Category Archives: heretics

Symbols mean things

I’m a big supporter for formalism/”New Criticism.”  I always forget who said which, but often, when writers are asked what things in their books “mean,” they say things like, “I wrote a poem, not a puzzle,” (pretty sure that’s TS Eliot) or “If I wanted to write an essay, I’d write an essay.  I wrote a story” (Flannery O’Connor, paraphrased).
I

Advertisements

_The Last Jedi_: _Star Wars_ is finally honest

When I first introduced my kids to Star Wars, I followed up with an explanation of Dualism, Gnosticism, the “Ray of Truth” concept, and authentic versus dangerous forms of spirituality and spiritual gifts.

C. S. Lewis argues against Dualism that  we cannot define “Good” and “Evil” without an external standard to define them.  If “Good” and “Evil” were truly opposite “forces,” they would not balance; they would cancel each other out.  Even if there were two equally powerful “gods,” one good/one evil, to know which was which there would still have to be a “God” to tell us which was which (e.g., the JW idea that Jesus & Satan are brothers).

“Only Sith deal in absolutes,” Obi-Wan tells Anakin in Revenge of the Sith, and that is the fundamental paradox at work in a Dualistic narrative.  The interesting irony is that the more honest Star Wars is about its flawed philosophical underpinnings, the more the fans complain–first the prequels undermined the narrative that the Jedi and the Republic are “good,” a narrative already flawed from Obi-Wan’s lies to Luke.  I think they’re viscerally reacting against the implicit and now explicit rejection of objective standards.

“Good guys, bad guys: made up words.  It’s all a machine,” says “DJ,” the early Han Solo-esque hacker who takes his money and runs.

Dualists and moral relativists always want to have their proverbial cake and eat it, too.  They want “good” and “evil” to be relative terms when it suits them and then appeal to morality or to vague concepts like “hope” and “energy” and “good thoughts” when it’s convenient.

So we’re supposed to support the Jedi because they’re the “guardians of peace and order,” yet the Sith also insist they want peace and order.  From a Thomistic standpoint, and from what we see of the Republic in the films, the Sith make the stronger claim to promoting “peace and order.”  And the “good guys” seem to ambiguate between whether they want “peace and order” or “freedom,” since the two concepts cannot coexist.  Hobbes tells us what “freedom” means: the war of all against all for all.  It’s the “Outer Rim,” ruled by warring gangsters.  The only way anyone can functionally have absolute freedom is to enslave others to some extent.

In the Force religion, as in Modernism and all other permutations of Gnosticism, we hear about “Hope,” and “Freedom” and “Peace,” but we hear no explanation for what these words mean or imply or why they are good things.

We love Star Wars because it seems to be about “good” versus “evil.”  However, in The Last Jedi, we’re told to “let the past die,” to destroy all the books, to look within for wisdom.  This was really the most honest movie in the Star Wars franchise in terms of expressing what we’ve been hearing all along.

“Why did he do it?”

