Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Contextualizing Advertising

September 20, 2018

Despite a much-delayed and oft-sidetracked undergraduate career spanning 13 years, I did eventually graduate from Arizona State University.  It’s an accomplishment I am proud enough of but typically stoic and realistic about.  Going back to university at nearly 30 to complete a degree you gave up on years earlier because of a lack of direction or motivation is difficult, and I acknowledge that.  But what credit there is to be taken for that lies in me (by the grace of God), and not so much my alma mater.  I know folks from my high school that are die-hard fans of the universities they graduated from, and constantly sport the clothes, tail-gate parties, and hand signs of those institutions.

I’m not one of those folks, and anyone who knows me probably isn’t very surprised by this.

To be fair, I don’t feel an unusual attachment to any other institution I’ve ever attended, whether primary, secondary, or graduate.  It’s just not in my genes.

But that doesn’t stop these institutions from sending me their magazines every quarter, hopeful no doubt that perhaps I’ve improved my situation in life markedly from my earlier years and am looking for a place to devote some of my wealth.

I’m not one of those folks either, sorry.

But as I was quickly flipping through my alma mater’s most recent magazine, the only thing that really caught my eye was the back page and an advertisement from Starbucks.  An attractive and undoubtedly upwardly-mobile-minded female barista smiles glowingly at the reader, hands on hips in a pose of confidence.  The tag line, which claims to be a quote from her, reads:

Always push for what you want, what you love, and your passions.

But if news these days is to be believed, this is the fundamental problem  in our culture.  People pushing for what they want.  The news is decidedly anti-male these days, highlighting a cavalcade of men past and present who followed the above mantra fully and are now paying the consequences for it.  I doubt anyone would recognize this mantra as appropriate in the context of allegations about Brett Kavanaugh.  Or Bill Cosby.  Or Harvey Weinstein.  For that matter would people agree with this mantra in the context of Trump and his tariff policies, or Obama and his health-care reform?  Would liberals agree with this in terms of who gets confirmed as a Supreme Court judge?  For that matter would conservatives?

Our culture is in the throes of chaos precisely because of people who follow this mantra.

It doesn’t sound like a bad mantra though, does it?  Doesn’t it sound warm and glowing and awesome?  Isn’t it inspiring and confidence-building?  Doesn’t it reek of the go-get-it attitude that once characterized America?

Yet on the other hand, we could argue this mantra is destructive, evil, patently bad advice.

How can this be?

Because this mantra, this slogan – as with any mantra or slogan – needs a context.  It needs a larger background within which it fits, and which determines how it is  applied.  Only a fool would assume  that marketing companies and companies should be dictating human behavior in any given country, right?  That would be chaos, with norms and expectations and standards changing every time a new, more compelling slogan or mantra came out.

It’s terrifying to think that for many people this is exactly what is happening.

It isn’t that mantras and slogans are new.  They’ve been around for centuries, and we all can think about the most successful of them.  Be all that you can be.  Just do it.  Have a Coke and smile.  Have it your way.  There’s a common theme in them – they’re all applied to the individual and designed to encourage the individual to activity, engagement, and eventually or ultimately consumption of one form or another.

As marketing campaigns these were wildly successful.  But as rules for living your life?  Not so much.  And over and over again we are reminded that while it sounds like a good idea to Always push for what you want, what you love, and your passionsin reality this isn’t something that we should always do.  By a long shot.  Or perhaps ever do.  Because society is going to determine what is acceptable to push for, what is acceptable to love, and what sorts of passions are acceptable.  It may decide these things in retrospect years down the road.  It may change its mind about them.

What these mantras and slogans need is a context.  An overarching understanding of how one is to live their lives that makes sense of these urges or prompts, determining when they are acceptable or appropriate and when they are not.  And I think this meta-context is what our culture has discarded in the last half-century.

I suggest that the meta-context that used to be in place was Biblically based and easy to remember.  Love your neighbor.  While not everyone might know or agree with the person this meta-context is associated with (Jesus), they understood the basic concept.  It’s a concept that – on its own and out of the fuller context of how He said it and what else He said – isn’t even strictly Judeo-Christian.  It could be argued that this idea is implicit in all of the great religions and even philosophies of the world.  Of course each will define the terms and parameters slightly (or radically) differently, the basic underlying idea remains.

