The Leftovers Left Behind

Was it really?...yes, it was, over a month ago that I talked about the HBO series The Leftovers. See this post. Here's the basic idea:

It's a strange and interesting premise:  what if a great many people suddenly just vanished, right in the middle of ordinary activities, poof, there one moment and gone the next? Something like the Rapture, but with absolutely no discernible pattern or meaning? Or explanation. How would the people still here--the leftovers--react? What sort of cultural pathologies might develop? 

At the time I'd seen two of the three seasons and was undecided about it: "sort of recommended, but with reservations" was the way I put it. 

Now I've seen the third season and have decided: not recommended. Rob G disagrees with me about whether the third season redeems the second or not. And as I mentioned in that earlier post the show was apparently loved by most critics. So don't take my word for it (not that you would). But all in all I found it disappointing and frequently annoying. A great many of the plot turns made no sense to me, turns for the sake of turns. And I didn't find most of the characters very interesting. I will say for the third season that it didn't leave me feeling like I'd sat through a very long shaggy dog story: at least one extremely important question is answered, so that was a relief.

I can, however, recommend the show without reserve to anyone who feels that he doesn't hear the f-word often enough. Most of the characters use it relentlessly, almost compulsively. 


The Dangers of Being a Player

Perhaps you've heard of a little controversy involving First Things. It seems that the editor, R.R. Reno, issued a quarrelsome Twitter post or two in which he called people who wear the masks prescribed as COVID-19 preventatives "cowards." I was aware that he has been skeptical and even scornful about the way the pandemic has been handled, and that some people were pretty annoyed with him on that score. But there was apparently quite an outcry about the "cowards" business, resulting in a lot of discussion about the magazine, its history and future. 

Here's Rod Dreher on the matter. (And here is his account of the initial explosion, if you aren't already aware of it and want to know.) 

When First Things appeared in the '90s I read it occasionally and liked it. But I didn't subscribe because (1) many of its articles were too academic for me, by which I mean they assumed a level of education that I don't have, and (2) it seemed to have a sort of program which I did not entirely buy into. That program was generally identified as neoconservatism. And I had many points of agreement with it. After all, I was and am in some literal sense a neoconservative in the strict sense of being one who was on the political left and moved to the right. But of course the term in practice encompassed and implied much more than that, so I didn't apply it to myself.

But I was bothered by something deeper than that, something I was only vaguely aware of and never gave much thought to. A sentence in Dreher's post (the first one linked above) gave me an abrupt realization:

Neuhaus’s great triumph with First Things came from his aspiration to make it a political player. He succeeded.

Yes, and that was the problem. When you want to be a player, you have to cultivate alliances, flatter this one and shun that one, calculate your position, keep a close eye on what people are saying about you and whether or not they are people who matter...on and on. I don't say that it's an indefensible thing. Maybe you can advance good causes that way. Maybe you can't accomplish anything much in the world without doing at least some of that. But it's not for me, and I think the scent of it--the impression that Neuhaus and company enjoyed that game, took pleasure in hobnobbing with the high and mighty--always bothered me.

Well, it's easy for me to criticize; I couldn't do that stuff even if I wanted to. I'm just not made that way. But, my personal qualities or lack thereof aside, the effort to become a "player" as a means of advancing the Gospel, or, more mundanely, of advancing political causes that you see as advancing the Gospel, poses obvious dangers. Dreher points out (the first post I linked to above is very much worth reading), and I think he's probably right, that the identification of First Things and neoconservatism in general with the Republican party has really damaged the effectiveness of the magazine even within the scope of Christian politics. The identification of so many prominent "public" Christians, including many of those at First Things, with Donald Trump has done even more. 