A young woman goes to college.  She comes from a decent home and family that has its issues like any family.  She maybe has a genetic propensity for autism or bipolar or something that wasn’t quite caught because his parents were able to manage it with love, discipline and counseling from time to time.  She was never really engaged in her faith, and whichever comes first, the usual college combination–skipping Mass, “partying” and collectively anti-Catholic ideology among professors and classmates–cause her to abandon the Church.
She meets a boy. He considers himself an atheist.  They base their relationship on sexual attraction and what bands they like but say religious, philosophical and political matters are irrelevant to their relationship.  They *might* discuss a bit of modern philosophy or New Age “mysticism,” and they might talk pop psychology.  They start fornicating.  Then they decide they “love” each other.  They use contraception, unknowingly conceiving and aborting several babies.  At one point, one of the babies escape all the “Plan B” mechanisms and manages to implant.  Worried about her career, she has an abortion.
Then they decide that maybe they should get married.  They “wait” to have children till they’re “ready.”  They spent 10 years living for careers and vacations and things, having a relationship based on a self-centered “love.”  Maybe they self medicate with booze or cigarettes or worse.  Maybe they go to the professional drug dealers and get Prozac or Ritalin.
After a few years, they decide they’re “ready” to have kids.  They have their boy and girl.
They say they’re going to raise their kids “open minded” and refuse to have them baptized.  Maybe they expose them to bits and pieces of Islam, Buddhism, Wicca, any anything but Christianity.
Believing that children need lots of “stuff” to be happy, wanting their kids to have whatever they believe they were deprived, and believing that they have to limit themselves to 2 kids, so they want the most of the experience, they fill their kids’ lives with toys, video games, movies, etc.  But they also fill their kids’ lives with workaholism and competitiveness: sports, scouting, fine arts, clubs, and lots and lots of homework.
Their son can’t keep up, and starts acting out.  Quite often, the child in this all-too-familiar scenario is probably just stressed.  “I don’t want to give him an MRI,” says the doctor.  “That might have dangerous side effects, and it’s really expensive.  Let’s see how he does on Ritalin first.”
So the kid goes on Ritalin.  He’s on the equivalent of 2-4 cups of coffee a day.  He focuses better at school and his many activities, but his schedule is still stressful with no time for true relaxation or recreation.  He still needs to burn his energy, and he’s stimulating it chemically with a drug that produces rage as a side effect.  So he starts bullying other kids.  And he starts trying to channel his rage through video games and movies.  Oh, and since he’s chemically stimulating his dopamine and endorphins, he loses his ability to feel satisfaction from oxytocin.  He just starts craving more dopamine and endorphins, so more video games and more movies.
Now, if he was relatively neurotypical and just stressed, this would be bad enough.  If he even legitimately had ADHD it would be bad enough.  But what if he actually has something else, like bipolar?  So the the effect of the stimulants is even worse.
They try different meds over the years, never actually doing medical tests to see if and what meds he needs, even though they have tests available that in many cases the DSM says to do first.  Hundreds of dollars a month in prescriptions and doctor visits are so much more cost effective than a few thousand dollars at one time to actually find out what’s wrong.
Meanwhile, the daughter goes on similar spiral, but this, as Aslan might say, is not her story.
Meanwhile, the parents who didn’t put much thought into values before they married start to do so.  They realize they have little in common.  They rarely spend time together.  Going off “the Pill” to have kids then going back on changed her hormonal reactions to him and vice versa.  They’re burdened with stress of money, jobs, the kids’ demanding schedules and the kids’ mental and behavioral issues.
Maybe the mother decides to start taking the kids to church, and they fight about that.
There’s some anger and abuse.  One or both commits adultery.  They divorce.
Now the kids, as Maggie Gallagher documents in _Abolition of Marriage_, have lost their trust in relationships.  They both come to think of marriage as something temporary and mutable.  They have lost their one mooring in life.
The son starts expressing his anger at his Christian classmates, arguing all the time in favor of atheism, abortion, etc.  The daughter becomes sexually active.  The son starts using marijuana and other drugs.  All those resume-building activities begin to implode: grades collapse; he starts dropping out of his activities.  He spends most of his time watching violent movies and pornography and playing video games.  All the activities meant to “build social skills” never taught him to make friends.  His original genetic propensity, whether it’s for autism or schizophrenia or bipolar, is now largely irrelevant except that it’s compounding his lifetime of stress, betrayal, materialism, overstimulation, drugs, etc.  He doesn’t know how to approach girls, and girls find him creepy.
His parents have tried to give him everything the world has to offer but they’ve deprived him of the most important things a  human being needs: God and a stable family.
Depending on who reaches into his life at this point, and whatever his earlier issues, he grabs onto whatever sense of hope and acceptance he can find.  We could go several ways from here, but this all-too-common story lends itself to several results.
But our particular instance is following the path to hate and violence.
He’s been inoculated against Christianity, of course, by his parents and by the schools.  He’s been taught that Islam is a “religion of peace,” so he starts reading the Koran.
He’s been taught that socialism is a great thing and capitalism is bad, so he starts reading Marx.
He starts reading  Hitler.
Eventually, the violence he imagines becomes reality.  Maybe his mother has found true Faith in her middle age, and desperately tries to get him to come to church with her as she tries to atone for her younger lifestyle.  Maybe he is interested in a girl who’s not interested in him.  Maybe he’s had a girlfriend who recently broke up with him.  Maybe he’s been taught by the media, the movies and the few books he’s read that Christians are the real enemy.  Maybe he’s just filled with hate for all the institutions he’s come to mistrust.
Thousands upon thousands are in his situation.  Many turn to suicide.  Many turn to matricide or patricide.  Many murder the girl they’re interested in.
Many join gangs and commit gang murders.  Many just retreat into themselves and into the games and drugs, committing a slow suicide.  Many live lives of abuse and fighting without actually killing.  Many find Jesus and overcome the hate.
So what makes one person “snap”?
If any of these few circumstances could clearly explain why people commit mass murder, then it should happen far more often than it does.  If guns are the reason, it should happen far more than it does. If guns are the reason, then there wouldn’t be suicide bombers and fertilizer bombs and madmen driving trucks through crowds.
If, as the Joker claims, all it takes is “one bad day” to make someone like him, why aren’t there?
There’s a movie called Conspiracy Theory where a guy says all notorious assassins owned the same book, and to the extent that it’s been reported, all the notorious mass murderers in the US in the past 20 or 30 years have had one thing in common: hatred of Christianity.  Many of them have shouted or posted “Allahu Akbar.”  Most of them seem to have some sort of admixture of Communist, Anarchist and Nazi leanings.
As long as a person has some faint fear of God, he’s going to have a line of conscience.  Once we strip that line of conscience away from him, it doesn’t matter what tool he uses, he will find a way to kill as many people as possible before he kills himself.  He might do it in the name of “The Revolution,” or “The Master Race,” or “Satan” or “Allah,” but he will do it.  Should we put tougher restrictions on certain kinds of weapons?  I don’t know.  It seems to me the government should do a better job of enforcing the gun laws that are already on the books.
But to address the real problem is to address, across the board, the moral and spiritual rot of our society and requires each of us to look at our own responsibility, not for our political choices but for our moral ones."Occupy Rome" Protestors Desecrate a Statue of Our Lady

