Sunday, February 26, 2012

That Awkward Moment at the NBA All-Star Game

At some point in the past year, a group (or groups) of apparently smart people from TNT, the NBA and the music industry sat in a meeting and had a conversation that went something like this:
 "What would be appropriate entertainment for the NBA All-Star Game? It's airing in over 6 million households in America, and in 215 countries.  In China alone, over 1 million people will follow on social media. We want something that will represent America well, and be appropriate for our worldwide family audience. In addition, we will advertise it this way:  'NBA All-Star Jam Session is nonstop basketball action for all ages. Fans can shoot, slam, dribble and drive all day, compete against their friends in skills challenges and collect free autographs from NBA Players and Legends. Young fans can hang out in the Kids Zone, with hoops and interactive activities that are the perfect size for kids' slam dunks, three-pointers and jump shots.'  So, what would be some solid entertainment?"
"I know! What about starting with Nicki Minaj?  What was there not to like about her Grammy performance? She could sing: 
'And he ill, he real, he might got a deal. He pop bottles and he got the right kind of bill.  He cold, he dope, he might sell coke.  He always in the air, but he never fly coach. He a m*********ing trip, trip, sailor of the ship, ship. When he make it drip, drip kiss him on the lip, lip. That's the kind of dude I was lookin' for - And yes you'll get slapped if you're lookin' hoe.' 
           Then we could have Pitbull! He will sing the brilliant lyrics:
'But I might drink a little bit more than I should tonight
And I might take you home with me if I could tonight
And I think you should let me cause I look good tonight
And we might not get tomorrow.'  
Fortunately, nobody will pay any attention to the words, as he will be surrounded by a bunch of dancers in garters and lace dancing like strippers. That way nobody will notice he's not very good live, and that the lyrics are not only really, really inappropriate for young kids, but also a terrible representation of our culture to the other 124 countries watching."
I wish I were making this up.  I'm not. If you doubt me, find clips on youtube.  I understand and appreciate freedom of expression, but what happens to a culture when there is increasingly no attempt to accommodate the morality and restraints of others?  If I don't like it I can turn it off, I know. I did. That's not my point. We live in a society that increasingly flaunts rights and privileges and freedoms with no thought about the responsibility and restraint that must accompany power and influence.  This cannot be sustained.  The center cannot hold.  

One final point: Did anyone else catch the irony of the NBA - a business that goes out of its way to cover up any stories involving its players and their politically incorrect remarks, partying, and, uh, indiscretions with the ladies (either legal or illegal) - offering entertainment that glorifies the objectification of women, rampant promiscuity, drunkenness, drugs, and name-calling?
I keep thinking we are not far from the bottom of the cultural barrel.  Congratulations, NBA, for digging that much deeper. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012