I don't mean the simple act of voting for Trump. In 2016 you had a choice between Trump and Clinton. In 2020 you will probably have a choice between Trump and Biden. (Let's ignore the third-party option; anyone who takes that road understands that his candidate has no chance of winning.) Given that choice, there are plenty of good reasons to vote for Trump. What I mean, what's doing the damage, is not that, but the fanatical embrace of Trump as righteous prophet-savior ordained by God to lead his nation, and Christians in particular, out of the wilderness. This is just the right-wing counterpart of the left's Obama-worship. And both, as I keep saying, are symptoms of a very bad development in American politics: the elevation of the presidency into the role of god-king incarnating the soul and will of the nation. You can hardly get more un-American than that.

More significantly for the fortunes of Christianity in America, though: when idols fall, those who have embraced them fall with them.


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Revisited

I really enjoyed it this time. (See this post from a week and a half ago for background.)

It's been over ten years since my first viewing of it. Wondering now about my mostly negative reaction then, I vaguely recall that we (my wife and I) were watching it at night and I was sleepy long before the end of its nearly three hours. Also, at the time we had an old CRT television, not especially big and of the old nearly square proportions. So the wide-screen picture, formatted for CinemaScope or whatever it was, was squeezed into a smallish rectangle in the middle of the screen. And the layout of the room was such that I was relatively far away. We finally made the switch to a flat-screen a few years ago, and although it isn't very large, my favored chair is very close to it. And I have a halfway decent sound bar setup  for the audio, and as we all know the score is an important part of this film.

So on this viewing I got something much, much closer to the visual experience of seeing it in a theater, and it did draw me in immediately in a way that it certainly did not before.

I still have some reservations--Tuco's almost comic villain laugh, for instance. And Eastwood's strong silent narrow-eyed menace is laid on too heavily. And I can certainly understand the revulsion of some contemporary critics at its violence. It's not really an improvement in our culture that we've now seen so much worse. It veers pretty close to nihilism, pulled back from that brink by the minimal but solid ethical code of Blondie ("the Good"). The treatment of the Civil War as a more or less meaningless struggle between more or less interchangeable forces is very much of its time, and of time since. I'm sure a great deal has been said by critics about the interplay of American Western and 20th century European sensibilities and culture in that vision. 

It's not among my favorite films, but I see its appeal and its strengths now. And I want to see the two Leone-Eastwood predecessors in the "Dollars" trilogy. 


What Happened In the 1960s?

NOTE: the essay itself has been removed for the moment. Explanation later.

As some readers of this blog know, I've written a book which is part memoir and conversion story, part cultural history of the phenomenon we call "the Sixties." I have a certain amount of evidence that the attempt is not really successful. It's too long, for one thing: somewhere around 130,000 words, which makes it comparable in length to The Seven Storey Mountain (a book which I thought too long when I read it--so why did I think I could make one of equal length interesting?) I have a version which chops out most of the discursive social-philosophical-religious stuff, leaving something that's basically a memoir, and kind of a so-so one in my opinion. It's doubtful that either is going to see the light of publication day. 

In the first version, there's a long chapter which is a sort of bridge between my life up until I left home for college, and my plunge into the '60s cultural revolution. It attempts to describe the forces that made the revolution happen, the conditions in the mid-'60s which made many of us who were growing up at the time join that movement. I cut it out entirely from the second version of the book. But I think it's a worthwhile reading of those times and the way they led us to this time. So I cut it down by several thousand words, removing personal stuff, and leaving something that I hoped might interest a magazine.

Well, that didn't work out. I shopped it to half a dozen magazines and got no interest. So: one reason for having a web site in the first place is that one can publish whatever one damn well pleases. I've now posted the essay here, not as a blog post but as a standalone page. You can get an idea of what it's about from the original title: "The Tube, the Bomb, and the Closed World." Those are three of the factors I hold to have been of great importance in producing the revolution. The third one refers to the metaphysical closure of the Western mind over the past couple of centuries. As I say in the opening of the essay, understanding the phenomenon of "the Sixties" is important to understanding the culture war which it set in motion.

