Thursday, May 29, 2008

When movies Nuked the Fridge

Now I'm starting to think about when certain movies have "Nuked the Fridge." It doesn't have to be an implausible unbelievable moment. Just when a movie or series looses its moorings and you begin to check out.

Last summer's "Transformers" started off good, but when the dog peed on Optimus Prime it NUKED THE FRIDGE. ("That's gonna rust" ?) Also, about the same time John Turturro showed up. After that the film deviated into Muppet Land.

"Across the Universe" NUKED THE FRIDGE when Bono shows up with his bus.

I saw a post that said "Spiderman 3" NUKED THE FRIDGE when Peter Parker gets all cool and dances around the bar--tapping into his darker side. I agree with that but for me that movie NUKED much earlier, and I think it had something to do with Topher Grace's first scene...but I can't remember for sure.

How about the Star Wars franchise. It NUKED when the Ewok's showed up in "Return of the Jedi." Or, maybe when Vader's helmet came off and there was a fat accountant inside. But that was at the end of the movie, so it didn't ruin a whole lot. Barring that, after Jar Jar Binx, Star Wars had definitely NUKED.

That's all I've got for now...

Nuke the Fridge roundup

Once it was feared that the radiation from a nuclear blast would mutate DNA and create world destroying monsters. With the power of the internet, it now creates catch phrases. The nuke seen in the latest Indiana Jones movie has created a new netism: Nuke the Fridge.

The phrase refers to a scene in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" where Indy survives a nuclear blast by climbing into a refrigerator. The blast vaporizes everything and flings the fridge several miles across the desert until it crashes back to earth where Indy climbs out relatively unharmed.

The phrase works for a movie the way "Jump the Shark" does for TV, namely, the moment when a movie or movie franchise starts going to crap. It's the moment when you realize this film is not as good as previous films, or other films of its genre. It's the moment when your disbelief overtakes your the requisite cognitive dissonance. It's the moment when the rest of the movie is spent emotionally detached because the main character is now seen as invulnerable, or the plot too implausible and therefore not worthy of any rational human attachment. It's the moment when you wish you had saved your money.

Being an internet creation, the rise of Nuke the Fridge has been covered in articles and on blogs and forums:


When did Indiana Jones officially nuke the fridge?

The official Fridge thread on IMDB

Nuke the Fridge Facebook Group!

Nuking the Fridge merchandise!

Nuke the Fridge video parodies are also now on YouTube.

Somewhere, someone is working hard on Nuke the Fridge page right now.... where we can talk about when movies or franchises Nuked the Fridge and never recovered. But it all stared with a shitty movie by two Hollywood legends: Spielburg and Lucas. The net giveth and the net taketh away. Long live the Fridge! I for one welcome our new Nuke the Fridge overlords...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Review: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crysrtal...huh?

As my friends in the back row will attest to: Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull is a movie best viewed high. Here's a film that will test survival skills. Not Indy's. Yours. The original Indiana Jones venture managed to be original, while also paying homage to 1930s serials. It was tightly wound, witty, and even thoughtful. It's an incredible mystery that the 2008 edition was made by the same men who are now legends: Steven Spielburg, George Lucas, and Harrison Ford. A movie like Raiders of the Lost Ark could not even be made today. Ironically, one of the original blockbusters has given rise to a movie industry which would now mangle such a finely tuned piece of work.

Crystal Skull takes place in 1957 and Ford reprises his role as the Man in the Hat. The old Nazi villains have given way to Cold War Russians, led by Cate Blanchett's Irina, a caricature searching for a the title skull, an object which can literally blow your mind. Toss in a few stock characters--an Aussie, a young Marlon Brando from "The Wild Ones", an old love interest, pictures of Sean Conery, flesh eating ants, wild natives, and a few extra terrestrials, and you have what Speilburg and Lucas now consider a quality summer film. Is it the age, or the millage?

To talk of plot is to give the thing much too much credit. There's really nothing here other than stunts and CGI effects strung together to form a story in only the weakest sense of the term. All the pieces are there, to be sure sure: trains, motorcycles, detonations, a love affair rekindled, a lost son reuinted with father. But we've been here before with all of this, and most of it is unncessary. I'm reminded of a line from another Spielburg movie: they were so preoccupied with weather or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should. The problem is these elements are nothing more than hollow building blocks given no life. By the end Crystal Skull is stuffed to the brim with accents, explosions, books, dust, skeletons, rocks, water, ants, and one spinning UFO. To call it a "movie" would be a stretch. It's more like a Disneyland theme park ride.

