Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Blood On Sara Bareilles' Hands

Well, it took me many dozens of hours to get all the cuts in the right place, and I’m still having second thoughts on the syncing of certain shots with the audio, but I finally finished editing this music video for a game I have not played set to a song I no longer want to hear.  By and large I think it looks pretty good, though I leave it with a complicated mix of feelings encompassing pride and relief and a lot of sorrow, sorrow that so much beauty can be so tainted by such a bounty of violence and ugliness.  And I’m not talking about the Teen-rated video game.

There was a time about a year ago when Sara Bareilles was one of my favorite musicians of the ten I paid any attention to whatsoever. This was long before I sold my soul to become a hipster and listen to real music, but I suppose I’d still really like Bareilles’ albums if I forced myself to consciously, deliberately listen through them as I once did before.  She’s the rare, radio-friendly artist in today’s world who not only writes, plays, and sings all her own songs but also performs just as impressively live all by herself as on a record accompanied by a dozen producers and engineers.  Each of her three studio albums has a flavor distinct from the last, with Little Voice sounding kind of retro and jazzy in a way I more than tolerate as a hater of all things jazz (except the nighttime sections of ODST), Kaleidoscope Heart going in fun, doo-wopey and piano-driven pop directions, and The Blessed Unrest nicely overhauling her traditional style with ambient electronic hums, beats, and even some country influences.  All are excellent albums in their own right, and it should be clear to anyone who’s read this blog for a while that her wide-ranging lyrics have deeply influenced my editorial philosophy.  Bareilles is just as precise a lyricist as she is a vocalist, and songs such as Brave, Chasing the Sun, Islands, King of Anything, and Love Song are arrayed with profundities on the individual and barely restrained F.U.s to the figures and machines that think they know what’s best for everybody else.

So too did I appreciate the way Bareilles molded her public image, which was simply not to try to make an image by any means available.  Bareilles didn’t rely on a bunch of outrageous concert/awards show stunts, smutty fashion shoots, extravagant personas, or accessory boyfriends to sell her art; she just let the music speak for itself and people flocked to it.  She wasn’t what some people – not myself, mind you, but other more misogynistic, Christian, Focks News-watching bigot people – might call a “whorebag”, and she mostly just focused on crafting exceptional music rooted in strong traditions.  In addition to singing variable and emotional renditions of her own music, she also covered classics by Elton, U2, and Otis Redding, which demonstrated an understanding of her historical position and respect for the greats who preceded her.

Nor was she that much of a political stooge for the Left compared to pop music peers Katy Perry, Beyonce, Adam Levine, John Legend, and, well, basically all the rest.  Sure, Brave as written was intended to be one of the gayest songs of all time, but that didn’t preclude dangerous, independent, unregulated journalists like your own Author from finding inspiration in its lyrics.  Regardless, one has to applaud a mainstream artist for having the audacity to write a mainstream song that has a line like, “Show me how big your brave is.”  I thought it was kind of silly the way she tried to shoehorn a very stereotypically homosexual couple into her not-at-all-political music video for I Choose You, but that song sucked anyway and it wasn’t like she straight-up called me a bigot, so it didn’t offend me much.  I realize that if I were to draw my moral line in the sand at some creator’s support for homosexuality, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy much entertainment media at all.  As of Friday last week, I’d also have quite a bit of difficulty going shopping, using my credit card, making a phone call, logging into social media, turning on my computer in the first place, eating fast food, traveling by air, or engaging in any other activity that defines our modern life, but that’s a blog post for another time in the near future.  The point is that Sara Bareilles’ loyalty to the Democrat agenda wasn’t always fervent or forceful enough to deter me from enjoying her music, which is more than I can say of a heap of filmmakers, “artists”, and comedians who routinely run their mouths on matters they don’t understand.

Then this picture happened in October 2014.  This smiley, happy, irresistibly optimistic ode to infanticide, sexual perversion, fiscal dependency, and chronic corruption.  It was the kind of strikingly asinine, blissfully ignorant portrait a validation-hungry, relativistic college idiot would upload for the sake of showing off how much more virtuous and “courageous” he is than the world he’s so tirelessly “fighting” to reform.  But Sara Bareilles isn’t an idealistic, self-enamored student happening to live in the digital era; she’s a 35-year-old, accomplished grown-up who should by this point have developed a tenable, philosophically consistent moral conscience.  The picture doesn’t simply argue to the contrary; it argues that Bareilles is devoid of any moral judgment whatsoever and shows just how meaningless her facades of compassion and love for all people really are.

Now whenever I listen to Sara Bareilles’ music, I can only think about the unborn, the unwanted, the innocent millions who’ve been crushed, poisoned, decapitated, ripped apart and vacuumed from the uterus.  I think about Planned Parenthood’s flagrant disregard of parents’ rights to raise their children as they see fit, their systematic facilitation of murder without parental consent or knowledge, and their unabashed promotion of deviant sexual practices to minors.  I think about Planned Parenthood giving advice and promising help to whistleblowers posing as sex traffickers of underage girls, and I think about their repeated failure to report rape and sexual abuse disclosed by young and vulnerable clients, both proving that they care markedly less about the wellbeing of “the women they serve” than about their own sustainability as a business dependent on misfortune.  I think about Planned Parenthood’s eugenicist founder Margaret Sanger and her endorsement of birth control and forced sterilization as a methodology for gradually eliminating the lesser, feebler-minded races – a woman for whom “reproductive freedom” didn’t mean the freedom to reproduce so much as freedom from reproductive capability.  I think about the millions of confused, weak, or desperate women Planned Parenthood has taken advantage of for profit, sometimes at the cost of the mother’s own life.  I think about Planned Parenthood’s propensity for lying about its expenses to paint itself as a “health care provider” instead of a taxpayer-funded slaughterhouse that butchers hundreds of thousands of infants every yearwith the holy blessing of the president of the United States of America.

Sara ♥ Planned Parenthood

I think about all these things and think I’ll never be able to listen to that inhuman, odious hag Sara Bareilles again until she’s rolled over and gone the route of child predator Michael Jackson, another, all but indisputably better pop genius whose music I might have considered boycotting in his life but I now indulge and relish if only because he’s no longer a threat to anybody and has safely vacated the sphere of this our world.  Gone to heaven, hell, Valhalla.  Passed on to that great recording studio in the sky. Croaked his final swan song.  Shall we say, aborted?

