Friday, 31 December 2010

Tron: Legacy makes a point about the nature of evil

Saw Tron: Legacy.  Like the reviews say, it looks pretty cool (for about 20 minutes) and the music is even cooler, but it really fails on the story level.  You don't care about the characters at all, or like them much.  And nothing they say sounds natural or convincing.  And their success or failure doesn't mean anything to you either way.  Also, Hollywood?  Every villain can't just be Adolf Hitler.  That's getting very old.  There are many flavours of evil, and many evil people to draw inspiration from.  The throngs of people in perfect rows, shouting and wearing black suits with bits of red?  Seen it.

But I could watch a movie with Olivia Wilde's eyes in it for quite a while(d).  And her freakishly wide, alien-beautiful face. Some of God's best work.  (even in a "1920s flapper hairstyles are so futuristic!" wig)

One thing that interested me is that they got The Nature of Evil down perfectly.  From Milton and Dante on, the motivations for characters like God and the devil and angels and so on have made no sense at all.  In the bible, it is very clear that God is the source of all creativity, the spirit which inspires (inspires: gives ideas, gives life/a spirit, breathes in) and is the source of all creativity.  He is the Creator with a capital C, who makes enough kinds of butterflies, beetles, berries and fruit, that Dylan Moran said in his standup routine "fruit is just God showing off.  Saying 'Look how many colours I know!' "

In the bible, God creates, and He destroys.  He destroys stuff that's been created and which is not working out, isn't growing, is going in a bad direction.  He does this so He can replace it with other, newer and better stuff.  The bible suggests He's already got His plans together for Earth Mark II, once we've fully wrecked this one, because we're dumbasses and because He's always coming up with new ideas.

Equally clear is the role of Satan in the bible.  He is from Accounts, from the bean-counting division.  He delights in meaningless time-wasting, traditional, bureacratic, systematic ritual orbiting an empty core of nothingness.  He tattle-tales, accuses and lies about people.  He tries to make God give up on people through his "Oh, that guy's not so great.  If you hadn't made him rich he'd be a right bastard.  Can I take away his wealth and prove my point?" nonsense.  He does not have the best tunes.  He does not improvise fun, innovative and unique riffs on the fiddle better than a human being.  He does not create Hollywood blockbusters, heavy metal and Harry Potter "to lure children."

No, he's the one saying "Oh, you can't call it Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.  Kids will never read a book with 'philosopher' in the title.  No kid will ever read a book this size anyway.  Give up.  Kids these days don't read.  They're all retarded.  And you're just not good enough.  Who do you think you are?  You're wasting your time and will never connect to anyone.  Doubt, doubt, doubt.  Be realistic."

He's the one telling Kevin Smith "Moby...which?You can't have a character reference Captain Ahab in this movie's dialogue.  It's about teenagers.  No one knows who that guy is.  I have an MBA and I don't know who that is.  And we need some tits in the film as well.  See to that. And get a token black character to say 'Sheeeit.  This just got real' and a funny gay sidekick."  In the bible, Satan doesn't so much destroy people and things as he gets other people and things (or the people themselves) to do it for him.

The slow erosion of health, sanity and functionality seen in demoniacs portrayed in the bible?  Shells of people left empty by parasitic things which slowly wear them down to nothing?  We'd recognize that in anyone who is addicted to something like crystal meth or crack.    You take a perfectly sane, healthy, living, breathing, thinking, feeling creature (a creature is a creation of a creator, of course) and turn them into an inert wreck that's not long for this world.  (the picture seen here is of the "Bob" character from the show Twin Peaks, which is partly about how this parasitic spirit erodes Laura Palmer by childhood trauma, molestation, drug addiction, promiscuity and so on until eventually the erstwhile prom queen becomes a worn down, soon-to-be murder victim who finally seeks death)

And yet, in the work of Dante and Milton and other idiots who can't get their character motivations to add up, Satan is actually God's trusted employee, stationed in Hell where he's in charge of things, and job #1 for Satan is making sure that sinners are properly punished, because We All Know how much the devil hates sin and the people who...wait?  What?  That makes no sense.  At all.

In the bible, of course, Satan is wandering around free in our fucked up world, making sure it's getting increasingly fucked upper, which it looks to be getting.  He doesn't seem to need a ouija board or talisman or that kind of thing to exert influence here.  He is here personally.  And there are a myriad people doing his work, appearing as pious, religious, successful, upstanding people, who then screw up other people's confidence, self-image, dreams, health, sanity, welfare and lives.  This voice can be heard every time someone says "Be realistic.  You can't do that.  And besides, you're a weak person, and a bad person whom no one likes.  You'll never amount to anything."  (Satan's work is certainly being done in classrooms across the country.)  Some people succeed anyway.  The message to them is a bit different: "You don't have to help other people, because you're better than they are.  Also, somehow, you are worse than they are.  Have fun.  You deserve it.  Also, you deserve to lose everything because you're a bad person.  This makes you miserable.  Try heroin.  And hookers."

The message is also "If you want to be OK, you need to be more or less like us.  Lacking originality, creativity, imagination, empathy and hope.  Being idealistic is cute, but ultimately fatal in the end."

In Tron: Legacy, Jeff Bridges has (partially) created a virtual world.  He makes a digital version of himself while still young, foolish and ambitious.  He calls it Clu.  Eventually, Clu goes all Hitler and starts enacting genocides and trying to stamp out impurity.  Jeff Bridges' character tells his son something I remember as "Clu can't create.  He can only destroy or re-allocate existing data and programs."

C.S. Lewis said something like that too in his sci fi trilogy.  Good isn't just the counterpart, the opposite partner of Evil.  Evil isn't Good turned inside out.  It isn't a case of Good creating good stuff and Evil creating evil stuff.  It's Good creating, building and destroying and rebuilding, and Evil not creating a damned thing, but instead corrupting, warping, eroding, inhibiting, nitpicking, accusing, judging, backstabbing, devouring and trying to make doubt win out, all while Good is at work trying make things that can last.

So, the bible does not present a black/white, yin yang universe with good and evil, creativity and destruction needing to both exist, being equal complimentary opposites.  In the bible, good actions and intentions can create or destroy (or both), while evil intentions are not well-rounded like that.  In movies like The Matrix and Tron: Legacy, Creator/God figures are always dressed in white and live in big white featureless rooms and zone out a lot when they're not saying enigmatic things with a little smile.  Good is passive, gentle, inactive, boring, uninvolved and "zen."  It has no real capacity to destroy, or even to get involved, except in a purely advisory capacity.  Evil, on the other hand, is witty, sardonic, exciting, fast, active, mobile, innovative, charming and dangerously cool.  It is completely involved. In everything. Tends to wear cool black outfits too.

But in the bible?  The guys dressed in white (the "angels of light"), shining nobly and pointing the finger at people screwing up and judging them to be failed, guilty screwups?  A common guise of the devil (and his minions), walking around seeing who he can get to listen to him and fostering feelings of entitled superiority (and closed-hearted judgmentalism) in the rich and successful.  Evil devours the innocent and makes sure the guilty get no forgiveness.

By contrast, walking around with dirty feet treating whores, drunkards, homeless people and thieves like human beings and listening to their stories while dissing the religious establishment?  Jesus.  He doesn't judge adulteresses, thieves and drunkards.  He judges religious leaders only.

Characterised by "thick blackness," fire, smoke, a sword that leaps out of His mouth and cuts people to the quick if necessary, terrifying eyes that devour in flames everything they see?  God.  God, it seems, is far more "heavy metal album cover" than anyone wants to depict.

In the bible, God is, obviously, behind all creating/creativity/creative expression. Some people's efforts fall a bit short, but He wants them to succeed.  God is a creator and a destroyer.  Creations are usually to express something deep that was in the heart of the Artist.  We are no exception.  Satan is only a defiler of good stuff, a poisoner of wells, an accuser of people who are trying to get by, Grima Wormtongue whispering your own inadequacies in your ear, a cancer, a rot.  He tries to tempt God to repent of having made people and things, and get Him to make/let entropy flood back in and make chaos of it all.  God, for His part, likes good things to last.  Even with music and movies, stuff that is any good at all, tends to last.  No matter how hard they market the shit out of utter crap, no one's even going to remember to try to keep selling it fifty years later.  And stupid little shows that people loved and no one wants to sell anymore? They last.

