Thursday, November 27, 2008


Sensitivity - what is it? Is sensitivity the innocence that we are born with, the innocence that we are conditioned to have through our environment, or the innocence that there is before education and peer groups?

The other day I was watching a part of CSI: Miami, and it is obvious that Miami has a particular fascination with gore (Miami also happens to be one of the worst TV shows out there). I began considering other television shows, video games, popular internet videos, and movies, and I realized that violence, gore, and terror seems to be a regular part of our entertainment schedule. Take the popular movies Sweeney Todd, Repo! The Genetic Opera, any of the Grand Theft Auto games, the internet series Neurotically Yours and Happy Tree Friends, and the television shows CSI, Dexter, Nip/Tuck, and just about any drama. One could argue that since a ratings system has been put in place for these types of visual entertainments, simulated violence has become more acceptable. Others say that "back in the good old days," that things like this weren't present at all - which is correct to a certain degree.

This argument is also made for the sexual side of our visual entertainments. "Women just weren't treated that way in my day," and other limp defenses are made. And really, you have to admit, there seems to be an increased amount of sexualization of anything and everything in our age. What was once horrendously taboo to be shown on television, film or other forms of media is now the norm, and new envelopes are being pushed seemingly harder than ever before.

All this could be argued as an increasing lack of sensitivity to our visual media culture. One can look back, see how things "used to be" and come to the conclusion that visual media and our sensitivity to it has gotten steadily worse. that really the case? Were things ever better in the old days? They still had the bawdy entertainment that we have today, and they encountered violence in true life that we do not encounter today. Think about Shakespeare: several of his most famous plays are either strongly suggestive or very bawdy, and yet today, Shakespeare is considered high class. Also, people did not shield themselves from real life violence like we do today. Think of public hangings, public beheadings, vigilantism, slaughtering farm animals for food, etc. Not even kids were sheltered from this stuff. And do not episodes like this take a certain amount of insensitivity to process?

In a way, we are more sheltered than we've ever been in history. Executions are not made public. Television news broadcasting stations can be reprimanded if gory violence is displayed because it's "primetime television." We have the FCC (as corrupt a bureaucratic department as any other, but it is there to do some measure of policing). And show me someone who knows how to kill a chicken for dinner these days. Show me someone who raises their own food or knows where their food comes, for that matter.

An example of this are fairytales. Yep, Western, pre-Grimm, pre-Disney fairytales - do a google on them. I promise you, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White were not the squeaky clean fairy tales that we have now. There was bawdy sex, violence, and terror to be had in every paragraph, and all told with delicious delight. These fairy tales were once oral tales, and they were often told around community which there would be children. Children would not be shielded from reality. In fact, it was quite common up until the mid 20th century for families to sleep together in one room - and of course, Mom and Dad still had to have sex sometime, right?

To argue that in "the good old days" people were more sensitive to violence and sex is (to use an English phrase) bollocks. They were simply insensitive to things that we have become sensitive to. So I would argue that each generation becomes both sensitive and insensitive to different things, but the balance of sensitivity and insensitivity stays basically the same.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Art of Benevolence

I sat and watched Extreme Makeover: Home Edition when the commercials for baby food and Sears home-building products started rolling. Normally, I don't watch TV; generally, I don't watch EX: HE; usually, I mute the commercials. But the evening was lonely and dark, and I felt generous. EX: HE it was going to be. It wasn't until I watched the Sears commercial - "supporter" of EX: HE - that it struck me that the EX: HE is nothing more than a fat-cat business that builds homes for families whose houses are falling apart, molding, are without a floor and/or ceiling, etc. And generally, these new homes are for families who have at least one kid who has had cancer from the time they were born, or the family has adopted half a million kids from around the neighborhood, or the family has an immediate family member who is overseas in Iraq (who always comes to their new home for tear-jerking, heart-string pulling reunion con la familia).

