Category Archives: reviews

A Patient Reacts to Medical Dramas.

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This is me, 2 months after aortic graft surgery with complications, in 2013.

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A patient in recovery on _House_.

There must be some kind of HIPAA for TV patients because after numerous search combinations I can’t find many pictures of TV patients in recovery from surgery, but we’ve all seen them: awake and talking hours after a complex surgery, with maybe a fake ID or a basic oxygen cannula or a bandage or two.  No blood or other fluids oozing all over the place.

I don’t watch a lot of medical shows.  I like House and I like The Good Doctor and a few others that are more dramas that happen to be about doctors than they are “medical shows.”  Usually, when surgery is depicted on TV, it’s either so graphic it causes me PTSD  or it’s so unrealistically “clean” it’s frustrating.
The season 2 premiere of The Good Doctor features a patient  who needs a “piggyback” heart transplant, a procedure that has been around since 2004.  The episode frustrated me so much I wanted to see if anyone wrote about it, and I discovered a couple YouTube shows where doctors review medical dramas or sitcoms.  Then I looked to see if there was an equivalent series for patients, and there is none. Since I can only speak above a whisper, and since I don’t know how to do all the fancy effects of a YouTube channel, I decided to do it as a blog post.

So, the Good Doctor episode: they’re getting ready for this surgery and discover a massive aortic aneurysm that they somehow never picked up on previous tests.  A dissection would be believable.  But an aneurysm?  Then they refer to a “teflon” graft–aortic grafts are made of Dacron, which contains teflon, but I have never heard a doctor say “teflon” graft.  Then they act like the aortic graft is what’s “risky,” and not this heart procedure.  I have had an aortic “teflon” graft that goes “all the way to my heart” for 22 years.  It’s nothing new.  Also, IRL if they discovered such a potential complication, they would do two separate procedures.  When I had the surgeries in the picture above, they first grafted from my left carotid to my left subclavian.  Then, a week later, they grafted my descending aorta.   Then I had some kind of surgery about once a week for a month and a half.  Were it a  TV show, it would be all done in less than a week, and I’d have left the hospital happy and smiling, instead of barely functional after 3 months.

To wit, medical dramas are their best when major characters are patients and their care is actually shown in a realistic timeline with realistic reactions and complications.

Non-medical shows are just as bad: character has some health crisis and it’s all resolved in an episode or two: no long term scars or broken bones that never quite heal right–unless the storyline is to account for an actor’s real life health issues.

Every time I look in the mirror I see the scars.  If I look at my hands closely enough I can see the scars from various long term IVs from hospitalizations.

You never see that on TV.

Then there was this week’s Good DoctorShaun tells his supervisor, Dr. Melendez, that he thinks the janitor has pancreatic cancer because of acid reflux, jaundice and some other symptom.  Melendez walks by the janitor and agrees.  They do a “full workup,” whatever that means.  In less than a day, they’ve given him all sorts of tests, “on the hospital’s dime,” and sure enough he has cancer, and they do a surgery, and well, in this case he dies but you know the drill.  Either the patient dies and there’s some kind of ethical debate or life lesson for the major characters, or else the patient lives and (see above).

Real life: doctor sees a lump on your foot.  Combined with other symptoms, he thinks it might be cancerous.  He’s pretty sure it’s just a bone spur but wants to be sure.  So he orders an X-Ray.  That doesn’t  settle it, so he orders an MRI.  This whole process takes nearly a month, not a few hours.  MRI thankfully confirms bone spur, but after a month of worry you now have to deal with the fact that your insurance company has denied the MRI.

Doctor show: patient goes to the ER with a cough.  “I think you might be having an [insert “zebra” diagnosis here] because you have all these other symptoms you didn’t mention.”

Real Life: patient goes to the ER with, say, Marfan syndrome, multiple grafts and an abdominal aneurysm, and sharp pain in chest and back. He tells them that it has to be really bad for him to show up at all, that he’s having this pain in spite of high doses of pain medication, anti-gas meds, antacids, etc., and that he just wants a CT and an echo to make sure everything’s functioning properly.  He even tries to hand them a signed ER plan which they hand back to him.

Instead, I sat in the ER waiting room for 5 hours, surrounded by people coughing and hacking, later heard one of the people at the triage desk say, “We have to clear out all these Class C” people and looks up what that means, and found out it’s basically the ER term for hypochondriacs.  While I had been sitting there, they gave me an EKG and chest X-Ray, both of which I know are useless in showing whether anything is dissected or leaking, and both of which were “normal” when I had my actual aortic dissection.

Having arrived around 7 PM, I finally got into room, way in the back, at 11:45.  A nurse came in and I explained why I was there and handed her my sheet.  She looked at it, asked if she could keep it, and I said, “Yes, that’s why I brought multiple copies.”  She said she’d enter it into my chart (I had updated information from another hospital).  [A week later, when I went to see my regular doctor’s office at that hospital for a scheduled test, they did not have the updated information].
She ended her shift, and I went through the same routine with another nurse, and he was impressed I wrote the care plan myself.  The usual sequence of increasingly ranked doctors came in, and the highest ranked one actually seemed to be concerned that they’d made me wait this long. Then he finally ordered the CT which my wife had been assured over the phone around 9 PM that they had already ordered.
It was, of course, “stable,” though I know from experience that “ER stable” could mean a mm or more of growth in my aneurysm, which is the change my surgeon said would make it time for my next surgery.

TV Drama: Person has a dizzy spell.  Someone calls 911.  The hospital admits the patient till they know exactly what caused the dizzy spell.  Wants to know entire history.  House gets mad patient didn’t mention a dizzy spell in 1984, or sends his residents to break into the patient’s house to find information the patient might not have shared.

RL, Different Hospital: I lost my memory briefly.  I have a history of neurological complications of Marfan syndrome, including 2 or more venous ectasias (essentially brain aneurysms but supposedly they won’t burst), and potential dural ectasia and CSF problems but I can’t have the tests to formally diagnose them so when I have symptoms of a CSF leak I just confine myself to bed rest till I feel better.

My whole life I’ve had dizzy spells, loss of feeling in my legs, slurred speech, “migraines,” etc.  Some of that is explained by either or both of those conditions.  Usually, I’ve only gone to the ER when other people were concerned enough to insist on it, like when I’d nearly pass out in the hallway in high school.  I hate ERs because I know the’re pretty much useless.

For the past couple years, I’ve been getting migraines with audio aura, or something like waking dreams. It’s hard to explain, but I would feel woozy then get a sense of deja vu or nostalgia or whatever, feel like I was remembering something but not quite sure, and if I tried to focus on that, it would just get worse and worse, with this cacophony of noise in my head.  Usually, an aspirin or a nap would wipe it out.