There are four books of the bible about Jesus walking around just being a guy.  When he wasn't helping people out, he was repeatedly pointing his finger and disapproving and judging.  But it was always the same guys he was pointing at: the pious, religious folk who judged everyone and made them feel guilty and demanded accolades for their piety (which is what they were really in it for), and the exploitive rich, who had the law on their side like trained attack dogs, keeping them rich and protecting their ill-gotten gains from poor people who the law will keep poor.  He and fictional characters like Robin Hood would have agreed about a number of things.

Chistianity: Is It All Pretend?

To the average atheist (and many an agnostic), Christianity is all pretend.  That is to say they feel it's simply about people pretending stuff that isn't true, and isn't real.  Don't kid yourself.  To them that's what it really looks like.  To me too, much of the time.

Christian communities can be absolutely about people who, without even being aware of it, are unthinkingly trained to pretend:

-not to have any serious doubts about things that, if they thought freely about them, they would find important doubts that need to be explored
-to smile when they don't have any real urge to smile.  A lot.
-to like people they don't really like.  Also fairly often.
-to care about stuff they don't really care about, because they care enough (about seeming like caring people) to fake it.
-to feel whatever religious feelings the others around them are claiming to feel, whether they are, or not.
-to be at peace and not have unanswered questions they aren't getting answers to.
-to be offended by things they really aren't offended about at all.
-to enjoy things they don't like.
-to not be angry when they are.
-to be humble when they aren't.
-to be hopeful when they aren't. 
-that God told them to do various things.
-that the bible told them not to do various things that it didn't.
-that the bible is full of nice things, and that Jesus was nice and went around being nice and not saying anything much that wasn't nice. 

The really bad thing about this pretending stuff thing is that it gets very competitive, and it's also tied into shame.  This adds up to something pretty serious. Among other things, it adds up to people being willing to settle for pretence, or to give up on real spiritual growth.  It adds up to people making an idol out of  "nice."  It adds up to people unable to deal with true, real people or things, getting together into groups to play let's pretend.

And it doesn't have to be like that.  If God and Christianity needs us to pretend stuff, then they aren't worth anything.  But they are.  Don't take my word for it, either.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Christian Radio Rock?!

(More use of mockery to make a point in a memorable way, like Elijah etc.  Clearly I don't believe that it's bad to mock things, so long as they're bad things.)  

For some reason today when someone on Facebook linked me to a video of Christian music about how AWEsome it is to be in church with other church people doing church stuff, I clicked upon it. After hearing the first part of it, for some reason I then decided that I just HAD to record an all-new song I would write in that style today, to try out all my new equipment. I did all this this afternoon. It has two acoustic guitars, two distorted electrics through a tube amp, two shakers, two tambourines, a bass guitar and a bunch of very raw voices trying to sing at the top of their range. I think it sounds fairly like church/Christian radio music. I used the traditional four-chords-hit-song chords. It is possible my B.C. Rich Warlock is rocking a little bit TOO much for the (Christian Radio ear candy) genre.

I don't normally try (unsuccessfully) to sing like Nickelback's stinkmerchant Chad Kroeger, but apparently it is part of doing this right. Careful listeners will notice this song is, true to form, much less a holy tribute to Jesus than it is wholly about the fictional song-writer's paying tribute to (idolizing) his own wonderful wisdom in making a wise choice for Jesus, his playing a role in his kickass Christian community, and above all things, his own magical BELIEF, which is why Jesus loves him to begin with (Jesus loves him because he believes in Jesus instead of the other way around). Turn it up real loud and believe.

Monday, 20 December 2010

James Earl Jones: Dark Lord of the Scriptures

OK, this video I made a week ago got just over 200 hits in the first 24 hours of it being up, and is just shy of 600 hits in the first week.  That's pretty successful for me and YouTube videos. I found that James Earl Jones had done an audio book of the King James bible. He is the voice of Darth Vader, so it wasn't hard to make Darth Vader say things Jesus said instead of his own lines.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

"Yeah, But Am I Right Or Am I Wrong?"

I think America and modern Christendom are being torn apart by polarized thinking.  (That's "Right or wrong?  Black or white? Yes or no?" thinking.)

Our society works very much along "legal or illegal?  Innocent or Guilty? Elected or not elected?  Voted into law or not voted into law?" lines.  Real life doesn't often work like that.

The Mona Lisa: right or wrong?  Me: hero or villain?  

That kind of thinking just doesn't make sense in most daily situations.  It's a crazy way of approaching things.  There needs to be middle ground.  There needs to be, not shades of grey, but a full spectrum of colours between black and white.  There need to be three dimensions.

Someone who was busying himself by judging my approach to bible interpretation on Facebook recently said he was going to have to stop replying to my comments regarding his judgements of me (to express his outrage and take a Firm Stand against the sort of opinions he was in danger of hearing and perhaps even understanding).  I told him that there were colours, nuances and degrees in the bible, and that it was largely about them.  He said he could not possibly continue talking to someone who thought that there were "shades of grey" with God and the bible.  It was all black and white or else it wasn't worth doing, apparently.  Had the man not seen how many colours of butterflies, berries and flowers God seemed to feel were a good idea to make into viable organisms?  (or "Evolution, in its manifold, omniscient wisdom, caused to come into existence" if you don't believe in God).  The real world has colours.  Lots of them.  Very little is either one thing or another.  The answer to most simple questions is "Both.  And neither.  Kinda.  And other stuff."

So, when you read a book and you have any respect for the author at all, you don't make the book a slave to your own cause.  You don't make it a Thing which provides black and white evidence that You Are Right About What's Wrong.  You don't say "Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn: eat carbs or pursue a low carb diet?"  You don't say "Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist: For socialized healthcare or against?"  You don't say "Shakespeare: insightful crusader for human rights, or obvious racist?"

(well, you do that if you want to make a bunch of people have to take up extremely polarized views so they can write essays that demonstrate their ability to provide evidence for and clearly word one-sided arguments.  But not for anything real.  In the real world, you listen to hear what the author wants to say, rather than "making" him or her "take a position" on whatever you're thinking and wondering about.  Because "Being French is like..." isn't nearly the same thing as "Being French is wrong.")

Yet in the case of a powerful, broad, deep, rich, globally-influential work of art like the bible, people leap to enslave it, without even thinking twice.  They put it to their own use rather than let it be itself and say what it says. And "their own use" is always stuff like "Homosexuality: nothing wrong with that or an abomination?"  "Gun control: essential to running our country, or a sign of the end of the world approaching?"  "Obama: a new hero for civil rights, or Man of Satan?"  It's a bit of a case of:

"Do you properly adhere to Ezekiel 4:3, second half of the verse (read in Harold Camping's own personal translation of the torah)?  Then of course you vote Republican, support capital punishment, invasion of foreign countries and anti-flag burning laws, and you likewise oppose abortion, gun control, socialized medicine and Harry Potter."  A package deal.  Black?  Line up to the left.  White?  Line up the right.  You'll be given your political views as you enter the next room."

And in their personal lives, people sometimes do this: "Do you love me more than anyone on earth, or do you hate me and never want to see me again?"  "Is this the perfect job for me, the first step forward in my career, or is it a huge miss-step?" 

Well, the bible isn't written like that.  (Neither is life or reality or most art.)  Consequently, it doesn't read like that.  It says things which require not only colours of interpretation, it has what a guy named Frank whom I talked to yesterday calls "necessary tensions."  It requires you to think "Yes, this thing, but also at the same time, another thing to think about, which thing provides a bit of a counter balance to the first thing" and gives you deeper questions, rather than pat answers.  It really does and all.