What is wrong with this picture? The fact that a business and not a charity is caring for people who really need it, like Habitat for Humanity. When was the last episode you watched where Habitat for Humanity the good deeds they did? Yeah, that's what I thought. The whole reason that a business like Sears pairs up with the American Broadcasting Company (owned by Disney - whaddya know?!) is money, the bottom line, moolah, to line their palms with green. How's that? Well, say you want to make some changes to your home - a little paint there, a new kitchen faucet here, a pot for the rubber tree there, etc. If you are a regular watcher of EX: HE, what are you going to think of first when you want home improvement items? Sears, right? I mean, they build new houses for families who make minimum wage for a household for eighteen (at least!) people.

ABC is in the whole shebang for purely altruistic reasons. Why? Well, the simple fact that EX: HE was nominated for and has won two Emmys, and is currently nominated for The People's Choice award should speak for itself. All ABC wants is the ratings - Emmys, other awards, and sobbing people sitting in front of the television give them that.

This is the art of benevolency - it is an art because it generates money for Sears and ABC while making families "happy." But in the end - to quote the game The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask - "does it truly make everyone...happy?" Do you think those people are going to be any happier after they move into their new home than before? If these families weren't able to take care of their old home before for whatever reasons, do you think they will be more able to after they get the new home?

This calls to mind Christ's parable of the poor widow: 1As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.[a] 3"I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

I don't think I have to draw an analogy here - Christ summed it up perfectly.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Fairest Book of Them All - A Review of "Mirror Mirror" by Gregory Maguire

A/N: This review was written for BookWrites, please visit them here @ BookWrites here on Blogger. 

Gregory Maguire has proved himself again. The enormously popular author of Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Son of a Witch, A Lion Among Men, and Lost has consistently given readers a minutely detailed world in which they can lose themselves. Mirror Mirror, a retelling of the fairytale Snow White is a small cut above the rest of Maguire’s books, in my opinion. Mirror Mirror offers a very different story from other fairytale “retreadings” – it shoots through multiple twists, illustrates background stories of many characters, allows the complex, multi-faceted characters to “speak” in their turn – all the while managing to stick to the storyline of Snow White.

 The story begins in Spain of 1502. Vicente de Nevada is the head of the farming estate, Montefiore. His only daughter, Bianca, keeps company with the old, crotchety, smart-aleck cook Primavera Vecchi and with the priest of Montefiore, Fra Ludovico. Everything on the estate is peaceful and life moves interrupted until the day that Vicente de Nevada unearths a strange but beautiful mirror while unplugging a small pond. He hangs it in his house – it doesn’t seem to serve any other purpose than to show the reflection of those who look into it. Soon afterward, Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia arrive at Montefiore to force the charge of finding three legendary Apples from the Tree of Knowledge of Eden upon Vicente de Nevada. He struggles against the conniving siblings’ will, but as they are children of the Pope, resistance is futile, and Vicente de Nevada reluctantly leaves his daughter Bianca in Lucrezia’s rather careless care. Cesare, a frivolous, mentally-decrepit man, goes off to find objects, men and women that please him, while Lucrezia is left at Montefiore to commandeer Montefiore and watch over Bianca. It is during this time that she becomes entrapped by what she sees inside the mirror.

 No character in this book, not even Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia, is as clear-cut as “good” and “bad.” While motives can be perceived as evil, there are motives under those motives that leave questions in the reader’s mind as to who they really are under their facade, why they are doing what they are doing, and what would they be if they had not been born into the situation they were. It brings up a question that Maguire also brought up in Wicked: Are people born wicked? Or do they become wicked through their environments? The dash of ambiguity that Maguire peppers in adds further complexity to the characters that, on a surface level, might considered evil and manipulative. 

I will readily admit that it took three readings to receive all the small details and smaller plot points Mirror Mirror had to offer. The broken bits of poetry that don’t seem to make sense on the first reading, and the “dwarf’s” speeches are strange and abstract. This is a multi-leveled storyline that begs not to be read quickly.

 This is not a children’s book, and not even a young adult book. While there are no sexual scenes in the traditional sense of the phrase, Maguire has never been one to mince words in any of his books when it comes to sex or his thinly veiled and strong dislike of organized religion. I note that Maguire seems to despise religion in Wicked, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, and now Mirror Mirror.  This – and several explicit sexual mentions – is likely to be offensive to some readers.