Crystal Skull is terrible and I say this as a huge Indiana Jones fan. Raiders of the Lost Ark is one of my favorite movies. I grew up with it. Even as a kid, when I didn't understand many of the references, the adventure was palpable. The urgency was real. The characters, though exaggerated, were believable and thus likable. Indy wore down and by the end of the movie you can felt his exhaustion. He didn't want to fight the big bald German dude around the plane because he was damn tired and the only thing that saved him was a timely propeller, not superhuman strength. I watched the same movie again before viewing Crystal Skull and those feelings were only heightened with age. The movie is emotional and exciting while also being funny and cerebral. Some of that magic carried over into the next two films Temple of Doom and Last Crusade, but you'd be hard pressed to include the 2008 ride into this collection. The only thing that links are the names in the credits.

You know it's going to be a long movie when Indy's first appearance is met with skepticism. Who's that old man in the Indiana Jones costume? I don't say this to make fun of Harrison Ford, who is certainly to be commended for his courage in donning the fedora again at 60 something, it's just that Indy himself is not believable on any level, starting with his creaky appearance. The movie proceeds like this, destroying any sense of plausible deniability as it goes. Any attachment to reality is obliterated in 15 minutes when Indy wanders into a town constructed as a nuclear (which Indy pronounces "nu-cu-ler") testing site. In the distance you see a atomic bomb set for detonation. Then you hear the countdown. The sense of danger is imminent. Still, in case you were confused, Indy reminds you, "This is not good." He then hides in a refrigerator, the bomb goes off, the town is vaporized, and the Maytag flies through the air, crashes to earth, rolls for half a mile, and Indy tumbles out and walks away.

In the original films Indy was a human. Now he is invincible. And in making him so, much of the magic and charm is lost. Here is a movie where anything can happen and does, even if it's laughable and irrelevant. Crystal Skull has all the earmarks of poor Lucas films: too much CGI, too much commenting through the obvious, not enough human touch. Or, to put it another way, not enough of what made a movie like Raiders so much fun. Bad filmmakers don't trust their audience to put together what is going on, so they verbalize the obvious plot points. They cram in more and more because silence becomes deafening. There's always some actor ready to quip out a one-liner to make what is going on clear, even though this movie has gone from an original to a well worn template.

My quest, with this film, was not to find where the Crystal Skulls came from, but how seemingly intelligent, discerning critics gave it good reviews. How is it clocking in at 80% on Rotten Tomatoes? Is it a nod to Lucas, Spielburg, and Ford--three people who could obviously care less? This is the Indy movie that took 19 years to make, which coaxed Ford to put the hat back on? This is the movie after a massive script re-write, which it ends with a UFO and something about the "space between spaces" ? It's not a bad movie because it's no Raiders, it's just a bad movie. And compared to this movie, Raiders seems as rare and untoucable as the lost Ark itself.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The modern male meets Hillary Clinton

Sometime in the early 1990s, while Hillary Rodham Clinton was in the White House, the modern American male became helpless, clearly chronicled in various sitcoms where the husband, a bumbling oaf, is saved time and again by a capable, omniscient wife. Think of the show "Home Improvement" which ran from 1991-1999. By the time Tim Taylor was done blowing up garbage disposals the metamorphosis of the modern American male was complete. Why the Tim and Jill Taylors of the world want to play these roles is beyond me. For men, perhaps, its a chance to delay adulthood and responsibility in a world that has no pity. For women, maybe, its a long-awaited turn at the head of the table.

Go to a modern romantic comedy and the male "lead" is a stoner, a guy who parties late and sleeps until noon, a man child needing a mother to get him on the right track. The female lead is usually a woman who is so serious and professional she very little time to let her hair down. Apart they are both flawed, but put the two together and you have movie magic.

And so we have the 2008 Democratic campaign, staring white men who just can't seem to find a job, and a woman so professional and ambitious she'd impress Miranda Priestly. The men and the woman have been brought together out of necessity and survival, massing into a Volton-like mech that vows to crush anything in its path.