In June, I started having such an experience and went back to my room.  My wife sent one of the kids back to check on me and I didn’t know who or where I was (from my perspective, I thought I’d slept for hours and just woken up).  They asked me all sorts of questions.  I  remember the experience but I remember “knowing” but being horribly confused and just unable to get the words to my mouth.

So they called 911.  I took the ambulance to the hospital, and felt better by the time I got there.  They did some meaningless tests, diagnosed me with “migraine,” and sent me home.

A month to the day later, it happened again, only this time I didn’t make it to the bed.  I feel and lost consciousness on the bedroom floor.  My wife had recently done an online CPR class and had the kids watch it with her.  Our 11 year old said, “Dad’s having a seizure!”

Called 911.  I woke up surrounded by EMTs.  They took me to the ER.  Yes, I was having a seizure, spent most of the night in the ER, but they didn’t admit me.  For once, I don’t remember a lot of details about what happened next, but I came home, and the next night my wife woke up to me seizing in my sleep.  She called again.  This time, she insisted they admit me.  The neurologist on duty was a cerebrovascular neurologist I’d seen before about my venous ectasias.  The first neurology resident was OK but the supervising resident insisted I was faking it or something and did some kind of physical assault to show that I wasn’t really having a seizure, ignoring my wife’s pleas for him to stop that he could kill me by the way he was applying pressure to my chest.

After my wife’s pleas, they admitted me.   We told them all the history above, and they said, “Well, that’s probably unrelated.”
After a frustrating weekend, they sent me home.  We didn’t understand at the time why they refused to do an EEG while I was there, but now I understand: the way to diagnose epilepsy is to wait till the patient is *not* in an obvious seizure, and if there’s seizure activity, they know it’s epilepsy and not anything else.  So after a week, I got the EEG.  Another week later, they called and said to come in for the follow up ASAP.  Yes, I had epilepsy.  Yes, they admitted that those audio migraines, dizzy spells, etc., had probably all been partial seizures.

Medical Drama (Again): “Tell us every health problem you’ve ever had.”
RL (office visit): “Don’t tell me all that.  What is the most urgent issue you’re dealing with right now.”

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_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.

“Hey! I know her!”

The Aiken Community Playhouse Youth Wing is putting on Kate Hamill‘s award winning, 2016, off-Broadway adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and SensibilityFrom their website, the showings are:

February 16, 17, 23, 24 at 7:30 . February 18 at 3 pm
School show: Feb. 22 at 10 am. Interested schools should contact the Box Office at 803-648-1438

Now, it should be noted in the interest of both journalistic ethics and apparently federal law, my daughter is in the play and I got to see the dress rehearsal for free because of that.
That said, I really did think it was fantastic, and I strongly recommend it.  I considered trying to do the whole “Snarly Judge who everyone loves to despise” thing, as Mr. Lunt puts it,  and try the whole reverse psychology thing, but I really did like it too much to say anything bad.
One of the marks of professionalism in a performance is the ability to go with the flow when things go wrong, and these kids did great.  I got so wrapped up in it I kept forgetting two things: a) that it was a dress rehearsal (in fact, we previously had free tickets to ACP’s adult dress rehearsal of Beauty and the Beast, and that was so good I forgot it was a dress rehearsal) and b) my daughter was in it.  I barely recognized her.
A basic rule of performance is the ability to go with the flow if something goes wrong.
I kept telling my daughter about William Shatner’s “big break” as Christopher Plummer’s understudy in a Toronto production of Henry V.  On the night when the critics wrote their reviews, Plummer was ill and Shatner took his place.  He kept forgetting his lines, but his pauses to remember them were so dramatically effective the critics loved him.
So these kids were consummate professionals: I noticed a couple times where one of them would stammer, and it fit so well with the story it was either really good acting because they stammered intentionally or really good acting because they actually stammered with good timing.
The only other mistake I noticed was a feedback problem near the ending, and it happened when a character was in angst, so again, it was impressive that the young actors just kept going with the scene.
There were some interesting choices for the incidental music, some of which was at times a bit too anachronistic, but it was emotionally effective nonetheless, and had me listening to the Piano Guyseponymous album on repeat for two hours after the show.
Between the superb acting, the effective dramatization of Austen’s classic, and the music, with the added impact of my daughter’s debut (almost 11 years to the day after her unofficial stage debut as a volunteer audience participant in a dinner theater), I spent the next hour after the show in pure Joy/Sennsucht.

The play was so good that I’d go back even if my daughter wasn’t in it.

As for my daughter, Alexandra Hathaway, in the role of Mrs. Dashwood, she has a tendency to be a bit too fast in her delivery, but in this case it was like the opposite of William Shatner’s King Henry.  They all had to speak quickly to deliver the extensive dialogue, and she came off very effectively as a frazzled and desperate widow.  Like Estelle Getty in Golden Girls, she was one of the younger members of the cast, but a little make-up added to her Marfanoid physique, and her eldest sibling “Little Mother”/babysitting skills made her extremely convincing as a 40 year old mother.

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Alexandra “Mrs. Dashwood,” standing (Photo Credit: Christina Cleveland, Aiken Standard)

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Photo Credit: Me.

10 years ago, she couldn’t see. Now, she has lens implants that give her vision like her mother’s. 10 years ago, her aorta “enlarged.” It stopped growing and even shrank a bit, such that her cardiologist calls her the “miracle girl.” She is in constant pain from ankles that sublux all the time, yet she’s enduring the pain to do this. Whether this is the first step in an illustrious career in theater or valuable experience that will help her in a future path, we are impressed at what she has accomplished, and she deserves accolades and lots of ticket sales, and Aiken Community Playhouse deserves a lot of ticket sales for giving her this well-earned opportunity.

THE WHISPERING ROOM Review

(My wife, Mary Hathaway, was given a free e advanced reader copy of THE WHISPERING ROOM, by Dean Koontz, but due to health and other issues, she could not finish the novel until now.  This is written from her point of view and shared on Amazon as well. The links go to Amazon, but we are NOT getting any money for it.  You can find the books elsewhere and even some are free for download.  They just enrich the meaning if you have read them.)

Many read Dean Koontz for his horror and suspense. I read him because he makes me laugh, brings me hope in our very fallen world, and his plot twists and character development serve as an amazing examination of conscience, one that usually leaves me squirming and landing on my knees in repentance. The higher, anagogical meaning is what I look for and am never disappointed.

In her essay “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” found in the collection, Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor writes, “I think the way to read a book is always to see what happens, but in a good novel, more always happens than we are able to take in at once, more happens than meets the eye. The mind is led on by what it sees into the greater depths that the book’s symbols naturally suggest. This is what is meant when critics say that a novel operates on several levels. The truer the symbol, the deeper it leads you, the more meaning it opens up.”

