Blog Archives

The Beatles or the Rolling Stones?

The Beatles vs. the Rolling Stones was the great “This or That” of the 60’s.  Despite the unsurpassed creativity and variety of pop music in those days, it sometimes seemed as if the Beatles and the Stones divided the world between them, with there being no third.  Certainly, they appeared to be the yin and yang of the rock world.  There were the smiling, relatively clean-cut, boyish Beatles, who managed not only to make music for the kids, but to put out what John Lennon later disparagingly referred to as “granny music”, and who even made cartoons for kids (see below).  On the other hand, there were the more brooding and snarly Stones, who were definitely not granny or kid-friendly, and who put out such anthems as “Sympathy for the Devil”.  Of course, in the real world, the dichotomy was less stark–the Beatles had their dark side, and Charlie Watts, the drummer of the Rolling Stones, was and is into Big Band music.  Still, the images and the public perception was there.  I was too young to be aware of all this at the time, of course; so I’m going to approach this from another direction.

There has never been a time in my life that the Beatles weren’t in the cultural atmosphere.  Their first album, Please Please Me, was released in March 1963, four months before I was born.  Beatlemania ensued in the United Kingdom.  They came to America and played on the Ed Sullivan Show in February of 1964.  Beatlemania ensued in the United States.  Thus, throughout my earliest years, there was always something by the Beatles on the air.

My first clear memory of them is of the cartoon TV series, The Beatles, which aired in first run and then in reruns from 1965 to 1969.  I watched it regularly and could still remember bits and pieces of it by my forties, at which time I showed episodes to my then-young daughter on YouTube.  As far as 60’s cartoons aimed at kids go, it still held up.  And what a soundtrack!  Going back to my youth, I was vaguely aware when the movie Yellow Submarine came out in 1968, but I never had the opportunity to watch it until it played on network television sometime in the early 70’s.  It was very different, to say the least, from the TV series; but I found it oddly fascinating.  Several years ago, I bought it on DVD for my daughter, around eight at the time; and she, too liked it.

As I said, the Beatles were always there.  I listened to relatively little pop music as a kid, though.  The records (yes, it was pre-CD and MP3) I bought were all classical.  I heard what was on the airwaves, of course; and there was always Beatles, and later, Paul McCartney, and to a lesser extent, John Lennon, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, as solo acts, on the radio.  Still, it was more background music than anything else.

Read the rest of this entry

Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Trek, of course–what kind of question is that?  Actually, if I’m going to write an essay, I should have more to say….

Star Trek, in its original incarnation (which I will henceforth refer to by the standard fan abbreviation TOS for “The Original Series”) began its prime-time network run on NBC in 1966, at which time I was three years old.  Its last season ended in 1969, at which time I was six, and about to begin the first grade.  I know Mom and Dad watched it, so I no doubt did, as well.  I’ve seen every episode multiple times since, and given that, it’s hard to sort out any genuine memories of the series’s original airing.

It doesn’t really matter, though.  Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, TOS was more or less constantly in syndication somewhere on one channel or another.  Every time it was available on any of the channels we got, I always watched it.  For reasons that are obscure, certain episodes (e.g. “The City on the Edge of Forever” and “A Piece of the Action”) were in very heavy rotation, whereas others (such as “Errand of Mercy” and the insanely elusive “The Mark of Gideon”) were rarely if ever aired.  I made it my goal to watch every one of the original seventy-nine episodes at least once.  I set this goal at the age of around twelve or thirteen, and it took into my mid-twenties to complete it, but complete it I did.  In the meantime, my involvement with Star Trek was expanding far beyond watching reruns.

Read the rest of this entry

A Slight Side Excursion on Fanfic

Someone I follow on Tumblr  had a post recently discussing what makes for good writing in a fan fiction context.  The conclusion was “good technical skills”.  The idea is that, while writers and readers of fanfic may have different criteria of what makes a fic “good” than do the gatekeepers of “mainstream” fiction, and while those differing criteria are valid, good technical skills are universal, allowing you to develop the story you want to tell and to say what you need to say.  Technical skills may not be the end-all and be-all; but you have to be able to control what you’re saying if you want to get anything across to the reader.  I totally agree with this.

