Monday, March 17, 2014

Trailer for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

This film did not attract as much attention as it deserved.  The performances here, from both Idris Elba and Naomie Harris, are of a very high caliber.  It will be released on DVD tomorrow.  The story successfully told in this film could be a study on the question of when to, and when not to, compromise.  Mandela set a moral example for those that he tried to lead, and by doing so he set one for us all.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Eulogy to Brain Cells That Were Killed in Socialization


“I certainly have not the talent which some people possess, said Darcy, of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.  I cannot catch their tone of conversation, or appear interested in their concerns, as I often see done.
- Mr. Darcy, in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 

“[S]mall talk [is] to the soul what acid is to metal ...”
- Mark Helprin
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I can’t understand why,
when they look in my eye,
of the anguish they will never take stock.
Instead, they will blather
whenever we gather
to all engage in this thing called “small talk.”

When I try not to bore,
they will smile back for more,
and continue to talk and to chatter.
Now you see, it is rude,
on such talk to intrude,
to point out that some things just don’t matter.

Yes, no really, please do,
tell me all about you,
since the subject so interests the speaker.
I would like nothing else
(as my mind slowly melts);
all our “topics” could not be the weaker.

“How are you?” “I am fine.”
“Is that yours?” “It is mine.”
Pray, please, do tell me how “things are going?”
Let’s say work is “busy.”
(Lack of “talk” makes us dizzy).
Look at that.  Conversation is slowing.

That’s ok.  Just move on.
Don’t let thought start to dawn.
There’s more small talk to exchange like a drone.
“How are you?” “I am fine”
“A new phone?” “About time.”
Repeating again causes no one to groan.

Let’s talk about weather,
without asking whether
we’re avoiding a substance that’s real.
If there are things which count,
some ideas we could mount,
why, they might slow our incessant peal.

Do we care just to know,
if we were to go slow,
what kind of truths might be hidden from speed?
What if you and if I
were to just, perhaps, try ...
to have our talk, from self-focusing, freed?

Of my work, do not ask!
I’ve had eight hours to bask
in that drudgery already today.
Am I a one-track mind,
that I only can find
of the same ole thing only to bray?

See, our time here is short;
we soon cast off life’s port.
There is more than we have time to explore.
My time with you is brief,
just like an autumn leaf;
So let’s discuss some meaning, I implore.

Maybe some get to know
each other even though
they talk of nothing but ego and trifle.
But I can’t, no, no more,
be such a worthless bore
that I blab so that your feelings I stifle.

Some day I will find her,
and I’ll sit beside her,
and we’ll talk about something that’s true.
I’ll rescue the topic
from being myopic,
and from prattle of brain cells too few.

Let’s whisper of flashing
moments that come dashing
with brightness that points us to see.
Beneath, there’s a meaning
that leads to a greening
and grows past the small talk devotee.

So next when you see me,
please forgive if I be
distant from small talk’s shreds and tatters.
But, when we’re face to face,
I’ll believe it’s the case,
that you can converse on what matters.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Trailer for 300: Rise of an Empire

 “... After this conversation Xerxes went over the battlefield to see the bodies, and having been told that Leonidas was king of Sparta and commander of the Spartan force, ordered his head to be cut off and fixed on a stake. This is in my opinion the strongest evidence - though there is plenty more - that King Xerxes, while Leonidas was still alive, felt fiercer anger against him than against any other man; had that not been so, he would never have committed this outrage upon his body; for normally the Persians, more than any other nation I know of, honour men who distinguish themselves in war. However, Xerxes’ order was carried out ...”
- Herodotus, The Histories , Book Seven, 238
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“... Each [Persian] satrapy was called upon to provide its quota of fighting men. ‘For was there a nation in all Asia,’ writes Herodotus, ‘which Xerxes did not bring against Greece?’ Sir Frederic Maurice estimates the strength of the levy at 150,500 and Munro at 180,000 ... In the spring the advance began and the army set out for Abydus, where, 1,207 warships and 3,000 transports were assembled already ... So it came about that the [Greek] Congress sent the allied fleet to Artemisium [consisting] of 324 triremes and nine penteconters, of which the Athenian contingent was 180 ships under Themistocles, and though the Spartan contingent, commanded by Eurybiades, numbered only ten ships, because he represented the leading member of the League he was given supreme command.

