Monthly Archives: February 2008

Can’t Old White Men Just Get Along?

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The numbers are in from the Super Tuesday primaries, and one statistic being heralded by many media outlets (MTV, for example) is that the youth vote is stronger than ever. During the primaries so far this year, the numbers of under-30 voters have turned out in double and triple the numbers than they did in 2004. But the increased fervor and political excitement among young people is very lopsided toward the Democratic candidates, particularly Obama.

This is strikingly clear at the Obama-crazy UCLA these days (and I suspect at most secular college campuses). During a mock campus election last month, only 225 students voted for a Republican candidate. Meanwhile, 1,387 students voted for Obama.

This is unsurprising in many respects, but if we’re looking for reasons why young people prefer the Democratic candidates over the Republicans (and, let’s face it, it’s not because of issues like social security or healthcare), we can perhaps look to the fact that not even hardcore Republicans are all that excited about the Republican candidates. Instead, the cranky old white Republican guard (the Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity/Christian Coalition types) are bickering amongst themselves in angsty confusion.

Take James Dobson—one of the most powerful (or formerly powerful) evangelical/political leaders in America. Frustrated that there isn’t a knock-out candidate on the Republican side, he’s recently taken to publicly bashing the frontrunner, John McCain.

Dobson’s list of grievances with McCain includes the fact that the Senator did not support the anti-gay marriage Constitutional amendment, supports some stem cell research, and opposed the Bush tax cuts (evidently tax cuts are considered the “Christian” thing to do). Oh, and McCain supposedly uses “foul and obscene language” … Making him not only an unconservative pseudo-liberal, but a borderline pagan.

Here’s some more of what Dobson said of McCain:

I am convinced Sen. McCain is not a conservative, and in fact, has gone out of his way to stick his thumb in the eyes of those who are. He has sounded at times more like a member of the other party. …Given these and many other concerns, a spoonful of sugar does NOT make the medicine go down. I cannot, and will not, vote for Sen. John McCain, as a matter of conscience… Should Sen. McCain capture the nomination as many assume, I believe this general election will offer the worst choices for president in my lifetime. I certainly can’t vote for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama based on their virulently anti-family policy positions. If these are the nominees in November, I simply will not cast a ballot for president for the first time in my life.

Oh Dr. Dobson… You were so wise back in the Dare to Discipline days. What happened? Now you’re advocating not voting? Even though in 2006 you said “it would be a sin” not to vote a for a candidate “who lives by a strong moral code and believes in Jesus Christ”?

Granted, Dobson today did come out and endorse Huckabee. So in the unlikely event (unfortunately) that Huckabee wins the party’s nomination, Dobson would have a reason to vote in November. But chances are the Republican party will push on and nominate McCain, with or without the Dobson-brand Christians.

Alas, I think that Dobson’s babyish tantrum is less a commentary on the state of the Republican party as it is on that fact that people like Dobson are losing their political clout. In this soon-to-be post-Bush era, Americans seem to be desirous of a departure from the wonderful world of WASPs.

As our rapidly changing country pushes forward in the midst of recession and uncertainty, the last thing we need are a bunch of aging white men quibbling over potty mouths and conservative cred. In the globalized, digitized, Darfur-burdened world we now inhabit, there are bigger fish to fry. And that is one reason why the majority of Americans (and almost all young Americans) are voting for Democrats these days.

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Why I Love Ash Wednesday

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Today is Ash Wednesday, and it is one of my favorite days of the year. I never really celebrated this beautiful day growing up… which is a shame. As the first day of Lent—the 40 day period of repentance, renewal and reflection in advance of Easter—Ash Wednesday provides a perfect chance to quiet oneself and get in the proper penitential mode for the Lenten season.

At my church and at many churches worldwide today, Christians will come together for worship, prayer, and the imposition of ashes. This part I love. An ash-marked cross on one’s forehead is a very strange thing to see (especially in a town as vain and airbrushed as L.A.), but it is beautiful. What a fantastic symbol of what Lent is all about: our coming into a focused, reverential meditation upon and solidarity with the suffering of Christ.

Ashes are a material of decay and death, but they also allude to new life. After a forest fire, for example, the ashes provide nutrients for the rebirth of a new generation of trees. And here it all comes together: “Lent” is derived from the Middle English “lente” which means “spring” or “springtime.” Though it comes early this year and spring feels miles away, Ash Wednesday is our first glimpse of that eternal newness and redemption just beyond the horizon.

I love Ash Wednesday for the way that it symbolizes—so concisely—what it means to be a Christian. It’s not about being beautiful or powerful or triumphant; it’s about being scarred and humbled and sacrificial. But it’s not like this is a defeatist exercise in self-flagellation or something. No, on the contrary, to “give up” or “sacrifice” in the name of Christ is (or should be) the height of our joy. We should strive to be like Christ, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Hebrews 12:2). For the joy set before him… That should be why we endure suffering and embrace self-denial. It’s paradoxical and mysterious and counterintuitive—certainly. But when I feel those cold ashes spread across my forehead, it all makes some sort of wonderful sense.

Paul Tillich once said that “man’s ultimate concern must be expressed symbolically, because symbolic language alone is able to express the ultimate.” And I think in Christian sacraments and rituals (like communion, baptism, or the imposition of ashes), we can see how true this is. Ash Wednesday is more than just a day that follows Mardi Gras and kicks off the Christian period of Lent. It’s a symbol that exists within and yet points beyond the materiality and ephemera of this place and this time to the transcendent and restorative oneness of the “ultimate concern” which is God Himself.

