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.
If you were a teen (or pre-teen) girl at any time in the 1970s, you probably held in your (amateurly manicured) hands at some point a copy (or many, many copies) of Tiger Beat magazine. Known for glossy covers that featured saucy shots of the day’s most popular teen idols — most of them males and many of them shirtless — Tiger Beat (and its twin magazine 16) usually included a centerfold pin-up of a pop star of such import that the mere thought of his poster on her bedroom wall could persuade a young girl to part with her babysitting money. My bedroom wall was plastered with Bobby Sherman in all his glory — the purple shirts unbuttoned to the waist, the velvet choker necklaces, and those gorgeous blue eyes! Also clad in all black, with his beautiful brown tresses casually flowing in the breeze. And at least a half dozen other iterations of Bobby posing and smiling (or pouting). My cousin had all the Donny Osmond pin-ups, while my girlfriend across the street papered her walls with David Cassidy. We’d carefully remove the staples from our teen idols’ midsections, lovingly unfold our new treasures and smooth out the creases before taping (or push-pinning) them to our bedroom walls.
Did you ever wonder what became of the teen idol whose visage used to cast his gaze upon you every night as you drifted off to sleep?
Here’s what happened to 10 of our favorite Tiger Beat ”Cover Boys”:
I organized the list into eight different sections by either theme or author, the second to last being a subject I’ve been preoccupied with perhaps more than all the others the past few years: “5 on cults, idol worship, and the origins of religion.” Here are numbers 21 through 25. I intend to eventually do a much longer, more in depth list devoted specifically to this subject. What other books do you think I should include? I’m now taking suggestions… Also related from earlier this month for those looking for more: ”Is God a Noun or a Verb? 6 Great Books Introducing Jewish Mysticism”
From PJ Media columnist David P. Goldman‘s articles and books I’ve developed a fascination with Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig. This book provides accessible insight into a core component of his thought very much of relevance to those wanting to better understand and overcome the powerful personality cults dominating America today. Leora Batnitzky focuses the discussion of Rosenzweig on idolatry, the primitive religious practice Judaism evolved against. For Rosenzweig idolatry is not based in the images or in the “foreign” customs of competing religions. It’s based in an incorrect apprehension of how to worship. Rosenzweig argues that the postmodernist, Nietzchean, truth-is-relative philosopher engages in the same practice as the ancient idolaters, self-worship, from page 47:
There are many signs suggesting that America is changing. In fact, to an outside observer America is starting to look a lot like Europe on many fronts.
One indication of the Europeanization of America might be the growing interest towards soccer. (For the purpose of this article and to avoid confusion, I will, albeit reluctantly, refer to football as soccer.)
The New Republic, once the torchbearer of American liberalism – the classical kind – and now largely a progressive voice, dedicated a whole section for the ongoing soccer World Cup taking place in Brazil.
Granted, I have always been uneasy about Americans and soccer. I love soccer and see it as part of being European. But in my murky soul, soccer represents nothing more than the same lightness and irrelevance of European cultural novelties and indulgences as coffee shops, fashion and high-speed trains.
Of course Americans love sports, but should they embrace a sport that has a bloodier history than any other sport in modern times?
Football and its all-pervasive fan culture is yet another example of the tribalism that Europeans – excluding the euro elites – are sinking into. Western Europe today is defined not by a coherent set of values, but by its identity crisis and deep divisions between lawmakers and the public, Brussels and local governments – and of course between the secular and the religious.
I first saw it at the Super Bowl performance when Beyonce gyrated and snarled at an adoring audience through a wall of fire. That performance went beyond symbolism and into revelation. It was the coming out of a very old and very powerful spirit revealing itself to the world, and I’m not the only one who noticed:
“We are very disappointed in the failure of the public to recognize the existence of a divine Deity walking among them,” the church’s founder Pauline John Andrews stated. “Deity’s often walk the Earth in their flesh form. Beyonce will transcend back to the spirit once her work here on Mother Earth has been completed.”
“As our congregation continues to swell, we ask that you consider what is more real; an invisible spirit on high, or a walking, talking, breathing Goddess who shows you her true form daily? Beyonce’s spirit is entrancing. We know that she was sent to this place to spread love, peace, and joy. While we do not believe Beyonce to be the Creator, we recognize that she still sits among the throne of Gods.
I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but they’re right (sort of). Beyonce is definitely not the Creator. But she is channeling the ancient spirit of a goddess everyone knows, although her powers are not “peace, love and joy” but sexuality, violence and death. She is Astarte, Asherat, Ishtar, or Aphrodite, whichever name you prefer, and the spirit that has come to rest in her is one that has been here for a very long time meting out all kinds of destruction on human kind. Sexual immorality, disease, death, murder, war — these are her calling cards. She also needs the adoration of the throngs. She craves it, and she gets it. That thing that sort of looked like Beyonce at the Super Bowl commanding people to reach out their hands so she could “feel their energy” was not Beyonce but an ancient goddess coming out in plain daylight. Whether you believe it literally or figuratively is of little importance. Idol worship is alive and well and today’s idols are no different than the ones made out of gold thousands of years ago.
The real problems facing American feminists today.
Commentary has printed some brilliant feminist insights by Jonathan S. Tobin on Brandeis University’s refusal to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali:
We have heard a great deal in the last couple of years from liberals about a “war on women” that was supposedly being waged by American conservatives. That meme played a crucial part in President Obama’s reelection and Democrats hope to repeat that success in this year’s midterms. Liberals have tried to mobilize American women to go to the polls to register outrage over the debate about forcing employers to pay for free contraception, a Paycheck Fairness Act that is more of a gift to trial lawyers than women, and attempts to limit abortions after 20 weeks. These are issues on which reasonable people may disagree, but what most liberals seem to have missed is the fact that there is a real war on women that is being waged elsewhere around the globe where Islamist forces are brutalizing and oppressing women in ways that make these Democratic talking points look trivial. It is that point that Hirsi Ali is trying to make in her public appearances.