Anyway, I reblogged and added a response dealing with an aspect of fanfic that I think isn’t often realized or understood.  It occurred to me that it might be worth putting up here, too, especially since I’ve been discussing pop culture–which of course includes fanfic–in the course of writing my series “Religion, Role-playing, and Reality“.  I have edited it very lightly for publication here, but it’s substantially the same as the original form.  Enjoy!

Read the rest of this entry

Mass Media and Lifestyle Fantasy

Last time we looked at the effects of the Enlightenment and the final disenchantment of the world, as both organized religion and everything perceived as being “irrational” were banished from polite society; or at least from the worldview of the elite.  The perfectly rational, logical man of the Enlightenment who would shake off the superstitions of his ancestors and move confidently into a Utopian future of reason and humanism never materialized, though.  Human nature being what it is, the loss of the transcendent and the supernatural left a void that needed to be filled.  Nietzsche expressed this poetically in his famous writing about the “death of God” (the quote below is from Walter Kaufmann’s translation of The Gay Science):

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

Nietzsche’s answer–that we must become gods–foreshadows his idea of the übermensch, the “superman”.  As we’ve seen over the last century and a quarter since Nietzsche’s death, that didn’t work out so well.  The void remained unfilled.  What could fill it?  At this point, we must leave that question hanging for a bit while we look at another of the great societal changes to come out of the Enlightenment.  In the last post, we looked at the religious and philosophical changes brought on by the Enlightenment.  Here I want to look at a change that was partly technological, partly educational, and partly cultural–the rise of mass media.

Read the rest of this entry

Where Have You Gone, Carl Sagan?

Sagan and Carson

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?  A nation turns its lonely eyes to you–Simon and Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson”

Sometimes I feel that way about Carl Sagan.  Carl Sagan, for those of my readers who may be too young to know of him, was probably the greatest and most familiar science popularizer of the last century.  He was especially visible throughout the 1970’s, which was a partial inspiration of this series, of which this is the long-delayed first post. Sagan was more than just a 70’s icon, though.  I think he is a symbol of a bygone–and in some ways, better–time.

Carl Sagan had an M.S. in physics and a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics.  At various times, he worked closely with NASA (he conceived the idea for the plaque placed on the space probes Pioneer10 and Pioneer 11) , had Top Secret clearance at the U.S. Air Force and Secret clearance with NASA, was a consultant to the RAND Corporation, published research on the atmosphere of Venus, and researched the possibility of extraterrestrial life.  For nearly the last thirty years of his life, he was associated with Cornell University.  Beyond his professional and scientific accomplishments, substantial as they were, Sagan was best known for his extraordinary effectiveness in bringing science to the masses through all the available media of the day:  print (magazines, newspapers, and books), film, and TV.  Had he survived to today (he died, tragically, of complications related to myelodysplasia at the age of sixty-two in 1996), I don’t doubt he would have had a substantial social media presence.

Read the rest of this entry

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Index

Awhile back I wrote four posts on the series Mystery Science Theater 3000.  I’ve recently decided to writer another post, and more may follow in the future.  Therefore, I’ve decided to make an index page to get them all together in one place.  Enjoy!

Tricksters, Fools, and MST3K

Holy Fools

Pop Culture Tricksters

Joining MST3K Fandom and a Little About Joel and Mike

MST3K:  The Return

Legends of the Fall: Let’s Get This Party Started!