“Pro-life, homeschooling committed Christians who abstain till marriage then stay married to the same person are freaks”

I tolerate a lot, maybe too much, when it comes to TV and movies, but I appreciate seeing the consequences of actions, even if the writers depict those consequences unwittingly.

20 years or so ago, when Ellen Degeneres and her eponymous sitcom came out of the proverbial closet, ABC said that LGBT were about 10% of the population and deserved to be represented on TV.  Now, most studies have said that even if those who have “experimented” to some degree or other are included, LGBT are at most 6% of the population, and really more like 3%.  Interestingly with all the propaganda in recent years, that number has risen a whole half a percent!  Amazing how the number of people who are “born” a certain way increases.

But, fine, 4%.  Yes, there are people who identify that way and yes they should be depicted *honestly*.

But a year or two after the Ellen controversy, when the Catholic League lead a coalition of pro-life, pro-family, Catholic, Protestant and Jewish organizations protesting Nothing Sacred, ABC said, “We can’t have what amounts to 10% of the population dictating to us.”  Yet *that* coalition represented the views of 50% of the population.

Close to 70% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal under at least some circumstances, yet to most TV shows, pro-lifers are a minority and freaks.

I read an article once about the unrealistic depiction of sexual relationships on TV that pointed out for example how many characters known on TV shows as “losers” who can’t find a girlfriend actually have more sexual relationships, particularly in a short time, than even relatively promiscuous people in real life.

How often, outside of sitcoms and a couple reality shows that may be exceptions that prove the rule, do you see couples who are happily married and stay married?

How often do you see people on any fictional TV show who are committed Christians and serious about their faith and love their faith?  Even The Middle and recently cancelled Last Man Standing depict religion as something important but still a kind of chore or ideology (though Mike’s monologues on Last Man Standing sometimes make up for it quoting the Bible and even the saints).  Characters who are in any way serious about religion are, again, freaks and weirdos (which, yes, many people who are serious about religion in real life are also, and should be, but not the way we’re depicted).

How often do you see families on TV with more than 3 kids that aren’t “blended”? (and yes, child labor laws come into play).

I could go on with examples, but if it’s a question of “equal representation,” all the demographics I listed are a higher percentage of the population than LGBT yet they hardly ever show up and are treated as weirdos and bigots when they do.

