazing thing about Shakespeare is how open to interpretation his characters are, and Shakespeare adaptations often tell very different stories from the same texts just by switching or deleting certain lines, and by how the characters are acted.

On Tangled, Frozen and Maleficent Hearts.

Not since _Harry Potter_ has the Catholic commentariat been so hotly divided over whether a pop culture franchise is profoundly Christian or profoundly dangerous as the controversy over Frozen. This controversy has re-erupted a bit since the release of Kenneth Branagh’s live action Cinderella, both because it contains the _Frozen_ short “Frozen Fever,” which seems to resolve a few of the issues with the first film (e.g., Kristoff and Anna are clearly a “couple”), and because it is being hailed as a positive change from the recent trajectory of Disney fairy tale movies–most notably its live-action predecessor Maleficent and, to some writers, Disney’s adaptation of Sondheim’s _Into the Woods_.
Those who take a dim view of Frozen rightly point to similar parallels between it and Maleficent. Both movies attempt revisionist approaches to fairy tales. Both involve a sympathetic backstory to a “villainess”. Both undermine the familiar notion of a “True Love’s kiss.” Ironically, in very few stories is a “kiss” the saving act, anyway. That’s a classic example of Disneyfication.

In “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” the title character is saved, not by a kiss, but by the dwarves dropping her coffin. While popular culture has the “Frog Prince” changed back by a “true love’s kiss,” in the “original” Grimm story, while he tries to get the princess to kiss him, she throws him against a wall in disgust. Andersen’s “Little Mermaid” fails. The Beast is transformed, in the “original” as well as the Disney version, by Beauty’s tears. Most “Fairy Tales” have more sophisticated endings than the modern day re-appropriations as folk tales. The notion that it’s always “true love’s kiss” is really Disney’s fault to begin with. Rapunzel and her prince end up happy ever after, but not before she bears him two children out of wedlock, and he is blinded.

Ironically, though, Andersen’s “Snow Queen” is one of the few where the spell is actually broken by a kiss. While Disney’s _Frozen_ began as an adaptation of Andersen’s story, it took on a life of its own in development, and is arguably a different story, as suggested by Disney-ABC’s _Once Upon A Time_.

While _Frozen_ and _Maleficent_ both deal with slightly revisionist themes (at least as far as Disney goes), they handle the same themes quite differently (I haven’t seen _Maleficent_ yet, but have read enough reviews and summaries to work with here). 1) _Maleficient_ takes one of the most truly evil characters in Disney, a character whose name *means* “evil,” and makes her a sympathetic character who started off “good”. Now, this in and of itself might be seen as profoundly Catholic, yet she remains the heroine. This is a contrast to Elsa, who’s never really evil. She has many parallels as a character to Erik, the Phantom of the Opera, but doesn’t even rise to his level of evil. She’s remarkably moral for someone raised in isolation who rebels and says, “no right, no wrong no rules for me” (more on that later). Elsa’s only “evil deeds” are accidental. In a slightly different narrative, she wouldn’t even be considered evil at all. For a story that is so departed from Andersen as to be an original story, and not a remake of an existing Disney property, it is hard to even call _Frozen_ revisionist. It might undermine some of the ideas taught by conventional Disney fairy tales, but it is more in keeping with the moral ambiguity and psychological complexity of the works of Perrault, Andersen and the Grimms.
2) Both _Maleficent_ and _Frozen_ betray the naivete of “two random people meet in the forest, fall in love at first sight, and live happily ever after.” Both seemingly say, “A woman doesn’t need a man to be happy,” and that men can’t be trusted. However, while in _Frozen_, Hans is a liar and scoundrel (a change made relatively late in development but hinted at throughout the film), he is contrasted to Kristoff. Though there are innuendos about the relationship between Kristoff and his reindeer Sven, the most overt line is that it “is a little outside of nature’s laws,” which suggests that Nature *has* laws–when was the last time you saw a movie, much less a kids’ movie, *mention* Natural Law, even jokingly?
For decades, Disney movies have taught little girls that a moment’s infatuation can mean the love of their life, and Christian educators and social critics have tried to emphasize that marriage should not be entered into lightly. Finally we have a fairy tale movie that shows the dangers of basing one’s decisions on emotion and infatuation, that has the main couple in a chaste relationship, and people are claiming it’s promoting homosexuality??
I have already written an extensive argument in favor of _Frozen_, so rather than repeating the points I made there, I’ll just refer you to it.
Now, all that said, this post was inspired by reading this commentary, which compares the four recent “Princess” movies and puts _Tangled_ and _Cinderella_ on one side, but _Frozen_ and _Maleficent_ on the other.
I’d say the reverse. _Tangled_, while an OK movie, is far more morally problematic than _Cinderella_: Rapunzel is kidnapped and horrifically brainwashed, yet this is brushed over. Rapunzel, who has to be suffering from Stockholm syndrome, PTSD, and any number of disorders related to being raised alone in a tower and lied to her entire life–how does she speak so eloquently?–falls in love with the first man she ever sees, like Miranda in _The Tempest_.
This “hero,” rather than a prince, is a criminal. The first time I saw _Tangled_, I kept expecting him to be an exiled prince like Aragorn in _Lord of the Rings_, but while he’s ostensibly based upon characters like Han Solo, his career is totally brushed over. He is not a rebel like Robin Hood. He doesn’t really appear to change his ways the way Han Solo does. There is no justification or repentance. He is not stealing bread to save his sister’s starving children. He’s just stealing. He takes Rapunzel to a den of thieves, and they turn out to be nice guys who are OK because they have dreams, even though they’re living in mortal sin.
The criticism of _Frozen_ is that there’s no overt “repentance” for Elsa’s attitude expressed in “Let it Go”–yet why should she? It’s a soliloquy. Nobody hears her. She herself learns the dangers of her attitudes, and her instincts about Hans–the only “mean” or “evil” thing she does is refuse to allow the engagement–turn out to be on the money. The whole point of “Let it Go” is it fulfills the first part and serves as the climax in the Aristotelian sense: the story itself shows the change in Elsa’s attitude and her realization that she is trading one imprisonment for another.

Rare Disease Day #RDD2015 

February seems to be the month of choice for everything-awareness, including Marfan syndrome.  I usually do a whole series of blog posts (or re-posts) in February but didn’t this year.  Meanwhile, I learned February 28 is also #RareDiseaseDay, and there’s a Twitter thing for rare disease awareness.  Click on either of the category tags for this post to see a list of my posts related to #Marfansyndrome or what used to be called the “Have a Heart for Marfan” campaign.

Rare Disease Day #RDD2015 

February seems to be the month of choice for everything-awareness, including Marfan syndrome.  I usually do a whole series of blog posts (or re-posts) in February but didn’t this year.  Meanwhile, I learned February 28 is also #RareDiseaseDay, and there’s a Twitter thing for rare disease awareness.  Click on either of the category tags for this post to see a list of my posts related to #Marfansyndrome or what used to be called the “Have a Heart for Marfan” campaign.