Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Star of "Dark Knight Rises" Visits Colorado Shooting Victims

Celebrity buzz hasn't favored the Batman star in recent years, but this week he did something that totally redeemed him. Here's a great story for fans of "The Dark Knight" with Associated Press b-roll of the event.

Christian Bale in Colorado

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us (Part 2)

(In light of the tragedy that took place in Aurora, CO, this blog entry might not sit well with you. Although this blog tries to help us understand tragedy in the literary sense, it doesn't offer any consolation to tragedy in real life. It is unfortunate that we live in a world where tragedy is real, and I offer my sincere condolences to the citizens of Aurora, CO and all those dealing with the consequences of a crazed mad man.)

Hunger Games struck a cord with mainstream America in a way that was like plucking a hair out of a nostril. This was a painful story about an alternate world where kids killed other kids for the entertainment of others, and yet it was one of the highest grossing movies of 2012. Are we just sick, homicidal child-haters with a pension for cage fighting? Is the unstoppable force, that is America, slipping down that proverbial, never-ending Slip 'n Slide into nothingness? I don't believe so. For centuries humanoids have been entertained by a literary device called "catharsis".  Some appreciate it others don't, and still others would just as soon strip it naked and drop it off in front of a sketchy bus station.

"Catharsis" originates from the Greek word for "cleansing" and is defined on as "the purging of emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art as  tragedy or music." Basically, an enema for the soul. One can't have a good tragedy without the element of catharsis so let's explore. Classic Tragedies include Romeo and Juliet, Oedipus Rex, and La Boheme, to name a few. They loved their soul enemas back then, so much so that Leonardo Da Vinci had to fill the world with inventions and paintings of constipated people.

Modern tragedies are harder to come by and are more commonly referred to as horror movies, but once in a while a mainstream movie will embody the definition of a tragedy like, Into the Wild, The People vs. Larry Flint, or The Butterfly Effect. To get into a story and build up a fortress of emotion only to have your weakness exploited by a director who brings you into an unshakable state of depression for a few hours or even days, is one of the marvels of true artistic genius. A good cathartic moment can go a long way, like that moment when you realize the mountain oysters you've been eating were goat testicles.

Ultimately, the purpose of a tragedy is to bring healing to the audience. Even psychoanalysts praise catharsis as progress in emotional healing. Emotions are strong and can often lead to horrible decisions, like vengeful flatulation at work, sarcasm on the witness stand, or, God forbid, a tattoo near your nethers. Emotions that lead to these kinds of actions are viewed as excessive and unhealthy by some. A good catharsis can sooth the wild beast in most of us and make our passions slightly more manageable. Wikipedia informs us that particular Freudian psychoanalysts would use catharsis to help patients experience "the deep emotions often associated with events in the individual's past which had originally been repressed or ignored, and had never been adequately addressed or experienced."Some have even gone so far as to say that catharsis is pleasurable, because the audience might experience an ecstatic relief ensuing from an awareness that, compared with what they have just seen portrayed, their own life is less tragic.

However, there should be a warning label on overly tragic stories. A person suffering from extreme emotional derangement might careen off into the outer space of excitability and never be normal again. This is the downside of tragedy, and one of the reasons many will not appreciate its artistic quality.

Another reason is plain, old aesthetics. Just like some prefer not to suffer the woes of the mighty roller coaster, others are physically wired not to enjoy the thrills of a finely woven catharsis. I believe this is part of the reason there was such a strong reaction to the Hunger Games. Rightfully so, the thought of children brutally murdering each other for sport did not sit right with people, no matter what the back story was.

Therefore the redeeming value of such a tragic event is lost, just like the redeeming value of conquering your fears at the end of a roller coaster are lost just by looking at that first drop from your car in the parking lot.