Many have already hailed, rightfully so, Clinton's campaign as a breakthrough, even if a loss. It has changed forever how America will view the professional woman, and how one woman, so deeply despised among traditionally macho men, won them over and got them to follow. Pundits are amazed at her ability to break through and connect with those working class white voters, but rather than pouring over poll data, all they had to do was watch a few episodes of "King of Queens." Hillary Clinton has effectively done in the real world of politics, before our very eyes, what Hollywood has been doing for years in sitcoms, movies, and commercials. The circuit is now complete.

The modern American male is a long way from "It Happened One Night" in-which Clark Gable played, not only a guy with a job, but an ambitious reporter in search of a story. Clark Gable's Peter Warne was driven to put food on his table, to carve out his niche. He was the one so motivated he didn't know how to have any fun. But he also didn't live in our modern times, in the decline of America; the uncertain, tenuous economic climate stocked with ready-made scapegoats in the form of cheap foreign labor. With an environment like that--where working harder gets you less, where you could very easily wind up with a pink slip after years of service, what is today's guy to do but throw it to the wind and look for someone who will believe in them and champion them no matter how bad it gets?

Hillary Clinton stood by her man, Bill, after he was done showing Monica Lewinsky the ropes around the White House. That's some serious loyalty. Guys like that. Eight years later she has vowed, on behalf of a white working-class coalition, to go to Washington and fight for them, and then fight some more. And the modern man could not be happier. It's the role they were born to play. It's the just-couldn't-do-it-without-you-honey association, which seems to have been clamoring for their own firey Jill Taylor to do the laundry, make dinner, take care of the kids, handle the finances, and go to Washington and kick some foreign and domestic ass.

It's all a farce of course. Fighting from the White House wont get Hillary any further than it did in 1993 and 1994 when, after rolling up her sleeves and working with a Democratic majority in congress, her approval ratings plummeted from the high 50s to the low 30s. No matter. Jobs have been lost and there's palpable anger and incapacity. There's helplessness. No one knows what to do, but Hillary will do something for somebody. She has been criticized for gauging the national mood incorrectly. I think she's right on, she just found it too late. All it took was a little less Meryl Streep and a little more Patricia Heaton. A little less ball busting and a little more we're-in-this-together. A little less "get off your ass" and a little more "I've already taken care of it."

The modern man has evolved.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Obama's troubles

Interesting to note, Election 2008, a site which monitors state polling, has Clinton beating McCain 284 - 237, with Michigan as a 17 point tie. Alternatively, Obama is seen losing to McCain 242 - 285, with Indiana an 11 point tie.

Clinton's source of strength is bringing in Arkansas, Florida, New Mexico, Ohio and West Virginia, while losing Wisconsin and New Hampshire. That's a 49 vote pickup from 2004.

Meanwhile Obama can bring in Colorado, Iowa, and New Mexico but drops Michigan, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, a net loss of 10 votes from 2004.

Obviously the polls will shift as Clinton fades away and it becomes a straight Obama vs McCain race. The question is where will those Clinton supporters return to Obama, or will enough turn to McCain?

Michigan and Florida remain vital battleground states. Clinton is polling high because she's been the only Democrat campaigning in those states but it remains to be seen if Obama can keep Michigan in the fold from 2004, or if his issues connecting with working-class voters will hamper him in 2008.

As for Florida, I don't see him winning it in November. He doesn't seem to resonate well with all those senior citizens, Jews, and Hispanics.

Another big state is Ohio with 20 electoral college votes. From feverish campaigning and acute posturing, Clinton is up there as well. Again, it shows Obama's issues connecting with working-class whites. The question is, can he make that connection between now and 2008? And will the DNC's punishment of Florida and Michigan at the convention ultimately hamstring the party in November?

I can't help but wonder how Obama would be doing in those key states of Michigan, Ohio, and Florida, had this nomination process been more conventional, and had Clinton not painted him as an elitist over the last two months and carped on and on about seating the Florida and Michigan delegates. Clinton has gained nothing from all of this, but what have Obama and Democrats lost?

Clinton is on her way to Florida today to argue that Obama is disenfranchising the states Democratic primary voters. This will net her nothing, as the math is already too far against her, and will certainly further harm Obama's chances in that state come November. Clinton has intoned a similar message in Michigan. It has been this kind of relentless march by Clinton, a venerable Sherman through Atlanta, that could ultimately ruin the Democrats in 2008.

