Tuesday, February 28, 2006

An Executive Responds to an Accusation

You have it wrong.
It's true that there are women in our ads, sometimes in provocative dress or poses-don't nod your head-let me finish.
We are in the business of giving people new worlds.
It's not Hollywood, or books, or video games.
We are the dreamers.
We provide a world of purity, hope, love, passion, simplicity, and peace.
Real peace-note that.
When someone watches a show or a film, no matter how good it looks, they will never suspend their disbelief completely.
But for us they will.
Because we offer the future.
A story can only describe a life of peace, we can show you what it looks like and how to arrive there.

You’ve got it all wrong.
The women are only one small piece.
We offer a whole world of perfection to people.
Besides, this is the only hope left.
People can’t look to god for a world of peace and perfection,
He’s been dead for almost two hundred years now.
But Nietzsche was wrong, we didn’t bury him.
Now’s he’s part of us.
He’s part of the hope we give people.
We might only have his carcass, but most people never checked anyway.
Our hope is unconditional, his wasn’t.
We can offer the infinite, the otherworldly, without restriction.
Salvation for everyone.
Anyway, he helps us now.
Especially with those who are afraid of science.

That’s dead too.
They promised what they could never produce:
Justice, comfort, equality, morality.
Some people still cling to it.
But its no better off than god.
The people need a hope now.
Not tomorrow.
They need a hope they can taste, love, drive, and even throw away.
Science is too impersonal, distant, and alien to our hearts.

Science failed man too.
That’s why we go on.
To fill that horror of recognition that cripples people when the learn where they live.
We don’t give them sex.
We give them everything they know sex should be: eternal, unblemished, pure, unhindered; profoundly personal, yet ubiquitous and self-serving.
This is the heaven that science couldn’t build and god wouldn’t give.
Every child is born knowing that the sky should be a richer blue than it is, sorrow should always be temporary and cured with humor, that people never die nor animals, nor moments; that jobs shouldn’t define us or consume our youth.
All these things, and more, we give people.
Our ads hold infinite possibilities of peace.
But unlike science and god, people can actualize the hope we give them now.

Yes, it costs.
But that’s why it is hope.
Costs mean value; and value, finiteness; and finiteness, uniqueness; and uniqueness validates the individual.


Yes, they eventually all become disenchanted with what they buy.
A detergent that offers pure, vibrant colors—along with true happiness in marriage—is found to be no better than the last brand.
But it never lasts.
Soon they forget and their faith in us returns.
Because they know, all of them, that they need our promise, they miss the infinitely wonderful and only we can fill them.
So, to answer your question,

We don’t exploit women in our ads.
We provide the only living hope of infinite possibility and consumable actuality.
This is the greatest service to mankind, and an everlasting hope.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Feed? Finally

Well I broke down and added a RSS feed and an email subscription. So enjoy!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Man on a Bench Who Spoke Volumes

A couple of months ago I was driving home from a seminar class and I was confronted with a sight that will forever change the way I see art. In the class there was only a fellow graduate student, the professor, and myself. We had spent the last two hours discussing the use of story telling in 's Absalom, Absalom! and how it reflects a particular view of history. There are few things that make me feel more alive and validated than a good intellectual conversation about . As I drove home I felt like I had learned something about the way the world worked, the way stories were passed on and how we understand ourselves in relation to those who have gone before us. Reality itself lay naked before me, I was not merely living life, I was knowing life. And then I hit a stoplight.

I have a hard time focusing my eyes on one point; I’m always darting around looking at people. The slightest movement sends my eyes searching for action. So as I sat stopped at the light, it was natural for my eyes to take in the people on the sidewalks and those in the cars around me. Unlike most times I allow myself to wander visually, this time I fell upon something that captivated me and shattered every notion of understand that I ever had.

To my left was a bus stop. It was ordinary, the kind you usually find around here with its bench, shade, and obligatory advertising. On the bench a man sat alone. He was probably around 25, but his evident lifestyle made him look a decade older. He wore no hat, and had a buzzed head with very short black hairs barely visible. For a shirt he had a respectable looking dress shirt buttoned to the top without a tie. His pants were khaki and neatly creased. I could make out dark lines which covered his arms and part of his neck; I was convinced that the tattoos continued over the rest of his torso as well. I didn’t see him do anything but sit there, but he crushed me nonetheless.