O’Connor could have been predicting the work of one of her biggest fans, Dean Koontz, in this essay. He may be known as the “Master of Suspense,” and aptly so, but it’s his use of symbols and their anagogical meaning that has me pondering his works long after I finish them and brings me back to them again. The “suspense” of what happens after earthly life is what he wants his readers to consider and I do, with every novel of his I have read.

THE WHISPERING ROOM, the second novel in what is promised to be a 7-book series features the intrepid and determined Jane Hawk, a rogue FBI agent on the run, investigating a series of deaths while attempting to guard herself and those she loves against the unseen enemies. Having been startled, enthralled and moved to tears by the end of THE SILENT CORNER, the first book in the series, I was anxious to see where Mrs. Hawk would land next in her quest to bring justice for her husband and safety for her son and others imperiled by “them.”

While THE SILENT CORNER is meticulously crafted to introduce the Jane Hawk universe, THE WHISPERING ROOM immediately draws the reader into an intimate scene of the slowly unveiling iniquitous underground. The pace is fast and the mood sinister. Jane’s quest for justice introduces her to some of the most foul and disgusting people one can imagine, as well as some of the bravest and kind. One’s conscience is pricked and left mourning for evil and its web in which we are all entangled. Its end left me puzzling and wondering where Jane was headed next in the quest for justice, an answer that is coming in May 2018, in THE CROOKED STAIRCASE. If you have not read The Silent Corner: A Novel of Suspense yet, I strongly recommend reading it first and then reading the sequel, THE WHISPERING ROOM.

I also suggest reading T.S. Eliot’s Collected Poems, 1909-1962 or read this excellent analysis of “The Hollow Men,”  as well as reading Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Stories (FSG Classics). A look at CS Lewis and his book The Four Loves will also provide more insight into the deeper meaning of the fantastic Jane Hawk series and the other works of Dean Koontz.

In closing, I would strongly recommend reading a novel by his apprentice of sorts, Frank RedmanELIJAH: A Suspense Novel and reading Redman’s publisher web site for his Koontz story.   Redman’s influence on Koontz’s writing and his life cannot be exaggerated, as once again, Redman’s integrity, bravery, faith, and health battle are featured in the Jane Hawk series, hidden in the characters’ names, words and actions, just as he served as the inspiration for ASHLEY BELL.

Like most adults, my spare time is limited, so I can cover all my reading needs in one of Koontz’s amazing novels– a spiritual work, a fantastic suspense, a deep romance, a political critique, a futuristic sci-fi thriller, and an examination of conscience, all in one incredible work of art.

quote from THE FOUR LOVES

“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

When Cross Promotional Deal Mechanics Misfire

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Jen Fitz was recently shocked to see a Stranger Things branded Ouija Board at Target and asked if there was anything about the show that promoted occultism or Ouija.

  1. Jen’s post, linked above, focuses more on the dangers of Ouija boards, so I’ll refer you there.  I’ll say that one of the holiest priests I know is also an experienced exorcist, and is of the mindset that paranoia is just as bad as involvement with the occult.  He’s not against Harry Potter or fantasy fiction or trick or treating, but told us a very powerful story of one of his most dramatic “cases,” and it was a home infestation caused by involvement with Ouija and seances.  Ouija is not just a board game.
  2. In the evil realm that is capitalism, “branded” board games have been around now for quite a while, and they come in part from a Wal-Mart policy that products must change or lower prices.
  3. I don’t recall a Ouija board being used on Stranger Things, but if it was, I wonder if the FCC would require that the product placement be disclosed.  Does Netflix fall under the separate rules for television or streaming?
  4. The “connection,” as depicted on the box, is where “Joyce” (Winona Ryder) paints a giant alphabet and “Yes” and “No” on her wall, to communicate with her son, “Will,” who is not dead but is trapped in a parallel universe and able to communicate through electrical surges.  It would be really no different than someone who’s “locked in” blinking “yes” or “no” for each letter or someone who’s mute pointing to a letter board (been there; done that).
  5. On Twin Peaks and Supernatural, “aliens” are ghosts/demons.  On The X-Files and Doctor Who, “ghosts” are aliens.  Stranger Things, so far, follows the latter formula. So if there’s a spiritual danger in the show, it’s more the “Devil tricking us into believing he doesn’t exist” than it is occultism.  But it is a really good show, whose artistic merits have been widely discussed.  The most improper content on the show is a lot of filthy language which at least is realistic and sometimes has the Flannery O’Connor “showing how people talk to show why it’s bad to talk that way” function, as well as the “Are they technically blaspheming or praying in this case” function.  There is also some teen sex which still depicts some of the psychological and spiritual consequences of fornication.  Indeed, a prominent storyline spins out of an act of fornication, and the guilt of that and attempt to atone for it carries through some of the stories of season 2.  This is a stark contrast to many other shows, as I also plan to discuss in a post.
  6. One of the things that attracted me to the show was the viral story about the “cool” C&D letter Netflix sent to an unauthorized Stranger Things themed bar. The letter professes concern about “art” and “loving their fans” and having “a say in how our fans encounter the worlds we build.”  Apparently, bars are bad, but occultism is good.
  7. Ergo, if you have a relative who’s trapped in a parallel universe, and you have some way of communicating with them, maybe a Stranger Things branded Ouija board would make sense, but really paint or paint brushes would make more sense.

 

“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.

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“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.

Twin Peaks: Is it the End or the Beginning? Pt 1 of 3

[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched Episode 18 of Twin Peaks: The Return, and intend to do so, stop at 17; if you have watched 18, or don’t care about spoilers, proceed]

T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis had Part 18two great published arguments: Eliot’s response to Lewis’s Preface of Paradose Lost (and Lewis’s reply), and their similar exchange over Hamlet.
In the former case, Eliot took the stance that only poets are qualified to analyze poetry.  Lewis attacked this self-justifying elitism.  In the latter case, Lewis expressed disagreement with criticism that treats a work of fiction as something real: the title of the essay is “Hamlet: the Prince or the Poem.”  Shakespeare critics debate Hamlet’s psychology, what he’s studying school and other details extraneous to the text as if he were a real person.

Now that Twin Peaks is (presumably) over, many are saying it’s probably the most sophisticated troll/prank in history.  25+ years and 18 hours of sitting through catatonic insurance salesmen, musical sequences, bizarre CGI sequences and people driving in the dark mixed in about 8 hours of actual story to be left scratching our heads.

Some are saying David Lynch is a genius.  Some are saying those people and Lynch are idiots.  Some are saying Lynch is an evil genius.  The latter group are probably right.

Somewhere in the original run of Twin Peaks, Cooper says something like “Do you ever feel like you’re in a dream?”  In Fire Walk With Me, Philip Jeffries says, “We’re all living in a dream,” a quote Cooper reiterates in Episode 17 of The Return.  The question has been posed other places in season 3/The Return.  When some of us speculated that the finale would turn out to be a dream, or something of the sort, some people said “David Lynch is too much of a genius to do something so cliche.”

