Warning: Spoilers regarding the plot of Avengers: Age of Ultron will be discussed below. You’ve been warned.
Actor Simon Pegg recently made headlines after a controversial radio interview in which he expressed his desire to “retire from geekdom.” He denounced the current spate of comic book films and other genre fare as “childish” and indicative of “a kind of dumbing down” of society. He went on:
“Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about… whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk had a fight with a robot.”
Reaction to Pegg’s remarks tended to focus on the irony of his fame and fortune spawning from the object of his scorn. However, a higher critique of Pegg’s comments arises from the fact that what he said isn’t even true.
Nowadays, these genre films do portray challenging emotional journeys and ask moral questions, which stands as a significant reason for their continued success. The days of Adam West and Joel Schumacher have long past. Today, we get Christopher Nolan and assorted Oscar-winners.
In his comments, Pegg specifically references Avengers: Age of Ultron, currently playing in theaters. While it’s true that the film boasts a battle between the Hulk and Iron Man, that’s hardly what the movie is about. Weaved between the action beats are some heavy philosophical themes, including the oldest and most profound of existential questions.
What is the point of life? Why are we here? What should we do with the life we have? How far should we go to protect it? What should we risk?
The film doesn’t get bogged down in these mysteries, nor should it. But Age of Ultron does touch upon these questions in a manner which serves the story.
Of particular note during the film’s resolution is a scene between the villainous artificial intelligence Ultron and a virtuous android known as The Vision. These two non-human characters reflect upon the human condition, arriving at every different conclusions regarding its value.
Ultron declares of humanity, “They’re doomed!”
“Yes,” Vision coolly replies. “But a thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.”
In that moment, writer/director Joss Whedon inserts his trademark optimistic nihilism. Looking back through Whedon’s body of work, whether Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or FIrefly, or The Cabin in the Woods, a theme recurs throughout. Humanity is doomed. But life is nonetheless worth living. One might ask Pegg where to come by a more challenging notion than than.
Indeed, Whedon’s happy fatalism stands among his more frustrating attributes. He presents an honest view of our terminal existence, and prescribes enjoying life while it lasts. In a world where death had not been overcome, that would be the best we could do. But for the bible-believing Christian, death has been overcome, we are not doomed, and the everlasting sets a new standard for beauty.
In the broadest terms, these are the two worldviews competing for the allegiance of mankind. One views existence as temporary. The other views existence as eternal. Which view we subscribe to determines how we ought to live our lives. We can live for today – carpe diem – or we can live for eternity.
Believers often make the mistake of presenting this choice as a dichotomy between morality and amorality. It is not. As Whedon portrays throughout his work, doomed people can do good things. The focus shouldn’t be on whether believing or not believing proves moral, but whether life eternal proves preferable to life abridged.
Avengers: Age of Ultron joins Whedon’s other work in presenting a brief life well lived as the point of human existence. That’s certainly the best we can hope for if the atheists are right. Even in the best case scenario where technology somehow presents a form of immortality at some point in the future, the irrevocable state of the universe is atrophy. Everything is winding down. As King Solomon once said, “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.” Ultron puts it more bluntly.
But if the Christians are right, if death has been overcome, if we have a hope of life eternal in the Kingdom of God, then all bets are off. The Vision’s modest consolation regarding our doomed state proves feeble. We need not stoically accept fading beauty. We can rest in an everlasting hope.
From the creator of The Wire comes a new HBO miniseries portraying local political intrigue triggered by a federal order to establish low-income housing in an American city. The project stars Oscar Issac, currently seen stalking halls and abusing robots in Ex Machina and soon to appear in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as the mayor of the city in question. From The Los Angeles Times:
Based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Lisa Belkin, [Show Me a Hero] also stars Catherine Keener, Alfred Molina, Winona Ryder, LaTanya Richardson-Jackson, Bob Balaban and Jim Belushi.
[The mayor's attempt to establish public housing] tears the city apart, paralyzes the municipal government and, ultimately, destroys the mayor and his political future.
Anticipate some heavy-handed messaging around racism, and little to no sympathy for property rights or local control.
Talk about dumping where you eat. Actor Simon Pegg, who has built a successful career on genre film and geek cred, has suddenly decided that he’s above it all. The Telegraph reports:
… he told Radio Times: …“Now we’re essentially all consuming very childish things – comic books, superheroes. Adults are watching this stuff, and taking it seriously!