Clinton has reached a kind of Kucinichesque marginalization. She has become the Ralph Nader of 2008, someone who has no shot of winning, but could certainly damage the left's chances for victory in November. I can't help but wonder what the tone would be if it was Obama undermining the prohibitive front-runner in the same way. If it were Clinton ahead in every metric but the final count, and Obama refused to concede, the outcry among Democrats would be vicious.

For all of her complaining about unfair media bias against women, Clinton has more or less been given a free pass to remain in the race, even to counter productive ends, surely because of her name and her gender. No one has the nerve to point out the obvious and tell the lady it's time to leave the dance.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Al Gore watch

Now that John Edwards has strapped himself onto the Obama gravy train, the big question is: where's Al Gore? He remains the one major Democratic leader who has not thrown an endorsement.

Like a great rock band that wont take the stage until the suspense has reached a fever pitch, the crowd churned into a frenzy, frothing like a thick foamy substance, crying out like a mass orgy of one living mob screaming for release.... Al Gore waits patiently for his moment of maximum impact.

Edwards endorses Obama

John Edwards gave his long-awaited endorsement to Senator Barack Obama, bolstering Obama's efforts to rally the Democratic Party around his candidacy and offering potential help in his attempts to win over working-class white voters in the general election this autumn.

"The Democratic voters in America have made their choice, and, interestingly enough, so have I," Edwards said.

Edwards spoke a roaring crowd of more than 12,000 in Michigan on Wednesday, a day when Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was trying to capitalize on her big win Tuesday in West Virginia and convince superdelegates and contributors that she still had a chance to capture the Democratic nomination.

"There is one man who knows in his heart that we have to build one America - not two - and that man is Barack Obama," Edwards said. "The time has come, with the nomination now irreversible, I stand before you now and enthusiastically offer my endorsement to Barack Obama."

"Now I know what many of you hard-working white people may be asking, can we trust this Obama?" Edwards asked, in an attempt to quell concerns about Obama with working-class voters. "And I say yes! Yes, this son of a mill worker once harbored the same concerns as you because I want what is best for this great country. But at this point I want to be clear: I for one welcome our new Obama overlord. I'd like to remind him that as a trusted politician, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in his underground sugar caves."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Who will be Obama's VP?

I've been asked a few times who I think Barack Obama will pick as his running mate. My top pick is Senator Jim Webb from Virginia. A recent article on Huffington Post had similar feelings.

Webb is the closest thing to a front runner for Obama's VP these days. A former Republican, he served as Secretary of the Navy for Ronald Reagan. Webb defeated George "Macaca" Allen to become a junior senator in Virginia.

Pro: Webb is a good foil for Obama's post-partisan message, and he's got the military credentials to match up with John McCain. He's good at playing the attack dog, which will let Obama take the high road. And he's from trending-blue Virginia, which would be a great pickup in November for Democrats. He's also pro-guns.

Con: Webb can be a little out-of-control as attack dogs go.

I couldn't agree with this more.

Next up is Bill Richardson. He used to be my number one choice for an Obama running mate. He would shore up the Latino vote while also bolstering the ticket. Unfortunately, after recent months, I think far too many uneducated white voters are nervous about a non-white ticket. The political climate has changed over the last few months, and the black \ Hispanic combo is probably too radical for too many people.

Then we get to Joe Biden. I like Biden a lot. He's got foreign policy experience, and history ends up proving him correct when he takes a stand. But, again, given the current political climate, I'm not sure if he would help too much. To me he conjures too much John Kerry and not enough middle-America.

Chuck Hagel would be an interesting choice. I like this one a lot. He would probably be my number three pick right now. He would personify the idea that Obama is a pragmatist and willing to work across party lines--the source of his appeal. Hagel would add an element of toughness, much like Jim Webb, which should resonate with many undecided voters while helping to neutralize McCain. His negatives are his conservative leanings on abortion and health care but I don't see that being much of a factor in a Vice Presidential role.

Then there's my number two choice, General Wesley Clark. I've liked him since 2004 when he ran on an anti-war ticket. He would certainly remove much doubt about Democratic toughness, or weakness on national security. As a Clinton backer he could bring angry Democrats back into the fold.

