Twenty years later, this joke still works!
Posts Tagged ‘cultural criticism’
With MLK Day a week away, here’s an earlier version of U2′s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” than the one most know. The first half sounds pretty much the same, but in the second half, you’ll notice that the track is extended, and Bono’s voice is even more passionate: he lets loose with an exuberant praise so unrestrained, his voice is audibly shredded raw by the end.
This holiday could use some of that passion. Due in part to the rise of politicized tribalism, and all the myopia that engenders, Martin Luther King Day has long since become a staid formality.
Its celebration has about as much to do with the life and work of Dr. King as the celebration of Christmas has to do with Jesus Christ–the presence of the true meaning is nominal, at best, replaced by a simplified, commercialized, mainstreamed version, bland enough to suit the times, with just enough empty inspiration in it to give us some cheap, warm fuzzies without actually making us examine ourselves and change anything.
vacations without work
sex without marriage
entertainment without edification
dessert without nourishment
diplomas without learning
citizenship without patriotism
Well, you get the idea. There’s nothing wrong with the first part of each pair, but when taken without the second part, we only get a shallower version of it. These pairs naturally come together, and when they do, the experience is far deeper and richer than when we try to just have the easy, fun stuff.
The tendency to claim the first part without the second is, ultimately, ignoring of the full value of the first part, rejecting the second part entirely, and a sad commentary on the short-sighted immaturity of the world.
Last year I read this article about the many standard devices that are combined into a smartphone, and I considered getting one. As I shopped around, though, a scary fact slapped me–while the initial cost of a phone could be reckoned with, the monthly fees would be impossible.
So how is everybody affording this? Whenever our water or power bills go up five bucks a month, we all complain about it until we’re blue in the face. Riots practically ensue any time gas prices inch up a penny or two.
And yet, sometime in the last several years, as smartphones have become as common as ripped jeans, Starbucks cups, and lower back tattoos, the average American just happened to find an extra hundred dollars a month to spend, in the middle of the worst recession in 70 years?
Where the heck is all this new money coming from? Where was it before you had a smartphone and you were barely making ends meet?
I want answers on this because, without someone showing me the way that the rest of you are making this work, I have to assume the obvious–that millions of you are ignoring your budgets and sinking yourselves into debt each month so you can have the coolness and convenience of the fancy gadget that all the other kids have.
Last month, my college classes had an assignment to write a problem/solution essay. Being young adults, almost all of them wrote from a politically liberal perspective. Now, some of those papers were clever, articulate, and well-written, even if I personally disagreed with their premises and conclusions.
But not many of them. Many of them were angry, juvenile rants with no more basis in reason or reality than the most fevered stereotypes of leftist loonies. One guy wrote three pages about how global warming puts “all life on earth in danger of destruction very soon,” for example. Several wrote about cheerfully banning anything they don’t like, from fast food to cigarettes to belief systems. One student summed up that philosophy like this: “If people can’t make the choice to stay away from it themselves, it should be banned.”
I admit, I find this tendency to automatic tyranny scary.
But wait, belief systems? They wrote that they want to ban belief systems? Yes. The most popular subject was gay marriage, and some writers were quite assertive in their condemnation of anything that wouldn’t agree with them. By far the scariest lines in any paper I read were these:
“[He] was picked on because of his sexual orientation and now those who believe that his sexual orientation does not go along with their religious beliefs can bully him. Apparently Al Qaeda was completely okay and the Holocaust can be justified too. Al Qaeda occured because of religious beliefs…Then the Holocaust killed millions of Jews simply because of Adolf Hitler’s moral beliefs.”
I am a public school teacher, but I choose not to hate or envy those whose hard work and innovation have brought them greater wealth than I have. They have taken nothing from me. My life is the result of my choices. Each of us is responsible for dealing with and improving our own circumstances.
My house is only worth 1/3 of what I’m paying for it, but I will not scapegoat a small group of people whose work is related to New York’s financial district. I will not associate the illegal malfeasance of a very few with the wealthy population in general–such prejudiced thinking has always led to atrocities. Many of our country’s economic problems were caused by the reckless buying and poor preparation among us in the middle class, anyway. It’s time we grew up and admitted it.
I’ve had difficulty paying bills on time and providing for my family, but I do not feel entitled to demand that wealthier people are obligated to bail me out. This is a free country, and we believe in private property.
I have had student loans in the five figures. I paid them off by budgeting and sacrificing. Nobody forced me to take out those loans, and nobody else was responsible for paying them back.
I pay no income taxes, yet I benefit from public services. I will not have the gall to impose upon the wealthy a convenient vision of what they “must” provide for others. There is no such thing as an objective “fair share.”