‘Cause it can’t always be Gaga–forgive me, Mama Monster!  😉

My series “Legends of the Fall” has been on hiatus for a considerable time.  Finding time and motivation, as well as deciding where I wanted to go with it, have slowed me down.  Moreover, the blog itself has been on semi-hiatus for about a year as life has gotten in the way.  Fiddling around on it and musing a bit today, I had a few ideas as to what I can do.  I won’t say I have a definitive conclusion to the series–what human can claim to understand the Fall?  I do think I have a direction in which I want to go with the series, though, and now is as good a time as any to start hashing it out.

In the next few posts I want to restart the series by asking the following questions:

  1. Could God have made beings incapable of sin?
  2. If not 1, could He have made beings capable of sin but who would never sin in actuality?
  3. Given the assumption (which I accept) that God made the spiritual world and the incorporeal intelligences (what we call angels, etc.), why did He make embodied intelligences–i.e. us, as well as any other intelligent species that may exist here on Earth or elsewhere in the cosmos?

I think that important conclusions can be drawn from number 3 especially.  We’ll get to that in time.  Some of the issues involved in these questions have been touched on before in the course of this very long series, but I think it will be useful to visit them afresh, as well as looking at new angles.

Thus, get ready for new posts, and let’s get the party started!

Part of the series “Legends of the Fall

Stubborn Highlanders Revisited, and Antinomies of Pure Reason

Aam still thinkin’ abit it.

We’ve been discussing free will in the context of universalism.  The notion put forth by defenders of the Traditional View of Hell (TVOH) in recent times has tried to defend God from charges of wantonly tossing people to damnation by asserting that the damned damn themselves.  That is, those who choose against God, who choose to reject Him, voluntarily remove themselves from His presence.  This removal from God’s presence is Hell.  To the objection that they would surely change their minds sooner or later, the assertion is made that it is possible to reject God permanently, that is, to make an irrevocable decision from free will.  For one to assert a universalist view–that all will ultimately be saved–one must argue that no such irrevocable decision, at least regarding Hell, is possible.  This possibility of eternally irrevocable choices is what we’ve been looking at.

Let’s briefly sum up what we’ve decided thus far.  Some argue that in the afterlife time as we know it no longer applies to saved or damned souls, and thus that their choices are not irrevocable over countless aeons, but rather made once and for all in an eternal moment.  Against this, I’ve argued here and here that this can apply only to God Himself, and not to lesser beings, even immortal ones in the afterlife.  Therefore, I’ve focused on whether or not a choice, can, in fact, be eternally irrevocable.  I began that discussion here and elaborated here.  I’ve used the whimsical idea that Connor MacCleod, eponymous hero of the Highlander movies and guest star in the series, has vowed that he will never, ever eat a broccoli fudge sundae.  I’ve further specified that he is truly immortal–he will live not just for an unimaginably long time, but literally for all eternity.  Can he keep this vow?

Read the rest of this entry

Prologue: Religion, LARPing, and Comic Books

greedo_han

Before I get on with the points I want to make in this new series, I want to point to a couple of essays that set the stage.

The first is from the old Beliefnet blog, “Kingdom of Priests”, by author and (ugh) supporter of Intelligent Design, David Klinghoffer.  I disagree with him on many points, Intelligent Design being but one, but his comparison of a convert to radical Islam and a fantasy fan is interesting.  An excerpt:

An item by Marissa Brostoff at Tablet directs our attention to a fascinating and very thorough profile of the former Adam Pearlman [the young man who converted and joined Al-Qaeda] in The New Yorker, which in turns notes the peculiarly elaborate and archaic rhetorical style of Gadahn’s work as an Al-Qaeda spokesman: ”Sometimes his syntax is so baroque, his sentiment so earnest, that he sounds like a character from the Lord of the Rings.”

The Tolkien allusion caught my attention. I hadn’t previously given much thought to young Mr. Pearlman’s spiritual journey — born in Oregon, raised on a goat farm in Southern California, shy teenager, converted to Islam at age 17 — but that line about the Lord of the Rings struck me as telling. Did you ever notice the way with some converts, not just converts to any given religion but to all kinds of thought systems, ideologies, and other enthusiasms, there’s often a heavy element of fantasy role playing?