But instead of rising in support of Hirsi Ali’s efforts to draw attention to these outrages, leading American feminists are silent. The only voices we’re hearing from the left are from men who are determined to justify Brandeis.
I recently commented on the nastiness that occurs when political passion jumps the shark into idol-worshiping territory. One need look no further for evidence as to how ugly and narrow-minded political idol worshipers can get than the quotes Tobin pulls from left-wing sources hellbent on defending Brandeis’s decision. A search of both Jezebel and Bitch Magazine websites turned up zip on the controversy, once again proving the theory that feminism really is all about white, upper class “rich” chicks and their pop culture fanaticism.
I stand before you as someone who is fighting for women’s and girls’ basic rights globally. And I stand before you as someone who is not afraid to ask difficult questions about the role of religion in that fight.
The connection between violence, particularly violence against women, and Islam is too clear to be ignored. We do no favors to students, faculty, nonbelievers and people of faith when we shut our eyes to this link, when we excuse rather than reflect.
The fact that the mainstream feminist movement has no use for Hirsi Ali’s brave fight for women’s rights should come as no surprise. Her global campaign against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and abuse of women within radical Islam is so far out of the realm of #FirstWorldProblem Feminism that it doesn’t even ping on their radar. Which is precisely why feminism is a joke and women continue to be the laughingstock whipping boys of Democrat men who keep them well oiled and distracted during election season before shoving them back under Oval Office desks where they belong. What can I say except submission sells.
Perhaps Muslim women aren’t the only ones who are being targeted and abused because of their gender after all.
David Swindle has entered the ongoing discussion on altruism, religion and politics here at PJLifestyle. In doing so, he’s issued a number of great questions I’ve been wrestling with over the past few weeks. Jumping back in, I’d like to address them one by one, beginning with:
Walter, Susan, Lisa, and anyone else who’d like to join the discussion: am I going too far when I say that for a good number of people “Conservatism” is a form of idolatry?
No. I’ve had a hard, sad reminder of that through some of the commentary I’ve received on a numberof articlesin the past few weeks. There are some wonderful, insightful people out there who I’d love to have dinner with some day. And then there’s the passionate base who has time to issue verbose rants: Contradict popular line and you can “F-off”. You know this segment of the population; they are the reason stereotypes exist. But, they also prove the point that there are people out there who worship Conservatism above all else. Ironically, they’re as abusively passionate as those “liberals” they are taught to hate.
Acculturated‘s R.J. Moeller has penned an excellent commentary on faith-based films in light of the Christian controversy surrounding Noah:
…no one who doesn’t already believe in God will go see Son of God. And many who do believe in God and who do go see it are, like me, plopping down $14 or $15 purely from a sense of solidarity with the well-intentioned creators of such projects. There are other, better “Jesus movies.” A dramatic reading of some of the more risqué and exciting parts of the Bible by the likes of Morgan Freeman would interest me more than sitting through Son of God again.
And while neither option likely interests your secular, non-religious co-worker, neighbor, or relative, all of them will go see something like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. This is why I, as a Christian, am infinitely more excited about Noah than any other “faith-based” film in a long time – regardless of the theology or worldview found in it. I can actually talk to my non-Christian friends about it because they will actually pay U.S. currency (or BitCoin) to go see it.
…what I am suggesting is that while we work to inspire and equip new generations of artists who share our values to boldly venture into the pop-culture fray, we must not miss opportunities to introduce our worldview into the cultural conversation. … Art has the power to transcend and speak to the soul. But it must be able to meet people on their level before pointing them upward.
Upon first read I knew Moeller went out on a limb with his commentary, precisely because what he says is the truth. And truth doesn’t always gel with religious dogma; I’m a Jew, I should know. One advantage I do have over my Christian brothers when it comes to faith is that my Jewish culture encourages — and is built on — wrestling with God’s word. These matches stray far from the polite scenarios common to gentile Christian faith. However, they have resulted in a similarity between us, in that they have developed and sustained a religious culture that reveres commentary as much as the actual Word of God.
Last week, alternative media mogul Glenn Beck announced that he was going to focus on “taking back” American culture through the power of nostalgia:
In the future, Glenn Beck’s focus is going to be more on influencing culture and less on politics and news. After all, news is only “what the culture allows,” he said in a recent interview with National Review’s Eliana Johnson.
…“Beck is nostalgic for an America of decades past, and his cultural projects will aim to resurrect and revive it,” Johnson writes. “It’s an America where duty trumped desire and Americans were bound together by a sort of civic religion created by that sense of duty. ‘I want to impact the culture in the way that people see good again,’ [Glenn] says.”
Beck’s goal is admirable, to a fault. The period he seeks to resurrect was one in which concepts like “good” and “duty” were defined by a Biblical religion, not a civic one. Any history student will tell you that Marx had his own take on the American Revolution; you can show someone Frank Capra movies until you’re blue in the face and they’re still going to see Mr. Smith as the ultimate community organizer if that’s their moral outlook.
As Amy Kenyon notes, there are pitfalls to what passes for nostalgia these days:
…the historical meanings and usages associated with nostalgia were finally mangled beyond recognition until its chief purpose became the performance of sentimentalism, the parceling out of discount memory via television, advertising, heritage theme parks, and souvenir markets, all aspects of what we might call the “nostalgia industry.” As such, nostalgia became kitsch, trivial and reactionary: hardly the stuff of a meaningful engagement with the past or the workings of memory.
Simply put: Glenn Beck needs to do more than embrace the facade of America, circa 1940. Beck needs to dig deeper, to America’s Biblical heritage, to understand what re-taking the culture truly means.
There’s this great story in the Torah that goes a little something like this. The leaders of Israel went up on a mountain for a private conference with God, per His request. With the bosses away, the Israelites decided to throw a party. Grateful to their God for freeing them from slavery, they shaped a golden calf to symbolize Him, worshipped the calf as God, and partied on. When the leaders came back down from the mountain, they were less than pleased. Tablets were smashed, God rained justice, there were a lot of irreversible layoffs. The common understanding of the tale says that God destroyed the Israelites because they worshipped the calf as a god. In reality, their sin was creating an image of God that suited their own liking, then worshipping Him as they wished.
Hollywood, and American culture in general, suffers from Golden Calf Syndrome. Whether you blame it on the instant gratification of social media or simple human impatience, God doesn’t communicate every 5 seconds in 140 characters or less. That’s not enough for us as a culture, so we’ve made a nasty habit out of satiating our need for the Almighty by forcing Him into a box of our own liking. Habit has become trend to the point that we don’t even realize when we’re trying to force God into our mold.
Take, for instance, the conservative Christian idol-worship of Matthew McConaughey for “daring” to use the name “God” in a sentence at the Oscars. Upon remarking on the huge stretch of the imagination performed by Christians (and some Jews, I’m sure) in thinking that McConaughey’s use of the G-word somehow referenced the God of scripture, the common, rather lackluster response I received was best phrased as, “Take it where you can get it.”
There are a lot of great lines in the megillah of Esther. The one most often quoted comes from Mordecai: “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position for such a time as this.” It smacks of drama and makes for an excellent movie poster catchphrase. But, it wouldn’t hold half its meaning without the point-blank observation of evil Haman’s wife, Zeresh.
Upon listening to his frustration over Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him, Zeresh tells her husband to hang Mordecai. But, when she finds out Mordecai is a Jew, she does a complete 180 and admits:
If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is a Jew, you will not get the better of him; on the contrary, your downfall before him is certain.
And this is before Esther convinced the King not to massacre the Jews. It’s refreshing to know our reputation precedes us. But it isn’t a reputation we Jews are always glad to have; we aren’t exactly in it for the fame. In fact, like Esther, our first instinct is to keep our heads down and fit in with the rest of the crowd.
Speaking of “the crowd”, modern feminists have managed to twist the humble Jewess into the villain of the tale, instead opting to celebrate the Persian Queen Vashti for her refusal to appear before the King at his whim. Think: Her body, her self, Persian style. Docile, compliant Esther, meanwhile, is a mere pawn whose beauty comes in handy to persuade the patriarchy to let her live another day. This simplistic interpretation, totally ignorant of the promise and perspective of God, relies on the feminist myth that a woman’s worth is in her ability to manipulate her body to her advantage. Esther could never be considered a hero to these women, because she was inspired by a sense of purpose that outweighed the importance of her own skin.
“Don’t suppose that merely because you happen to be in the royal palace you will escape any more than the other Jews. For if you fail to speak up now, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from a different direction; but you and your father’s family will perish,” Mordecai warns before adding, “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position precisely for such a time as this.”
Vashti Feminists like to think the story is about Esther using her body to pursue the King’s favor. In reality, Esther pursues God’s purpose for her life and the life of her nation, Israel. She didn’t choose to sacrifice her body to the Persian King’s whims. On the contrary, Esther chose to devote herself, body, mind and spirit, to the living promises of God. The King, the death decree, even evil Haman, all of them were nothing more than plot devices in the ongoing love story between God and Israel. Esther, Queen of the Shadchans (Matchmakers) arrived on the scene as a reminder that “relief and deliverance will come”.
Esther was just a regular Jewish girl, redirecting her focus away from herself and onto the bigger picture of God’s plan for humanity. Crowned with the desire and humility to walk in faith, she is remembered as a Queen among her people. Vashti-feminists are oblivious to this plan and the honor it bestows, because their focus remains on the image in the mirror, not the person within, let alone the others who may be around.
Thank God, Esther decided that fitting in with the crowd was a bad idea. Had Esther followed feminist mantra, she would have dismissed Mordecai’s warning and followed the example of Queen Vashti, only to wind up exiled or dead. Instead, she trusted that God’s plan involved every part of her, including her beauty, and used all of her gifts to that end. Typical feminists favor Vashti because they worship tragic beauty; Biblical feminists admire Esther because she plays to win.
McConaughey’s speech sparked a feeding frenzy for conservatives to outdo each other when it came to applauding him, while simultaneously taking shots at liberals. Rick Perry tweeted Monday morning, saying, “Texas boy counting his blessing.” His tweet linked to a Breitbart piece titled “Matthew McConaughey Praises God in Acceptance Speech, Hollywood Crowd Grows Quiet.” On Twitchy, Michelle Malkin’s site, the speech ran as “Matthew McConaughey rattles Oscar crowd, wins hearts by thanking God.” Fox News got in the game with the headline, “Matthew McConaughey one of few to thank God in Oscar acceptance speech.” And so on.
As the Daily Beast points out, McConaughey’s God-nod was most likely reassuring to a Christian population that’s been ostracized more than not:
In recent decades, religious figures are often found more often in niche movies, wrote Cieply, or if they are in major pictures, they “are often hypocrites and villains, driving plot lines that make, at best, a token bow toward the virtues of a faith-based life.”
