Sunday, March 1, 2015

Worldviews in Entertainment: Starting the Conversation

This past week, I had the opportunity to engage with middle and high school students on the topic of entertainment. In the course of four 2 ½ hour sessions, we talked about some popular YA fiction and watched four movies: Maleficent; Captain America: Winter Soldier; The Amazing Spiderman, and Ender’s Game. (Most of them had read or seen Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Guardians of the Galaxy and Divergent,  I was looking for something that was new to them and wasn't about sparkly vampires).

In order to explore the worldviews, we used the following template of questions for a discussion at the end of each movie:

Monday, February 23, 2015

Originality, Freedom and Form

Every discipline has its fundamentals. Chemistry is built on the periodic table; football greatness stands on blocking and tackling. Painting rests on the foundation of color, line and perspective. Musicians build upon the scales and chord progressions. Writers don’t write novels; they craft sentences. If you want to create art for the glory of God, master the fundamentals of your medium and allow your creativity to build upon that foundation.

A famous guitar player visited a local high-school music classroom for some question and answer time. One student asked, “How much did you practice when you were my age?” He answered, “I played my guitar nonstop day and night, surely more than 6-10 hours a day including band rehearsal. And NO, it did not come naturally as I struggled to discover my unique voice on a very difficult to control, loud, feeding back Gibson Byrdland, but I never gave up!”

Another student asked, “How do you memorize a song?” He answered, “To truly be one with our music, we must be naturally driven to play till it hurts. By playing our favorite licks or songs over and over and over again, the song & patterns become part of us. It takes enormous work ethic and dedication to ‘nail it’.”

Originality builds upon mastering the historic fundamentals of your craft. If you master your craft, you can create what you dream. It is a perpetually frustrated artist whose imagination constantly writes checks that his skills can’t cash! Creating art to convey a message without understanding the form, structure, and techniques developed in your discipline is like trying to perform surgery on someone without going to medical school. As a communicator of truth, remember that excellence in your work earns you the right to be heard by the culture.

When I was learning the guitar I practiced religiously. However, as all guitar players know, you get to a place where many people quit. It’s learning the F-chord. You must barre the entire first fret and then place your remaining fingers in an unnatural position and then SQUEEZE! Playing the F-chord actually hurts! Many a beginning guitar player has put his instrument in the basement after encountering the F. Every discipline has an F-chord. You must persevere past it if you hope to walk in greatness.
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- an excerpt from an upcoming book on the arts by pastor and author Carey Waldie. Visit his website at http://www.careywaldie.com.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Black Mirror

Black Mirror is a British TV sci-fi series that takes a serious and provocative look at the unintended consequences of technology. Writing for The Guardian, Charlie Brooker, a creator of and co-writer for the series, noted
”I coo over gadgets, take delight in each new miracle app. Like an addict, I check my Twitter timeline the moment I wake up. And often I wonder: is all this really good for me? For us? None of these things have been foisted upon humankind – we've merrily embraced them. But where is it all leading? If technology is a drug – and it does feel like a drug – then what, precisely, are the side-effects? This area – between delight and discomfort – is where Black Mirror, my new drama series, is set. The 'black mirror' of the title is the one you'll find on every wall, on every desk, in the palm of every hand: the cold, shiny screen of a TV, a monitor, a smartphone.”
Though not prolific (seven shows in two seasons so far),  Black Mirror has won numerous awards, and its viewership around the world is growing tremendously. At least one episode is being turned into a movie, and an American version is sure to show up soon. 

After watching Season One, I was struck by the notion that Mr. Booker is a secular voice crying in the wilderness. Black Mirror is prophetic in the same way that Brave New World was ominously prescient. There are a lot of reasons to fear that the things we love will destroy us, and Mr. Booker has shown himself capable of pulling back the curtain on a future that simultaneously fascinates and terrifies. If you watch an episode without getting very uncomfortable, you're not paying attention.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Katy Perry's Experimental Game and Superbowl XLIX

Katy Perry is charismatic, creative, bold, and she sings songs that get stuck in your head (I dare you not to hum "Roar" once you hear it). She has more Twitter followers than anyone else in the world. She's also a great performer as seen by her impressive Superbowl halftime show that featured Lenny Kravitz and Missy Elliot. If your measure of success is technical showmanship, musical talent and star power, it was a solid show. If your measure of success also involves the appropriateness of the show, a different kind of discussion takes place.

Quite a few people weighed in on social media commenting on how "family friendly" and "clean" the show was. There were no wardrobe malfunctions or nudity. Nobody twerked. I heard, "It wasn't Beyonce!" more than a few times as people recalled previous shows that pushed the envelope much further than this one did.

