Category Archives: Culture

_Riverdale_ Challenges Obama’s Rhetoric

I haven’t been blogging much lately, both because of doing more micro-blogging on Facebook and saving my “big writing energies” to focus on my many ongoing major projects.

However, one of my raisons d’etre popped up the other day and I had to mention it.  A very pro-life episode of the CW’s new show _Riverdale_ seems to have gone under everyone’s radar (Ep. 8 “The Outsiders”).  Produced by Greg Berlanti of _Gotham_, _Arrow_, _Flash_, etc., it does to Archie Comics what Berlanti’s other shows do to the DC characters: essentially _Twin Peaks_ meets _Dawson’s Creek_ with the characters from “Archie.”  Not knowing much about the characters other than their status as cultural archetypes, and intrigued by the premise, I started watching the show and read up on the characters to know what was going on.

Cut ahead to episode 8.  There is a teen pregnancy central to the storyline.  I was annoyed at first by the story where the girl was sent up to a stereotypical “home for troubled teens” run by nuns who are depicted as a mix of traditional habit-wearing nuns and the kind Dean Koontz described as “social workers who don’t date.”  Compare to the similar plotline on last year’s _X-Files_ revival.  In the first several episodes, the girl’s mother (played by Madchen Amick of _Twin Peaks_ fame, who will also be reprising the role of Shelley Johnson in next month’s “Season 3”) has been shown to be obsessed with social standing and a hypocritical veneer of righteousness while being very cold and strict towards her daughters.  The pregnant daughter has been shown as angry at her parents for sending her away to “that place,” but when her mother softens and offers an olive branch, she asks about her father.

The word “abortion” is never used, to great effect.  The girl tells her mother that before sending her away, her father offered to pay for her to “see a doctor.”  The mother confronts her husband, recalling how he paid for her to have an abortion when they were teenagers and aghast that he would do the same to their daughter (again, the word is never used–perhaps to avoid “controversy” yet effectively showing the horror/pain at even referring to it by name).

The father practically quotes Barack Obama verbatim and says, “I didn’t want her punished for her mistake.”
“Get out. . . . Get out before I do something we’ll both regret.”

“Humankind cannot bear very much reality” Frank Redman’s ELIJAH

I don’t know exactly where to begin this review, which angle to take. I’m reeling. My wife and teenager have been commending Frank Redman‘s  ELIJAH: A SUSPENSE NOVEL to me for weeks now, and I finally read it. In short, I can say it was amazing, entertaining, chilling, and a punch in the gut in ways for which I was not prepared.  Apparently, I am not alone in this regard.  My wife remarked to me that with the internet’s instant access to so much information, when one writes about a book, a review is not sufficient.  Rather, an encounter would better describe it, where one meets the author, reads the background and influences, and embraces the story and its characters.  It certainly is true for our experience with Frank Redman and ELIJAH.

Frank Redman is a brand new author, whose own journey in the writing profession sounds like something out of a movie.  It’s his debut book, so I was thinking it might be something like early C.S. Lewis with a few twists in the manner of Dean Koontz, but it’s that and more.

By the time I got to the end of ELIJAH, I’d say it’s better than the early C.S. Lewis. This story has the mystique, chilling suspense, and humor of a Christian “Twin Peaks” or a more tightly written THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.   It takes you into levels of evil that many of us would rather not know at all, but far too many people actually live through. Many writers depict such evil and either glorify it or give it a worldly punishment, but few provide a sense of hope that there is something better, that victims can still find happiness and holiness. Frank Redman is one of those few writers, and ELIJAH  is a book with a message that needs to be read.

St. Augustine says a work of perfect logic may be true but if it’s boring to read, it won’t do any good, and people are more willing to read and believe something that’s eloquent. The same is true of literature and movies: it doesn’t matter how true it is or how artistically “well crafted” it is. If it doesn’t draw people in, nobody will read it. HAMLET may have psychological and moral depth, but it’s basically a story about murder, ghosts and revenge.   ELIJAH has it all.  It immediately drew me in with the supernatural and suspense, has great depth in the character’s dealings with his horrid past, as well as fantastically funny insights with well-crafted characters who open your eyes to the devastating horrors that are hidden in daily life.   The reality of evil is tangible, but it’s tempered with hope and perseverance.


At times, the story of an author can sometimes be as compelling as the book the author wrote. This can be an advantage in attracting readers, as it is what led us to Frank Redman and ELIJAH. My wife and I both became Dean Koontz fans a little over a year ago. She noticed that Koontz has referred a few times to his friend Frank Redman (he dedicated SAINT ODD to him and said Frank’s struggle with brain cancer inspired ASHLEY BELL).