I should warn you that it's just under 4000 words long, which is rather lengthy for online reading. (The close approximation to 4000 is not an accident: that's the maximum acceptable length for articles at one of the magazines I sent it to.)


Daniel Taylor: Death Comes for the Deconstructionist

I just finished this wonderful book. You should read it. 

I'm busy with, among several other things, trying to put a mobile-friendly design for this blog into operation, so I'm not going to say a whole lot about it. I'll let the blurbs at the publisher, Slant Books, do that job for me: click here

Well, of course I can't resist saying something. Imagine, if you will [Rod Serling voice], a murder mystery written by Walker Percy. Imagine that it's Percy at his wittiest and most surgically painful and merciful. Like I said, you should read it.

DeathComesForTheDeconstructionist


I Think I'll Watch The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Again

No doubt avid readers of this blog will recall that eleven years ago I wrote about being disappointed in the Sergio Leone westerns ("I Have Failed to Become A Sergio Leone Fan"). The topic came up in the recent discussion about Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, and I started thinking I might give Leone another try. I didn't really expect that to happen anytime soon, though, as it was only available on DVD, my wife isn't interested in seeing it again, and our Netflix DVD list is very long.

So along comes this commentary on The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by Kyle Smith at National Review. (The review contains spoilers, by the way, though I guess that's not very important for a fifty-year-old work.) Besides being interesting, it mentions that the movie is now available for streaming on Netflix. So more or less out of curiosity, I watched the first few minutes of it last night, and was very much drawn in. I will report when I've finished it.

I must say that the very and justifiably famous opening title music is almost ruined for me by the silly-sounding "wah WAH wah," which sounds like a comedian imitating a trombone. I'm sure there are recordings of it that use some instrument there instead. 

Kyle Smith, by the way, is a critic whom I consider interesting and worth reading but not entirely trustworthy. That's because he disrespected Bergman a while back. 


Trump Didn't Say That

The title would be applicable at least once a week. In a comment on some current-event-related post a while back, Janet said "Don't make me defend Trump." I find myself in that position a lot. So do enough people, I guess, that the Babylon Bee did a post about it

It's maddening. I really haven't changed my negative view of Trump. But the unrelenting effort by Democrats to destroy him by, apparently, any means necessary, makes me at least a little sympathetic toward him. Or at least toward the truth which is such a frequent casualty in this war.

I'm thinking right now of the insane bit of controversy that's happened over the past few days. Trump wondered out loud whether disinfectants should be studied as possible measures against COVID-19. That was immediately turned into "Crazy Trump Tells People to Drink Disinfectant." And then they warned people not to do it. As if the idea would ever have occurred to anyone without the help of the press.

If you want to read a careful account of what Trump actually said and the way it was handled, read this piece by Andrew McCarthy: The Times Inflates Trump's Foolishness Into Monstrousness

How depressing is the erosion of the principle that when the president of the United States speaks, it means something, that it’s not just stream-of-consciousness that willy-nilly gets revised or reversed or treated like he never really said it. Just as depressing, though, is the media’s abandonment of straightforward fact reporting, in favor of unabashed alliance with Trump’s political opposition.

Why do blind partisans and demagogues have such sway these days? Because no one can trust the reporting of institutions we used to expect would give us an accurate rendition of the facts being debated....

When the president speaks publicly, he should stick to what he is in a position to convey factually, not hypothetically. Especially when it comes to scientific and medical information, as to which he is quickly out of his depth.

At the same time, no matter how much the press abhors Trump, no matter how sincerely believed its conviction that he is a dangerous man who will induce people to do dangerous things, reporters worthy of the name do not have license to portray Trump as living down to their worst fears when he has not. If he says dumb things, they should report that he said dumb things. That’s bad enough (and since they’re clearly hoping to hurt him politically, nothing stings like the truth). The press destroys its own credibility, however, by reporting the president’s ill-advised remarks as if they were culpably, recklessly irresponsible remarks.