For example: a number of times on Facebook when I've said something about the bible, the "Christian" response has been to simply call me a fool and then very carefully not engage me in an actual discussion of any kind, but to carefully return abuse for any points made rather than trying to respond to them.  The best way, Christians feel, to call someone a fool is to quote the bible (while ignoring biblical warnings against calling your brother a fool.)  They go to Proverbs 26 and answer my comment by saying "Answer not a fool according to his folly" (and generally skip the "lest thou also be like unto him"). When this happens, I usually feel compelled to point out two things:
a) they have answered me
b) the Very Next Verse In The Bible says this: "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit."

Now, as Wikipedia quite correctly said when I read it the other day, in Proverbs, a "fool" isn't a stupid or silly person.  It is not a Shakespearean clown or court jester.  In Proverbs, a "fool" is someone who won't listen.  It's someone who does things that don't work, yet won't change his or her ways, nor listen to people pointing out the unworkability of his or her approach.

The individual proverbs have a very consistent structure.  Here's how to make your own proverbs in the safety of your own home:

The wise (or "righteous" or "diligent") man _does something good_, but the fool (or "wicked" or "slothful") man _does the opposite of that__.

(If you are a woman, don't worry.  Women can be fools too, as we know from television.)

So, you can (like my friend Mark) drive your wife nuts by saying things like "The wise woman turneth down the heat when she is not at home, but the foolish woman leaveth it on in order to raise the electrical bill."  She, for her part can respond "The righteous man drinketh not an entire bottle of Jack Daniels of an evening, but the wicked man did that just last Thursday."  I'm afraid when I gave this exercise to my high school creative writing class, one young lady's proverb, quite, unlikely to take off in synagogues across the globe, was "The righteous man shouteth 'SURPRISE' first, but the wicked man just starts raping."

In fact, now that I think about it, let's use the comments part of this very blog to submit some proverbs we think up ourselves.  Let's really do that.  I want to see them.  (The diligent man shall write parables for this blog, but yea the slothful man shall surf porn or look at cute animal videos on YouTube instead.)

So, this Proverbs thing actually looks pretty polarized, doesn't it?: the righteous man, the wicked man. The wise man, the fool.  Black and white thinking, right?  Thing is, the book of Proverbs is actually not designed for diagnosing foolishness or wickedness.  It's not for checking to see if you are a fool/or not, nor even for giving a "Steven Jackson is 93% fool today! Click hear to take this quiz to!" score, Facebook style.  It's a nuanced description of how a wise man, a righteous man, a fool or a wicked man act (and interact) in various ways, so you can aspire toward wisdom and righteousness.  It adjusts attitude, which any sailor or pilot could tell you, refers to the direction in which you are heading, and therefore, where you'd likely to end up.  It's not a "yes or no" book.  It's a "What does wisdom look like?  How does it work? What does wickedness look like?  What are its effects?" thing.   It's about moving in a given direction, and paints a picture of reality, and not merely about making a judgement or diagnosis.

In The Garden, Man wanted to know good and evil, and stole to get that knowledge prematurely.  Thing is, any kind of genuine relationship with Go(o)d would have given him both an understanding of good and what it(He) was like, how it(He) worked and how to take part in that.

It's like Albert Einstein offered to teach him physics and instead, he sneaked into Albert's office, stole his "What students need to be able to do to pass my course" rubric, and then ran away to Borneo in shame, after seeing that, one week into the course, he couldn't do all the stuff he needed to demonstrate mastery of in order to pass.  (mastery is better than knowledge)  Knowledge (information) isn't as good as understanding either, clearly, because understanding reaches toward actual wisdom.

So, Man ends up with a binary "Good?  No.  I'm bad." mechanism guaranteed to have human beings walking around for the rest of human history craving people's judgements that "You're such a good person!  You're OK and I like you!" and cringing under any criticism.

So Proverbs is a depiction of a world (our world, actually) that is chock-full of wisdom and foolishness alike, of righteousness and wickedness, all going on at once and mixing and interacting, and is a booming invitation to turn more toward wisdom and righteousness and move a bit more in that direction to make it better here.  It is not a diagnostic tool. (Fool?  If you pee on the book of Proverbs and it turns blue, then you are foolish and should speak to your doctor immediately)

Interestingly, righteousness and wisdom do not seem to, according to Proverbs, involve a lot of judging other people and being pious and prissy, and separating from the pack to make one's righteousness known and not get any foolishness/slothful/wicked cooties on oneself.  They don't either seem to involve being a positive role model and good example, and taking public stands against and protesting positions, people or views.  They do seem to involve, above all things, a positively bones-deep, wholly shame-free, insecurity-absent humility born out of a genuine understanding of how much of the fool, how much of the wicked man, are in a wise and righteous man.  They seem to involve knowing that the difference between these two kinds of people is very, very little when you're looking inside a person, yet the result of the difference is, to the world outside of that person, absolutely huge

This sort of thing drives black and white thinkers nuts.  Is it saying to never try to correct a fool?  Or is it saying to always try to correct a fool?  Is Jim a wicked fool or isn't he?  And what about his wife?  Well, both, and neither, kinda, and other stuff.  Proverb is explaining what's at risk.  If you get into an argument with a fool, you inevitably end up sounding a bit foolish (if the argument goes how arguments with fools usually do tend to go.)  That might be OK.  You might want to do that, if you get what's going on and feel it's a good idea.  You also might not want to do it.  If you don't correct fools, of course, they don't have the chance to learn better, and to stop being so foolish, and people may even take them seriously, or put them in charge of things and imitate their foolishness.  (as we know  from who gets to run things at our jobs.)  And people might get hurt.  Including the fools.

So, the bible is very confusing to black and white thinkers.  Doesn't stop them trying to break it into bigot-sized pieces to reassemble, of course.  They can't just let it talk for more than half a phrase or so, but have to quote very carefully excised snippets of it to make sure it serves their ends and doesn't embarrassingly, confusingly present the opposite dimension as well, or suddenly go on about something which just doesn't seem on-topic, as it were.  It seems to go off-message quite frequently, particularly when we've picked out an extremely important message for it to address.  It clearly says that doing certain things are bad, and then it just as clearly shows God choosing to work with and promote to positions of responsibility (including kingship and priestship) people who have just done or will go ahead and do those very things.  It equally shows people who don't do those bad things at all getting nothing special from God, developing no relationship with Him, getting no growth or success added to their lives and then being whiny assholes about it.  

Cain murders Abel.  And he gets to live and invent and play music and build a city and have a family and be protected by God from retribution while he does all of this.  Jacob cons his father and brother and gets to be the patriarch of the nation of Israel, which barbarous, violent, bigoted tribe God chooses to support and turn into a conquering country.  Paul tries to have all the new Christians imprisoned and/or wiped off the face of the planet.  He then gets to write most of the New Testament.  (Andrew didn't do anything even remotely genocidal, and he actually hung out with Jesus for three years and saw everything happen.  Where's his book of the bible?  Who even remembers that he was one of the disciples these days?) The prodigal son takes his father's money, abandons the family business while going abroad with funds that could have helped it, spends it all on whores and booze and drugs, and comes back and there's a big party and he's forgiven by his father who loves him and doesn't even put him in his place or give him a big lecture.  The older brother who works hard, on the other hand, is a whiny asshole who isn't even told there IS a party, let alone get invited to it. I mean, who wants HIM there, right?

What kind of morals do these stories seem to have?  What kind of positive messages are they giving to children?  "Do the right thing and be honest and hard-working.  It will turn you into a whiny asshole."  "Go ahead and screw up.  You can always ask for forgiveness later, and God seems to prefer screwups to other people, as far as the bible indicates."  "Obey God.  You may die if you do, but do it anyway.  If you don't, of course, He'll probably get great use out of you as a travelling guest speaker."

Another example: the bible seems to indicate that God intended sex and relationships to work a certain way.  He seemed to want people to never suffer death, to never suffer the loss of a loved one through death, or through them cheating on or abandoning one.  He seemed to want couples to work.  He seemed to never want there to be a cheating nor a broken heart.  He seemed to want the world to be full of children with parents who looked after them and loved them and didn't tease them over-much and taught them how to be adult human beings, and were not cruel to them nor abandoned them.  But then there are guidelines for how divorce was supposed to go.  And there is stuff about widows and orphans and how they are to be looked after.  And stuff about how to treat, and how to be, good slaves.