Maguire knows what makes an impact on his readers – a phenomenal sense of imagination and the ability to communicate his imagination onto paper. He is a true lover and creator of words both unfamiliar and hilarious. But his imagination would have been virtually nothing if not for his ability to weave a story that involves the reader, invites the reader’s opinions and questions, and insists on being read multiple times. Surely, Mirror Mirror deserves a place on the “Classics” shelf alongside Maguire’s other works. 

False Sense of Identity

A/N: This one was written on July 31, 2008. 

I'm beginning to believe that there is no such thing as an individual with a completely unique personality. Why? Everybody 
claims to be individual, to be "special," but they are just like everyone else in their "group." 

Take "emos" for an example. They will say that they don't believe in labels, believe in breaking off from the main, shunning what everyone else is doing and yet are dressed, act, and prefer the same things as any other emo on the American Planet. I understand I'm painting with a broad brush here, but that doesn't make that much of a difference. 

It is frustrating to see people who only claim to be different when they are just as mainstream as anyone in their classified group. It's hypocritical basically, and it's meaningless. A person has 
many identities through their lifetime - child, teenager, adult, student, employee, employer, friend, spouse, parent, grandparent, etc. The identity, or the mask that you wear will be taken off one day and never be put on again. If a person becomes a parent, one day their child will "fly the nest," and he/she will be retired from their role as parent. If these critical life-roles are so transient, how much more ephemeral are the "identities" that we assume to fit in with a certain crowd? 

The problem is, our American cosumerist society fuels this false sense of identity almost more than any other culture in the world. You can customize your brand new car - to look exactly like your neighbor's new car. You can choose the color of your phone or iPod - just like your friend's phone/iPod. That's just two examples I can think of on the sly, but I'd imagine the reader can think of more. 

Here's what it boils down to: Be yourself! That's a phrase you hear spewed out in music, movies, TV, internet, wherever, but I'll bet you cold cash that none of the people who are doing the spewing have any idea what it truly means to be yourself. For me, it means making my own identity through the things and people I love and will continue to love for the rest of my life. If I like video games and most of my friends call me "nerd," what do I care? If I prefer Greek mythology over my friend's perference for Roman, should I change my preference to be a better friend to them? Never. If I would rather spend my evening reading and writing, and other people want to go dancing and hanging with friends, will I condemn them? Should they mock me? No to both. 

I'm done here. React how you will, above hang my opinions.

"The Emperor of Ice Cream" by Wallace Stevens

A/N: I wrote this bit of blog on January 29, 2008. Particularly excellent (IMO) given the era we are currently slogging through. 

The Emperor of Ice-Cream by Wallace Stevens

Call the roller of big cigars,

The muscular one, and bid him whip

In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.

Let the wneches dawdle in such dress

As they are used to wear, and let the boys

Bring flowers in last month’s newspapes.

Let be be finale of seem.

The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream


Take from the dresser of deal,

Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet

On which she embroidered fantails once

And spread it so as to cover her face.

Her horny feet protrude, they come

To show how cold she is, and dumb.

Let the lamp affix its beam.

The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.


It’s a poem that I had to read for my American literature class that has thoroughly caught my attention. I had to read it several times to get the gist of it, but when I did, I was delighted beyond reason.

Basically what this poem is discussing is a negative side of "carpe diem." Lots of poetry and stories are all over the whole "carpe diem" shebang, but not many know what it can mean, let alone give it another dimension.

Also, it’s as though the two stanzas of the poem need to be switched. In the second stanza, we are receiving and image of a woman in the viewing stage of a funeral, and with the background we have of

"Call the roller of big cigars,

The muscular one, and bid him whip

In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.

Let the wenches dawdle in such dress

As they are used to wear, and let the boys

Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers,"

the artist of the poem is saying "Through granny in the grave and get back to living life to the fullest." And yet, this "living life to the fullness" has a cold emptiness which the poem gives.

..."To show how cold she is, and dumb.

Let the lamp affix its beam."

All this dead woman has left to her life is a lamp, an artificial light, to stare at her in her coffin. The light does not give any warmth, and obviously, since she is dead, she does not give any warmth herself.

The rest of the people in the poem are celebrating life they way they think they should: rolling cigars, making dessert, buying a prostitutes’ time, etc. To them, this is living. They have no hope of life getting any better, hence, they have the attitude, "Eat and drink! For tomorrow we may die!"

