The controversial Church of Scientology has been in the crosshairs of the media of late, notably with Pulitzer Prize winner Lawrence Wright’s excellent journalistic study Going Clear and Paul Thomas Anderson’s film The Master. Now comes Allen Barton’s play Disconnection, which opened Saturday at the Beverly Hills Playhouse venue of the Skylight Theatre Company in Los Angeles.
Like The Master, Disconnection does not mention the “S”-word but it is more than obvious the celebrity-driven religion famed for almost imprisoning its gullible and needy adherents is the subject here. The play, however, is considerably more potent and provocative than the Anderson movie, which is surprisingly ponderous given its dramatic subject.
Barton, who extricated himself from Scientology some years ago, tells the story of the apostasy of two members of the church, a father and a daughter, who have themselves been estranged from each other. The two are trying to disconnect from the religion and reconnect with each other — and it isn’t easy. The father (Jay Hugely), a lawyer, is struggling with his aging piano teacher (Dennis Nollette), himself a reluctant member of the church and onetime friend of its mercurial L. Ron Hubbard-like founder, Oldman. The daughter (Carter Scott), herself now a high ranking church official, is trapped in a nightmare with Oldman’s successor, a junior Gestapo-type named The Chairman.
Indeed Disconnection often puts you in mind of other totalitarianisms, including today’s radical Islamic versions where apostasy is, of course, penalized in even more draconian manners than in Scientology, although there are imputations, both in and out of Barton’s play, of brutal, even homicidal, behavior for the more modern religion.
The play is unconventional in its form, at times breaking the fourth wall, and includes, in one of its best moments, a soliloquy by Oldman (well played by Robert L. Hughes) justifying why he has created this bizarre monstrosity. It almost had me taking the plunge to get an e-meter reading. (I didn’t.)
The production was skillfully directed by Joel Polis and produced by Gary Grossman for Skylight. Barton’s previous work Years to the Day was highly acclaimed and was performed in Paris, New York, Kansas City and at the Edinburgh Festival. The superb Disconnection seems destined to follow in its footsteps. If you’re in the SoCal area, see it.
The “Christmas single” phenomenon is unknown in the U.S., unless you’ve ever watched Love, Actually.
It’s sort of the “Black Friday” of the British music industry. Since so much music is sold (or, at least, used to be) during the holiday season, having the #1 song on the charts during that time gives one lucky record company a financial boost.
After Slade took the top spot in 1973 with their “Merry Xmas Everybody” — beating out “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” by Wizzard — “an emotional attachment to the Christmas countdown has developed, and for many [in the United Kingdom], it is part of the fabric of their childhood.”
So I doubt many American readers care that there’s a campaign to get Iron Maiden’s old chestnut “The Number of the Beast” to the top of the charts in time for Christmas, “for a laugh.”
What’s really funny (sort of) is that, during the early 1970s, such a campaign would have been denounced on the front page of every British tabloid, and remarked upon within American newspapers’ “entertainment” sections, at the very least.
Because culture-watchers would see it as yet another sign of the satanic takeover of the culture, and the world — the one I wrote about last week.
The Drudge Report remains one of the most accurate barometers of what’s happening right now.
But can we augur near-future trends by sifting through that site’s headlines?
Lately, Drudge has posted lots of news stories about “the devil” and “exorcism”:
Camera captures exorcism performed on shrieking woman “possessed by devil:
Church Turns to Exorcism to Combat Suicide Increase… Archbishop: “Satanism has spread among young people”
BILLY GRAHAM: In Our “Lawless and Wicked Age We’ve Taught Philosophy of Devil”
Aside from the uptick in stories like these, I’m not sensing a resurgence in interest in all things diabolical, a new version of the “occult” fad that helped make the 1970s so miserable, and led to the “satanic panic” of the 1980s that was almost as bad.
Peter Bebergal doesn’t agree.
According to him, “we’re currently experiencing ‘an Occult Revival in rock music and popular culture.’”
He’s penned one of the year’s most talked-about books, Season of the Witch: How the Occult Saved Rock and Roll.
