My long-running interest in the film Jeremiah Johnson led me to pick up the book that collects the sagas behind the man on whom the film is loosely based. Crow Killer: The Saga of Liver-Eating Johnson, tells gruesome tale after gruesome tale of frontier justice among the mountain men of the Rockies in the last half of the nineteenth century. This isn’t a book for the squeamish. In fact, I’m not sure exactly to whom I would recommend it, other than those who have a taste for the lore of the American West and an interest in the code of the mountain men. I liked it, of course–though I often marveled at the savagery of men, no matter the color of their skin….
anything essential is invisible to the eyes
A book’s title is important–a poor title can be a barrier for many people. I never would have read Popologetics if I hadn’t already known some of Ted Turnau’s good work. But I can tell you now that you simply must overcome any sense that the book will be silly (though it has a few silly things in it, because that seems to be Ted). In fact, this is a fine work of scholarship with a very helpful practical model of its application.
The purpose of the book is to convince us that it is important (as Christians) to engage pop culture–and that, in fact, pop culture is worth engaging, being a mixture of truth and beauty on the one hand (as a result of common grace) and lies and ugliness on the other (as a result of sin). I found Turnau’s critique of high-culture elitism compelling.
The big payoff is that after presenting his own model of engagement, he works through five examples in detail: a song, movies, manga/anime, and even Twitter. It’s all great stuff and I hope you’ll read it.
I have my nose in the middle of several books right now, and a few days ago two of them intersected–that is, the ideas in them converged, so that each expounded the same truth about human nature.
One of the books is Popologetics, by Ted Turnau, which I will review soon. Turnau’s book is about how to engage popular culture in a constructive and critical way. He presents a model for such engagement, then applies his model in great detail to five examples of pop culture. One was the Eagles’ 1979 hit song “Heartache Tonight.” Turnau pointed to the sense of inevitability in the song:
Somebody’s gonna hurt someone
before the night is through
Somebody’s gonna come undone.
There’s nothin’ we can do.
Deep down, we know that it is more meaningful than that, that love is more than sex. Something in romantic love points to a deeper relational, even spiritual. reality that lies “beneath” it. But idolatrous popular culture refuses to follow that lead. It simply affirms the depth and meaningful nature of love because it wishes it to be that way. It gives no reason, no ground, for romantic love to be meaningful. It simply exists without reason, without explanation. Or if it does offer a reason, it does so in the loosely “spiritual” manner taught by New Age religion: everything is spirit and love and truth. But the New Age perspective on romantic love has its own problems as a worldview. The mystical New Age worldview ultimately dissolves the distinction between the lover and the beloved, for all is One (as in Eastern religions). Therefore, love collapses into self-love: I love the me I see in you. Love comes only at the cost of destroying the uniqueness of the other, the not-me. “Spiritual” explanations that are not grounded in the reality of a loving, personal God do no better than materialistic nonexplanations.
–Ted Turnau, Popologetics
[Yes, I should have posted this on the 14th.]
Give me the lowest place: not that I dare
Ask for that lowest place, but Thou hast died
That I might live and share
Thy glory by Thy side.
Give me the lowest place: or if for me
That lowest place too high, make one more low
Where I may sit and see
My God and love Thee so.
You may not believe this, but my wife is such a patient woman that she bore with me while I read to her all 600 pages of Burton Raffel’s translation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s masterpiece, The Canterbury Tales. I have to admit that I found myself bearing with much of it as well–some of the stories are a chore to read. Others are a joy, though, and there are more worth reading than not. I can definitely recommend that, unless you are interested in a very long medieval sermon on the Seven Deadly Sins and all the intricacies of confession and penitence, then you should give “The Parson’s Tale” a pass. (I am glad I read it, but I enjoyed very little of it.)
About the translation: I wish I could have read Chaucer’s original, but I’ve tried and given up several times. Maybe someday I’ll try one of the shorter tales. But I wanted to read all the tales and I knew the only chance was to read a good translation. Raffel has always been good to me–especially with his work on Anglo-Saxon poetry–and he did not disappoint me here.
How could Robert Redford not have been nominated for an academy award for his performance in All Is Lost? The actors nominated must have done amazing work to have squeezed him out. It’s fitting that this film and Gravity came out in the same year–they should be compared, not only for the great acting, but for their heroic portrayals of the human spirit. I was a bit amazed at how un-spiritual Sandra Bullock’s character was, babbling on to herself and yet unable to pray (until, perhaps, she says “Thank you” at the end); but Redford’s nameless character isn’t un-spiritual but a-spiritual. Still, after watching the entire film, you have to go back and listen to his opening voice-over of the message he writes–apparently his last words, words of self-realization and regret.
Yesterday I said that I probably wouldn’t want to watch Blue Jasmine again, in spite of the great acting. I’ve mused a bit on the story since then, and after getting out of the whirlpool of depression within the film I have a little more perspective and see the tragedy of it in a more constructive way. At least, I think there’s something rich to learn here from Jasmine’s self-deception. So it’s worth another viewing and more reflection. But maybe not today….
I’m trying to think of an analogy to describe my experience watching Woody Allen’s film Blue Jasmine. So far the best I can think of is getting a back massage while having severe stomach cramps. The cramping almost ruins the massage, but the massage feels so good you don’t want it to stop.
Following the story, the lives of the characters–all of them, not just Jasmine–is about as much fun as stomach cramps. Or a tooth extraction without Novocaine. It’s awkward and sad and absurd and wretched. I can’t imagine wanting to sit through that again.
But the acting: what a delicious piece of work! Cate Blanchett is justly praised for her portrayal of this woman under destruction. Mesmerizing. In fact everyone here seems perfectly cast and they play their roles with such precision that I couldn’t turn away from the depressing story. That’s the massage in my analogy.
So it’s worth watching, but I don’t think I could do it a second time.
Yes, I’m 55 years old and I just read Astrid Lingren’s Pippi Longstocking for the first time. What of it? I enjoy truly good children’s literature, and since we recently read another Astrid Lingren tale in Slovak and found it delightful, I thought I should give Pippi a chance.
I discovered that Pippi was a raving lunatic. I mean that with all the affection and admiration I can muster. And her sense of humor (often unintentional) reminds me of my own–many of the absurd things she says are exactly what I would say in the same situation.
I’m not ashamed of that.