Friday, July 23, 2010

Future Guitar Hero

Beck demonstrates in this video that he is picking up more than notes when he watches the rest of the family play Guitar Hero. When twin brother Beau joins the band, the family can start their world tour.
Future Guitar Hero

This past Wednesday, during the performance of Texas, a lavish musical production in the Palo Duro Canyon, Beck sat on my lap. At one point when the characters in the story react to a coming rainstorm, the show has lighting and sound effects to simulate lightning and thunder. Beck looked up at me and said, "We gotta get out of here."

As if I were not sufficiently alarmed, he looked around and repeated, "Yeah, we gotta get out of here." 

Seated in an outdoor amphitheater that holds more than a thousand people, I had to suppress my laughter. To think that a three-year-old assesses the situation and assumes responsibility for the family's safety cracks me up. 

The shows we pay money to see have nothing on the kids I get to watch and enjoy. That's entertainment.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird turns 50

 image from publisher, Harper Collins

Every child fears the boogey man, real or imaginary. Whether an actual person or an simply an idea that sprouts in the imagination, the concept of a boogey man captures man's fear of the unknown. The novel To Kill a Mockingbird explores childhood fears in a coming of age story that engages readers to face the all-too-real adult fears that wear the face of prejudice, conceit and injustice.

The Washington Post review at the time of the novel's release referred to its moral impact: "A hundred pounds of sermons on tolerance and an equal measure of invective deploring the lack of it, will weigh far less in the scale of enlightenment than a mere eighteen ounces of new fiction bearing the title To Kill a Mockingbird." That impact multiplied exponentially when the book was made into film the following year and Gregory Peck received the Academy Award for best actor.

Today both the novel and the film exist as artifact to convey a timeless message to new readers and viewers unfamiliar with the historic context as well as the book's artistic excellence. Readers continue to benefit from fresh exposure.

Flannery O'Connor said, "We have to have stories. It takes a story to make a story. It takes a story of mythic dimensions; one which belongs to everybody; one in which everybody is able to recognize the hand of God and imagine its descent upon himself." Author Harper Lee wrote such a story and won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1961. 

But not everyone agrees that the novel represents great literary art. Read here for a dissenting view Malcolm Gladwell wrote for The New Yorker. Or take a look at this 4-minute video clip from a new documentary by Mary Murphy or the USA Today article for sympathetic voices.

On Sunday, July 11, To Kill a Mockingbird turns 50. Boy, I would love to debate the literary merits of TKMB.

A story of belonging

The setting for To Kill a Mockingbird, Maycomb county Alabama, fixes the story in 1932 during the nation-wide depression where economic recovery was as sluggish as the days of childhood were long. The main character, Scout tells the story as an adult looking back on the privilege of an ordinary life, slow-motion-days, light refracting through a reverse-lens view––wistful memories merged with the author's adult understanding of innocence lost.

Paced over the course of two summers, a little more than a year's time, the story begins when Scout was six-years-old, ready to start school. Selected scenes set the stage for seismic upheaval brought about by the trial of a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Scout's father, attorney Atticus Finch, agrees to defend the black man, Tom Robinson.

Single father Atticus––who both the children call by his first name––devotes himself to Scout and her brother Jem, four years older, whose mother had died when Scout was a baby. Family relationships invite readers to move closer to the warmth radiating from a home where Atticus educates his children while at the same time tries to shield them from adult evils.

To Kill a Mockingbird survives long past its contemporary audience because the story establishes icons of character, recurring social conflicts as well as a visionary quest for social justice. 

After the trial had been lost, a neighbor, Miss Maudie, said to Scout and Jem, "I simply want to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father's one of them." The American Film Institute (AFI) voted, Atticus Finch, portrayed by Gregory Peck, the number-one movie hero of all time.

