Monday, December 05, 2005

Creation Ex Mater Matrix: The Feminine Sublime in Frankenstein

Seated in the third of our prenatal classes, my wife and I, were watching a video showing the stages of labour. Throughout the video, the group expressed a combination of fascination at the amazing process by which birth would take place, and revulsion over the painful and gory reality of what can be felt and seen within the process. There is definitely an element of the sublime to human birth, and by extension, to life itself. In a body wherein “the circulatory system…is 60,000 miles long” (McCutcheon, 135), the more than 600 bones of which “can withstand stresses of 24,000 pounds per square inch or about 4 times that of steel or reinforced concrete” (127) all wrapped within skin that holds the predominantly liquid form together in what is essentially one piece (141), there are certainly “the features of…obscurity, immense power and vastness in dimension and quality” which Edmund Burke claimed as “the features of objects which evoke sublime horror” (Abrams, 317). It is this aspect of the sublime as it is found (or not found) within Mary Shelley’s “birth myth” (Mishra, 197) of Frankenstein I will discuss in this paper, primarily relating to the absence of creator, both in reference to God and mother.

In The Gothic Flame, Devendra Varma states that “the Gothic novels out of a quest for the numinous” (211). Rudolf Otto speaks of the numinous as the “mysterium tremendum” which is “awe or dread…so overwhelmingly great that it seems to penetrate to the very marrow…” (109). The language of the numinous has a transcendent quality to it, as though the Gothic novel were intended to be a quest to experience the Western Creator God, the very God whom Victor Frankenstein plays at being in constructing his monster. Yet this cannot be the portal for the sublime in Frankenstein, since Shelley’s protagonist sees himself as equal to “a power mighty as Omnipotence,” whom he will not “fear, or…bend before any being less almighty than that which had created and ruled the elements...” (341). It is within the absence, not the presence of numinous that Frankenstein derives its sublime moments, differing from “earlier myths about the human creation of life…in that for the first time life is created by the scientist’s effort alone, without the invocation of God or some super-natural agency” (Padley, 205). Frankenstein utilizes the Gothic sublime, which Vijay Mishra describes as “not a simple aesthetic category arising out of a delight with terror, but as the fundamental faculty of the imagination, which grasps the essence of the Gothic before reason supervenes and effectively silences it.

This act of censorship is precisely what the Gothic refuses to accept, and it is at this point that the Gothic sublime is effectively the subject’s entry into the abyss as it faces the full consequences of the failure to transcend. Where the Romantic sublime, finally, has the triumphant subject, the Gothic sublime is a version of the Lacanian Real as the “embodiment of pure negativity” into which the subject inscribes itself as an absence, a lack in the structure itself (17).

It is Victor’s negation of God as creator which is the first aspect of Mishra’s definition of the sublime as “an absence” in Frankenstein, when he states that “a new species would bless me as its creator” (Shelley, 82). Phrases such as “given life” (104), “infuse a spark of being” (84), and the prominence of the verb “form” all have a mystical quality to them, the last alluding to Adam being formed from clay by God in Genesis. Victor’s monster is sublime because of its progenitor’s “desecration of the processes of creation itself” (Mishra, 220). Yet God is not the only creator whom Victor Frankenstein attempts to displace. Shelley’s text is also about “an ambiguous usurpation of women’s right to reproduce” (206) describing “the monstrosity of unnatural birth, through the exclusion of the mother” (Deleyto, 41).

Before ever setting to work upon the monster, Victor engages in a perverse form of ‘planned parenthood’ where he hesitates “a long time”, weighing the implications of preparing “a frame…with all its intricacies of fibres, muscles and veins,” an endeavour he envisions as a “work of inconceivable difficulty and labour” (Shelley, 82), a work naturally reserved for women. Unlike a woman though, Victor does not bear his progeny within his body, but rather builds the creation “in a solitary chamber, or rather cell…separated from all the other apartments by a gallery and staircase” (83). Unlike a woman, who bears the signs of her condition within her body, Victor’s ‘pregnancy’ is secret, taking place in a “workshop” (83) rather than a womb. Herein is another aspect of the sublime in Frankenstein, again characterized by Mishra’s “absence”, in this case of the mother as creative force.

In her article “Coveting the Feminine”, Diane Negra states that Victor Frankenstein possesses a “profoundly ambivalent view of femininity based on attraction/repulsion” (194). Quoting Hannibal Lecter in the film Silence of the Lambs, Negra connects the horror of Frankenstein not to “anger, social acceptance, sexual frustration” but to the simple statement that “He covets” (193). When Victor states that he “began the creation of a human being” (Shelley, 82), he “invents himself as a literal (and twisted) model of single parenthood, a condition for which there is but one prototype to whose tale he can refer, i.e. Mary, mother of Christ” (Padley, 205). It is within this great breach of the natural order that Shelley is given ultimate permission to “condemn Frankenstein for daring to ‘usurp the power of women’” (Mishra, 200).

This feminine power is the most explicit aspect of the sublime in Frankenstein, since it is also the most “absent”. It is this absence which produces the horror, since Victor’s reaction to his patchwork offspring could hardly be deemed maternal; “…now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (86). As Padley comments:
Everything about the monster’s demeanour – its attentive eyes, its incoherent noises, its uncertain smile, its reaching hand—likens it to a helpless human baby, yet Frankenstein, when forced to engage with such a potent and distorted image of his own creativity, turns on his heel and runs away. (204)
Later on, the creature will ponder, “where were my friends and relations? No father had watched my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses” (Shelley, 149).

While it is useless to ponder whether a female Victor (Victoria?) would have “blessed” the monster with “smiles and caresses”, it is impossible to overlook “the relationship between art and childbirth” in the life of Mary Shelley, since she “was pregnant much of the time while Frankenstein was being written…and had already experienced the death of a premature child in 1815 and the birth of another, though not premature, in January 1816” (Mishra, 192). In a patriarchal society, wherein Shelley would have been “bereft of power” condemned to “the role of the passive ‘transcriber’”, Frankenstein acts to communicate “the female sublime that cannot be divorced from a woman’s body itself, blood, tissues, childbirth and all” (201) by bringing attention to its absence through the loud desecration Victor Frankenstein’s progeny represents.

This absence is made all the more stark when one considers Padley’s assessment of Victor as creator, comparing the fictional scientist to Professor Gunther von Hagens, whose controversial Body World exhibition displayed “26 complete human corpses and 180 separate body parts…preserved by ‘Plastination’” a procedure whereby “the assorted carcasses were rendered sufficiently rigid to be free standing, yet flexible enough to be manipulated into almost any position.” (196). Padley states that “neither of these men deserve the title of ‘Creator’ (they have not created Something from Nothing)” (198). And while a woman does not create a child ex nihilo either, “that humans and other species have been created and continued to exist is, from its scientific sense, conceptually sublime” (200). The absence which creates the Gothic sublime in Frankenstein rests within the human body, be it created by God or birthed by woman; “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (New International Version, Psalm 139:13-14).