Meanwhile, in the inverted Natural Law, where Neuhaus’s Law is in full effect, sex is meaningless recreation.  People on TV don’t even wait for a commitment, much less marriage, sex is a “test”–and saying “I love you” is a big “event” that comes after a couple have already engaged in sex not as an act of consummation of love but as a fulfillment of desire.  And, yes it has been this way on television for decades, and in “real life” without the Biblical moral framework, but what strikes me is how, in recent years it hasn’t even been a semblance of concern for decency or depicting any kind of negative view of sexual promiscuity, but an overt sense of saying, “This is perfectly normal, and it’s Judeo-Christian morality that’s aberrant and bizarre.”gs5x4j0

On Football, the First Amendment and the Third Commandment

A couple years ago, we were ironically at McDonald’s on a Sunday morning, in a picking grain on the sabbath capacity, and while we were waiting, and whichever news channel was on (why must restaurants ruin people’s digestion with “news”? I wish they’d just play Boomerang or something that all ages could enjoy without stress or ideology), the anchoress said, “It’s Sunday, and that means Americans’ thoughts turn to football!”
It made me sad that that statement is so true: Americans’ thoughts on Sunday don’t turn to God.  They turn to football, or golf, or Sunday brunch or sleeping in or going to the movies.

In the City, we need no bells:
Let them waken the suburbs.
I journeyed to the suburbs, and there I was told:
We toil for six days, on the seventh we must motor
To Hindhead, or Maidenhead.
If the weather is foul we stay at home and read the papers.
In industrial districts, there I was told
Of economic laws.
In the pleasant countryside, there it seemed
That the country now is only fit for picnics.
And the Church does not seem to be wanted
In country or in suburbs; and in the town
Only for important weddings.

[….]

And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.” (T. S. Eliot, Choruses from ‘The Rock’)

This whole NFL/National Anthem thing is thus a bit confusing to me:
1) I hate professional sports, football in particular, both in that I don’t see the point of watching sports and get annoyed when my shows are preempted by sports, but also in that I think it involves way too much money and way too much physical risk.  So the idea of having people lash out against the NFL and hopefully free up Sundays and holidays a bit for other activities makes me kind of hopeful.
2) In addition, though I’m conflicted when it comes to prerecorded TV or going to a restaurant, Western culture is far less respectful of the Lord’s Day today than it was when Eliot wrote those words over 80 years ago.
We’ve come a long way since Eric Lidell in the 1924 Olympics.  Now, we have players who are “controversial” for openly praying during sporting events, and people who schedule their church attendance around football praise him while getting mad at the “irreverence” shown by players who protest the performing of the “National Anthem.”

3) What of the Anthem itself?

Everybody knows the first verse, but here’s verse 3, the source of the controversy:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

How is it the “land of the free and the home of the brave” if we’re going to hunt down and kill runaway slaves? (And yes I know the historical context was the slaves fighting on the side of the British during the War of 1812).

Long before anyone ever hear of Colin Kaepernick, Ray Charles and others were asking for the “Star Spangled Banner” to be replaced with something like “America the Beautiful” or “God Bless America.”  Besides, it’s also a notoriously difficult song to sing.

So it’s not some sudden new thing that African Americans find the “Star Spangled Banner” offensive, and I think they’re justified in doing so.  Given that “hirelings” would have meant Irish and German Catholics, anyway, I’m inclined to more than sympathize with their objections.

4) Why do we *have* a National Anthem?
Because in 1931, the news circulated that the City Council of Erie, Pennsylvania, was so left-wing they were singing the “Internationale” at their meetings.  The story “went viral,” as we now say, and the Star Spangled Banner was adopted as a National Anthem as a move against Socialism (so for that reason I’m inclined to agree with it).

5) OTOH, why do we put such emphasis on the flag?
In that case, it’s almost the opposite: in the late 1800s, concerned about rising immigration from Ireland and Eastern and Southern Europe, and trying to reunite the country after the Civil War, there was an alliance of Socialists and Protestants who pushed for US nationalism.  They wanted to downplay the Constitution to downplay both Federalism and the First Amendment, so they wrote and promoted the Pledge and veneration of the Flag as a new approach to unifying the country.
All these historical contexts validate another longstanding instinct of mine, which is that if we are to truly honor our military, we should honor the Constitution they vow to uphold, and that includes not forcing people to engage in particular speech or expression with which they disagree. Let’s recall that the early Christians’ refusal to swear an oath to Caesar was one of the major reasons they were persecuted.