Well, he did.

And now people are still insisting he’s a genius.  “It’s existentialism,” some say.  “Well, existentialism leads to suicide,” I say.  [More on that later].

So what happened?

The Return features the return not only of the original cast but some of Lynch’s favorite actors.  One of Lynch’s favorite movies is Sunset Boulevard, to which he makes frequent allusions/easter eggs, such as the name of Agent Gordon Cole, or the presence of the street sign in Mulholland Drive, a movie named after a street in LA known for being the home of wannabe stars as Sunset is known as known as the home of established stars.

Lynch originally created Mulholland Drive as a television pilot, and said it was supposed to be a Twin Peaks spinoff, telling the story of Audrey Horne after the explosion.  In a reverse of Twin Peaks, which was shot as a movie with a hasty ending in case the series wasn’t picked up, and the ending was cut out and recut as a dream on the show, Mulholland Drive was shot as a pilot and then re-edited as a standalone movie with a hasty ending.

Either way, Lynch said to think of it as how Twin Peaks was supposed to end, so especially when Audrey “wakes up” in Episode 16 (never to be heard from again), it was predictable that The Return would end in a similar fashion to Mulholland Drive: the hero is a different person, in a different reality, with memories of the idyllic world we just spent most of the story becoming familiar with.  There are mobster brothers, weird assassins, etc.  Mulholland Drive, like Sunset Boulevard, is a commentary on the film industry and its audience.  Twin Peaks may be seen as a commentary on television and its audiences.

The Black Lodge spirits are beings who live off of other people’s fear and suffering, are they just TV viewers?  They manifest as people who could have any face or any name.  They live in trailers and middle class homes.  They sit in leather armchairs.  They live in apartments above convenience stores.  They live in a dark motel.

In that sense,  Lynch seems to agree with Lewis.  In the final scene, Cooper (or the man who thinks he’s Dale Cooper) and Carrie, another Laura, like many a fan over the years, arrive at the infamous white house and knock on the door.  A woman answers.

Her name is Chalfont, and she bought the house from someone named Tremond, and knows nothing of Laura, Sarah or Leland Palmer.  The significance of this is that the lady who answers the door is the real owner of the house.  Thus, the two central characters become the obsessive fans, trying to bring to life the fictional reality they’ve come to love, and Lewis would likely point out that today’s obsessive fans are no different from the people in Shakespeare’s day who would jump on stage and draw their swords or the generations of literary scholars who’ve argued whether Hamlet was really mentally ill or just faking it.

Seen as a dream, we have several clues, like Mulholland: if the ending is the “real world,” the dream world is constructed by “Richard’s” memories of different people and places.  It struck me that the dopplegangers are called “tulpas.”  In Eastern mythology/mysticism, a “tulpa” is basically a parallel self that we encounter in dreams.  So the multiple Coopers, Lauras, Dianes, etc., are tulpas in shared dreams.  “Who is the dreamer?” Monica Bellucci asks Gordon Cole in a dream: Dale the almost naively optimistic, pop Buddhism practicing, coffee and doughnuts loving, Sherlock Holmes lawman; Mr. C., the callous, murderous, sociopathic criminal; and Dougie, the dimwitted, bored, unfaithful husband and father.  We see elements of all three in the “Richard” we encounter in the show’s final half hour.  Are they just the lives he lives in his dreams at night, a kind of Walter Mitty?

Perhaps he’s a real FBI agent tracking down a missing person from decades ago.    More

Or else, The Return is Flashpoint: Cooper, like Barry Allen, changed the entire universe to save one girl’s life.  As soon as he altered the past at the end of Episode 17, I thought, “Wouldn’t BOB just kill Ronette Pulaski, then?  How is BOB going to be stopped? Why not go back a year earlier and save Teresa Banks?”  One action can, as Prufrock muses, “disturb the universe.”

*Or,* as I reflected several years ago, the whole point is Nirvana: Cooper has to “bring balance to the Force,” which does not necessarily mean a Western/Judeo-Christian understanding of the triumph of goodness.  The beings in the Red Room are the souls, which inhabit different bodies in different times, living different lives.

All of these interpretations lead to the same “lesson”: evil can never be completely destroyed, except in our fantasies.  “Dale” spends 25 years in the Black Lodge–if he ever actually leaves.  “Richard” is a middle-aged FBI agent who’s so jaded he shoots some guys for getting rough with a waitress and then puts their guns in a deep fryer, casually pointing out that they might just explode.  Both suffer the consequence of trying to take on evil directly.  There is an inverse Catholic truth to this which I will explore in my next piece, but it says something to the jaded Lynch, disappointed in the poor reception his films or the original series received from audiences.

The outline for Twin Peaks season 3, had it aired in 1991-1992, would have seen Cooper leaving the FBI and settling down in Twin Peaks.  That ending did not happen because