This book is dedicated to Frank Redman, who has more than once reminded me of Odd Thomas

Through a series of events that I’ll leave Frank Redman to tell, he began a mentorship with Dean Koontz.  Koontz had read some of his writing, saw potential, and agreed to mentor Frank. Then, on the same day that I had my descending aorta surgery, Frank was diagnosed with an extremely rare and extremely lethal brain cancer–most people diagnosed with it are only diagnosed with it posthumously, and if they are diagnosed while alive, they die in days or weeks. Frank is still alive nearly 4 years later.  So, with a sense of urgency, I set aside the few dozen “in progress” books I’ve been working on reading for years to read ELIJAH, reading late into the night, and enjoying it more and more with each swipe of the screen.


People don’t want to acknowledge the reality or enormity of Evil in the world.  It’s often hidden, and when it’s revealed, it can be nauseating, horrifying, and seemingly unfathomable.  The desire to stick one’s head in the sand is understandable, but unadvised.  Even less do people want to acknowledge the reality and enormity of God’s grace.  Redman’s ELIJAH addresses both supernatural phenomenon and their implications in our reality, in an engaging, fast-paced, thriller that will leave you reeling and pondering for weeks.

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“Doesn’t She Look Tired”: Evita, Doctor Who and the power of Words

On the new Doctor Who, there was a character called “Harriet Jones,” known for her running joke, introducing herself as “Harriet Jones, Minister of Parliament,” etc., which is usually answered with, “Yes, I/we know who you are.”  In the first appearance of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, he thwarts an alien invasion with minimal violence and convinces the would-be invaders to leave, but Harriet, now “Harriet Jones, Prime Minister,” has been working on a secret weapon to defend earth and wants to prove earth can defend itself without the Doctor.  In spite of the treaty he just negotiated, she destroys the fleeing ship with her weapon, after the Doctor threatens her by saying that he’s powerful enough to take her down with six words.  After she defies him and fires the weapon, destroying the fleeing aliens, he leans in the ear of her closest advisor and asks, “Don’t you think she looks tired?”

One of the reasons Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice were a successful team was their contrasts: ALW was always a believer to some extent; Rice was an agnostic, and so on. Rice developed an admiration for Eva Peron in the early ’70s and wanted to write a musical about her. ALW resisted for several years, till he saw her story as a modern tragedy of the cost of fame.  While Lloyd-Webber has never been a lyricist, he usually collaborates on the “book” (play) of his shows, and on the basic idea behind a song.

So with Evita, who was known as the “Rainbow of Argentina,” he thought about Judy Garland.  He had attended one of her final concerts when he was younger, and he reflected on how pathetic she was–how she could barely sing, how broken she looked, and how people were literally throwing money on the stage.

Lloyd Webber worked in an “Over the Rainbow” theme to Evita (he’d later acquire the rights to Wizard of Oz and turn it into a sung through musical with his own new songs added to the classic movie tunes.   In “Eva Beware of the City,” she says, “Birds fly out of here, so why, o why the h— can’t I?”   In the song “Rainbow Tour,” Eva’s visit to France end when “She suddenly seemed to lose interest; she looked tired.”

It only takes a few words to destroy someone’s reputation.

On Catholics using “Big Words”

If you listen to the MSM, you might have heard how those big meanies at Russia supposedly leaked emails to make poor innocent Hillary Clinton look bad, or how a leaked video of Donald Trump engaging in admittedly repulsive talk should destroy his campaign.
If you get your news on TV, you probably missed that among the latest “dump” of Clinton-related emails by Wikileaks are comments about setting up various front groups to undermine the “backwards” Catholic Church (as C. S. Lewis would say, if you’ve strayed off course from your goal, “backwards” is “progress”), proving that groups like “Catholics United for the Common Good” and other supposedly “moderate” groups that have sprung up in the past decade or so are, as I and others have argued, secular liberal front groups.

Many have asked why Julian Assange isn’t publishing much about Trump.  Well, the big batch that was released this weekend and covered up by discussion of which members of which parties engage in worse violations of the second, sixth and ninth Commandments, also included evidence that another “conspiracy theory” was true: that the Clinton Campaign was behind the Trump campaign all along, to avoid someone like Rand Paul or Marco Rubio getting the nomination.

A third headline that you may have missed if you get your news from Clinton News Network, Nothing But Clinton, All ‘Bout Clinton or Clinton Broadcasting System (the more common acronym for CBS would violate my own broadcasting rules), and the one I’d like to reply to most directly here, concerns a batch of emails between some folks named John Halpin (jhalpin@americanprogress.org), Jennifer Palmieri (JPalmieri@americanprogress.org) and John Podesta (john.podesta@gmail.com).  I’m sure these individuals’ emails are flooded, if not shut down, but I would like to reply to the following statement that’s garnered no small attention in the circles of conservative Catholicism (and, I imagine, counterweighted Trump’s obscenities for some of us  on the fence about whether to vote for Trump or a more conservative third party candidate.  Said Halpin:

[Catholic Conservatism is] an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.

