Whether you’re seeking salvation or inner peace, a god to worship or add to your home-made altar, the pop culture pantheon is at your disposal so that you may pick and choose the gods and tools of worship to service your every emotional, spiritual, and even material need.
10. Harry Potter
When they aren’t re-reading their holy texts, Potterheads commune at MuggleNet to chat about their god, study their faith and perform the usual acts of tithing. According to the Facebook page “Being a POTTERHEAD” (which is classified as a non-profit organization),
Harry Potter has reached out to 200 countries, spoke out in 69 languages, and has touched the lives of 400 million people. It is the phenomenon that ignores race, age, gender and religion and has brought us all together despite our differences.
Also known as Potterholics, Potterites and Pottermaniacs, Potterheads should never be confused with potheads as their allegiance is strictly Wizard, not weed.
Michelle Goldberg over at the Nation published an excellent article on the #CancelColbert controversy arising out of what she has dubbed the “New Political Correctness”:
It’s increasingly clear that we are entering a new era of political correctness. Recently, we’ve seen the calls to #CancelColbert because of something outrageous said by Stephen Colbert’s blowhard alter ego, who has been saying outrageous things regularly for nine years. Then there’s the sudden demand for “trigger warnings” on college syllabi, meant to protect students from encountering ideas or images that may traumatize them; an Oberlin faculty document even suggests jettisoning “triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the course learning goals.” At Wellesley, students have petitioned to have an outdoor statue of a lifelike sleepwalking man removed because it was causing them “undue stress.” As I wrote in The Nation, there’s pressure in some circles not to use the word “vagina” in connection with reproductive rights, lest it offend trans people.
Radicals thrive on crisis. The crises they are generating are evidence of how truly free we are as a nation. Panicking over statuary is as #FirstWorldProblem as you can get. Yet we should not be fooled: The chaos of radicals always has a serious motive.
Nor is this just happening here. In England’s left-wing New Statesman, Sarah Ditum wrote of the spread of no-platforming—essentially stopping people whose ideas are deemed offensive from speaking publicly. She cites the shouting down of an opponent of the BDS movement at Galway University and the threats and intimidation leveled at the radical feminist Julie Bindel, who has said cruel things about trans people. “No platform now uses the pretext of opposing hate speech to justify outrageously dehumanising language, and sets up an ideal of ‘safe spaces’ within which certain individuals can be harassed,” wrote Ditum. “A tool that was once intended to protect democracy from undemocratic movements has become a weapon used by the undemocratic against democracy.”
Whether it is in a public forum or a private business (as with last week’s case of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich) “no-platforming” is the desired outcome of the radical-induced chaos. Whether it is used against the presumed liberal (feminism) or conservative (anti-BDS) cause, the outcome is the same: a clampdown on free speech and individual expression, marketed as kind-hearted, feel-good social legislation. Orwell would not be surprised.
In this day and age, why would you be stupid enough to use your religious beliefs as an excuse to deny someone services?
There are plenty of ways to avoid entering into a business transaction without having to appear discriminatory at all. When I worked for a private repair shop and encountered a client who seemed to be more trouble than they were worth for whatever reason, we used to simply say, “I am sorry, but we cannot provide service.” If people questioned why (which they did, very often and with plenty of attitude), we just kept repeating the same phrase: “I’m sorry, we cannot provide the service.” No one interpreted us as being discriminatory, or went as far as attempting legal action. We were simply annoying, so they moved onto a business that was willing to enter into the transaction. No harm, no foul.
That is the beauty of the free market: You have choices. If a bakery simply said “I am sorry, we can’t provide that service,” and left it at that, a gay couple denied service might interpret the owner’s choice as being discriminatory, but they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in court. You can’t sue based on an inference. Progressives, however, rely on the courts to push their agenda because Big Government is their god. So the minute you breathe a hint of something that could be misconstrued as an opportunity for a lawsuit, they gain home-court advantage.
By simply saying, “I am sorry, we can’t provide that service,” you may be opening yourself up to some annoying picketing and internet memes, but what’s the worst that will do? Throw you in the same court as Chick fil-A? We all know how well that protest worked out. The bottom line is, you’re letting the free market decide your fate, not the courts.
If I approached ten random people on the street and asked them whether “relationships should be consensual,” ten out of ten would likely answer yes. I mean, what’s the alternative? People should be able to force themselves on each other? It’s a no-brainer.
Yet, if I asked the same ten people whether “a business should be able to deny service on the basis of race or sexual orientation,” seven or eight would probably answer no.
How do we reconcile that? Do we believe relationships should be governed by mutual consent, or not?
In the wake of Arizona governor Jan Brewer’s veto of S.B. 1062, a bill which by some accounts would have expanded the freedom of association in that state, we do well to consider the true nature of Jim Crow. Today, we all agree that the laws which emerged at the state and local level in the century following the Civil War mandating racial segregation clearly violated individual rights. But what about those laws made them a violation of rights? Was it the fact that they discriminated on the basis of race? Or was it the fact that they kept individuals from utilizing their judgment?