A final image this poem gives us is "The Emperor of Ice-Cream." Ice cream melts. It is transient; it lasts for only a short amount of time. It is a kind of small allegory to the human life. Compared to eternity, the human life is about as permanent as a ball of ice-cream in the Sahara in the middle of July.

Really, this is a hopeless-feeling poem, and for non-Christians, it is. My favorite book of the Bible says, "Meaningless! Everything is meaningless! Like chaff in the wind, everything is meaningless!" There is a certain kind of poetry that Ecclesiastes has, but what it is basically saying that outside of Christ, we don’t have any hope for a better life anyways, like the people of "The Emperor of Ice-Cream."

Polarizing Politics and Plastic People

A/N: I wrote this particular piece on November 12, 2007, and I just didn't have the heart to delete it. It's old, but I hope that it still applies. 

Since I got out of school on Thursday (which is yesterday, I admit), I've been watching a lot of TV. Since I'm also politically active, I've been watching all the political debates on YouTube and seeing what the candidates have to say here on our blessed MySpace. As I watch TV and YouTube, I've become aware of the fact that the extremes in our society seem to have become more pronounced.

Let's take the issue of abortion for instance. This issue has polarized sides for several decades now, and has served to split and destroy entire communities, whatever angle you choose to look at it. But now, this issue has become so polarizing that entire political groups are based on it. This is where the government saying what we can or cannot do becomes a problem. You have the exact situation that we have now with everyone at everyone else's throat over it. By no means am I saying that the issue is not important; I sincerely believe it is. But this is an example of how many people become so separated on the issue that they can't see beyond what's right in front of their feet.

The war in Iraq is another great example of this "Great Divide." Either you are so for it that you paint your entire house in the pattern of the American flag and put yellow ribbons in each window, or you are so against it that you take every chance to bash every political leader that comes on TV. We didn't have this polarization during World War II, I promise you that. What the war of Iraq does remind me of is the Civil War, with some reservations. In the North, the Civil War was called "Mr. Lincoln's War." Abraham Lincoln was tremendously ridiculed by everyone around him. The North and his colleagues thought he was completely off his rocker, and of course the entire South hated him. It wasn't until the mid-20th century that he became recognized as one of the best presidents that this country has ever had. I don't know if Bush will be ranked as one of the best presidents in the future after he leaves office, but I find today's circumstances and the circumstances of 1861-65 quite similar.

On another topic on an entirely different end of the world... The case of "the plastic woman." You know what I'm talking about. Despite all those well-produced Dove commercials glorifying the natural, "neighbor-next-door" type woman, plastic surgeries continue to go up. Dallas, Texas does more plastic surgeries in a year than anywhere in California or New York. And why? So you can look "beautiful?" In looking at people's results after plastic surgery, I find that they look exactly like Barbie dolls, not like people anymore. Please understand, I'm all for reconstructive surgery. Burn victims, breast cancer survivors, etc. all deserve to have a little more confidence put in their lives.

But what is all this craze about people who are perfectly fine without surgery who go ahead and have it? Why do they feel like they have to have it? Why has our society become materialistic to the point where dads give their daughters breast implants as a graduation present? Don't people know that they are setting themselves up for dissatisfaction for the rest of their lives? And it's not because they decide to have surgery to make themselves look like whatever popular model is on TV, it's because they cannot place their own confidence into themselves without "help."

My thinking is that when you are taught from a small child that you are a descendant of monkeys, why should anyone expect you to act like anything besides an monkey? Basically what it comes down to is that our society is so God-starved that we're willing to slash each other's throat for issues that are not important in the face of eternity. God is the Author of Death and Life; who else can claim to be the master of it? A child might be aborted, but his or her soul can never killed. That's a simple fact, and we as Christians should continue to work against abortion, but we also need to take comfort in that fact. God is the Ultimate Master of all politics, so why should anyone worry about who will be elected next year. He puts up rulers and He takes them down, so what's with all the campaigning? God created a person just the way he or she was made to look like, so why are we deliberately destroying ourselves to make us look beautiful, when we are in fact just making ourselves look plastic?