6) Then there’s the “taking the knee” thing.  In one of those mind-numbing twists of human behavior, the players are genuflecting because, as Americans, they see subservience as a bad thing, so they are performing a gesture they perceive as a repulsive gesture of subservience to protest a song referring to hunting down and killing their enslaved ancestors.

Why now?  Well, let’s see, it’s only been since 2009 that NFL players have been officially required to stand on the field for the Anthem,  although it was customary before that.  And hmm, why, with more and more attention being paid to African American males, whether legitimate suspects or completely innocent, being shot in the back, might African American males in positions of influence might want to draw attention to a song about killing fleeing “slaves”?

7) What of the First Amendment?  A popular notion-depending upon whose side is at the center of the First Amendment issue in question–is that the First Amendment only applies to the Federal government and not to one’s employment status.  To a certain extent, I’d agree. But this also presumes people have a choice about their employment status.  It is one thing to look at an athlete who makes millions of dollars for playing a game or an actor who gets millions of dollars to play pretend and say, “You are paid to entertain me, and I am not entertained by your behavior. So I am not going to buy your product.”
A few years ago, we said of the “wedding cake” controversy, “What if Nazis wanted a liberal baker to make a cake?”  Well, now liberals are trying to get actual Nazis who get photographed at rallies fired from their jobs.  They’re refusing to perform for Trump or members of his administration, flat out telling Trump supporters they don’t want their business, etc.
If we don’t want someone like Tim Tebow fired for genuflecting in prayer, why do we want someone like Colin Kaepernick fire for genuflecting in protest?
There is a difference between telling a business, “I’m not going to give you business because I disagree with you,” or “I’m going to support your business because I agree with you,” and suing the business or asking the government to fine the business for some perceived “civil rights violation.”

8) Still, should the first Amendment protect employees’ speech?  Before disability, I could accept that, as an employee, and as someone trying to feed my family, I should refrain from certain kinds of speech.  But that seems different than requiring an employee to actively violate his or her conscience.  What about the right to pray or read the Bible in one’s cubicle?  To have political or religious signage on one’s vehicle?  What about after-hours?  There’s a list that circulates the Internet of requirements for teachers 100 years ago, and they were expected to adhere to various behavioral standards even in their off hours that today we might consider draconian, yet many contemporary contracts or “ethics courses” say the same.  I worked for employers who said, for example, that their “harassment policy” extended to one’s private life. That if an employee was out in public, and a coworker or client overheard an offensive conversation, the employee could still potentially be sued or fired for it!

9) Lastly, does protesting a requirement as a civilian, in a country that is supposedly founded on freedom of speech, to sing a particular song or say a particular pledge or revere a flag honor or dishonor the troops who’ve sacrificed and died to uphold the Constitution?  I’d argue that mandatory expression is a greater dishonor to the troops.

“Is it the End or the Beginning?” David Lynch and George Lucas, Pt 3 (of 3?)

I have had more thoughts about the mystery of Twin Peaks the show itself, but I wanted to explore another thought I’ve been having all season, regarding the nature of “art” versus “entertainment,” and the tension of the “artist”/”entertainer.”

david-lynchSteve Granitzf

It is one thing to consider oneself an “artist” and produce work to express oneself and whatnot, without concern for profit.  Even so, if you’re going to “express yourself,” you still need to use symbols that people understand.   On the other end of the scale is the “entertainer,” who uses talent strictly to amuse audiences and make money.  There is little reason to look on each other with mutual disdain.  But most creative types, whether artists, writers, musicians, or filmmakers, operate somewhere in between, and when one operates in a mass market context, there is a certain contract at work between creator and audience.  A few weeks ago, I found a blog that a younger viewer wrote several years ago, discussing how Lynch was known for completely rejecting the principle that he owed anything to audiences, and while some say that makes him a “great” director, this lady argued (and I’d agree) that that ultimately makes him a bad director.

