Get PJ Media on your Apple

Klavan On The Culture

Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Follow-Up on Elizabeth Smart

October 31st, 2013 - 10:40 am

In my post below, I mentioned that I would read Elizabeth Smart’s new memoir My Story and get back to you if it was any good. And I did read it and it was pretty good:  a straightforward and involving account of her nine nightmare months in the clutches of a filthy kidnapper and his mindless follower/wife. It’s not sensationalistic — sometimes it’s even a little coy about specifics — but there’s enough there to give you a very clear idea of what the girl endured. I had to read it in short bursts because learning about the abuse ticked me off so much. It is one of the rare cases of non-murder I believe could have been fairly punished by the death penalty.

Smart is very insistent that she at no time suffered from Stockholm Syndrome or in any way identified with her captors. She’s so insistent that there were times I wondered whether she protested too much. But no, I finally decided her remarks were a pretty natural reaction to the sort of comments she must’ve heard when people learned that she hadn’t called for help even when a police detective confronted her in public. She is obviously insulted by the assumption that she had become brainwashed into loyalty toward her captor. I would be insulted by that assumption too in her shoes. She was simply young, innocent and scared for her life. She knew the guy was evil. I believe that.

I’ve never heard Smart or her parents say this, but personally, I thought the cops did a stone lousy job during the investigation. They wasted time; they wrong-footed her parents’ search; they let the kidnapper con them; even at the end, they treated the underage victim unkindly until her father finally blew up at them and pulled her out of their clutches. What the hell were they thinking? If they really were as bad as this memoir makes them sound, someone ought to rewrite their guidebook on how to handle such cases.

Finally, in my original post, I wondered at how (or as some commenters put it, whether in fact) she had managed to recover from the trauma of being dragged from her home, raped daily and forced to violate every moral precept she had. The book doesn’t supply an answer. In fact, the chapters describing her life after the rescue are the least satisfying in the book. To be perfectly blunt, the question that occurred to me — and not, so help me, in a prurient way at all, but out of true curiosity — was: “How’s her sex life?” I mean, how did she establish physical intimacy with her husband when her first experience of sex was months of monstrous abuse? I know victims of sex abuse — I guess we all do. It marks them. Is Elizabeth not scarred at all and, if not, why not? It’s probably too much to ask that Smart reveal this much of herself, but I would like to know.

Anyway, if you’re interested in this case, My Story is a good, if harrowing, read.

American Culture: The Left Talking to Itself

October 28th, 2013 - 11:56 am
YouTube Preview Image

[CONTAINS SPOILERS TO THE FILM THE EAST.]

A cute new Ford commercial (echoing a cute old Coke commercial) promotes the superiority of AND over OR. Good horsepower AND good mileage is better than horsepower OR good mileage, just as hide AND seek is better than hide OR seek. And so on.

This is largely the way I feel about the arts. I have no desire to silence the cultural voices of people I sometimes disagree with. I only want to ensure that other voices aren’t gray listed, demonized or stifled out of existence.

When I saw the film Prisoners the other day, it had moved from the mainstream theaters to one of the local art houses. As I waited for the show to begin, I wandered the lobby looking at the posters for upcoming shows. There were four: a movie about a gay Catholic priest who falls in love with a man; a movie about a lesbian love affair; a movie about a little Muslim girl who has to learn the Koran in order to win a bicycle; and a Yiddish film about a love affair during the Holocaust.

Now truly, I have no problem whatsoever with any of these films being made or distributed. A gay priest choosing between his religion and love is an inherently dramatic situation, as is a Jewish love affair during the Holocaust. The film about the little girl is by Saudi Arabia’s first female director and so should have some real insights into a world we rarely see. And when the lesbian film comes out on DVD, you’ll be able to skip ahead to the ten minute sex scenes. (Oh, all right, I’m joking…)

My problem, as always, is with the films that aren’t getting made. Like, say, the one about the not-gay Catholic priest, who heroically tries to help sex slaves in Turkey until he’s assassinated by a man shouting “Allahu Akbar!” Or the one about Norman Borlaug, who led the green revolution credited with saving over one billion people from starvation, despite the attempts made to stop him…  by environmentalists.

Speaking of environmentalists, the other day my wife and I sat down to watch an obscure thriller called The East, which I’d heard was good. It began with a terrorist attack on an oil executive by radical environmentalists. ”Don’t tell me the environmentalists are the bad guys,” said my wife, surprised. “No,” I said wearily. “The female agent will go undercover to stop the terrorists but will fall in love with their leader and discover that they’re actually the good guys and the oil companies she works for are evil.” To which my wife replied, “You know, it’s not always that much fun to watch movies with you.”