Apparently, Mr. Halpin is “totally unaware” that “Christian Democracy” is not just an oxymoron but an outright contradiction.

Now, prior to the era of Donald Trump, I’d have pointed out how liberals can’t even communicate amongst themselves without resorting to rough language, but given that that is a perfectly good word abused by abusers of language, what is more of an — adulteration — of the Faith than to try and mask Socialism with Christianity and call it “Christian Democracy”, or to claim the Church has “severely backwards gender relations”?

[Catholic conservatives] can throw around “Thomistic” thought and “subsidiarity” and sound sophisticated because no one knows what the hell they’re talking about.sIt’s an amazing bastardization of the faith. They must be attracted to the systematic thought and severely backwards gender relations and must be totally unaware of Christian democracy.

Well, first off, that’s precisely what we’re talking about–how to avoid going to Hell, which should the secondary concern of every person on the planet (the primary concern being learning how to properly respond in love to the selfless gift of Christ).

Second off, for people who throw around sentences like “postmodern approaches to reevaluating paradigms of patriarchal and Eurocentric hegemonies” to accuse anyone else of using “big words” to “sound smart” would make me laugh if I were physically capable of it anymore.

Third, and most importantly, if “Thomistic” political theory is too complicated for you (for me, St. Thomas Aquinas himself, once you learn the method of properly reading a Summa is about as simple and clear as possible), and if “subsidiarity,” one of the basic principles of Catholic Social Thought, going back at least as far back as Pope Pius XI, and best summarized in the famous dictum of Lord Acton, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, is too big a word, on this, the 99th anniversary of the Sun Dancing at Fatima, I would like to offer a far simpler explanation of why I, for one don’t support Socialism, Statism, modern “gender relations” or so-called “Christian democracy”. In the words of Our Lady:

“Russia will spread its errors throughout the world, raising up wars and persecutions against the Church. The good will be martyred, the Holy Father will have much to suffer, and various nations will be annihilated.”

“God is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father. To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the Communions of reparation and for the consecration of Russia to My Immaculate Heart … In the end, My Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to Me, which will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.”

(See also Miraculous Medal and La Salette Apparitions)

TF movie voice actors mashup

I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time.  I often imagine the characters being dubbed by lines from their other famous roles, or else see the Transformers talking when I hear them in other shows or movies, between  live action stars (e.g., Robert Stack of Unsolved Mysteries, Lionel Stander of Hart to Hart, Judd Nelson of Breakfast Club, Orson Wells of Citizen Kane, Leonard Nimoy of Star Trek) or the prolific and easily recognized voice actors like Frank Welker (always Fred on Scooby-Doo  and Scooby himself since the death of Don Messick), Peter Cullen (Eeyore and many other Disney roles, not to mention TF’s direct competitors Gobots and Voltron), Scatman Crothers (Hong Kong Phooey), Casey Kasem (Shaggy), Susan Blu (the caller on Magic School Bus and many other roles) etc.  If I had the time to waste, I’d redub the movie, but here instead are some clips with quotes or paraphrases as captions).

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[On seeing Unicron] Cliffjumper: “Zoinks!” Jazz: “Let me check my _Hong Kong Book of Kung Fu!_”

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“Thanks for rememberin’ me!”

 

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“I have an idea, gang.  Let’s split up and look for clues!”

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“Scooby Dooby Dooo!”

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“COBRAAA!”

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“Perhaps *you* can help stop a Decepticon!”

 

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“Hello? Is this the Magic School Bus?  I  don’t think this episode is very accurate.”

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“From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe, comes a legend: the legend of Voltron, Defender of the Universe!”

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“Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?”

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“I have been, and always shall be, your enemy!  Live long and prosper, not!”


 

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Kup: “This is my Boss, Rodimus Prime: Self-Made Autobot Leader.  He’s quite a guy!”

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“Rosebud?”