“It is a kind of dumbing down in a way, because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues.”
“Films used to be about challenging, emotional journeys or moral questions that might make you walk away and re-evaluate how you felt about… whatever. Now we’re walking out of the cinema really not thinking about anything, other than the fact that the Hulk had a fight with a robot.”
Pegg, by the way, helped write the forthcoming third film the the rebooted Star Trek franchise, where he will reprise his role as chief engineer Montgomery Scott. He’s also rumored to have a cameo in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens later this year. It’s unclear how these gigs fit with Pegg’s new found philosophy toward “very childish things.” Perhaps that irony informed Pegg’s recent “clarification” referenced in the clip above.
No one saw this coming. Going into the weekend, the conversation among film afficinados centered upon whether Mad Max: Fury Road had any chance of dethroning Avengers: Age of Ultron in the latter’s third week. As it turns out, neither film came out on top. Instead, audiences flocked to see Pitch Perfect 2, giving the a cappella comedy sequel a historic opening. It took $70.3 billion at the box office, more than the first film’s entire theatrical run. Variety reports:
The only comparable performance is “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me,” which opened with $54.9 million in 1999, more than the $53.9 million that the first spy satire generated during its domestic engagement…
It marks Elizabeth Banks’ feature film directorial debut and is the second-highest opening for a film by a female director, behind only Sam Taylor-Johnson’s “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which kicked off with $85.2 million last winter. It’s also the highest opening for a first-time feature film director, the biggest musical opening and the second-biggest PG-13 comedy opening in history.
Don’t feel bad for the boys. Mad Max and Avengers still came way with tens of millions of dollars each, the former boasting widespread critical acclaim and favorable audience reactions. The real tell will be in the drop off in box office receipts in these films’ second week.
The argument for public broadcasting has always been some variation upon giving voice to sophisticated and enriching content that transcends the plebeian tastes of commercial audiences. By way of example, above you can listen to author Sy Montgomery get very, very excited about octopi.
Author of “The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness,” Montgomery stands eager to share her fascination with these creatures of the deep:
“I got to know several octopuses very well,” she says, “so well they would recognize me and turn color with emotion and come over. Their eyes would lock with mine, and when I would plunge my hands and arms into the water their suckers would come boiling out and embrace me.”
Later in the interview, Montgomery doubles down, fully anthropomorphizing the octopus.
“It’s so amazing that you can find connection with someone this different… someone that alien, someone with no bones at all, someone who tastes with all their skin… somebody who has their mouth in their armpits, and who has venom like a snake, and ink like an old-fashioned pen. Someone that different, you wouldn’t think you could make friends with someone like that.
This is why your tax dollars simply must go to public broadcasting. How else could the world learn of Sy Montgomery’s peculiar love of the octopus.
Rare is the television actor who can successfully transition to a sustainable career in film. For every George Clooney, there’s a hundred David Schwimmers.
Cobie Smulders, who got her start on television and was once best known for her role on How I Met Your Mother, has been taking a run at it. Having played S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Smulders has a couple bigger roles in smaller films coming out this year.
One of her forthcoming projects is Unexpected, for which the first trailer recently dropped. Smulders plays a school teacher who becomes unintentionally pregnant and struggles with how to adjust. Her story parallels that of a black female student in the same predicament.
What themes ultimately emerge from the film remain to be seen. However, the trailer suggests an honest and forthright portrayal of how pregnancy changes lives, and how such unexpected change defines the human experience.
There doesn’t seem to be an agenda here, which proves refreshing. Bypassing debate of abortion, the film appears to deal with how the choice to bear and raise a child must proceed from a desire to do so, even if that desire proves conflicted.
A new study made available to The Washington Examiner suggests that “nothing the Republican Party does, even nominating African-American GOP candidates, works to win them over.” It found that black voters turn out in troves to support Democrats, even when Republicans run an African-American candidate, and especially when that candidate opposes an African-American Democrat.
The study might lead Republican operatives to conclude that blacks should be abandoned as a potential constituency. That’s the easy way out. The tougher road leads through uncharted territory, employing unconventional methods which diverge from conservative orthodoxy. Let’s consider a few ways in which conservatives could engage the black community and invest in a brighter future.