So then I’m free to Always push for what you want, what you love, and your passions, as long as it doesn’t cause me to cease loving my neighbor.  As long as I’m anchored in this larger meta-context, I can apply the mantras and slogans of the day in a limited fashion.  And of course the meta-context also provided the criteria to know what was loving my neighbor and what wasn’t, since we all tend to define this in ways that are easier or more convenient for us.

It’s not a perfect system, of  course.  There will still be anomalies and violations.  But we could at least identify them as such and deal with them as such.

Now, it’s a lot harder.  Oftentimes it seems to come down to who yells the loudest as to what constitutes a proper or  improper application of the mantras and slogans around us.  There was an effort a few years ago to come up with a new meta-context for life in our culture – tolerance.  It didn’t work so well.  It continues to not work very well.  And now we’re being told that in some situations, tolerance is actually the equivalent of refusal – which anyone with half a brain would have recognized right away.

So be careful what advertising or marketing mantra or slogan you grab on to.  Be careful what you quote to your kids or grandkids as inspirational and life-guiding advice.  They might just listen.  And they might just discover that it’s really not very good advice.  Not without something deeper and more reliable behind it.  Something not prone to the whims and waves of public opinion at any given moment (driven so often by slogans and mantras as well).  Maybe you should consider passing on something much deeper, and more  reliable.

For that matter, maybe you ought to consider adopting it for yourself.

 

 

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Interesting Read

September 7, 2018

How do you articulate an identity in the face of an overwhelming alternative narrative?  Where do you begin?  What do you identify both as the strengths and challenges of the alternative?  What critique do you offer against the prevailing alternative narrative?

It might look something like this.

 

Confusing

September 4, 2018

I was at my Sunday morning coffee shop for my weekly tea and bagel Sunday morning.  The barista is the new regular on Sunday mornings.  She worked there several years ago before disappearing.  Now that she’s back working here again, she refers to her former self as a degenerate, but hasn’t elaborated much beyond that.  There probably isn’t need to.

Most recently, she announced to me that she’s pregnant, and explained that she is letting people in on it now that she’s about three months along.  She doesn’t want people to think she’s getting fat.

My first thought wasn’t that she was fat, or that she isn’t fat (she isn’t).  My first thought was terror.  Should I be happy for her announcement?  Was this a good thing or not?  I gleaned from earlier conversations that she had a boyfriend she seemed serious about.  But these days, the announcement of a pregnancy can be a nail-biting moment.  For some folks it’s fantastic news.  For others it’s a source of worry or concern.  Sometimes the guy is happy about it, sometimes not.  Sometimes it’s planned, sometimes (like this one) it isn’t.

The fact is that our culture’s insistence on tossing sexuality up into the air as a free-for-all results directly in this confusion.  Once upon a time, while a pregnancy might be a surprise, it would generally not have been entirely unexpected, and even if unexpected, there was a reasonable certainty that the pregnancy occurred within a marriage and that they would all muddle through somehow together.  Now women are instructed they don’t need a man to raise a child, and the media continues to demonstrate to men and women alike that men shouldn’t be expected to settle down and support a family.  All of which makes pregnancy a complicated thing.

Culturally we’re still trying to figure out how to make everything less confusing, but by and large we’re failing.  There’s a lot of hope that we’ll figure it out, though, and not surprisingly the biggest hope is in the arena of education.  But educating about sexuality  that is open and permissive between literally anyone – except if one person doesn’t really want it – is tricky business.

Our culture wants sex to be easy and painless and consequence-less but the reality is that it isn’t any of those things.  It’s inherently difficult, full of potential pain, and designed with myriad consequences.  The message is everyone should just have a good time sexxualy whenever they feel like it and with whomever is down for it but never ever make anyone do anything they don’t really want to do whether they can articulate that or not or are clear about it or really don’t decide until afterwards that they didn’t want to do it.  Sex is fun and wonderful until it isn’t.  Until the hesitancy is determined to be non-consent, or inadequate consent.  Until people change their minds.  Until the flush of the moment is replaced with repulsion for the person in the moments or weeks or years after.  Until someone decides that it isn’t or wasn’t fun, isn’t or wasn’t welcome.  Definitions shift and flux in time, but what is at stake is literally life changing for everyone involved.

And all that is without considering the very real possibility of children, which is kind of what sex was designed for.