_Twin Peaks’_ Maj. Garland Briggs–a sincere Christian in television

WARNING: If you haven’t seen Twin Peaks, and believe spoilers do just that, proceed with caution; if you have never watched and agree with Flannery O’Connor that fiction is better enjoyed when you know what’s going to happen, read on!)
With “Season 3” of Twin Peaks airing, I’ve been reading a lot of websites and just began reviewing the original series/first two seasons.  This will be my fourth viewing of the series since its original run–once on DVD about 15 years ago and on Netflix about 5 years ago, after the Psych tribute episode.
Before the show was “put on indefinite haitus” by ABC–Whovians, Trekkies and Star Wars fans have nothing on Twin Peaks fans in terms of waiting–there was an outline written for season 3.  As with many cult shows that have been continued in comic book and/or novel form, some fans who were comic book writers approached David Lynch about 10 years ago to try and convince him to let them turn that outline into a comic book series.  Lynch famously declared Twin Peaks dead.
Whether he changed his mind or actually intended to surprise everyone for the show’s 25th anniversary (“I’ll see you again in 25 years”), had that comic book been made, we might not have gotten an actual show.  Amazingly, of the characters who were not already killed off, five cast members have either passed away or refused to participate.
Ironically and problematically, two of those five play characters who are immortal: the late Frank Silva, who played the immortal demon BOB, and the living Michael J. Anderson (“Man from Another Place/Dwarf/MIKE’s arm”).  The other actor who passed away (though a Warren Frost, Miguel Ferrer and Catherine E. Coulson died shortly after filming of The Return was completed) was Don S. Davis (1942-2008), who played Maj. Garland Briggs.  A veteran sci-fi actor, he played Capt. William Scully on The X-Files, and IMDB quotes him saying he enjoys playing science fiction characters because it’s one of the few genres where you are still able to have flawless good guys.
Rolling Stone (in an article I just found) lists him as the show’s 8th best character, noting that he is the inversion of its “you can’t tell a book by its cover” theme.  I’ve seen at least two websites (possibly from the same person) calling him not just the greatest character on Twin Peaks but one of the greatest TV characters ever.
The scene that introduces Maj. Briggs is a family dinner.  His son Bobby, Laura Palmer’s “official” boyfriend, has just been released from jail after being held for fighting and for suspicion of being Laura’s murderer.  Family dinners, whether at home or at the homey RR diner, are a recurring motif of the original series (which could be contrasted to the motif of Roadhouse and barroom dinners in the new series/third season).  Whether it’s the Haywards who are set as the model of the loving, wholesome family yet the parents are clueless about their daughters’ lives, and two of the daughters show up only a couple times, the Palmers and their horrible secrets, or the Hornes and their facade of respectability amid mental illness and infidelity, the dinners usually have the same dramatic function as Ewing family dinners on Dallas.
The first time I saw the scene, it seemed like Maj. Briggs was being presented as another example.  Sitting in his USAF uniform, he starts the meal saying grace–the only character who does so, IIRC, though the Haywards go to church.  He then proceeds to calmly but formally lecture his son (“Robert”) on the value of teenage rebelliousness but his job as a father to guide Bobby’s rebelliousness within the standards of society and their family.
Bobby doesn’t speak, leading to a talk about the various meanings of silence.  He pulls out a cigarette, and his father reaches across the table, slapping it out of his mouth.  The cigarette lands in Mrs. Briggs’s meatloaf, and she barely reacts.  Maj. Briggs says that he is very tolerant but has his limits.  Again, at first sight, he seems to be another example of hypocrisy, and a seemingly wholesome family covering up abuse that leads to the child’s reckless behavior.  As time goes on, Maj. Briggs is revealed to be a very different character and becomes by the end of the second season, the show’s moral center.  The first time the show aired, I puzzled in retrospect over that scene.
When I rewatched it the second and third times, I assumed that it was just an early scene before the character had been sufficiently developed.  This time, it struck me as very well-planned.  As Rolling Stone put it, they want us to see him as a seemingly authoritarian and abusive father.  But just as the seemingly loving and gentle Leland Palmer (spoiler alert) was possessed by a demon which drove him to molest and murder his own daughter, the seemingly stern and gruff Maj. Briggs is actually loving and gentle.
In the aforementioned outline for Season 3, the plan had been for Maj. Briggs to become the main hero.  Whether it was resolved quickly or over the season, the plan was that (spoiler alert) Maj. Briggs would go into the Black Lodge and rescue Cooper.  Though Cooper is superficially an innocent, we know that he is gluttonous, lustful and has committed adultery.  When he invades the Black Lodge to rescue his girlfriend, he gets trapped there and replaced by BOB occupying his physical body because of his own sinfulness.  Originally, had Don S. Davis not passed away, Maj. Briggs would have been the only character worthy of facing the Black Lodge without being corrupted, so whether it would have been a long or short storyline, Briggs would have been the one to bring Cooper back.
(Spoiler) On the new show, one of the mysteries is that his decapitated body was found in South Dakota, and, even though he was reported dead in a fire in 1989 (the events of the 1990-91 series all took place fictionally in February and March 1989), he was in his early 40s when he died.   We recently learned on the new show that he had been in another dimension for 25 years–whether it was the Black or White Lodge has yet to be revealed.
Seen through those eyes, as well as the eyes of real world experience, that first scene looks very different.
Maj. Briggs, even though he refers to patience having its limits, does not lose his cool.  His son, already in trouble with the law, does something completely disrespectful.  It is a controlled and calculated gesture.

EDIT: Don’t know why I never noticed this before, Bobby Briggs standing before a huge crucifix/home altar:
Bobby Briggs Crucifix.png

Is God a Cosmic Sadist?

Question: “Why would a loving God send people to Hell?”
Answer: People choose Hell over God.
Question: “Why would anyone choose Hell over God?”
Answer: Because they’ve spent their lives preparing themselves to make that choice.”
Question: “How could a Christian make that choice?
Answer: By formulating and clinging to a false notion of God that makes us recoil when we see the reality, or by allowing ourselves to be so attached to sin that we don’t want to be relieved of the attachment even in Purgatory.
Question: “Well, why did God make it so hard.  Doesn’t that make Him some kind of Cosmic Sadist who just wants to torture us?”
Answer: That’s a mystery.  The Old Testament basically says that’s what God is, at least from our perspective, and we just have to accept it because He’s God and we’re not.  New Testament atonement theology doesn’t help much, and there are many interpretations that try to get us out of that trap.

The simple answer is love, and the personalism of St. John Paul II.  Yes, God could have made us differently than He did. He could have made the angels differently than He did.  Maybe He has made other life-forms that are different–He certainly seems to love diversity and possibility.  But the fact is, He made us, and He made us such that, just as each specific kind of plant or animal needs certain nutrients and environmental factors to thrive, so people function to our fullest potential when we live according to God’s design and intention for us.


The New Testament tells us over and over that God has “imprisoned all in disobedience” that He might show Mercy to all, that He prizes the sheep who stray and come back more highly, and so on.  Again, it might seem like a weird way to set things up, but the more we understand it as a relationship of love, the more sense it makes.

To be free to love we must be free to reject, and I believe strongly that Christ gives us the freedom to reject Him. I believe that we have to pray to Christ to shape our understanding and our will to accept Him, just as spouses must both try themselves and pray for the grace to improve ourselves to be better people and to love our spouses for who they are, not who they want them to be.