“... Eurybiades assembled a council of war to discuss the disaster, during which - following Diodorus - all the commanders except Themistocles favoured the defensive; nevertheless he persuaded them to take a contrary course, pointing out that that party ever had the advantage who, in good order, made the first onset upon an enemy in disorder. An obstinate and indecisive fight followed, and the day afterwards news from Chalcis was received at Artemisium that the Phoenician squadron had been caught in the gale and for the greater part wrecked, and that the fifty-three Attic ships were returning. Probably they were back at Artemisium on the evening of the day of the battle.

“The next day it was the Persian fleet which assumed the offensive. The Greeks ranged their ships in a crescent, with the cusps pointing to the land to prevent their flanks being turned, and at a signal charged the oncoming Persians. The battle at once developed into a close quarter melee; but again no decision was reached. A council of Greek admirals met after the engagement to consider a retreat. As they were arguing, a triaconter (thirty-oar galley) arrived from Thermopylae with the portentous news that the pass had been lost, that Leonidas had fallen, and that the Persians were marching towards Athens. This left no choice but to retire, and under cover of darkness the Greeks sailed south for Salamis.”
- J.F.C. Fuller, A Military History of the Western World, Volume I , 1954, pgs. 26-33
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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

FRANCES HA - FILM REVIEW (2012 - Directed by Noah Baumbach)

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“As individuals, we find that our development depends upon the people whom we meet in the course of our lives.  (These people include the authors whose books we read, and characters in works of fiction and history.)  The benefit of these meetings is due as much to the differences as to the resemblances; to the conflict, as well as the sympathy, between persons.”
- T.S. Eliot
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This film is still growing on me.  But I certainly cannot understand all the comparisons that have been made between it and HBO’s Girls.  Beyond mere trivial similarities – both have single women protagonists struggling through the transition into responsible adult life – the two are entirely unlike each other in atmosphere, aesthetic and philosophical themes, acting ability, script writing and … heart.  You might as well compare the “similarities” between Portlandia and Another Year (both are concerning middle-class lives within distinctive suburban communities) or between Entourage and Rumble Fish (both are about groups of single young men learning or not learning to grow up).

HBO’s Girls is too clever for it’s own good.  It’s typically cynical, disillusioned, narcissistic, self-focused, self-consciously ironic and what is now called “meta.” Frances Ha is joyful, thoughtful, at times objectively disinterested and interested in real ideas rather than in being relevant or millennially clever.

There is a seriousness that is lacking in the lighter fare of Girls, Portlandia or Entourage, but the inclusion of this missing seriousness would not necessarily prevent any of those shows from still being comic.  If anything, the earnestness of Frances Ha just proved this.  Instead, it is as if the makers of those shows just don’t care.  There are important cultural ideas obvious in their subject matter that are begging to be really explored, but they don’t seem to want to explore them.  By contrast, the makers of Frances Ha do.

Far too many moments in this film hit close to home.  I have friends who are the equivalents for many of the film’s characters.  And, even more unsettling, there is more than one character in Frances Ha who is dangerously similar to that person I have been or could still be.  I have seen, experienced or gone through too many of the sorts of things that happen in this film.  It is really terribly funny.  But I don’t know if I’ve seen a film that has produced as many laughs of, shall we say, self-recognition, as this one.

The film is critiquing my generation and that is one of the reasons why it is so good.  We need to be critiqued.  We are not honestly and compassionately critiqued like this enough.  This is also what makes so many of the film’s moments enjoyable in the sense of ‘uncomfortably funny.’

Greta Gerwig, who stars as Frances, has also recently given a splendid and comic performance in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress.  Comparing that film with this one allows us to consider what Frances Ha does at another angle.  Much of the social interaction that you would find in the films of Stillman is of that sort that one could happily desire.  In contrast, much of the social interaction in Frances Ha is of that less desired sort that one experiences instead.

How many things does Frances Ha get right?