I am the 99%, but I support the 1%.
Here is a screen shot from an article posted on the Las Vegas Sun web site on Monday. It’s a picture of beauty contest winners. Notice how skinny they are. These girls aren’t just thin, they’re practically skeletal.
Picking on the appearance of small women can be just as hurtful as insulting larger women, but I have to wonder if the physiques of the women in this picture are natural. The one in the middle looks so anorexic that I’m honestly worried about her. All five of them have their ribs sticking out quite prominently, but this poor lady almost looks like she’s sick.
They won a beauty contest? Their faces are all pretty, sure, but I can’t imagine how much punishment they must have put themselves through to emaciate their bodies so much. Call me crazy, but my vision of female beauty includes curves, substance, and health.
A story at First Thoughts this week about people wearing Hooters t-shirts to mass stirred a debate in the comments section: should or shouldn’t people come to church dressed however they want? There were some strong words on both sides.
A few miles from my house is one of those huge non-denominational fellowship churches. It looks like a nice place that does good for people. They have a big sign outside with a picture of casually dressed people, and it reads, “Come as you are!” Of course, the models in the picture are dressed in professional-models-at-work casual (polos, solid colored t-shirts, new jeans, etc.), not real life causal (stained wife beaters, torn sweat pants, Hooters t-shirts).
As an elementary school student, a teacher once told me, very politely and apologetically, that I couldn’t have something reasonable that I wanted in class because that would mean that other students would be entitled to the same thing, which would be bad for the class. I’ve long since forgotten exactly what the situation was, but I remember the lesson–sometimes, things which might be justified must be denied because of the precedent that would be set.
In high school, a science teacher once scheduled an activity important to the class at the same time that another important activity was scheduled for a popular student club. Students couldn’t do both, yet both activities were good and valuable, and many students went into a tizzy, asking the teacher to change the day and time of his activity. He declined, explaining that the real world does not rearrange itself so that people can get to do every worthwhile thing they want to do–priorities must be set, and sacrifices must be made.
He was absolutely right. That was a crucial life lesson.
A lot of wise things have been said of this runaway Broadway hit, but this review is by far the best:
The main thrust of its claims about Mormonism is that Joseph Smith made it all up, and that his message does not apply to the modern world. It portrays Mormons as naïve and simplistic. Of course, Mormons are also a cheerful, polite, and well-meaning bunch, and as such, are basically harmless. But the only way for them to truly do good in the modern world is to change their story so it applies to current problems, which should be fine since their scriptures were made up in the first place. This is all very appealing to the audience and to theater critics. They are made to feel superior to the delusional Mormons, while at the same time, feel good about themselves for acknowledging that it is important to help relieve suffering in the world. They don’t have to feel bad about lampooning the Mormons since the show acknowledges that Mormons are nice people, and since it is just satire, after all.
The creators of the show are welcome to their opinion, and even to advertise it in a propagandistic play (for what else is the play’s value?), but such lazy cultural tropes, in a better world, would at least be honest about the basis of their approach: an immediate rejection that the Book of Mormon, and religious beliefs in general, might have any grounding in historical fact. Certainly, again, anyone is free to conclude that such is not the case after they have considered and investigated it, but until they’ve done so, how are they honestly qualified to assert so boldly that it isn’t true?
Nobody would care a lick for a random layman’s scathing indictment of particle physics or macroeconomics. Why is it OK, even encouraged, in our society to simply spew hot air about religion? Why is so much respect accorded to the mockers of faith, especially when they present mere prejudice as entertainment?
Far more offensive than any possible content to the show is that those who participate in it, including the audience, are so satisfied of their superiority, despite a massive ignorance of what they claim to definitively scorn.
During the year I spent working as a school counselor, I wanted to put a sign on the door of my office that said, “Parents: you are not doing your children a favor by excusing them from the natural consequences of their choices.” That sign would have cut my work load–and stress–in half. I’ve been thinking about that sign a lot as this school year winds down.
The insulting slang term, that is, not the people. I’m talking about when someone says, “That’s so gay!” meaning that something is bad. I knew that would get you hooked, though!
Seriously, is there anything in our society now that’s really uglier towards gay people than this? To make their identity synonymous with “bad?”
The closest thing out there to this is the widespread use of the N-word (against which I’ve railed before), but even that is usually used as an inside-term by some black people, not meant to cause hurt. Equating “gay” with “bad,” however, can only be the most degrading kind of slur.