When I was a Southern California youth myself, we’d play Dungeons & Dragons, and everyone got to pick his Tolkienesque fantasy identity — wizard, warrior, hobbit, elf, whatever you like. Nerdy kids, or momma’s boys like me (there is a difference!), reveled in the chance to pretend to be someone else, a person much more exotic, interesting, and powerful. It sure strikes me that young Pearlman has been on such a trip of his own these past 13 years or more. The rest of the New Yorker profile bears this out. Fantasy role playing ran in the family.

Relatedly, in this essay Julian Sanchez theorizes about the mindset of many believers:

Fundamentalists of every sect are, pretty much by definition, strongly committed to the literal truth of all of their scripture. But the garden variety “believer,” I suspect, may often be more accurately thought of as a “suspension-of-disbeliever.”

When you think about the actual functions that religious narratives serve in people’s lives, literal truth or falsity is often rather beside the point, and yet suspension of disbelief is a necessary condition of immersion in the story. On this view, Richard Dawkins is a little like that guy who keeps pointing out that all the ways superhero physics don’t really make sense. (Wouldn’t characters with “super strength” would really need super speed as well to do stuff like punching through concrete? Shouldn’t Cyclops be propelled backwards when he unleashes those concussive eye beams?”) It’s not annoying because we literally believed the stories, but because our enjoyment depends on our not attending too explicitly to their unreality. People can, on one level, be powerfully committed to the idea that Han Solo shot first, dammit—while on another being perfectly aware that, really, nobody shot anybody, and it’s actually just Harrison Ford and a dude in a green rubber suit with some laser effects added in post production.

Fanboys, of course, know their cherished fantasy worlds are fantasy, and will admit as much readily if you press them. For many ordinary believers, I suspect the situation is closer to what I think my initial view of Sherlock Holmes probably was: I knew that Watson “was” Holmes’ faithful sidekick, and that Moriarty “was” his archenemy, but if you asked me whether I meant this “was” in the sense of a historical truth claim or only as a “truth” about a fictional narrative, I suspect I would have initially been surprised by the question, because nothing about my relationship to the narrative or my reasons for enjoying it turned essentially on whether the events it depicted had really happened.

Now as a religious person myself, I don’t think these insights invalidate religion in general or specific religions in particular.  I do think they make valid points, though, and often cut closer to home than many of us would like to think.  In the next post I want to look at cultural factors that set the stage for this, and then I want to look at ramifications.  And by the way, Han did shoot first!

Update:  A fascinating if disturbing article along much the same lines I’m discussing.

Part of the series “Religion, Role-playing, and Reality

An item by Marissa Brostoff at Tablet directs our attention to a fascinating and very thorough profile of the former Adam Pearlman in The New Yorker, which in turns notes the peculiarly elaborate and archaic rhetorical style of Gadahn’s work as an Al-Qaeda spokesman: ”Sometimes his syntax is so baroque, his sentiment so earnest, that he sounds like a character from the Lord of the Rings.”

The Tolkien allusion caught my attention. I hadn’t previously given much thought to young Mr. Pearlman’s spiritual journey — born in Oregon, raised on a goat farm in Southern California, shy teenager, converted to Islam at age 17 — but that line about the Lord of the Rings struck me as telling. Did you ever notice the way with some converts, not just converts to any given religion but to all kinds of thought systems, ideologies, and other enthusiasms, there’s often a heavy element of fantasy role playing?
When I was a Southern California youth myself, we’d play Dungeons & Dragons, and everyone got to pick his Tolkienesque fantasy identity — wizard, warrior, hobbit, elf, whatever you like. Nerdy kids, or momma’s boys like me (there is a difference!), reveled in the chance to pretend to be someone else, a person much more exotic, interesting, and powerful. It sure strikes me that young Pearlman has been on such a trip of his own these past 13 years or more. The rest of the New Yorker profile bears this out. Fantasy role playing ran in the family.