But it’s not me, really it’s not. When only one point of view is being told, the arts will by necessity become boring, predictable and solipsistic. It’s the sound of one hand patting itself on the back.

YAAAAAAA!

October 25th, 2013 - 3:42 pm

Assuming you’ve already downloaded the free Haunting Melissa upgrade and pre-ordered my new YA ghost thriller Nightmare City, it’s time for some real-life horror in this terrific new video from my friends at Madison McQueen:

YouTube Preview Image

In an article called “Who Killed the Halloween Horror Movie?” USA Today recently noted the dearth of big budget horror films this Halloween, the Carrie remake being the exception. Don’t blame me for this, since I’ve done my little all to provide you with a Kreepy Klavan Holiday via my new young adult ghost story Nightmare City (now available to pre-order) and the reboot of Neal Edelstein’s ghost story app Haunting Melissa  script by me — now getting a shiny new 2.0 reboot.

And in fact, it’s not that there are fewer horror stories out there, it’s that there are so many that they can’t be confined to one time of year or to one medium. Horror has gone mainstream, and the zombie-like hunger for Halloween fare can be satisfied at any time and in any number of ways. The Conjuring was released in theaters in the summer, and is out on DVD for October. World War Z, The Evil Dead and Insidious 2 all broke this year and two out of three are available now. And whatever other spooky-dooky tale you want to experience on Halloween or any other time, you only have to stream it or DVR it or, for all I know, have it injected directly into your brain. Like the real world, the fictional world has no shortage of horror — none at all.

Does the mainstreaming and mainlining of eerie fare tell us anything about ourselves, I wonder. I’m always suspicious of such generalizations, but here’s something I’ve noticed for myself. After a career of realistic crime writing with only occasional forays into ghost stories, I’m finding it harder and harder to describe my vision of the world in fiction without resorting to the supernatural.

Pages: 1 2 | 23 Comments bullet bullet

I guess it says something about the state of movie-making these days, that I sat watching Prisoners thinking, “Wow, this is so sharp, it could almost be a TV show!”  The two and a half hour thriller about two girls who go missing in suburban Pennsylvania would have made a great three part drama on New Television but it holds up well on the big screen because of its cast and its theme.

There’s just about nothing I love more than good crime writing, and this is very good. Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski’s excellent script languished for six years, and was even put on the famous Black List of the best unproduced scripts in the business.  Hollywood doesn’t like bleak and likes children in danger even less. (It took ten years for my kidnapping novel Don’t Say A Word to get produced, and then it only happened because of a threatened strike.) I suspect it was the writing quality and the sheer number of good roles that finally got this to the screen. Guzikowski’s only other produced film is Contraband, an intelligent but flat remake of an Icelandic film. He has an original series coming up on the Sundance Channel, The Red Road, and I’ll watch for it after seeing this.

Look, you can pick at points of the Prisoners plot, but why would you? It’s intense, suspenseful, smart and the characters and actors are terrific. Hugh Jackman plays the troubled but devoted father who takes the law into his own hands in the ugliest possible way. And Jake Gyllenhaal plays a great cop, but one so disconnected from life that he can only mouth platitudes in the face of the parents’ emotional agony. It’s one of the script’s signal features that it makes you root for both these guys, even when they go over the line. Also, I should point out that while there are disturbing story elements, the gore and boo scares are kept to a minimum. The film earns its suspense through good ideas instead of cheap shots.

Pages: 1 2 | 1 Comment bullet bullet

News of the Week Recap

October 18th, 2013 - 5:05 am

So I read in the news that the Republicans sold out all their principles to end the government shut down and I was, like, “Whaaat? The government shut down??? No way!!!” Because, you know, you would think if the government shut down that would be really inconvenient but it turns out, not so much. Only there were a lot of people on television saying, no, this was really, really, serious, dude, because if the government shuts down too long, we’ll default on our debt. And they had really, really serious faces on when they said this so I started to get worried and I was all, like, “Really? You mean, if this government shutdown I didn’t even notice was happening goes on for too long, we won’t be able to pay the interest on all the loans we had to take on account of the fact we were spending too much money?” But in fact, it turns out if we “defaulted,” we’d actually have plenty of money to pay off the interest on our loans, we’d just have to stop paying for all those things we spent too much money on so that we’d no longer be spending too much money. So I was all, like, “Oh, hey, that would be great, right?” But what do you know, the idea of not spending too much money was so unpopular that the Republicans had to sell out all their principles to make sure it didn’t happen. And this was all Ted Cruz’s fault because Ted Cruz had principles so he made the other Republicans look bad. And now, instead of being popular for having no principles, the Republicans have no principles and are unpopular, which is a very bad thing because it’s much better to be popular. So that rotten Ted Cruz ruined everything for the Republicans because instead of having no principles and getting re-elected, they might have no principles and get thrown out of office. And that would mean more Democrats because Democrats not only have no principles, they actually run on the platform of having no principles, so what could possibly go wrong for them? And all this made Barack Obama very happy and he was all, like, “I rock! I rule! I’m a genius!” And then reporters asked him, “So how come everything sucks when you’re president?” And he was all, like, “Huh?” No, I’m joking. Reporters would never ask him that question. They’re reporters. They have to ask about, like, Michelle’s new dog and stuff.