Let’s count the ways:

- That wandering sense of rootlessness, years after college, when you see others of your friends who appear to have their acts together, when you still haven’t found satisfying answers for either love or for a career …

- That self-centered focus that revolves around my own search for the things I want to do with my own life that, intentionally or unintentionally, ignores anything greater or more important …

- That 21st century separation of sex from romance where sex is a matter of convenience between mere agreeable playmates …

- That dessication of the relatively new 20th Century idea of “dating” into the 21st Century version of just “hanging out” in which many young men will never actually say they are interested in specific young women …

- That trivializing of gender differences to the point of absolute casualness where men and women “hanging out” in each others’ bedrooms (or even lying in each other’s beds) means, well, it supposedly means nothing, nothing at all …

- Those instances of isolated conversation, becoming more and more frequent, where one individual can suddenly talk about himself or herself with absolutely no awareness of how all those listening are reacting or feeling …

- That constant and repeated separation from, and loss of, very dear friends …

- That dawning realization that one’s own rootlessness and lack of focus does not slow the passing of years, or even the passing of decades …

- Those ways in which life can be so easily lost over time without the conscious willing act to really do something worth doing …

Read more at Filmwell -

Friday, December 6, 2013

Girls Who Read - A Poem

I have learned, over the years, that men and woman who read, who really read, are quite rare.  This is why Mr. Grist believes that a woman who reads is so powerfully attractive.  And I concur.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

BLACK MIRROR - Review of Season One (2011) - Channel 4 - Created by Charlie Brooker

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“As we contemplate the world converted into a huge machine and managed by engineers, we gradually grow aware of its lack of meaning, and of its emptiness of human value; the soul is stifled in this glorification of mechanical efficiency.  And then we begin to feel the weakness of such a creed when confronted by the real problems of life; we discover its inability to impose any restraint on the passions of men, or to supply any government which can appeal to the loyalty of the spirit.  And seeing these things we understand the fear that is gnawing at the vitals of society.”
- Paul Elmer Moore

“Yet to establish the fact of decadence is the most pressing duty of our time because, until we have demonstrated that cultural decline is a historical fact - which can be established - and that modern man has about squandered his estate, we cannot combat those who have fallen prey to hysterical optimism.”
- Richard M. Weaver
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It’s uncanny.  There are different ways in which one can discover kinship with other people.  As a rule, I’ve always found it pleasant whenever I have found like-mindedness in another.  Sometimes it’s a shared taste in literature, film, art or music.  Other times it’s common sports fandom.  And occasionally it’s even a shared understanding of deeper things.  But, now I’ve found that sharing some things in common can also be disconcerting.  I just discovered that director, critic, journalist, and producer Charlie Brooker is a kindred spirit.  And I identify with him because of this one thing that we share.

We share the same nightmares.

I’m a little afraid.  I’ve also just discovered a couple other new facts and I don’t know what to do with them.  (How do we make sense of new factual information?  We certainly have plenty of it.  We increasingly have more information than we could ever possibly absorb in one lifetime.  But sometimes I wonder if we forget that increased information does not necessarily bring increased meaning.  Obtaining information is now easy.  Understanding what it means ... that can’t always just be googled.)

Fact #1: There is a three-year old television show from Britain.  It is entitled Black Mirror .  It’s dark and bleak and brilliant.  The creator of the show, Mr. Brooker, is something of a cultural satirist.  He’s also a self-admitted fan of the Twilight Zone.  As I was watching the first series, which was originally aired on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom in December of 2011, my friend turned to me and declared, “Now this is real science fiction.  This is what science fiction is meant to do!”  What he said didn’t hit me at the time because I was riveted, watching with increasing horror as the plot of the first episode of Black Mirror grew closer and closer to the end.

It was like watching a train wreck.  You want to look away.  You can’t look away.  And, even worse, Mr. Brooker has designed each story in this show to explicitly point out to you the very fact that you can’t look away.  Then, as you’re watching it, his point registers in your mind.  You get it.  He’s critiquing the very fact that you are absorbed with this TV screen in front of you ... and then you just keep watching.



But my friend’s point was a good one.  What is real science fiction meant to do?  Of course, science fiction can be used to accomplish a number of different objectives.  In his essay, “On Science Fiction,” C.S. Lewis mentions what he considered to be different kinds of science fiction.  One popular kind that he argued to be of poor quality was when “the author leaps forward into an imagined future when planetary, sidereal, or even galactic travel has become common.  Against this huge backcloth he then proceeds to develop an ordinary love-story, spy-story, wreck-story, or crime-story.”  In other words, there are a large number of science fiction stories which the creators didn’t need to set in futuristic settings.  There seems to be little purpose for the setting in these stories other than merely to profit off the genre’s popularity.  “This seems to me tasteless,” Lewis wrote.  “Whatever in a work of art is not used is doing harm.”

