Goddamnit.

I just came back from Avengers: Infinity War.

I am not happy.

Not. Happy. At. ALL.

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Only it’s 57, not 51.

Eh.

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I wonder who’s doing their programming.

On Sunday, April 1, NBC showed a live version of Jesus Christ Superstar, I suppose to celebrate Easter. While I have no quibbles with the performance — it was quite good, with Alice Cooper and Sara Bareilles being standouts (for Herod and Mary Magdelene, respectively) — I am puzzled about this choice of entertainment.

Jesus Christ Superstar is not an Easter musical. For one thing, it ends with the crucifixion, and ignores the resurrection, thus leaving the question of Jesus’s divinity open. (According to Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber, this was a deliberate choice on the part of him and Tim Rice, the lyricist.) If anything, this is a musical for Good Friday, following as it does the liturgy of the Passion.

The musical is dark and cynical. Jesus, an ineffectual messiah, is overwhelmed not merely by the burden of his impending death but also by the demands made of him by people needing healing. The segment of the last supper which has found its way into Catholic and Anglican liturgy (“this is my body, when you eat it remember me”) comes across less as a profound statement of his status as the Son of God than as as an annoyed rebuke to his empty-headed apostles.

Where are his teachings? Where are his parables? Jesus is not only not divine in this musical, he is only marginally anything other than a cipher.

The apostles are more interested in their public image (“When we retire we can write the gospels/and they’ll all talk about us when we’ve died”) than actually listening to Jesus. Judas, through whose eyes the story is told, is a frustrated revolutionary angry at a man he viewed as a friend but who is not following him down the road of overthrowing Rome.  Judas’s betrayal seems inevitable, but his remorse seems unmoving, as though he was more invested in not being blamed than what he actually did.

Judas’s clearly doesn’t believe in Christ’s divinity: in the first song, “Heaven on Their Minds,” he sings of the followers of Jesus looking skyward rather than at Rome. Not all of them, though, an apostle gets up on a table and calls for rebellion against Rome, a call which Jesus repudiates.

I find both Herod and Pilate interesting, but they are villians. The only thing this musical has approaching a fleshed-out and sympathetic character is Mary Magdelene. Of course, Sarah Bareilles is both a wonderful singer, and an adept actress, so that helped.

The final song, “Superstar” puts the cynical exclamation point on the whole enterprise. Not a paeon to Jesus, it is instead a pointed commentary on his life and death.  “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ/who are you/what have you sacrificed?” and even more “Jesus Christ, Superstar/Do you think you are what they say you are?” The unspoken question is “And does it matter?”

Don’t get me wrong: I think Superstar the best thing Lloyd Weber has ever done. It is the only musical of his that I like wholeheartedly. I’m  just unsure how it was received by people unfamiliar with the show, who have a theology that views Jesus as a “Superstar” instead of a man of the people.

A musical exists which would have been wonderful Easter fare: Godspell. Steven Schwartz’s* musical telling of the Gospel of Matthew covers Jesus’s entire ministry, not merely the last week.  No, it doesn’t name its Christ-like figure Jesus, and whether or not it musically covers the resurrection remains an open question, but its songs call people to justice, love and community, not darkness.

I love songs from both these musicals: “Everything’s All Right” and “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” from Superstar, and oh, about six different songs from Godspell are in heavy rotation on my iTunes. Both present profound questions of how we view the Christ.

But I know which one draws people towards God, and it’s not the one they showed on Sunday.

*Best thing that Schwartz has ever done, for that matter, and I include Wicked in there.

Posted in Culture (popular and otherwise), God faith and theology | Tagged | 1 Comment

Geeking out.

At some point in my life, I became a Marvel superhero geek. Not the comics, but the movies. In the last year I have had extensive discussions (with people other than my children) about the Black Panther, and Dr. Strange, and how the events in Captain America: Civil War will lead into what’s going to happen in The Avengers: Infinity War (including who’s likely to die), and why Marvel movies are so much better than DC movies, with the exception of Wonder Woman (short answer: they’re better written), and so on. I have also discussed how relieved I was that Wonder Woman didn’t suck (a very low bar indeed, which it greatly exceeded), and that Black Panther was as exceptional as it was, and that the person who did the visual design for Black Panther needs to win an Oscar. (I also discussed who was hotter, Chadwick Boseman or Michael B. Jordan, although really the answer is Danai Gurira Okoye.)

I even saw several of the movies before my kids did — Captain America: Civil War, Dr. Strange, and Spiderman: Homecoming, for example. I would say that I felt not the least bit smug about this, but I’d be lying. For once, not spoiling movies became kind of difficult. I usually see Disney movies before they do, but they generally don’t care.

So, just a few observations:

The Black Panther is as phenomenal as it is not because it is a great superhero movie, but because it is a great movie, period. You can watch it having not seen any other Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie, and be totally engrossed.  In fact, you’re better off if you haven’t seen Captain America: Civil War, because it contains the one major logical and chronological inconsistency that I have seen in the movies.

Possibly the best thing about Black Panther is the amazing women of Wakanda. Forget settling for passing the Bechdel test, they steal every scene they’re in. Given that the male leads are Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan, that’s pretty impressive.

As much as I love Black Panther, and I do, my favorite of the MCU movies has to be Dr. Strange, for three reasons: 1) Benedict Cumberbatch; 2) street origami! and 3) one of the major heroic characters is … the librarian. I feel I should be more troubled about the whitewashing of the source material, though. There are a large number of Asian actors who could play The Ancient One — they didn’t need to hire Tilda Swinton. The director’s argument that there was a lot of Asian stereotyping in the comics (which was what they were trying to avoid by casting Swinton) rings hollow — is he saying they could not have rewritten the part so it wasn’t objectionable?

Having just rewatched Iron Man 2 and Captain America: Civil War, I remembered exactly why I started watching the movies in the first place. I was talked into going to see the first Iron Man movie because I love Robert Downey, Jr. What I love about him is simple: he is a very attractive man who nonetheless does not try to appear younger than he is. Downey is proof that people can still stay sexy after they pass their 30th birthday. After that, I was hooked.

Having suffered through three different Spidermen (Andrew Garfield, Tobey McGuire, and the guy who played him in the television show in the 70s), I am both relieved and happy that somebody  finally got it right. Tom Holland looks like a teenager, and moves like one, and swings through the air with grace and power. Of course, I am sure that Holland was one of the leads in the West End production of Billy Elliot doesn’t hurt.

Speaking of that, Holland falls into the “actors we never realized were British (or Welsh, or Aussie) until we saw them at the Oscars” category.

Speaking of the Oscars, or awards in general, at the Independent Spirit awards I heard actress make a cutting comment about “action movies starring guys named Chris.” Which I guess covers Chris Evans (Captain America), Chris Hemsworth, (Thor), Chris Pratt (Star Lord in the Guardians of the Galaxy) and Chris Pine (James T. Kirk). If you stretched your definitions, that would also include Christian Bale (Batman). The next MCU movies has three Chrises in it: Evans, Pine, and Pratt.  I am looking forward to it, nonetheless.

Only six weeks to go.

 

 

 

 

 

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God help us. Especially people like me.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting, Donald Trump has suggested bringing back mental institutions.

Dear God.

Mental institutions were, in some cases, horrible places. And if Trump had his way, you could “nab people like [the shooter] because… they knew something was off.”

People would be tossed in a mental hospital if others thought “something was off.” This loose standard has been used in American history to institutionalize not only the severely mentally ill but also troublemakers, many times being women.

I’m lucky, I have family who would not ever place me in such an institution. But what about others? How would they cope?

How would the asylums be administered? Would they be another get-rich scheme abetted by the government, like the prison industrial complex? Would there be financial incentives for holding on to patients? Would the asylums be like nursing homes, with the same possibility for abuse that so often escapes accountability?

I know I am in no danger of being carted away, but the increasing stigma in society as demonstrated by attitudes following various shootings (including by the administration) makes keeping to my commitment to living as an “out” mentally ill person harder.

That this suggestion comes from an administration which made it easier for the severely mentally ill to get guns and which has shown no commitment to adequately fund care for the mental illness and substance abuse is the rankest hypocrisy. Of course, Trump is not suggesting reopening mental institutions from any actual concern for the mentally ill — that’s not part of the equation here. No, this suggestion comes from the mistaken and bigoted belief that the mentally ill are violent and a danger to the rest of society. It doesn’t matter that most of the mentally ill are not violent and that mentally ill persons are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Some shooters are mentally ill, so let’s lock all of them up.

Because an individual commits an act of violence does not by itself mean that they are mentally ill.  But while most of the mass killers may or may not be mentally ill, they are undeniably pretty much all male, and white, and young. Maybe we should just lock up all young white men.

That would make about as much sense.

 

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If you have seen the movie The Monuments Men (which I loved, although the critics didn’t), you know that the Nazis seized the Ghent altarpiece from St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. The movie showed this as evidence of the evil rapaciousness of the Nazis as they mowed their way across Europe.

What the movie doesn’t tell you, although the book upon which it is based briefly does, is that at the time of the First World War, several of the panels from the wings were owned by the German state. In the 19th century, the cathedral had pawned the panels, which after a couple of owners had been bought by the King of Prussia.

During World War I, the Germans seized other panels, but not the entire work. At the end of the war, the Germans were forced to turn over all the panels they had, including panels that they had rightfully owned prior to 1918 to Belgium as war reparations. This act of (arguably) cultural looting by the Allies was part of the driving impetus behind Hitler’s coveting of the work.

I am not trying to exonerate the Nazis for their looting of Europe. But history is strange, and the Treaty of Versailles really was a cruel and unforgiving document.

And it is useful to remember that the sins you commit can come back to you, either as an individual, a nation, or a group of nations.

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Miscellaneous musings, Olympic edition.

I had thought of writing a post condemning Mike Pence’s appallingly boorish behavior at the opening ceremonies but decided I didn’t want to waste that many words on him. Suffice it to say that he insulted our allies, embarrassed our country, and showed a lack of appropriate decorum and understanding of the international norms of proper behavior in such situations.

True confession: I love curling. I love curling so much that I felt motivated to look up and see if there was anywhere around me that gave curling lessons. I mean, this area produces loads of figure skaters and it has a hockey team, so ice sports come naturally, right? Alas, the only curling club I could locate is in Oakland, which is too far.

I should be in bed, but as I write this I am sitting up watching the men’s gold-medal curling match between the US and Sweden. I’m yawning so hard I’m leaking tears, but I can’t seem to tear myself away.

I try not to use terms like “crazy” or “insane” casually. They are too loaded.  But damn if the big-air snowboarders don’t make that hard. I watch them fly off the end of what looks just like a ski-jumping hill and twist and turn and corkscrew, and the only thing I can think is “Jesus, that looks just insane.”

Dave Geherty, a golf commentator which for some reason was in studio to give his views, gave his explanation of how ski-jumping started. According to Geherty, it had to have involved someone saying “Here, hold my beer.” This accords with what I’ve always thought.

I have a hierarchy of who I root for:

The Americans.
The host country, usually.(Not the Russians in 2014, though, and possibly not the Chinese in 2022.)
The Canadians, except in ice hockey.
Athletes from countries that aren’t Winter Olympic powerhouses, like women bobsledders from Nigeria and Jamaica and figure skaters from Kazakhstan.
Athletes whose medals will be significant for their countries: I was delighted at Javier Fernandez’s bronze, the first-ever figure skating medal for Spain.
Athletes from countries that are dear to my heart: the Spanish, the Kiwis, the Brits, and the Dutch. I root against the Dutch in speed-skating, though, because no country should have that much of a dominance in a discipline. (We’ll not talk about the US and snowboarding.)

Biggest disappointment of the games: the revelations about Shaun White’s history of sexual harassment. It always hurts when someone you thought of as one of the good guys proves not to be so.

Biggest delight of the games: a three-way tie between Adam Rippon’s performance in the team figure skating event, the US women’s hockey gold, and Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall’s gold medal in the cross-country sprint relay. It was the first gold medal ever for the US in cross-country skiing. It was also the most exciting finish to any event I’ve watched this Olympics.

Favorite US athlete: that’s hard, but it’s probably Adam Rippon. Or else Erin Jackson, the speed skater who started on ice in 2016. (She had been an inline skater, but still… to go on ice skates for the first time in October 2016 and be skating in the Olympics 18 months later is impressive.)

Favorite non-US athlete: Hannah Ledecka, the Czech snowboarder who also won the women’s Super G. Her look when she saw she had won by .01 of a second was priceless. Or perhaps the aforementioned Nigerian bobsled team, who didn’t medal but who did perform respectably.

Favorite event I only heard of in the past two weeks: team relay luge. Of all the sports that you have relays in, luge strikes me as making the least sense. Therefore, I find it fascinating.

One of the things I love is the sound of the Olympics: the swish of skates on ice, the rattle of bobsleds hurtling down the run, the clash of hockey sticks, the broad Midwestern accents of the men’s curling team.

Ah, well. Another 48 hours, and I’ll have to wait four more years to get such a concentrated dose of very athletic people spinning on the ice or flipping through the air.

I can hardly wait for Beijing, 2022.

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