By replacing Jim Crow laws with anti-discrimination laws, all we did was change whom the state victimizes. Instead of mandating segregation, we mandated integration. We went from forcing people to abstain from relationships to forcing them to engage in them.
Who speaks for consent? Why have we never tried letting people choose whom they enter into relationships with, and whom they do not? How did we solve the offense of Jim Crow by inverting its trespass?
Arizona’s S.B. 1062 aims too narrowly, and at the wrong target. While businesses should be able to deny service to customers whose needs conflict with the owner’s religious conscience, that stands as only one example of a broader principle which must be applied universally. All relationships should be consensual. Indeed, the case for gay marriage rests upon that very notion. Rather than focus on whether a gay couple should be able to marry or whether a vendor should be able to deny them service, let’s broaden our consideration to whether individuals ought to define their own relationships in all contexts.
No one should be able to force themselves on someone else, ever, under any circumstances. Embracing that maxim and applying it to public policy would settle many of these divisive social issues.
Bethany Mandel’s article on the irony of permitted homophobia in the African-American rap community rightly highlighted the Left’s patronizing racism towards both African and Hispanic Americans. She smartly pointed out pop culture’s double standard when it comes to reacting to anti-gay statements from Christian whites versus blacks or Hispanics. But the argument needs to be pushed further, lest we fall into the Progressive Left’s divisive Minority trap.
The underlying racism of the Progressive Left is the kind of upper-class willful ignorance rooted in eugenic supremacist theory that’s currently being swept under the rug of “progressivism,” a fanciful term for 21st century Marxism. No one could possibly believe that the same people who promote marriage equality, affirmative action, and amnesty are subconsciously racist. Unless, of course, they looked at the philosophy underlying those seemingly righteous political beliefs.
One need look no further than the Grammys for proof. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, white boys with bad rapping skills being lathered up with awards by an audience righteously congratulating themselves for marrying gays on stage to the tune of Same Love. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the white messiahs saving rap from its inherent anti-gay nature with cornball lyrics referring to his beloved genre as “a culture founded from oppression.” What next? Rapping about the ironies of 40 acres and a mule with a prop carpetbag?
Gay at a time when homosexuality was a felony and Jewish in an era of “polite” antisemitism, one Liverpool lad broke into entertainment management at a time when the Anglo Lords in London ruled the biz. 50 years later the music world is only beginning to acknowledge that there’d be no Beatles without their manager, Brian Epstein.
This past weekend, Vivek Tiwary, the Gen-X producer that brought Green Day’s American Idiot to Broadway, spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at The Fest for Beatles Fans about his mission to bring Epstein’s little known story to life via a critically acclaimed graphic novel, The Fifth Beatle, released by Dark Horse Comics.
What I unearthed after much difficult research (there is a paltry amount of information readily available on Brian, which is part of why I want to bring his story to the world) was not just an inspirational business story and a blueprint for what I wanted to accomplish with my career, but also a very human story, as summarized above. It’s a story I could relate to—and wanted to relate to—on so many levels. Brian became my “historical mentor”, if you will. A person from whose history I’ve tried to learn from—both what to do and what NOT to do. Brian was certainly a flawed and imperfect hero, but a hero all the same.
Tiwary has drawn inspiration from Epstein’s trailblazing ingenuity, citing that without Epstein’s persistence, Ed Sullivan never would have brought The Beatles to America. “People scoffed when I brought Sean Combs to Broadway in A Raisin in the Sun because they didn’t believe that Broadway attracted a black audience. I told them that was ridiculous; if we gave them a product they wanted, they would come.” Like Epstein decades before, Tiwary’s was a winning gamble.
Pop quiz: Which star appears to be losing out on work because he’s an out gay man? Haven’t heard about him? It appears that in some parts of the entertainment industry, namely the rap world, it’s still okay to be homophobic. Entertainment Weekly reports on rapper T-Pain’s comments on his fellow rapper, the openly gay Frank Ocean:
“I think the radio is getting more gay-friendly,” said the Auto-Tune champion/noted boat enthusiast. “I don’t think urban music is getting more gay-friendly because if that was the case, Frank Ocean would be on a lot more songs. I know n—-s that will not do a song with Frank Ocean just because he gay, but they need him on the f—ing song and that’s so terrible to me, man.“
The rap world has long been known for its hostility towards the LGBT community, but it has been given a pass due to the fact that the majority of its stars are African American. While the American media gleefully points out the homophobia of every other subsection of the country and its residents, Americans of color continue to be given a pass.
During the controversy in California over Proposition 8, the Mormon Church was vilified for showing a financial interest in the outcome. The New York Times blamed its passage on the Mormon Church, but the Washington Post exposed the true culprits:
All five of California’s most populous counties — Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernadino and San Diego — voted in favor of Prop. 8 even as Obama was carrying four of the five in the presidential race.