Works Cited
Abrams, M.H. and Geoffrey Galt Harpham. “Sublime.” A Glossary of Literary Terms Boston: Thomson Wadsworth, 2005. 316-319.
Deleyto, Celestino. “Women and Other Monsters: Frankenstein and the Role of the Mother in El espíriu de la colmena.” Bulletin of Hispanic Studies. 76 (1999): 39-51.
McCutcheon, Marc. The Compass in Your Nose and Other Astonishing Facts about Humans. Los Angeles, Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1989.
Mishra, Vijay. The Gothic Sublime. Albany : State University of New York Press, 1994.
Negra, Diane. “Coveting the Feminine: Victor Frankenstein, Norman Bates and Buffalo Bill.” Literature Film Quarterly, 24 (1996): 193-200.
Otto, Rudolf. “The Idea of the Holy.” Theory and Method in the Study of Religion: A Selection of Critical Readings. Ed. Carl Olson. Toronto, Ontario: Thomson Wadsworth, 2003. 107-119.
Padley, Jonathan. “Frankenstein and (sublime) creation.” 9 Romanticism. (2003): 196-212.
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein: the original 1818 text. Ed. D.L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 1996.
Varma, Devendra P. The Gothic flame : being a history of the Gothic novel in England : its origins, efflorescence, disintegration, and residuary influences. London : A. Barker, 1957.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Ambiguity and Architecture: Why Something Being So Wrong is So Right in the Fantastic

Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer commented that “architecture, more than any of the arts, is the most susceptible to the hazards of nature, time and man,” and that “for all its apparent sturdiness and supposed permanence” is actually, “relatively frail” (6). In relating this reality of the second law of thermodynamics to what Jack Morgan refers to as sinister loci (189), where “deteriorating place speaks emphatically of organic deterioration in general” (184), there emerges an essential application of the dwelling as a device for the fantastic. In this paper I will demonstrate how both Freud and Todorov’s definitions of the fantastic are enabled through the use of architecture in fantastic literature.

Dale Bailey notes that “in few other genres does setting play such a significant and defining role” (4). An implicit connection in Alok Bhalla’s The Cartographers of Hell, provides an interesting impetus for why setting is accorded such importance in the fantastic. He states that “Gothic novels are often constructed out of a series of fragmentary tales of agony and decay told by a variety of narrators” on the same page where the Talmud is quoted as saying, “Demons are fond of assembling in ruins” (39). By means of an illustration, take the challenge to imagine substitutions for classic gothic settings, such as “Jonathan Harker imprisoned in Count Dracula’s suburban Cape Cod” concluding that “the pendulum just isn’t the same without the pit” (Bailey, 4). It is more than just the obviously disturbing quality of the Gothic castle’s “awesome antiquity, vast distances and ramblings, deserted or ruined wings, damp corridors, unwholesome hidden catacombs and galaxy of ghosts” which serve to make it “a nucleus of suspense and daemoniac fright” (Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror, 25). It should also be noted that while I have only referenced the Gothic castle, our discussion includes all manner of ‘bad places’ such as “adamentine cathedrals, ruined monasteries, sepulchral vaults of the Inquisition, feudal mansions, and gloomy convents” (Bhalla, 84). While these familiar elements of sinister loci have an immediate aspect of menace, there is a deeper underlying cause for their recurrence, adaptation and modification in the history of fantastic literature.

Christopher Bollas notes that “the world of architecture…and the world of psychoanalysis…intersect” (28). Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space proposed “a new field of investigation…that would be attuned to the way architecture and space affect…inner psychological states” (Kaufman, 59). Even as I write this paper, surrounded by the noise of busy building contractors, I am acutely aware of how psychologically unsettling it is to have one’s home in a state of renovation or disrepair, where things are not as they ought to be. Referencing Freud’s essay on The Uncanny, Maria Tartar shows how the German word heimlich, which can be taken to mean “belonging to the home”, and unheimlich, which is commonly translated in Freud as “uncanny” relate the literature of the fantastic to the concept of home as a place of “domestic comfort” (170). Morgan notes that “in this etymology, the house is the defining symbol of what is right and normal, the violation of which situates primitive anxieties” (183). The settings of fantastic literature, be they the Castle of Otranto, Poe’s house of Usher, Dicken’s collection of bleak houses, Lovecraft’s Witch-House, or King’s Overlook Hotel are all domestic abodes where things are definitely not right and normal, but are rather desecrated spaces “of moral and spiritual desolation…tainted with sin and corruption” (Bhalla, 79).
At the outset of the Gothic, this relationship between architecture and the state of unheimlich manifested in more overtly imposing and ruined structures. As Bhalla demonstrates, “For the Romantic imagination, then, Gothic architecture came to be associated with the sacred, as a place where every gesture was an hierophany” (74), in contrast to the ruin, which would have been “an image charged with religious and ethical valuations which are the inverse of those radiated by the cathedral” (79). The Gothic castle would be interpreted into the Victorian framework of the “architectural canvas of Dickens’ Bleak House, which included a collection of structures representing “the system that contains and connects them all…encompassing the breadth of Victorian society…pervaded by images of darkness at noon and of the vast labyrinth that underpins and connects everyone” (Tropp, 72-73). In more recent treatments such as Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror, the nature of domestic unheimlich is even more subtle, since the houses themselves are not physically in ruins until the close of the story, when the buildings tears themselves to pieces. Dale Bailey conjectures a possible reason for this; to send a mixed message to the middle class consumers of both the Amityville novel and film:
"On the one hand, it reassured them that their dream, their American Dream, was safe. Such things only happen in the realm of fiction. On the other hand, it confirmed their very worst fears the American economy was crumbling, and if the demons didn’t get you, the IRS surely would.” (66)
One is reminded of Jesus’ word picture of the spiritual state of the scribes and Pharisees being “like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (King James Bible, Matt. 23:29) It also demonstrates that the sense of unheimlich comes from more than physical deconstructions. It is also manifest in the ambiguity of the outer façade of a dwelling, “insofar as it demarcates and isolates the malefic region in a particularly adequate way” (Lévy, 38). Or to put it in more banal terms, “what takes place within the four walls of a house remains a mystery to those shut out from it” (Tartar, 169).

This ambiguity brings us to Todorov’s definition of the fantastic, where “the possibility of a hesitation” between natural and supernatural causes “creates the fantastic effect” (26). A dwelling is a constructed barrier between those within and those without. To those on the outside, there is an ambiguity about what goes on within. Even to those within, there are barriers between rooms and in the spaces between walls, like the room Walter Gilman rents in Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch-House”: “The darkness always teemed with unexplained sound—and yet he sometimes shook with fear lest the noises he heard should subside and allow him to hear certain other fainter noises which he suspected were lurking behind them” (324).

Though both the ambiguity of structural barriers and the unheimlichkeit of sinister loci in their various manifestations, we can see how architecture readily serves the aspect of the fantastic in literature. As Christopher Bollas notes, “The work of the architect, then, involves important symbolic issues of life and death. Demolishing the existent structure to make way for a new one plays upon our own senses of limited existence and foretells our own ending” (29). Through the anthropomorphized space of the sentient or haunted house, we are provided with tales that speak to our own ruin, our own psychological cellars, and our own too familiar obeisance to the law of entropy.