There's stuff about not cheating on your spouse, alright.  Then Jesus is asked by some religious busybodies "Punish by stoning/not punish by stoning?" when they actually catch a woman having adulterous sex and drag her to him to see what he'll do.  Jesus does his thing and expresses boredom or disinterest in the debate (doodling on the ground and not looking at them), and then when they simply won't drop it, says "Yes.  Punish by stoning.  Whoever is sinless himself can throw the first stone."

What are we to take from that?  Is Jesus clearly coming out against adultery?  (yes/no?) Is he saying capital punishment is right? (yes/no?)  What is he saying?  He's saying "Both.  Neither, kinda.  And also other stuff."

I recently said something to a young person who was hell-bent on reading the bible in terms of  "Never mind all of that.  Does the bible say it's wrong or that it's right?  The bible says it's wrong, right?"  She was quite determined to put an end to a discussion of anything the bible said besides "yes/no" and not willing to see it saying "yes" in one place and "no" in another and "Both, kinda.  And neither.  And other stuff" throughout.  What I said to her was this: "If you look at everything in the bible through that black and white, yes/no lens, you simply won't be able to understand anything that is being said in there by anyone who isn't looking at things in that precise way.  And a whole lot of it just isn't about answering your right/wrong, yes/no, black/white questions." (this of course is true of any work of literature or art, or person or argument)

I know a lot of people who think it is the work of any serious reader of the bible to "reconcile" what Frank calls the "tensions."  Judge or judge not?  Right or wrong?  Black or white?  Answer a fool or answer not a fool?  Women are to be silent and have no public, vocal role in church stuff (like being Bishops or popes), or "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus"?  Marry and have kids, or "it is better that a man not touch a woman"?  Work and look after your family at home or go do big world-changing things across the globe?  Fight wars to protect the innocent or embrace pacifism?  Speak up or be silent?

These are tensions.  They are meant to exist in a world with light and dark, heat and cold, desert and ocean, earth and sky, sun and moon, night and day, north and south, male and female, and so on.

And so I think that quite often the answer to these "Reconcile this! Which is it?" questions is "Both.  Neither, kinda.  And other stuff."

Comprehension question: Is this Linux penguin black or white?  C'mon... which is it?  (There can, of course, be only one right answer, and if you aren't clear on which it is, I simply cannot talk to you anymore.)

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Understanding Technology: The Book

There was an awesome little video on YouTube apparently from a Norwegian comedy show.  It had English subtitles, but was still in Norwegian, which makes it a bit harder to kids in a classroom to relate.  So, I made a "crappy high school technology video from the 80s" style video of my own, presenting the book as if it were a new piece of technology.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Overcoming Your Environment

You have no idea how from the heart this blog is, because I'm me and all:

I teach kids and can tell in a few cases by the over-the-top change in their posture whenever I have to ask them to stop talking or playing games or whatever, that they come from homes in which adults criticize constantly, unfairly and oppressively.  All I need is for the kid to put her iTouch away for the next forty minutes, and she thinks I need her to recognize that she is clearly a horrible person who will never amount to anything, and that once she has listened (to what she assumes will be a long lecture on how she is a horrible person) then of course I will not ask for anything good out of her, and will let her just sit playing games on her iTouch, as she's not going to be amounting to anything anyway.  Some kids, of course, if you say "You need to put that away" simply flash a "You caught me!" sheepish smile, and put the device away, self-esteem undiminished.  That's how it works at their house.  There is reproof, and there is the understanding that it isn't a big deal, and there is forgiveness.

  Others, though, tense right up, preparing for outright character assassination, because they're used to that, and don't expect there to need to be anything in particular that they did which brought the lecture on.   The only kids who tempt me to really come down hard are the ones who, when asked to put away the phone they're texting on, give me the old "Why are you being an asshole?  I'm just TEXTING! Now, go away!"  I always assume that it might do at that juncture to point out some simple facts.  Facts like that I am a teacher, they are a student, and that we are in my classroom in the school that hired me to talk to them, and that this is a point in time when they're supposed to be listening to me and doing as I ask so I can do my job and let the government know how they're doing.

I've been thinking a great deal lately about the environment I grew up in.  My family are all very...very.  I've been getting my  head together lately as to how they behave, and have found that my father's side of the family have some pretty predictable behaviour in conversation:
a) make an over-the-top, generalized opinion with no evidence
b) make sure no dissenting voices or other views are heard.  You can agree if you like, but briefly, and not weirdly or using any words they don't like.  If you disagree, this is proof that you are socially awkward, rude and in need of some kind of help with how you deal in groups.  If you actually get any kind of a compelling dissenting point in, then your character is attacked harder, up to and including having your sanity questioned for not getting that doing a) is How Things Go, and that disagreeing is Not Done Because There Might Be A Fight, and Anyway, Your Wrong so Shut Up Becuase You Dont Know ANYthing.

It goes just like this (for generations upon generations, regardless of age, gender or locale):

Moore: Pacifists dont know what there talking about.  Canadian soldiers have DIED and people need to shut up if they havent served there country.
Me: I think many Canadian soldiers have been sent to die by people who were willingly, cynically sacrificing their lives for really no good purpose.  This is what people who were actually there felt, in what they wrote on the subject.
Moore: What?!  Until youve served in the military you have no right to comment on anything about the wars or soldiers or politics or the government or anything!  You can sit back in your armchair reading your books and saying whatever you want but you have no right to comment.  You arent qualified to comment on it at all and should shut your mouth because your you and know nothing.  Thats what my grandpa always told me anyway and its true so listen to me when I tell you it.
Me: I see how your idea of a discussion works.  I'm just saying I don't trust rich and powerful men.  I learned that attitude from Jesus.
Moore: And now you're comparing yourself to Jesus?!  I honestly cant believe that!  You need professional help. Who are you to talk anyway?  Everyone knows what YOUR like!   End of conversation.  Thats it for me.  You arent qualified to comment on it at all and should shut your mouth because your you and know nothing.  Thats what my mother always told me anyway and its true so listen to me when I tell you it.
Me: Canadian WWI general Arthur Currie said...
Moore: And I don't care WHAT you read in one of your books.  Just because youve read some books does NOT give you the right to talk about OUR boys who are the best in the world and not support them and criticise them.  If you havent stood alongside them then what gives you the gall to criticise them right now when they truly need our support the most?!  You need to shut your mouth because you dont know anything.   Thats what my father always told me anyway and its true so listen to me when I tell you it.
Me: I'm not criticising them, I'm criticising the needless waste of their lives, and suggesting we need to support them by making sure they're never needlessly put into harm's way, and so on.  "Friendly fire" has always been a big problem.  There are numbers on record to talk about that.
Moore: Well everyone knows your an intellectual bully who wont listen and I dropped out of high school in grade 10 because my teacher was mean to me but your not qualified to comment about OUR BOYS in any war at all.  You just cant.  Your one of those bullying grade 10 teachers like the one who made me drop of out high school who should just shut up because they know nothing.  You should be ashamed but you cant fell shame becuase your you.
Me: Well, according to our government (which I don't trust much) and recognized by our military, which I am apparently not to criticise, I am officially and professionally qualified to stand up in front of a hundred or so teenagers each day all year and explain to them what happened during the world wars, and what the people who were there had to say about things, and to share their views.  Their views, overwhelmingly, were that battles like the Somme and Passchendaele were senseless, obscene losses of human life for no real reason, and that the actions of the governments during the first world war led directly to Hitler and the second world war, and that we need to be very careful we don't repeat those mistakes of the past.
Moore #2: You ARE a bully.  An intellectual bully.  That's what you are, clearly.   You really do need to shut your mouth because you quite obviously don't know anything, as everyone well knows.   That's what my father always told me and I place a great deal of stock in what my father says, as you should yours.  End of conversation.  That's it for me, as you are clearly incorrigible without professional help.
Moore #3: yes your a bully that's what you are and like all teachers you cant stand to here when your wrong which you are but you cant here it you need to shut your mouth because you dont know anything thats what my grandmother always told me anyway and its true so listen to me when I tell you it end of conversation thats it for me :(
Smith-Moore: Yes. Why can't you listen?  You're wrong and we're right. Get professional help before it's too late.
Moore: You  need profesional help.  Everyone knows.  You teachers are all bullies.  You have no right to talk about military stuff.   End of conversation.  Thats it for me.  You need to just shut up.   Thats what my uncle always told me anyway and its true so listen to me when I tell you it.  I cant take ennymoore of this so im leaving.  You should be ashamed to act this way.  Thats it for me im done
Me: I have sought professional help.  His assessment was that I had no serious problems apart from making myself and others miserable (in the manner of, apparently, all of my relatives), by obsessively and continually pointing out every person and every thing that I ever think is "wrong" in any way, and then having that done back to me, and not being able to handle emotionally anyone thinking I'm wrong about something or saying I don't get to talk, which seems to be a problem with all of us, even the rest of you who aren't teachers.
Moore #4: I saw a professional one time, too.  She told me a bunch of things, but she never asked me first what she should have asked me, which was "Do I care what she thinks?" which I didn't.  Professionals know nothing.  So that's that.
Moore: You need to shut up about us and about stuff you dont know about.  You should just shut up because you know nothing.  That's what my wife tells me and its true.  We all need to shut up if we dont know anything.
Moore #2: Yes.  You're wrong, so you need to shut up.  And seek professional help.