“My argument is that the spirit of rock and roll — the essential rebellious instinct of rock and roll — is certainly social and sexual and political, but it’s also a spiritual rebellion,” Bebergal explained. “And the way in which it expressed that spiritual rebellion was through the occult imagination.”
That “occult imagination” conjures everything from Ouiji boards to Christian and Jewish symbolism to LSD trips to “alternative spiritual practices.” Bebergal says it ultimately helped rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath save rock from sounding too poppy, sappy and mainstream.
Halloween was always a point of contention in our house growing up. Naturally theatrical, I loved dressing up and relished in making my own costumes. And what kid turns down free candy? Sure, Jewish kids have Purim for these things and more, but when you’re in a mainly gentile neck of the woods, it’s a struggle not to be allowed to join in the party. As I grew into adulthood and took a deeper look at Halloween, however, I began to understand my parents’ objections quite clearly. There are definite reasons why Jews and Christians who base their faith in the Bible should re-think introducing and encouraging their child’s participation in this, the most pagan of American holidays.
Editor’s note: this is part 3 in an ongoing series exploring the history of dictators and their evil ideologies. See the previous installments: Part 1:”Why It’s OK to Be Intrigued by Evil Dictators“ and Part 2: “Does Everybody Want Freedom?” Have ideas for who you’d like to see Robert explore next? Get in touch on Twitter: @RobertWargas and @DaveSwindle
Celebrating its centennial, The New Republic recently mined its archive and republished an intriguing piece from its February 27, 1965, issue: an exclusive interview with Mao Zedong by the American journalist Edgar Snow. As TNR correctly notes, as far as interviews go this would be analogous to a Western journalist today being granted exclusive access to Kim Jong Un. The sit-down took place almost seven years before Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger arrived in Peking to re-establish relations with China.
Though the interview has value as a journalistic artifact, it isn’t the most satisfying piece of reportage when it comes to Mao the man. Snow, who was not exactly Red China’s greatest critic, wasn’t allowed to quote the Great Helmsman directly, and most of the discussion concerns issues of policy and military strategy. These are big subjects, and big subjects always make for big answers laden with propaganda.
Mao comes across as intensely theoretical; he seems genuinely infatuated with Marxist theory and its rigorous application to world affairs. When asked about the Vietnam War, for instance, Snow writes that Mao “repeatedly thanked foreign invaders for speeding up the Chinese revolution and for bestowing similar favors in Southeast Asia today.” He ”observed that the more American weapons and troops brought into Saigon, the faster the South Vietnamese liberation forces would become armed and educated to win victory.”
13. She has discovered a close kinship with George Costanza.
Sure, she may come off all serious in her videos, but Lana Del Rey has a seriously good sense of humor. According to Rolling Stone, Lana Del Rey ”has a George Costanza-like plan for the future.”
“I’m really specific about why I’m doing something or writing something,” she says. “But it always kind of gets translated in the opposite fashion. I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve learned that everything I’m going to do is going to have the opposite reaction of what I meant. So I should do the opposite if I want a good reaction.” She’s surprised to learn that George tried this approach in an episode of Seinfeld. “Oh really? That’s awesome. Me and George Costanza! Oh my God!”
Also check out Leslie Loftis’ analysis of Beyonce’s performance at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards here.
10. “Bow Down/I Been On”
The Church of Bey has clearly gone to the pop goddess’s head. A critic at New Wave Feminism writes:
Aside from repeatedly yelling “bow down bitches”, the song also contains lyrics such as “I know when you were little girls / You dreamt of being in my world / Don’t forget it , don’t forget it / Respect that, bow down bitches”. Apparently, Beyoncé thought the appropriate response for young women who admired her and looked up to her was to call them misogynistic slurs and demand they genuflect in her presence.
This Bey Anthem doubles as the death knell of the sisterhood.
11. A conscious awareness of God is intrinsic to human nature.
Tara Brach recently told the story of a four year old who was excited to have alone time with his new baby sister. When he finally got to the side of her crib, he asked her, “Tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.” If we didn’t have a conscious awareness of God, we wouldn’t be striving so hard to find Him in everything from houses of worship to fictional characters on the big screen. Don’t let atheists fool you; they might not believe in a God in the sky, but they’re worshiping something, nevertheless, whether its money, power, or simply themselves.