Compared to the simple idea that sex is special and sacred not because it is shared with anyone but because it is only shared with one person to whom you’re bound in a lifetime covenant of trust and love, our modern notions are pure insanity.  The create infinite more problems than the outdated problem of  love and marriage they claim to solve.  The idea that if you aren’t married to someone, then sex isn’t an option is  so simple.  Not fool-proof, of course, but certainly a lot simpler than trying to write and re-write the rules of courtship or invent the rules of hooking up.   In the meantime, lives are being destroyed.  Women continue to be victimized, but now by generations of boys and men raised on ubiquitous porn that promises that every woman really wants sex.  Victimized by generations of boys and men who can’t handle rejection because they don’t believe it should exist because rejection doesn’t exist in porn.

Men in turn are victimized, taught that their interest in the opposite sex is somehow sick and twisted and perverse instead of a natural and God-given interest that needs rules and boundaries in order to keep both men and women safe.  Yet we’re all supposed to sexually liberated.  The media pushes out the message today that boys and men are broken somehow, that women are superior and must take over because they can do things right that men can’t – sexually and otherwise.  Yet at the same time women are supposed to be free to dress and act in ways that are suggestive to men – to say the least – yet shocked and offended when men respond.  Talk about confusing messages.

What are your kids being taught about sexuality in school?  Their own or how they should relate to someone elses?  What are you talking about with them on this topic?  Lord knows they’re going to need all the help they can get, including whether to be happy or not when they’re told someone is pregnant.

 

 

 

Book Review: God and Mr. Gomez

September 3, 2018

God and Mr. Gomez by Jack Smith

One of the aspects of my work is I receive a lot of book recommendations.  Which means, necessarily, that I don’t have the opportunity to read many of them.  I always appreciate the recommendations, but given my limited bandwidth I have to be a bit selective more often than not.

But on the eve of a trip to Mexico with my wife last month, a parishioner lent me a copy of this book to take along.  Being nearly done with Brave New World, I made room for this in my suitcase.  I didn’t actually start to read it until after getting back, but it certainly evoked certain aspects of the area of Baja California, Mexico that we were able to experience only briefly and unevenly.

I’m not familiar with Mr. Smith’s writings for the LA Times, but this was a light and enjoyable read.  He takes a very simple premise – the building of a second home in Baja California, Mexico and takes the reader along with him through the process.  His style is relaxed and warm, neither overly descriptive nor too sparse.  He captures the different cultural style of this area south of our border well without pandering.  It’s clear that he loves the Mexican culture and people and he portrays the pertinent characters (including the titular Mr. Gomez) with a respect that is far more likely to side with them vs. his own American habits and ideas.

The plot is simple, so by the second half of the book much of what is described is a variation of or repetition of issues and situations covered in the first half.  You’re never really in doubt as to the outcome, which is OK but I found myself less enchanted by the final third of the book.  Still, it’s a window into a different time, if the place is not so far away from me at the moment.  It makes me want to take a drive south of the border to experience some of the culture away from the border towns and tourist towns.  Whatever the wisdom of doing that these days, it’s encouraging to know that once upon a time it was very worth doing.

 

 

 

Calculated Risks

August 30, 2018

Every Thursday night now, for the past month, we’ve started taking calculated risks.

We don’t think of it this way, but that’s certainly part of it.  What we think of is just inviting people into our home for time and dinner, and this in itself isn’t too unusual.  Practically every night of the week we have one or more people outside our immediate family breaking bread with us.

But our Thursday guests each week are a little different – we try not to think of them that way, though others might.  They come from a local rehabilitation program, clients of a one-year residential treatment program for women suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.  We’ve had a dozen of these women to our home in the last month, in groups of three.  These women span the cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic spectrum.  They come from all over the country, from backgrounds either urban or bucolic, nightmarish or right off the set of Leave It to Beaver.  Yet each one for various reasons has found herself in the grips of serious addiction.

That grip pervades all of a person’s life, eventually.  What becomes optional, then manageable, then functional, finally becomes out of control.  Jobs can’t be held.  Families can’t be held together.  Jail and even prison are not unusual locations either short or long-term for some of these ladies.  Working in the recovery community as  I have for roughly the last seven years, I know these things.

We opened our home to these ladies to give them a taste of something they aren’t able to access very easily or often – home.  A place where they aren’t defined by their addictions of  the past or their recovery at the present or the uncertainty of their futures, but where they’re just friends invited to join us around the dinner table, or to play video or card games with our kids.  Where they’re free to just laugh and be.  No expectations.  No duties (other than helping with dishes a little bit!).  Last night the kids  led us all in making homemade spaghetti noodles for dinner.  It was a lot of work and didn’t go entirely as planned – at least initially.  But everyone had fun and enjoyed themselves.