Now let's talk about a few who would not be good choices.

People, even paid professionals, just can't stop pondering Hillary Clinton as a legitimate VP contender. I don't see this happening for all the reasons she has put on display over the last four months--she's remorseless, shameless, old school, and far too overtly political. She seems like the Democratic embodiment of George W. Bush--someone who surrounds herself with loyalists and hammers away at the party line, all while everything goes to hell around her. Then she just bunkers up and fights some more. She's everything Obama claims not to be. Putting her on the ticket doesn't help him at all.

Mike Bloomberg, the popular governor of New York City. I like this idea in theory, the media loves the guy, but I feel it would make the ticket a little too glamorous. Obama has more than enough glitz and media savvy, what they need is some lunch pail, working class, love-it-or-leave it gravity on the ticket.

John Edwards, would be another bad choice. I've never been a huge Edwards fan. To me, being against poverty is sort of like rooting for the Yankees, or listening to the Beatles. It's a tad unoriginal and safe. And I'd say that's a good way to sum Edwards up. Also, he carried nothing in 2004 when he had his chance at the big stage, and Cheney ate him for lunch during the debates. Edwards is a figurehead, a hood ornament of the party.

Finally, Al Gore. He's at his best when he's doing slide shows and he made the wise decision not to listen to the siren call and run in 2008. It would have ruined everything he has salvaged after his heart-breaking 2000 campaign. He's a good man, a smart man, a wise man, but his political time has come and gone. Besides, he'd never be VP again would he?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Tony Romo sings at Wrigley

Sunday was a big day for baseball. Greg Maddux won his 350th game, and Illinois native Tony Romo fumbled the snap during the Seventh Inning Stretch at Wrigley.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

What's next for Hillary?

Now that Hillary has lost the Democratic nomination, what's next for the Senator from New York?

Sweep floor, shut off lights at campaign headquarters
Don't let the door hit her on the ass on the way out
Type a strongly worded letter to college educated, white collar Democrats
Scrape "Hillary '08" bumper sticker off car
Vanish into thin air
Quietly go insane
Hold up a liquor store
Beat up Al Gore, John Edwards, Ted Kennedy, et. al
"Totally obliterate" Iran, Iowa
Get milk, pick up dry cleaning, divorce Bill
Seduce Barack, become VP
Begin Hillary 2016

To me, that's the question: will she go back and rebuild? Will she set her sights on 2016? This is by far the story of 2008. Hell, it's the biggest story since the Iraq war: how the prohibitive favorite, with the best brand name in Democratic politics, faltered and lost the big one, in the year of Democratic politics, after 16 years of preparation.

Will she retire quietly to the Senate? How much gas does she have left in the tank after this? It's almost Sisyphean. But I ask you this: were you not entertained? The world would be a less interesting place without Hillary Rodham Clinton. May she rest in peace.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Elitism? It's the stupid people, stupid!

(Count the number of elitist words in this article.)

Why is liberalism often tied with elitism in American politics? What is it about elitism that bothers people? Jeff Greenfield, with help from George Orwell, has explored these questions, in a new article over on The answers are illuminating.

Ah, there I go. I used "illuminating" when I could have used "thoughtful." One is pretentious, the other is pedestrian. That is the basic difference between so-called elites and working-class, as Orwell explains in his 1937 book The Road to Wigan Pier, a look at working class life in the industrial heartlands of England before World War II.

In the first part of the book book Orwell goes inside the life of working class families. He does everything from famously descending into a coal mine and describing the working conditions, to commenting on the typical diet of a blue collar family. Greenfield's article is interested in the second part of the book. In it, Orwell states that these conditions are not acceptable, and that socialism could improve the lives of these families. But then, Orwell wonders, why are we not all socialists? The rest of the book attempts to answer this question.

It doesn't take too much effort to see the parallels between the setting of Orwell's book and the blue-collar districts Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are trying so hard to win. Why is Obama's elitist tag hurting him so much? Greenfield ties our modern elitism to Orwell's socialism. This works because blue collar voters rail against them for the same reasons. Orwell suggested that people do not argue against socialism for empirical reasons (another nice elitist term) but for more complex emotional reasons which most socialists fail to understand.

Greenfield gleans this and uncovers reasons why people today passionately balk against liberalism even though the system could benefit them. Orwell recognized how pretentious, arrogant people were contributing to socialism's negative reputation among more conventional people.