10. Watch The Big Lebowski a minimum of 3 times.
The first time you watch Lebowski, encounter the film fresh and unfettered. Invite a friend or two over. Make it a casual affair and, if you can, do a double feature. Watch The Maltese Falcon beforehand so you have some understanding of how incredibly screwed up the plotline is going to be. The second time you watch Lebowski, do so with a Caucasian in hand. Immerse yourself in the experience, not as a moviegoer, but as a key aspect of the mise en scene. Discover your favorite quotes. By your third go-round, call in sick, lounge in your bathrobe, and when your friends say, “You wasted a sick day on that movie?” respond with, “Well, that’s like, your opinion, man.” Be sure to obtain the collector’s edition and review the special features for complete immersion.
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.
Pop culture has become as much of a religious powerhouse as Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism or any other faith. Don’t believe me? Sit in a college classroom. Better yet, attend a fan convention or simply rent the film Trekkies. Films, shows, bands, comic books and their like have become, for some, sources of spiritual nourishment. Do you feel the power?
12. What was once DVR-able is now weekly appointment television.
“Appointment TV” doesn’t begin to describe your weekly ritual. All pressing engagements are pushed aside, phones are silenced, and ritual food is laid out on the coffee table to be partaken in as the ceremony commences. You still DVR the show for good measure, being sure to re-watch at least once, if not multiple times in deep study so that you may discuss the meanings of both text and subtext with fellow fans.
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 number of articles in 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.
Fred Phelps Sr., a fierce opponent of homosexuality whose protests at military funerals prompted two federal laws, died early Thursday, his daughter Margie Phelps says. She didn’t give the cause of death or the condition that recently put him in hospice care. He was 84.
Phelps headed the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., and was occasionally involved in politics. He gained national prominence for organizing protests against gays and Jews, including at military funerals.
The Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) is a small virulently homophobic, anti-Semitic hate group that regularly stages protests around the country, often several times a week. The group pickets institutions and individuals they think support homosexuality or otherwise subvert what they believe is God’s law.
Incorporated in 1967 as a not-for-profit organization, WBC considers itself an “Old School (or Primitive)” Baptist Church. WBC’s leader is Fred Phelps and several of his children and dozens of his grandchildren appear to constitute the majority of the group’s members. WBC has no official affiliation with mainstream Baptist organizations.
While WBC members have protested at Jewish institutions over the years, such institutions were not a major focus for the group until April 2009. Since then, WBC has targeted dozens of Jewish institutions around the country, from Israeli consulates to synagogues to Jewish community centers, distributing anti-Semitic fliers to announce planned protests at these sites. WBC has also been sending volumes (in some cases dozens over the course of a week) of faxes and emails with anti-Semitic and anti-gay messages to various Jewish institutions and individuals.
In addition, in April 2010, the group began mailing a virulently anti-Semitic DVD to Jewish organizations and leaders. The DVD also attacks President Obama, describing him as the anti-Christ, and is filled with anti-gay and anti-Catholic vitriol.
Kathy Shaidle, September 13, 2011: Ever seen those ‘God Hates Fags’ guys and wondered: why doesn’t somebody mess with those mo-fos?
Well, guess what I did at the WTC?
If you were born in the middle of the 1960s, the Manson family imprinted themselves on your brain.
The girls looked like this.
I finally saw, up close, those (registered Democrat) Fred Phelps “family” members, with their “God Hates Fags” signs, outside the WTC memorial ceremony.
We wandered over to the location, knowing it was invitation only, but got as close as we could to the loudspeakers and giant TV, outside of Brown Brothers Harriman.
So did the Phelps gang.
I am not joking.
Same long straight brown hair, although mostly casually “up” in ponytails that morning.
And worst: the same creepy, post-orgasmic, beatific smile of every gnostic heretic; the one that says, “I know something you don’t know: God loves me SO much more than you.”
The cops told them to pack up. They put their signs back into the extra large black artist portfolio cases I now know they carry them in.
And the cops herded them away. Right past me.
So I stuck out my foot and tripped one of the girls.
Yeah, it felt fabulous.
She recovered herself, put her weird “I’m in a cult” smile back on and said, “Ha! Subtle!”
(This from a chick who’d been holding a “You will eat your babies” (?) sign.)
Her friend behind her, this old hag who looked like if the school librarian who’d been trapped in a fire, got in my face and with the most twisted expression you can imagine growled:
“You’ll go to hell for all your violence!”
“See you there,” I managed to croak.
images via The Guardian and ADL
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.
Louis Farrakhan, born in New York City in 1933, started out in life as a talented musician. Training intensively on the violin from the age of six, he played with the Boston College orchestra and the Boston Civic Symphony, appeared and won an award on Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour, and won national competitions as a teenager. In the 1950s Farrakhan—or Louis Wolcott as he was then known—took a different musical tack as a calypso performer. He recorded albums, toured, and in 1955 headlined a show in Chicago called “Calypso Follies.” In other words, Louis Wolcott could have gone on contributing something positive to society as a musician and entertainer.
But that year, 1955, in Chicago, he embarked on a different path. Through a friend, Wolcott came into contact with the Nation of Islam, an antiwhite, antisemitic, African-American organization founded in the 1930s. Wolcott joined, converted to Islam, renounced music, and—in a profound sense—was no more, having morphed into Louis Farrakhan. And Farrakhan quickly rose through the Nation of Islam’s ranks, becoming its leading figure by the early 1980s. He has also been, for decades, America’s most vicious antisemitic rabble-rouser, poisoning thousands of minds or exacerbating poison that was already there. As Discover the Networks notes:
For many years, Farrakhan has ranked among the most influential black figures in America. He draws enormous, standing-room-only crowds of listeners wherever he speaks. An October 1992 lecture he gave in Atlanta actually outdrew a World Series game played there that same night….
Farrakhan’s October 16, 1995 “Million Man March” [in Washington] drew several hundred thousand attendees….
Farrakhan’s venues for speeches include mosques, churches, and universities, as well as online lectures. At Madison Square Garden in 1985, he addressed a notable but typical statement to Jews: “And don’t you forget, when it’s God who puts you in the ovens, it’s forever!”
Because it’s the beginning of a new year, and because I’ve been slack for several weeks on the Buddhism column, and because after all Gautama himself said that he was teaching basically just one simple thing that he found himself just explaining in many different ways, and because finally it’s my column and I can do what I want, I’m going to start this time by repeating again the core of the Buddha’s teaching, suitably rephrased so as to seem creative and original and avoid copyright problems with the people I’m stealing it from. So here they are, the Four Noble Truths, with only as much Sanskrit as necessary.
- Our ordinary lives are full of duhkha, badly translated as “suffering” and better translated as unpleasantness, agitation, discomfort. (The root word is actually connected to the idea of a cart wheel that’s got a bad axle: it isn’t rolling smoothly and the bump bump bump is making us cart-sick.)
- Dukhka arises because of our efforts to re-order the universe to our liking. We thirst for pleasant experiences; we try to make things be just how we’d like them to be; and we try to un-make things that aren’t the way we want them to be. All of these things come down to a kind of ignorance of the way that we and everything around us can’t be made to hold still; everything changes.
- This special discomfort ceases when we stop trying to force things.
- We can learn to stop trying to force things by practicing what the Buddha called “skillful means”, upaya.
Which is all well and good, but how?
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.
President Obama, on Wednesday, made a big speech about “economic inequality” and vowed to spend his last three years in office working to increase the federal minimum wage, as well as a lot of other things.
Just as an aside, every time I hear talk about increasing the minimum wage — there’s a strike on today at some fast food places to raise their wage to $15 an hour as well — I have a conversation something like this.
“I think increasing the minimum wage is a wonderful idea. In fact, let’s raise it to $100 an hour.”
“Oh, you’re being silly.”
“No, imagine. Raise minimum wage to $100 an hour. That way, everyone will be making $200,000 a year. We’ll all be rich!
Okay, I’ll grant that it usually takes two or three more exchanges before someone calls me racist, or a tea-bagger, or even an economic royalist if they’re of a classical turn of mind. The one thing I’ve never had anyone do is explain to me why if a $15 an hour minimum wage is a good idea, a $100 an hour minimum wage is a bad idea.
I suspect it’s because they realize that if they do, the jig is up: if they raise the minimum wage that high, companies won’t be able to pay the wage, and either there will be massive unemployment or massive inflation, as companies try to make up the difference. Mostly unemployment and shutdowns, because the money supply can’t grow that fast without a Weimar meltdown. But the trade-off is basically a linear function — raising the minimum wage by a lesser amount just means fewer people lose their jobs or go out of business. In the case of fast food workers, what would happen is that hamburger-making machines would become cheaper than burger-flippers. (In fact, that break-even is already past, the burger-flippers just don’t know it yet.)
In any case, though, this seems to be a solution in search of a problem, because there is no poverty in America, and I can prove it. According to a Cato Institute study published last year, the combined expenditures for federal and state governments directed to means-tested public assistance — “welfare” — is approximately $1 trillion (yes, with a “T”) a year.
There are approximately 48 million people in the U.S. with incomes at the poverty level or below.
The application of advanced mathematics — long division, and I did it in my head thank you very much — tells us that’s about $21,000 per person per year. Obviously, that’s $84,000 for a family of four.
That’s got a problem, though. According to the 2013 Federal Poverty Guidelines, the poverty level for a family of four is $23,950. The total of $84,000 is roughly 380 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
Obviously, there’s no poverty left in America.
Unless, of course, that money isn’t actually being spent on the poor people at all. I wonder where it goes?
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.”
Much has been said recently about the social problems plaguing the inner cities — crime, out-of-wedlock birth, lack of education. We can trace the problems, to some extent, back to the breakdown of the family in those communities. But along with that is a more systemic problem of a breakdown in the churches — a failure to teach right theology and biblical truth at a time when it is most desperately needed. In particular, the “prosperity gospel” preachers have taken advantage of some of the most vulnerable in our society — the poor, the elderly, the sick — by falsely teaching that Jesus is some sort of lucky charm sitting up in heaven waiting to grant our wishes for material wealth and physical healing. They claim the only thing holding God back is our failure to send enough money to some big-haired Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN) star sitting on an ornate, fake throne.
The prosperity preachers say that all that stands between a poor (or sick) person and a huge payday (or good health) is a lack of faith and a donation to the ministry of the preacher. They perform before massive crowds, including Joe, sitting in his living room in Paducah, Kentucky, and claim that God is telling them — right at that very moment (or later if you’re DVR’ing the show)— exactly what He wants each and every member of the audience to do at that very moment. It’s preposterous, but these charlatans find easy prey in those who are in dire financial circumstances or who suffer with physical ailments. John MacArthur has said that it “is no different from the lowest human religions—a form of voodoo where God can be coerced, cajoled, manipulated, controlled, and exploited for the Christian’s own ends.” It’s no different than the way state lotteries take advantage of the poor with promises of a life of ease for the small price of a Powerball ticket — except that the preachers claim to be speaking for God, which is sobering and tragic at the same time.
Earlier this year Reformed (as in Reformed theology) rapper Shai Linne called out some of those preachers in a song called “Fal$e Teacher$“. And he names names — Benny Hinn, Paula White, Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, and others — acknowledging in the song that “today the only heresy is saying that there’s heresy.”
His music is startling in a hip-hop culture known for profanity and violence. Linn raps about hardcore Christian theological truths that many seasoned Christians can’t speak about intelligently — limited atonement, amillennialism, the hypostatic union.
It really is all tomatoes all the time this week in the Martin household, so I thought I’d make it a trifecta.
No, I don’t think Siddhartha used a tomato timer, but I’ve begun to see a similarity among several of the things I do as practices: Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, the Pomodoro Technique as I use it, and zazen (“zah-zen”), the basic Buddhist meditation. But to explain that, I need to explain meditation, a column I’ve been meaning to write for a while.
Meditation is one of the basics, maybe the basic, components of Buddhist practice. It was the primary sort of meditation that Buddha taught his followers. In Japanese traditions, it’s called shikantaza (只管打坐, Chinese “Zhǐguǎn dǎzuò”) — which simply means “nothing but sitting.”
Okay, so it’s “just sitting”. Pretty easy, eh?
But wait, there’s more!
The trick is, it’s just sitting and nothing else. If you sit down someplace comfortable, turn off the radio and the TV, relax and let your eyes become unfocused, and just sit, pretty quickly one of two things will happen: either you’ll find your mind consumed with thoughts, or you’ll fall asleep. Maybe both. Your mind becomes consumed with one thought, and then another — sexual fantasies, imagined arguments with whomever you might be arguing with, blog posts or comments or what you would have said if you’d have just thought of it then. You find yourself dwelling on thoughts, and so you’re no longer just sitting.
That’s my first reaction to HBO’s latest pseudo-experiment in high culture, Jay Z’s live performance titled Picasso Baby: A Performance Art Film.
My documentarian eye was jarred by the constant cutting of footage chronicling the rapper’s six hour live performance at Chelsea’s Pace Gallery. Performance art, yes; film, most definitely. This piece was so heavily edited (6 hours down to 11 minutes) that I couldn’t keep track of what was going on most of the time. Look, there he is singing to some well-dressed woman — oh wait, now it’s Adam Driver; now it’s some other well-dressed woman … oh, wait, now its Jemima Kirke, and look … Judd Apatow! The celebrities filtered into the crowd killed the notion that this was art for the people. No, this is art for HBO — so why not plug a few other shows in our lineup while we’re at it?
At one point the velvet ropes are let down and the crowd is encouraged to approach at a safe distance. Jay Z begins to rap about sticking his cock in the fox’s box and we catch a glimpse of one mother covering her young girl’s ears before we cut to a shot of older women dancing with the rap star. How young is too young to be initiated into the cult? When does it become charming to become nothing more than a fox’s box?
The Del Close Marathon is the Coachella of comedy.
The 15th annual blend of performance and partying recently wrapped after 56 consecutive hours of long-form improv on seven stages:
UCB founders and Close disciples Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Ian Roberts (Arrested Development), Matt Walsh (Veep) and Matt Besser launched the Marathon 15 years ago to honor the memory of [Del] Close, a comic and teacher widely regarded as the father of long-form improvisational theater. (…)
The Marathon concluded with C.K., Poehler and the ASSSSCAT cast sitting cross-legged, watching never-aired broadcast monologues from the festival’s namesake, the man we have to thank for much of the landscape of modern entertainment.
Yeah, about that…
I’m a bit of a comedy nerd.
(Most girls stuck pictures of the Bay City Rollers in their high school lockers. Mine had Woody Allen.)
But I’ve always hated improv.
If you’ve ever squirmed in your seat, thinking, “Man, there’s nothing more painful to sit through than a bad stand up comic,” then you’ve clearly never endured an even-worse improv show, which multiplies that raw, naked awfulness — bad jokes, missed cues, drunk patrons — by at least three, depending on the number of performers.
There’s a conformist cultishness about improv, though, that’s far more troubling than anything you see onstage.
Close is still revered as a demi-god by many comedians, who slavishly recite his “rules” like a bunch of Manson Girls.
From the 1960s until his death in 1999, Close taught improv at Second City, and worked (behind the scenes) at Saturday Night Live from its inception.
In other words, most American comedians you’ve seen in movies and on TV since the Nixon administration either studied under Close or one of his disciples.
What most of these famous folks brush past while dutifully praising and quoting the guy on WTF or at events like the Marathon is that Del Close was a self-described warlock who cast spells on stage:
In the definitive biography of Close, one student complains to a Second City producer that “Del is invoking the Devil” in class. His creepy “invocations” remain legendary in the improv community and are featured in his classic textbook.
In one exercise, students “invoke a ‘god’ that they create themselves from their own group vision,” usually an object they are supposed to “worship.”
“It’s not as frightening as it sounds,” the authors insist rather unconvincingly, describing a sample invocation:
“Thou hast taken control of my good sense. When thou art with me, I am debased and dishonored.”