There are risks with being open with people.  A friend of my wife’s – a fellow home-school mom – pointed that out to her the other afternoon.  She was concerned that we might be allowing people with criminal records into our home.  She was concerned for us, of course, and I appreciate that.  Nobody wants anyone else to get hurt, after all.

But life is full of calculated risks.  The challenge is that everyone uses slightly different variables in their calculations.  We don’t find the risk unbearable to have these ladies in our home.  Someone else would.  My wife and I have discussed the need to talk with our kids about being careful with people (not these people, specifically, but people in general) as they more and more find themselves in the world and negotiating the world on their own.  Not everyone can or should be trusted.  Not everyone is safe.  There are people out there who will hurt you and take advantage of you.

But in addition to teaching them how to be safe, we have to demonstrate to them how to make sure that the quest for safety doesn’t replace the very necessary calculation of risks with the goal of being as open as possible.  The goal should be openness as much as we can.  I think Scripture calls us to this.  It’s a means by which we love our neighbors.  But if we let it, our fear of being hurt can overwhelm our calling to love and serve one another.  We can quit bothering to really calculate the risks and simply opt for a very insulated life.  Ultimately this not only isolates us, it fosters attitudes towards others that aren’t just uncharitable, they’re unChristian.

What’s your risk calculation?  At what point do you draw the line?  We all draw lines – we all have to as sinful people in a sinful world.  Lines aren’t in and of themselves wrong, and I don’t fault people if they draw a line closer in than I do, and I try not to feel guilty when someone else has a line much further out than mine.  But how do I pray and work to extend those lines out as far as possible?  How do you strive to share yourselves with others?  These are important questions for people of faith to ask themselves in a media climate the fosters only fear and distrust.

Our answers to these questions can make huge differences, both in our own lives and the lives of those around us.

Book Review – Brave New World

August 25, 2018

Brave New World by Alduous Huxley

The above link is to an edition that includes Brave New World Revisited, which I’ll mention here.  It’s basically a set of essays written by Huxley 25 years or so after Brave New World was published, commenting on elements of the book and offering warnings about the direction of Western culture that could lead – much sooner than he had ever anticipated – to a world similar to his novel’s dystopian setting.

It was only mildly ironic that I read the majority of Brave New World while on a cruise ship.  Perhaps it is the perfect setting to see some of the concepts Huxley foresaw played out.  Soma is replaced by the ubiquitous encouragement to drink alcohol.  The emphasis is very much on the right now, and creating memories for a future completely detached from the present, which of course has no relationship at all to the past.  The descriptive blurb for a daily meet up for singles 40 and older suggested Looking for a soul mate, or just a ship mate?  What happens on the cruise ship stays on the cruise ship, right?  We’re all supposed to be very pneumatic, right?  Whatever that means.

As Neil Postman observed in his fantastic book Amusing Ourselves to Death, we’re much closer to Huxley’s dystopian dictatorship than we are to George Orwell’s 1984 version.  Most of us were force-fed 1984 as a form of vaccine against the wiles of communism and socialism, while Brave New World was relegated to the optional reading list.  Something good and certainly college-oriented, but nothing to stress about.  I read both in high school, and we certainly have slipped dangerously down the road to Huxley’s future.

Rereading it now, it’s not a great book.  Stylistically or even from a story standpoint.  Characters are rather flat, and Huxley is obviously more interested in playing with ideas rather than characters or plot.  The back-and-forth movement between scenes and characters early in the book is a good foreshadowing of Pulp Fiction and other modern efforts to shake up the linear narrative.

It’s not a great book to read, but it’s a necessary book to help us think about our current society and culture.  There are a lot of ways of dissecting where we are and how we might change course, such as this curious piece (warning, some unpleasant language there).  And I would of course argue that our predicament is far more theological than anything else.  But Huxley helps us to see that what we take for granted is dangerous simply in that we take it for granted.  That we are increasingly ill-equipped to think critically about ourselves or the things we are asked to do or buy, and that this is to the very real benefit of a select group of people capable of doing these things.  The fact that our newspapers don’t see it of great value to inform us – every single day – of the political doings in our state and national capital is a good indicator that a free press is not necessarily a helpful one.