There’s a lot of blood on the floor, but none of it was spilt by Michael Jackson.

Monday, June 22, 2015

True Detective Isn't That Smart

So, True Detective.  Word on the street is that it recently made its return to Hobo, and almost no one involved in making the first season helped to create the second, but the new cast is led by Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, and Rachel McAdams, so nobody’s complaining.  As we’ve seen from stunners like Total Recall (2012 version), The Watch, and The Notebook, these three are well beyond reproach and light up literally everything in which she stars.  If writer Nic Pizzolatto was able to pull together a compelling, self-sufficient story in the short year after True Detective blew up with audiences and critics, Hobo will surely have a winner on their hands.

There are certainly a lot of things to admire about the original season of True Detective, the foremost one being that its creator had a vision for an 8-episode, stand-alone story and stuck with that vision despite the outstanding financial allure posed by various plot-driven dramas that drag on forever with no sense of direction or ultimate resolution.  Both structurally and compositionally on screen, True Detective is kind of a rebuttal to the cheap-looking, cookie cutter murder mystery, and the presence of unexpected struggles and arcs for each of the main detectives is easy is to appreciate when most serials sincerely avoid making dramatic changes to characters whom audiences already love like their real-life friends.  I don’t watch much TV, but a prime counter-example to Pizzolatto’s method would be the pilot season of Fox’s 24, which has either no character development or the shallowest kind conceivable and progresses merely by forcing superhuman Jack Bauer into one high-stakes predicament after another.  Or observe Once Upon A Time, which blissfully wastes hours upon hours of our life meandering in forests with people who seem like they’re going to permanently change for the better or worse but inevitably regress into their old ways at the end of the subplot so that nobody has won, everything is back to normal, and the producers can keep shoveling new Disney characters into the universe.

We probably make too much fun of Time given that it’s a largely irrelevant, relatively family-friendly mashup show, but there’s such a multitude of things it does wrong that True Detective does right it only seems proper to compare and contrast them.  For instance, I like that True Detective uses real locations in Louisiana – swamplands, fields, neighborhoods – whereas a less ambitious show like Time stages long stretches of nothingness in obviously fake forest sets or, worse, shoots actors against a green screen and ineptly attempts to fill in the world afterwards.  The broad, grassy landscapes combined with careful framing, lighting, and film techniques makes the drama much more realistic and emotionally involving than a network show where the director and D.P. just opt to do the bare minimum and call it a wrap.  In fact, director Cary Fukunaga put so much effort into making each scene memorable that one could pull pretty much any clip from the internet and use it as an illustration of how conscious camerawork, editing, etc. can emphasize the mood the script is trying to portray.  Like Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle, the show is downright bleak and chilling at times, from the discovery of a cult murder victim stripped and posed as a “paraphilic love map” in a fog-drenched meadow, to the freaky, otherworldly shot of a masked “monster” in the third episode, to one of the most suspenseful and unnerving chases I can remember seeing in any visual medium.

I like that True Detective prioritizes outstanding talent and credibility over appearance in its casting, possibly excepting the multiple women Woody Harrelson beds because he’s tired of his wife, in which case the hiring of superficial, less respected but “sexy” actresses arguably helps us understand Harrelson’s position.  Speaking of sex, the show has its fair share of boobs, though the more salacious scenes are relatively restrained for a Hobo original program.  I’d wager there’s around four minutes of graphic fake sex in the 450-minute season, and while I can’t affirm that showing it on camera greatly alters the way we look at either Marty Hart or Rust, Harrelson and McConaughey both do a good job of making you feel uncomfortable and “disgusted” by their actions.  You hear that?  Let the record show that True Detective is Disgusting and Misogynistic and has a lot of F-bombs I didn’t even notice.

Despite its female characters coming straight out of the medieval age – and I’m talking pre-Roe v. Wade sexism here –, I liked that True Detective gave a morally unambiguous, weighty representation of adultery and the monumental pain it inflicts on people’s lives, as opposed to immature, “progressive” tripe like Once Upon a Time which tries to justify it as fun and necessary and true to the unfaithful person’s heart (“I can’t live a lie by pretending to care for you anymore”).  In one of the police interview scenes, Marty remarks something vague and deflective to the effect of “having to take whatever relief I can get, being away from the family so much of the time”, which reveals both his utter shame in outing himself as a sinner and his proud instinct to view himself as a helpless victim of circumstances, rather than a spiritually weak and fallible man who refuses to govern his impulses.

Come to think of it, there’s not much I didn’t like about True Detective.  The main characters are excellently developed and deeply flawed, the score and soundtrack selections gritty and fitting of the story’s somber tone (especially The Angry River and Young Men Dead), and the writing makes genuine efforts to spur viewers towards philosophical reflection, which is more than I can say of most books and movies released today.  The show is widely known for deviating into long car ride conversations between Rust and Marty which do little to advance the murder mystery plotline but over which we acquire a deep comprehension of each detective’s mental habit and moral or amoral code.  It’s kind of like Boyhood!, but much better written because only McConaughey sounds as though he’s reciting pre-written postulates about life, the universe, and the everything.  Lord knows we could use more TV shows like Boyhood that focus on rich and believable stereotypes without getting bogged down in pseudo-scientific exposition, battle planning, evil monologues, you know, plot stuff.

McConaughey’s misanthropic stiffness and penchant for pessimistic lecturing are simultaneously True Detective’s strongest and lamest elements.  Rust Cohle is a kind of dispensing machine of philosophical conceits he personally correlates with “realism”, a nihilistic worldview holding among other things that humanity’s rationality is a mistake of evolution, everybody is a nobody, and the noblest thing we can do as a species is quit reproducing and walk hand in hand into extinction.  “It means I’m bad at parties,” he says. “Let me tell you, you ain’t great outside of parties either,” retorts his partner.  Indeed.