Los Angeles County — the state’s most populous — is particularly interesting to look at. In LA County, Prop. 8 won a narrow majority of 50.1 percent. But, President Obama carried the county with a whopping 69 percent.
The discrepancy? African American voters, who were overwhelmingly in favor of banning same sex marriage (70 percent supported Proposition 8) even as they supported Obama even more heavily (94 percent). And, to a lesser degree, Hispanic voters followed that same trend — backing Prop. 8 by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin while giving President Obama 74 percent.
In an ironic twist, these voters who came out to vote with such enthusiasm for the first African American president were also responsible for passing Proposition 8. Perhaps it’s not so ironic, given the fact that President Obama had yet to “evolve” on the issue.
Other minorities are also apparently allowed to make homophobic remarks in public. The Bachelor’s Juan Pablo, who was quoted last month calling homosexuals “perverts,” has largely skated through the incident unscathed. While he has had to comment on the statements over the past month, the show is still on the air and no punitive action has been taken by ABC. Despite the comments, Entertainment Wise reports that he was greeted with cheers and screaming fans at Good Morning America yesterday. While the media has spent a good deal of time this week exposing Pablo’s womanizing ways on the hit show, the statements about “gay perverts” have slowly fallen off the nation’s radar.
What would the media reaction be if a country music crooner made similar comments or was quietly blacklisted? I think you know the answer.
Last night during the State of the Union, I was amazed to hear President Obama say the following:
We [Americans] believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation. And next week, the world will see one expression of that commitment – when Team USA marches the red, white, and blue into the Olympic Stadium – and brings home the gold.
The cognitive dissonance between the first sentence and the second in that paragraph is mind blowing considering the situation for the gay community in Russia currently. The Mayor of Sochi, where the Olympics are about to take place, recently “reassured” the world that there weren’t any gays in his city. The situation is dangerous for Russians and visitors alike, as Russian President Vladamir Putin has put out a warning not to spread “homosexual propaganda” to any gay attendees or participants at the Games.
President Obama has chosen not to attend the Olympics, nor will he be sending his Vice President or wife for the first time in U.S. history. His administration has, however, named two gay athletes to the American delegation. Presumably the Presidential boycott and the fact that the U.S. delegation contains openly gay members is enough to express to the world that we hold this commitment to equality dear, though that has never been explicitly expressed. Apparently that’s enough.
If President Obama wanted to do more than pay lip service to gay rights (I would say the right to not be beaten in the streets in Russia counts as “gay rights”), he would be explicit in his opposition to Russia’s draconian anti-gay laws. Instead, he makes proclamations about his newfound support for gay marriage while using the American gay community as a fundraising cash cow.
Unless you’re fortunate enough to prefer reading or still be avoiding the Facebook trend, you’ve been bombarded with arguments over Duck Dynasty‘s Phil Robertson’s statements regarding homosexuality published in the most recent edition of GQ magazine. For the record, here’s what the guy actually said after being prompted by the GQ reporter with the question, “What, in your mind, is sinful?”
“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”
… “We never, ever judge someone on who’s going to heaven, hell. That’s the Almighty’s job. We just love ’em, give ’em the good news about Jesus—whether they’re homosexuals, drunks, terrorists. We let God sort ’em out later, you see what I’m saying?”
Bottom line: The nomenklatura outcry is over a man who quoted a Bible verse and backed it up with the philosophy that anyone is as free to live his life as he is to live his own and we should all love each other. The nomenklatura supports Obama, who prefers to negotiate nuclear war with Iran, a country that openly persecutes homosexuals as “diseased.” Yet, the nomenklatura denies a maker of duck calls the right to free speech. According to openly gay Camille Paglia, the culture war erupting here is a battle between freedom of speech and the return of the Soviet empire on American soil:
“I speak with authority here because I was openly gay before the ‘Stonewall Rebellion,’ when it cost you something to be so,” she said. “And I personally feel as a libertarian that people have the right to free thought and free speech. In a democratic country, people have the right to be homophobic as they have the right to support homosexuality — as I 100 percent do. If people are basing their views against gays on the Bible, again they have a right to religious freedom there … to express yourself in a magazine in an interview -– this is the level of punitive PC, utterly fascist, utterly Stalinist, OK, that my liberal colleagues in the Democratic party and on college campuses have supported and promoted over the last several decades. It’s the whole legacy of the free speech 1960′s that have been lost by my own party.”
In the ultimate example of framing, the American nomeklatura is using one man’s words as a weapon against him in the war over what is constitutionally permitted versus what is nomenklaturally popular. Interestingly, this battle in the culture war is illustrating what history has already proven true: The best weapon to defeat the Stalinist nomenklatura is the free market.