But popularity is not the ends for which the good science fiction storyteller aims.  It is true that a very large amount of science fiction today, in both books and film, consists of merely derivative copy-cat work.  “But we must distinguish.  A leap into the future, a rapid assumption of all the changes which are feigned to have occurred, is a legitimate ‘machine’ if it enables the author to develop a story of real value which could not have been told ... in any other way.”

Lewis explained that he was personally interested in the kind of science fiction that could be called “mythopoeic.”  This kind of science fiction is a sort of myth-making derived from “an imaginative impulse as old as the human race” but “working under the special conditions of our time.”  The end result of such stories is that they will inevitably become rather haunting.  They will concern themselves with universal problems that we wrestle with every day as the self-conscious creatures that we are.  And, Lewis adds, because fundamental to who we are is the fact that we have moral natures, a good and truly haunting science fiction story “will usually point to a moral: of itself, without any didactic manipulation by the author on a conscious level.  Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde would be an example.  Another is Marc Brandel’s Cast the First Shadow, where a man, long solitary, despised, and oppressed, because he has no shadow, at last meets a woman who shares his innocent defect, but later turns from her in disgust and indignation on finding that she has, in addition, the loathsome and unnatural property of having no reflection.”

Such stories are haunting because they create a myth that leaves a lasting impression upon us.  These stories are impossible, but the way that the persons in them will and act is entirely believable.  In fact, we may often wince at how similar, in this other world, human wickedness, folly, evil, ignorance and despair all turn out to be just the same as that in our own world.  But, by placing the story in another world, the author can surprise us with good and evil.  What would seem commonplace, stands out in a clearer and possesses the quality of appearing in a new light.

I can heartily declare that all three of the episodes of the first series of Black Mirror are these kinds of stories.  Each episode is a stand-alone episode similar to The Twilight Zone.  “But,” Brooker explained in an interview, “they’re all about the way we live now – and the way we might be living in ten minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.”

Fact #2: This show, Black Mirror, which has been around now for two years, was only made available to the United States for the first time this November (and only for DirectTV subscribers.)  It did not air in the U.S. (on either networks or cable) and no one has even bothered to distribute it on DVD for North America.  It is not available for online streaming on websites like Netflix or Hulu.

Why?  According to the laws of economics, this is because where was no demand for it.  It’s paradoxical because this is the age in which some very intelligent TV shows on HBO and AMC have been gaining in popularity over the last couple decades.  But Black Mirror does something that Breaking Bad, Mad Men or The Wire don’t do.  It’s not critiquing a past historical age.  It’s not critiquing any as abstract as “the system,” drug culture, law enforcement or politics.  Instead, Brooker’s show is critiquing us – the viewers.

I fear that if it were to come to the states, it would probably come in the diluted form of so many other Americanized versions of good British TV shows.  Copycat directors and screenwriters would take it, add things to it that are considered more popular in American entertainment with a combination of better hype, better advertising, worse directing, worse writing and worse acting.  Things that in Brooker’s version are quite serious could so very easily, in America, be played only for laughs.  It bothers me to think upon what this says about us.

Are we so far gone as that?  When Neil Postman wrote that our “culture’s adjustment to the epistemology of television is now all but complete; we have so thoroughly accepted its definitions of truth, knowledge, and reality that irrelevance seems to us to be filled with import, and incoherence seems eminently sane,” was he right?

If so, then we are in deep trouble.

Another kind of science fiction that C.S. Lewis described was when the story “is satiric or prophetic: the author criticises tendencies in the present by imagining them carried out (‘produced’, as Euclid would say) to their logical limit.  Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four leap to our minds” as examples.  I would suggest that Brooker has also made this kind of science fiction with Black Mirror, except he’s mixed hints of the “mythopoeic” in it too.  There is a glimpse of the sort of story here that you find in Cast the First Shadow.  Some of the “myths” in Brooker’s stories aren’t far away from the myths of Narcissus or Orpheus.

Now, this review is going to be unlike most TV show reviews.  When you look for writing on a TV show, most of what you find will be a Cliff-Notes recap of each episode’s plot.  I can’t do that here.  Half of the power of Black Mirror is all in the surprises.  So instead of doing that, I’m only going to generally summarize the ideas of each episode and discuss some of the philosophy that necessarily intertwines with each story.