Huxley’s reviews of his own work in a set of topical essays bundled together as Brave New World Revisited is obviously dated, but offers a few good reminders that we haven’t arrived at our current situation completely unawares.  There have been keen minds all along the way warning us of the consequences of media, advertising, eugenics, and other areas of inquiry and exploration and application.  Whether we can change direction or not on a societal scale remains to be seen, but it’s important and necessary first of all that individuals be equipped to do so in their own lives and families.  Towards that end, Brave New World should be just as mandatory reading as 1984.  It’s a lot closer than we think.

 

 

Valuing the Word

June 28, 2018

The second day of our regional convention for my denominational polity.  This morning there was a vote on who can or can’t vote at these sorts of meetings.

Our polity places a strong value on the priesthood of all believers.  This is a theological concept that although all are called to different vocations, professional Church work is by no means an elevated or superior form of work than any other.  As such, we have striven to maintain a political balance between the laity (typical parishioners who have no theological training or education for a Church position) and clergy.  Each congregation in our regional polity is entitled to two votes at these conventions – their pastor can cast one and they can send a lay delegate to cast a vote as well.  Under this model, neither clergy nor laity has undue influence over the decisions of the denomination as a whole.

The fly in the ointment is that we have created a third type of person – someone with theological training or education, but who isn’t serving as a pastor.  We call these people Commissioned.  They’re not lay people, but they aren’t clergy either.  They hold positions like Director of Christian Education, or school principal or teacher.  Moreover, from the lay perspective they may sometimes appear more like pastors than not, and from the pastor perspective they may seem more like lay people than not.  In order to avoid throwing off the balance one way or another, this group of people (between 9000-10000 nationally) has not been granted the right to vote in conventions.  By everyone’s agreement, Commissioned folks in our denomination are neither fish nor fowl, to use the old saw, and they aren’t happy about this.

Over and over again efforts have been made to change this.  Usually they are shot down.  Today it  wasn’t, but it won’t really matter because although our regional polity voted to allow Commissioned folks to vote, it will get shot down at the national level.  It was surprising that it passed today as it normally gets voted down.

To me, the interesting thing about this wrestling match isn’t the issue of whether there’s a problem or  not.  It’s not that Commissioned folks are unhappy with how things are going or have gone, necessarily, they just want to vote.  There was no discussion of how this would or wouldn’t address wrongs of the past, or prevent problems in the future.  It was just the idea that everyone ought to have a voice, and if they don’t, then there’s a problem.

Is there?

As with any vocation I’m sure there are situations where these Commissioned workers are not listened to by their pastors or lay people, and feel unrepresented in the voting process.  But I’d wager that far more of them do feel like they’re listened to.  But in our culture, if you don’t get to vote, you don’t get a say, and if you don’t have a say, you aren’t valued.

This sort of rationale makes me itchy.  As a 21st century American I’m conditioned to dislike disenfranchisement.  But is that alone a reason for making this sort of change?  I’m unconvinced.  Once again there’s this emphasis on making our own decisions about what  we want or don’t want, who we like or don’t like.  This sounds a lot different than trusting the Holy Spirit.  It’s not that the Holy Spirit can’t work through democratic processes.  But I’ve heard a lot more about rights and entitlements so far the past day and a half than I have about how the Holy Spirit protects and guides the Church.

Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising.

Legal or Right?

May 31, 2018

A correspondence friend directed me to this article.  He presumed that I would draw the same conclusions as him  – that fighting to ban abortion is really a moot point because there are numerous ways for women to effect abortions without a clinic.

Actually, I draw a different conclusion, which is that it really does matter if we ban abortion because in banning abortion we can quit talking about abortion as though it’s equivalent to clipping fingernails, trimming hair, or other equally inaccurate metaphors.  We must ban abortion in recognition that what grows in a woman’s body as a result of sexual intercourse is, in fact, a human being and entitled therefore to the full protection of the law just as a baby or toddler or adult is.  When this happens, we can begin teaching this truth to people – men and women, boys and girls – so that they will think differently about their actions and the results of those actions and their moral options for dealing with those results.

I’m sure this isn’t the desired takeaway from the author’s perspective.  However her article omits some very important details that might lead one to her conclusion rather than mine.  First of all, she cites estimates in Brazil that between 500,000 and 1 million abortions are estimated to take place every year despite abortion being illegal.  How is this estimate arrived at?  I’m assuming it’s based to some degree on prescriptions for certain drugs, but how do they distinguish between the legitimate uses of those drugs or the illegitimate uses?  That’s a rather large spread for  an estimate as well!  And finally, there’s no mention of what the abortion rates were prior to abortion being made illegal.