“...The food-crank is by definition a person willing to cut himself
off from human society in hopes of adding five years on to the life of
his carcase; that is, a person out of touch with common humanity.”

“One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and
‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice
drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’
quack, pacifist, and feminist in England."

(Hey, I'm not a nudist!)

"If only the sandals and the pistachio-colored shirts could be put in
a pile and burnt, and every vegetarian, teetotaler, and creeping Jesus
sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly!"

To read these lines, you'd think Orwell himself was anti-socialism. But he states very plainly that he is in favor of the system, but against many of its disciples. He put it this way, "As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents."

I had never thought about it this way before. Over the last eight years of the Bush administration I have pondered why more people have not turned to liberalism in-light of what neoconservativism has brought on our country (and the rest of the world). But the problem is so many liberals are so damn annoying! And I'm one of them. It reminds me of the line from Annie Hall, "Don't you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we're
left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us
that way sometimes and I live here!"

But this explains a lot: from why people freak out when A-list (and B-list) Hollywood celebrities try to tell middle America how to live; to why Bill O'Reilly has a television show; to why the elitist tag is such an anathema. Oh, drat! Did I say "anathema" when I could have said "poison"?

That brings me to another reason Orwell found that people actively opposed socialism, namely the turgid (ding!) language employed by its followers. There are people who lace their speech with haughty words. Words like "haughty" or "nuance" or "notwithstanding." People who do that are probably also annoyingly liberal. They've probably never spent too much time in a mine shaft or working as a longshoreman. They probably sip their beer while they pontificate. They have as much in common with a blue class worker as my grandparents do with the digital age.

Ironically, socialism tends to suffer from the same thing that vexes (yes...vexes) it's more conservative cousin, fundamentalism. "The ordinary decent person," Orwell writes, "who is in sympathy with the essential aims of Socialism, is given the impression that there is no room for his kind in any Socialist party that means business." What's a reasonable voter to do?

During this democratic election there has been no shortness of pandering to the blue collar worker. Much has been made (another great elitist term: "Much has been made of...") of Obama's inability to connect with them, and Hillary's re-inventing herself as a working class hero (she's lived in every small town in Pennsylvania and Indiana). I have been surprised that such pandering has worked, after years of inaction by government to help them. This is the very thing Obama tried to explain in his disastrous San Francisco (ding!) talk on "bitter" middle America. And, with the help of Orwell, it's not hard to see why it was such a blunder. It's not that what he said was wrong. It's how he said it. It's how a vast group had been boiled down into a demographic, and quantified as an anthropological phenomenon.

I always felt there was a certain amount of play-acting among the most vocal liberals. I've also felt that I need to stop feeling and I need to start doing. Feelings are for elitists. Rolling up your sleeves, as our President has often done to clear so much brush at his Crawford ranch, is what connects with people. It's not that the liberal ideals are wrong, it's that you get the impression you need to change your whole lifestyle to believe them. It changes everything. You have to dress different. You have to act different. You have to grow a mustache and get all kinds of robes and lotions and you need a new bedspread and new curtains. You'd have to get thick carpeting and weirdo lighting. You'd have to get new friends. You'd have to get liberal friends. Most people aren't ready for all that.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Contraditions of Christian Culture

It's not often you read an essay that goes right to the core of what you've been thinking for the last fifteen years but just couldn't put your finger on it. Hanna Rosin over at has done just that with her contemplative article on the marketing of Christian culture in America.

Her article is based around Daniel Radosh's book called Rapture Ready: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture. If the title sounds whimsical, it's supposed to.

Rosin writes:

Reading Radosh's book is like coming across another planet hidden somewhere on Earth where everything is just exactly like it is here except blue or made out of plastic. Every American pop phenomenon has its Christian equivalent, no matter how improbable. And Radosh seems to have experienced them all.

Rosin mentions another section of the book where the author attends a Christian retail show where there are "rip-off trinkets of every kind"-- from My Little Ponies, to mood rings, to catchy Christian t-shirts subverting Madison Avenue taglines. Christianity has it all--from Christian rap, to Christian comedians, to sex-advice sites. The only problem is the core of all of those areas has been bored out, and replaced by a cheesy imitation. Christian rap, of course, has none of the inner city angst that makes actual rap so passionate. Christian comedians are just not funny. And Christian sex-advice sites are at best a joke and at worst unhealthy and dangerous. This brings up a huge flaw with American Christianity--the secular version is far more sincere and passionate and effective.