Anyway, this is why I’ve been thinking about a third party. At my place, 8PM. Bring your own government.

*****

Cross-posted at PJ Tatler

More Pre-Pub Reviews for “Nightmare City”

October 16th, 2013 - 6:41 pm

nightmarecity_coverimage_v2-2

I’ll be spending a lot of this week in a recording studio at Deyan Audio recording the audiobook for my new YA Thriller Nightmare City. Usually, I don’t record the books for young adults because I feel they need a younger voice, but this one is in the third person, so I thought it would be okay.

The pre-pub reviews for the book continue strong. I mentioned below that Publishers Weekly called it “intense,” “eerie,” “elegant,” and “well-crafted. Romantic Times — which nowadays goes by the name RT — had this to say:

“Klavan again hits readers with a story filled with such vivid imagery that one might find themselves looking over their shoulder to make sure they aren’t the one being followed… The writing is stellar, and readers who love Klavan’s previous works will not be disappointed with Nightmare City.”

And Booklist said: “Klavan retains his James Patterson–like gift for keeping pages turning, and the mystery behind it all… is a juicy one, and well handled.”

And did I mention the novel is still on pre-pub e-book sale on all platforms for only $3.99? Well, it is.

This is the End: What Movie Would Jesus Watch?

October 14th, 2013 - 11:34 am

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.   But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:11-13

Because pompous judgmentalism feels good and loving forgiveness is difficult, it’s no surprise that some Christians come to sound suspiciously like the Pharisees. The guys who criticized Jesus for having dinners with sinners are alive and well, leveling charges of moral relativism at anyone who repeats the Christly injunction to judge not and has the bad manners to mean it. One trick to achieving the Pharisaical mindset is to take those portions of Scripture that condemn stuff and read them as broadly as possible, then take the lines calling for forgiveness and read them as narrowly as possible.  Thus if you can find a 6th century BC verse in Leviticus demanding the death penalty for homosexuals, then by gum Neil Patrick Harris must die! Whereas when Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek,” he only meant if you happened to get slapped by a Roman Centurion. “Love your neighbor but…” “Judge not but…” “Forgive your enemies but…” If such people would take their buts out of their heads, they would discover that the interior task assigned to Christians is so difficult that it leaves very little time for condemning other people. Damn it.

All of which I mention on the way to explaining why I so thoroughly enjoyed and admired the raunchy, drug-filled, scatological comedy This Is The End and why I wish openly Christian filmmakers made films more like it.

The plot: a group of raunchy comedy stars – Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill and so on – play themselves as shallow, backbiting, pot-smoking narcissists. They’re gathered at a party at Franco’s new mansion when the Apocalypse hits, complete with Rapture. At first, they can’t believe it because, if the good people are being taken up into Heaven, why would actors be left behind? They’re actors! They bring joy to people’s lives! But as things go from apocalyptic to worse, the sober truth begins to dawn.

“This means there’s a God,” says Rogan, in one of the movie’s best exchanges. “Who saw that coming?”

“Like…  95 percent of the world,” answers Baruchel.

The film is so good-natured and self-aware that even when the jokes were dopey it sometimes made me laugh out of pure pleasure. There’s plenty of vomit and urine-drinking and foul language but the underlying idea of having Hollywood confront the fact of the moral universe is so good and so well played out that a lot of the nonsense becomes almost as funny as the filmmakers think it is. And in the midst of it, there are genuine comic highlights, like Jonah Hill learning to pray, “It’s me, God. Jonah Hill. From Moneyball.“ As the guys discover what it really takes to get into Heaven, their bafflement increases hilariously. Franco’s last scene still makes me laugh just thinking about it. The whole thing, beginning to end, was everything a picture like this should be.

Which brings me back to my original point. I wonder how many so-called Christian filmmakers would make a movie like this — just as I often wonder how many Christian booksellers would carry a novel about an axe murderer who falls in love with a prostitute (ie. Crime and Punishment). Because, while squeaky clean Christian entertainment (you know what I mean) does serve the purpose of making good values look good and confirming believers in their faith, I can’t help feeling that a movie like This Is The End more effectively reaches out to people where they actually are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s Wrong With Joel Osteen?