It Can’t Start with Politics
For as long as I’ve been involved in Republican Party politics, activists and operatives have cited the need for “minority outreach.” In practice, such outreach typically entails getting Republican candidates in front of minority audiences to tell them why they should vote Republican. It hasn’t worked thus far, and the study cited by The Washington Examiner suggests it won’t work anytime soon.
Politics builds upon a cultural foundation. No amount or quality of political operation will counter cultural predispositions. “Black citizens appear to conclude that they do not share common political values with Republicans, whether black or not.” Divergent values cannot be overcome by a political campaign, only by personal relationships built at the grassroots level. Campaigns don’t foster trust. Trust fosters successful campaigns.
Whatever way that conservatives begin engaging the black community, it must be apolitical. It must start not from a dominant posture of telling and selling, but a submissive posture of listening and receiving. Anecdotally, the encounters I have seen between black community leaders and conservative activists has been perceived as white people telling blacks what their problems are and how best to solve them. You need stronger families. You need to get a job. You just need to try harder. These messages, actual or perceived, come off as condescending. Conservatives need to start listening to black problems as blacks describe them, and not rush to invalidate or delegitimize the black experience.
Acknowledge the Folly of the Drug War
While much progress has been made dragging critique of the Drug War into the mainstream, the default position of most conservatives remains in support of the status quo, the criminalization of substance abuse rather than treating it as a health problem. So long as this remains the conservative position, blacks will likely remain skeptical of conservatism.
Fortunately, conservatives have good reasons to oppose the Drug War which having nothing to do with “minority outreach.” First, just from a fiscal standpoint, the War on Drugs has been an unmitigated disaster. A trillion dollars have been spent at all levels of government over the past 40 years without making a dent in drug use. Meanwhile, we’ve gone from 50,000 people incarcerated for drug law violations in 1980 to 500,000 today.
The larger reason for conservatives to oppose the Drug War stems from its inherent immorality. The production, distribution, and use of drugs violates no one’s rights. Employing force against individuals who have not harmed others violates a core tenant of conservatism.
It stands as historical fact that the Drug War and substance prohibitions in general emerged from the Progressive Movement, serving the same state-expanding purpose as the modern Green Movement. It’s simply an excuse to grant government more power. Conservatives who support the Drug War have served as agents of their own political destruction.
Most relevant to the issue of race, the Drug War disproportionately affects the black community. Blacks stand four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana use despite using at the same rate as whites. That’s because the prosecution of drug crimes proves inherently subjective and arbitrary. Since there is no victim to complain in a drug crime, law enforcement must proactively seek out violators. This leaves them free to look for violations wherever they please, and ignore violations wherever they please. Is it really surprising, under such circumstances, that blacks are more likely to be arrested for drug crimes?
Acknowledge Need for Drastic Criminal Justice Reform
Aside from the Drug War, the overall criminal justice apparatus needs fresh and thorough scrutiny. While reactions to actual or perceived police misconduct have not always been appropriate, the fact remains that these incidents occur far too frequently to be dismissed as “a few bad apples.” There’s a systematic problem that needs to be addressed. Again, conservative principles apply.
Conservatives tend to romanticize law enforcement and the military. Serving their proper role of protecting individual rights, men and women in uniform serving in our streets and abroad deserve our appreciation. However, conservatives would do well to remember that these institutions are manifestations of government which ought to be scrutinized as skeptically as Congress.
Law enforcement should serve at the pleasure of the community, not within a cone of immunity. Three categories of reform would go a long way toward restoring accountability and trust.
First, Congress and state legislatures need to attack the root of the problem by scouring statute, repealing laws which do not address violations of individual rights. Fewer, more objective laws will remove much of the pretense for law enforcement to engage subjects on the street. We need fewer reasons to pull someone over or detain them while walking down the street, not more. Encounters with law enforcement should stem from rights violations which any reasonable person would implicitly perceive as wrong.
Second, law enforcement should submit to strong civilian oversight. We can’t have self-government if we can’t govern those governing us. Smaller communities should consider dispensing with municipal police departments all together, deferring to elected county sheriffs. Elected civilian review boards should be established with the authority to dispense meaningful discipline and shape law enforcement policy.