The director of the movie, Bob Mulligan, said "The key to whole [story] is the point-of-view of children. The brilliance of Harper Lee is the creation of this world of children and their first contact with good and evil; having this fantasy father figure that all of us would like to have had, to guide us through this; to live on this street all of us would like to have lived, in a neighborhood--to belong."

Boo! Did I scare you?

Seemingly unrelated to the trial, a mystery-man outlines the story's shape when the children first got "the idea of making Boo Radley come out." Shadows of Boo Radley linger in the imagination of the children and reader alike until the end of the book.

To Kill a Mockingbird reminds readers how dark the heart of prejudice, how beguiling moral conceit that ignores a person's character, and how social injustice prevails when superficial differences distort people's judgment. This story personifies and magnifies human dignity.

But the real boogey man still lurks in our hearts.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Eclipse eclipses Twilight and New Moon

My grown daughters and I saw the movie Eclipse on opening day. Third in the Twilight Saga, we got tickets for the early matinee on Wednesday. Vampires are asleep that time of day.

Even as the three of us ventured to see the latest film, I felt uneasy. I had read online a well-written, thoughtfully documented, biblically referenced piece that purported the evils inherent in the whole story. The books and movies continue to trigger a range of reactions from Christians, everything from harmless entertainment to the devil’s doorway into lives. 

My husband, when I read aloud the entire article to him said, “Unless it’s The Hardy Boys, some Christians will find something wrong.” 

One thing will never change though. Opposition incites interest rather than quells it. 

What would C.S. Lewis do?
Questions raised are not questions answered. Is the Twilight series Satanic? 

I don’t know how to answer that question for anyone but myself, but if I believed it was inherently evil, I would avoid contact. If I thought its ideas poisonous, I would attempt to keep those I care about from exposure to danger. I might fail, but I would try. 

The world of thought remains an unsanctioned region, patrolled by one’s own conscience, contaminated by reality and filtered through experience. Are there better books to read? Yes; but in our family, my mother outlawed book-burnings. 

I read these 4 books to maintain a conversation with my book-loving family members whose diverse literary tastes expose me to selections I would otherwise bypass. When I posted several months ago my thoughts on the Twilight series, I maintained keeping this story in the realm of fantasy fiction frees readers to relate to the book as a creative endeavor rather than a treatise on vampires.

Without getting into particulars either about the movie or the Bible verses that may or may not apply as an individual sees fit, what struck me while viewing Eclipse was how often the audience laughed. In a crowded theater, laughter throughout a dramatic movie suggests that most people refuse to take this stuff too seriously. Most people, like my daughters, just find the story entertaining if not compelling. I’m the one who strives to figure out what’s going on here. 

Why do people love or hate Twilight?
Before the movie started, previews of coming attractions included the long-anticipated release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book in the J.K. Rowling series. Though book seven concludes the Potter series, the movie will appear in 2 parts, the second half released next summer. The trailer for the November movie release showing on You Tube already has over 3 million hits. Touted as “The motion picture event of a generation,” the publicity will help to make it so. 

The phenomena of Harry Potter and Twilight afford parallels. Both originally written for Young Adults, somehow these stories reached and resonated with a wider audience. Both authors dealt with themes characterized as occult: wizardry and vampires. Both book series portrayed heroes/heroines that represent good values held in the midst of an evil counterculture embedded in the contemporary settings; both occupy the seen and unseen world of men. Both publications attracted huge followings and both enterprises evoked strong reaction from critics, supporters and detractors.

One question for detractors: Did you read, watch and think for yourself? Even preachers have moderated, and many from pulpits have lately endorsed the Harry Potter series, saying that to disparage Harry Potter calls into question the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

The main thing I see in Stepanie Meyer’s writing is creative repackaging of themes as old as fiction itself, especially romantic fiction. Not surprising since she divulged that she read to the point of emulation literary classics by Jane Austen and Emily Brontë. 