The first episode of Series 1, entitled The National Anthem, is rather offensive.  It makes it difficult for me to even be able to recommend the show to many of my friends and family.  Suffice it to say that it explores the effect that mass entertainment media and internet websites like YouTube have upon our politics and upon how we think.  It won’t be easy to watch.  I seriously doubt whether I’ll watch it again.  But it does leave an unfortunately strong impression.

The disturbing nature of the episode is quickly revealed in the first five minutes.  Rory Kinnear does an outstanding job playing the kind and decent British Prime Minister Michael Callow.  He is woken early one morning and informed that the English princess (played straight by Lydia Wilson) has been kidnaped and that she has been forced to read the kidnapper’s demands to prevent her from being executed on a video released to the world on YouTube.

It’s almost too easy of a plot.  If you were to read more about it, you might just think that it’s a stupid joke of an episode.  But Brooker doesn’t mean it to be joke.  The actors play the whole thing straight (something that I suspect wouldn’t happen if it had been produced in the states).  They take it deadly seriously.  The consequences, and the alternative prospects of how the story might end, turn out to be both rather disgusting and profound at the same time.

What have mass media and internet videos done to us?  Do we even bother to think about what is now possible - about what this is already used for now in some corners of the web every single day?

“It is a commonplace,” wrote T.S. Eliot, “that what shocks one generation is accepted quite calmly by the next.  This adaptability to change of moral standards is sometimes greeted with satisfaction as an evidence of human perfectability: whereas it is only evidence of what unsubstantial foundations people’s moral judgments have.”

I often forget how our culture shapes even my own sensibility.  More than once, I’ve stopped to find myself taking pride in my “knowingness” and my ability not to be shocked.  To be innocent of things that are out there, to not know about them, to not have seen them - is looked down upon in our culture as sheltered and naive.  But what if shame were a good thing?  What if the ability to be shocked was a sign of moral character?  In this episode, Brooker asks us to consider whether shame might still have moral value and that is something I don’t think I’ve seen on TV for a long time.

If innocence, dignity and honor still have value, how often are they scoffed at and desecrated in the mass entertainment culture that we have today?  Does it really please us to see dignity laid low?  Is it really entertaining to see goodness stomped on, laughed at, humiliated and violated?

Neil Postman is famous for his critiques of how we use technology and has consequently built something of a reputation for being anti-technology.  Yet I’ve always thought that he had some very important things to say.  For example, he is one of the best thinkers I know on the subject of what viewing everything as entertainment can do to us.

Postman wrote:

“To say it still another way: Entertainment is the supra-ideology of all discourse on television.  No matter what is depicted or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure.  That is why even on news shows which provide us daily with fragments of tragedy and barbarism, we are urged by the newscasters to ‘join them tomorrow.’  What for?  One would think that several minutes of murder and mayhem would suffice as material for a month of sleepless nights.  We accept the newscasters’ invitation because we know that the ‘news’ is not to be taken seriously, that it is all in fun, so to say.  Everything about a news show tells us this - the good looks and amiability of the cast, their pleasant banter, the exciting music that opens and closes the show, the vivid film footage, the attractive commercials - all these and more suggest that what we have just seen is no cause for weeping.  A news show, to put it plainly, is a format for entertainment, not for education, reflection or catharsis.”

It could be that men and women from other past ages would be horrified at how callous, desensitized and cynical we all have become in the 21st Century.  It could be that how we view our political news now - in itself another form of entertainment - has a moral and spiritual dimension.  It could even be that we have a trivial attitude towards real goodness and real evil.  As you watch Prime Minister Callow slowly tread through this nightmare of an episode, and as you picture yourself in his or in his wife’s shoes, I would bet that you’ll think of these questions slightly differently than you ever have before.

And that is good science fiction.

The second episode, entitled Fifteen Million Merits, is arguably the best episode of Black Mirror.  It brilliantly takes another look at our media saturated culture, but from a different dystopian angle.  It’s set farther into the future than the first one.  In fact, I will never be able to think of Brave New World or Nineteen Eighty-Four quite the same again without also thinking of this episode.  At the same time, it also doesn’t feel as if it were that far into the future.

Imagine a world where everyone stares at TV and computer screens all day (in the morning before they go to work, all day while they are at work, and all night while they are relaxing after their day at work).  Imagine a world where all the food you eat is artificially processed with chemically induced flavor and vitamins.  Imagine a world so full of advertisements that you can’t help but absorb them so deeply into your thinking that quoting advertisements and referring to advertisements in your daily thoughts and conversation is a normal part of who you are.  Imagine a world where physical health and body image determines social classes.  Imagine a world where it is possible to make enough money to support yourself and then spend eight to ten hours every day watching television, playing video games or watching pornography.