The problem with True Detective’s intellectual banter is that it never rises to real argumentation or smoothly integrates with the narrative; it’s just there for interested viewers to think about, never artistically meshing with the plot or cinematic landscape.  Whereas stories like The Matrix, The Truman Show, Life of Pi, and Prometheus (I didn’t say “good stories”) make definite, allegorical statements about God, free will, and human insignificance through the worlds and scenarios imagined by their authors, True Detective doesn’t attempt to prove or substantiate any belief.  Nic Pizzolato just throws a bunch of clunky, lofty-sounding sentiments at the audience and hopes that something sticks.  The many loony dialogues about darkness and the light, hope and cynicism, time running in a circle, etc. etc. are simply that, dialogues, reflecting no explicit or internal developments in the story.  In fact, the more I think about the ideas communicated in True Detective, the more I’m convinced that the show and its fanatics think they’re a whole lot smarter than they actually are.  When you take away the hype and watch the show in isolation, it’s abundantly clear that True Detective doesn’t ever argue anything, only poses theories we’re free to welcome or reject depending on our preexistent feelings.

I get the impression we’re not supposed to wholly agree with Rust or Marty, the former because he has a miraculous vision at the very end which turns him into a believer that “the light [in the night sky] is winning” – whatever that means –, the latter because he’s consistently portrayed as blindly optimistic, hypocritical, and logically inferior to Cohle.  Marty’s identity as a Christian plays a much smaller part than his partner’s identity as a freethinking whatever-he-is.  To the best of my memory, we never see him doing anything religious or defending his faith very sincerely, which leaves me befuddled as to why Pizzolato would bother labeling him a Christian in the first place.  Maybe he thought the buddy cop dynamic would be more intriguing if each was a philosophical foil to the other.  In retrospect, the cynic in me thinks that Marty’s only a Christian to show us that Christians are Hypocrites and sinners too… which is actually fundamental to the Gospel of the Bible, but who cares?  I’m sure True Detective is just too intelligent for my puny, religion-dulled brain to understand.  After all, Rust does give a pointed, scathing speech explaining how religion is scientifically proven to retard your critical thinking, and how could I doubt him given how crazy the loudmouthed evangelist minister and his overweight, easily manipulated sheeple sound?

I don’t even want to get into the moronic child molestation/porn subplot that randomly pops up in the later episodes.  All of a sudden I felt like I was watching a silly Newsroom or True Blood kind of show that plays upon all the dumbest stereotypes cultivated about Catholics.  Look, here’s a religious authority figure who funds an evil private school system free of governmental regulation and works in the proximity of children! What kind of dirt do you suppose he’s hiding?  I just couldn’t imagine such systemic abuse and cover-ups happening at a publicly funded grade school.

Suffice it to say that True Detective is a true achievement in cinematography, acting, and direction that’s thrilling, unsettling, and any which way moving so long as you don’t think about how it’s masquerading as something much deeper than it truly is.  It is so far, by far the most visually captivating and only HBO show I’ve pilfered off a friend who had the DVD, but to quote the stupid Christian, “I just want them to stop saying odd s***.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Samus and the Super Smash Bros: Feminist Masterpiece or Misogynist Male Fantasy?

Cross-applied is a weekly feature in the Beatissima Garbage that takes the most infamous elements of the college paper’s editorial page and doubles them through a point-otherpoint, high school debate-style format.  Two “sensitive” culture critics argue about something no one else is arguing about and try to ascertain whether it’s detrimental to or supportive of equality, diversity, justice, whatever.  If you want to contribute your ideas to a future issue of Cross-applied exclusively for The Author’s Files, please pitch your grievance or stance to theauthorsfiles@gmail.com and we’ll consider whether it’s worth duking out.

Gareth Paltrey: Zero Suit Fights Rapists With Girl Power

2015 is a great year to be a feminist.  For decades there’s been a stigma in our society against feminism, largely because the vast majority of society don’t understand what feminism means, but thanks to the outspokenness of A-list celebrities and actions of concerned corporations, the social attitude towards feminism is finally starting to sway.

In September of last year, the beautiful, talented Teen Choice Award-winning actress Emma Watson used her influence among remaining Harry Potter fans to make a powerful and deeply inspiring defense of gender equality.  Shortly thereafter, Taylor Swift met Lena Dunham and came out of the feminist closet, giving hundreds of 15-year-olds the courage to take a stand and identify themselves as feminist.  Then Hillary Clinton stepped forward despite unprecedented GOP resistance and declared her 2016 candidacy for the U.S. president, making her the first woman who counts to run for president since Hillary Clinton in 2008. Finally, we saw a wave of openly feminist, progressive movies receive widespread critical and financial success, including “Edge of Tomorrow”, the new “Mad Max,” the new “Pitch Perfect,” the new “Avengers,” and the new “Terminator” movie starring Khaleesi as Sarah Connor.

But possibly the greatest victory for women’s equality was in video gaming, an arena which has long been controlled by patriarchy and misogynistic developers.  Feminist bloggers like Anita Sarkeesian brought attention to the blatant sexist stereotyping of women in the industry’s best-selling games, and the hateful underbelly of Gamergate’s defenders rose to the forefront of the public’s discussion.  While some developers continued to churn out the same ugly, male-dominated entertainment they did before (see the horrible “The Witcher 3” for the epitome of disgusting sexist representations in video gaming), Nintendo heard the public’s call for change and answered it with flying colors, giving us one of the best and most diverse games in years.  I’m talking of course about “Super Smash Bros. for Wii U.”

Nintendo’s always been a leader when it comes to creating strong and independent female characters, starting with the original Metroid on the NES and culminating in the dorm room phenomenon known as Super Smash Bros.  They’ve had their stumbles here and there with characters like Princess Peach who exist solely to be rescued by male plumbers, but they’ve always been open to the desires of fans and quickly rectified situations deemed offensive.  When female Super Mario and Donkey Kong fans protested the weak and two-dimensional portrayals of hapless damsels in those games, Nintendo turned the tables on traditional gender roles with games like “Super Princess Peach” and “Ocarina of Time”, the latter of which is often considered the best video game for Nintendo console owners of all time.

Through three installments on the N64, Gamecube, and Wii, Super Smash Bros. added to the company’s roster of tough female characters and proved once and for all that women can kick just as much, if not more ass than men.  As everybody knows, the series’ toughest competitor is actually a woman, the agile and ridiculously OP Princess Zelda, but Zero Suit Samus is a close runner-up.  Zero Suit might look and sound like a cheap porno star to ignorants, but she’s actually the most important and feminist creation of Nintendo.