Bailey, Dale. American Nightmares: The Haunted House Formula in American Popular Culture. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999.

Bhalla, Alok. The cartographers of hell : essays on the Gothic novel and the social history of England. New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1991.

Bollas, Christopher. “Architecture and the Unconscious.” International Forum of Psychoanalysis. 9 (2000): 28-42.

Kaufman, Eleanor. “Living Virtually in a Cluttered House.” Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities. 7 (2002): 159-169.

Lévy, Maurice. Lovecraft: A Study in the Fantastic. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1988.

Lovecraft, H. P. “The Dreams in the Witch-House.” The dream cycle of H.P. Lovecraft : dreams of terror and death. New York: Ballantine Books, 1995, 324-355.

Lovecraft, H. P. Supernatural Horror in literature. New York: B. Abrahamson, 1945.

Morgan, Jack. The biology of horror: Gothic literature and film. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press) 2002.

Pfeifer, Bruce Brooks. Introduction. Frank Lloyd Wright: Master Builder. Ed. David Larkin and Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer. New York: Universe Publishing, 1997, 6-9.

Tatar, Maria M. “The Houses of Fiction: Toward a Definition of the Uncanny.” Comparative Literature. 33, (1981) 167-182.

Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Cornell University Press, 1975.

Tropp, Martin. Images of Fear: How Horror Stories Helped Shape Modern Culture (1818-1918). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1990.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Batman Begins: Fear and the Five Year Old

Roger Ebert’s “Answer Man” column recently featured a question regarding the new Batman film, “Batman Begins”. The inquiry concerned children attending the film, and stated that “I felt sort for them because the movie contained nothing that might appeal to 8 years and younger” and went on to ask “Aren’t comic books at heart really meant for children?”

I believe that one of the key misunderstandings of raising children in North America is the idea that children must be shielded from experiences or stories which might frighten or disturb them. It is my opinion, which presently remains supported only by anecdotal evidence, that facing fear and pain is a rite of passage all children must undergo in order to become well adjusted adults.

We understand the concept well enough as it relates to everyday pains and fears; a bullying two year old transforms quickly enough into caterwauling victim if their blows are returned, the family cat communicates that it is not a squeeze toy effectively with its claws, we grasp the gravity of looking both ways before crossing the road when we see the devastation an automobile can do to a porcupine pulped on the highway.
When it comes to the fears and pains of the psyche and imagination, we are not so tolerant of letting experience act as the teacher. I experienced this in the life of a young man I babysat as a boy. Around age five and six, he longed for stories and films about dinosaurs, or great disasters, but was prohibited from partaking in this subject matter save in the safest of fashions. An academic approach to these topics was suitable, while watching “Jurassic Park” was not. As an adolescent, he struggled with stuttering and was fearful of new experiences. I wondered if it wasn’t because he’d never had the chance to conquer the fears inside through the stories that frighten.

I’ve noted that many boys in the early elementary grades gravitate toward this subject matter almost independent of their upbringing. It’s why Godzilla captures the imaginations of this age group so well – it’s the perfect combination of the dinosaur/mass destruction idea.

I’m not sure why this is, but I suspect it has to do with the first inklings of mortality. It will be a long time until the child will fully understand that they are indeed, mortal, as the driving habits of most teens will attest, but at the same time as my grandfather passed away, I became infatuated with the sinking of the Titanic, the Hindenburg explosion and other sundry disasters described in a hardcover book I was given for my birthday titled “Disasters of the 20th century.” I was under the impression this was a preoccupation unique to me until I worked as a teacher’s assistant in a grade one classroom.

Books about disasters, volcanoes, and other apocalyptically styled events fascinate the age group. It may even be linked to the desire for dinosaurs, apart from the obvious love for things scaly and slimy at this age. “Look Mike,” one student said, pointing to a picture of a fiery comet hurtling out of a bright blue sky toward unsuspecting stegosauri, “this is how the dinosaurs all died.”

Children also love monsters; the classics are always the best. The Frankenstein monster, Dracula, werewolves and ghosts remain a source of terrible wonder for children. I owned a book of Frankenstein as a child that scared me so bad I was afraid to take it off the shelf. One of my favorite comic books as a kid was a single issue I traded other comics for; the “hero” was “The Tarantula” a spider-creature who preyed upon the criminal element.

As we pass from childhood into adolescence, our fears change and mature. The classic monsters will no longer do; more subtle or shocking fare is required. Teens show their bravado in huddled clusters in darkened theaters or living rooms, challenging themselves to endure films such as “The Exorcist” or “The Ring” or any number of slasher films. No other group is as interested in thrillers and horror as the teenager. The informal ritual of renting a scary movie when parents are away seems to be a rite of passage, wherein young people define themselves.

When I was still in junior high, I read Stephen King’s “Pet Semetary” which so effectively frightened me that I found myself sleeping at the foot of my parents’ bed. Despite the deep fear brought on by the novel, I continued to read King’s works, returning to the source of my terror as it were. Like most teens, I still harbored the vestiges of childhood fears such as the dark, or of being alone in the woods.

Children and young people enjoy being scared. It’s why they ride rollercoasters. It’s a way of testing their limits, metaphorically seeing how far beyond the campfire they can walk on a night when there’s no moon to light the way. When a child or teen is not given the option to test these limits of fear within a safe environment, I believe their growth to maturity is impeded.

Films and books are safe ways for children and young people to test these limits. Too often parents are quick to remove material they believe will frighten their children. I am thankful my parents were brave enough to let me test these boundaries, and caring enough to let me do it while I was still under their roof; they gave me the ability to scare the living hell out of myself, and also the forum in which to discuss it afterwards.

The new Batman film has a lot to offer an eight year old. I wonder if the person who wrote to Ebert actually polled the children they’d see in the theater. While I can’t speak for all children, I know that, while it likely would have frightened me at points, in the same way that seeing the Nazi's dying horrible deaths at the end of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" did, I'd have loved every minute of the overall story.

We all have an innate curiosity to see what lies in the shadows. The irrational fears of childhood are the soul’s nightmare playground to prepare us for the shocks and tremors of adult life.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Indulging a Star Wars fantasy...if only George had talked to me...

Okay, now that I got the really sentimental reflection of Revenge of the Sith out of the way, I can be a little more cynical. Now that I know how George Lucas did the prequels, I’d like to indulge myself in a little fantasy where Lucasfilms approaches me in the mid 90’s to help write the prequels.

Now I have my issues with Return of the Jedi as well, but I was still in elementary school when it came out. I likely wouldn’t have been much help. But in the mid-90’s I was old enough to be writing, and while I make no claim that I would have done a better job, since that’s far too subjective a categorization, I’d like to enunciate what I would have done different. This is not meant as disrespect to the work of George Lucas. Sooner or later, someone will remake these films, and when they do, I hope they give me a call, not because I hate them, but because I love them!