I believe we set ourselves up for rejecting Christ when we form images of Him that conflict with Who He really is and refuse to allow those images to grow. In marriage, we start off with an idealized Other whom we love. As we grow, we realize the Other doesn’t always match that Ideal. The Ideal gives way to the Real, we try to make ourselves more like the Other’s Ideal, and one day hope that we will be together, perfected, in Heaven, where the truly Ideal and the truly Real meet.
The same is true of our relationships with Christ, but the difference is that He is unchanging.  We are mutable and weak, and blessed with the gifts of ignorance and unknowing that He gave us to give us the opportunity to grow.  However, we start with an “ideal” of Christ that we tend to cling to.  If we take our mistaken view of Christ, whatever its basis, without trying to grow in our understanding, we end up like Javert, confronted with the reality of Christ and too proud to admit we were wrong.
In this sense, the ancient Christian tradition, reflected in both Catholic and Orthodox sources, tells us that it might sometimes be easier for a pagan or an atheist who has gone through life with an attitude of sincerely seeking God, to embrace Jesus when she meets Him than for a self-proclaimed Christian who is too self-confident to admit being wrong.
This is also why we must caution ourselves against the extreme of presumption–we use the rather extreme example of someone who has lived a life of erstwhile holiness potentially “snapping” and committing a murder-suicide, but the far more realistic example is that we are too attached to *something* to let it go for Christ when called to do so.
Paradoxically, one of those attachments can itself be scrupulosity.  We can often be the worst Javert’s to ourselves–indeed, in the book, Javert resigns his position, writes a confession, and commits suicide because he has broken the Law by not arresting Valjean on sight.  He cannot forgive himself for being forgiving–the ultimate paradox of the damned.
The possibility of damnation does not make God a Cosmic Sadist–though, as C. S. Lewis, St. Francis de Sales and the Book of Job all tell us, even if God *is* a Cosmic Sadist, we don’t have any choice in the matter so we might as well play by His rules.
At judgement, we put God in the Dock, as Lewis says–we judge Him.  We say, “I can’t accept Your Mercy,” or “I can’t accept Your Justice,” or both.  In Lewis’s Great Divorce, souls are first tempted — not with the more obvious ones but tests of pride, impatience, etc.–and then greeted by Saints they have the biggest grudges against.  This is similar to the Orthodox theory of the “toll booths”—that personal judgement is a journey, where we must stop and confront different temptations that plagued us in life, and if we don’t built up the resistance to them now, we won’t be able to resist them then.  As well as the tollbooths, like in Lewis’s story, the soul is called to both by the Damned and the Saved, and if the soul has kept bad company in this life, she will be drawn to the appeal of the Damned to join them.
It’s like the joke about the millionaire who is told he can decide between Heaven and Hell and after seeing Heaven, he is taken to Hell for his three day preview.  He spends three days at a luxury resort, with every pleasure imaginable, and all his friends and family are having a big party.  So he decides that Hell has been misrepresented and tells the angel he wants to stay in Hell.  He finds himself in torment, with his friends and family chained nearby, cursing him and each other, and the handsome concierge now revealed as Satan, and he asks what happened.  “That was sales pitch.  You purchased.”
The other mistake we can make with every conception of judgement, even the “tollbooths,” is that we think, “Christ forgives everyone.  He will forgive me.”  We presume that we haven’t bought into Satan’s sales pitch.  We presume we will be able to withstand any temptation in our final journey or that we won’t find ourselves agreeing with all the celebrities and internet combox atheists who say that they’d rather be in Hell because all the interesting people are there.
We have to shape our minds, our lives, our desires to make God, as He has revealed Himself to be, desirable to us, and to recognize when the World is trying to make us think differently of Him.

_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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Judge a Movie on Its Own Terms.

Hollywood makes polemical movies all the time.  When they’re liberal, everyone says, “Great movie.”  When they’re Christian and/or politically conservative, suddenly they’re “preachy.”  When a “Christian” movie has bad theology (_Noah_), Christian critics (rightly) complain. When a “Christian” movie has theology, it’s “Bible thumping” or “boring” or “unrealistic.”  When a movie has language, sex & violence, Christian critics complain.  When it has none of those, it’s too unrealistic or insipid.  . . .

Meanwhile, Hollywood has taken its agenda full-steam the past 8 years and has gone beyond brainwashing to using its economic might to strongarm elected officials.

Seeing on the horizon what the late Justice Antonin Scalia predicted last summer, several states have recently drafted legislation trying to back up the First Amendment protection of religion.  Bills that say, for example, that ministers cannot be forced to participate in weddings that go against their faith, or that religious organizations cannot be forced to hire people who do not practice their faith, have been cast by the media as “anti-LGBT hate laws,” and the consistent, age old principle that marriage is between a man and a woman for the sake of procreation is now being cast as equivalent to some Christians’ previous justifications of opposing miscegenation and supporting slavery.

So, Disney headlined a list of major corporations that threatened to boycott the entire state of Georgia if Gov. Nathan Deal signed its religious freedom bill.  Whatever happened to “big business” being supposedly “conservative”?  I know people who still cling to the myth that “Republicans are the party of the Rich,” even while Hollywood elites are using their money to pressure elected officials and manipulate the Democratic Primary itself (with those “superdelegates”).

So, speaking of “super” people, while Disney made headlines, Warner was another company behind the threatened boycott.  Last month, I bought a restaurant.com deal that came with 2 emovie tickets that expired March 31.  I saved them for Easter break.  I hoped the opportunity would come up for a “date,” or else I’d planned to see _Batman v. Superman_ and let my wife see whatever she wanted, as we did when the kids were really little.  Instead, I decided I didn’t want to see _Dawn of Justice_ in the theatre because I’d rather watch it when I can fast forward or multitask through the violence.  I didn’t want to see _Zootopia_ because I don’t want to give Disney any money, and as with most “kids” movie trailers, I was uncomfortable with some of the jokes they highlweighted.

 

So that left _God’s Not Dead 2″ and “Miracles from Heaven.”  Since I’d put it off so long, we had to go together and bring the kids.  We also had some fantastic news on a few fronts this week, and a bit of family celebration was in order.

Since we saw the first one, and all the kids enjoyed it and paid attention (which is unusual for them with live action movies that aren’t in the superhero, sci-fi or musical genres), we figured #GodsNotDead2 was “safe.”  We’re glad we went, and glad we spent the money on the extra tickets, instead of spending it on Disney.

1) ok, it’s not “high cinema.”  It doesn’t pretend to be.  It has its place.
2) As Eliot said, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.”  As a character in _Twin Peaks_ says, voicing David Lynch’s Eliotic formalism, “This is a formica table.” Much of what makes the pilot and first season of _Twin Peaks_ “quirky” and “strange” is that it’s not.  I was struck, rewatching the series a few years ago, by a scene where Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman are in the hospital to interview a suspect, and the sheriff tries to adjust a rolling desk chair to his height, and he struggles with it.  It’s funny to watch.  It disturbs our sense of narrative structure, so we call it weird, but it’s actually *real*.  It’s what really happens to real people.  People in movies toss ropes across ravines and catch them perfectly.  I toss a dog leash across the room to one of my kids, and it falls in the middle between us.  If the latter happens in a movie, though, we call it “unrealistic,” and depending upon what amounts to a biased perspective, that may or may not be “artistic.”

So with both _God’s Not Dead_ movies and similar Christian films.  They might be unrealistic from a fiction-writer’s or a cynic’s perspective.  They might not do the best job of depicting their characters, but they do reflect the real experiences of real people.  I read an article yesterday that looked back on the first movie and said it’s unrealistic for a freshman to take on a college professor. *I* did.  This movie is about a teacher.  I know several educators, myself included, who have had incidents in their careers like what happens in the movie.

So view them as quasi-documentaries of us weirdos who do think our faith should be more than just 1 hour on Sundays and should impact other parts of our lives.

3) Maybe they will attract or convince non-Christians to convert.  Maybe they’ll provide fodder for cynical non-Christians to mock or deride Christianity (but so wouldec, for example, an honset adaptation of _Narnia_).

But that’s not the audience.