As far as entertaining sci-fi goes, In Time is not bad in spite of some holes in the plot (for example, how is there not an entire industry that keeps track of peoples’ diminishing time and automatically deposits more?). However, I found the underlying worldview issues more interesting.
  • This movie highlights the gift of life.  The idea that people control the lifespan of other people, charging exorbitant amounts of interest for every small life-giving injection, is appalling. Some people are Time Keepers – but the time of others is not ours to keep.  As one character notes, “No one should have to die before there time.”  Beneath the plot is an underlying promotion of inalienable rights, a claim that we as human beings deserve certain fundamental things – in this case, life.  In much the same way the previous movies from the team behind this movie wrestled with pretty serious questions  (The Truman Show and Gattaca), In Time at least attempts to address greed, exploitation, and the commodification of  human life. 
  • Survival is apparently all that drives the majority of people in this film –families, relationships, and pleasure appear only on the periphery.  A scene early on introduces us to a world that values “Darwinian Capitalism” where “the strong survive.”  The movie makes clear (through that and another very specific scene near the end) that survival of the fittest is a brutal way to live.  The ending suggests there is a better way, but how exactly that will be accomplished seems unclear (see #4).
  • There is an odd kind of whimsical lawlessness. Sure, somebody needed to crash the system, but never has playing Robin Hood looked so fun.  Justified rebellion is a serious and moral undertaking.  As the movie unfolds, we see good people trapped within the system, suggesting there might have been another way to fight the man.  In addition, chaos seems to follow the unleashing of time at the end, as factory workers walk away from their jobs and flood the neighboring rich time zones.  In some ways this film felt like V for Vendetta but with prettier people, cooler gadgets, more sunlight, and fewer explosions. Like V, it challenged the status quo, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  Like V, the solution is war.  Violent revolution by the proles, the fall of class divisions, a zero-sum economic game where the rich get richer only by abusing the poor, the shutting down of factories?  Hollywood, meet Marxism.
  • Close to the end, the hero makes an interesting observation: “No one should live forever if even one person has to die.” On the one hand, I can appreciate the sentiment.  One person should not be required to sacrifice their life to extend the life of another. Movies like The Island have explored what life would be like in a world of true human commodification.   On the other hand,  I couldn't help but wonder if there was a deeper religious commentary here.  After all, the Christian believes the death of Christ has made eternal life possible for us all.  I'm not saying the filmmakers intended this meaning, but I imagine Dawkins noting that clip for future seminars.
  • The movie gives no good foundation for hope.  Sure, the time zones crashed, but to what end?  Apparent economic chaos looms;. how many people will die before time gets fixed? Everybody in the world still needs time to live, and now the system that brought time to them doesn’t work.  Good luck.  Social stratum have been bridged, but will geographic equality really change people’s hearts?  The Marxist view of history requires a repetition of the clash between the haves and the have not’s for a long, long time before utopia.  Soon, another group will arise that has to be defeated. This might not make justice futile, but it does seem disheartening.   
The movie closes with our heroes, jobless and on the run, getting ready to continue to crash the system.  All will be well (we are to assume) because they are beautiful and love each other.  If only the world’s problems could be solved that easily.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Amazing Monsters

“A genius as an artist, [Pablo Picasso] was often a monster in his relationships – especially with women – because of his controlling, devouring personality. ‘When I die,’Picasso predicted years before the filming of Titanic, ‘it will be a shipwreck, and as when a big ship sinks, many people all around will be sucked down with it.’
When Picasso died in 1973, at the age of ninety-one, his prediction came true.  Three of those closest to him committed suicide (his second wife, an early mistress, and a grandson), and several others had psychiatric breakdowns.  ‘He amazes me,’ said his friend, sculptor Alberto Giacomett.  ‘He amazes me as a monster would, and I think he knows as well as we do that he’s a monster.’ Indeed, Picasso referred to himself as ‘the Minotaur,’ the mythic Cretan monster that devoured maidens.
One mistresss, Marie Therese, described how Picasso set about painting: “He first raped the woman and then he worked.”  Another told him, ‘You’ve never loved anyone in your life.  You don’t know how to love.’  Picasso himself was brutally blunt,, ‘Every time I change wives I should burn the last one.  Then maybe I’d be rid of them.  They wouldn’t be around now to complicate my existence.’
Picasso’s destructiveness was rooted in his childhood but was reinforced by his early acquaintance with Nietzsche through friends in Barcelona. ‘Truth cannot exist…truth does not exist,’ he used to mutter. ‘I am God, I am God.’”

 - From Os Guiness, “The Meaning of Truth,” in Belief: Readings on the Reason for Faith.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

HHS and Kosher Delis

Interesting article about the intersection between religious freedom and personal ethical standards.  In the fictional story of "The Parable of the Kosher Deli," William Lori uses a less volatile example to highlight the dilemma of the government mandating exemptions from the dictates of conscience.  His ideal conclusion:

     The government recognized that it is absurd for someone to come into a kosher deli and demand a ham sandwich; that it is beyond absurd for that private demand to be backed with the coercive power of the state; that it is downright surreal to apply this coercive power when the customer can get the same sandwich cheaply, or even free, just a few doors down. The question before the United States government — right now — is whether the story of our own church institutions that serve the public, and that are threatened by the HHS mandate, will end happily too.

Read more: