Archive for October, 2009
In September, I was presented with the opportunity to venture to Giants Stadium in New Jersey to see U2. I grew up with Bono and the boys, thanks to my dad’s rabid obsession with the Irish megastars. I knew I would someday see these songs of my childhood live; I just didn’t realize it would be so soon. Needless to say, I had some pretty high expectations. U2 doesn’t just put on a show–they give their audiences the best performances of their lives. Along with expert showmanship, the charisma of Bono as frontman gives every song a sermon-like quality, and as such, he adopts a fairly obvious messianic complex, standing with arms outstretched and head held high. In some strange way, this doesn’t seem wrong to me. It’s just Bono.
This part of the entry is going to be painful, for you and me both. There’s this band called Muse, who are pretty big in their own right (sold out Wembley Stadium in Wales three nights in a row), displaying the power of epic themes in rock and roll, and doing this well with only three band members. I was extremely excited to see them perform, as they were opening for U2. I think the traffic system in New York understood just how excited I was, and deliberately made me wait two hours in the parking lines from the stadium while their entire set played out just one mile away from me. I missed Muse. So, let’s talk U2.
I have never before seen such a massive stage. With architecture I can only describe as “intergalactic meets Dr. Suess”, over 90,000 people stood and sat captivated by the enormity of it all. The excess here almost mocks U2’s incomprehensible fame, and celebrates that sort of indulgence. The band opened the show with an homage to Bowie, playing “Space Oddity” before lighting up the stage for their first song, “Breathe”, from newest release No Line on the Horizon. While I am more familiar with (and prefer) old U2, live performances of all of their newest material brought a fresh perspective to even songs I blatantly disliked on the new album (namely “Magnificent”). While my seats were in the 300 level of the stadium, my view was extremely clear, and it was enhanced by video screens that displayed magnified images of each of the band members, along with creative graphics to accompany each song. U2 engages the crowd by performing snippets of other well known rocks songs at the beginnings and ends of their own (Bono worked in “Blackbird”from the Beatles after performing “Beautiful Day”, and “Stand By Me” after “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”). This integration is seamless and is not contrived, or far-reaching.
Bono’s vocals soared as he acoustically performed “Stay (Faraway, So Close!)”, a semi-obscure track from their Passengers side project, and his operatic vocal quality resonated chillingly within me. And the Edge skillfully recreated the succinct and recognizable opening guitar strains of “Where the Streets Have No Name” with an equally holy feel. Bono picked up an acoustic guitar and led the entire stadium in singing all of “Amazing Grace” before segueing into “Streets”. I was floored. If these guys don’t give you a preview of real worship, don’t ask me what will.
U2’s politicism was not hidden in this show, nor in any of their past. As they performed “Walk On”, advocates from Amnesty International displayed posters with the face of the Burmese president-elect, who has been held under house arrest for longer than I’ve been alive, all because she chose to strive for freedom in the face of an oppressive regime. They also flashed images of violence in Iraq on the massive screens before playing “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”. These powerful statements are not just statements, but because U2 uses their fame to reach those in need, and to advocate for social justice, their meanings are magnified. It’s not just another publicity stunt.
After coming back onstage for a three song encore including “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” and “With or Without You”, this fantastic show had to come to a close. My experience with U2, seemingly thorough for my age, was completely enhanced by seeing them live. Even though I might not want to admit it (because they’re my dad’s band and all that), they truly put on the best show I have ever seen. Yes, they have the resources to do that, but it’s not just the glitz of it–U2 packs power, politicism, and spirituality into every performance, and it is this unrelenting commitment to what they started as that keeps them grounded and functioning for over thirty years with the same lineup. I was blessed by rock and roll that night, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Written by: Brittany Eltman1 comment
The Harry Potter books have been criticized by the Evangelical Christian community, banned from school libraries, burned by church groups, and denounced by the Pope. Harry practices witchcraft, they argue, and our children may try to follow in his footsteps. But that was before J. K. Rowling released her final installment of the Potter series in 2007, in which (spoiler alert) Harry dies sacrificially, only to rise again in Christ-like fashion to defeat evil forever. Rowling herself has acknowledged her Christian faith and the intentional Christian themes in her Potter novels. A recent article in the Boston Globe details how Harry is now embraced by religious scholars and critics. So we are over that embarrassing phase when Christians said silly things like Harry Potter is like â€śmixing rat poison with orange soda.â€ť Right?