Reacting to a phenomenal wave of activity across social media in the wake of cable network A&E’s suspension of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson for expressing his Christian view of homosexuality, many liberty activists have voiced frustration with the amount of attention a reality show can garner while — in their view — far more pressing issues persist. Some have even suggested that the entire drama has been orchestrated by the media to divert attention from issues like the implosion of Obamacare or the expanding NSA spying scandal.
Here’s a sample which exemplifies the sentiment of many:
I really wish people got half as outraged about things that actually matter as they do about stuff that happens on reality shows. I am so tired of it!
If you’re more upset that Phil Robertson got kicked off of A&E than you are that a US Drone bombed a wedding in Yemen last week killing 15 civilians, you might be part of the problem.
There’s an irony here which ought to command our attention. The essence of liberty emerges as the principle of individual rights, the recognition that each person retains the prerogative to form their own value judgments. The political left rejects that principle, insisting that individuals surrender their chosen values and adopt those deemed superior by an elite ruling class. Their willingness to wield force and compel others to forsake chosen values metastasizes from an initial conviction that people ought to think a certain way. Getting upset about how upset someone else gets about something you don’t think they should be upset about… it really says more about you than it does about them. It manifests from a latent bit of tyranny which would make others reorient their values.
These are friends of mine making the above comments. And God knows I’ve made similar comments in other contexts. While that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re all a bunch of tyrants, it should trigger a thoughtful consideration of why people value the things they value.
If you love movies, you owe it to yourself to subscribe to the AMC Theaters channel on YouTube. You will enjoy the thoughtful commentary offered by the crew at AMC Movie Talk.
Responding to a viewer question asking whether Hollywood will ever make an action hero or superhero film with a gay leading character, AMC’s John Campea offers several well-considered insights, none more so than this one:
The other thing I think is a little bit less nefarious than homophobia. And that’s simply the idea of cognitive identification. A lot of times, when we’re watching superhero films like – ridiculous guys like me. I watch Captain America and there’s a part of me that feels like I can be that guy. When I’m watching Iron Man, there’s a ridiculously disconnected [from reality] part of my brain that thinks, “I can be Tony Stark.” There’s an association with it… There’s very few things that are more strongly embedded within us, with our identity, than our sexuality.
The moment Captain America starts making out with another man, the ability of a heterosexual male to relate drops off substantially. Campea goes on to apply that observation beyond the context of sexual orientation to race, dialect, and other cultural differences.
Let’s say we see a guy, a character onscreen who is a small – speaks broken English – Asian gentleman. We have a hard time identifying with that. That’s not us. We can’t identify with him. And so we don’t really get attracted to those types of characters, those types of movies, and those types of projects.
It comes down to business and math. There just aren’t enough gay men in the world to justify catering a big budget action film to their particular tastes.
As world leaders gathered to discuss the future of Israel, speculations and suspicions swirled around American Christians’ motives and commitment to Israel’s right to exist.
From Tablet’s “Why Gay Marriage–Not AIPAC–May Determine Whether Bibi Bombs Iran“:
Bibi’s possible choice of a military option would be premised in part on the assumption that Israel enjoys a strong bedrock of support in the United States—not Jews, but Christian evangelicals. The problem with the assumption that Israel can rely on its Christian supporters—and the majority of Congress that is reliant on their votes—is that some younger evangelicals are now tilting against support for the Jewish state. Oddly, the issue that may decide whether Israel can count on the United States in the future is not President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, but the evangelical schism on the issue of gay marriage.
American evangelical support for Israel is based on a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, in particular this passage from the Book of Genesis, Chapter 12, Verse 3: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” The political expression of the mainstream evangelical exegesis of this passage is John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, which is the country’s largest pro-Israel organization—a fact that is hardly surprising, given that, according to the recent Pew study, more evangelicals believe that God gave Israel to the Jews than American Jews do, 82 percent to 40 percent.
Contrary to what many liberals believe, and many conservatives like to pretend, the fundamentalist movement, like Judaism, is not a unitary political or theological force. Evangelicals lack a single guiding leader, as Catholics have in the pope, and as a result schisms in their movement have played a large if often understated role in American history. One such historic schism may be opening up beneath the feet of the pro-Israel community right now.
Evoking Hollywood images of the Scopes trial to illustrate the point, author Lee Smith claims that just as evolution split fundamentalists into sides that fought over the literal interpretation of creation, leaving them them looking foolish and archaic, so too will those that believe in the out-of-touch ideal of marriage as only one man and one woman look foolish.
Five-year-old Suzie heads off to kindergarten in rural Minnesota. She settles into her class routine full of activity, discovery, and friendship.
Then the day takes a turn. As part of newly mandated diversity training, Suzie’s teacher brings out Heather Has Two Mommies for some light mid-morning reading. A typically precocious kindergartener, Suzie pipes up during the story to correct the teacher’s telling. “God gave us a mommy and a daddy,” she exclaims.
Though no student takes exception to Suzie’s remark, the teacher cringes and becomes keenly aware of her state-mandated role to report any incident which could be construed as bullying. So Suzie gets pulled out of class and taken to the principal’s office, where she’s met by a counselor.
There begins a process of formative intervention and remedial discipline. More than correction for objectively inappropriate behavior, this intervention focuses on changing who Suzie is, on correcting her values to ensure that she accepts each of her classmates and values their diverse backgrounds.
Confused, disturbed, and teary-eyed, Suzie comes away from the experience convinced she has done something wrong. Worse, she feels the very sense of rejection which her accusers claim to deplore. She learns her lesson, that the values taught at home are not welcome in school. A bit of her innocence dies. She grows more guarded, less expressive, and unfairly subdued.
Such a tale may be among the tamest of experiences awaiting children in Minnesota, if a task force of social engineers commissioned by Governor Mark Dayton succeeds in lobbying for legislation which has already been approved by the state House. House File 826, misleadingly titled the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, serves as a trial balloon modeling what its supporters would like to implement nationally – a radical transformation of schools from institutions of academic achievement into political reeducation camps which correct Orwellian Wrong Think.
Sold colloquially as an “anti-bullying bill,” the proposed legislation actually institutionalizes bullying, targeting political minorities with suppressive badgering. The bill would repeal existing anti-bullying statutes which have proven effective. It would create an invasive, overbearing, and unfunded new state bureaucracy to impose politically correct values upon students, teachers, parents, staff, and anyone serving in or around the educational system. It would affect both public and private schools. In a state which already has one of the worst achievement gaps between white and black students in the nation, the bill would burden struggling districts with new mandates diverting precious resources away from academics. Teachers and staff will become thought police and value mediators, shifting their disciplinary focus from correcting inappropriate behavior to remediating students’ belief systems. As with any state bureaucracy, reams of new data will be generated and follow students throughout their academic career, if not the rest of their lives.
Samuel Lamb defied the Communist Chinese. A leader in the underground Christian community, Lamb passed away earlier this month in Guangzhou, where he ran a house church for decades. Voice of the Martyrs reports:
When the Communist Party took control of China in 1949 under Mao Zedong, Christians were forced underground or forced to submit to Party control. Those that refused were interrogated, arrested, tortured, imprisoned or even killed. Samuel Lamb became one of the best known of these persecuted church leaders.
Lamb first tasted prison in 1955, when he was sentenced to serve 18 months. He was imprisoned again in 1958, this time receiving a 20-year sentence. Part of his sentence was spent serving forced labor in coal mines, where working conditions were deplorable and many prisoners died. Lamb would later talk about how God preserved his life even in the midst of such dangerous work.
For most American Christians, Lamb’s experience lays so far outside our own that it can be hard to perceive as modern. Living as we do in a land of relative religious liberty, we understand persecution only as an intellectual concept. It lurks in the depths of church history, or haunts the horizon of a distant future glimpsed through biblical prophecy. The idea of facing persecution today, in present America, seems unthinkable at first consideration. After all, we’ve spent our whole lives driving past a church on every corner, swearing oaths on copies of the Bible, and covering our hearts while swooning over the Land of the Free.
Be that as it may, as the culture makes radical shifts in the 21st century, the price of Christian confession begins to rise. If certain coalitions have their way, adherence to the Christian faith will be regulated out of public existence. Oh, the church buildings may stand, and 501(c)3s operating in the name of Christ may remain. But biblical Christianity taught without compromise will be relegated to underground enclaves like those formed under the Communist Chinese.
As Instapundit Glenn Reynolds might say: asking the important questions!
The reason it comes up: a really interesting post from Erick Erickson at RedState.com. I like RedState and admire Erickson. He’s smart, fearless and he writes well. And I greatly enjoyed the July 30 essay titled “For Jesus. The World Against Me,” in which he rightly took liberal Christian Rachel Held Evans to task for stereotyping more conservative Christians as anti-science or too patriotic. Erickson writes:
I don’t know a Christian who is anti-science. Christians haven’t suddenly declared science anti-God, but the left has declared God and Christians anti-science. I don’t know a church that has declared allegiance to a political party or a single nation. But I know the left parodies evangelicals that way. In fact, through Rachel Held Evans’ entire list, what she is admitting is that she has embraced the secular left’s parody of evangelical churches to proclaim her own style and mode of worship and faith superior. She’s embraced the loud voices of a few and conflated them to the quiet voices of the many in the evangelical community committed to saving souls.
Just because the left and media attack evangelical churches for these things does not make them so. From Archbishop Chaput in the Catholic Church to Mark Driscoll to Franklin Graham to John Piper to Timothy Keller to Rich Warren to Andy Stanley to Lois Giglio to Al Mohler to my own preacher — they all preach Jesus. They don’t preach America because they’re just passing through it on the way to real life. But they do preach the Jesus who is, not the Jesus the world wishes for.
Great stuff, all true. And Erickson’s main point is also true: being “for Jesus” sometimes means standing against what the world deems good and wise, even when the world is ever-so-sure it’s right.
But then Erickson gives an example:
Christians stand for Jesus. When demanded by the world to look at a dude in a leather g-string, rainbow afro wig, and fairy wings glued to his back dancing down the street claiming he’s got pride and accept it as just another form of normal, well, yeah, we’re for Jesus so we’re against that. Rachel Held Evans, Rob Bell, Donald Miller, and the like want to accommodate that. Jesus wouldn’t. We shouldn’t.
“Mistah Kurtz – he dead.”
Oh, come on, you know:
The novel, and the poem, about the terminal termitic decay of what we laughingly call “civilization,” and the “hollow men” who (barely) populate Western society?
With all that scarecrow and “straw men” and trophy-heads-on-pikes imagery?
“This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a wimper” and all that?
Or maybe you don’t.
And you don’t want to know, either. Not anything.
In a world where “Benghazi was a long time ago,” expressing what used to be called “common knowledge,” or asking what once was considered “a normal question,” is verboten.
Jason Collins is gay, therefore Jason Collins has always been gay.
That he’s gay is everybody’s business, but it’s nobody’s business that John Maynard Keynes was.
The bravest part of Jason Collins’s coming-out feature in Sports Illustrated was not the part where he revealed he is gay. It was this:
I celebrate being an African-American and the hardships of the past that still resonate today. But I don’t let my race define me any more than I want my sexual orientation to. I don’t want to be labeled, and I can’t let someone else’s label define me.
I have a prediction: Collins is going to ruffle a few feathers in the gay world for that comment.
It normalizes gayness, instead of letting one counterculture, ultra-liberal, activist niche own the image of homosexuality. If you can be a gay NBA star, why not a gay conservative? If your sexual orientation is just one part of your life, why does it have to dictate your entire worldview?
You can’t be easily herded if you insist on being yourself.
If you’re skeptical that the gay activist Old Guard would be against lifestyle diversity, read this Slate article about how some of them are reluctantly accepting of the “Gaybro” movement. The subtitle says it all: “They like sports, hunting, and beer. They make the gay community mad.”
Jason Collins: thanks for making them mad. It’s time someone shook this place up a bit. And I don’t mean the hetero-normative sports world. I mean the liberal-normative gay world.
Jazz and Islam, Part V
John Coltrane and Bilal Philips: two musicians, one famous, the other obscure, but both men who in the course of their lives found themselves at an absolute impasse and underwent a dramatic conversion. And in those conversions, they chose two radically different paths for life and society.
Coltrane changed the sound of the tenor saxophone. When he arrived on the scene, tenor players tried to sound like Stan Getz or Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young or Ben Webster. Coltrane did not, and was at first even derided for the clear, sharp intensity of his tone. After his career and untimely death, however, virtually everyone who has taken up the instrument has tried to sound like John Coltrane.
But an arguably even greater change that John Coltrane made was within himself. In the first rush of success, he was caught up in the jazz musicians’ culture of the 1940s and 1950s, began drinking heavily, and became addicted to heroin. But then, as he recounted later: “During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life.”
Picked this up from the Washington Post:
Cliburn was born Harvey Lavan Cliburn Jr. on July 12, 1934, in Shreveport, La., the son of oilman Harvey Cliburn Sr. and Rildia Bee O’Bryan Cliburn. At age 3, he began studying piano with his mother, herself an accomplished pianist who had studied with a pupil of the great 19th century Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt.
The family moved back to Kilgore within a few years of his birth.
Cliburn won his first Texas competition when he was 12, and two years later he played in Carnegie Hall as the winner of the National Music Festival Award.
My family had a music store when I was growing up, and Van Cliburn was generally considered a demigod at least by every piano teacher in the Southwest — the Texas boy who had beaten the Soviets at their own game, winning the First International Tchaikovsky Competition so decisively the Russians couldn’t deny it. I met him once when I was about 10, and vaguely recall that he seemed awfully young — he would have been about 36 — and that he seemed to have big hands.
He died of bone cancer in Fort Worth, where he made his home.
The second season of Shahs of Sunset started airing on December 2. I know I’ll be the skunk at the Iranian-American garden party after admitting that I love the show. But I’m throwing down the gauntlet and challenging my fellow ex-pats (or anyone else for that matter) to refute any of the important points I’m about to make in defense of the flamboyant Reza Farahan and his Tehrangeles set.
To elaborate, I should explain that numerous Iranian-Americans, who seem to have even less objectivity after 30-plus years in exile, have whined about this show being an insult and/or a misrepresentation of Iranians-Americans: a Kardashianized disgrace, fabricated by the sacrilegious and intellectually challenged Hollywood producers.
In ’79, Iranians just flocked to Los Angeles and turned it into the hub Iranian enclave. They came because there had already been a thriving little Iranian community there since the ’40s; and also because the weather is nice. This is very likely what Iran would have looked like had the Khomeinist hordes not occupied the country. It’s basically Iran outside Iran, Tehran through the looking glass, a non-plus ultra.
It turns out that professors — even the ones with the authority to hire other professors — watch schlocky basic-cable programming. And from the Midwest to New England, curious members of hiring committees wanted to know: Does the show, which follows six Iranians in their 30s living in Los Angeles, accurately reveal what Iranian-Americans are really like?
Well, yes. This show offers so much more than just a snapshot of Iranian culture. It offers a glimpse of well-assimilated and prosperous Iranians.
In fact, I don’t see anything in the show that I don’t already know or cannot recognize as pretty darn Iran-American. In fact, some of these people could be my cousins and a perfect depiction of the Children of Cyrus, a man (the Achaemenids in general) who himself paraded his era’s bling-bling, not via reality TV but on bas-reliefs in the family “crib,” Persepolis!
Iranians are hostage to their own set of dizzying dichotomies and paradoxes, and our long history adds a hefty helping of the maudlin and precious. We learn at a tender age to surf Persian social riptides and chart crosscurrents like an art form, deconstructed by a few like Omid Djalili.
Madonna came out of the closet in St. Petersburg, Russia, a few days ago.
In a courtroom that reporters present described as being the size of a walk-in closet (photos), Madge was summoned to face charges of inciting the decent citizens of Russia to homosexuality. If convicted, she faced a $170 fine and a claim for moral damages in excess of $10 million by the group of plaintiffs who had sued her. She declined to make a personal appearance, and was tried in absentia over the course of a single day.
There was no jury. The lone judge hearing the matter, one Vitaly Barkovsky, listened to testimony for about five hours, deliberated for an hour and a half, and then acquitted Ms. Ciccone on all counts.
The charges stemmed from a Madonna concert staged in Piter, as the locals call their city, earlier this year. She urged her listeners, many of whom sported LGBT paraphernalia like pink wristbands or rainbow insignias, to stand up for gay rights, notoriously under siege in today’s Russia. She exhorted: “Show your love and appreciation to the gay community.”
Such statements can amount to criminal acts in today’s Russia. Piter is supposedly Russia’s most liberal city, but like many others it has a law on the books forbidding anyone to encourage or support homosexuality. The author of the law, Vitaly Milonov, had put Madonna on notice before the show, stating ominously:
I heard at the concerts on this tour she pulled off her tights, and we will not have that here. We warn the organizers of the concert so that everything goes well. Otherwise they will face the harsh laws of St. Petersburg.
Reviewing the account of the trial offers many insights into what passes for justice in the Russia of proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin.
As the trial began, it was totally unclear whether Madonna had been given proper legal notice of the lawsuit. The first of the plaintiffs began his attempt to prove Madonna’s violation of Russian law by quoting extensively from the Holy Bible. He then asserted that the support of rights for homosexuals amounted to a violation of basic human rights (i.e., because homosexuals are not humans).
One consequence of studying the contemporary Middle East is the two-fold worry that all new writing on the subject will, first, say what has already been said and, second, say it in a particularly long and tiresome way. To both of these points, ask yourself how many more turgid Edward Said-like riffs on “neo-colonialism” or “neo-imperialism” you could stomach, or how many analyses of the sociopolitical effects of Islam you could read, before you resolve to cast off such an ossified field for good.
It is refreshing, therefore, to pick up a collection of brief personal essays on the subject of what has been naively termed the “Arab Spring” and to be relieved with both clarity and brevity. Arab Spring Dreams, edited by the reformers Nasser Weddady and Sohrab Ahmari, brings together the personal vignettes of brave young writers from the region. The genre is what one might call flash non-fiction: brief, searing, emotional snapshots of life in repressive environments. Flash non-fiction works on the micro, not macro, level. We are spared geopolitical theorizing in favor of local color, to wit:
“The screech of tires snapped him back to attention, replacing the thoughts buzzing around his brain with an anxious immediacy. He stared at the cab driver behind the wheel, her mouth opening and closing over and over for no apparent reason. Her fillings flashed silver at him every few seconds. Her windows were up, rendering her comically mute despite her traffic-induced rage. He had had enough. He would walk the rest of the way. As he did, his mental disarray did not prevent him from giving due respect to the nonexistence of traffic laws in Cairo.”
The very slightly confusing pronouns aside, this passage could be many things: the beginning of a Frederick Forsyth novel, for instance, or one of those off-beat profiles of global eccentrics from The New Yorker. In fact, we have just been introduced to the twenty-two year old anonymous author-narrator of a piece titled “I Am Not Ayman!” Why is he not Ayman? Well, Ayman, a pseudonym for the author, is a gay man in Egypt, which is kind of like being a Jew in 15th century Spain: your identity is contingent on the whims of creed-obsessed despots. You can pretend to be something you’re not or you can take your chances on being who you actually are. In this case, the narrator is contemplating whether to identify himself to a potential lover. Doing so brings with it the possibility of being “outed” to the Egyptian secret police, as well as the more revolting possibility that the potential lover himself is the secret police.