If we want to stop the killing of unborn children, we must both ban abortion as well as re-educate people.  This is exactly the technique that the pro-abortion camp used in reverse.  It seems dangerously naive to think that abortion rates won’t be affected by making it illegal and actually teaching people that when they seek abortion they are in fact seeking to kill a human being.  While it might still be possible to achieve the desired effect through alternate means, I believe there would also be a large drop in the number of people who would consider availing themselves of these means.

This would also necessitate a reconsideration of the Sexual Revolution in whole, but I don’t think that’s such a bad idea either.  Education can’t fix everything, but it can certainly make headway in quite a few areas!

Stop Rewriting Our Past

May 17, 2018

The problem with rewriting the moral undergirding of a culture is the transition period.  More specifically, it is the transitional period of which the rewriters are part of that is most problematic.  How to explain adequately that there has been a massive change, and that people were a part of things before the change as well as after the change?  That they were more or less happy with things in the past but now are compelled to say that those things were bad and wrong.  How to reconcile how things – and we – used to be, with how things and ourselves are now perceived to be?  There is a strong temptation to defensiveness, an attempt to filter history in such a way as to show that the ideas and themes that are championed today were actually there all along if we just had eyes to see them, or people to tell us that this is what was really happening.  What results is a type of historical revision, and the awkward part is that there are people around who know that this is a load of mule muffins.

Case in point, Lando Calrissian.  For those of you who didn’t grow up with Star Wars as part of your cultural fabric, Lando is the dashing rogue turned hero who appears in The Empire Strikes Back, portrayed by Billy Dee Williams.  I never understood why he didn’t get more of a prominent place in the franchise, but I guess if you wait long enough and sell off the rights to the franchise, eventually someone will come around to exploring those overlooked characters more.  And so it is that Calrissian will have a role in the new Han Solo spin-off movie, although played by a different and younger actor.

Fair enough.

Except that the original Calrissian is, at least in the eyes of some, being rewritten into something he never was – a hero/icon/whatever for the LGBT community.  And the guy trying to do the rewriting is a venerated veteran of the Star Wars community – Lawrence Kasdan.  In a recent interview Kasdan claims that Lando is a pan-sexual, someone who is not limited to sexual preferences and practices regarding “biological sex, gender, or gender identity”.  Kasdan claims that not only the new portrayal of Lando but also Williams’ original portrayal lead us towards this conclusion.  Kasdan is not speaking authoritatively – he doesn’t get to arbitrarily dictate the canon of Star Wars, but he carries a lot of weight.

The problem is, regardless of how the new movie portrays Lando, there’s nothing in the original character’s portrayal in 1980 that would lead us to this conclusion at all.  By revisiting a character and redefining him now according to popular ideas, there is the assumption that we can cast these ideas back to the original character.

Except you can’t.

I remember Lando.  I remember thinking he was dashing and handsome and charming – all characteristics that came into full play only with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).  Lando and Han (Harrison Ford) were friends, and friends with a long and complicated past to be sure, but there was nothing flirty in their interactions.  The closest you could get to anything like this would be the fact that they hug shortly after reuniting in Bespin.

But that scene clearly is not romantic or erotic in any way.  It’s clear that both of them are somewhat wary of the other, and Han more so of Lando than visa versa.  If you want to get theological, Lando’s hug is a form of Judas kiss, attempting to put Solo at ease while perhaps identifying him to the guards watching who may eventually have to ensure that he does not escape.  There are many nuances which can only be appreciated after the film is over.  But there’s no mistaking this for any sort of sexualized behavior.

But that’s what it has to be in order to be appreciated properly by today’s standards.  So Lando will be rewritten to be sexually ambiguous, which in the process will throw Han’s sexuality into question as well.  What gets undermined is two strong, masculine, heterosexual characters.  What gets undermined is the concept of manly friendship, friendship that can be close and intimate without being sexualized (PLEASE read C.S. Lewis’ marvelous book The Four Loves for a wondrous exposition on the necessity and beauty of such masculine friendship!).  What gets undermined are the role models of previous generations, because now there is guilt associated with cheering them on in their heterosexual appreciation and tug of war over a beautiful woman, a woman also strong enough in her own right to hold her own and seek to maintain a certain element of aloofness and control in the midst of a situation she realizes at a gut level is suspicious.