October 11th, 2013 - 1:12 pm

Joel-Osteen-001

Novelist Lars Walker — a friend of this blog and an insightful reviewer of some of my own novels — makes a trenchant comment in the Elizabeth Smart post below. I know it’s trenchant because I was about to make basically the same comment but Lars beat me to it! In the comment, he makes a delightfully concise reference to “the Osteenian view that suffering is always a sign of God’s displeasure.” This, of course, refers to popular preacher Joel Osteen, who has been promoting his new book at the Blaze and other places. He basically preaches that God wants wonderful things for your life and you only have to open yourself to God’s will in order to receive those blessings.

I stumbled on Osteen before he was famous. It was more than ten years ago, when I was wrestling with my own conversion to Christianity. I was  struggling deeply with the fear that faith would limit my freedom of thought (it didn’t) and the idea that I might be betraying my Jewish heritage. Late one night, while channel surfing, I came upon one of Osteen’s half hour sermons on some religious channel. I (who generally dislike religious programming) was bowled over by him. He was brilliant at conveying God’s love for his human creation and I found his words very moving and comforting. I remember telling my wife about him over our morning coffee. I was well aware of the intellectual flaw in “the Osteenian view.” If God wants only good things to happen to us, and we have to “activate his blessings,” by our positive prayers and good actions, then indeed, as Lars says, suffering must always be a result of some failure on our part. Still, I found his optimism and generosity of heart compelling.

And there is some Biblical support for his point of view. “A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all,” says the Psalmist, whereas “Evil will slay the wicked.” This attitude dominates both Psalms and Proverbs. But it is offset by Job and Ecclesiastes. The latter tells us: “Here is a pointless thing that happens on earth: A righteous man receives what happens to the wicked, and a wicked man receives what happens to the righteous.” And Jesus, who knew a thing or two, remarked that the sun shines on the evil as well as the good and the rain falls on the just and unjust alike.

Not surprisingly, the Bible is right on both counts. That is, of course, in general, a good life is likely to make you happier than a bad one, and good habits will probably make you healthier and more prosperous than bad ones. No good parent tells his child, “My son, go forth and treat yourself and others like garbage, it’ll be great.” There’s a reason the proverbs say what they say.

Pages: 1 2 | 12 Comments bullet bullet

The Mystery of Elizabeth Smart

October 9th, 2013 - 6:22 pm

Elizabeth Smart is making the rounds, flogging her new book My Story (written with Congressman Chris Stewart). Smart is, of course, the beautiful Mormon girl who in 2002 at 14 years old was abducted for nine months by evil lunatic Brian David Mitchell and his wife. Then, miraculously, she was found and reunited with her family. Today, she’s married and says she “couldn’t be happier.” She does good work fighting human trafficking and speaking to sexual abuse survivors.

I’ve always been kind of fascinated with Smart (I’ll read the book and get back to you on it if it’s any good). Her kidnappers dragged her around the country, chaining her up like an animal and raping her daily. And the two questions everyone always asks her are 1) why didn’t you run/call for help and 2) how come you’re not, like, bats**t crazy?

The first question doesn’t mean much to me. Fourteen-year-old-girl, threatened, brutalized, terrified: in the movies, she’d have run away. Real life, not so much. I think anyone with half an imagination can figure that one out.

But that second question — that haunts me. It really does. Nine months of trauma, raped every day, mentally tortured by these demonic lowlifes with their threats and their sick religious delusions. Hell, I know women who’ve been assaulted once and have never gotten over it. I know people whose whole lives are defined by the cruel things that were done to them. I myself just have to hear Smart’s story and I start having angry fantasies about what I’d like to do to Mitchell (hint: it involves a ball-peen hammer and pliers). So how does she, who actually went through this stuff…  how does she live her life without being consumed by rage every day all the time?

She gives answers in her interviews. Her mom told her that being happy was the best revenge. She plays the harp. She rides horses. She has a great family. A great community. She believes in God. She doesn’t dwell in the past.

I believe all that — I truly do — but somehow it doesn’t answer the question, does it? Not fully. Not for me anyway.  I look at Elizabeth Smart and I wonder about what she’s got inside her, that thing that Mitchell couldn’t touch, couldn’t break. Was she born with that?  Or did her parents give it to her? Can it be isolated, taught, shared, cultivated?

In our whiny, victocratic, nurse-your-wounds, therapy-and-drug laden culture, this poised young woman gives you faith there really is a better way. Whatever is in her, it’s an amazing thing, that’s for sure. I just wish I knew what it was!