Fifteen Million Merits has all these things.  The people in this other world live in what are essentially prison cells covered floor to ceiling with video screens.  Commercials play on their bathroom mirrors.  Pornography plays at their work.  Reality TV shows are what they all live for.  They get meaning for their lives by hoping and dreaming and wishing and working to be ... TV stars.

Imagine a world where almost everything natural has been replaced by technology to make it work better and to make it be safer.  Imagine a world where a human being’s value can be measured in how he or she interacts with virtual media.  Imagine a world where technological pleasure and instant gratification is always at your fingertips, always there to temporary satisfy insatiable appetites as many times as you could ever ask for.

The world of this episode also has all these things.  It’s a satirical look at Reality TV and objectification of other people.  But all these latest technological improvements are what everyone likes and wants.  Pleasures are given and given and given as long as the consumer keeps paying for it.  It is a world that has lost any connection between gratification and the existence of a moral sphere.

British philosopher Roger Scruton wrote, “The idea of ‘evil pleasures’ has slipped from our grasp.  But it is through pleasure, power and glory that Mephistopheles tempts the soul of Faust.  And perhaps our most vivid experiences of personal evil are granted to us in the context of sexual pleasure, when desire overrides, disregards or violates the freedom of its object.”

Cultural commentator, Chris Hedges, wrote: “In The Republic, Plato imagines human beings chained for the duration of their lives in an underground cave, knowing nothing but darkness.  Their gaze is confined to the cave wall, upon which shadows of the world above are thrown.  They believe these flickering shadows are reality.  If, Plato writes, one of these prisoners is freed and brought into the sunlight, he will suffer great pain.  Blinded by the glare, he is unable to see anything and longs for the familiar darkness.  But eventually his eyes adjust to the light.  The illusion of the tiny shadows is obliterated.  He confronts the immensity, chaos, and confusion of reality.  The world is no longer drawn in simple silhouettes.  But he is despised when he returns to the cave.  He is unable to see in the dark as he used to.  Those who never left the cave ridicule him and swear never to go into the light lest they be blinded as well.  Plato feared the power of entertainment, the power of the senses to overthrow the mind, the power of emotion to obliterate reason.”

The sinister potential of these powers that Plato feared is precisely what Brooker explores in this episode.  Everyone seems satisfied with them except one character, Bingham Madsen (played first with irony and then with passion by Daniel Kaluuya).  Bingham is confronted with a sanitized, processed, prepackaged, artificial, media saturated world, and yet he is hungry for something more.  Like most dystopian stories, he gets a hint that there could be something more when he meets a pretty girl, Abi (played with considerable charm by Jessica Brown Findlay).  And then he hears her sing.

She is somehow untouched by the sordidness all around her.  Her innocence and naivety are attractive to Bingham, but her singing hints at something even deeper.  Her favorite song is old.  It was passed down to her from her mother who learned the song from her grandmother.  Abi becomes the first person to show Bingham beauty.  In his eyes, she is beauty incarnated.  Her very existence and personality is a light for him in a world covered with dark multimedia screens.

It is mesmerizing how, in a sterile inhuman setting, Brooker directs Kaluuya and Findlay to create something that seems a little magical.  In a sense, Bingham understands something about truth.  Abi understands something about beauty.  When the two of them meet, you get the impression that real goodness is possible.  Their relation to each other is morally good.  But, that’s just the beginning of the story.  In a world devoted to spectacles, false images and appetites, what would such a world so dominated by entertainment do to innocence, truth or beauty?

The nightmare of the second episode lies in how unnatural and abnormal it all feels (at least I hope it would seem that way to any viewer).  Bingham and Abi bring back something normal again, and thus appear to be human beings.  But there are many ways in which normal human relationships can be placed in great danger.

“An abnormity,” explained Russell Kirk, “in its Latin root, means a monstrosity, defying the norm, the nature of things ... An abnormal generation is a generation of monsters, enslaved by will and appetite.  To recover an apprehension of normality, then, is to acquire an understanding of one’s real nature.  The alternative to such recovery is not a piquant pose of ‘noncomformity,’ but monstrosity in the soul and in society.”