Because it was a very embarrassing time. Like when the Onion wrote a satirical article about how the Potter series was turning millions of kids onto witchcraft, and mocked the Christian response: â€śOver protests from Christian Right leaders, who oppose the books for containing magic–and, by extension, Satanic religious beliefs–millions of children are willing their bodies and souls to Lucifer in unholy blood covenants. In 1995, it was estimated that some 100,000 Americans, mostly adults, were involved in devil-worship groups. Today, more than 14 million children alone belong to the Church of Satan, thanks largely to the unassuming boy wizard from 4 Privet Drive.â€ť If that werenâ€™t bad enough, most of the article was cut and pasted into a chain email, and sent around as proof of the dangers of reading Harry Potter. Many Christians, missing the satire and the irony, forwarded it along, furthering the embarrassment.
The Potter books are by no means an isolated example of Christian misunderstanding of art. There are examples recent (The Last Temptation of Christ, My Sweet Jesus sculpture) and historical (Puritan rejection of theater due to its portrayal of immorality). The churchâ€™s history of engaging with the arts is often embarrassing. Here is a relationship that needs reconciliation.
There is a lesson to be learned here. Fear no art. Fear instead the email from your aunt which warns you about some upcoming film or novel that is supposed to destroy your faith.3 comments
Apathy is an addictive depressant. It hooks you in, makes you feel less inclined to progress, makes you content with your place, your condition, your rank. Itâ€™s also the most heavily marketed addictive compound in modern society. Everywhere one looks, the status quo remains unchanged, and the masses shamble about, seeking only their own satisfaction. Of course, the most distraught apathy fiends areâ€¦ dare I say, zombies.
Yes indeed. I have found, upon extensive observation, that most creators of this subgenre of horror/apocalyptic film, aside from those trying to cash in on the success of others (cough*Lucio Fulci*cough), are always saying something more than â€śDONâ€ťT GET BIT!â€ť in their films. The fact that most zombie outbreaks are accompanied by â€śthe end of civilization as we know itâ€ť reinforces such a message. Iâ€™d like to think the zombies in question are a portrayal of the apathetic masses, which donâ€™t truly live, but yet carry on. As Christians, we canâ€™t afford to get caught up in living in the status quo, apathetic to those around us and anything that doesnâ€™t fall directly into our line of sight. Zombieland is Americaâ€™s newest foray into the Zombie genre, and the first real competition for Shaun of the Dead in the zombie comedy field. Through a pseudo review of the film, as well as an exploration of the two male leadsâ€™ (an excellent pairing of relative newcomer Jesse Eisenberg and veteran Woody Harrelson) approaches to life, as viewed through the lens of Christian counters to apathism (yes, I did just invent that wordâ€¦ deal with it), weâ€™ll hopefully come to a realization of the relevance of this subgenre, and all its insight into our very real dilemmas.
If one looks at the classic comic pairings, such as Aykroyd and Belushi , Abbott and Costello(and, for our generation, ones like Michael Cera and Jonah Hill), the comedy is usually generated from the interplay between the characters. In the case of Zombieland, Harrelson and Eisenberg display very entertaining chemistry, primarily because of how different they are. Harrelsonâ€™s Tallahassee is a cowboy type figure with zero tolerance for stupidity. His singular pursuit of Twinkies helps give a human element to the man who generates most of the visceral thrills in the movie. Eisenbergâ€™s character, on the other hand, feels much more relatable to our age group. An awkward college student, Columbus is well versed in World of Warcraft, but terribly inept in the world of women, or any social sphere it seems. He seems out of place when he shows up as the narrator at the filmâ€™s outset. Howâ€™s a college geek with little to no combat experience one of the last living people in America (which Columbus has dubbed Zombieland in wake of the infection)? As Columbus explains, there exists a list of rules by which he abides, which range from practical safety tips (Rule # 4: Always put on your Seatbelt) to extra measures against the hordes of infected (Rule # 2: Double tap: If youâ€™ve downed a zombie, but arenâ€™t sure itâ€™s dead, put an extra bullet in its head just to be safe). Due to these extremely cautious measures, Columbus has survived longer than most, although one could argue with his lack of life experience, heâ€™s â€śjust survivingâ€ť.
If zombies represent the apathetic masses, then Columbus and Tallahassee could be metaphors for the different improper approaches Christians might take to combat the hordes of the uncaring. Eisenberg portrays the â€śplay-it-safe Christianâ€ť. You know of what I speak; those who are so cautious about sharing their faith and fitting in that one might not even realize their true beliefs save through direct confrontation. Or those that grew up in a protective, Christian environment, and donâ€™t know how to interact/deal with life on the outside, so thus they barely live at all, casting everything outside their bubble as â€śevilâ€ť. Tallahassee, on the other hand, is demonstrating what I like to dub the â€śOne-trick Christianâ€ť. Such individuals focus on a singular aspect of the mission, and seem to focus on nothing else, whilst still keeping up the faĂ§ade of a committed believer. Such examples might include the missionary who cares more for the idea and funds to support the mission than those who support it, or even worse those seeking aid from the mission. Or it could be the legalist, who treats the faith like a list of doâ€™s and donâ€™ts, and to step even over the line a slight bit is to fall into the black. Such archetypes give Christians a bad name, yet they seem to be the only faces of faith the media ever sees. So, at the beginning and throughout most of the first act of the film, neither of the male characters display any sort of image to be looked up to.
Of course, if this was a maleâ€™s only zombie hoedown, ticket sales would suffer. Therefore we are introduced to the two female leads, going by the monikers of Wichita (Emma Stone, of Superbad fame) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin), in an intro that both makes you admire and hate the girls. The two female leads help fill out the age spectrum (Breslinâ€™s a 12 year old, Eisenberg and Stone are the college kids, and Harrelson plays the middle aged protector/father figure of the group) and add a sophisticated touch to the very polarized male characters. The female leads act like balancing absolutes to the â€śfaulted Christian archetypesâ€ť that are our male leads. Columbus, the â€śbubble boyâ€ť finds something worth fighting for in Wichita, and becomes the hero, breaking out of his â€ślist of rulesâ€ť (comedic motifs though they are) in order to protect something worthwhile for once, and finally starts living. Tallahassee branches out and starts caring for those around him, which is really the core of Christianity at any rate (the relationship with Christ, and those around you, are the two greatest commandments after all!). And at the end, Eisenbergâ€™s narration concludes a few key ideas; the first of which dictates that who you take the journey with is just as, if not more important, than the journey itself.
All in all, Zombieland was a thoroughly enjoyable ride of a film. Much of this is attributed to Tallahasseeâ€™s nearly endless supply of one liners and Columbusâ€™ delightfully quirky narration. The movie also boasts an extremely exciting finale, in which a theme park becomes the battle ground for our survivors, allowing Harrelson to kick plenty of ass, and also sets up Eisenberg to become the hero. Well cast, very funny (this makes a fine American counterpart to Shaun of the Dead), and above all, it has characters that we can believe in, root for, and relate to.
Redemption comes through caring for others and caring for something bigger than oneâ€™s own headspace. Christianity is about living for a purpose higher than oneâ€™s own, but that doesnâ€™t mean youâ€™re anything greater than human. So, in light of that, always strive to be a better you, and as Rule # 32 dictates: Enjoy the little things!
The White Rabbit