Zero Suit Samus’ redesign for “Super Smash Bros. for Wii U” reduces her to the skimpiest apparel we’ve ever seen her slip into, but she remains just as powerful and intimidating as she does in past games, impressively holding her own against Luigi, Marth, and Daaaaark Purple Pit.  In my dorm at Beatissima, the overwhelming scientific consensus is that she’s incredibly hot, but all the guys want to play as her because she’s strong on top of being fricking gorgeous.  Zero Suit embraces her sexuality but doesn’t enslave herself to it, using her stunning beauty for self-empowerment rather than exploitation.  In an ironic twist on conventional male leadership in sexual relationships, she even lashes out at opponents with a laser whip, showing who’s the real dominant partner.  Samus Aran is a rare ravishing blonde in video games who isn’t defined as a simple accessory to men and exceeds all three rules of the Bechdel Test.

A lot of conservative, middle-aged mothers have complained (not on the internet, of course; there are no girls on the internet) about her revealing skins, dubbing her combat bra and short shorts “space undies” or “stripper clothes.”  As it turns out, this incendiary backlash is exactly the reason why characters like Samus are a social necessity in modern gaming.  With the risk of making the same mistakes and ignorant generalizations they all make, I don’t want to lump all of Zero Suit’s detractors together.  Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and we should be able to have a civil discussion without namecalling and personal attacks.

With that said, the resistance to Zero Suit’s depiction in Super Smash Bros. is rooted in the same archaic, patriarchal Puritanism that misogynists used to oppress women up until the Voting Rights Act, and I mean that in the most non-personal way.  The Supreme Court has declared free speech to be a civil right, so conservatives are free to say whatever they want about Samus, but that doesn’t mean there’s any excuse for slut-shaming.  It’s 2015.  Isn’t it about time we stop criticizing and humiliating women for the makeup they put on, the food they eat, the clothes they do or don’t wear, and just love each other as fellow fetuses?

Like Katniss Everdeen, Lara Croft, and Rita Virtoshi, Zero Suit Samus provides an inspiring role model for young girls and fills a void in a gaming culture that’s often hostile to female nerds.  With more feminist characters who are comfortable in their sexuality and able to compete with men, gender inequality and rape culture will be seen for what they are, a thing of the past that’s just as outdated as racism and bullying.

Jess Dewon: Hey Nintendo, Michael Bay Wants His Supermodel Stereotype Back

Almost thirty years ago, Nintendo shocked the world with an inspiring and empowering heroine, a female Bobafett of the video gaming world.  Samus Iran made her kick-ass debut in the Metroid franchise in 1986, blasting her way through parasitic aliens and ruthless space pirates.  Samus became instantly beloved by gamers everywhere and went on to empower women all over the globe.  Samus showed us all that a woman can hold her own, even in a dark and dangerous world like Metroid’s, and can be more than just a mere object.

However, Nintendo in several releases for the Wii and Wii U, let everyone down with the release of Samus’ racy “Zero Suit”, an embarrassing tight bodysuit that serves no other purpose than to pointlessly objectify the series’ protagonist.  Nintendo’s continued use of the zero suit is an unfortunate reflection of the current state of women in all current gaming.  Whether Trip needs a leg up in “Enslaved” or Cortana decides to let it all hang in “Halo 4, women are constantly portrayed as nothing more than either sex symbols or helpless damsels in distress respectively.  Playing Super Smash Bros. is an exercise in chauvinism just as much as any Michael Bay movie or HBO original show (except for Lena Dunham’s “Girls”, which is amazing and very progressive).

But Samus’ skin-tight get-up is hardly Nintendo’s only step back from feminism and sexual equality.  For decades, Mario has had to rescue Princess Peach from the evil Bowser, and Nintendo’s games have forever been flooded with heroic male protagonists, be it Donkey Kong, or the genius Professor Layton. Nintendo has also recently acquired the racy Bayonetta series.  These poor decisions just reinforce the sadly accurate mindset that the video game industry is nothing but a giant, exclusionary sausage fest.

Samus’ zero suit shows that Nintendo can’t see past a woman’s body to create a strong, female lead in a video game without overly sexualizing that character.  When Samus wore an armored exo-suit in the previous Metroid games, she could be seen as a serious protagonist and an intimidating warrior.  Just as Microsoft would never deign to show Master Chief in a skimpy pair of boxers, Nintendo should not deign to take away Samus’ armor.  Stripping Samus Iran of her armor is equivalent of stripping her of her power and gravitas.  Its undeniable that Nintendo’s apparent objectification of Samus is nothing but disappointing and is a huge let down to the whole gaming community.  Far too many games in today’s culture push back against feminism, and to lose one of the industry’s most empowering figures is an enormous step backwards.

Still worse, Zero Suit Samus has brought out the worst in the very gamers playing, leading to racy mods, “sexy freeze-frame” compilations, sexist internet memes, and disgusting fan art on social sharing websites like “Deviant Art”.  While every woman, especially a driven character like Samus, should have the right to embrace or reject their sexuality as they desire, the zero suit feels like nothing more than a ploy to weaken Samus’ image.

Nintendo’s zero suit doesn’t further Samus’ character in any way.  It doesn’t even go so far as to show her emotional vulnerability, an admittedly necessary trait in any hero, male or female, cis or trans.  Needless to say, I find Nintendo’s choices both disappointing and distressing, and I can only hope the gaming industry chooses to reform its current ways and show a little more open-mindedness.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Author's Playlist: How To Get Into Christian Music

Over the same period when a bunch of animals were announcing their presidential runs, a bunch of other, less developed animals were razing a city to the ground for the death of someone in their pack, and another, higher-up but still less developed animal was urging us not to dismiss all these animals’ concerns because their actions just so happened to be inexcusable and animalistic, the Author’s Playlist on Spotify quietly passed the 48 hour mark.  Having argued about animals all year long and unsuccessfully tried to prevail on others the superiority of the human to the bestial, I’m seizing this milestone as an excuse to talk about something a little less contentious, because if there’s one thing that never fails to unite people regardless of their political or socioeconomic backgrounds, it’s the music we listen to and the inborn ability of all people to distinguish artistry from garbage.