That's all true, but in order to conclude that it was "clean" or "family friendly" I think we need to define what that means. Yes, it was more visually appropriate than a number of recent shows. However, that's hardly the only marker for whether or not the whole family can sit down and enjoy the show. To a large degree the medium is the message, but the lyrics of the songs are messages too, are they not?  So to get a clearer picture of the "family friendly" or "clean" nature of the show, I offer a lyrical snapshot of what was celebrated during halftime of the Superbowl. (Not all of these lyrics made the cut for the show, and some that did were changed, but they are part of the original songs):

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Attack On Titan

Both the anime and manga of Hajime Isayama's Attack on Titan have been absurdly popular and widely praised. Last year, five of the books in the series were in the Top 20 graphic novels in the U.S., beating even The Walking Dead;  8.3 million copies sold in just the first half of 2014 to boost its total sales close to 22 million copies in just under five years. 

To give you an idea of the audience being reached, anime and related merchandise was a $4 billion dollar business around the world in 2006. In 2009, anime accounted for 90% of Japan's television exports. And by the time Attack on Titan finally knocked Eiichiro Oda’s “One Piece” out of its top spot, "One Piece" had already sold 345 million copies around the world. That's the kind of numbers that J.K Rowling, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King move. Anime and manga have been in a slump the last few years (at least in the U.S.), but that is likely a reflection of digital piracy rather than lack of interest.

For those who are new to the anime and manga world, here's a few things to note before looking at Attack on Titan in particular.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Sinner (The Wolves of Mercy Falls)

To help us enter into and better understand the entertainment shaping today's culture, I offer my latest review of books effecting a primarily New Adult/Young Adult audience. My goal is not to critique the art form as much as look at the worldview in the story.

Maggie Stiefvater’s original Wolves of Mercy Falls trilogy left me with mixed emotions. I was
impressed with how well she plumbed the depth of the teenage experience in her characters, and I liked how she used the werewolf genre to explore how people must fight the animal urges within them.

However, I was frustrated with how some of it played out in the end. I noted in my review of the trilogy:“This is a haunting story of one Grace more than a generous grace; of a beautiful Mercy that falls mostly on the deserving; of a woods populated with wolves both lupine and human, and of saints who rise from the ruins of their own lives. I must add the truth I wish could have been embedded more deeply: grace is for all, mercy exists for the underserving, and all of us can transcend the wolf within us and forgive the wolves around us.”

I was pleased when Ms. Stiefvater released Sinner, a follow-up story about Cole (my favorite character from the trilogy) and Isabel. Of all the characters in the original story arc, these were the two in which I had invested the most.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Red Rising: You Must Live For More

“If you led others to freedom. The things you could do, Darrow. The things you could make happen.” She pauses and I see her eyes are glistening. “It chills me. You have been given so, so much, but you set your sights so low.” 
“You repeat the same damn points,” I say bitterly. “You think a dream is worth dying for. I say it isn’t. You say it’s better to die on your feet. I say it’s better to live on your knees… What do you live for?” I ask her suddenly. “Is it for me? Is it for family and love? Or is it for some other dream?” 
“It’s not just some dream, Darrow. I live for the dream that my children will be born free. That they will be what they like. That they will own the land their father gave them.” 
“I live for you,” I say sadly. 
She kisses my cheek. “Then you must live for more.”
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Pierce Brown's Red Rising received strong critical reviews after its release in January of 2014.  By February, it had made the New York Times' best-seller list, and Universal Pictures had won a 7-figure bidding war for the movie rights (World War Z’s Marc Forster is slated to be at the helm). The second book in the trilogy, Golden Son, has just been released. So far, it's getting even better reviews than Red Rising. If you are looking for the next big YA dystopia, this is it. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs


James A. Herrick's Scientific Mythologies: How Science and Science Fiction Forge New Religious Beliefs offers a fascinating look at the interplay between fiction and reality. Sci-fi literature has had far more of an impact on scientific research than one might expect. Rather than being a purely logical endeavor, science is sometimes fueled by- and often distorted by - what scientists want to be true. As a result, scientists sometimes embrace cherished ideas in ways that are remarkably at odds with their claim to be dispassionately pursuing hard, cold facts.

Mr.  Herrick identifies seven of what he calls scientific mythologies that arise when fertile scientific imaginations join with a strictly materialistic view of the world: the myth of the extraterrestrial, the myth of space, the myth of the new humanity, the myth of the future, the myth of the spiritual race, the myth of space religion, and the myth of alien gnosis. I will let Mr. Herrick summarize the dilemma this creates:

“We are the victims of our fictions; for well over a century, our popular stories have argued that the future was pregnant with something beyond the human, something requiring our assistance to be birthed. Speculative science as well has helped to popularize and propagate this myth of the miracle baby, fruit of science and nature, citizen of the future, destined for space. We are no longer the pinnacle of a divine act of creation, the specific flesh in which God chose to clothe himself. We are now instrumental people, no longer flesh, but stepping-stones to something more important, indeed, something divine.