As one who was stepped in this culture for many years, I found Rosin's article to be both succinct and accurate in its portrayal. I always had a nagging sense of disappointment as I watched something that was supposed to be divine and eternal inflated and manipulated like a clown's balloon animal. It reminded me of the time a recruiter from a Christian college came to my youth group. His "promotion" of higher education involved sticking a rubber glove on his head and acting like a chicken. The point was--Christian college is fun, it's cool, it's safe!

This was the tip of the iceberg as I descended into a sort of fabricated hell where kids wore shirts, listened to music, read books, watched movies, that all were a sort of a sedated and Christianized version of American pop culture. There was something disingenuous and inauthentic to it all. Why should I have been surprised when these kids were also living disingenuous and inauthentic Christian lives. They were no better equipped and thus no different than kids who did not participate in this masquerade. All too often these kids got pregnant by teen-aged boyfriends who were too ignorant to even consider using protection. Their whole lives had been set up to be shallow, and irresponsible.

The title of Radosh's book is intentionally whimsical. The divine has been created after pop culture's image, rather than the other way around. This is entertaining to many. But it's also dangerous. It leads to a type of shadow existence that has no basis in reality. As Rosin says Christian pop culture creates an "eternal oxymoron."

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Obama's Journey

In myth and literature disperate heroes often take a similiar path. Professor Joseph Campell first quantified then popularized this in his landmark book "The Hero With a Thousand Faces." In that book the monomyth is outlined in five steps: a call to adventure, a road of trials, achieving the goal, a return to the ordinary world, and applying the boon. Abraham, Herculeus, and Luke Skywalker were all given a call to a journey, they all faced trials, grew, changed, overcame, and applied. If Senator Obama's journey were to be put onto this continuum the last few weeks would inevitably been seen as his time of trials.

Barack Obama came from almost nothing, an obscure, mixed background, rose through academia, and eventually through politics. He accepted the call to seek the Presidency of the United States in the face of incredible odds. His meteoric rise was the stuff of legended, unchecked. It blazed its own path like a Roy Hobb's fastball. But then his tests truely began.

Questions of his patriotism arose when his pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright was seen on YouTube condemning America. Obama dispatched this controversy, like the killing of the many-headed hydra. But when he turned his back the heads grew back as before and struck. Who could have written that narrative? That a man Obama once considered a mentor would turn on his prodigy and attempt to strike a fatal blow? Et tu, Brute?

Wright siezed his moment in the national spotlight, gave a series of inflamitory interviews from Bill Moyers to an appearance before the National Press Club, at incredible and incalculable expense to Obama's campaign. The last thing the Senator from Illinois needed as his outspoken minister re-connecting him to fringe elements of society. Once again Obama was put to the test.

This time he repudiated.

His anger was broiling just under the surface, seething at the betrayal. As he explained on "Meet the Press" this morning, his decision to finally and unequivicabbly disavow his pastor was the result of Wright's decision to "double down" on his previous statements. Where Obama had once given the minister the benefit of the doubt, the minister took the opening to increase the doubt in voter's minds about Obama's judgement and perception of America.

The father had turned on the son, and the son had to strike him down.

Obama called Wright's interviews a "specticle." And used further strong language painting Wright's positions as absurd and outrageous. If it was Wright's goal to restore his self-image, Obama did him far greater harm than he had ever done himself.

What people like about Obama is that he seems reasonable and thoughtful. He is a man of incredible talent but it is also doled out in even-measurements. What people cannot stand about Rev. Wright and fanatical religion is that there is no limit. It assimiliates everything in its path into one perspective--an iron-clad black-and-white snare that allows for no grey areas, no real judgment.

Rev. Wright reprents so much of what is positive about religion--as an empowering force to for good in society, as represented by his church's community outreach and prison ministry. But he also represents so much of what is wrong with religion--an almost total disregard for anyone outside of its path, a source for division, and a catalyst for hatred. In this, Rev. Wright makes a compelling villian in our story--one with a nature that afflicts us all: the duality of man.