Read more at http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/kingdomofpriests/2009/06/religious-conversion-as-fantasy-role-playing.html#0zccIYpisj8E7xGh.99

An item by Marissa Brostoff at Tablet directs our attention to a fascinating and very thorough profile of the former Adam Pearlman in The New Yorker, which in turns notes the peculiarly elaborate and archaic rhetorical style of Gadahn’s work as an Al-Qaeda spokesman: ”Sometimes his syntax is so baroque, his sentiment so earnest, that he sounds like a character from the Lord of the Rings.”

The Tolkien allusion caught my attention. I hadn’t previously given much thought to young Mr. Pearlman’s spiritual journey — born in Oregon, raised on a goat farm in Southern California, shy teenager, converted to Islam at age 17 — but that line about the Lord of the Rings struck me as telling. Did you ever notice the way with some converts, not just converts to any given religion but to all kinds of thought systems, ideologies, and other enthusiasms, there’s often a heavy element of fantasy role playing?
When I was a Southern California youth myself, we’d play Dungeons & Dragons, and everyone got to pick his Tolkienesque fantasy identity — wizard, warrior, hobbit, elf, whatever you like. Nerdy kids, or momma’s boys like me (there is a difference!), reveled in the chance to pretend to be someone else, a person much more exotic, interesting, and powerful. It sure strikes me that young Pearlman has been on such a trip of his own these past 13 years or more. The rest of the New Yorker profile bears this out. Fantasy role playing ran in the family.

Read more at http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/kingdomofpriests/2009/06/religious-conversion-as-fantasy-role-playing.html#0zccIYpisj8E7xGh.99

An item by Marissa Brostoff at Tablet directs our attention to a fascinating and very thorough profile of the former Adam Pearlman in The New Yorker, which in turns notes the peculiarly elaborate and archaic rhetorical style of Gadahn’s work as an Al-Qaeda spokesman: ”Sometimes his syntax is so baroque, his sentiment so earnest, that he sounds like a character from the Lord of the Rings.”

The Tolkien allusion caught my attention. I hadn’t previously given much thought to young Mr. Pearlman’s spiritual journey — born in Oregon, raised on a goat farm in Southern California, shy teenager, converted to Islam at age 17 — but that line about the Lord of the Rings struck me as telling. Did you ever notice the way with some converts, not just converts to any given religion but to all kinds of thought systems, ideologies, and other enthusiasms, there’s often a heavy element of fantasy role playing?
When I was a Southern California youth myself, we’d play Dungeons & Dragons, and everyone got to pick his Tolkienesque fantasy identity — wizard, warrior, hobbit, elf, whatever you like. Nerdy kids, or momma’s boys like me (there is a difference!), reveled in the chance to pretend to be someone else, a person much more exotic, interesting, and powerful. It sure strikes me that young Pearlman has been on such a trip of his own these past 13 years or more. The rest of the New Yorker profile bears this out. Fantasy role playing ran in the family.

Read more at http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/kingdomofpriests/2009/06/religious-conversion-as-fantasy-role-playing.html#0zccIYpisj8E7xGh.99

Religion, Role-playing, and Reality: Index

The above is one of my favorites from the College Humor website.  It gets things pretty much dead to rights.  Moreover, I don’t take it is ridiculing or being unfair to religion; in fact, it suggests an interesting way of looking at faith.  The analogies between religion and role-playing, or more broadly between religion and”nerd” or “geek” subculture are something I want to explore in upcoming posts.  I think we’ll find out some interesting things as we go.

Prologue: Religion, LARPing, and Comic Books

The Disenchantment of the World, Part 1:  What is Religion, Anyway?

The Disenchantment of the World, Part 2:  The Rise of Monotheism

The Disenchantment of the World, Part 3:  The One God Triumphs

The Disenchantment of the World, Part 4: The Enlightenment

Mass Media and Lifestyle Fantasy