Saturday, February 21, 2009

Still Watching and Loving Lost

For some time now, I have been a consistent viewer of the TV series Lost. For me, it is one of the few shows (I only watch two, sometimes three a week) that is worth my time and energy. Interestingly, I didn’t start watching the show until Season 2 was completed. That summer my wife and I watched the first two seasons and we were caught up in depth of the characters, and the mystery. Furthermore, we always enjoyed the frequent literary, philosophical, scientific, and religious allusions. As the show has continued into Season 5, I have spoken to many who have left Lost because its content and storyline demand so much of the viewer. Truthfully, one can’t watch Lost while doing something else. Unlike most TV shows, Lost requires the central focus of the viewer. Character complexity, frequent allusions (some which require research) confuse some viewers and the inclusion of time travel and all the intricacies therein sometimes frustrate viewers to the point where they give up and turn to more canned dramas. In these canned dramas one only has to focus on the events of a single hour after which the problems are solved in a tidy way until the following week. In some cases, others have turned to the even more banal sitcoms and reality TV where one doesn’t have to think at all. (My animosity towards sitcoms and reality TV and reasons behind it really need to be saved for another time.)

I am amazed at how some criticize a show like Lost because they can't figure everything out the first time through. Have we become so lethargic that we must have everything spelled out for us, and be spoon fed the purpose and themes of all that is shown on television? While everyone has different tastes, those who have left Lost for the aforementioned reasons and instead turned to the canned drama, the sitcom, and the reality TV show are indicating much more about themselves than the writing and purpose of a show like Lost. This phenomenon exposes something about TV viewing in America. We have left books for television, now when television challenges us, we turn the channel. We don’t want to have to reflect on a television show, we don’t want to have to delve beneath the surface of a show’s characters and events, to find some connection to our own lives or the world in which we live; instead we want pure distraction. While I agree distraction can be fun and necessary in some moments in life, I don’t agree that distraction is all we should look for in our television viewing.

One friend told me that she stopped watching Lost, as she compared it to a bad relationship in which she gave and gave, but never received anything in return. While I agree the demands of watching shows like Lost (yes I agree other quality shows exist) are great, the rewards for the critical viewer are just as great. If television is going to be part of our lives, shouldn’t it challenge us in some way? Are the shows that we are watching causing us to grow? Are they asking good questions and addressing pertinent issues in our world and culture? While Lost isn’t perfect, I feel challenged while I am watching it, and I am challenged to reflect the next day as I discuss an episode with my students and friends. For me, this makes a show worth watching. I hope creative writers and talented actors continue to bring these types of shows to viewers in years to come.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Emptiness in Horrific Cinema

As the lack of originality in Hollywood continues, I am reminded that what Hollywood produces is dictated by what we, the consumers, are willing to hand over $8.50 to see. I struggle with the plethora of trite romantic comedies that run the same plot sequence with different pairings of prurient young men and women attempting to demonstrate the complexities of love. I struggle with action heroes who don't really represent honor or integrity, leaping from scene to scene supported with only catchy one liners that don't allow them to truly demonstrate any true heroic qualities. My greatest struggle with film today is that viewers flock to truly obscene horror films, filled with blood lust and now more than ever sexual lust, where the actors and screenplay have no other purpose than to desensitize viewers to death, sex, and thereby devaluing both. I have been troubled for the last month as I have seen advertisements for My Bloody Valentine and Friday the 13th. Please understand, I see value and purpose in some movies that others might consider "horror" movies. 28 Days Later, Alien, Scream, are a few (there are others as well) that I think move beyond the realm of shocking gore and sex and leave the viewer with some thematic significance. We see characters who demonstrate love, sacrifice and courage in times of great distress and anguish in movies like 28 Days Later and Alien. In Scream at least the writers had the creative ability to dissect the horror genre and include some level of mystery. Sure these movies are terrifying, but within them we see more than terror and death, we see admirable responses of characters within the crucible of pain and suffering, or at least we are able to step back and see the bathos that horror movies bring into the art of cinema. However, can we really say this of movies such as Friday the 13th? Not only is the premise that Jason Vorhees is still alive (at age 62) after being killed with an ax, machete, drowning, cremation, sent to hell, etc. (check out Wikipedia for other forms of Jason's demise) beyond ridiculous, but the writers and director of this film have chosen to include graphic sexuality as part of the story because the basic plot of Jason killing victim after victim (he has been doing this since the 80's) isn't enough to get people into the theater. Some may dismiss me as a prude, but I really question what one could hope to gain from this type of cinema? This really leads back to my point in the first sentence. I know we can make better choices at the theatre, and I hope we will begin to do so. We, the movie viewers, dictate what is shown on the screen. We feel the temptation that a movie like Friday the 13th brings. In what new ways will Jason take a life? What will that girl look like in the nude? In what outlandish ways will sexuality be portrayed on the big screen? If we are honest, many of us watch these films to have these questions answered, and usually we leave the theatre disappointed. We have given our money and time over to something that has done nothing for us mentally or emotionally. Instead it has only shocked us for a moment, and twisted our view of concepts like death and sex that are not trite or trivial, though we were made to believe so for 90 minutes.

Habakkuk 1:13 -Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor. Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up Those more righteous than they?

Only 13 Dollars a Week?

From what I am hearing President Obama's stimulus package is going to be passed in Congress tonight or sometime tomorrow and of course with 35% being tax cuts we are all wondering what size our piece of the pie is going to be. I have heard estimates from anywhere to $9-$13 a week for the average American to which many are saying: "What am I going to do with that?"

In the grand scheme of my budget, which isn't much, $13 or $26 per pay period isn't going to buy much, but in reality that is $648 a year which in a lump sum sounds alright. I would be happy with a $648 raise wouldn't you?

If that doesn't convince you, think of it this way, Open Arms for Asia (, a non-profit organization that cares for homeless orphans in India, has 17 kids that need full sponsorship at $35 a month. This $35 goes toward food, education, clothing, medical care, and many other basic needs that many of us take for granted in the United States. My family is currently supporting a young girl named Sandya whose parents died of disease and who was eating out of the city dump and begging for food until OAFA found her and brought her into their orphanage. You can see from her smile that a meager $35 has made a significant impact on her life. If that $13 a week is not enough to make a significant impact on your budget, consider giving it to someone for whom it would be life changing. According to my math you would still have $19 left over and the satisfaction that an amount that you consider a pittance is opening up a whole new world for another.

Matthew 25:21 — “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ ”

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ironman: A Lesson on Second Chances

I know that the film Ironman has been out for some time and that the critics and superhero fans have commented on its success at the box office as well as Robert Downy Jr.'s revival on the big screen, but I have been contemplating the significance of this film and its themes and lessons for some time now, and I believe that the time has come to make them public.

During my first viewing of Ironman, I was contemplating whether or not my 10 year old son Dominic should be allowed to view it. I had heard about the violence, torture, sexual innuedo and decided to first preview it before allowing Dominic or any of my children to view it. The acting was good, the story funny, and the development of Tony Stark's character and Ironman's adventures was intriguing. I thought the ending was somewhat cliche'. Once again the superhero faces impossible odds and overcomes the fact that his nemisis has developed fool proof plan (an iron suit with significantly more power), I had seen this before.

However, during my second viewing, I saw the brilliance of this movie. I was watching it this time with my kids, strategically editing the allusions to sex and hoping my kids wouldn't be tainted by Tony Stark's apparent obssession with alcohol, sex, materialism and his own intellectual ability. The climax came as Stark broke free of the terrorist's grip, and in the midst of a spectacular explosion, blasted himself into the desert where he was forced to wander aimlessly without food or water until discovered by the military.

I remember stopping the movie at this point and asking my kids: "What do you think Tony was thinking about as he was wandering in the desert?" My kids gave the usual answers: "He was probably happy to be alive, he was thinking about how he hoped he would make it home, he was thinking about all the things we would do when he got home."

I saw and opportunity in that last statement so I asked a followup question: "If Tony makes it home safe, (we all knew he would make it out) what do you think he will do differently?"

My kids weren't sure how to answer, but Dominic responded: "Stop making weapons and do soemething good."

I have to admit; I was proud. Dominic saw the central theme of Ironman:

"If we are given a second chance at life, if we have been caught up in all the distractions of this world, if they have become idols to us, and we like Tony have been sent to into the darkness of the cave, and tortured because of our failures, when we are free again will we retreat back into the narcissistic arrogance that first isolated us? Maybe like Tony we have walked through the desolate desert and longed for another opportunity to use all the gifts and talents we have been given. Maybe we have realized that God gave us our abilities to not only glorify him, but help others. Up until his imprisonment in the cave, and his journey through the desert, Tony was living for himself. He purchased priceless paintings simply because he "had to have them" and put them in storage where no one could enjoy them. He treated women as objects of his pleasure, never fostering any type of in-depth relationship where he would have to be real and vunerable, and probably most significantly, he used his highly developed intellect to create weapons of destruction, weapons that would make him wealthy."

The excution of Tony's response to redemption and what he does with his second chanc is what made the second half of Ironman exceptional. Did you notice how his focus changes? What courage he has to take the very industry that supplies his life blood and shut it down. What about the stock price? What about the board of directors? What about the employees of Stark Industries? Stark's courage is exceptional. Look at his approach to alcohol. Tony is seen drinking alcohol in the second half of the film, but instead of the flippant attitude of a borderline alcoholic, we see a more responsible user of alcohol. Finally, he approach to women? He is awkward in his interest in Pepper, just as she is skeptical of his new attitude toward her; however, she is not a object for his pleasure, but a complex being that he choses to pursue with care and caution. Sure he fails her, but what are we to expect from a man who up to this point saw women only as objects of sexual desire?

I don't know if anyone will ever read this blog or care about my observations, but if like me, you are a superhero fan, watch Ironman again, this time with a new perspective and examine your own life and the understand the power of redemption. Live life deliberately, use your gifts and abilities for others in hopes that you will better the world around you.

2 Corinthians 5:15

"And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again."