1. Inasmuch as I thought Jar Jar was funny, he’s unnecessary. Let’s face it, Jar Jar was an experiment on the part of ILM to try making a completely CGI character who shares a lot of screen time with real actors. The Gungans are fine, but Jar Jar goes.

2. Darth Maul should have been around a lot more and presented a greater threat. He mostly looked cool and then got hacked in half. Knowing where the series heads, I would have suggested that you go ahead and let Obi Wan beat the shit out of Maul in Episode I, but that he then get rebuilt as General Greivous for Episode II, giving us even more of the prototype concept of Darth Vader. More on this idea in Episode II.

3. No midi-chlorians. Annakin’s immaculate conception does not need an explanation. You don’t need to have little scanners to tell you how high his midi-chlorian count is. You just need his mom to tell us that she conceived without any male assistance. Mystery is a good thing, and the Force always works better as a mystery.

4. Annakin would have been played by the same actor from the get go. No little kid to start with. I know this complicates the Jedi thing a little, but I’m pretty sure this could have been skirted by having him display some Jedi-abilities in a ‘wilder’ sort of fashion. A young teen podracing seems a lot more feasible. Never mind that it doesn’t leave a huge age gap between him and Padme.

5. Everything else about Episode I is fine. I think it was a good start that needed a few revisions.


1. Where do I start? In a nutshell, I’d have tossed everything about this film except the fact that Annakin and Padme fall in love, and Palpatine ascends to power in the Senate.

2. So essentially, keep the basic story arc but ditch Dooku. Maul as Grievous would have been a better idea. Also, don’t waste your time with Jango Fett. Go straight to Boba. Redeem the galaxy’s most notorious bounty hunter by explaining his untimely demise in the Sarlaak pit at the hands of a blind man as old age! If Boba Fett was in his prime here, then we have a reason why he was such an inept bumbler in the original trilogy. Of course, then Mace Windu wouldn’t have had his cool decapitation moment, but that scene would never have taken place in my version because…

3. I’d introduce the whole clone deal in the opening roll-up. No need to make this army secret. If it’s going to stop the Trade Federation, go ahead and clone an army already! Then, the movie could have started in the middle of the Clone Wars.

4. Throughout this picture, Palpatine would have poisoned Obi Wan’s words in Annakin’s ear, breeding the suspicion and contempt necessary for Annakin’s final transformation in Episode III. This would have eliminated the nag Obi Wan was in Ep2 and helped develop Palpatine as a threat earlier.

5. I would have really played up an element of Jedi arrogance, so that the lie that the Jedi wanted to overthrow the Senate would have a kernel of truth to it.

6. Basically, I’d have done the first half of Sith as the last half of Clones, complete with Padme announcing she’s pregnant. The movie would have ended with the same way the original Clones did, on Naboo with Annakin and Padme wondering about their future.


1. This film would pick up 7-8 months after the last, with only weeks before Padme is to give birth. Seeing as I’ve taken the first half of this film and made it into another movie, how would I start here? I’d begin with the start of the betrayal of the Jedi, where Obi Wan and Mace Windu are away on a mission and Palpatine has ordered their assassination, at the hands of Boba Fett leading a group of clones. They survive, of course, but are stranded on the far side of the galaxy. Why isn’t Annakin there? Because he’s laying his mother to rest on Tattooine, where she has died of natural causes. Yoda still gives the everybody dies speech, but that’s not good enough for Annakin.

2. Thus, Palpatine’s promise of power to prevent death becomes a speech woven into the prophecy. “I’m the chosen one and I couldn’t save her,” might be the tag line for Annakin. Palpatine invokes the prophecy but twists it, asking how he can possibly bring balance to the force and wield the sort of power necessary to preserve life when he doesn’t know anything about the dark side. How can he bring balance if he only knows the one side?

3. If I have any beef with Sith, its there. Annakin’s choice to go to the dark side should have had a more noble motivation. If Annakin is persuaded to dabble in the Dark Side to bring the balance the prophecy states he should bring, then his fall is all the more tragic--as Aristotle said, real tragedy is the result of hamartia, the fatal flaw that is linked to virtue, not vice. Annakin initially refuses, but when Padme falls ill and her fate and his children’s are at stake, Annakin attempts to bring balance. Of course, he fails, and is more possessed by the dark side than Sith implied.

4. Struggling to regain his control, Annakin goes to Palpatine for assistance, only to find the Jedi there to “bring him in”based on Annakin’s accusations, ala the actual film. The seeds of Palpatine’s lies going all the way back to Episode II come to fruition and the scene is played out largely the way it occurs in Ep3.

5. The rest of the film is, as I’ve said, pretty damn good as it is. I wouldn’t make any changes beyond there, save maybe to show Yoda arriving on Dagobah. But maybe that’s in the special edition.

Now there’s a thought that makes me smile. The minor plot holes of Episode 3 may be the result of the dastardly cutting room floor. Here’s hoping there’s as many deleted scenes for Sith as there were for Clones.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Reflections on Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith

Standing in the line at the theatre, I overhear the ticket clerk asking the guy in front of me “For what movie?”
“I’m finally going to see Star Wars Episode 3,” the guy replies.


At midnight tonight it will only have been a week since Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith was released. I mention the man’s foible to Jenica as we take our seats, but upon reflection, wonder if maybe the word finally was more in reference to how long people who saw Star Wars back in 1977 have been waiting to see the roman numerals preceding the Episode IV: A New Hope.

As a kid I had no concept that the original Star Wars was episode "anything." It was just Star Wars, and I loved it. In my youthful zeal, I collected the cards, the comics, the action figures. I helped bankroll the other films. In so doing, I also learned the origin of Darth Vader. I don’t remember when the revelation came, but I know that by the time Empire Strikes Back was released, we knew that Darth ended up in the suit as the result of an apocalyptic lightsaber battle with Obi Wan Kenobi. The overactive imagination of a creative child wondered at what Darth really looked like under the mask, and what had lead him to become this terrible villain.

I know that’s what I would mean by the word finally. As the 20th Century Fox logo came up and John Williams’ iconic fanfare blared out through technology whose legacy is wrapped up in the history of these films, I pondered that this is finally it. As Darth Vader said to Obi Wan in Star Wars, “The circle is now complete.” It’s been nearly 30 years since I first heard that music and saw that logo. There’s a sense of history here, and I took a moment to reflect upon it.

For my sister and father, there is also a "finally, we get to hear what Mike thinks." We took the Star Wars journey together; our whole family enjoyed the films, but we were the trio who could mimic Yoda and act out the scene where Luke first meets the wizened Jedi Master on Dagobah. I thought of them both many times as I watched the movie, wishing they were there with me. So I’m dedicating this article to the two of them.
So finally then. What did Gotthammer think of George Lucas’ final offering in the Star Wars’ saga?
First off, I’ll say that I enjoyed it. I loved the opening with a massive space battle, something sorely missing from Episode II. The first ten minutes were great fun, before the film settled into the more serious business.

The movie exists in two acts, and while the aforementioned opening of Act I was superb, the remainder vacillated between some of the best moments in the prequels, to the same sort of superfluous action that dominated Attack of the Clones.

The first act concerns the seduction of Annakin to the dark side of the Force; in short, visions of Padme dying in childbirth drive the young Jedi to acquiesce to Palapatine’s offer of power through the dark side. On the surface, this works really well. In fact, if Annakin was the same Jedi we’d left off with in Episode II, I’d have bought it. But the motivation seems strained, given that he’s a really obedient and noble Jedi in most respects. Sure, he’s still angry and headstrong, but he’s not really a bad guy. The transformation from Annakin to Vader was a little too swift, and not entirely convincing for my taste. Even if his action to save Palpatine could be justified as being in the heat of the moment, his subsequent decision to swear allegiance to the flag of the Emperor felt, pardon the pun, forced. I think there were really two films here, and Lucas could have used a lot of it in Clones.

Thankfully, the second act is ushered in with such visual strength that we forget completely that Annakin was ever a good guy, that he used to be a cute kid who pod-raced on Tatooine, or that he ever told Obi Wan that he was thankful for all his teaching. Herein lies Lucas’ trump card: like David Lynch, Lucas excels at making great images, not stories: I wondered if, between the scene where Annakin and Padme are shown awash in a palette of warm colors watching the sun set on Coruscant, and the montage of the Jedi massacre, Lucas wouldn’t have done better with no dialogue whatsoever in this film. The movie is often at its strongest when we’re left with nothing but the image and John Williams’ soundtrack, which blends the best themes of the prequels and original films to masterpiece effect.

If all there was to Sith was the second act, it would be a ten. Once Annakin becomes Vader, the film never falters. The questions of motivation are laid aside as the movie begins to gain inertia towards the inevitable. My objections to lack of motivation are cast aside given the Wagnerian scope of the final battles, primarily between Obi Wan and Vader.

I don’t know that I could say I love this film. How can you love a film where the hero will shortly be a villain? I’m not sure I love any of the prequels like I love the original trilogy. But there have been elements about them I love, and that remains true here as well. I love Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobi, a combination of the heroic youth from Episode I and the wise old man Alec Guinness immortalized. I love Ian McDiarmad as the Emperor, serpentine and deadly. I love the way General Grievous foreshadows Vader, and I loved how dangerous a villain he was, triple the threat Count Dooku ever was, or while we’re on the subject, Boba Fett.
There are still many things to pick at, but that has been part of the Star Wars legacy since Return of the Jedi for me. Anyone who’s been subjected to my tirade on Ewoks will know what I’m talking about. At the end of the day, it’s George Lucas’ movie, and while I didn’t like everything on the tour, I have to say the journey was well worth it.

I wasn’t as sad as I thought I’d be at the end, which is Lucas’ bow to us as fans at curtain call. Following the entombment of Annakin within the death’s head mask of Darth Vader, we are given a vision of the Death Star under construction, foreboding the “dark times” Obi Wan will one day speak of to Luke. But then, in all the digital glory that ILM can muster, we see doomed Alderaan, where the Organas cradle an infant Leia. We are then treated to what is the most powerful homage to the original film the prequels provided. When Obi Wan leaves Luke with Owen and Beru, they are standing in the same spot Luke stands at the outset of Star Wars, watching the Twin Suns of Tatooine set.

For me, this was more than just a film experience; it’s a reflection upon my life, from the first time I saw Star Wars in a theater in Penticton BC in the summer of 1977, followed by the days when I imagined myself as Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, playing in my living room while the soundtracks spun on the turntable; of standing outside the theater in Medicine Hat with my sister, waiting to get in for our eleventh viewing of Empire; of reading the comics and books; growing up and growing a little distant, the toys sold and the comics lost, until my college roommate watched Empire Strikes Back nearly every day for a month, and spoke Wookie to a cashier at McDonald’s; until the Special Editions were released in theatres and I sat beside a woman who’d never seen Star Wars before, granting me a window I’d never had into how funny the droids are, or how gripping the story is. Of flying an X-wing of my own, playing Rogue Squadron on the N64, staying up late with friends to get the knack of flying a snow speeder around an AT-ATs legs in order to bring them down. Of seeing Episode I and experiencing some of that initial excitement all over again as an adult; disappointed with moments during the prequels, but glad to have the franchise back. And now, at the end of the road, looking back, I realize that for my generation, we can probably tell you what year it was by which Star Wars movie we were seeing that year.

I think that’s why many of us will love Revenge of the Sith, not necessarily because we love the movie itself, but because we love where the story has taken us. Being at the end of a journey means you can look back on it, and say, "Finally."

So, kudos, and thanks George. It’s been a great journey.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Counter culturalism and the Reckoning

The concept of being counter culture has been on my mind a lot this past week. I’d have to say there’s always a thread of it weaving through everything I work on, but sometimes the thread becomes something greater and larger. The creek floods to a torrent, and it preoccupies me.

It started on Monday morning when I took my mother-in-law to the airport. The night before, she lead a discussion at the Gathering, the creative church community we belong to, from a video series we’re going through. Being counter-cultural stood at the center of the discussion, and given that she’d had time to process, she had come to a conclusion concerning what makes the Gathering counter cultural.

“We’re counter-cultural as it relates to the church,” she told me. “But we’re not really counter culture to the world around us.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard her speak a truth so clear. The reality of that statement became galvanized in an instant, all the little suspicions and ponderings that I do about the group of people at the Gathering, wondering what sort of Christianity we’re producing there. The statement rang so true I contemplated it all the way home from the airport. And I’ve been contemplating it ever since.

Last night Jenica and I watched a little known film called “The Reckoning”, which dealt with both the concept of being simply counter-church-culture and being genuinely counter-culture in a broader sense.

The story of the Reckoning is set in medieval England, and concerns a priest running from his past played by Paul Bettany, who joins a troupe of actors lead by Martin, played by Willem Dafoe. When the actors cannot travel to their appointed destination due to a washed out bridge, they are forced to detour, and sojourn at a small outpost in the English countryside. There, they witness the trial of a woman wrongly accused of murder.
Martin uses the opportunity of being stuck at the outpost as a means to finally put on a play that isn’t Biblical in origin. He wants to make a play about the same issues the medieval miracle plays were concerned with, but using everyday events to convey these truths. He believes that one day all plays will be done in this fashion. Some of the actors are dubious about this approach, stating that the pope has not sanctioned the use of such plays.

When the group performs the play, it brings out the dark truth beneath the false accusation which has condemned a woman to death. The sheriff of the outpost orders the actors out by sunrise or their lives are forfeit. The actors leave, but the priest remains. Along the road, the rest of the troupe are faced with the question the Gathering and many ‘culturally relevant’ Christians like myself need to ask; are you just counter-cultural to the church, or are you counter cultural where it actually matters?

To put on a play that breaks the tradition of the medieval miracle plays is simply counter to the prevalent church culture of the day. Many Emergent church movements excel in this area. They’re made up of people who blend in well with the culture around them, which offends the sensibilities of the Evangelical sub-culture. In my own case, I blend in so well people are surprised to find out I’m a Christian. They’re expecting something more clean-cut and less crass.