I'm not a fan of roller coasters, because they give me vertigo and and a keen sense of impending disaster. On the other hand, I am a fan of tragedies because I love the catharsis that ensues after a good story. I still cringe and wince, but I like cringing and wincing.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us (Part 1)

A dichotomy has arisen in the last few decades among the moral majority, and as a result many among us have missed out on some of the greatest storytelling in generations. Nakedness, alcohol, drugs, swearing, sex, violence, wizardry and homosexuality are all frowned upon by the Christian elite. Keep it out of their movies and TV shows, off the streets and billboards, but for Christ's sake, leave it in the Bible. As defined by the Urban Dictionary the Bible is "an ancient novel full of murder, corruption, homosexuality, bestiality, incest and cruelty. It is often read to children on Sunday."

You wouldn't believe the lengths that the Christians have gone to in order to keep the very stuff they object to in Hollywood, right smack dab in the middle of the Bible. Scribe after scribe, council after council, crusade after crusade, martyr after martyr, philandering televangelist after philandering televangelist, all of these folks, seriously vigilant about making sure the story of King David's harems (2 Samuel 5:13) and Samuel's genocide (I Samuel 15) is told with gusto. Sordid affairs involving prostitution and incest (Genesis 19), detailed portrayals of violence involving a disemboweling (2 Samuel 20:9-10) and some beheadings (Matthew 14:3-12), and one amazing story of angels having sex with women to create a giant race of humans called Nephalim (Genesis 6:1-4). All of this and more is part of every Christian's heritage. Don't mess. Seriously, don't mess with the Bible, unless you want to go to hell. Haha. just kidding, sort of (Revelation 22:19).

Here in lies the dichotomy: Rejecting the function of immorality in storytelling, but accepting it within our spiritual heritage.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) puts a rating on almost every movie we watch in the theaters. Movie promoters live and die by these ratings, because one extra curse word could push a "PG-13" to an "R" and drop the expected revenue by 50%. By this logic, one could argue that Christians shot themselves in the foot when it came to marketing their famous book. If there were a movie made that encompassed ever story in the Bible, I'm confident that it would receive a worse rating than NC-17. They would have to make up a rating like 40-EGA-21 (Elderly Guidance for Adults: No admittance to anyone under 21 and those over 21 must be accompanied by someone over 40). The Bible may be God's Word, but try bringing the movie version to Sunday School. Eat that scroll, Enid Strict!

Who doesn't love a good story, whether its from the Bible or the theater or a good book. There are some mind-blowing stories out there in our world. Several come to our minds immediately, and everyone has a favorite, Treasure Island, The Conversion of Saul, Ben Hur, The Matrix, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Most of those favorites include some realistic curse words, violence, or even some nudity.  I would argue that these are variables within each story that actually make it great.

Who appreciates the beauty of the outdoors more than the man in a solitary confinement? Who appreciates riches more than the man who grew up poor? Who appreciates life more than the man who almost died? Exactly. Sometimes you have to see hell to appreciate the beauty on the other side. Story-tellers take us through these hellish situations to help us appreciate the final outcome. The End. Denouement. Resolution. Catastrophe. I call it "The Payoff". That's when you know if the journey that the story took you on was worth it or not. Did it payoff well or not so well? Speaking of the Bible, again, it wouldn't be worth it's weight in shekels if it wasn't for the payoff at the end.

Do you think that people working on a movie with a superbly gory scene are bloodthirsty heathens? No. They are wholesome people with families and kids and Sunday school classes just like you and me, that are part of putting together a good story. Do you think the author who vividly describes a rape scene to his reader is a closet sexual deviant? No. He's telling a story, building up the emotion to bring it all home for a great read. Do you think the people who wrote those disturbing stories in the Bible were creepy lunatics? No. They were normal people for their day and age, putting together the greatest story ever told.

To him who has an ear let him hear, the morality portrayed in a story should not be relegated to a single line or even a single scene but the art as a whole, except, of course if it is blatantly obscene or pornographic.* So, don't give up on a story, based on a few bad words or some splattering blood. It might just be the Bible.


*(Legal definition of obscene: an act, utterance, or item tending to corrupt the public morals by its indecency or lewdness.)