Lastly, police unions should be abolished. Like any public employee union, police labor organizations present a clear conflict of interest. People who earn their living from government should not be organizing to elect their bosses. More to the point regarding misconduct, a community should not be compelled by union contracts to retain an officer they don’t want on the force.
Rethink the Welfare Narrative
Welfare has presented a conventional divide between conservatives and liberals, with the former generally opposed and the latter generally supportive. A predictable debate takes perennial form, with Republicans cast as villains unmoved by the plight of the poor.
Conservatives could shake up this narrative tomorrow by shifting their focus from personal welfare to corporate welfare. If the goal is ending public subsidy and establishing a free market where individuals succeed or fail on their own merit, why start by taking checks from those who need them most? Why not start with the fat cats? Why not start with the billionaire sports team owners or the corporate cronies?
The numbers offered in the above clip may be exaggerated, including such things as tax revenue “lost” to tax shelters and such. However, even if you consider only the $870 of direct corporate subsidies the average American family pays in taxes each year, that’s still 20 times more than that same family pays for food stamps and other welfare to the poor.
The open secret is that partisan politics has polarized along an axis of dependents, rich and poor, each demonizing the other as the source of fiscal woes. We need to break the cycle and undermine the conventional arguments by committing to end welfare from the top down rather than from the bottom up.
Hammer on Education Reform
Perhaps the best opportunity for conservatives to win converts among the black community rests with education. The status quo is profoundly failing black students, so much so that all but the most strident of ideologues will concede that something new must be tried.
Conservatives can point to real success stories which exhibit incredible promise. Minneapolis boasts one such example in Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. With a student population that’s 93% black and Hispanic, hailing from families with an average family income of $36,657, Cristo Rey has a 83% student retention rate and a 98% senior graduation rate. By contrast, Minneapolis Public Schools graduate only 47% of their students on-time.
All students could have access to a quality education if the taxpayer funds applied to their education followed them to the school of their choice rather than the school of closest proximity. School choice empowers parents and provides a resource which its opponents only pay lip service to – hope.
These are just a few ways that conservatives could begin to develop a serious outreach to blacks and other minorities. Fundamentally, it will require abandoning entrenched conservative dogma and discovering how to apply conservative principles in new ways. It’s not as simple has “showing up” or telling people how your ideas might make their lives better. It’s a process of listening and then reforming. We can’t sell a product that people aren’t willing to buy.
Marketers craft movie trailers to sell tickets, not necessarily to accurately portray what the movie will be. With that in mind, the above glimpse of a new film starring Anne Hathaway promises some refreshing themes.
Hathaway plays the young founder and CEO of a company based in New York. She takes on an intern played by Robert De Niro, who turns 72 in August.
You might expect such a premise to rest upon cheap age jokes. Certainly, those seem to abound. However, the surprising element here is a genuine respect for age, experience, and classy demeanor. The trailer suggests that something has been lost in the past couple generations of men, something which we ought to consider reclaiming.
The trailer also suggests that the film will portray entrepreneurship in a positive light. That’s something rarely found in Hollywood these days.
A Facebook friend of mine just set the above image as his profile cover photo. He’s an activist in the Black Lives Matter movement whom I became acquainted with while working on an election issue in my state.
I look at this picture, and the first thing I think is: Wow. That’s… that’s really offensive.
Then I look at it some more. I think about it. Then I realize that for some people, like my Facebook friend, this accurately represents how they perceive the world in which they live.
We can criticize that. We can tell them that they are wrong to view the world that way. We can insist that things aren’t as bad as an image like this makes them out to be. And we may be right. But maybe we should stop and consider how terrifying life has to get for this to become your perception.
What do we do with that? How can we have anything approaching a productive conversation about race relations and criminal justice issues when starting from such divergent perceptions of the status quo?
Lily Rose Depp, daughter of Hollywood royalty Johnny Depp, will make her feature film debut alongside Natalie Portman in a forthcoming paranormal period film by French director Rebecca Zlotowski. From Variety:
Although plot details are kept under wraps, Zlotowski told Variety that the film [title "Planetarium"] follows the journey of sisters who are believed to possess the supernatural ability to connect with ghosts. They cross paths with a visionary French producer while performing in Paris.
The political context of “Planetarium” will have a modern resonance with the current crisis and rise of extremism in Europe. The character of the producer is freely inspired by Jewish producer Bernard Natan, one of the biggest French film industry figures of the ’20s and ’30s, who eventually died in Auschwitz.