In the 1980s, give or take, there were four great young cartoonists who often get compared to one another in terms of their impact and the extent to which they followed Charles Schulz as role models: Jim Davis, Berkeley Breathed, Gary Larson and Bill Watterson.  Davis is often used by critics, fans and other cartoonists alike as the embodiment of a “sell-out”: he embraced commercialism and licensing early on.  While Charles Schulz took years before he began licensing Peanuts and allowing the animated spin-offs, which he carefully supervised, Davis recognized Garfield as a cash cow (cash cat) and cashed in, maintaining a similar legal control to that which Schulz enjoyed but generally allowing a great deal of flexibility..  On the other extreme was Watterson: who introduced the world to Calvin and Hobbes in 1985, consistently refused merchandising or animation, and suddenly retired after 10 years, saying he’d said all he needed to say and becoming something of a reputed recluse (though those who know him say he just kept such anonymity in his career that no one knows who he is when he’s out and about), occasionally popping up for guest stints at other comics or writing a public message here and there.

 

Somewhere in between is Breathed, who has “retired” several times–Bloom County became Outland originally so he could do Sunday’s only and supposedly have more creativity; Outland became Opus as he reverted back to form but still wanted to keep an episodic format.  And a few years ago, he made another comeback, reviving Bloom County as a webcomic posted at his leisure, sometimes in color, sometimes B&W, sometimes a mix, and exploring whatever topics he wants unencumbered by the constraints of syndicates and newspapers.  Breathed, like Davis, embraced, and continues to embrace, merchandising but kept more creative control and, other than one or two outings, has never embraced animation.  He’s also explored screenwriting and children’s literature.

I see a certain parallel at work in the directorial careers of George Lucas and David Lynch.  Both are known as young directors who showed promise straight out of film school in the 70s.  Both are known for exploring New Age/Neo-Gnostic/Pseudo-Eastern mysticism/philosophy in their works.  Indeed, David Lynch was almost the director of Return of the Jedi.  However, many critics and fans might balk at the comparison, since Lucas is to Lynch as Davis is to Watterson.  My own critique of my own analogy would be that Watterson at least made a creation that people could understand beyond a select subgroup of a subgroup that probably all share the same MBTI type.

Lucas made his name, and his fortune, very early on as a master of licensing.  In  his initial agreement with 20th Century Fox, in fact, he got himself licensing rights that the studio didn’t think were worth anything–few movies before Star Wars were adapted into toys, or had hit soundtracks or had spin-off novels and comic books.  Much like the older office product and computer companies that passed on Apple and Microsoft, Fox passed on the merchandizing rights to one of the first true blockbusters, making Lucas a billionaire.

However, the success of Star Wars came from collaboration: Gary Kurtz, Lawrence Kasdan, and studio executives took Lucas’s initial ideas and shaped them into the franchise as we know it.  A few years back, the earliest known script was adapted into a comic book series called The Star Wars, and showed Lucas’s original treatment to be far closer to a blend of the original trilogy and what became The Phantom Menace.

Many years ago, I read an observation somewhere online that “Ewoks were the first sign of genius turned to insanity.”  Except maybe Lucas always was insane–it was the collaboration and “studio interference” that made him look like a genius.  The more power he achieved, the more autonomy he achieved as a producer and director, and the more audiences rejected his “vision.”

On the other side is Lynch, who was never that commercially successful but directed a few slightly more mainstream pictures like Dune and The Elephant Man (if one can call either of those mainstream), while producing “arthouse” films (few of which I’ve seen or been able to make it all the way through without significant muting and FFing).

Lucas used his financial empire to free himself from “studio interference.”  Lynch used his “artistic reputation” and “devoted fanbase” to somehow con studio after studio into funding his projects until a series of commercial failures made him more or less go into retirement, and when CBS/Showtime came knocking about reviving Twin Peaks after fans demanded a follow up to “I’ll see you again in 25 years,” he notoriously fought for more money and more time to “tell his story,” then didn’t tell much story at all.

So “Lynchians” tell us that Twin Peaks would have been a much better show if the network hadn’t interfered with “Lynch’s vision.”  Supposedly, Lynch and Frost never intended for Laura Palmer’s killer to be revealed, though they always intended for it to be her father, though it’s also unclear if they ever had any intention or understanding of how long the show would last.  Many people blame the sharp ratings decline in the latter part of Season 2 on the fact that Lynch had little to do with it, but some of the writers and directors involved with the show at that point say they were still following his orders on a lot of things.  However, as some have pointed out, the show’s creators made a huge error in not building enough interest in the ensemble. Laura Palmer was supposed to be a MacGuffin, but she ended up being the only character most people cared about.  If they had to use the “unsolved murder” conceit to keep people tuning in, they weren’t doing a very good job.