(and on and on, for a needless amount of time, like the precise opposite of C.S. Lewis' dufflepuds in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

My church was just like that too.  "You have no right to voice your opinion.  Who are you to talk?  Great men who are now long dead said Important Things We're Not Even Able To Conceive Of in these dark times, and fought for your right to believe and say what you knew from their writings to be right.  Now shut up about what those old guys said because you have NO RIGHT to even quote them, let alone pretend to understand them, or we'll make you wish you had."

So, in my environment, the thing was that you didn't get to talk unless you agreed, quite respectfully and briefly, with the old men, or with whoever spoke first, which was supposed to be the oldest of the men.  Otherwise, no.  Not if you were a woman, not if you were young, and DEFINITELY not if you were liberal or educated.  This is because the thing to do is to agree.  We all have to say the same thing or shut up.  We do not discuss, and we shut up or we'll "fight."  It's ugly.

And now I've seen this all over the internet.  Someone says something wildly opinionated, with little or no real evidence, and then if anyone says "I disagree.  What about..." the next response involves:
a) a personal attack rather than any dealing with any of the points.
b) a complaint about "Don't *I* get to have an opinion?" (when what they're clearly saying is "Don't I get to have an unchallenged opinion which no one is to do anything but agree, briefly, with?")

It is almost impossible not to stupidly respond in stupid kind to that sort of thing.  It is almost impossible not to get caught up in it and have a slogging criticism/abuse-fest in which you can lob in anything at all, even if you continually contradict what you said only a few lines earlier, and especially if you're guilty of what you're accusing the other people of.  Often, people pull out The Big Gun, which is mentioning Hitler or the Nazis, as in "That's what the Nazis said too..." (the argument equivalent of "That's what she said..." and no less a burn rather than a genuine argument that can really go anywhere good).  This, clearly, is a cheap shot, and yet it is very hard not to go there, especially when discussing, let us say, attitudes about war, soldiers, tolerance, or, in fact, the Nazis.  In fundamentalist Christian circles, the Big Gun is atheism or Catholicism. "That's what Catholics say, too."  (ergo, your an idoit so shut up becuase you dont no anything)

My grandfather always told me to shut up because I didn't know anything. He'd told my father the same thing. It didn't work with him either. My father told me the same thing.  Here I am blogging about it anyway.  No doubt my great-grandfather had told my grandfather the same thing.  He continues to live out his last years spouting abuse and negative personal judgements as well.  He may never have said anything supportive or kind to or about me, but he sure did tell me to shut up when I needed to be told to shut up.  (like the time I decided to have a bible discussion with my friends and he said "I heard what you did!  You need to SHUT UP about the bible because you don't know anything!")  It didn't work, clearly, and I have this problem where, whenever anyone says a) I'm wrong and b) I need to shut up becuase c) I don't no ennything, I makes me REALLY MAD and I always seem to engage, even if it's not a good idea, like Marty McFly being called "Chicken."  It's stupid, and it's a button of mine.  Maybe I should simply have a button made and wear it.  It would simply say "I'm wrong sometimes.  Deal with it."

"O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from" [this crap]? 

(there is an answer, but Who Am I to mention him, and Who Am I to try to act like him, right?  Because Christianity isn't simply about repeating what Jesus said and thought and felt and did, right?  It's about shutting up and submitting to the older men in your Christian community, because you dont know ennything and should shut up, right?  That's what those old guys said to do, isn't it?  To shut up?  I clearly remember them saying that loudly and frequently to everyone when they were speaking for hours and hours on the virtue of silence.  That's how it works, right, and it does work, and it makes everything better?)

Saturday, 6 November 2010

this is what I have come up with to use as narration on an introduction to Victorian literature Video I'm making for my Grade 11 class

The Victorian Novel: A Bit Of A Good, Hard Slog
What makes a book boring and difficult to focus upon for the modern reader?
  • Being very long, yet with very little happening
  • Being very slow-moving, with many pages before something happens
  • Having extremely long, complicated sentences with a lot of big words
  • Being full of endless conversations with very little happening
  • Having lengthy descriptive passages with very little happening
  • Having a large number of characters, not all of which play much of a role in what’s (slowly) happening
  • Using an extremely formal tone, with a very large vocabulary required to understand what’s happening.
  • Being extremely interested in manners and propriety and behaviour,
  • Being focused, quite often, more upon ideas than upon events
  • Purposely attempting to be very eloquent, rather than very dramatic or very exciting
  • Having an obvious moral lesson, and protagonists who are well-behaved and virtuous to (and past) the point of being prissy, preachy or annoying

This is a pretty accurate description of a Victorian novel.  Victorian novels today are deeply admired for their eloquence, and also find themselves almost irresistible targets for parody.  After all, the more serious and eloquent someone is trying to be, the more fun it is to make jokes. 
Books have evolved and developed over the years to be continually ever more attention-grabbing and concise, and more and more accessible to weaker and weaker readers.  The vocabulary required to read J.K. Rowling or Stephenie Meyer is miniscule (tiny) compared to the one required to read Charles Dickens, who is redoubtable, even sesquipedalistic in his verbiage.

The 1800s saw the novel come into prominence as the dominant form of literature in the Western world.  This was due in part to the sudden proliferation of literacy in Great Britain and her colonies.
Victorian novels (written predominantly in English, and generally, in the British Isles in the 1800s when Queen Victoria held sway) fell chronologically and stylistically between literature of the Romantic period on the one hand, and the realism movement which characterized 20th century work on the other.

(to word that in a less eloquent and stuffy way and one more cynically calculated to delight and astound a more modern audience:
In the 1800s, books were suddenly a big thing.  Big as Blu-Ray and XBOX, no doubt.
The fact that suddenly almost everyone could read probably really helped out with that, right?
Victorian novels are called that because Victoria was queen that century.  
Victorian novels aren’t quite like the Romantic ones people had before that.  
They’re also not exactly like the realistic ones in the 1900s.)

The romantic era had been wildly dramatic (and quite often interested in the supernatural).  This can be seen in the work of romantic American superstar Edgar Allan Poe, who lived in the Victorian era, but wrote in the old-fashioned style of the previous, Romantic one.  It was extremely dark literature and was a response to the scientific, landscape and country-life wrecking inroads of the Industrial Revolution.  The Industrial Revolution tore up trees, knocked down castles and mansions, moved everyone into the cities, split up families, and filled the British air with coal smoke and the fields and rivers with chemicals.  The creeping, hellish factories resulted in a century of fatal and near-fatal accidents in facilities which often employed children who were sometimes literally worked to death.  This was before labour laws, and definitely before minimum wage and unions fighting for safe working conditions and fair hours.  Romantic era people wanted lovely, heroic, unrealistic stories about heroes and knights roaming green forests, by lakes inhabited by ladies swathed in gowns of shimmering samite which outshone the sun, or mysterious, dark supernatural horror stories with ghosts, vampires, tombs and curses and not a lick of science.  Sometimes, the fictional monsters, vampires, witches, ghosts and curses were meant to represent the real-world evils being genuinely caused by careless experimentation with science and technology.