In the end, the ratio of grimy, secular rap to “Christian” music in the Author’s Playlist has turned out roughly 1:1, which really isn’t shocking as it took me a long time to develop a taste for either one.  Getting into Christian music is a rather difficult feat for ears that have long been reared on film scores, classical music, arena rock, and other genres which are very musically complex and rich.  As with most styles of music, if your primary entry point into this art form is the radio’s or internet’s current heavy-rotation setlist, you’ll only ever hear a smidgeon of the stuff that’s actually worth your attention, and my heavy exposure to such impoverished stations is probably what led me to indiscriminately hate religious-themed music for such a long time.  Likewise, if the only Christian music you ever absorb is the tired, sometimes inane Chris Tomlin anthems performed to death by your church’s worship leaders with choruses that cycle ten to twenty times before the song is over, you may get incredibly irritated at the very thought of listening to Christian music, viewing it as a menial chore and an exercise of your eardrums’ patience for repetition. That’s how I felt about it for the longest time, and there are still moments in (otherwise great) outdoor Beatissima worship sessions where my brain will wander off from God and dwell on homework, writing, women, anything to get me through the neverending finale.

As with most genres, the key to enjoying Christian music is just to appreciate it as music without dwelling on its larger spiritual intentions. Once I got over the fact that I was technically listening to Christian music and started focusing on the instrumental or lyrical beauty behind the given recordings, what I once regarded as a nuisance or a boring remainder of Sunday school became an aural sensation and a rewarding complement to my other alternative, folk, rock, or indie pickings. To make this transition as effortless and affordable for the uninitiated as possible without the expense of hiring an official “transition team”, I and my fellow undergrads in Beatissima’s Cultural Arts department are so blessed to present this run-down of the very best in CCM, and we hope this proves to all working DJs at Air One or elsewhere that good Christian music and good music don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Inland by Jars of Clay

Any of Jars of Clay’s albums could make the cut for inclusion in this list (The Eleventh Hour and Who We Are Instead are particularly noteworthy), but Inland is probably their most daring and invigorating achievement yet.  If any group could stake a claim to headlining the soundtrack of my childhood, it’d be either Jars of Clay or Newsboys or David Crowder Band, although I didn’t consciously connect their music with their names until half a year ago.  There were a lot of U2 singles as well, some Enya here and Matchbox Twenty there, and the Moulin Rouge soundtrack was always a mainstay, but for the long family roadtrips my parents’ iPods would dependably return to one of six or seven albums by these bands, and as a result I sadly developed a kind of emotional numbness towards all of them.  Inland was a relatively new addition to my family’s library and I was beginning to tire of it until I left for Beatissima and gave most Christian music a well-needed break to explore a host of other artists recommended by college friends whose uncouth vocals or abrasive production hadn’t been embraced at home.  That’s artists with uncouth vocals, in case that wasn’t clear, though a good number of my college friends also have very explicit vocals. Most of those explicit friends have really sucky taste in music too, except for Billy, who’s contributed more to this Playlist than any other individual in spite of (or because of) all his eccentricities.  Huge shoutout to Billy.

All that’s just to quote a more mainstream Christian singer who said you never know what you got till it’s gone.  For the longest time I convinced myself that Jars of Clay were musically boring and unsophisticated, but it wasn’t until I dragged myself through a trough of Kanye-Kendrick-Glitch Mob-Radiohead-Jack White-Jai Paul-Weeknd/Banks-Arctic Monkeys-Black Keys-Sublime that I could genuinely respect and enjoy Jars of Clay for what they do so singularly from everyone else (and what everyone else does differently from Jars of Clay).  Whereas many faux-alt albums end up sounding like a disjointed hodgepodge of musical styles, Inland is fully itself with a perfect and deliberate composition of electric and acoustic textures.

Take the lead track, After the Fight, which has a very unusual interplay of irregular drum strikes, bass lines, and layered vocals I can’t describe that vividly but sounds strange and beautiful.  Saying nothing of its incisive, subtle lyrics about the confusion of man trying to make up his own conception of love, Age of Immature Mistakes has some of the most impressive guitar work on the album, with strumming so intense and grandiose it mirrors the ego of the narrator.  Reckless Forgiver features the most explicitly spiritual chorus of Inland’s offerings, where Dan Haseltine pleads, “All I want is peace like a river / long life of sanity / love that won’t leave too soon” with goofy, whining violin strings honing what seems to be the utter simplicity of his request.

There’s actually not a lot of proper or proverbial references to God on Inland, a refreshing oddity of a Christian album where the pervasive absence of theological language makes the band’s brief allusions to the heavenly and eternal that much more significant and profound as compared to some big churchy crowd pleaser like Our God Is Greater which has no sense of subtlety or, well, anything in that particular case. None of the songs are overtly “Christian” or blatantly sermonizing, but I think the unifying theme of the album is of trying and failing to find permanent solace in human relationships or in idealized, passionate romances.

As such, much of the album assumes a somewhat melancholy or frustrated tone that’s evident even in titles like Love In Hard Times (a wonderfully minimalistic and moving expression of desire), Loneliness and Alcohol (wherein loud, hard-edged electric guitars crash spectacularly against their quiet neighbors), Left Undone, or Skin & Bones, by which point the narrator has relented enough from his foolish humanism to recognize:“We’ve made an art out of neglecting what we don’t want to see / Love is skin and bones, trying to set us free.”  The final track draws on John Donne’s famous quote “No man is an island” but cleverly twists it from a comment on the unification and social nature of man to a statement about man’s dependency on and longing for God. “You’re leaving all / just burn it in the fire / of everything you once knew / everyone that knew you… pack up all your questions / just keep heading inland / come on home to me.”

There are a couple slower songs that bog the record down marginally, and “Human Race” is a genuinely terrible ditty whose happy, skippy beat is thoroughly at odds with its cynical, tactless lyrics.  While Inland as a whole is very thoughtfully worded, the fourth track sounds amateurish and desperate by comparison on account of its strained “unfriending”/TV references and unimaginative rhyme schemes (“Look in my eyes, touch my face; we’re limping along, the human race.”)  It doesn’t reflect their talent as a band and you should just forget it ever existed.  Still, even OK Computer had the whacky, robotic Fitter, Happier working against it, so the presence of a single dud should hardly be grounds for dismissing the album.  The bottom line is that Jars of Clay use instruments in interesting ways, vary each section’s sound just enough to avoid redundancy, and write mostly pensive words that reward closer examination.