Immediately, all the intellectual musings on history and stories came crashing down like Icarus and my mind was frozen. Even if Faulkner’s treatment of the American dream in is the greatest ever written, it still has nothing to say to this man. Everything I had said in that graduate discussion, everything I had thought about the importance of those words, seemed completely irrelevant now. If I couldn’t speak of art in a way that allowed for every human contingency, than it was a lie.

Maybe I over reacted, but I don’t think so. , just like Christian thoughts about what good art is, should always include a conception of humanity that is true of all people. The work does not have to spend all of its energy capturing every ounce of unity between humans, but it does have to be honest about what it means to be human. An honesty that rings just as true in a literature class as it does on a bus stop. At times Faulkner, as all great writers do, finds this honesty, and when he does I know that I am not reading something that only speaks to a highly educated member of society, but to a human made in the image of God. Let our art always capture this: a vision of humanity that acknowledges God’s love, and man’s sin.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Theory and Youth

As an English major, I have been blessed to be under the tutelage of various teachers and professors who reject the fundamental belief that Theory is the core of literature studies. That said, I still have been exposed, through assigned readings, literary conferences, and research to the ubiquitous presence of literary theory. , in a of the book Theory’s Empire: An Anthology of Dissent over at policyreview.com, challenges the forces of Theory and suggests that its reign is coming to an end.

Last October, I had the privilege of attending The International Conference on Romanticism in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The paper I was presenting there was on fragment poem, “Christabel.” Since I am both bored and philosophically opposed to , , and “ism” theoretical approaches, my paper was focused on the structure of the poem and its relation to the themes. Before the panel began, I was able to chat with the panel chair, a professor who had made his life’s work in the British Romantic poets and was also presenting on Coleridge. When I told him my topic, he was shocked that I was not applying any theoretical paradigms. He remarked that his paper was also theory free. As if the odds of two non-theoretical papers being presented at the same panel wasn’t absurd enough, the third presenter (who like me was a graduate student) also defied academia with her paper. The chair confided in me that at a panel the night before, two graduate students presented papers which were theory free, much to the surprise of himself and other established academics. He suggested that perhaps a subtle move is happening within higher education, starting with young academics, away from Theory.

In his review, Berkowitz posits this question: “Can aging hipsters rambling on in the classroom in opaque language about oppositional aspirations and transgressive interpretations while living comfortable and conformist lives really be a pretty sight to curious and intelligent college students?”

For me, the answer is no. A shift is occurring, and must occur, which returns humanity to some semblance of order, faith, and absolutes. As I have before, the are a part of this shift, as are those with faith in God. The fact is that art and criticism cannot continue to exist in an intellectual world without grounding. Music, literature, film; all these mediums have suffered in recent years from tremendous stagnation, criticism likewise has drained the lifeblood out of our universities. There comes a time in the life of an artist or critic living in this postmodern intellectual environment that they must ask why they bother to write, create, or work. Without final meaning, is not even a discussion of meaninglessness absurd? That is why a work of nihilistic fiction is a paradox.

Read Berkowitz’s review and tell me what you think about our intellectual future afterwards.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Prayers and Tears


I have always struggled between a desire to hear and support a genuinely, artistically, good Christian band and the reality that I’ve yet to hear such a band. Recently I ran across and their/his album Psalterie and I think I might have found in them the first that I can honest claim is artistic. You can download the entire album for free, which is quite nice considering that it is a true work of .

In addition to the album, the group has a flash program that you can download which includes pictures, lyrics, and commentary on the album. When you listen to the album you can tell that the artist, , is trying to say something substantial with his lyrics and his music, but the exact meaning is fairly allusive. Thankfully, the commentary does not simply consist of recording notes, but actually commentary on the themes and meanings of each song. Part of the reason I like this guy is that he is trying to make that says something.