 

On Reading “Bad Books”

A question: you have a series of hugely popular books and movies. Some people say they’re demonic. Others say they’re deeply Christian. Some in the first group have actually read them and claim the seemingly Christian symbolism is meant to steer people away from Christ rather than lead them to Him.
While this is specifically inspired by the perpetual Harry Potter controversy, reignited by recent sequels and locally by a parish study, it should be noted that it could apply to lots of contemporary literature, not to mention anything that was on the Index, from Machiavelli to the King James translation to Marx to Victor Hugo.
Now, among readers, you have several sets of people:
1) Those who are not well formed and have no interest in the books or the genre, no reason to read them, and very little need to discuss them. Fine. If that’s the case, go on your merry way and live and let live.
2) Those who are well formed, *do* have interest in the books or genre, *do* encounter lots of people who have interest in them, and can read and analyze and discuss them intelligently. (Noting that, even when the Index was in force, people in this group were permitted to read books on the Index, and noting that many books that were on the Index are considered acceptable today)
3) Those who are students or children of people in Group 2. (Noting that, even when the Index was in force, people in this group under guidance of Group 2 could read the books on the Index).
4) Those who are poorly formed and otherwise weak in the area the books deal with, whom any reasonable Catholic would say probably shouldn’t read the books.
5) Those who are not Catholic or even Christian.
6) Those who are convinced the books are evil and want to condemn them.
If someone in Group 6 encounters someone in Group 2, is there really any point in crying, “You shouldn’t read this book!  It’s evil!” Or condemning Group 2 for trying to educate Groups 3, 4 and 5?
If the person in Group 6 confronts the person in Group 5 with his or her concerns, it’s like when a Baptist randomly shows up at your door and tells you you’re going to Hell.  Why would an atheist care?  So why would someone who is already a non Christian care if a book is going to steer him away from Christ?

Didn’t St. Francis de Sales say something about honey and vinegar?

*However*, let’s say that the person in Group 2 encounters someone in Group d5, and says, “Hey!  Those books you love!  I like them too!  Let’s talk about them!”  Then the person in Group 3 helps the person in Group 5 see how the books point to Christ.  This is how J.R. R. Tolkien influenced the conversion of C. S. Lewis.  Lewis had rejected the notion that “everyone else in the world is a sinner going to Hell for not believing in the true God.”  Tolkien taught him how all religions, not just Judaism, point to Christianity.  He showed Lewis how Christ was the historical fulfillment of all those pagan myths Lewis loved, which was a more satisfying explanation than “Those myths are all lies of demons.”

So the person in Group 2 thinks that the books have merit for fellow Christians if read with guidance.  The person in Group 6 thinks they have no merit, but if Group 6 could get a lot more leverage in dealing with Groups 3 and 5 if he at least adopts the approach of Group 2.

“Joy of Love”–What’s missing

The media are abuzz with Pope Francis’s long-anticipated Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation _Amoris Laetitia_, and from what I’ve seen on Facebook, the following Bingo game could be quickly won:

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I’ve read the first three chapters, and I’ve read that, like every other document from Pope Francis, the several assurances of orthodoxy in the first few chapters are followed up by a buried lied of “freedom of conscience” somewhere in the middle.

Let’s set aside that “freedom of conscience” and “Let’s adopt a new tone instead of authoritarianism” has been said over and over since  Vatican II.  Let’s set aside that some of the same people who, almost 20 years ago, were having conniptions over a very similar, but more more succinct, document from Rembert Weakland are now saying, “Let’s celebrate!  The Pope didn’t change doctrine!”

As usual, I sympathize, though don’t entirely agree with, the Pope’s critics from the “Right.”  My reaction thus far is really disappointment.  The document is the epitome of lukewarm.  It’s so insipid and boring I was outraged by the waste of time.  It really adds nothing to what previous documents have already said on any of the subjects at play.

When it comes to marriage and family issues, there are four groups of people:

1) Those who want a clear-cut, black and white moral code.

2) Those who “freedom of conscience” *from* the Church.

3) Those who simply don’t care.

4) Those who want to follow the Church but are struggling with difficult situations.

Group #2 are the only ones who have any cause for celebration in this document, and they are celebrating.  However, from what I’ve read directly or seen quoted, it *really* doesn’t say anything that isn’t somewhere in the post-Vatican II magisterium already.

Ostensibly, the whole point of the Synod was to address group 4, but so far it seems to be more of the same:

Yes, extreme circumstances may mitigate culpability.  However, this seems addressed in a way that’s more about alleviating the responsibility of pastors than providing mercy to those who struggle.  Emphasizing lack of culpability works out to the same as emphasizing sin in a punitive manner: both escape the Biblical responsibility of the clergy to help those who are in need.

This has always been my problem with group 2, the so-called “liberals” or “progressives”: too often, I’ve seen Acts of the Apostles cited by liberals to support socialism or communism rather than Christian community.

The Pope says we should “admire” and “be supportive” of families with disabled parents or children, single mothers, and so forth.  But “being supportive” is very different from “supporting”.  He mentions civic responsibility, but not clerical responsibility.

Instead, it’s the cop-out of “personal conscience.”  So much easier to say, “You’re not really responsible for the sins you commit out of  desperation” than to say, “We’re going to try to provide you with practical help so you don’t have to be put in a situation of desperation.”