All of that can be pitched because what we really want to sell today is sexuality and sexuality as unrestricted and self-defined as we feel like it.  In the long run, that sales pitch will become more and more effective as those who lived through the transition – and can thus speak out against the historical revision through first-person experience – die off (or, as has already happened, get cowed into silence by a militant and vocal vanguard for the new order).

I’m not dead yet.  And I haven’t forgotten.  And whatever Kasdan’s personal issues are, and regardless of how the new movie may attempt to redefine the character, Lando will remain for me that original charming and clearly heterosexual man he appeared to be – and which nearly everyone who saw those original movies both wanted him and assumed him to be.  There wasn’t anything wrong with that.  There still isn’t.  Quit trying to rewrite my history – our history – into something else.

 

Cultural Appropriation

May 16, 2018

Much fuss has been made in the past few weeks, both pro and con, over a young woman’s prom dress choice.  A girl in Utah chose a traditional Chinese dress as her prom dress, and after posting pictures online was accused of cultural appropriation, igniting a storm (well, a brief storm) of controversy over whether a non-Chinese person can wear a Chinese dress, which is really just a small scale discussion over whether anyone can utilize anything that is not from their own culture.  It sounds insane, I know.  But people apparently have a lot of time on their hands and they peruse it on their smart phones while they walk and buy groceries, looking for things to be outraged by.  Major news outlets picked up the story, so it must be important, right?

There are, admittedly, some terrible prom dresses out there.  Don’t just take my word for it.  But realize that you can’t unsee some of these things.

It got me thinking about the issue of cultural appropriation, something that has clunked around the back of my brain for decades now, courtesy of one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury.

I’ve written before of his ability to foresee issues that evolved well after the time of his writing.  Brighter readers than myself agree.  But the story that came to the forefront of my mind in regards to this prom dress debacle is one of his more obscure short fiction stories written in 1953 called Sun and Shadow.  I’m not sure if this is a legal online reprint or not, but you can read the story here.

I prefer Bradbury’s treatment of the topic to the Twitter storm associated with the prom dress.  There are related themes but he takes the time to flesh them out a bit, driving the point home solidly in the closing paragraphs.  How easy is it for us to turn locations and people and fashions into backdrops for our own enjoyment?  Very.  So easy, in fact, that I’m not sure it can be avoided.  History is one long cultural appropriation.  From one group to another.  One nation to another.  One continent to another.  And back again.  We are forever taking ideas from other people and other places.  Sometimes it can be done well and beautifully and sometimes it is merely exploitative and tawdry.  But it goes on constantly.

Is it possible in any given instance to give full appreciation to the sources, the founts from which we draw our spur-of-the-moment decisions in fashion or photography or even literature?  I strongly doubt it.  I can hope that it is done well rather than poorly, but beyond that there is no clear way to limit a dress or a photograph.  Movies are rebooting themselves at a dizzying rate.  Everything we do or say is impacted to some degree by everything and everyone we’ve seen or read.

We can get past the potential anger at such appropriation by remembering that the whims of fashion and culture are not purely our own devices, but rather are made possible by so many factors that all ultimately find their anchor in a common Creator.  A Creator who endowed us with great creativity of our own that matches – in an appropriate lesser degree – his own creativity.   I can appreciate a palm tree as well as a fruit tree, a hedgehog as well as a kangaroo.  When I see these as gifts of the Creator rather than some kind of cultural heritage for me to protect from everyone else in the world, it reduces my angst quite a bit.  Likewise, if we can appreciate fashion from China as well as from Mexico, it should be something that elevates and makes all of us better, drawing us closer together rather than providing a point for further dissension and disagreement.  Finally, if I can see even my cultural heritage as a gift rather than as a commodity, this should free me from seeing it as something in need of protection.

As a Christian, should we find it wrong to sing an African spiritual hymn if we’re predominantly a congregation of Western Europeans?  Is it likewise wrong to teach a traditional German hymn to a group of recently baptized Syrian refugees?  Or should we be able to celebrate the creativity of God expressed through a still-very-much-at-work Holy Spirit?  Should we not join hands in repentance as we continue to learn to see God from one another’s perspectives as guided by the Biblical witness?  If this is our goal and methodology, is it possible for us to still see other cultures, other histories, other fashions, other architecture as simply something to exploit for our own benefit or enjoyment or profit?

I think not.