One need look no further than a recent episode of the hit Scandal, in which the evangelical female vice president who murdered her gay husband claims she is not culpable because the devil made her do it.
Fair enough. I’m sure the Son of God giddiness also contributed to the Tweetfest, despite the fact that McConaughey never did specifically go beyond the name “God,” let alone drop “Jesus” during the speech. He did, however, express conviction that Miller Lite is served in heaven, which I’m sure won over the Duck Dynasty crowd.
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.
The refreshingly simple, faith-laced, joyful lyrics made up the majority of her acceptance “speech” and were received with a full-house standing ovation led by an incredibly enthusiastic, non-religious Bill Murray. Where’s the barrage of Tweets about that?
…whatever we look up to, whatever it is we look forward to and whoever it is we’re chasing — to that I say, alright, alright, alright. And then I say, just keep livin’.
It’s a generic statement that illustrates God is “whatever” and “whoever” and, therefore, “alright, alright, alright.” I have yet to read a conservative commentary that points out the many ways this level of ambiguity has eroded our nation’s ability to put faith in the God of our ancestors, let alone have faith in ourselves, both as a free nation and as individuals with free will. But hey, that’s cool; an actor said the G-word on stage and it got captured by social media, which makes it count.
Wednesday, February 26th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
First exhibited at the prestigious Paris Salon in 1765, Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s ”A Girl With a Dead Canary” was designed to evoke much the same emotion as PETA member Sarah Segal’s proposed memorial to chickens who were killed in a truck accident last month in Georgia. It seems like a tacky comparison that may even be read as an insult to a well-done and even pretty (if bizarre) work of 18th century art, but the bottom line is that both pieces were created for the same purpose: To tug at viewers’ heartstrings while affirming the moral superiority of a particular cultural class.
According to British historian Simon Schama, ill-fated French King Louis XVI introduced the “cult of nature” to the throne, “replacing couches and courtisans with [the] tenderness and simplicity” of Marie Antoinette’s toy farm and the well-crafted embrace of wildlife in art. “Tears were especially prized as evidence of feeling,” Schama explains, noting that, “people wept when they saw” Greuze’s painting. “Feelings …the shallow kind were embraced by the fashionable elite.” It was the attempt of a king and class to portray themselves as perfect, superior human beings.
So it goes with the Roadkill Memorial, albeit in a much more blatantly political format. A tombstone designed to dwarf roadside memorials to mere human victims of vehicular death, the proposed memorial is intended to remind all drivers to approach all of their animal relations with reverence:
Cascada said the tombstone’s visibility would make drivers’ more wary of people and chickens alike, thereby helping to avoid unnecessary accidents and preserve the lives of chickens in transport. …But Cascada acknowledged the reality of the chickens’ final destination, making the “Go Vegan” phrase a key takeaway.
“The more people who go vegan, the fewer chickens are in this situation to begin with,” she said.
Simply stating that “meat is murder” isn’t enough anymore. For PETA, the time for mere sloganeering is over. Humans are animals, don’t you get it? You’re all slabs of meat now, and some are much more important than others.
Sunday, February 23rd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
All week I’ve been seeing anti-Noah posts popping up on Facebook from Christian friends who are convinced that the not-yet-released Darren Aronofsky epic must be a liberal, secularist perversion of the biblical story, morphing Noah into a drunk and spouting an anti-human, pro-environmentalist message. Where’d the controversy come from? According to Jordan Hoffman at the Times of Israel, entertainment trade mag Variety needed to drum up readership on a slow news day:
A strange agenda group for “faith driven consumers” sent out a push-poll asking if people who hadn’t yet seen the film if they were “satisfied with a biblically themed film… which replaces the Bible’s core message with one created by Hollywood?”
In other words, a bunch of opt-in Christians were asked if they were ready to see what some scarf-wearing artiste from Jew York City had cooked up with his liberal and probably homosexual friends when, you know, they weren’t drinking blood and hoarding gold. Some 98% of respondents said that, no, they were not satisfied.
It would have been a nothing story had the press release not been picked up by Variety (one of the main entertainment trade publications) on a particularly slow news day. The Internet ran with headlines that basically read “98% of Christian audiences are enraged by ‘Noah!’” forcing Paramount, which has already had plenty of tsuris with this film, to issue an explanatory press release of their own.
The stereotypes Hoffman plays with in his commentary entertainingly highlight the unspoken rift between Jews and Christians when it comes to biblical epics. We, for the most part, stand back while Christians re-interpret our history, our people, our nation, and our sacred text in light of their own slightly Aryan (why are ancient Israelis consistently blue-eyed Brits?) Sunday School memories. This time, however, a Jewish writer/director has paired with a Jewish writer to bring a Torah story to the silver screen. That interpretation has caused Christian uproar, something the filmmakers prepared for when they sought out production partner Rob Moore, who is both a vice chair at Paramount and a devout Christian who supports the film.
Last year I started experimenting with Instagram. Inspired by PJM columnist Zombie I decided to create an account to A) confuse the hell out of people, B) stir up trouble, and C) explore the truth of what people believe in the world today without the baggage of my existing politically incorrect identity clouding how they addressed me.
As with Zombie, with “Thoth and Ma’at Married” people can’t even tell if I’m a man or woman — the handle includes the names of both male and female Egyptian deities of writing (and thus serves as my stealth so-con way of promoting marriage too). They likewise can’t tell at first glance what my religion, politics, or philosophy are. I use the account to engage with people all across the spectrum of cultures and ideas to try to learn more about where their values come from and how they think. On January 10, one of the atheists that I follow posted a photo in which he asked for anyone to ask him his opinion about anything. I asked which side he supported in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Here’s the exchange that followed and the revealing admission from an atheist about where he really learned right from wrong in our pop culture-dominated world today:
So he simultaneously admits he knows nothing but expresses his preset ideological opinion that the governments are driven by money and the militaries by primitivism.