Christianity Today‘s Top Ten of 2007

So last week the film critics at Christianity Today unveiled their “Most Redeeming” list of 2007 movies (which, as you might recall, I wrote about at length). Today we published our “Critics’ Choice” picks (i.e. the overall best films of 2007), and the #1 film on the list is… Juno.

Can’t say that I totally agree with that pick… While I do think Juno has a place on our top ten, I don’t see how it is in any way superior to something like There Will Be Blood. Oh well. At least Zodiac (a film which I had a great time writing about last March when it came out) made it on our list (albeit at #9! … behind the inexplicably included Hairspray).

In any case, you can click here to see how I cast my votes.

Politics of Spectacle

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I was watching something on Fox this week and was struck by some of the ads I saw for the Super Bowl. The ads were advertising that a full day of coverage on Super Sunday would begin with a morning of Fox News political coverage on “the other big contest” going on: the presidential election. Following this would be the main event: the Patriots vs. Giants. The ad seemed to suggest that together it was a day of utter and extreme Americanisms: our “two favorite pastimes: sports and politics.” Pull up a chair, get some beer and pizza, and revel in the spectacles of debate and conflict and fighting and smash-em-up democracy!

There are many things wrong with this framing discourse of “Super Sunday” (not least of which is the obvious untruth that Americans care as much about politics as we do about sports!), but the thing that most disturbs me is this equivocation of our electoral process with something as airy and insignificant and superfluous as the Super Bowl. Are we seriously trying to say that the current presidential election is mass entertainment? A spectacle?

Unfortunately, this is not really a new trend. For decades now, American media have been turning politics into a spectacle—a three ring circus of strategy, intrigue, danger, rousing victories and epic defeats. Turn on cable news on any given night and you get some grade-A melodrama posing as political discourse.

Exhibit A of the spectacle-ization of American politics happened on Thursday night in (the very appropriate location of) Hollywood. It was the Democratic debate on CNN—live from the Kodak theater (aka the home of the Oscars and nexus of all that Hollywood represents). Did anyone watch this debate? First of all, it was hardly a debate. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were as chummy as any two competing politicians have ever been. There was very little actual debate and even less clarification for the voters.

But it was compelling TV! It was a spectacle! And boy did the stars turn out in force to drive home that point… Every time the camera panned to the audience it focused on another celebrity’s face. Liberal stalwarts Steven Spielberg and Rob Reiner were there, along with familiar faces like Diane Keaton (in her Charlie Chaplin/Annie Hall getup), Stevie Wonder (stood up and cheered a lot), and Pierce Brosnan (wait—can he even vote? Isn’t he British?). But what can explain the presence of Brandy? Or Topher Grace? Or the guy who plays Andy on The Office? What are they doing here? To give CNN the glitz and glamour that Anderson Cooper and Angelina Jolie have tried so hard to achieve?

In any case, it was funny to watch the reaction shots of various B celebrities whenever Obama or Clinton said something about how ridiculously awful George W. Bush has been. It’s almost a Pavlovian instinct for many of them, I think: “Bush ruins everything”=clap and cheer! (because who wants to cheer for boring and complex solutions to issues like healthcare and social security?). It’s much more fun and gleefully vague to “cheer for change”!

Indeed. What fun this all is! There should be an “Election 2008” reality show or something. Ryan Seacrest could host it and every night millions could call in and vote on how well each candidate looked and performed during whatever debate or speech had just happened. It would be a ratings hit for whatever channel it was on, and doubtless way more people would get “excited” about our electoral process (as long as we could text in our vote). And then perhaps one day ads during Super Tuesday will sell for just as much as on Super Sunday. A Super Week of consumerist pop-hedonism/politics! Totally win win.


Jacob Wants Us Lost

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I don’t know what is going on on Lost (I never really have), but I do know that it is still the most consistently thought-provoking show on television. And the season four premiere last night did not disappoint.

What is most compelling right now (and, to an extent, what has been the most compelling thing about the show since day one) is the way Lost plays with time. For the first three seasons each episode featured a flashback where the mysteries of the shows were broadened and the characters deepened. But now it appears that this season (and I suspect the rest of the seasons) will feature flashforwards–glimpses of the “after rescue” future of Jack, Kate, Hurley, and whoever else makes it off the island. But this raises the question: is this “future” actually the “present”? Is the island in some alternative space-time-continuum? Does what we do now really change our path for the future?

Indeed, the show has a very complicated fixation on time and fate. The whole Desmond deja-vu storyline, for example, has always been one of the most intriguing threads of the Lost web. I really hope the writers have a grasp on all of it and can tie it together semi-coherently as the final few seasons play out.

In the meantime, season four is raising the deliciously provocative question of whether or not our beloved castaways are better off lost or found? Is it really freedom to be “in control” of one’s own life? Or are we better off at the mercy of “others”–both seen and unseen? From the looks of it, Lost could quickly become the 21st century version of The Matrix: a sci-fi pop treatise on fate, free will, and the nature of reality.

I’m especially intrigued by this “Jacob” character–the ghost-like, (mostly) invisible force that lives on the island and seemingly calls all the shots. Is he meant to represent some Judeo-Christian deity? Is he a loving or malevolent being? On freeze-frame Jacob looks faintly like Jack’s dad, Christian Shepherd (can someone say Jesus!), which is another piece to the puzzle. In any case (Spoiler alert!), I suspect that when Hurley calls out to Jack and says something like “I think he wants us back!” he is referring to Jacob–obviously the source of Hurley’s apparent mental asylum issues…

Whether or not this theory is correct (it probably isn’t), we can all be happy to have a watercooler show back on TV which we can all wildly theorize about!