Sometimes the choir *does* need to be preached to.  When we face challenges in the workplace or the classroom, we need to be prepared to give an account of what we believe in.

Action Movies tell us that one guy can take down a group of terrorists, aliens or supervillains.  Romantic movies tell us that it’s simple for the guy to get the girl or vice versa.  Dinosaurs, zombies, vampires, or people who get superpowers instead of cancer from radiation run amok, and that’s fine.  But when a  movie tells us that a Christian can stand up and witness his or her faith in public and win the challenge, suddenly that’s escapist and unrealistic.

I appreciate the critique.  I appreciate the call for movies that do what the works of O’Connor, Tolkien, etc., do.  But we also need the cinematic equivalents of C. S. Lewis and A. J. Cronin. So I don’t get the absolute vitriol directed at this genre by Christian critics, especially the ones whom I otherwise respect.

The goal of the movie is to encourage its intended audience, and I think it achieves that goal.  I came out not only strengthened and encouraged but also having learned a few things.

Meanwhile, there’s the wider economic front looming in the culture wars.

Hollywood has now made its complete contempt for Christianity public with this campaign against Christian freedom.  We’re told we’re paranoid and backwards and hateful and ignorant and accused of violating every principle of the Inverted Natural Law for saying that bathrooms should be about plumbing, and that having gender-assigned bathrooms and locker rooms is about people’s privacy and safety.  If a feminist complains about ogling, she’s speaking out for human rights.  If a Christian does so, she’s being outmoded and bigoted.

By pressuring governors not to protect ministers, they’re saying–by implication or even overtly–that they *do* plan to go after ministers and churches directly.

And we want to give these people our money *why*?

If you go to the movies this weekend, see _God’s Not Dead 2_ or _Miracles from Heaven_.  Better yet, put the money in the collection basket.

The Abominable Bride: Did Sherlock Jump the Shark?

Sherlock: Since when have you had any kind of imagination?
John: Perhaps since I convinced the reading public that an unprincipled drug addict was some kind of gentleman hero.
Sherlock: Yes, now you come to mention it, that was quite impressive.
(From Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

Read more at: http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org/viewtopic.php?f=51&t=24430

It’s hardly the first time I’ve inspired a writer, Watson. I am actually the basis for several fictional characters across various media. It’s one of the by-products of my success as a detective.
(From Elementary, season 04, episode 07, “Miss Taken”)
Read more at: http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org/viewtopic.php?f=12&t=24516

After two years, fans of BBC’s Sherlock have finally seen the long-anticipated special The Abominable Bride (you can watch it online here for the next week or so.

Now, as we wait at least another year for Season 4, I’m left wondering whether Sherlock has jumped the proverbial shark, presented a deconstructionist masterpiece, or both.

I included the quote from this past week’s Elementary because both series seem to be necessarily self-aware at times.  Last year, it touched on it with the necessity of “One Watson, One Holmes,” where their roles are referred to as almost a thing of destiny.  In an earlier episode, “End of Watch,” a member of Holmes’s Narcotics Anonymous group publishes a blog with quotations of Sherlock’s wisdom shared at meetings–thus resulting an in-universe explanation for popular Sherlock Holmes quotations like, “When we have eliminated the impossible, . . .”

One problem with such series, like Once Upon a Time, is the constant question of how these people attained such legendary status while being our contemporaries.  Sherlock addresses the question overtly via Watson’s blog, the equivalent of Conan Doyle’s conceit of the stories being written by Watson.

The idea of Sherlock Holmes being contemporary is nothing new.  Previous adaptations, most notably the mid-1940s Universal Studios/Basil Rathbone movies, have been set in whatever era they were made (the 2 1939 Fox-produced Rathbone films, and the Rathbone radio drama, were all set in the original era).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories were really the first series in the modern sense.  While therehad been serialized novels like Les Miserables that could have been made into multi-year TV series today, and many sequels, the 56 short stories and 4 novels Conan Doyle wrote about Holmes were unprecedented.  Further, starting with the infamous ten-year letter-writing campaign that pressured Conan Doyle to bring the character back from the dead in 1903 when he’d intended 1894’s “The Final Problem” to be just that, to early commentaries that attempted to reconcile problems with the continuity, Conan Doyle inspired both the concept of the “series” and the concept of fandom.

Elementary may have been CBS’s attempt to capitalize on Sherlock’s popularity, but it also interestingly premiered the Fall after House, MD, ended, and Johnny Lee Miller’s approach to Holmes, more like Jeremy Brett than Cumberbatch has been to date (see below), also evokes Hugh Laurie’s Holmes-based doctor.

The first episode of Sherlock in 2010 seems to evoke elements of House (the ambiguity of Watson’s leg and cane usage, recalling both House and the original Watson; and Martin Freeman’s Watson reminds me more of Robert Sean Leonard’s James Wilson than any previous Watson) and Monk (inducing a police detective’s relationship status based upon similar clues).

Thus, like some movies like The Seven Per-Cent Solution and They Might Be Giants, both the current series, but Sherlock, in particular, have always played on the mythic status of the characters to explore questions of myth versus reality.  Though it is overtly  an attempt to pay homage to the original stories, and to the Jeremy Brett series (including a variation on the Brett Sherlock Holmes theme song, sets that recalled that interpretation of 221B Baker Street, and even a slight different in Benedict Cumberbatch’s acting style), “The Abominable Bride” definitely evokes both those films’ themes of paranoia and addiction, fantasy and reality.

In so doing, “The Abominable Bride” creates a conundrum.  Like every episode of Sherlock, it packs a lot into one episode, and it seems designed for repeat viewing.  However, while the first six episodes/movies do so by packing a lot of clues, Easter Eggs and humor, and cases that are resolved, this episode works more like an episode of Doctor Who.

The more I think about the special, the more it seems to “work,” but if it “works,” it undermines the whole series.  It’s like the Tommy Westphall hypothesis.  The theory, originally a satire of fans’ (myself included) obsession about “continuity,” meant to show how difficult it is to expect continuity of a single series (Ben Matlock lives in the same house for 9 seasons but three different houses are used for the outside), much less shows (or comic books) that cross-over.   Thus, the originally joking theory (which eventually grew into being what it was mocking) holds that every show ever is the wrapped up in the hallucination of Tommy Westphall on St. Elsewhere, since so many shows crossed over with it during its run or after, in a variant of 6 Degrees of Separation.  Any show that can be shown to “cross over” with a show that crossed over with St. Elsewhere is all part of the vast hallucination.

