‘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:
- Could God have made beings incapable of sin?
- If not 1, could He have made beings capable of sin but who would never sin in actuality?
- 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“
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.
Some decade and half ago or so, I was having a conversation with a friend about Mystery Science Theater 3000. He was a big fan, and though I’d always avoided it in the past, he’d managed to get me into it, too (that’s a long story in itself, and for another time). We were discussing one of the big topics of MST3K fandom, namely Joel vs. Mike, and who might make a good third host should Mike leave and the show continue. This was in the Mary Jo Pehl days, when she had replaced Trace Beaulieu as the main nemesis, playing Pearl Forester, the ostensible mother of Beaulieu’s Clayton Forrester (I guess I should note here that parts of this post are going to be very much “inside baseball” and that non-fans may need to go Googling some of this stuff). My friend suggested the possibility of a female lead, putting forth Pehl as an example of the type of comedienne who could do so. I disagreed. I need to emphasize that I am all for equality and am proud to call myself a feminist. However, there are some differences, obvious (men don’t bear children) and subtle (women are better at verbal skills, on average, men at spacial perception). I didn’t have anything so exalted in mind here, though, and though I was adamant that it had to be a male in the lead role for MST3K, I couldn’t quite say why.
I thought about it on and off, and came up with some tentative thoughts on the matter, but never pursued them. I even saved the original template of this post, since I thought the subject would be interesting, but never could quite come up with a clear exposition. Finally, a few years ago I encountered the fascinating and excellent book The Trickster and the Paranormal, which had been suggested to me by Chris Knowles at the Secret Sun blog. The book revolutionized my views on several things. One of the less important, but still interesting, such things was the question of who should host MST3K. Specifically, I now could articulate clearly why I thought, against my feminist impulses, that the prisoner on the Satellite of Love would have to be a guy. The short answer, the unpacking of which will encompass the rest of this post, is that a girl would not fit the necessary Jungian archetype for the role.
Back here, in one of my articles on the decline and fall of television, I had the following to say:
Of course, it may be that we live in an already coarse and unforgiving age, and we just get the television we deserve. That is depressingly possible. Still, the popularity of reality TV, in my mind, is just one more instance not only of the debased state of public entertainment and discourse in our society, but of the exhaustion of creativity in pop culture in general. That’s a broader topic that I’ll be visiting soon.
Well, it’s not that soon, as it’s turned out; but I do want to revisit it. It’s going to take a series of posts to do so, though, so I’m setting this as an index page.
My basic thesis, which I’ll be examining in posts to come is this: Repetition, in the form of series, serials, remakes, and quotation of various tropes is at one and the same time the most characteristic feature of modern pop culture (all genres) and also the sign of its decadence and creative decline. I first thought about this in relation to comics. Later, though, reading Joss Whedon’s execrable comic book continuation of Buffy the Vampire slayer, I managed to shake myself out of the stupor at how the mighty had fallen long enough to apply the same ideas I had to TV. Still later I thought the same notions were applicable to literature, and probably all of pop culture. I have thought about this for few years and am now firmly of the opinion that less is more, and more is–well, more, but also that more is less, artistically, aesthetically, and even morally.
I will be looking at the issue from different angles and in reference to different genres. I’ll be putting posts up sporadically, and it will be a little while in getting to the core of what I’m after; but I hope to make some interesting points, at least. Stay tuned!
Not that costumes are the most important aspect of the movie, but I have discussed the music, special effects, and art direction; and the costumes, for better or worse, are a huge departure from those of TOS, to say nothing of being a big part of the look of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Thus, I decided to discuss them a bit. Also, as a matter of minor housekeeping, I’ve decided to abbreviate the title of the movie and to remove the “Movie Review” for the remaining posts in this series. It has, after all, gone far beyond a standard review. I may emend the titles of past installments, too, but we’ll see.
As discussed in the very first installment of this series, originally STTMP was to have been a television series, Star Trek: Phase II. While the redesign of the ship was much like what made it to the screen in the movie, there were originally no plans to change the costumes substantially. Observe the screen test photos below of Persis Khambatta as Ilia (left) and David Gautreaux as full Vulcan Xon (the character was dropped, but Gautreaux was given a cameo as commander of the station that first detects the attack of V’Ger on the Klingon ships in STTMP).
The material of Xon’s shirt seems slightly different from that used in the costumes on the old series, and his hair is inexplicably long and seventies-ish. It is also clear that Khambatta wasn’t fully committed to the show yet, as it’s clear that she has bald makeup on, rather than shaving her head, as she did for the movie. The main point, though, is that both the design and color scheme of the uniforms is unchanged from TOS, right down to the plunging neckline and miniskirt for the women’s version. All that would change, though.
The posts on Star Trek: The Motion Picture have gone beyond the number I’d originally expected. At this point, I’d thought I had no more than a couple posts left. As I’ve continued, however, and as more themes and ideas have come to mind, it seems as if I’ll need at least four posts, and perhaps more than that, to finish what I have to say about it. Thus, while leaving the essays on STTMP at the general Star Trek index, and putting the future ones there, as well, I’ve decided to give it an index of its own right here. Enjoy!
Continuing in my long-on-hiatus series of essays about Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I’d like to discuss the cast very briefly before I go on to interpretation.
As I pointed out last time, there are major problems with the script. To their credit, the cast make the best of what they’re given. I can’t really single out one bad performance. The returning supporting members of the original TV cast–Grace Lee Whitney as Janice Rand, Nichelle Nichols as Uhura, James Doohan as Scotty, Walter Koenig as Chekov, George Takei as Sulu, and Majel Barrett Roddenberry as Nurse (now Doctor) Chapel–are all good, turning in professional performances in character, as if it had been only the previous season and not a decade previously that they’d last played their roles. It is most unfortunate that they were given so little to do. Doohan gets the most screen time, given the long sequence where he ferries Kirk to the refurbished Enterprise, and he makes the most of every second. Star Trek lore has it that Doohan was particularly resentful of William Shatner for his supposed jockeying for screen time at the expense of everyone else. Indeed, Doohan is said to have nursed a grudge against Shatner until shortly before Doohan’s death. I can’t help but think that Doohan was getting a kick out of upstaging Shatner in this sequence! None of the other supporting cast is given more than a line or two, but they do what they can with them. At least Uhura doesn’t have to say, “Captain, I’m frightened!”