Depp thus debuts in grand fashion, surrounded by talent with provocative material. But as other father-child relationships have demonstrated, Hollywood nepotism can only get an actor so far. We’re looking at you Jaden Smith. Eventually, the favored child needs to stand on their own merits. We’ll see what Lily Rose has to offer around this time next year.
There’s a point at which social activism becomes redundant. Basis for grievance can abate to a point beyond which further protest seems petty.
Recognizing that point may not be an exact science. However, as you watch Mindy Kaling rattle on about her treatment by Hollywood in the above American Express ad, or chuckle at Amy Schumer’s portrayal of twelve angry men deliberating whether she’s hot enough to have her own TV show, eventually it hits you. These girls are chiming in a bit late.
Each is on TV. Each woman stars in her own show. Each woman writes her own material. Each woman lives her life more or less according to her own judgment. No one is holding either of them down.
Below video NSFW:
So, what are they protesting again?
Variety calls Schumer a “genius” for infusing feminist themes into her comedy sketch show. Editor-in-chief Andrew Wallenstein compares her to Dave Chappelle.
They both made their mark with very socially relevant humor, but while Chappelle explored race in America, it’s gender issues Schumer is mining just as brilliantly.
Ultimately, hilarious and successful as Chappelle proved, his insistence upon rending robes in racial grievance imploded his career. No one told Chappelle he couldn’t continue because he was black. Rather, Chappelle started to take himself too seriously and began to strangely resent the success he had earned.
Personally, I think Schumer is smarter than Chappelle. I think, while she no doubt cares about the way women are treated in the media, she writes more to express the comedy of her experience than to wring hands over it.
Warning: This is a spoilers review. Plot details from Avengers: Age of Ultron will be discussed openly. Only continue if you have seen the film or don’t care about having the story spoiled.
It’s been a solid week since the theatrical release of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Now that we’ve seen the film and had a bit of time to digest it, let’s talk through its pros and cons and give it an overall score.
Relentless Cinematic Action
The first Avengers spent its first act getting the band together. We didn’t see them fighting as a team until their climactic battle in New York. This time around, the fighting starts from the opening scene. The gang’s all here and working relentlessly to storm the stronghold of Hydra’s mad scientist, Baron Strucker.
The pace rarely lets up from there, offering some of the most kinetic comic book action ever put to screen. Indeed, there may be no other film which has so perfectly portrayed what comic books can only suggest through still images.
There’s probably as much destruction in Avengers: Age of Ultron as we saw in Man of Steel. But unlike the latter, we never grow fatigued or lose our capacity to care.
For the most part, Avengers: Age of Ultron continues to showcase writer/director Joss Whedon’s uncanny ability to juggle a large ensemble of characters without making the screen feel crowded. For the most part, each team member gets their due.
The most notable development surrounds the non-super-powered characters. Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye, who was arguably underutilized in the first film, gets much love this time out. We learn that he has a family. We get to meet them. We also deal directly with Hawkeye’s mortality and vulnerability alongside a pantheon of gods.
Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff likewise addresses her role on the team. Arguably the most popular Marvel character without a standalone film, and certainly the most prolific, the Black Widow reveals some of her veiled backstory in an effort to relate to Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk-harboring Dr. Banner.
“Still think you’re the only monster on the team?” she asks after divulging one of her past’s darker details.
Advancing the MCU Mythology
In ways both large and small, Avengers: Age of Ultron advances both the character arcs of its main players and the overall mythology of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Indeed, what has come before directly triggers what happens here and leads naturally to what we know comes later.
In Iron Man 3, Tony Stark dealt with the trauma of events endured in the first Avengers film. Never let it be said that an alien army pouring through an interdimensional rift won’t shake up even the most alpha of males. One thing this cinematic universe has done very well is meld wildly different styles into a larger whole. But that doesn’t mean a relatively normal human being reliant upon technology won’t balk at extraterrestrial horrors.
That fear and apprehension drives Tony to take drastic and risky measures in this film. The villainous artificial intelligence Ultron is born of that effort in an attempt to protect humanity from threats like the alien Chitauri. Obviously, that attempt went very wrong and produced a greater threat in Ultron, which leaves us to wonder how these events will inform the conflict between Stark and Captain American in next year’s Captain America: Civil War.