One of the great challenges for many Christian rock artists seems to be finding a , but Wright succeeds in this regard. Each of the songs on the album was “suggested” by the book of psalms. In the title of most of the songs is the verse that inspired it. Some times it is difficult to see the connection between the verses alluded to and the lyrics of the songs, but Wright’s commentary helps clarify things. While I won’t say that it is an experimental album, I will say that some of the recordings, productions, and dynamics are not typical in the least. And where Wright deviates from the beaten-pop-path it is always for a reason. The music speaks the same language as Wright himself. In “The Most Important Words (Ps 80:5),” for example, as the lyrics sing praises to God and relate our relationship to Him, the backup vocals weave in and out of key; thus evoking musically the same theme as “When the Music Fades,” without the needing to come out and say: “I am a fallen man making music to a perfect God, therefore my art will not be sufficient worship but I give it a try anyway.” You get a sense that everything on this project was chosen for a reason, every electric hum, reversed guitar, accordion, and odd vocal.

But there is something I am keeping back here. Two things actually. First, he says the F word, loud, forcefully, and unapologetically. In fact, he actually says in the commentary for “The Sun Fell on You (Ps 119:82)” that he knew that the song would get him into “trouble” because of his use of language. Yet he chose to put it in there. The second thing sort of explains why he felt comfortable using such profanity on a Christian work of art: Wright is not a perfect Christian. He describes many of his songs as “frustrated and faithless,” and claims to have occasional “sojourns into atheism.”

I think that when we, I am thinking particularly of myself here, try to conceive of what good Christian Art should be, we often think in terms of nonchristian/Christian. But this binary is not realistic in many ways, and Wright is a great example of this. I would never make the argument that Wright’s music represents a work of art made by a Christian walking righteously with Christ, but it is a very honest work. It is the work of a man who is struggling with faith; who does not pretend to have all the answers and know all the dogma, and who doesn’t pretend to be a tortured agnostic. This is a man who is growing in faith, who is maturing, who is learning, who is struggling with what it really means to believe, and as such there are elements (like the profanity) that display a lack of faith, but at the same time a deep honesty. Wright does not sound like he wants to shock anyone with his hip-postmodern-tenuous belief; he is simply a man coming to terms with his relation to God.

Perhaps the best song on this album is “Come Ye Sinners Poor and Needy (Ps 109:22),” an 18th century hymn by Joseph Hart that Wright arranges on guitar. Consider what he says about this song in context of the album as a whole:

“I struggled with the possibility of putting such an obviously religious song alongside my own often frustrated and faithless tomes. But Hart’s words truly do express the movement I have been trying to herald-and thankfully by means of a far more sophisticated pen.” (my emphasis).

If Prayers and Tears were affirming false doctrines through evocative music and powerful statements, I would not be writing about them here. But they don’t. Instead, through music that skillfully combines themes with sounds, lyrics with meaning, Wright chronicles his own “movement” toward faith. It is not a mature faith; we should not turn to him for answers, but that is not the place of art anyway. Where Wright is wrong, he is not making dogmatic pronouncements, but positing tentative beliefs. Perhaps the one statement that stands out is that he is trying to make the movement towards faith. And while I cringe when I hear him call Christ a baby “covered in filth and lies,” I delight that he understands that it is only this Baby that can save him. And I pray that his struggle will turn into comfort, and he will know the “peace of God which surpasses all comprehension.” (Phil 4:7). As he makes this movement, I will rejoice in the Lord that He has given Wright such an imaginative ability and devotion to excellence in order to worship Him in Spirit; and I pray that he will soon worship also in Truth. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 05, 2006

What Her Reflection Told

I have a bad habit.  I can’t remember when it started or why, but whenever I see someone I know in public, I hide.  It probably comes from this subtle fear I have of talking to people.  When I notice an old friend walking around a store, I get that feeling like when you are about to scoop that first spoonful of peanut butter from an undisturbed jar.  On one hand, I know that if they see me and I don’t talk to them they’ll think I’m a jerk, but I like just letting them go along their own way.  The other thing is that when I’m alone I get focused.  I’ll start talking to myself and everything.  But I think the real reason I ignore people is that I don’t care about them.  I know that sounds awful, but if you were honest you would probably say the same thing.  There are times when I just don’t care about anyone at all, except for myself of course.