The Victorian era fell squarely between the influence of this Romantic period, and a movement toward the calm, quiet everyday quality of the realism period which would follow.  Most Victorian works are a bit brightly or darkly romantic and a bit everyday realistic.

From Wikipedia: Victorian novels tend to be idealized portraits of difficult lives in which hard work, perseverance, love and luck win out in the end; virtue would be rewarded and wrongdoers are suitably punished.
Did you know...
... that the former Union Free School in Le Roy, New York, is now a museum devoted to Jell-O?
... that the first automobile in Canada was first operated by parish priest Georges-Antoine Belcourt in 1866?

Victorian novels tend to be:
  • Very long, dry, understated and wordy
  • In fact, they’re as eloquently, formally and fancily written as possible.  If you can’t understand them, rather than considering toning down the language, the author generally seems to feel that this is just too bad and you are probably dumb.
  • Mostly made up of conversations, reminiscences and/or letters, rather than events playing out in “real-time.”  Some Victorian novels are nothing more than a series of flashbacks within flashbacks.
  • Filled with people of three classes (nobility, middle class and lower or poor class) People from different classes aren’t to mix, socialize or date.  The rich own huge mansions and lands, which are often dark, creepy and decaying, and they employ a household of maids, cooks, butlers, gardeners, governesses and grooms to keep everything running.  Wandering the countryside and lurking on street corners below even these employees of the rich are beggars, gypsies, peddlers, thieves, prostitutes and street urchins.  Movement between these three classes was “not supposed” to occur, so 19th century audiences would delight in stories of a nine year prince who switched clothes with a street urchin who mysteriously looked just like him so each could try out the other’s life, or of a governess being suddenly and mysteriously left a castle in a long lost uncle’s will or a maid marrying the lord of the manor and becoming a lady, baroness, countess or the like.
  • Dark and brooding, full of disease, poverty, accidents and death
  •  Peopled by orphans, quite often due to how many women actually died in childbirth in times before Caesarean sections were commonplace
  •  Usually spiced up by a hidden secret, usually involving long-lost twins or mysterious lookalikes, amnesia, insanity, out of wedlock pregnancy, crime, secret marriages, bastard children, lost fortunes, monsters, ghosts, pirates, exiles returned from prison or Australia and nasty workhouses, orphanages or factories.
  •  Where a modern movie would try for some cheap excitement by blowing something up, the Victorian equivalent is to have a fire, which is, if you think about it, just a really, really slow explosion going off and unfolding for hours instead of a fraction of a second.  When houses were lit by candles and nightwear had long, flowing sleeves, fires were quite common.
     The Victorian era saw huge inroads in the publishing of:
    • Romantic books for and by women, like Emma, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights
    • Children’s books like Alice in Wonderland , Black Beauty, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn
    • Adventure books like Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island and Kidnapped, Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Three Musketeers, Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy and Ivanhoe, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, which inspired the Indiana Jones movies.
    • The Victorian Era also saw great inroads in the writing of Horror fiction which was gradually replaced by a mania for what came to be known as science fiction
    Books By Women, For Women
    Even today, in a stereotypical chick flick or “woman’s book,” (e.g. Bridget Jones’ Diary) the heroine must choose between two men.  The exciting one is usually a jerk.  The nice one is boring.  How to choose?
    The traditional solution, in novels, anyway, is to “tame” or “reform” the exciting boor.  Note: this works less well in real life.  Read Cosmo for further exhaustive and scientifically reliable research information.

    Jane Austen writes “Comedy of Manners” after “Comedy of Manners”

    Jane Austen was ahead of her time.  Her novels, published just before the Victorian era properly started, were and are, hugely influential.  They were about rich people deciding whom to marry, and being extremely clever and witty and slightly mischievous in communities in which etiquette is all, and a woman without a rich husband is pretty much homeless.  Knowing how to burn someone  in front of people without just telling them to f**k right off was pretty much what her characters did.

    Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility
    Two sisters are orphaned and suddenly poor.  They need to rebuild their lives, and find good men to marry.  A great deal of women gossiping and worrying about their own, and other women’s reputations occurs.  Boring, nice men, and brash, exciting jerks abound.

    Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
    Five sisters worry that they will be orphaned and poor, so set about establishing themselves as decent, attractive marriage prospects in rich society.  The protagonist is annoyed by and interested in a rich jerk, so is a jerk back, which he seems to end up liking.

    Jane Austen’s Emma
    The sarcastic, bitchy protagonist named in the title feels she is a master matchmaker, and sets about trying to hook up and marry off every single person she knows, but stay single herself.  Hearts are broken, afternoons are spoiled.  Shenanigans ensue.

    In the rural British countryside lived three sisters in the Bronte family.  There were originally six children, but after their mother died at home after a long, painful sickness, the five girls were sent away to a harsh, grim school.  As a result of poor nutrition, hygiene and heat, two of the five girls died.  All of the Brontes died before or around age thirty.  Shortly before they died, the three girls wrote novels, at first under male names.  All of these novels are highly respected today.

    Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre
    An orphan girl who won’t do what she’s told or defer to “her betters” survives the most horrible foster parenting (a monstrously cruel old invalid lady) and boarding school, manages not to die of consumption like other children there, has two men to choose from (one boring, religious and nice, and the other a bit of an angry jerk, but rich and interesting).  She needs to choose one, and get married rather than merely pregnant. There are secrets, lost fortunes, abandoned children, angst, poverty and fires.

    Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (Edward Cullen’s favourite book)
    On the blasted, windy, rainy moors, a poor gypsy orphan who is an exciting jerk and a woman who is out of his social reach are passionately in love.  There is also a nice, kind, boring man who loves her who she is supposed to marry.  The gypsy jerk (Heathcliffe) is shattered by this and stomps around and carries on.  She marries the boring guy.  Eventually she gets sick and dies, and the exciting orphaned gypsy boor ends up wailing and crying and trying to dig up her corpse.  Then he becomes even more of a cruel idiot and angrily and cruelly raises his sickly, bastard son who he hates, while tormenting the daughter of his dead love.  Eventually, when the daughter is in love with someone he doesn’t approve of, he goes insane, sees the ghost of his dead love, and dies.  The end.

    Victorian Publishing Superstar Charles Dickens

    Dickens wrote mainly for magazines, publishing his stories in instalments which were later collected as novels.  He specialized in writing with huge numbers of characters and numerous and complicated subplots. He was thought very funny in his day, but then, very few things are funny for more than 15 years.

    Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist
    A poor orphan escapes a workhouse (where he confounds everyone by asking “Please, sir, can I have some more” when the porridge is pretty brutal) only to fall into the clutches of a criminal who keeps a gang of child pickpockets.  Nobly, Oliver won’t turn to crime.  Executions, secrets and murders abound.

    Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield
    A half-orphaned boy is abused by his monstrous step-father, gets sent to a boarding school, must work in a nasty factory and tries to live his life.  Executions, secrets, crime and murders abound.  People go to Australia.

    Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations
    An orphan meets a criminal who later is sent to Australia and helps him escape his manacles.  The orphan lives with his abusive sister until she is beaten and becomes a brain-damaged invalid, and he loves a girl who lives with a crazy, monstrously cruel, abusive old shut-in lady.    There is darkness, cruelty, people sent to jail and Australia, and old ladies being lit on fire.

    Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
    A cruel, stingy man (Ebenezer Scrooge) who does not help poor people, orphans and crippled children is visited by ghosts who convince him he’s a bit of a monster and frighten him into becoming more Christmassy.

    Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities
    Taking a break from the usual Industrial Revolution orphans, Dickens tackles some historical fiction about the French Revolution.  Several protagonists and their various families deal with the ugliness leading up to and resulting from the social upheaval caused by the lower classes overthrowing the upper class and executing them.  Lots of heads are cut off, or threatened to be cut off.  Mysterious look-alikes figure importantly.

    The Most Famous Detective Ever

    Edgar Allan Poe had pretty much invented the detective story.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle took this idea and ran with it, creating the Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories based upon a doctor he knew who could guess all sorts of things about people, simply by looking at them.
    With a great deal of focus upon conversations and letters, a detective (mainly from conversations he has with clients in his apartment) uncovers the facts about secret marriages, pregnancies, thefts, orphans, identical twins, brothers returned from Australia, lunatics, amnesiacs, fires and etc.

    (Holmes/House, Watson/Wilson, Cocaine-morphine/Vicodin, 221B Baker Street)

    Three Very Important Horror Novels
    Just like now, Victorian audiences liked to be amazed and terrified by scary stories.  In the real world, a real monster in the form of Jack the Ripper was slashing up prostitutes in London.  Other monsters lived only in the novels of the day.

    Bram Stoker’s Dracula
    Really the first vampire book of note.  A series of letters and conversations reveal, mostly in flashback, that a man is secretly a supernatural monster which defies scientific explanation, and has been murdering people and must be killed.  With all the people dying of consumption, who’s going to notice two little holes in someone’s neck?

    Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
    This is really a hold-over from the Romantic period, but was published in the 1800s and widely read at that time, despite it’s romantic vilification of science.  A series of letters and conversations reveal, all in flashback, that a man secretly went against the natural order of things for a man, and simply created life, something only a woman should do, and that, certainly never through science.  In so doing, he has made a monster, and it’s been murdering people and brooding over its fate, destiny and possible happiness.  It sets out to demand answers from him and ruin his life by killing everyone he loves. 

    Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyl and Mr. Hyde
    A series of letters and conversations reveal, mostly in flashback, that a man has secretly been using science to try to “cure” the bad part of himself so he can be a 100% good person. In so doing, he accidentally turns himself into a monster, which has been going around brutalizing and murdering people. 

    The Age of Science Fiction
    As the supernatural focus of the Romantic Era really and truly died out, stories with pseudo-scientific explanations for the unfolding wonderments and oddments proliferated.

    Jules Verne wrote science fiction stories such as A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, which was about a new invention being then worked on, which would be called a submarine.  H.G. Wells wrote science fiction stories such as The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds (about a Martian invasion of Earth) and The Island of Doctor Moreau, about a scientist performing experiments upon animals to make them into grotesque animal-human hybrids.

    Wednesday, 3 November 2010

    People are Dumbasses

    So, in the gospels when Peter was with Jesus and they met Moses and Elijah in a mystical experience, he decided this was so impressive, that he should have three tabernacles (houses of worship) built on the spot.  God immediately expressed displeasure at this idea, presumably because of Peter thinking that worshipping Moses and Elijah on a par with Jesus was somehow Ok.  So, message was, no building a tabernacle to honour these patriarchs, because that would be idolatrous.

    When Peter was crucified, his followers, having learned nothing from this, built a fairly elaborate tabernacle on the spot where he was buried: Vatican City.  Not to Jesus.  Not to Moses or Elijah.  To Peter.

    Vatican City, with the Sistine Chapel; a place for all the celibate priests to be dressed in their flowing robes by altar boys, and then go worship God under a ceiling painted by a gay man who decorated it with wall-to-wall naked men.  And then have the Pope forbid Catholic married couples from using condoms, even if one of them is HIV positive.  And speak out against homosexuality.  After worshipping in the Sistine Chapel.   In his adorable little slippers, hat, rings and robes that would make Liberace blush.

    Sunday, 24 October 2010

    Taking The Wall Apart To See What It Says

    I'm looking at making a video for my Writer's Craft class which explores how Roger Waters made art of things he'd experienced or felt.  Like an exercise in recycling, he took a bin of stuff that bothered him, and explored, depicted, de-constructed and expressed it in the form of a show that had to be a movie and needed cartoons and animation for full impact.

    In the process of planning this, I guess I ended up outlining a whole lot of ideas presented by The Wall.  Here they are:

    Huge rock concerts do not really connect fans to the artist who is expressing him/herself (the artist feels very walled off and isolated, but exposed to the view of thousands)

    Tell me is something eluding you, sunshine?
    Is this not what you expected to see?
    If you wanna find out what's behind these cold eyes
    You'll just have to claw your way through this disguise.

    But The Wall is an attempt to expose the artist’s real inner self by expressing it.  He’ll have to start at birth.  At birth you are connected to father and mother and you don’t know about the loneliness and isolation that awaits you: 
    Momma loves her baby
    And daddy loves you too.
    And the sea may look warm to you babe
    And the sky may look blue
    But ooooh Baby
    Ooooh baby blue
    Oooooh babe.

    War separates fathers permanently from their families (and governments try to stop people expressing their negative feelings about it):
    And no one survived
    From the Royal Fusiliers Company C.
    They were all left behind,
    Most of them dead,
    The rest of them dying.
    And that's how the High Command
    Took my daddy from me.
    Daddy's flown across the ocean
    Leaving just a memory
    Snapshot in the family album
    Daddy what else did you leave for me?  
    Daddy, what'd'ja leave behind for me?!?
    Bring the boys back home.
    Bring the boys back home.
    Don't leave the children on their own, no, no.
    Bring the boys back home.
    (Only in a song has Roger Waters ever been able to talk to his father)

    School can viciously punish self-expression and reward mediocrity and conformity (which isolates the kids):
    When we grew up and went to school
    There were certain teachers who would
    Hurt the children in any way they could
    By pouring their derision
    Upon anything we did
    And exposing every weakness
    However carefully hidden by the kids
    "Wro-ong, Do it again!"
    We don't need no education
    We dont need no thought control
    No dark sarcasm in the classroom
    Teachers leave them kids alone
    Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
    All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
    All in all you're just another brick in the wall.
    Mothers can raise sheltered, isolated children who are afraid of everything and connected to no one
    Mother do you think they'll drop the bomb? Fear
    Mother do you think they'll like this song? Fear
    Mother do you think they'll try to break my balls? Fear (of getting caned at school)
    Mother should I build the wall? Isolation = reponse to fear
    Mother should I run for president?
    Mother should I trust the government? Fear and Obey
    Mother will they put me in the firing line? Fear and Obey during War
    Mother am I really dying? War casualties

    Hush now baby, baby, dont you cry.
    Mother's gonna make all your nightmares come true.
    Mother's gonna put all her fears into you.
    Mother's gonna keep you right here under her wing.  
    Mother gets to comfort child she put Fear into (assuring importance of her role)
    She wont let you fly, but she might let you sing. (maybe a little bit of self-expression?)
    Mama will keep baby cozy and warm.
    Ooooh baby ooooh baby oooooh baby,
    Of course mama'll help to build the wall.
    Mother do you think she's good enough -- to me? Fear (of connecting with the opposite sex)
    Mother do you think she's dangerous -- to me?
    Mother will she tear your little boy apart?
    Mother will she break my heart?

    Hush now baby, baby dont you cry.
    Mama's gonna check out all your girlfriends for you.
    Mama wont let anyone dirty get through.
    Mama's gonna wait up until you get in.
    Mama will always find out where you've been. Fear and Obey Mother
    Mama's gonna keep baby healthy and clean.
    Ooooh baby oooh baby oooh baby,
    You'll always be baby to me.

    Mother/Government: the world is full of dangers.  Fear it and Obey us.  Fear us too.

    What Governments do affects children
    "Look mummy, there's an aeroplane up in the sky" (children with mothers witness bombers sent by governments)
    Did you see the frightened ones?
    Did you hear the falling bombs?
    Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter

    Isolation (cutting one’s self off from others and not expressing oneself) makes one feel empty. What can be used to fill in the emptiness?
    What shall we use
    To fill the empty spaces
    Where we used to talk?
    How shall I fill
    The final places?
    How should I complete the wall (feel empty, also the wall of isolation needs a few last bricks)

     Shall I buy a new guitar?  Shall I drive a more powerful car?