For a depressing period of two years I was a budding music snob who fooled myself into thinking I didn’t care at all for Jars of Clay.  Then I met a bunch of real music snobs who transformed me into an even bigger snob who now humbly recognizes that Jars of Clay are one of the best things to impact music like ever, ever.  They have all the alternative-indie cred of Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, Modest Mouse, The xx, or insert hipster indie band you don’t listen to here on top of poetic, spiritually challenging lyrics that strengthen one’s faith instead of dumbing it down.  To quote the venerable Rick Berman, it’s so dense, every single bar has so many things going on.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Garbage #2 – Did You Not Tell Them It Was The Lord's School?

Excerpted from George’s someday-to-be-released memoir about life and times at Beatissima University, featuring rare articles previously published in the Beatissima Garbage.

Beatissima Named Best 6-Figure Youth Group Retreat In Country

The U.S. News and World Report has released its influential college evaluations for the year of 2015, and Beatissima University has ranked highly in several categories, including Best Location, Most Energetic Welcoming Committee, Cutest Perpetual Virgins, and Friendliest Metaphorical Family.  Indeed, surveys have shown that Beatissima students stand a smaller chance of getting racially slurred, slut-shamed, or taken advantage of in a drunken state than those at other babysitting institutions, but the celestial seaside campus received especial acclaim as the best Vacation Bible School in America.

Victoria Pyrrha, an intern at Campus Ministry, was filled by the honor and said the report testifies to Beatissima’s status as a campus that mediates spiritual growth and communion with God.  “Not only are we among the best places to grow closer to God, but we’re also now held to be the best 4-year youth group retreat available to young Christians who will be leaving their parents’ house for the first time and figuring out how they’re going to survive in a real world that’s being steadily overrun by the Nones.”

Beatissima also offers courses in traditional secular fields like Chemical Engineering, Pre-euthanasia, False Communications, Communist Writing, Freudian Psychology, Howard Zinn’s History, Theater, Dance, Film, and Music, but most Beas commit to the school mainly for its eclectic offering of spiritually enriching group activities.  The school upholds the seeking for religious truth as a core plank of its mission statement and enforces this search by mandatory attendance of provocative “convocation” lectures that challenge and strengthen Christian belief.

The Convocation Office says the anonymous social media application Yik Yak testifies to the events’ constructive value.  Users on Yik Yak are very often the most engaged with speech-based convocation messages, having remarked at various points: “OMFG, Wdnsy morning convo is blowing my mind, like I can’t even,” and “black lives matter, haha, well duh #martinlutherkingjr #derp” and “Tony Campolo is a very funny guy to watch.  Best convo ever.  Keep talking about Israeli incursions on the Muslims territory, man.”

“Convo is bea.  I need to look at my feed some time of the day.  #thug lyfe #hiiipower” ~ Yik Yak user

For the less introverted members of the Christian faith (although most denominations will claim that every Christian has to join with other Christians in community and figurative bodily unity), residence leaders at Beatissima also organize small Bible study clubs where more spiritual and reflective students offer interpretations of Scripture and the rest listen thoughtfully while taking notes on their phones.  And then there’s the sheer diversity of worship or service opportunities happening literally every day of the week.

Even with the range of religious outlets, sophomore Oliver Cheever still isn’t satisfied with the university’s accommodations.  “I’d love to spend all day worshiping God and glorifying his name.  I’ve gone on mission trips to Mexico, played the keyboard violin at the Well, joined first- and second-year convo clubs at the same time, worshipped in four different languages including, yes, Arabic – judge not –, caught every Campus Ministry and Campus Rec trip, cleansed the Freedom Wall of too many heresies to count, met with my SLA every other day for lunch and confession of sins, and sat through every redundant, rehashed purity talk offered by the university.  Who needs studying at the beautiful Beatissima University?”

A solid bedrock if ever there was one.

Financial Aid Office issues refunds to undocumented students

Citing the need for Christian compassion and charity towards “the least of these,” Beatissima’s president of intercultural assimilation, Barry Hugh Sein, said that the university will start refunding aspiring learners for the tuition they never paid in the first place.  He pointed to federal policies like the earned income tax credit as predictors of the executive action’s solvency in boosting the productivity and confidence of undocumented students.

Sein issued the following statement exclusively through the Garbage:
“Undocumented students are Beas in every way except print: they go to class, they don’t go to class, they run away on weekends, they reluctantly eat the chicken tenders from the H.E.C.K. late at night, they smuggle alcohol into their dorm rooms, they complain about having to smuggle alcohol into their dorm rooms, they ask that really cute, quiet girl in the Great Books small group out on a real, one-to-one date – hell, they’re even more evolved than real Beas on that account.  Cowards.
“Why should some financial difficulties have the final say on who goes and who stays at Beatissima University?  After all, doesn’t our Christian mission call for us to be receiving of strangers and to love our moochers as ourselves?”

Not everyone is fond of the squatters, though.  While the campus’ administration praises the refund of formerly unpaid funds to undocumented learners as a gesture of inclusiveness and redistributing educational opportunities, officially accepted, fully paid students condemn the refund of formerly unpaid funds as a gesture of inclusiveness and redistributing economic opportunities.

“I don’t have a problem with them staying here,” says Jenna Ross, a resident in Lowerniche Apartments. “We need to keep in mind that these are people who’ve been driven to our campus from extremely turbulent circumstances, mostly created by us.  They’re coming to us as refugees from lower levels of education, seeking a more promising future for themselves and, well, themselves, and we should treat them just like the Israelites were asked to treat the Gentiles.”

“I just don’t want them staying at my place or on my money because, you know, I don’t have any.  But if someone else does, by all means they should be the good Samaritan, good host, whatever.  Sign them up.”

As an American school protected by local firefighters and built around public infrastructure, Beatissima is constitutionally obligated to provide unaccepted students the same educational opportunities as documented Beas.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Stuff that Larry Twicken Says

Larry Twicken is an active, taxpayer-funded promulgator of political science theories at Saddleback College. He’s been “professing” things to students for more than ten years, but has never yet lost his charming personality, love for his students, or yearning to fix Christopher Columbus’ America.  The following is a highlights reel of sorts intended to share Mr. Twicken’s wit and wisdom with the rest of the world.  The quotations, which were transcribed by natural observation in the classroom environment, are an attempt to recapture as nearly as possible the brilliance of Mr. Twicken’s elucidation.

On those old white Republicans:
“I’m just going to throw my ideology right out there… Pat Boone is one of those people I hate – is hate the right word? … Yes. – I hate Pat Boone… He took this black artist’s song and recorded it the way a white person would, you know?  [does his best black and white singer impression]”
“Social conservatives, they’re just from another era.  The way they talk about gay marriage and LGBT rights… [shakes his head]”

On his educational philosophy:
“Don’t try to go into the quiz without reading, thinking you can bull$#*! your way through it, because nothing pisses me off more when all I get is bull$#*!, bull$#*!, and more bull$#*!.  Just don’t bull$#*! me.”
“You may think you know a lot about politics, but you don’t know $#*! about politics.  Your parents have probably talked to you about politics and government, but they don’t know $#*! about government either.”
“Most college teachers are doing it all wrong because they try to teach you things.  I’m a professor.  I profess things.”'
 “I’m hoping we can have open discussion in this class.  I want you all to be respectful towards each other – no name calling.  But I will show little respect for your views.  I will mess with you.  And when you guys try to argue with me, it really pisses me off, like you’re getting up in my car grill and yelling, “F____ you, Mr. Larry!”

On constitutional government:
“What does democracy mean?  [Much argument ensues]  Majority Rules, thank you.  America’s democracy means that majority rules.”
 “But the majority of people weren’t even represented in America’s early years, only the majority of 20%!  The United States’ democracy was kind of a mockery – we could even say a mythology [read like it’s a big word] – of democracy.”

On his marginalized black wife and children:
“Racism is an attitude, the attitude of thinking your race is superior.  Now it’s possible for those in a minority race to be racists, but only if they have the power to oppress another race.  Otherwise they’re just bigots…”
 “Do any of you know about the Minutemen… they were a group who tried to stop illegal immigrants from crossing the border and recruited a lot of African-Americans to do that because illegal immigration is against African-Americans’ interests…” [never finishes his point or ties it back into racism]
 “In a way, by not sending my daughter to the San Juan Hills “Latino School” [because of its lower academic rating and probability of sending graduates on to better colleges], I would be contributing to institutionalized racism.”
“White people use just as many drugs as black people.  We have this racist mindset about blacks on drugs.”
“Other runners accuse my daughter of winning just because she’s black, like she’s got some special bone in her body.”
 “Don’t f____ with my girl.”
 “We have stereotypes like ‘white people can’t jump’.  When we maintain these institutions as long as we do, white people start to believe they can’t compete, they can’t do these things.”  [because it’s mainly those racist Caucasians who are always making victims of themselves]

On a noncontextual, hypothetical kid getting yelled at by his instructor:
“He’s crying, and I tell you, next race this kid is going to run his f_____ing ass off.”

On Rush Limbaugh:
 “There are ideas you probably hear a lot on talk radio.  Finish this sentence: ‘Muslims hate…’  [America?]  No.  [The West?]  Not my tempo.  [Christians?]  That too, but I’m actually thinking of… [Jews???]  Yes, thank you.  ‘Muslims hate Jews.’
“Does anyone in here listen to talk radio?  Listening to too much talk radio lowers your IQ.  [Someone challenges that.]  Listening to top 40 radio won’t do a lot for your IQ, but it won’t hurt it either.”
“But in medieval Spain, it was Catholics who hated the Jews.”

On Christopher Columbus:
“So he lands and he immediately sees them as savage, childlike, inferior.  He says that he’s checking out these girls, 12, 13 years old!”
 “How does the Bible say that man has dominion over the animals?  He has the power to name them, right?  So Columbus starts calling them Indians!”
 “Columbus brings back only the strongest as slaves, and suddenly everybody thinks that all the ‘Indians’ are super-strong.”
“Columbus goes back, and it’s all about race now.” 
“Racism started with Christopher Columbus.”

On Jimmy Snyder:
“Whether you believe it or not, with a mic shoved in your face, what’s the right answer [to the important question of whether there should be more black coaches in the NFL]?  [Awkward, non-obliging silence]  Come on what’s the right answer?  YES.”

On teaching his son the truth:
“My son brings back this book from school, the traditional story of Christopher Columbus.  I look through it, the last sentence: ‘And then Christopher Columbus made friends with the Indians.’”
“I give him this radical book, A People’s History of the United States – by this crazy left-wing socialist named Howard Zinn – and I say, ‘Son, you’re taking this to school,’ and he says, ‘Dad, no.’ and I say…” 
“This college text… the true story of Christopher Columbus…”
“I tried to give my son – and you all too – an alternative, more accurate education.”
“My son took the WISC test, which, 80-90 you’re OK, below that you’re f____ed up.”
“The question asked him who Christopher Columbus was, so I asked him, ‘What did you write?’ and he said, ‘I wrote that Christopher Columbus was an explorer who killed a bunch of Indians.’ … I gave him a high-five for that.”
“It turns out he got one point for the first part but not the part about killing Indians, so I had a good talk with them and they said it was because that wasn’t in their book.  Your IQ is punished for repeating the true story of Christopher Columbus.” 
 “I’ve been fighting this for years.”

On other stuff:
“You can look at feudalism as a form of slavery.”
 “The Industrial Revolution was based on the oppression of Indian communities.”
 “If you want the best Fatburger, don’t go to Orange County – they f____ it up.”
 “♪ Killing me softly with his song ♪… I wish I could be a black woman just so I could sing that.”

On himself and the lecture he’s supposed to be giving:
“Who’s more charismatic than me?”
“This lecture is my way of stating how I’m going to be approaching race, gender, LGBT, community issues – not this sort of mythical majority which never really existed.”
“Imagine all this in 15 minutes – so f____ing incredible.” 

To the administration of Saddleback College, please nominate Larry Twicken for lecturer of the month.  This took him 12 years to make.  Then fire the bastard.