Ironically, though it was months from our perspective, on the show’s timeline, with every episode corresponding to approximately a day, the murder of Laura Palmer was solved in little lesson than a month.  Given how long murders and disappearances often go unsolved in real life, particularly headline grabbing cases like JonBenet Ramsey, a month was relatively fast, and the notion of the unsolved crime–which other shows handled with slightly more success later–was an interesting spin.

Merely doing something “different” does not make something “art.” Indeed, T. S. Eliot, to whom I just yesterday compared Lynch and have done in the past, argues that art requires doing something different in the bounds of what’s come before.  A lot of what seems “weird” or “different” in Eliot is that he’s writing of modern urban life the way the Romantics wrote of country life or of the past.  He twists traditional metaphors and uses fragments of literary quotations and allusions he expects his readers to be familiar with.  To the extent that he works, Lynch does some of that, but more often than not he seems to turn conventional techniques so far upside down as to be unrecognizable.

But as I’ve argued many times, much of what makes Twin Peaks is hyper-realism.  The oft-maligned storyline of Ben Horne thinking he’s a Confederate general is a slightly exaggerated depiction of what happens in real life: when white American men feel defeated by society, they relive the Civil War.

Nevertheless, the other part of it is that Lynch creates a world that operates according to the principles of his belief system, and that’s where people say “It’s weird.”  David Bowie’s Philip Jeffries getting reincarnated as a coffee percolator seems strange, but is that any stranger than a dead person getting reincarnated as a carpenter ant, or as the fish that Pete Martell found in his teapot? Is Philip Jeffries the fish in the teapot?  Shirley Maclaine got criticized by people who speak fondly of their jumbled pop understanding of Hinduism and Buddhism for saying that Holocaust victims were being punished for sins they committed in past lives, but that’s what karma is, according to Hinduism.  Similarly, Lynch is drawing from a lot of disparate non-Western ideas that are collectively Gnosticism, and when viewers balk, I think they’re balking at the inherent flaws of the Gnostic world view when presented without the usual corporate filters.

What most people find appealing in Star Wars and Twin Peaks is the extent to which, by authentically expressing the Gnostic worldview, they express the rays of Truth in Gnostic/New Age/Neo-Platonic/Buddhist thinking.  Where they start to get uncomfortable is precisely where those worldviews diverge from Christianity.

This is another parallel of art and liturgy.  It’s said that traditional liturgies can be reverent when said by sinners because they were written by Saints, but the Ordinary Form is only referent when offered by Saints because it was written by committee.  In the arts, committees can take bad ideas and make them into better art, or they can take good ideas and make them into bad art.  Artistic freedom only creates true success if the artist is, if not necessarily a Saint or even a Christian, he or she at leawst tries to operate with Truth.

il_570xn-622972769_7jfw

“Is it the End or the Beginning?” A Tale of Three Artists: Eliot, Lynch and Koontz, Pt 2 of 3

…With a mandatory touch of C. S. Lewis.
[SPOILERS for both Twin Peaks and some recent Koontz novels; usual warning]

My previous post addressed the series finale of Twin Peaks as such (given the age of the creators, the time it took to make this season, and the 18 hours spent supposedly telling this story that could have been told in half the time, it likely is the series finale).

I addressed Lewis’s argument that we should not read too much into a work of fiction that isn’t there, and suggested that Lynch’s point is to criticize his own fans, and TV/movie viewers in general, for doing the same.  He essentially says, “This is all just a fantasy.  Stop making more of it than it is.  These aren’t real people.”

Now, some thoughts on the whole “David Lynch is an artist” “argument” and the notion of “fans’ expectations.”  To this, I bring in Lewis’s criticism of the view that a poet could just say “I’m a poet,” and that makes his view of poetry superior to the view of “non-poets.”