Thus, “The Abominable Bride” leaves the viewer with a similar dilemma.  In the first two seasons, Sherlock had seemingly substituted the character’s classic addictions with caffeine and nicotine, yet opium and other drugs were shown in season 3, and now at last the “seven per-cent solution” of cocaine.  We’re told that, shortly before boarding a plane to exile as a spy in “His Last Vow,” Sherlock took a cocktail of dangerous drugs.  When the episode ends, we see Moriarty, seemingly alive and having taken over all the media in the UK.  Mycroft calls for the plane to return.  In this episode, we see the 1890s versions of the characters, and in the middle find out we’re in Sherlock’s “mind palace”: he has supposedly concocted an elaborate supposition of himself in a different era trying to solve an old case of someone who had died in a similar way to Moriarty to try and figure out how he survived.  You may recall that even “The Great Game” had undermined our confidence in the character by Moriarty’s suggestion that he was just an actor, hired to make Sherlock Holmes look good.

Now, we see Holmes hallucinating the famous incident of the Reichenbach Falls, confronting Moriarty there as in Conan Doyle, with them engaging in a dialogue about how it “always ends here,” or some such.  As “our” Sherlock keeps coming in and out of his “hallucination,” we are faced with a rift in the show’s “reality.”  In the end, we see Holmes and Watson in the 1890s talking, and Holmes suggests that he is telling Watson a supposition about what life might be like in the 2010s!

It’s a worthy mystery: is the whole series just the fantasy of the “real” Sherlock Holmes in the 1890s?  Is the whole series a drug-induced paranoid fantasy of the “real” Sherlock Holmes in the 2010s?  Is most of it real, but the last few moments of Season 3 and all of “The Abominable Bride” a delusion?
Is the whole episode undermining us as fans and viewers and readers, trusting in the lie that an “unprincipled drug addict is a gentleman hero”?

Or has the show gone too far into the Fourth Wall?  One of the most infamous examples of “shark jumping” besides the Happy Days episode that inspired the term is season 9 of Dallas, the “Dream Season.”  Since Bobby Ewing had been visibly killed on screen at the end of season 8, when Patrick Duffy came back a year later, the producers made the entire year a dream Pam had about him being killed, and the show attempted to pick up where season 8 ended, with the storylines following different paths.  Though there were 5 seasons after “the dream,” it undermined fan confidence.

The genius of “The Abominable Bride” is that it takes that whole questioning of “fictional reality” to a new level.  The risk is it’s too obscure.  What is the point of watching Season 4 or the alleged season 5 if the whole thing is potentially the drug induced fantasy of either Holmes?

I want to talk about Star Wars Theories

Not about spoilers for Episode VII: The Force Awakens, mind you: the theories themselves, their existence.

It now seems a long time ago (for some of us, it was) that Disney bought LucasFilm  and announced not only a new “trilogy,” but a set of tied in one-off films in the manner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so there will be at least one Star Wars movie a year for the foreseeable future.

Even before that, though, Star Wars was, of course, a very popular topic online, generally of course why the “original trilogy” was good, why Empire Strikes Back was great, why the prequel trilogy was bad, or else how the original trilogy has some weaknesses and the prequels have strength.

A common theme that shows up is that the “Dark Side” of the Force are actually the good guys.  The prequels show the Republic and its Jedi secret police to be corrupt and incompetent.  The Empire just wants to bring order and governance.  The destruction of Alderaan was, in the galactic perspective, a legitimate military target.
The Rebellion wants to restore the chaos.

More importantly, Yoda, the “oldest and wisest of the Jedi” allows a Sith Lord to not only escape his notice but to work closely with him for *years* without getting a hint.  Yoda and Obi-wan are a couple of  liars who deceive Luke about his father *and* his sister (spoiler alert!).   Almost everything Obi-wan says in the “first” movie is revealed to be a lie by the end of Return of the Jedi and definitely by the end of Revenge of the Sith:
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lukes-lightsaber

Are these moral ambiguities merely plot holes?

Or is there a deeper problem with the series’ Gnosticism?

C. S. Lewis, after St. Augustine and many others, argues that the inherent flaw of a Dualistic worldview is that we’re told that “good” and “evil” are equal, opposing forces, and there’s no reason to say, “this side is good” and “this side is bad,” other than subjective perspective.

The same Obi-Wan Kenobi who described Vader as “Twisted and evil” earlier told Vader, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes” (itself one of the statements used in evidence against the Jedi as the “good guys”).

On the other hand, when Darth Tyrannus is talking to Obi-Wan in Attack of the Clones, he is telling the truth: the Republic is under the control of a Sith Lord; the Republic is riddled with corruption.

Many Star Wars fans argue that the terms “good” and “evil” should not be applied, that it’s “light” and “dark,” because the Force is not even dualistic: there is one Force, not a “Good Force” and a “Bad Force”; just one Force with two sides.  The Force can be accessed using different emotions, like the Lanterns in the DC universe.  The “light” side uses emotions generally considered “positive,” and the “dark” side is fueled by anger, revenge, hate, etc.

Watching The Force Awakens, while I enjoyed it and believe it has many strengths, I tended to agree with the L’Osservatore Romano review that evil is not clear in the film.  It’s kind of gloomy and pessimistic–which makes sense in a movie that’s supposed to be the inversion of “A New Hope,” but there’s also an even greater sense of that lack of clear lines of what is good and what is evil, because the characters lack a clear motivation or guideline.

The “Force” does not give moral laws; it just gives powers.  In real life, this is the problem of a dualistic worldview.  As soon as you say, “That is evil,” unless you mean it as, “I find that unpleasant,” you’re really saying there has to be one God who tells us what is evil.

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.

What were the writers of _The Middle_ thinking?

To the Writers and Producers of <em>The Middle</em>
What were you thinking?

In the summer of 2012, a priest-friend on Facebook suggested your program as an example of one of the few truly wholesome, family-friendly sitcoms on the air today.

For the most part, we’ve found that to be true and have become huge fans of the show.  We’ve now seen every episode in reruns or first run and have watched most of them with our children.

However, the previous two episodes  (“Valentine’s Day VI” and “The Answer”) have left us scratching our heads.

There was a very clear contrast between the wholesome relationship of Darrin and Sue, and the implied fornication of Axl and Devin.  Axl, a stereotypical “millennial” college student, attending college just because he’s expected to, with no real career goals, surprises his girlfriend with a rented bounce house, paid for by what?  Credit card debt? Then comes home the next day to brag about having “celebrated” the night before.  Darrin, who already has a decent, well-paying job, surprises Sue with a “micro-house” that is paid for, and proposes marriage.

So, what happens?  Frankie sarcastically dismisses Axl’s “bragging,” and Mike hypocritically gives him a thumbs up over fornicating with some other man’s daughter while getting enraged that Axl’s friend has proposed marriage to *his* daughter.  Frankie and Mike convince Sue that’s she’s right to want to “experience” the world and accumulate a lifelong burden of debt rather than settling down with a man who loves her and has already demonstrated the ability to provide for her?

I suppose it’s sadly realistic to how most parents think in this culture, but it was so very disappointing.