Every week I let myself have a beer.  I go to the Trader Joe’s down the street from our house and pick up some exotic beer; a different one every week.  Last week I got out of a night class and decided that I wanted to have my weekly beer, so I headed over to Trader Joe’s.  When I walked in the store I was already lost in thought over some research I was planning on doing when I got home; something about Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.  

The store has a whole aisle dedicated to alcohol, which doesn’t sound impressive but if you know how small the store was you’d realize how impressive that really is.  They are known for having about the best wine selection in the whole valley.  When I turned on to the aisle I saw a neighbor with his two daughters talking to an employee about some wine.  They’re a Christian family, an incredibly close Christian family.  They have like eleven kids and all but two of them are girls.  The crazy thing about them is that they are really friendly to everyone.  I guess as long as I’ve known them I’ve never seen one of the 13 members of that family ignore me, or anyone for that matter.  There’re the type of people that always like to visit with people.  When everyone else in this impersonal world is running around trying to keep conversations to meaningless signs, they always insist upon substance.  The two girls with him were around six and twelve, I wish I knew their names, but I don’t.  As I headed toward the beer I wanted to get, the older girl saw me and waved.  It’s really great to see a girl say hi to you with a genuine smile and know that they aren’t flirting and they don’t expect you to be flirting either.  Something that I forgot to mention about this family, there’re entirely home-schooled and they tend to only spend time with their own family or other Christian people.  I guess that would make them sort of isolated, but to me they just seem kind and real.  Part of that has to be that they don’t get to see a lot of the sick and plastic and selfish way people can act in the world, and maybe they don’t need to.  At least, I don’t want them to.

I said hi to the girl, grabbed my beer, and headed toward the checkout.  As I was walking away I kept glancing over to my neighbor to see if he would see me, but he was still talking to the employee and as such had neither seen me nor heard his daughter say hi to me.  I felt kinda bad as walked past him.  I knew that he would want me to stop and say hi, but I was full of thoughts and I did want to get home.  

There was one person ahead of me in line, which made me kind of anxious.  I had this fear that if my neighbor would see me then he would come over and talk to me and then his daughter would say something like, “oh, I saw him earlier,” and then he would know that I had ignored him; or maybe he would see my beer and realize that I must have been standing right next to him when I got it and I didn’t say anything.  I’m sure all this sounds petty to you, but you don’t understand my neighbor and his family.  People mean something to him, and you can’t just ignore that about a guy like him.  

I felt better when it was my turn to checkout.  By that time someone had gotten in line right after me and I could still see my neighbor talking in the distance.  I tried to hurry everything along as I paid for the single beer.  Luckily the checker was this guy who had carded me about ten times before so he always lets me buy my beer without showing ID.  As I slid my debt card through the scanner to pay, I looked to my right to see my neighbor and his two girls inline to checkout.  There was still one shopper between us, but I knew he had seen me and that I should at least say something to him.  I looked his direction for a second or two to see if our eyes could meet, but at the time he was saying something to the littlest girl.  I had to do something quick, the checker was handing me my receipt and I knew if I waited a second longer than necessary then the next guy inline would get angry.  I either had to turn around and walk back to my neighbor and say hi, or I had to head for the door before he saw me see him.  I left.

I felt crummy leaving without saying anything to him, but I just couldn’t get myself to turn around.  Walking away I could feel them looking after me like they expected me to say something, it really bothered me.  Right before I walked out, I looked at the reflection in the glass door.  I could see the littlest daughter holding her father’s hand and looking at me as I kept walking.  She looked puzzled for a second, and then she looked up at her father and asked him something.  The door shut behind me before I could hear what she said, but I knew she must have been asking him why I didn’t say hi to them.  And I felt like the worst sinner ever.  

Sure, I’m no child molester, or serial killer, or dictator, or whatever, but I did something to that little girl that was inevitable and brutal.  I showed her that there are people who claim to love God and who hate their neighbor.  I broke with the sacred fellowship that her father and her offered me because I wanted to get home.  If it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else, but for her six years of life I don’t think that little girl had ever seen a believer who was willing to sacrifice love for the sake of convenience.  She now has one less sacred thing in the world, and I took it from her.  How am I not a child molester?