    Consumerism = the rich feeding off the poor of the world
    because the poor lost the wars that made them The Poor
    and their conquerors The Rich

    Technology + Brutality = Victory!

    Casual sex allows pleasure without actually connecting meaningfully to another human being
    I am just a new boy,
    Stranger in this town.
    Where are all the good times?
    Who's gonna show this stranger around?
    Ooooh, I need a dirty woman.
    Ooooh, I need a dirty girl.

    Travelling for your job (including rock tours) cuts you off from your friends and family back home
    Got thirteen channels of shit on the T.V. to choose from.
    I've got electric light.
    And I've got second sight.
    And amazing powers of observation.
    And that is how I know
    When I try to get through
    On the telephone to you
    There'll be nobody home.
    "Oh, He hung up! That's your residence, right? I wonder why he hung up?
    Is there supposed to be someone else there besides your wife there to answer?"

    Day after day, love turns grey
    Like the skin of a dying man.
    Night after night, we pretend its all right
    But I have grown older and
    You have grown colder and
    Nothing is very much fun any more.

    When you can’t connect to another person, you don’t know what to say to them
    “Wanna take a bath? Are you feelin' OK?”

    People who are isolated and can’t express themselves go crazy inside
    Sitting in a bunker here behind my wall
    Waiting for the worms to come.
    In perfect isolation here behind my wall
    Waiting for the worms to come. (insanity represented by brain-eating worms)
    When we have severe emotional problems, we drive away everyone with our craziness, despair and rage
    Run to the bedroom,
    In the suitcase on the left
    You'll find my favorite axe.
    Don't look so frightened
    This is just a passing phase,
    One of my bad days.
    Would you like to watch T.V.?
    Or get between the sheets?
    Or contemplate the silent freeway?
    Would you like something to eat?
    Would you like to learn to fly?
    Would you like to see me try?

    Would you like to call the cops?
    Do you think it's time I stopped?
    Why are you running away?
    Ooooh, babe
    Don't leave me now.
    Don't say it's the end of the road.
    Remember the flowers I sent.
    I need you, babe
    To put through the shredder
    In front of my friends
    Ooooh Babe.
    Dont leave me now.
    How could you go?
    When you know how I need you
    To beat to a pulp on a Saturday night
    Ooooh Babe.
    How could you treat me this way?
    Running away.

    And we go into denial and say it’s ok and we don’t need anyone or anything anyway
    I don't need no arms around me
    And I don’t need no drugs to calm me.
    I have seen the writing on the wall.
    Don't think I need anything at all.
    No! Don't think I'll need anything at all.

    And we are tempted to turn our backs on the world entirely, through substance abuse or through suicide
    Goodbye cruel world,
    I'm leaving you today.

    Goodbye, all you people,
    There's nothing you can say
    To make me change my mind.

    But we keep trying “one last time” to connect to another person
    Is there anybody out there?
    Is there anybody out there?
    Is there anybody out there?
    Hey you, out there on your own
    Sitting naked by the phone
    Would you touch me?
    Hey you, with you ear against the wall
    Waiting for someone to call out
    Would you touch me?
    Hey you, would you help me to carry the stone?
    Open your heart, I'm coming home.
    Vera! Vera! What has become of you?
    Does anybody else here
    Feel the way I do?
    But it was only fantasy. And failing and giving up
    The wall was too high,
    As you can see.
    No matter how he tried,
    He could not break free.
    And the worms ate into his brain.

    And being trapped in a life filled with obligations to others
    I wanna go home
    Take off this uniform (war or job uniform?)
    And leave the show.
    Ooooh, Ma, Oooh Pa
    Must the show go on?
    Ooooh, Pa. Take me home
    Ooooh, Ma. Let me go

    Legal and Illegal drugs are often used to keep people "producing"
    Just a little pinprick.
    There'll be no more aaaaaaaaah!
    But you may feel a little sick.
    Can you stand up?
    I do believe it's working, good.
    That'll keep you going through the show
    Come on it's time to go.
    There is no pain you are receding
    A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
    You are only coming through in waves.
    Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying. There must be some mistake I didnt mean to let them
    Take away my soul.  How many celebrities died in this state?
    Am I too old, is it too late?
    Ooooh, Ma, Ooooh Pa,
    Where has the feeling gone?
    Ooooh, Ma, Ooooh Pa,
    Will I remember the songs?
    The show must go on.

    Isolated, crazy people lash out and express themselves mainly in hate
    teacher caning Difference is punished
    TV out window
    Cartoon head smashing

    We all have what was in Hitler in us
    I've got some bad news for you sunshine,
    Pink isn't well, he stayed back at the hotel
    And they sent us along as a surrogate band
    We're gonna find out where you folks really stand.
    Are there any queers in the theater tonight?
    Get them up against the wall!
    There's one in the spotlight, he don't look right to me,
    Get him up against the wall!
    That one looks Jewish!
    And that one's a coon!
    Who let all of this riff-raff into the room?
    There's one smoking a joint,
    And another with spots!
    If I had my way,
    I'd have all of you shot!
    You better run all day
    And run all night.
    Keep your dirty feelings No self-expression
    Deep inside.
    And if you're taking your girlfriend
    Out tonight
    You'd better park the car
    Well out of sight.
    Cause if they catch you in the back seat
    Trying to pick her locks,
    They're gonna send you back to mother  Mother again
    In a cardboard box.
    You better run.

    In war-time, whole countries get like this.
    Fist turns to uniformed, marching hammers

    If you can make citizens fear another country or group, you can start a war

    And the individual is left wondering if s/he or the society is guilty.  So s/he allows someone else, often a professional or an authority figure to judge them.

    Waters feels you have to be a messed-up, crazy, isolated control-freak with delusions of grandeur to want power.  That’s also what Plato said.
    But I'm waiting in this cell
    Because I have to know.
    Have I been guilty all this time?

    The Trial
    Good morning, Worm your honor.
    The crown will plainly show
    The prisoner who now stands before you
    Was caught red-handed showing feelings
    Showing feelings of an almost human nature;
    This will not do.

    Witnesses are called
    I always said he'd come to no good
    In the end your honor.
    If they'd let me have my way I could
    Have flayed him into shape.
    But my hands were tied,
    You little shit you're in it now,
    I hope they throw away the key.
    You should have talked to me more often
    Than you did, but no! You had to go
    Your own way, have you broken any
    Homes up lately?
    Come to mother baby, let me hold you
    In my arms.
    M'lud I never wanted him to
    Get in any trouble.
    Why'd he ever have to leave me?
    Worm, your honor, let me take him home.

    Why can’t you decide your own worth for yourself?  Because you’re “crazy”
    Toys in the attic I am crazy,
    Truly gone fishing.
    They must have taken my marbles away.
    Crazy, toys in the attic he is crazy.

    The evidence before the court is
    Incontrovertible, there's no need for
    The jury to retire.
    In all my years of judging
    I have never heard before
    Of someone more deserving
    Of the full penalty of law.
    The way you made them suffer,
    Your exquisite wife and mother,
    Fills me with the urge to defecate!
      Since, my friend, you have revealed your
    Deepest fear,
    I sentence you to be exposed before
    Your peers.  
    (this is what bad teachers, parents and other authority figures do when they’re angry.  Expose us.  Humiliate us publicly.  No mercy, no forgiveness.)
    Tear down the wall!

    Your worst nightmare has come true.  Everyone has seen the hidden, "bad" side of you.  The Hitler, the worm, the weak, frightened child.  Is there any hope? 
    (Friends.  People who love us enough to forgive us our craziness)
    All alone, or in two's,
    The ones who really love you
    Walk up and down outside the wall.
    Some hand in hand
    And some gathered together in bands.
    The bleeding hearts and artists
    Make their stand.

    And when they've given you their all
    Some stagger and fall, after all it's not easy
    Banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall