Monday, March 20, 2006

Inherit My Wind

Notes I would have given the director of the production of Inherit The Wind that I saw this weekend, had the director asked:

Brady, the prosecuting attorney, didn't get where he is simply by being loud and pious. He got there by knowing how to assure roomsful of people that he loves them with a Godly love. He got there by being charming. He got there by knowing how to crack jokes on the fly. Right now it seems like the community loves him because the script says so. Lets see him earn that love; this actor can do that as long as he's aware that that's the task at hand. Right now he just seems loud and pious. Have you ever talked to a good evangelical preacher? When they aren't preaching they're soft-spoken, friendly, earnest, humorous. Let's see that side of Brady; he should only preach when it's time to preach.

The H. L. Mencken character, the snarky reporter, doesn't seem to be aware that there are other people around when he makes his harsh, witty but mean-spirited comments. What does he want from the people around him? My answer would be that he wants to humble them with his witty insight into what's wrong with them; he wants them to know he's the smartest person in the room and that they're mere chimps next to him. That's not The One Right Answer, but it's one way for him to play off of other people, and it makes his humbling final scene that much more powerful. Right now the actor is just declaiming his lines into the air; he needs to be saying them to people around him, and paying close attention to the effect his words have on those people.

The Prayer meeting is one of the most effective scenes in the production. We really see the Flannery O'Connoresque paganism bubbling up under the cover of Christianity here. I'm still not sure that the fragmentation in the town preacher's relationship with his daughter has been established enough for the shocking development here to seem quite real. The actor playing the preacher is excellent, but right now I'm not sure why he makes the awful choice he makes here. (EDIT: "...Awful chioce he makes here." refers to the awful choice the character makes, not any of the performer's acting choices. The actor in question did a splendid job, plus he's a chum and I don't want him body-slamming me if he reads this.)

No one goes to the theatre to see people who know their lines, cues and blocking. People go to the theatre to see people talking to each other and trying to accomplish something with their lives in the face of great difficulty. Some of the performers here, notably the defense attorney, know that; make sure everyone else knows it too.

Friday, March 17, 2006

I promise this is my last post about this.

I realized late last night that I actually like Van Til's personal testimony a lot, and that kind of testimony is persuasive in a way that "rational argument" can never be. I think his instincts are right that personal testimony should be key to evangelism. I'm only annoyed that some people seem to want to take the leap out of the leap of faith.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Again with the Van Til

Why am I still chewing on Van Til? I'm not sure myself; it's not like I want to argue with the existence of God or the truth of Christianity, but something about the way he argues in favor of these things gets under my skin. Maybe if I post a little more about him I'll get it out of my system.
This article insists that Van Til's circular logic isn't question-begging because, to paraphrase, relying on a priori knowledge isn't question-begging. It is implied, though perhaps not directly stated, that the Existence of God is a priori knowledge. In that article by Van Til to which I linked previously he essentially argued (as I read it) that if you don't believe that the Existence of God is a priori then you're either confused by your sin-sick state or in denial.

I wonder how many people have really been converted by this line of argument. I maintain that this is question-begging, and the a priori thing is obfuscating rationalization. I'm out of my depth with arguments about a priori anything, but Van Til's insistence that without God all is chaos is hardly a priori; it's clearly rooted in a theological belief that God and the logic, structure etc. of life are inextricably linked, and that's just not a priori. I'm the last person to deny that it may be true, but it's still not something we can take for granted. Van Til himself more or less acknowledges at the end of that essay that no one's likely to drink the Kool-Aid on this if they weren't ready to from the start. Maybe what's bugging me about Van Til is the way everything I've read (okay, skimmed) by his followers never acknowledges that the guy more or less admitted that his arguments weren't likely to persuade the unpersuaded. Maybe that's why I've never heard of him before; his fan base seems to consist entirely of people who were already Christians before they discovered the guy. Most Van Til-centered writing and discussion I've come across seems to be a theological alternative to talking about baseball statistics, and I suppose this post is no exception.

Okay, that should be the last about that. I'm planning to audition for a musical Saturday! I haven't sung in any serious perfomance situation since my college years, but the director and I go to church together (I may as well point out that I'm a Unitarian) and says he thinks he can fit me in one way or another. I'm also slated to play a teensy role in a film a friend is directing. Some fun!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Apologetics

I recently stumbled across the old copy of C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity that I swiped from my parents lo these many years ago... I'm considering doing a reread and posting my chapter-by-chapter comments here. Anyway, a web-searching mishap lead me to discover a peculiar blog devoted to an apologist named Cornelius Van Til. According to what I could glean from scanning a few of his devotees'commentaries, his key thesis was more or less as follows: Apologetics screwed up by trying to get non-Christians to meet on neutral ground with a "come, let us reason together" approach, because WE DON'T NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS. Non-Christians are so totally wrong and out of wack with God's truth that there's no point in ceding any ground to them; all apologetic discussions must begin with the assumption that Christianity is true, from which starting point reaching the intended end-point of "Christianity is true" becomes rather a simple matter.

Well, I have nothing to say against his faith in Christianity, but there are any number of problems with that ideology. Isn't the whole point of apologetics to persuade the unpersuaded? Also that basic paradigm probably works just as well to sell Guru Schecky's Tabernacle of Potato Worship as Christianity.

But I didn't want to blow the guy's ideas (Not about God, but about converting the heathen) off without actually sampling his ideas; I know better than to assume that his followers speak for him. I soon found this article, which has a surprisingly different tone from the raised-fist belligerence I found on some Van Til-related websites. He's strikingly humble, even confessional, as he acknowledges that he cannot see any way for him personally to think his way out of Christianity. Van Til doesn't seem to be insisting that anyone accept the accuracy of his faith as a given term; only that we engage his testimony. I'm still not sure that testimony is particularly persuasive to the unpersuaded, and I suspect C. S. Lewis has changed many more minds, but I respect Van Til on the basis of this admittedly hasty glance. Some of his enthusiasts come across as if he had given them permission to disregard and belittle anything that's outside their worldview, but if they'd follow his example I suspect they'd be more humble, more effective, and certainly more Christlike. It's an interesting example of how a good or at least reasonable stance can get lost in the shuffle.

Friday, March 10, 2006

And Another Thing...

There's a meme floating around the blogosphere to the effect that these church burnings may have been part of a Methodist vs. Baptist proto-masonic conspiracy. This meme isn't getting any traction at ground zero because we know how stupid this meme is. There's no serious sectarian strife between Methodists and Baptists here. Period. It makes more sense to speculate (as some have) that the burners did pass by more affluent churches, but that's probably more to do with socioeconomic class conciousness than anything.

Another thing: some bloggers have made much of one burner's profession of Satanism, and the kind of anti-social rhetoric these guys posted to each other over the net. I think that's relevant, but not the way some folks want it to be. The notion that these twits were in the grip of some Dark Satanic Power is obviously tempting, but let's get real- "Satanists" are poseurs. Anton Levay made no bones about it-the Satanism thing was just a hook for his highly theatrical athiestic evangelism. These kids' Satanism schtick was more a symptom than a cause; it's Bad Boy Big Talk. It's part of the rhetoric these clowns used to turn their pathetic activities into a Wagnerian Happening. But churches and other houses of worship, respectable businesses and PTA meetings are full of guys who, as youngsters, drank, cursed, professed shocking religious/political/social values and reveled in Bad Boy Big Talk (and many of their well-behaved upstanding wives are yesterday's polyamorous bisexuals.) Their surface-level shockingness doesn't reveal the core wickedness; it actually concealed it. It made them fit in with many, many other college kids who act "bad" but would never do something so evil.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

More on Arsonists

A few more thoughts on those arsonists. As I said, I was a BSC theatre major, so maybe I've got a little insight into the motivations of these kids. Just scanning the blogs I've seen a lot of speculation; some folks home in on the UAB guy's profession of Satanism. A surprising number have speculated that it was some kind of Methodists Vs. Baptists thing. The latter set of theories reminds me that however much fun armchair conspiracy theorizing is as a parlor game, it's also a good way to look silly to folks who have inside knowledge.

When I was a student I did a lot of dumb things to test the boundaries of appropriate behavior/what I could get away with. In part it's about asserting one's own power; in part it's about seeing "God still loves me" by seeing what one can get away with. I recall one time a buddy and I were on a late night grocery run. A cute gal was in line in front of us. We saw her driving away and we decided to follow her. We didn't mean any harm; we just thought it would be a hoot to play at stalking. We followed her to her house, idled across the street as she went inside, sat there for a minute, just reveling in our naughtiness, and then drove off. Maybe we scared her, though she didn't show it. I'm not at all proud of this; we should have considered that we might really upset the poor woman. But I suspect it flowed from the same source as the arsonists' "joking" escapades.

The difference, I think, is that we didn't cross that final line; we didn't get out of the car and do anything to the woman or the property. We were Dungeons and Dragons nerds-we knew how to live out our evil fantasies in imaginary, harmless ways. Perhaps respect for other people was the missing ingredient in these boys-not a "yes sir yes ma'am" respect, but an awareness that however important the assertion of your identity is, it's not more important than a respect for other peoples' needs. In other words I'd suggest that the problem wasn't that they wanted to be "bad," but that they didn't understand that there's good bad and bad bad. Good bad is more decorative than functional. It's good to sing the song of yourself, even if it's a song that not everyone likes; it's just not good to try to drown out other people singing their songs.

Arsonists

So they caught those church burners, and two of them were Theatre majors at Birmingham-Southern College.

I was a Theatre major at Birmingham-Southern College.

So my response to this is a little more shaded than I might have expected. I just wanted the perps to get caught, punished (severely) and let that be it. But now the faculty that taught me so much lo, a decade ago, and their students have a big emotional fallout. I remember what a close-knit family the theatre department is over there. I went to BSC's website and found some cute pictures of one of the perps doing theatre with several smiling, happy students. They look so innocent, so pleased to be doing something creative and fun with this guy.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Avalon

Avalon, a movie by Mamoru Oshii (best known for the Ghost in the Shell movies) is a live-action CGI-packed film about a woman who makes her living playing an immersive computer game; kind of like a Matrix version of Everquest, only with a more military concept. The film's style is so consistent with Oshii's other films that he's starting to look a bit artistically constipated; the same moody, fussily composed shots, the same quiet, joyless, tough female lead. Most of the film has a digital sepia tone that I don't care for; I like real sepia but the digital stuff just looks digital, like the high-tech equivalent of putting a color filter over the lens. But the special effects were simple and convincing to my eye.

I liked a lot of things about it. The movie has some teasing ambiguities: the logic of the game becomes disturbing in ways that reflect the logical shortcomings of most complex video and role-playing games. Not to give anything away, but there's a "little girl" who plays a key role in the game, and the way the heroine interacts with this girl is disturbing but logical according to the limitations of the seemingly realistic game. Is it misanthropy or just poor coding? We never know, but by the end it's apparent that the girl represents the morally ambiguous forces behind the game, or at least that's how the heroine seems to regard it. The final shot of the girl has a wierd wrongness that was achieved with subtle digital effects and was prompted by a minor problem with the footage, a happy accident (all this is explained in the making-of featurette on the DVD.)

The movie also plays games with the virtues and limitations of teamwork vs. going it alone, and where reality and convincing simulation phase into one another. This is nothing new for post-Philip Dick SF movies but is handled with wit. Oshii lets the ambiguities resonate and never tries to slap The Answer onto it.

The fight scenes are surprisingly dull; lots of intercut shots of people shooting, then the tank blows up or someone falls down. It makes me wonder to what extent the elegantly choreographed action scenes in Ghost in the Shell, were the work of animation directors and such.

Apologies if this reads sloppy; until I get my computer fixed I'm posting on the fly. Also apologies for posting about such nerdy and obscure stuff, but it's hard to forge in the smithy of my soul or what have you while I'm forced to wear pants. It is only while pantsless that truly great blogposts can be composed.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

War For The Oaks

War For The Oaks by Emma Bull. A much-acclaimed fantasy novel from a few decades ago... I'm almost done with it, and it's got me thinking about how my literary interests have changed. The book is basically a daydream, a ready-made daydream, and if I'd read it in my school days I would have loved it. Back then a daydream was what I wanted from any story, and stories that didn't work for me as daydreams were failures as far as I was concerned. But nowadays I prefer stories about how people deal with real problems, the kind of problems you can neither enjoy nor wish away, and so I'm finding War For The Oaks a disappointing read. Emma Bull is a skillful writer but a self-indulgent one; her central character, Effi, seems to be a wish-fulfillment version of herself, and the fantasy is mostly lifestyle fantasy. She's the leader of a hot rock band that never has any problems musically or socially. She has two cute boys in love with her. All the threats and problems in the story are mostly window dressing; they're about as threatening as a screensaver, and about as easy to stop. Effi only ever has the kinds of problems you dream up for yourself during a boring class, and she gets out of those problems with the kind of solutions you dream up. In this kind of fantasy you defeat the villian by just being the wonderful person you are. I much prefer the Guy Gavriel Kay / Ursula Le Guin approach, where you defeat the villian but not before he blinds you, rips your arms off, eats your family and rapes your friends. And that's in the third chapter. So the problem isn't just how to defeat the boss monster, but how to have a good life with no eyes, no arms, no family and a bunch of miserable friends.

Actually I love a good confectionary story too, like Jeeves and Wooster, The Importance of Being Earnest, As You Like It, and perhaps I'll get into the differences between these confections and this kind of ready-made daydream story in a future post.