This is especially important for those of us who, as Christians, hold that marriage must be only between a man and a woman, while asserting our love and brotherhood with all people, including those gay people who might disagree with us. When conversations go there, though, the response we often get is, “Yeah, right. Of course you love us. That’s why you call us names.”
Can we blame them? If we’re using their identity as an insult, of course our declarations of respect will ring hollow. There is definitely something wrong with our civility–and our discipleship–if we call something we don’t like “gay.”
Reviewing my favorite quotes from Atlas Shrugged last week reminded me of an interesting connection between it and the Book of Mormon. This quote from Atlas Shrugged (1957):
“You see, Dr. Stadler, people don’t want to think. And the deeper they get into trouble, the less they want to think. But by some sort of instinct, they feel that they ought to and it makes them feel guilty. So they’ll bless and follow anyone who gives them a justification for not thinking. Anyone who makes a virtue–a highly intellectual virtue–out of what they know to be their sin, their weakness and their guilt.” (322)
makes essentially the same pessimistic point about human nature as this quote from the Book of Mormon (1830):
But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him. (Helaman 13:27-28)
Perhaps this is an example of the principle explained in Alma 29:8?
Posted in Education, Politics and Society, tagged America, American Literature, American Literature Honors, cultural criticism, educational standards, egalitarianism, relativism, standards on February 4, 2011 | 1 Comment »
For the past several years, I’ve taught a class called American Literature Honors. Immersing myself in that subject has made me realize that each of the three words in that title implies something powerful, and something contrary to the mainstream. In fact, I wonder if such a title will become controversial in the near future.
The first idea stated by the name of the class is that there is such a thing as an American identity, a nature that must meet some kind of criteria and that is discernibly different from any other identity. This is important to recognize.
It is undeniable that the term “American” exists, and therefore must mean something. Even relativism, the great intellectual cancer of the 20th century, can’t look the word in the face and say it means nothing, that it carries no more semantic weight than any current youth slang. It stands to reason that “American” can’t be defined as anything we want it to mean, but must have parameters that will include some things and exclude others. Simply admitting this is a victory over the foggy forces of multiculturalism.
The second is that “literature” exists, as opposed to other kinds of artifacts or fields of knowledge, and even other kinds of writing, and that this is worthy of being studied. Also, there is an area of intersection between the two, that some amount of this “literature” is decidedly “American” in character.
The new, redacted version of Huckleberry Finn (replacing all instances of the n-word with “slave”) is still a major topic of discussion, which is impressive enough, and more so as this hasn’t exactly been a slow news week, with the Arizona shooting. Clearly, this event has brought out a lot of passion and opinions. Much has been said about honoring Mark Twain’s intended language, about the nature of reality in the period that Twain wanted to depict in all of its ugliness, and about revisionist history (and censorship) as narcissistic navel-gazing. All of that’s true, so I won’t labor the points here, but I think I have two good ideas to add to the discussion.
1) There’s already a high school in a predominantly black part of my town where Huck Finn has been under a de facto ban for years, as the staff is worried that its use of the n-word will inflame the community. I hope the community’s maturity would surprise them, but their worry exists with good reason for, as our attorney general has noted, when it comes to race, we are a nation of cowards. We’re afraid to discuss race for fear of being offensive. If a group of white people is talking about race, and a black person is present, the mood changes, and everyone tiptoes on egg shells. Whatever your race, you know this is true. This isn’t because we’re all secretly hiding some bias, but because we’ve been trained to see racism everywhere, and we’re paranoid about our peers being suspicious. Isn’t this sad?
Censoring the n-word in Huck Finn will only make such problems worse, because it implies that there’s something wrong with the text, and if there’s something wrong with the text, it must be racism. One of the problems with our society is its growing inability to see shades of gray, and this censorship will only reinforce the tendency to say that if something is frank and realistic about race, it must be racist. The irony of this tragedy is that in Huck Finn (which is about racism, but not racist itself), the poor, oppressed black man is the ultimate hero (see below). In a setting that Twain filled with white idiots, Jim is one of literature’s earliest black heroes.
2) Remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? Of course you do: Goldilocks goes exploring and finds a cottage in the woods. She walks on in and, finding the place vacant, helps herself to their porridge and beds. She falls asleep until the three bears come home and find her, whereupon she runs off. The end.
Ever realize just how pointless that story is? That’s because that isn’t the story–like so many of our old fairy tales, our storybook version has been edited to protect us. In the original, the bears come home and eat Goldilocks. This ending carried a clear moral to it: straying too far from the established path into a wilderness, by yourself, is dangerous (also, breaking and entering is bad). The edited ending not only “protects” us from violence, it renders the whole story meaningless.
So also with a censored Huck Finn. (more…)