It annoys me when I take my kids to a museum to learn about art and the curator says, “Well, art can be whatever you want.”  No, it can’t.  It has to have rules.  It has to express something.  If a person writes the word “appeal” and means “apple,” that expresses something different.  If a person draws a picture, it has to be something the viewer can understand before it can convey any message.  Most modernism and postmodernism is just the Emperor’s New Clothes: everyone saying “It’s genius! He’s a genius!  It’s amazing!” and dismissing anyone who disagrees as an uncultured buffoon because the “art” is not about expressing something so much as providing an avenue to elitism: a tendency Lewis saw in Eliot and condemned among the intelligentsia in “Lilies that Fester.”

When an entertainer/artist has a long and relatively successful career, he inevitably changes.  Either he gets “more commercial” or “more artistic.”  Either he gains confidence in putting more of his worldview into his work or perhaps he changes/matures in it.  Thus, I often speak of the three camps of Eliot fans: those who prefer the “Prufrock/Waste-Land Era,” those who prefer the “Four Quartets Era,” and those who see them as a continuum.  When I taught literature, I would point out how two writers can use very similar situations with slight differences to demonstrate their worldviews.   Flannery O’Connor and Edgar Allen Poe, for example, can use a similar circumstance to show hope and despair, respectively.

MIKE’s line on Twin Peaks: the Return: “Is it past or is it future?” recalls the famous line from Four Quartets: “In my end is my beginning.”  To the secular reader, Four Quartets is a meditation on time and destiny, while the Christian reader sees Four Quartets as Lord of the Rings: a sophisticated Christian epic deeper than a mere allegory.

Others have pointed out the parallels between Twin Peaks and Four Quartets, and someone even captured this screenshot:
1501756741-ts-eliot

To date, I’ve read Brother Odd and Odd Thomas, and have started Forever Odd.  My wife has read many Koontz novels and told me about them, as well as interviews, discussion groups, Amazon reviews, etc., and speaks of how many “longtime Koontz fans” are disappointed by more overtly books like the Odd Thomas series and Innocence, even though the titles should be huge spoilers.
From a Catholic perspective, Saint Odd and Innocence have the happiest endings a story possibly could, like every C. S. Lewis novel.  From the perspective of someone expecting a classic horror story or a classic romance story, however, they’re disappointing.

“David Lynch fans” look at Twin Peaks: the Return and say “It’s genius,” like the Emperor’s subjects in Andersen’s fairy tale, or the snobs at Lewis’s proverbial cherry party, because they don’t want to be counted among the philistines who “don’t get it.”  Some, however, admit they don’t get it, that it should be different from a “typical Lynch movie,” or even that it is different in the wrong way from one.

However, I’d say Lynch is conveying a message.  He’s conveying the message he wants to convey, and that’s why some people dismissively say “It’s existentialism,” because it is.  To the existentialist, life is ultimately despair, and you piece it together by enjoying cherry pies and chocolate bunnies.  It is “about the bunny,” Lynch would answer Lucy.   To the Platonist and Hindus, we’re all spirits in another realm controlling bodies that are essentially avatars, reliving our lives till we get them right.  This is one possible interpretation of the tulpas in Twin Peaks.  Another is that the finale shows the “Balance in the Force.” Whether they’re all dream-selves of the same dreamer, or reincarnations/avatars of the same being in the Red Room, or something else, the lesson that evil is inevitable and needs to be balanced, not stopped, is in keeping with the Dualistic worldview of Gnosticism/Platonism/Hinduism-Buddhism/New Age/etc.

There is something Catholic in the notion that we can’t “destroy” evil.  We can’t have a magic fist that bashes the Devil into smithereens.  We can’t go back and undo the evil of the past without destroying the future because the past dictates the future.   Once Barry Allen saves his mother, the cosmos can never be completely the same, even if he goes back to let her die again, and Barry has to live in the personal hell of knowing how many times he’s changed everyone’s lives.  This seems to be the almost-tacked on lesson of Twin Peaks, not because Cooper needs to learn it but the viewer does.

Koontz gives us a similar blend of horror, mystery, humor and romance with the lesson that all this misery points to Heaven.  As Chesterton would say, Lynch gives us the gargoyles–with fragments of the Temple.  Koontz gives us the gothic cathedral.  Both draw from Eliot, and both get in their long time fans the same polarized reactions as Eliot did.