Here’s when I drop my counterculture conservative provocation, defining the evil in the issue and then seeing how he or any of his followers choose to react to the facts:
Did my provocation catch any fish? Yes, two revealing responses. The first a somewhat innocent, naive idealist, and the second doubting my facts.
One thing that I’ve learned in these exchanges over the years is to try to cut to the key points you want to make. Don’t go on and on. Just give the link and state your idea. Over-writing is a sign that you’re not confident in what you’re saying.
Here’s where I pose the question that really matters to me for my research and writing: if you’re an atheist, from where do you get your values? I then offer a number of possibilities. Usually I’ll try to throw out five or six, here just three:
Sounds like a good punk rock song title, doesn’t it? “Let Me Stab to Be Corrected.” This is a much more cordial exchange than many that I have with more hostile secularists. But then again, with this particular meme it allowed for more of a thoughtful discussion. Perhaps I should start experimenting with using “Ask My Opinion” and “Ask Anything” type images to fish for more interesting questions…
I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to remind atheists that there are multiple ways of reading the Bible is to start talking about Maimonides. See Douglas Rushkoff’s Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism for the accessible introduction that turned me on to the Rambam not just as a Jewish theologian, but as a foundational thinker of Western civilization and one of the inspirers of the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and the founding of America.
And here’s where I got the kind of off-hand, not-even-thinking-about-it, honest admission that I look for when engaging in these kinds of exchanges:
It’s hard for me to pinpoint with as much precision as @isaac_of_portage just which specific pop culture properties most influenced my values and understanding of good and evil. There are just so many from Star Wars to Super Mario to the Disney canon which shaped my childhood and initial adolescence much more than the irregular church attendance in mushy Methodism.
Though, as I mentioned in the exchange, seeing Schindler’s List in seventh grade — amidst the controversy of it being broadcast uncensored, commercial-free on NBC — did psychologically scar me somehow. But it’s a way that I needed to be scarred — it was one of the big beginning-to-wake-up-to-evil moments that would take a long time to process. Throughout my life in my obsessions with movies, books, comics, and video games, I understand that I’ve been influenced both for the good and the bad. Some pop culture properties derive from the foundational stories and myths of Western civilization, others are reinventions of the primitive, pre-modern death cults which one needs to understand in order to make much sense of the first five books of the Bible. (I’ve found from years of these kinds of exchanges that many secularists misinterpret the Bible to such an extent that they end up taking the side of the Egyptians and Canaanites, not realizing just what the ancient Hebrews were rebelling against — nature worship, human sacrifice and temple prostitution.)
So when I talk about Pop Culture Polytheism, I don’t do so with complete condemnation, because it is a religion that I have practiced to one degree or another all my life and still do to a lesser, more controlled extent today. Pop culture polytheists are those who use pop culture properties as substitutes – or supplements — to religion. You can be a Christian, Jew, Buddhist, secular humanist, etc. first and a pop culture polytheist second — many people are, more should be.
When pop culture is understood as a tool for us to better understand and engage with the world then it’s useful and valuable. When it’s held up as how we should model ourselves, when the figures dancing across the screen become like the gods on Mount Olympus, then we’ve got a problem. And that’s what we have to face and confront today. Pop culture polytheism can be a wonderful thing — my wife and I bond deeply over our shared Disney and Star Trek enthusiasms — but it is only a toolbox, not a foundation upon which to build a life. So in keeping with my third New Year’s resolution…
10 Headlines from Around the Web this Week
Starting With 6 Pop Culture Polytheist Idols of the Age
In November,Vanity Fair published Maureen Orth’s revisitation of the Allen-Farrow scandal, including the first-ever media interview with Dylan. The interview was a bombshell: Dylan (who now uses a different name) did not waver from the story she told at age 7 about Allen molesting and sexually assaulting her in the attic of her mother’s home in Connecticut, on Aug. 4, 1992. On her side is her brother, media-star-in-the-making Ronan Farrow. After Allen received a lifetime-achievement award at last Sunday’s Golden Globes ceremony,Ronan tweeted, “Missed the Woody Allen tribute—did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?”
So what should an outside observer make of the Allen-Farrow debacle, two decades after the fact?
In his June 1993 ruling, Wilk also denied Allen any visitation rights with Dylan or his older adopted child with Farrow, 15-year-old Moses. In May 1994, in a hearing considering custody or increased visitation for Allen, the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court cited a “clear consensus” among psychiatric experts involved in the case that Allen’s “interest in Dylan was abnormally intense.”
Popular culture celebrates criminality — both on screen and off. Someday a lot of people are going to be very ashamed that they gave Allen the benefit of the doubt for all these years. I suspect that some day we’ll have a better idea of the full extent of the truth. If Allen is who his accusers claim he is then eventually more victims will emerge. And too many to be denied.
But will anybody care? They still listen to Michael Jackson songs, don’t they?
The high priorities of the leading third wave feminist publication today.
Last night The Wife and I watched the first two episodes of the new season. What struck me as very awkward during the sex scenes is that with the new short haircut and her insistence on displaying her body she honestly looks more boyish than feminine. So these supposedly heterosexual scenes end up having this creepy homoerotic undertone to them. Hannah doesn’t look or behave like a mature woman; in both instances she’s a teenage boy. I knew too many Hannahs in college. She unfortunately is a voice of a generation.
That’s really the nature of the show and of many secular millennial pop culture polytheists: today’s politically correct ideology has pushed girls to aspire to be more masculine and men to be more feminine. In a bigger expression it’s what we see in Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett making the big decisions while hapless, wimpy Barack Obama goes out to whine that his approval ratings are tanking because people just don’t like the idea of a black president.
Sunday, January 19th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
This week both critics and fans of Girls and Downton Abbey sounded off on the treatment of women on screen, highlighting the horrifying potential of 21st century feminist groupthink.
It all began on January 9 when TV critic Tim Molloy stepped in hot water by posing the following question to Lena Dunham:
I don’t get the purpose of all the nudity on the show. By you, particularly. I feel like I’m walking into a trap where you say no one complains about the nudity on Game of Thrones, but I get why they’re doing it. They’re doing it to be salacious. To titillate people. And your character is often naked at random times for no reason.
Dunham deflected the remark with her usual snotty response that boiled down to nudity is realistic and if you don’t like fat bodies, that’s your problem. Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner, the show’s producers, supported Dunham’s remarks with their own politically correct, vitriolic comments about misogyny and female oppression.
Although Molloy’s question never did receive a direct answer, the exchange generated even more critical angst and bizarre philosophizing. For example, Megan Gibson at Time feels the nudity on Girls has nothing to do with “titillation” and everything to do with comedic value and expressions of non-sexual intimacy. It is questionable whether the primary audience for Girls, those “white dudes over 50,” would agree.
One telling thing critics didn’t bother to notice: All the uproar over Molloy’s question, even from Apatow and Konner themselves, wasn’t to defend Dunham’s honor — but to defend awkward bodies, female sexuality, and women’s rights under the umbrella term of “feminism.” In other words, if Hannah Horvath jumped off a bridge naked, she wouldn’t be a pathetic individual who succumbed to her psychoses, she’d be a mere statement about feminism in the 21st century.
And by “we,” she means herself and pretty much everyone else in the media.
Walters made the admission in a chat with another member of the media’s Obama faithful, Piers Morgan.
PIERS MORGAN, HOST: You have interviewed every president of my lifetime. Why is Obama facing so much opposition now? Why is he struggling so much to really fulfill the great flame of ambition and excitement that he was elected on originally in 2009?
BARBARA WALTERS: Well, you’ve touched on it to a degree. He made so many promises. We thought that he was going to be – I shouldn’t say this at Christmastime, but – the next messiah. And the whole ObamaCare, or whatever you want to call it, the Affordable Health Act, it just hasn’t worked for him, and he’s stumbled around on it, and people feel very disappointed because they expected more.
Walters hastened to follow up with an encouraging note for the faithful: Obama still has a couple years, so he can turn this whole thing around!
Hey, even Jesus had to die before he could be resurrected. If Obama can turn his polls around, well, he’ll be a miracle worker too…
Walters’ comment explains quite a bit, doesn’t it. On the one hand we had the media elites tripping over themselves and each other to wave palm branches as they heralded their new messiah with his Greek columns and his total lack of experience. They were never going to vet him to question him. On the other hand, we had elites like Peggy Noonan who call themselves conservative but who care more about their standing with the liberals they associate with than about any actual principle. It has taken each five years to come to their crisis of faith. Walters admits that Obama just might not be the chosen one (but he still could be!). Noonan finally realizes what many of us saw years ago — that Barack Obama is incompetent and has brought forth a regime that is incompetence all the way down.
Noonan probably came to this conclusion some time ago, but only now does she have the courage to state what has been obvious for half a decade at least.
Walters is holding out prayerful hope to see her messiah rise once more.
This past week in Washington DC, the President made a speech about the state of the economy and about his determination to reform it. But much as things change, so they remain the same. A great deal of what he said there was reminiscent of a major address he gave two years ago on economic policy before a friendly audience in Osawatomie, Kansas. The President there talked with dizzying rapidity about the lost greatness of America’s past, and his plans to restore that greatness in the future. It’s worth revisiting some of the basic themes of his speech since they obviously continue to inform his policy decisions today.
As is common in speeches that romanticize history to advocate change, Obama’s address contained an unforgivable level of jingoistic nationalism: He claimed, “It was here in America that the most productive workers, the most innovative companies turned out the best products on Earth…. Today, we’re still home to the world’s most productive workers. We’re still home to the world’s most innovative companies.”
No one, not even the United States, can be that good. In fact, our present national status will only become worse if we do not understand that the American position has eroded from its glory days, in part because of the very policies that the President champions as the solution to our issues. But where to begin? The President manages to pack so many economic and historical falsehoods into his speech that it is nearly impossible to take them all on at the same time.
“A rehash of failed progressive policies will not return the United States to greatness,” and while I was tempted to quote that last sentence and snark, “talk about breaking news from 2009,” the reason why the cycle won’t be broken anytime soon is that it’s not policy — it’s religion. Or as Derek Hunter writes at Townhall, “In Government We Trust” is most assuredly “The Progressive Religion:”
What has happened is Democrats’ previously uncheckable lies are now fully checkable. It’s real now. You can’t keep your doctor or insurance, no matter how much you like them. And this hurts in the wallet – a lot. Now that we know this does not qualify as a practical solution, certainly not to health care anyway, Democrats –with all the credibility of a used-Pinto salesman – now embrace “morality” as the reason to embrace Obamacare.
In a column reeking of desperation on par with a kid hoping for a unicorn under his Christmas tree, the Washington Post’s Ryan Cooper complied a list of reasons “Why millennials will come around on Obamacare.” Aside from a desperate lack of understanding of health policy and how people work, the second reason Cooper lists stands out. He writes, “Going without health insurance is morally wrong.”
I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in.
This pathetic attempt to manipulate the unthinking into an overwhelming sense of guilt that forces them to capitulate may work on those with fewer IQ points than fingers, but it won’t work on those with a third-grade education.
Cooper explains, “The only way insurance can work for everyone is if everyone is in the system so risk can be pooled. This one doesn’t carry much weight yet, since the system isn’t even operating. But as time passes, this will become an important norm — and for young people, the norm has outsized importance (older people already have a reason to get coverage; they get sick more easily). Getting insurance will be part of living in a decent society where everyone chips in when they can afford it, and free-riding is frowned upon — and over time, young people will come to see this as part of being a responsible citizen.”
Those 108 words are an incredibly inefficient way of rephrasing “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”
Cooper’s appeal wouldn’t be noteworthy were it a lone cactus in the desert, but it’s not.
Not to be outdone in the office pool of idiocy, Charlie Brown’s illegitimate child, Chris Matthews, had an offering on this theme. Matthews temporarily snapped out of his loving gaze while interviewing the president Thursday and put the cherry on top of one of this planet’s worst displays of sycophantism to utter what was supposed to be a question: “You know, Mr. President, your — your remarks the other day on economic justice to me, as a Roman Catholic, was so resonant with what the Holy Father, Francis, has been saying. Talk about that common Judeo-Christian or, even further, Muslim background to the belief we have a social responsibility, a moral responsibility to look out for people who haven’t made it in this country.”
Friday, November 29th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
In a 1966 interview Beatle John Lennon said, “We’re more popular than Jesus.” He would later clarify, “‘My views are only from what I’ve read or observed of Christianity and what it was, and what it has been, or what it could be. It just seems to me to be shrinking. I’m not knocking it or saying it’s bad. I’m just saying it seems to be shrinking and losing contact.’”
See the previous parts of Susan L.M. Goldberg’s blogging on Ion Mihai Pacepa’s Disinformation:
Susan Sontag, who characterized the KGB’s disinformation play about Pope Pius XII as “an excellent theatrical idea,” spearheaded the transformation of the intellectual movement in the 1960s. New York Magazine described Sontag as “the last significant member” of the New York intellectual crowd (which included the likes of Lionel Trilling) and the source of its demise. What Irving Howe would come to define as “the new sensibility” would usher in the conquest of high culture in the name of pop and the metamorphosis of the intellectual class from theological Marxists into a nihilistic oligarchy.
While Sontag was by no means alone in her endeavor, as an academic she pioneered the already closing gap between high and popular cultures by essentially defaming Matthew Arnold, the Victorian father of modern literary criticism. Arnold defined culture as “a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know, on all the matters which most concern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world.”
“The Matthew Arnold notion of culture,” she wrote, “defines art as the criticism of life – this being understood as the propounding of moral, social and political ideas.” This was deemed abhorrent on several grounds. It took literature, with “its heavy burden of ‘content,’ both reportage and moral judgement,” as a model, and this would no longer do.
Sontag embraced late 19th century aestheticism. Beauty would no longer be the source of moral value; according to Sontag’s stylistics, beauty — or, rather, the pleasure one received from viewing or listening to a piece — would be the only way to value a piece of art. Arnold’s concept of content as character building was thrown out the window along with Arnold’s definition of art. Kramer details,
The people no longer had an interest in distinguishing between Arnold’s implicit high and low cultures. Rather, as Sontag wrote, “the feeling (or sensation) given off by a Rauschenberg painting might be like that of a song by the Supremes.”
I know the answer to the questions conservatives have about the devotion of President Obama’s supporters. How can liberals give such overwhelming, blind support to a political leader who lies to them time and time again? How can they ignore the evidence of economic disaster, the loss of personal freedom, an incompetent foreign policy, and the government healthcare debacle that is Obamacare?
How can liberals continue to support this president?
I know why, and you might be surprised at the answer. The answer is love. Love, the most wonderful and terrible of human emotions. I came to understand the terrible side of love when I worked in a battered women’s shelter when I was in college. People who are in an abusive relationship (there are men, too) love their abuser and desperately hope that things will get better. They cling more fiercely to their beliefs the more they are battered, until there is a snapping point.
This snapping point can take a terrible turn when a battered woman murders her spouse. “Battered woman syndrome” is a known disorder and can be used in court as a mitigating factor in a trial. More often, sadly, the battered woman ends up dead in a domestic violence incident that police officers hate more than almost any other call. Some women end their abusive relationship the right way by leaving and seeking help with a women’s shelter like the Safehouse I worked phones for in Wyoming.
Ich kann gar nicht so viel fressen, wie ich kotzen moechte: I can’t eat enough to puke as much as I want to. The words of the great German-Jewish painter Max Liebermann as he watched the Nazis march through the Brandenburg Gate came to mind as I saw Ron Howard’s Showtime documentary about Jay Z’s 2012 “Made in America” festival. We’ve seen this all before: the emotive orator with a twisted face evoking surge of rage from a mass audience that responds with rhythmic arm gestures. I’m late to this discussion, to be sure:
This is the face of American fascism. Compared to the confessed crack dealer and knifer Jay Z, to be sure, Adolf Hitler was a man of high intellect and deep culture. Jay Z, our most successful and wealthiest performing artist, honored White House guest and proprietor of a pop-culture empire, is no Hitler: he lacks the talent to field a political movement, and, fortunately, does not appear to hate Jews. Fascism, though, is not ipso facto directed against Jews. Mussolini began as an anti-clerical socialist with support from a great deal of Italy’s small Jewish community, and did not persecute Jews until Hitler told him to.
Who would have believed that a performing genre (it is a stretch to call it “music”) dominated by convicted and confessed criminals, brutally misogynistic, preaching and practicing violence, would come to dominate American popular culture? Jay Z, who brags of dealing drugs and shooting an older brother in his youth, and pleaded guilty to stabbing a record producer, could “help shape attitudes in a real (sic) positive way,” according to President Obama. Jay Z texts regularly with the president and is a regular White House visitor after opening Obama campaign rallies.
Jay Z’s message to the Philadelphia crowd that Ron Howard filmed last year is the same thing he puts on the airwaves — for example:
We formed a new religion
No sins as long as there’s permission
And deception is the only felony
So never fuck nobody without telling me
Sunglasses and Advil, last night was mad real.
Music, Jay Z told Howard’s cameramen, can unite people in a way that politics and religion cannot. Everyone is a genius, everyone is oppressed. He is the prophet of a new religion: African-American music has gone from Thelonius Monk to felonius priest. Violence is not only a legitimate form of expression: it is the only manly form of expression, as in his rap “D.O.A.”:
This might offend my political connects
My raps don’t have melodies
This should make niggas wan’ go and commit felonies
Get your chain tooken
I may do it myself, I’m so Brooklyn!
I know we facing a recession
But the music y’all making gon’ make it the Great Depression
All y’all lack aggression
Put your skirt back down, grow a set man
Nigga this shit violent
The explicit call to violence (including chain-snatching as a form of political expression) is a playful challenge to his “political connects,” namely the president. One should not conclude from this that Obama favors criminal violence, but rather that the popular response to Jay Z’s evocation of felonious rage is so great that Obama finds it convenient to exploit it. There is nothing at all new in any of this: we heard it before from Nietzsche in his evocation of the “blond beast’s” life-affirming violence, from George Sorel, from Mussolini’s call for “creative violence.”
We started school in my house on Thursday, and, as usual, the freedom homeschooling offers still takes me by surprise. I’ve been at it for 3 years now (well, 7 if you count all the pre-pre-school that happens before school age.) We have a new grammar curriculum, Shurley English, which I think I’m going to love but when I started teaching the first lesson I realized my daughter already knows this information and I don’t want to waste her time re-teaching it. So I set her up with writing exercises while I perused the book and found the first 5 chapters are a waste for her. So guess what? We’re skipping them! If she were in class with 25 other kids, some of whom don’t know the same information she does, she would have to sit through 5 whole chapters which would take up several weeks of re-learning redundant information. What a waste of her time and talents! Instead, we can just skip ahead and get to the new stuff right now.
Many kids hate school and just get through it as quickly and as mediocrely as they can. Perhaps it’s because their specific likes and dislikes or personal learning styles aren’t taken into account. How can they in a system that has to cater to such a large group of children? Recently, a controversial article was written entitled, “If You Send Your Kids to Private School, You are a Bad Person” by Allison Benedikt that laments parents who want, and can pay for the best education their kids can get. Benedikt supposes all children should be in the public system even at their own detriment:
“Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good.”
This is the ultimate child sacrifice, next to abortion, that calls for the educational execution of your children for some unidentifiable future children you should care more about than your own “spawn”, as Benedikt calls them. This is a classic argument from progressives, that those of us who choose not to use the public schools are the reason they are failing. How anyone can come to this conclusion when the state still gets the money allocated for my child even though I bear the entirety of her educational expenses is beyond me. I am actually paying double. I pay for a student (or maybe more, who knows?) in public school with my property taxes and I pay for a privately-educated child from my personal expenses. How the public school’s failure to produce readers is my fault is a head-scratcher.
Benedikt thinks all that is needed is parents like me to enroll my children and then engage in the fight to make the public school better. Yeah, okay. I would be every principal’s worst nightmare. Believe me, I am doing the public school a favor by not insisting that they not show movies during class time, that they not read books about sexuality to minors and that science not include dubious global warming “scientific” tall tales. Trust me, the public school has no use for me or my children and I feel the same. Luckily, we still live in a moderately free society where a person like Benedikt (who also admits to being ignorant thanks to her public school education) has no authority over my personal choices about educating my daughters. For people who presume to be so non-judgmental over other lifestyle choices like homosexuality, transgenderism, abortion-as-birth-control and other favorite progressive sacraments, they’re awfully judgy about private-schoolers and people who want their children to have better than the “lame education” that Benedikt suffered.
Sunday, August 18th, 2013 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
From left to right: Zosia Mamet (father, David Mamet, screenwriter), Jemima Kirke (father, Simon Kirke, drummer of Bad Company), Lena Dunham (father, Carol Dunham, artist), and Allison Williams (father, Brian Williams, newscaster).
Check out the first 10 installments of Susan L.M. Goldberg’s ongoing series dissecting HBO’s Girls:
Lena Dunham is probably the one girl in the bunch with the least famous parentage. Nevertheless, she’s super-sensitive to the criticism that HBO’s Girls stars four white girls with super-privileged entertainment industry backgrounds:
“The whole ‘kids of famous people’ dialogue…that is one that I really can attribute to jealousy. Because, why else would anyone say that? Why else would you be so horrified by the children of creative people continuing on to do creative endeavors, unless you felt that there was something you were owed that you weren’t getting that they were getting.”
Her sharp commentary came off as rather, well, “Republican” in this era of entitlement. It also smacks of sheer blindness when it comes to the relationship between audience and auteur. What is it that we the people demand of our entertainment gods and goddesses? And why? After all, thousands of teachers are the children of teachers, as are lawyers, doctors, firemen, and policemen. In fact, inheriting your parents’ profession is nothing new. So, why are celebrities held to a different standard when it comes to making it big in their field?