At the Gathering we pride ourselves in not being like other churches. We’re like postmodern reformers looking for our Wittenberg door. We revel in the freedom of the apostles, and the radical grace of Christ.
But I ask myself…now that we’ve separated ourselves from what we didn’t like about Church, when are we going to get around to being as diligently antagonistic about the things that ought to offend us in the world around us? We’re not involved in any social justice activity, and none of us are advocates for much besides our favorite music, movie or brand of beer.

This isn’t to say I want us to turn into sign-waving fanatics. I don’t think that helps much. But in watching the film last night, I wondered, what’s the truth the Gathering is ready to die for? You see, when the counter-church-culture play prompts genuine counter cultural action, a sacrifice becomes necessary. A sacrifice of life, or money, or reputation. We can spit in the face of the church and be pleased when what we deem as Christian poster children are offended by us, but we seem to pander to the rest of the world, not wanting to offend any of them.

All we seem to be good at taking a stand for is the use of pop culture in sermons, loud music in worship, and drinking in social gatherings. I’m wondering if I really take a stand for anything important anymore. How am I transforming the society around me?

I know that I’ve been able to redeem a lot of popular culture by incorporating it into the liturgical elements of what I do both at the Gathering and when I’m speaking on the road. But what about being transformative in my relationships, or transformational in changing the world, piece by piece by getting involved with some kind of social justice action?

Don’t get me wrong; I think it’s valuable to question what we’re doing in church, and reassess. I’m not advocating for people giving up on Emergent models. But in the case of the Gathering, we need to go beyond being counter-church-culture, and find out what it means for the Emergent church in Canada to be counter-Canadian-culture.

I’m pretty sure it has a lot to do with consumerism, and how we treat the environment. And I think for all Christians, it has to do with how we treat fellow students, or co-workers, or the lady counting pennies in the lineup in front of us at the grocery store. For me, the question plaguing me is, “how is a Christian to be set apart from the world while still living in it and being part of it?”

I don’t want to reduce this to some pat formulaic set of rules, but I have set out to grab hold of counter-cultural endeavors in the spirit of Christ, one item at a time. I’ve noticed that there’s nothing counter-cultural about the way I spend my money, and so I’ll be thinking through how I can go about changing that.

What’s your counter-culture move?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Review: Blade Trinity

"How can he say that with a straight face?" my wife asked me after Wesley Snipes delivers one of the many abysmal one-liners David Goyer cooked up for him. In addition to all the really bad one-liners Blade utters, there are nearly every action movie and vampire movie cliche in the book. I'm going to rate Blade:Trinity in a blow by blow fashion, giving and taking away points for the final rating. So far the movie's sitting at 9 (10 less the one point) for all of the really bad dialogue that everyone but Ryan Reynolds is forced to find a way to deliver.

Second demerit - crappy death scene for Kris Kristofferson as Blade's mentor, Whistler. Here's a character who's made it through the first two films in the series only to get blown up offscreen. The only reason I was 100% sure that he was dead was that Blade throws his head back and delivers a REALLY BAD cry of outrage, which Jessica Biel later imitates...more on that in a moment. Down to 8 points.

Third demerit - the title. If Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds were the only people Blade joined up following Whistler's death then, yes, it would be a trinity. But they aren't the only ones. They join up with a whole team of them. So instead of trying to be clever with the title by using 'trinity' to mark it as the third film, just call it Blade 3. Anything else, given that there isn't really a trinity until the last 30 minutes of the movie is pretentious.
Fourth demerit - Dracula looks like a steroid monkey. Or at the very least, a pro athlete who's no longer in the game. And they keep calling him "Drake" because apparently that's what he calls himself now. Maybe its just me, but if that "make up your own name" didn't work for Prince, why would it work for a vampire who's been called Dracula for over 100 years thanks to Bram Stoker's book? I just couldn't buy it. So, basically, I think the Big Bad sucked Big Time in this movie. Bad acting, Bad sword fighting, Bad look...and not at all scary. Just really big. Too big for Dracula in my mind. Or Drake. Or whatever the hell he calls himself.
Fifth demerit - All the cliches. Big ol' stack of them. Huge. Stack. Of. Cliches. Too many to list. Sadly, I found out that Goyer wrote the first two movies, so I'm really confused as to where this one went so terribly wrong. He was also involved in working on the screenplay for one of my favorite films of all time, Dark City. Maybe he did this one in his spare time. Or maybe he was busy working on the screenplay for "Batman Begins". I'm scared now. Scared to go see a comic book movie, because if this is the tripe that Goyer's chunking out now...oy. And I watched the "extended version" so you can't even claim that all the good parts ended up on the cutting room floor. So I'm going to go ahead and take away TWO points because apparently Goyer can do better.

So there's the final score. 6 demerits. The film gets to retain the rest of its points simply on the basis that the fight scenes are still cool, albeit laced with some of the crappiest CGI I've seen on the big screen. Some moments looked so much like a video game I was scrambling for the controls.

The only thing that makes this movie worth a rental is Ryan Reynolds as one of Blade's supposed "Trinity." He's great at delivery the wise-ass remarks and acts as comedy relief with all the aplomb one could given the rest of the script. He's good looking and well-built. This guy needs a good solid script, the kind of thing that "Speed" was for Keanu. I sure hope his agent can find him one; in the meantime, I'll check him out in Amityville and hope it doesn't stink as much as Blade: Trinity did.

Friday, April 22, 2005


I had my first encounter with Dirk Pitt when I was in grade one. My teacher, Mr. Compton, was seated at his desk with his feet up, chair tilted back, reading a paperback novel while we were hard at work. I had finished the assignment and wandered over to ask him what to do next. I approached his desk, perplexed by the image on the paperback of something shooting up amidst a fantastic spray of water. I read the title.

“Something” the Titanic. Rise the Titanic? No, Raise the Titanic!

I knew what the Titanic was, hence why I could recognize that word before “raise”, which is really beyond a grade one vocabulary unless you’re me and had tried tackling the novelization of Star Wars earlier that year. The Titanic was a sticker in my book on ships; a ship that had sunk when struck by an iceberg. My burgeoning male psyche reveled in disaster; from the destruction of Japan in Godzilla movies to the explosion that consumed the Hindenburg, I was interested. So I was very interested in what Mr. Compton was reading.
Sadly, my attempt at reading Star Wars was a big enough failure to inform me I likely wouldn’t be reading Raise the Titanic any time soon. It would be another three years before I owned my own copy. It wasn’t hard to find, seeing as the movie adaptation was released that year. It featured the same cover art that Mr. Compton’s had, though I really liked my sister’s copy better, a dark blue monochrome of submersibles playing their lights across the surface of the ruined ship. I liked any picture of the titanic. My copy only had the stern rocketing up out of the water.

We each had our own copy because we were voracious readers, although my sister had two years on me in reading comprehension. As a result, she got to the part where the Russians threaten to cut off the femme fatale’s breast first. Deanna was always a more sensitive soul than I was in this regard. Gore never bothered me much. She quailed at the story of Solomon ordering the bifurcation of the baby claimed by two different mothers. I used to sit and look at the picture of Goliath getting a rock sunk in his frontal lobe with awe and wonder.

It would be another five years or so until I’d get to read that part. In addition to the threatened mastectomy, the book featured more coarse language than I’d ever laid eyes upon. Someone always seemed to be saying the “f-word” as we called it in those days. Raise the Titanic! went on the banned reading list in our house.
A note about that movie adaptation before I continue. I remember that Obi-Wan Kenobi was in it. And I remembered that the Titanic did indeed, get raised. Nothing else about the film was memorable. I don’t think the Russians threatened any mutilation. And above all, when I got around to reading Raise the Titanic! as a teenager and realized that Dirk Pitt was the hero, I couldn’t remember for the life of me who played him in the film.

It turns out it was Richard Jordan, who looks and acts nothing like Dirk Pitt. Clive Cussler, the author of Raise the Titanic! was so disappointed with the film adaptation that he vowed to never again allow one of his books to be made into a movie.

Somewhere along the way to 2005 he caved, but only with the proviso that nothing got done without his permission. Hollywood got tired of waiting for Clive to approve the perfect script, and went ahead and made Sahara, another novel that Dirk Pitt is the hero of.

Because Dirk is the hero of the lion’s share of Clive Cussler novels. After I read Raise the Titanic!, I read the rest of the books about Dirk Pitt that were available back then. Dirk joined the long list of my fictional heroes; Conan, Doc Savage, Superman, Mack Bolan, Wolverine…the list goes on, but unlike Conan or Superman, I kind of thought “I could be like Dirk.” He was an attainable hero goal (or at least I was naieve enough to think so at the time), especially since I usually read those novels in the heat of summer and could go swimming (All of Dirk's adventures are related to being under or on the water).

I had though the same thing about Doc Savage, and as a result was doing an exercise program about the same time my parents made Dirk verboten. Doc was a great hero for a kid or a young teen, but Dirk was the hero for a guy looking to become a man.

Dirk is a "man’s man," as the opening lines from What Women Want describe one. He smokes cigars, drinks hard liquor, has a great tan, wavy hair, chicks dig him and he’s tough as nails. He’s cavalier and yet compassionate. He’s intelligent but not a pedant. And most importantly, he lives a life of adventure.
And adventure is what Sahara is all about. It’s the sort of adventure that was in vogue in the mid to late 80’s, with treasures to be found and villains without any real political affiliation to be fought. In Dirk’s universe, bad guys are bad and good guys are good (but not too good) and Dirk takes it all in with a sly grin.

I’ve read some of the reviews for Sahara by Cussler purists. They likely think the old man has a leg to stand on in holding a grudge against the filmmakers. It goes without saying that Steve Zahn looks nothing like the Al Giordano of the books, but he sure makes a great comedic counterpart to Matthew McConaughey as Dirk. And while some people don’t like Matthew's portrayal, I think he’s perfect. He’s got the build and the tan and the wry smile, and above all…he’s got the wavy hair. Dirk has wavy hair. Something a guy with natural curl likes in a hero. After years of trying to get my naturally curly hair to look like Tintin’s, Dirk was a godsend. Furthermore, for those who don't like Matthew as Dirk, I have two words for you. Richard. Jordan.

I'm really hoping Sahara opens the door for a Clive Cussler film franchise, because I'm sick to death of James Bond, and Jack Ryan can often be a bit of a bore, and I'm not into Jason Bourne's grim universe where no one ever smiles and the hero never gets to drop a one-liner. I like the universe Dirk Pitt inhabits. It just looks like everyone is having a good time. Someone needs to go tell Clive that's the whole point, is to have a good time. Mr. Cussler, I had a great time reading your books, but I really liked the movie too. Now get over it. I have three words for you. Raise. The. Titanic.

If I haven't been plain enough, let me give you another example. For everyone who whined about Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings, I have a VHS copy of an old Ralph Bakshi flick I can lend you.
If you’re looking for mindless adventure that’s just a good time with no real pretense at being anything more than those things…go see Sahara. Or read any of Cussler’s novels. They won’t change your life, but they’re excellent page turning thrillers, so long as you don’t mind a whole lot of convenient coincidences, the proliferate use of the “f-word” and the occasional damsel in distress.

Just don’t tell my mom I told you to. I don't think she knows I got that second copy of Raise the Titanic!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Sin City as Secondary World

I can’t imagine that any of the Christian movie parable sites are using Sin City this month. I can’t imagine any of them ever will, except for maybe those radicals over at Hollywood Jesus. Anyone who can get spiritual content from American Pie has a radar that sees Jesus everywhere.
For the average Evangelical Christian viewer, Sin City is just way too violent, smutty and dark. It’s the first film where I could say I say more than one castration. It’s the first film I’ve seen in ages that featured as much skin as bold a fashion. So for the majority of Christians, I think you should just stop reading this review at this point, and hear me say loud and clear, “You people should not see this movie.” Oh. And my mom too. My mom should NOT see Sin City.
With that out of the way, let me tell you why I rated it a ten and would not only see it again, but plan on owning it.
I can digress to a number of reviewers across the web to disseminate the information concerning the artistic merit of the film. Much has already been said about artistic vision, Rodriguez’ integrity to the source material and its creator, the high caliber of actors and their performances and all the other things that make this a great movie; I would only be restating what’s already been overstated.
But I know what people will be wondering. How can I justify enjoying the viewing of a movie such as this?
I’m not sure my agenda would ever be to justify it. I don’t know why we have to constantly go around justifying everything. Especially in a world where Christians support the NFL without justification. So I won’t justify it.
I will attempt to explain it a little.
It has to do with that Secondary Worlds concept I explored in an article a while back. Seeing Sin City crystallized a new Cinemaprophecy concept for me; it’s all about the secondary world.
Secondary worlds aren’t exclusive to the fantasy genre. I would propose that every work of fiction creates a secondary world of sorts. Morality becomes defined within the context of the story being told. The morality of Sin City is not our everyday morality, at least not our ideal morality, and thank God for that. However, it may in fact be an amplification of the way we are. When I first started thinking through the extension of the secondary world concept to all fiction, I realized that in and of itself, the secondary world premise does not guarantee a morality cogent with our own. But it must have an inner coherence in order to be successful.
The work of Cinemaprophecy becomes then the task of an anthropologist, a linguist, and a sociologist to each and every secondary world the viewer comes into contact with. It is useless to talk about the violence of Sin City as though it is directly related to the violence of the world we live in, because there is no North American city where prostitutes rule the inner city. In real life these relationships and dynamics are more complex. In film they become grossly simplified.
Some stories are very close to being the world of the reader. These, most would argue, are ‘realistic’ stories. But at best, all the fictional world can gain is verisimilitude. To replicate reality would result in a book the length of War and Peace where nothing ever really happens. Stories are always an enterprise of secondary worlds, even when they’re based on fact. Catch Me if you Can, while biographical, moves into the mystical from time to time through the onscreen relationship of Frank Abagnale Jr. and his father, since in real life Frank Sr. was dead shortly after Abagnale ran away. Or take any ‘period’ piece. Even if the replication of that time period is immaculate, it is not the world we presently live in, and as such becomes a secondary world. Fiction can never truly be about the primary world. One might be able to argue that a good deal of non-fiction is involved in the construction of an idealized secondary world that the primary aspires to. Self help books, books about faith practice, the environment, relationships, even travel books with their glossy perfect scenario presentations offer a secondary world to us.
In fiction though, these worlds are more purely distilled. The idea of story is to take us on a journey through this secondary world, not to see that world bleed into our own, although this may be an outcome of cinemaprophecy.
So in the secondary universe of Sin City, where all the priests and nearly all the police are corrupt, Marv is our Don Quixote, tilting at the windmills of his psychotic temper, Gail is King Arthur watching benevolently over her queendom of street walkers, and Hardigan is Christ, taking the blame for a crime he never committed, and sacrificing himself to insure the angelic Nancy Callahan goes free.
It may not be a secondary universe you’re interested in visiting, and as such, you have my blessing to stay out. Just don’t look down your nose at me if I borrow a quote from AC/DC and head down to Sin City.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Same Sex Ads

Last week I got an email from a good and well-meaning friend. It was a forwarded letter from The Canada Family Action Coalition, a group which seeks to “protect traditional family values.” There’s a phrase that gets me nervous right off the starting line. Whose tradition are we talking about? Even allowing for a “Biblical standpoint” is this the family as the North American Evangelical Christian reads into their Bible, or is this the sort of family the Bible actually talks about? Take Abraham’s family as an example; when your wife can’t conceive, use a woman from your household (read ‘family’) as a surrogate to bring forth progeny to carry on the family name. Is that the sort of ‘traditional’ Judeo Christian family the CFAC is talking about?
I’ve put my foot deeply in my bias already. Nevertheless, I’m more than sick and tired of the way in which the ‘family’ has become the fourth member of the Godhead in North America. In the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and the Almighty Family…pardon me, ‘traditional family’; the kind that’s only been around for roughly a century, but is apparently ‘Biblical’.
Anyhow…the email was about Famous Players Theaters reportedly running an ad promoting same sex marriage. I say reportedly because I have to take the CFAC’s word on this one. I myself have seen no such advertisement. Like most emails I get concerning the same sex issue, I was strongly encouraged to contact the powers behind Famous Players and let them know that I think that Famous Players is “using undue influence to unfairly target men, women and children who are not expecting to be accosted with such indoctrination but only want to see a movie."
Now, I’d like to make it clear that I don’t have an answer for the same sex issue. I have several strong opinions based on a mix of my own subjective feelings stemming from my long friendship with a gay man, my religious views based upon current linguistic evidence concerning “what the Bible actually says” (another phrase I’d love to somehow do without) and my stance on the division between church and state. Those have nothing to do with why this email pissed me off.
I couldn’t quite place my finger on it until I was sitting in a movie theater again, waiting for the movie to start. And as the advertisements began to roll, I realized why I had been non-plussed about the email.
The first advertisement was for some car. I don’t remember the make of the car, but it was shiny, and apparently, I need it. We all need it. If we didn’t need it, why else would someone go to the trouble of making such a fine advertisement wherein this vehicle was demonstrating its obvious superiority above other vehicles I couldn’t possibly need as much?
The second advertisement was for the Canadian Armed Forces. The young man doing the voice over (who really ought to quit the Armed Forces and consider a career in doing voice work) informed me that this wasn’t like any other job, which I’m not sure I complete agree with. Having your identity erased so you can become part of a larger, well oiled machine is somewhat like working in fast food, only you don’t get to learn how to utilize weapons of mass destruction. Nevertheless, I’d have to say that it looked like the folks in the Armed Forces were having a really good time rappelling out of helicopters and tracking UFOs on radar screens.
The third advertisement was for Dove’s new “real beauty” campaign. I have nothing sarcastic to say about this advertisement, because not only was it really damn good, but I didn’t have to buy a car when it was over. It features a number of women, with headers that say things like “she thinks she’s fat” or “doesn’t like her freckles” concluding with “let’s tell her she’s wrong.” The whole campaign is about redefining beauty, which I’m totally in support of.
So what’s my point? I didn’t see the same sex ad, so what’s this all about?
I guess I’m wondering where my forwarded email is from some concerned Christian group telling me to contact Famous Players about that car commercial. Where’s the email citing the countless number of verses concerning greed, not trusting in possessions and storing up treasures in heaven with a phone number I can call to protest this consumerist indoctrination?
Or where’s my forwarded email about telling Famous Players I’m sick of propaganda that makes a stint in the Canadian Armed Forces look like an extreme sports outing? Where’s the email that talks about the horrors of war and how we ought, as Christians to be looking toward peaceful solutions to the violence in the world?
And where’s my forwarded email that I can send straight to Dove to applaud their “real beauty” campaign, seeing as the Bible tells us that God judges not the exterior, but the heart of a person, and that virtuous Christian women are beautiful not because of their appearance, but because of the radiance of a godly life?
I’m not going to get those emails, because as usual, North American Evangelicalism has its priorities all screwed up. Boycott first person shooters, because they’ll teach you how to emulate the Columbine shootings; become involved in hockey instead, where you can participate in real violence – you won’t kill anyone, but you’ll learn good fighting skills for when you’re out at the bar after the game kicking the shit out of each other. Don’t read Harry Potter, you’ll open yourself to spiritual oppression, but feel free to shop the mall until you drop, because nothing builds a Christian up like decadent consumerism. And remember everyone, that while it may seem like some catty gossip in your congregation spreading lies and rumors about other members is an awful thing, its not. The real evil we Christians need to oppose is gay people, because apparently they sit around plotting the demise of the ‘traditional family.’
I’ve got news for the people who run CFAC – Jesus didn’t come to bring the ‘traditional family.’ To be truthful, he couldn’t even really be said to have been a strong supporter of ‘family values.’ Making statements like, “Think not that I have come to bring peace to the earth; it is not peace I bring but a sword. I have come to set son against father, daughter against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law; a person’s enemies will be the members of his own household.” Matthew 10:34 When his mother came to visit him during a time of preaching, he dismissed her and his brothers saying, “who is my mother? And who are my brothers?” Or how about this gem in Luke 14: 26-27:“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
Now, before anyone spams me…I’m aware that Jesus was not an enemy of the family. But it doesn’t seem to rate very high on the list for “things needed for the Kingdom.”
North American Evangelicalism, through well meaning groups like CFAC and the famous Focus on the Family, has somehow become synonymous with white picket fences, a happily married couple, two kids and a dog. Yet the founder of this faith called Christianity never married, never made any really strongly supportive statements regarding marriage, never had kids, and never said anything about same sex marriage.
He did, on the other hand, comment on the use of money, how to respond to violence, and the concept that what made a person holy was not what was happening on the exterior.
So all I want to know, is where are those other emails?