Indeed, sexuality and intimacy figure prominently in many of these accounts, and this may be because these are always the first human impulses to be squashed by any kind of tyranny. We are reminded elsewhere that in Iran, gays are faced with the “choice” of either execution or “sex reassignment.” This is only slightly better than the Sudanese notion of “corrective rape,” which is as literal as it sounds.
Other stories come from writers in Morocco, Yemen, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. The themes are similar — political repression, inequality, family tension — but each story is beautifully unique in its style and delivery. It is hard to imagine a more enlightening and human book on a subject that is most often the province of robotic wonks and “analysts.” If there is one problem with the book, however, it must surely be the foreword by the aging feminist carnival-barker Gloria Steinem. This mendacious and pointless essay is written in the self-promoting tones of someone long out of ideas.
“This collection of brave and honest voices from the Middle East will inspire you,” writes Steinem, doing her best impression of a moderate. Those with longer memories may recall Ms. Steinem’s interview last year with Newsweek, in which she claimed that Mohammed Atta, leader of the terrorist-murderers of American Airlines Flight 11, was driven by his being “ridiculed by this authoritarian lawyer father who told him that even his older sisters were more masculine than he.” Therefore, “he became addicted to proving his masculinity. How clear is that?”
Does harm prevention actually prevent harm? This is not always an easy question to answer, for by making dangerous behavior safer it could help to spread the dangerous behavior itself, thus offsetting the harm prevented.
The question is bound to arise with the approval of the combination of emtricitabine and tenofovir, known as Truvada, as a prophylactic against the transmission of HIV to the healthy sexual partners of those who are infected with the virus. Interestingly, the name of the company that produces the drug is Gilead Sciences: “Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the daughter of my people recovered?” At least there is likely to be consolation for some in the share price of Gilead Sciences.
According to a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Truvada reduces the rate of HIV transmission from homosexual acts performed between men (one of whom is HIV positive) by 90 percent if the drug is taken consistently, and by 44 percent if taken inconsistently. The drug is expensive, at $10,000 a year; but since the cost of treatment of patients with HIV is even more expensive, prescription of it might save money in the long run. The article suggests that, if the drug were 44 percent effective, it would be cost-effective for prescription to HIV negative male homosexuals who had 5 or more sexual partners a year.
There are two or three ethical problems that trouble the authors of the article. The first is the possibility that the existence of a prophylactic drug against HIV might increase unsafe sexual practices. This they rather airily dismiss as follows:
If unsafe sex were to increase with [such prophylaxis], it could theoretically offset effectiveness in practice. Behavioral disinhibition, however, was not observed in clinical trials. Moreover, a substantial increase in unsafe sex would have to occur to offset the benefits of PrEP on a population level.
It is well-known, however, that what happens in clinical trials is not necessarily what happens in normal, non-trial conditions. It is not safe, then, to conclude that “behavioural disinhibition” would not occur with general availability of the drug.
Many commentators have suggested that the passing of Gore Vidal at age eighty-six on July 31 marks the end of a remarkable generation of postwar American novelists the likes of whom we shall never see again.
When people speak of that generation of novelists, they are usually referring to exactly three people: Norman Mailer (born in 1923), Truman Capote (1924), and Vidal (1925). All three made splashy literary debuts in the years shortly after the war. All three were not just writers but celebrities. Their arrival on the national scene was followed shortly by the advent of television and the TV talk show, on which all three excelled in their different ways at making an indelible impression.
Vidal was the pompous, formidable intellect and wit, serving up well-turned putdowns of those he considered his inferiors – which included pretty much everyone – in an authoritative upper-crust dialect. Capote was the flamboyant quipster and gossip with the pronounced Southern accent, more explicit on national TV about his sexual orientation than any other gay man in America would dare for another generation. And Mailer, in contradistinction to these two gay men, was the embodiment of post-Hemingway machismo – a Brooklyn Jewish kid by way of Harvard with a chip on his shoulder and a determination to prove that he, and no other, was the natural heir to Papa Hemingway.
Back then, big authors were big TV. These three loved doing the talk shows – and the talk-show hosts loved having them on. Both Vidal and Capote were regulars on Carson (Carson actually invited Vidal to be a guest host, and Capote died at the home of one of Carson’s ex-wives, who’d become a close chum); Vidal and Mailer appeared together on a legendary episode of The Dick Cavett Show (whose wife and Vidal became good friends) on which they all but got into a fistfight on the air.
Nowadays they’d all be lucky to get on C-SPAN.