Remember that when you watch the second episode.  In a world where everything can be a spectacle, where everything can be objectified, repackaged and sold back to an always hungry unsated viewership, what happens to the human soul?  The entertainment we choose to use for our “relaxing,” or whatever else it is we choose to call it, affects our being.  Very often it can and will desensitize us.  You have to be pretty far gone not to notice it, but how far gone are we really?  Isn’t this something we ought to pay attention to?  Weaver writes that “our most serious obstacle is that people traveling this downward path develop an insensibility which increases their degradation.  Loss is perceived most clearly at the beginning; after habit becomes implanted, one beholds the anomalous situation of apathy mounting as the moral crisis deepens.”

Honestly, one of the reasons why Black Mirror may not have yet aired in the United States is how it takes down the Reality TV show, American Idol, and its other hundred derivatives.  Ranked the number one television show in United States in ratings for eight years, American Idol is watched every week by tens of millions of viewers at a time.  Stopping to think about this for moment, what exactly are they watching?  American Idol is a show where countless celebrity worshipers take turns subjecting themselves to an public exhibition so that they can be judged based on their looks, personality, charisma or popularity.  They will either be praised or shamed.  This exhibition is entertaining enough to become the top-rated show in the United States.

No one that I have ever talked to who watches American Idol has stopped to ask if this kind of entertainment has any kind of moral affect.  What does it mean to value populist praise - or even to care about the popular spotlight?  Chris Hedges writes: “The moral nihilism of celebrity culture is played out on reality television shows, most of which encourage a dark voyeurism into other people’s humiliation, pain, weakness, and betrayal.  Education, building community, honesty, transparency, and sharing are qualities that will see you, in a gross perversion of democracy and morality, voted off a reality show.”

Read more at Filmwell -

Saturday, November 9, 2013

I Forgot My Phone - Short Film

The compelling thing about this little film by Miles Crawford & Charlene deGuzman is that it is not unrealistic.  We see this all the time.  Our lives really have changed just over the last decade.

Thank God there are still some people who are now questioning whether all these changes have really been for the better.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

THE MASK


Remember, remember,
the fifth of November,
of gunpowder, treason and plot.
A moron thought it cool
(he was not taught in school)
to give me a mask that was not.

He gave me Guy Fawkes’ mask.
without pausing to ask
what anarchists all want to smash.
The mask was in style,
an anonymous smile,
and I tossed it right in the trash.

The fifth of November
did not kill each house member
as the malcontents tried hard to do.
I like law and order,
and a good warder,
and merrie olde England too.

Some fashions are dumb
and I’ll bite my thumb
at pop hipness ever so dense.
These masks stand for naught
since the bad guys were caught.
As icons they make zero sense.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

TINKERING TINSELED TIME


Tall tattered tinkering tinseled time
(as if I could call it mine) -
weaving wondrous webs; weighty, weak, wild,
seeping through the hours. I am beguiled
by this breaking, bashful, brilliant balm
that tugs at my heartstrings, disjoining my calm.

Looming lackadaisical lush luster
deters my tending to be a truster
in those incalculable incandescent inklings
of those moments full of time turned wrinklings.
Shall I shift, satirize, search or shyly savor
those sacred junctures when life has flavor?

Dreams dancing, daring, deepening days,
and yet I often forget to praise
the One who quickens, quietly quirks
and leaves me with all these works
of glittering gleaming giddy ghastly
hypnotic hushed haunts happening vastly.

The world is spinning, while spacious, splendid,
spectral, speechless space has me up-ended
and now I’ve tottered, talking of trivial tepid troubles,
lost in bland backward banal bursts ‘n bubbles,
leaving my selfish stingy primly pale plans in tatters
making a miser’s mirror, unmindful of what matters.

Wisp-wrapped wallow or wry-winged writhing?
Worrying about my needs.  But Chronos is scything
away all my aeons, ages, atoms, auras, armor ...
I so easily forget that childlike cheery charmer.
Security unsteadfast, but still surveying suggestive stars,
we still can ask ourselves if we prefer Venus or Mars.

Workplace worries wrecking wrong-wrought wishes;
it’s time we remembered the Holy One who dishes
joys unbought, breathlessly buoyant, busily brimful,
busting self-enclosed brains and turning them whimful.
Moments so prized, present, precise, priestly profusely pressing ...
Let’s not allow our brief breakneck bothers to blur His blessing.