Fast-travel to other parts:
More Stuff That Larry Twicken Says
Even More Stuff That Larry Twicken Says

Monday, June 1, 2015

Flashback to Westworld

Today marks the much criticized release of the ultraviolent mass murder simulation game “Hatred”.  Some forty years ago, Michael Crichton made a movie about another violent murder simulator known as Westworld which still has traces visible in modern robot movies, and some two years ago the Author wrote a review of this same Westworld which he’s been sitting on until now, when he has as feeble a reason to share it as ever before.  The internet tells me that HBO is producing a reboot of the series created by Christopher Nolan’s brother and starring both Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris, which would actually sound really promising if it wasn’t, you know, a reboot, but I’ll wait and see how it turns out before I fling mud. Enjoy.

While many people are aware to some extent of the ideas and setting of Jurassic Park and The Truman Show, few have any familiarity with the source that inspired those famous movies’ themes.  Michael Crichton’s 1973 film Westworld might seem highly derivative not only of his own work but also of other directors’, but in actuality it paved the way for a host of science-fiction pictures that may not have flourished without it.  Westworld has all the defining marks of a Crichtonian technothriller – a small group of optimistic, technologically fascinated individuals, a remote and tightly monitored location that’s more dangerous than it betrays, and the swift decline of order into chaos as man’s creation spirals out of control and ultimately destroys him – but raises more philosophical questions than the average Crichton novel, some of which have incurred new meaning with the advent of the digital age, making the film more culturally relevant and accessible than many of the bestselling author’s novels.

Westworld is a unique and elaborate amusement park that enables adult guests to indulge in practically any Wild West fantasy they could desire for the hefty price of $1000 a day.  A simulated world occupied entirely by robots that are nearly identical to humans, it represents a third of an overarching resort called Delos, which also offers violent and predominantly licentious attractions in Roman World and Medieval World.  The system resembles the giant dome in The Truman Show in that every robot is programmed with a certain, day-to-day routine and controlled remotely by park managers operating from an intricate control center.  Some robots are designed to make sexual advances towards guests, while others like Yul Brynner’s Gunslinger challenge the humans to duels, wherein the visitors always triumph, leaving the robot a bleeding, lifeless corpse.  The historical worlds are supposed to impart a semblance of peril and adventure to consumers but simultaneously ensure their safety, allowing them to emerge as heroes from even the worst predicament, but as in all of Crichton’s stories, the security guidelines don’t always work as planned.  The robots eventually break down and malfunction in various areas, leading them to refuse compliance with orders and to resist their programmed purpose.  The movie shows us Westworld through the eyes of two friends, John and Peter.  The former is wholly receptive of the park’s atmosphere and expectations, immediately anxious to experience all the gunplay, bar fights, and one-nighters the west can offer, but his partner takes a more reserved and skeptical stance, initially hesitating to make love with a total stranger and shoot the image of another man in a cantina.  Are his actions merely make-believe, harming nothing more than a bundle of circuits and batteries, or do they have real consequences on himself and other human beings?

The first hour of Westworld is richly thought-provoking, more so than the prolonged chase scene that follows and the entirety of Jurassic Park, not that the latter was by any means simplistic.  On the one hand, Westworld can be interpreted as a comparison of the purpose- and the pleasure-driven lifestyle.  The main attraction of Delos is purely hedonistic, as it invites guests to revel in senseless violence when their fury is roused and to satiate their lust for drinks or sex when it’s calmed.  Delos’ executives encourage an identity that’s utterly meaningless and reduces civilized men to an animal state by stripping them of the rational mind bestowed on them by their Creator.  The concept of the park envisions a utopian world in which men can be abjectly evil and completely secure at the same time, a world that’s proven illusory when the robots rebel against their creators’ will and brutally set upon one another in instinctive violence, killing humans and fellow androids alike without discrimination.  Westworld slyly mocks the Progressive view that civil society can abandon all moral restraints on human behavior and continue to survive.  After all, it was precisely the ancients’ predisposition towards lust and violence that caused empires like Rome to commit suicide.

On another hand, Westworld is a clever dissertation on objectification and desensitization that’s acquired new dimensions in an age of movies and, more frequently, video games that glorify sin and criminality.  It asks a powerful question: to what extent can one exercise imaginary acts of lawlessness without assuming those same habits in real life?  As Crichton’s central characters adapt to Westworld’s atmosphere, becoming increasingly insulated from the costs of their murder, gluttony, and adultery, they find it ever harder to resist the temptations of their passions and their “unreal” addictions begin to enslave them.  This pattern reflects itself in the modern day, where games like Grand Theft Auto that romanticize violence and vandalism often sterilize teenagers to the consequences of crime and inspire them to commit abuses against real people.  Although video games are not the sole causes of violent crime, many of them have contributed to a broad, societal desensitization towards violence and extramarital sex, blinding people to the severe repercussions of sin.

Michael Crichton writes with wit and directs with a skillful hand; it’s a shame that his forays into film were so few.  Although Westworld has a very similar setting to that of his later masterpiece Jurassic Park, the themes it explores are quite different and would provoke interest even in those who lack the patience or will to contemplate the lofty, scientific issues of chaos theory or genetically engineered dinosaurs.  “Boy, have we got a vacation for you, for you, for you, for you…”

Postscript: At the time of writing this critique, the Author hadn’t actually played or watched a Grand Theft Auto title and, knowing basically nothing about its plot or narrative tone, made some probably uninformed and stupid generalizations based on stereotypes about the series’ fan base.  It’s been a while since the Author has elected to share a genuinely mockworthy file, so take this as your invitation to mock away, but you really should watch Westworld beforehand.  It has a lot of strong technical components I didn’t even bother to point out in this story-based overview.  Two years later I still remember the nerve-wracking visuals of Yul Brynner advancing down a grey, lifeless corridor in isolation, his cowboy boots clanking forebodingly all the way.  The production design and outline of Westworld’s final act remind me a little of The Cabin in the Woods, which was also a mentally stimulating subversion of its own genre and much better than Disney’s Into The Woods.  If you like didn’t like Robert Marshall’s Into The Woods, you’ll probably love Michael Crichton’s Westworld.  If you somehow loved Into The Woods...