In the PBS movie, Miss Austen Regrets, the character Jane says, “The only way to have a man like Mr. Darcy is to make him up.” Could Meyer’s creation of vampire Edward Cullen represent a modern-day, under-worldly version of Austen’s Mr. Darcy?

What women want, Meyers gives readers through the characters she has created. Between Edward and Jacob, few female readers even try to resist imagining herself as the object of their fatal attraction. 

Women want a man who wants them, desire pulsating. Discussing the books with my husband who has not read, nor would he ever read these books, he said, “Vampires have always been about sex.”

His insight helped me to evaluate the so-called pro-abstinence some say these books promote. I do not agree that Edward’s love for Bella is as he calls it, “old school.” Author Stephanie Meyer knows that restraint heightens tension between the sexes, whereas “giving in” decreases interest. And she has written according to old school morals a commercially successful page-turner.

Theology 101
Everyone holds particular views of God, which is why an author’s theology will infiltrate his writing. Even the atheist refusal to believe in God, his non-view reveals belief that he has no one to whom he must answer. 

Myer’s Mormon theology, “Ye shall be as gods,” does bleed through her story as she had her characters end up choosing what Satan offered Eve in Eden.

By using the term immortal to describe the choice that Bella makes to be with Edward forever, it appears that the undead have a decided advantage over those who must experience the limits of mortality, including continuing to age. 

But the Bible teaches that all human beings are immortal by virtue of their creation by God. Only some will live forever separated from God, even after physical death, while the elect will experience eternal life with God forever—a life that as mortals commences this side of the grave. 

In seminary, students are taught exegesis, how to interpret from the content and context of a biblical passage its meaning. Eisegesis, however, interprets meaning by reading into a text one’s own ideas. Thus, unless we achieve sterile objectivity, each person must concede that most of our conclusions derive based on efforts to support preconceived ideas. Or as C.S. Lewis said, “What you see depends on where you are standing.”

This too shall pass
After the movie ended, my daughters and I talked about the movie and the books as well as the objections noted by the author of the piece I had read. My girls bring a lot of perspective that otherwise I might ignore. 

My eldest daughter has four children; my youngest teaches in a Title 1 high school. They live in the real world; I respect their observations and opinions. They both liked the movie even more than Twilight and New Moon.

The third book was better, one said. The other felt giddy after seeing a grown up movie without kids. Yes, the sexual tension between the characters appeared more overt, building in intensity. But is there anything new under the sun? 

Then we shopped. And I ran into a friend who has neither read the books nor seen the movies. 

“Oh, is it that vampire thing?” she said.

And then she brought up the vampire movies she and I saw at the movies when we were kids; Saturday matinee features that tweens—a word not yet invented— and teens even way back when stood in lines to see. 

All sorts of horror movies reigned at the box office during the late ‘50s and ‘60s. The 1922 silent movie, Nasferatu, is still considered the defining movie about vampires. 

Stephanie Meyer, however, has created a new kind of vampire, not one that glows in the dark but one that sparkles in the light. And some see this as a representation of Satan who the Bible refers to as an angel of light. Maybe. Maybe not. Is the author herself possessed?

Eclipse was not scary. Not in the horror movie sense, although there were some gory sequences.

But people don’t go to Twilight movies because they’re scary. The teenage love story has most people hooked. And the complicated relationship Bella has with her divorced parents tugs at heart chords. And her love for a friend who wants more than her friendship, that’s part of the chemical equation too. 

As for the proliferation of vampire books, movies and TV shows, well, I have lived long enough to venture this too shall pass.

“Reel spirituality”
Movies have ratings and parents have reason. And kids who want to read or see what their friends read and see will find a way. Rules break before relationships do. 

As for cautions, yes. Readers must think, movie-goers must decide which movies to view, and parents must teach their children how to think and evaluate, how to challenge ideas that threaten values. 

Discuss. Dialogue uncovers a multitude of insinuations. 

Blind obedience fails in the cultural crucible where too many voices cry in the wilderness.