Thursday, November 28, 2013

I Can Now See The Moon: A Reflection on Thankfulness

"My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon."   Japanese poet Masahide

Being thankful involves more than our emotions or feelings. Sometimes it is just that - when the sun is shining in a cloudless northern Michigan sky over freshly painted barns, it's easy to love life. But being thankful is often a decision, a perspective, a commitment to finding that which is good even when the skies are grey and the passing storms bring lightning that levels the buildings we love. "And yet will I praise him," wrote the Psalmist after reciting a litany of reasons why praise should be the last thing on his mind. Paul reminded the church in Thessalonica to give thanks in all circumstances. I don't know how your life has been, but that's a tall order for me.

As I look back over my life this Thanksgiving, I can see a number of  gaps where barns once stood. Yes, I will face more and greater losses. Yes, I have been blessed with the life I have. I just don't want to forget that when the smoke clears, the moon (or perhaps the Son) faithfully brings light to even the charred corners of the world. So, here's my attempt to see the beauty in the ashes.  Feel free to add your own!

Monday, November 25, 2013

The World's End: A Review

As far as apocalyptic movies in 2013, The World’s End has been even more popular than This Is The End ( the most recent numbers posted at Rotten Tomatoes show an 89% critic and 77% audience approval). It's the last film in a clever, entertaining trilogy begun by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Simon Pegg is a great comic actor, and this movie highlights his talent. I really wanted to like it - and parts of it were hilarious - but I kept getting distracted by the increasing incoherence of the worldview and message.

The main plot is simple. Gary King (Pegg) gathers some high school buddies twenty years after their graduation for another shot at the Golden Mile, a pub crawl that finishes at The World's End. Unfortunately, the town is being taken over by aliens. Chaos ensues.

This Is The End: A Review

I like apocalyptic entertainment. From sci/fi horror (28 Days LaterResident EvilThe Walking Dead, The Terminator) to natural disasters (Melancholia, Deep Impact2012, ) to war (The RoadBook of Eli) to aliens (War of the Worlds, Independence DayEnder's Game), there's nothing like the end of the world as we know it to bring out the best - or worst - in people.

 This Is The End drew quite a bit of critical and audience acclaim this past year. It received a 83% critic and 75% audience rating atRotten Tomatoes. I'm not sure why. By about thirty minutes in to the movie, I was thinking that "Please Make It End!" would have been a better title.

Every character falls on a sliding scale of shallow, self-centered, egomaniacal people. They are so self-deluded that when Hell arrives on earth, they are the only ones surprised they don’t get raptured. Yes, the movie is a self-referential commentary on the Hollywood crowd featuring ironic self-debasement (Channing Tatum), stereotype-busting character twists (Emma Watson) and a hyperbolic - and perhaps even cautionary - presentation of what life is like in Hollywood.  I get it. I doubt the audience in general took that mesmerizing point away from the film by the time the credits rolled.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Drowned Cities

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

This review will look at Paolo Bacigalupi's The Drowned Cities.  In addition to numerous awards for other books, The Drowned Cities has received the 2012 Kirkus Reviews Best of YA Books, a 2012 VOYA Perfect Ten Book, 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist, YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults, and  Junior Library Guild Selection.

Mr. Baigalupi writes what he calls 'accidental futures', where "human beings are selfish, short-sighted, and stupid, and thereby create worlds that everyone can agree are hell — but that no one can fix anymore." That's the world of The Drowned Cities. But even in the midst of this watery hell, a compelling story of honor, horror and hope emerges.

In the wake of a worldwide flooding, America's waterlogged cities became knows as the Drowned Cities, places where chaos and death await around every corner. Civil war decimates the land. Peacekeepers from China attempt to do for America what America has attempted to do for so many other nations. They fail. Now, the Deepwater Christians, Rust Saint devotees, Army of God, Freedom Militia, and United Patriot Front use politics and religion as an excuse to fight brutally  for power and land.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Problem of Peeta (The Hunger Games and Philosophy)

In a previous series of posts, I used The Walking Dead and Philosophy to look at the worldview issues in AMC’s hit series. Since the release of Catching Fire is not too far away, I am using The Hunger Games and Philosophy as a springboard to dive into some key themes in the trilogy.*

In "Who is Peeta Mellark? The Problem of Identity in Panem," Nicolas Michaud uses Peeta's post-torture persona to look at the problem of personal identity.

Consider Katniss's dilemma. Peeta returns from the torture of the Capitol a different man than she knew previously. In a physical sense, he is clearly still himself. In terms of character, attitude, and beliefs, he is quite different. So is Katniss reaching out to the Peeta she knew or is she creating a relationship with someone new? It may sound like an odd question, but consider some scenarios Mr. Michaud offers to help us think through this identity crisis.

If Peeta is simply his body, then as long as his body doesn't change, Peeta remains. Whatever is true of Peeta is true of his body and vice versa. But if Peeta had come back from the Capitol dead, Katniss would not have rejoiced that Peeta had returned. Clearly, Peeta is more than simply a body. His body may be necessary for him to exist as a human, but it is not sufficient to explain who he is as a person.