It can be difficult to recall, particularly for those under the age of 30. But there was a time when mention of Batman evoked more laughs than reverence or awe, a time when the dominant cultural touchstone for the character was the 1960′s television show featuring Adam West as The Caped Crusader.
In those days, Batman came in a package deal with his teenage sidekick Robin. It was only after Frank Miller re-imagined the character as The Dark Knight, and after Tim Burton delivered his brooding and bloodied version to the big screen, that Robin was left by the wayside. The Boy Wonder’s popularity wasn’t bolstered by his subsequent appearances in the Joel Schumacher directed sequels Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.
That said, could Robin work in a modern Batman film? AMC Movie News editor-in-chief John Campea offers insights in the clip above. In short, it could be done, but not without significant revisions to the classic portrayal of the character. You can’t have a grown man dragging a teenage kid into mortal danger. But you could have a variation on the relationship that fits with the gritty new DC Cinematic Universe.
Director Josh Trank was set to direct the second stand-alone Star Wars Anthology film. Trank announced over the weekend that he is leaving the project.
Now we learn that the film in question will feature “an origin story” of the infamous bounty hunter Boba Fett. Readers may wonder how that will work, since we’ve already seen Fett’s origin in the prequel films. The crew over at AMC Movie Talk relate their confusion over the announcement in the clip above.
Up until this point, Disney’s reign over Lucasfilm has yielded promising signals. The recent trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was widely well-received. News of the first stand-alone film, titled Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One and starring Felicity Jones, has also been well-received. The departure of Trank under questionable circumstances coupled with a confusing premise for the second stand-alone film shows the first cracks in Disney’s facade.
Along with a bevy of casting details and new photos from the set Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a new Vanity Fair article confirms that a sixth Indiana Jones film will eventually be produced by the now Disney-owned Lucasfilm. Producer Kathleen Kennedy, George Lucas heir under Disney’s watch, indicated that a sequel will happen.
Unfortunately, little is known beyond that. Will Harrison Ford return? Will the role be recast and the franchise rebooted? According to Kennedy, there is no script as of yet. So perhaps the creatives at Lucasfilm haven’t yet decided which route to take. Here’s hoping they choose wisely.
Recall the moral clarity with which Barry Goldwater addressed the 1964 Republican National Convention:
I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
Goldwater understood that terms like extremism and moderation only matter in a defined context. Nowadays, the negative connotation of extremism is commonly taken for granted. No one bothers to ask: extreme in relation to what?
As candidates announce their runs for president left and right, the editorial board of the Minneapolis Star Tribune calls upon us to move “beyond ideology.”
Ideology, it seems, is reasserting itself in a world that less than a generation ago appeared headed toward pluralism, tolerance and pragmatism, all bolstered by an unprecedented flow of free information that promised to render extremism obsolete.
Why should we want to render extremism in defense of liberty obsolete? Why should we desire pragmatism in the pursuit of justice?
The Star Tribune op-ed offers its words without context, used more for rhetorical effect than for substantive communication. Its use of “ideology” seems to reference cultish political dogma, ignoring the fact that any given philosophy – even the conscientious choice to reject conscientious choice – is an ideology. There’s no escaping it. There’s nowhere “beyond ideology.” The very attempt to “render extremism obsolete” proves profoundly ideological.
Indeed, as their appeal to “pluralism, tolerance and pragmatism” develops, the editorial board’s own ideological goals emerge:
Screeds portraying government as a manifest evil are especially damaging because they taint even the most sensible government solutions. With national campaigns approaching, our fervent hope is that voters have grown weary of the threadbare recitations common to both parties and will instead demand pragmatic, creative and courageous approaches that bypass the tiresome interest groups…
We yearn for an agenda that matches the nation’s and the state’s actual problems: Creating a wider prosperity; building an infrastructure that works; forging a coherent, sophisticated foreign policy; fostering a truly effective system for education and training; reforming the corrupt financing of campaigns, and devising serious policies on climate and energy. We long for solutions based on hard evidence, not ideological correctness.
All this as if their laundry list were somehow “beyond ideology.” There’s nothing at all ideological about the green movement or education, is there?
To understand what the Star Tribune editorial board has done, we must recall Goldwater’s insight that appeals to moderation and accusations of extremism only matter in a defined context. We must first know: extreme in relation to what?
Annie Leibovitz continued her legacy of photographing the cast and crew of forthcoming Star Wars films, this time capturing images from the set of The Force Awakens released on May the Fourth. The new pics confirm previous speculation that the actor behind Kylo Ren’s evil mask is Girls star Adam Driver. Academy award winning actress Lupita Nyong’o posed while made up for motion capture, indicating that her character will be computer generated.
Additional reports from a forthcoming Vanity Fair piece reveal that actress Gwendoline Christie lurks behind another mask, that of the chrome-plated stormtrooper scene in the recent trailer. Her character will be called Captain Phasma.
Here’s your first look at the cast of the forthcoming Suicide Squad, the third film in the developing DC Comics cinematic universe scheduled to follow next year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Styled by director David Ayer as “The Dirty Dozen with supervillains,” Suicide Squad will feature a gallery of B-list rogues who most moviegoers have probably never heard of.
The big name characters are Batman villains Joker and Harley Quinn, played by Jared Leto and Margot Robbie respectively. Deadshot, a lesser known Batman foil, will be played by Will Smith.
In the wake of Leto’s controversial reveal as a tattooed Joker, this new cast photo seems to confirm what might be termed a punk rock aesthetic. It’s certainly darker and less evocative of a comic book than the current run of Marvel films. From what we’ve seen so far, has it gone too dark?
My colleague Michael van der Galien directed our attention to a story out of Germany not so long ago about a 65-year-old woman pregnant with quadruplets. Her condition sparked controversy, posing the question: is getting pregnant at that age “amazingly beautiful or extremely egotistical“?
That’s a provocative question. But perhaps we should back up a bit and ask a more fundamental one. Why can’t it be both? From where does this dichotomy between beauty and ego emerge?
The conventional notion of ego suggests an irrational self-worship or whim-fulfillment. However, an alternative school of thought exists wherein ego proceeds from rationality. From this point of view, getting pregnant at 25 proves no less egotistical than getting pregnant at 65. The choice to procreate, by its nature as a choice, fulfills an egoistic desire. In that context, the question becomes not whether pregnancy is egoistic, but whether it proves rationally egoistic beyond a certain age.
Calling this German mother “extremely egotistical” suggests that she places her desire to have children above the wellbeing of those children. If that’s the case, if she wants children in the way that children want toys, then her decision to procreate proves irrational. In that case, she doesn’t want children as such, but a kind of maternal fantasy-fulfillment wherein the children become victims of her irrational pursuit.
However, if her decision to have children has been well-considered in the context of reality, if she has made arrangements by which her children will be cared for in her absence, or if she has good reason to believe she will remain healthy and capable enough to care for them, then her decision may be entirely rational. It all depends on context and intention.
The story provides a launching point for a consideration of the role ego plays in parenting.
Dear Black America,
After reading this open letter to white people published at Salon and authored by middle school teacher Julia Blount, I feel compelled to offer an alternative perspective from a similar background. Like Blount, I too was born of mixed heritage. My father is black. My mother is white. Like Blount, I too have grown up in relative safety and affluence, but have nonetheless experienced disparities in treatment on account of my brown skin.
As I read Blount’s admonition to white America, I largely understand the motive behind it. That said, if we really want white people to understand and respond to the points Blount and others have made, we need to rethink how we pursue change.
First, let’s consider this notion of “white privilege.” What do we really mean by that? One offered definition is “the benefits that white people get from society that people of color don’t.” What are some examples of these benefits? The above clip provides a few, most of which can be summed up as not being judged negatively on account of skin color.
If our goal as people of color is to pursue a society wherein skin color elicits no judgment, our first task must be not judging other people on account of their skin color. Right? We can’t be hypocrites. We can’t on the one hand bemoan the prejudicial judgments of others, while offering prejudicial judgments of our own. We’re asking to be judged as individuals. Yet too many of us are judging others as members of a privileged whole. It’s a cognitive dissonance that creates an intellectual log jam preventing meaningful discourse and stymieing real social progress.
What we call “white privilege” is not something that white America does to us. It’s something that particular individuals do to us. If you’re being watched by a store clerk who thinks you might steal something because you’re black, you’re not being judged by white America. You’re being judged by that clerk. Does it really matter whether that clerk is white or Asian or Hispanic or even another black person? If they’re making assumptions about you based solely on race, isn’t that the problem rather than the color of their skin?
It’s like quoting scripture. You can torture a verse into saying just about anything you want it to say. So it is with quoting historical figures.
In the clip above, Fox News’ Gretchen Carlson cherry-picks an excerpt from a 1968 speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. which seems to condemn violence. We’re meant to take it as evidence that the good reverend would stand against the rioting which has taken place in Baltimore.
Yet, elsewhere, advocates of a different perspective produce their own MLK quote which appears to sanction the violence.
Who’s right? First, we ought to recognize that quoting anyone out of an original context to claim their support in another proves dubious at best. No one can definitively claim that MLK would be on their side in any given debate.
That said, we can apply the spectrum of MLK’s expressed sentiments and speculate how he may have felt in a given scenario. We know that MLK condemned violence. We also know that he believed that it wasn’t enough to condemn violence. Therein lies the best indicator of where he might stand today, and it probably wouldn’t be with either Gretchen Carlson or the Baltimore protesters. In a fashion typical of his leadership in the civil rights era, he would forge a unique path that challenged paradigms on both sides of the conflict.
As Republican presidential candidates, both announced and presumed, begin to woo social conservatives in Iowa, the role of religion in politics has once again become the subject of debate. Mark V. Kormes, an Objectvist and therefore non-believer, took to social media expressing his frustration.
Was Mark expressing bigotry against believers? Or was he offering a valid point regarding the stakes in our political discourse? He asked me to chime in.
Tabling the issue of online etiquette, let’s consider Mark’s initial point and whether it properly ought to offend believers. First, recognize that a particular group of believers are being addressed, those who view an imminent return of Christ as an escape from political consequences. I’m not sure how large that contingent is or how engaged they are in the political process. But Mark seems to ask that they leave the realm of politics to those fully vested in life on earth.
As a Christian, I would modify Mark’s point. My appeal to fellow believers would be to remain vested in political consequences because, until further notice, this is the world we live in.
Imagine the secular equivalent. If a non-believer checked out of their earthly responsibilities under the reasoning that they will eventually die anyway, we would likely recognize theirs as an unhealthy state of mind. Why then should believers exhibit effectively the same attitude?
There’s a difference between retaining faith in the sovereignty of God and appealing to that sovereignty as an excuse for shirking personal responsibility. Jesus offered a parable to that effect when relating the tale of the three servants found in Matthew 25:14-30:
Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. He gave five bags of silver[a] to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.
The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.
After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, “Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.”
The master was full of praise. “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together![b]“
The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, “Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.”
The master said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!”
Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, “Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.”
But the master replied, “You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.”
Then he ordered, “Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The point proves valid both within and beyond Christian theology. There is no virtue in sitting around waiting for the master to return. We ought to work diligently at our earthly responsibilities until relieved of them.
To Mark’s point regarding social conservatives, the question becomes whether believers’ earthly responsibilities include wielding the force of the state to regulate sinful but non-rights-violating behavior. I find nothing in the Bible mandating such a course. Instead, believers engaged in politics should be concerned with the same things that non-believers should be, the preservation of liberty so that each can live according to their conscience.
“This thing is a ball of flame crashing down to earth.” Such was the recent assessment of AMC Movie News editor-in-chief John Campea regarding the future of the Fifty Shades franchise.
Adapted from the controversial sadomasochistic novel by author E.L. James, the film Fifty Shades of Grey met with commercial success when released earlier this year. Money-making aside, few argue that the movie offered much in the way of narrative quality.
Prompting Campea’s pronouncement was news that future Fifty Shades films will be written by James’ husband, Niall Leonard. That news seems to confirm previous reports that the first film’s creative team clashed with the book’s author over control.
Of course, the open secret here is that narrative quality doesn’t really matter. No one watches porn for the story.
In this brief clip from ReasonTV, the invisible victims of urban planning achieve some semblance of expression. By imagining what New York City would look like if its Landmarks Preservation Act had been signed into law 100 years earlier, Reason gives a lost future form. In this way, the difficulty of conveying the unseen cost of government activism is overcome.
The takeaway from their observation is that our past doesn’t need protecting. Our future does. The only way to protect the future is to unleash its motive power, the untethered liberty of self-interested individuals.
What wonders might have manifest in your neck of the woods but for ill-conceived government restrictions?