I don't care much about Trump's political fortunes for Trump's sake, but I do care about the transformation of most of the national press into a weapon for his enemies, because it means that the institutions which are supposed to inform us, and are always eager to preen themselves upon their own importance, have more or less abandoned that duty where domestic politics is concerned. When I said "Democrats" earlier, I meant the word to include most of the media. As McCarthy says, "No one can trust the reporting." And as a journalist of another time used to say, "That's the way it is." 

TrumpSaysEatYourGrassAnd by the way Al Gore never claimed to have invented the Internet.


Going mobile, maybe

That's "mobile" as in The Who's song, "mo" as in "mo better," "bile" as in liver. I am at long last trying out one of TypePad's mobile-friendly templates. I know I dislike reading this blog on a phone, and I figure other people do, too. I've created a partial copy of this blog which you can view at https://lightondarkwater.typepad.com/tester/. It's strictly a test now--the banner image doesn't appear properly, for one thing. And I don't necessarily plan to stick with those colors. Basically at this point I just want to know if it's a big improvement in readability. I'd also like to know if you think the larger typeface is more readable on your computer, if you're reading it that way. Comments are closed (I hope) because I don't want to have them on both blogs. Thanks for any assistance. 


Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

This is not the sort of movie that I usually go out of my way to see. As far as I can remember I don't think I've ever seen an entire Quentin Tarentino film, just parts of Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill, more of the former than the latter. Nothing that I've read about his work has made me think I'd like it, though I did find much of what I did see of Pulp Fiction enjoyable. What made me seek this one out was a review which said it was a great picture of Los Angeles in the late '60s.

Not that I was anywhere near Los Angeles in the late '60s. But I certainly have a weak spot for pictures of that period, and by "pictures" I mean pictures--photographs and films taken at the time. So I thought I might enjoy this movie for that reason if no other. I've been much preoccupied lately with the way the passing of people who have lived in a particular time and place means that it is truly lost to memory, and I find myself enjoying those memories. Yes, it's nostalgia, but there's also an irrational sense that by refreshing and expanding my own memories I'm somehow keeping that world real and alive.

Anyway: there are two things to note about the title of this movie. First, the allusion to the Sergio Leone Western, Once Upon A Time in the West. The protagonist, or one of them, of the Tarentino film is an aging Hollywood star who's being offered a chance to revive his career by acting in spaghetti Westerns. Second, "once upon a time" is, as everyone over a certain age knows (I fear the young do not), the way to begin a fairy tale, and this is in a sense a fairy tale.

The aging star, Rick Dalton and his stunt double, Cliff Booth, played by Leonardo di Caprio and Brad Pitt, respectively, are buddies, though the relationship is also master-and-servant to some degree. They are old-time movie and TV people, most well-known for a TV series called Bounty Law. But the series has been cancelled for some years, and Dalton is more or less a has-been. 

He's still rich, though. It's 1969 and he lives on Cielo Drive. If that rings a bell, it's because it was the street on which Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate lived when the latter and several others were murdered by the Manson gang. Dalton lives next door to them, and yes, that is vitally important to the plot. 

I was a little hesitant about seeing this movie, knowing that it involved the Manson murders, which have always been especially disturbing to me because of their association with the counter-culture and its favored drugs, and knowing Tarentino's reputation for depicting violence. And without giving away too much I will say that there are some five to ten minutes of pretty graphic violence, but will also direct your attention again to the title. By far most of the film's 2 hours and 40 minutes are spent on the doings of Dalton and Booth, the trials of the former trying to revive his career and the latter simply trying to get a job and to do what he can as a friend to Rick--and, importantly, to George Spahn, owner of the Spahn Movie Ranch, which is home to the Manson family.

A good bit of time is spent on the two of them, or some other combination of people, driving around Los Angeles in Dalton's Cadillac while the radio plays various well-known and not-so-well-known songs from the time. (I would be surprised to learn that Buffy Saint-Marie's version of "The Circle Game" was on AM radio. Not in Alabama it wasn't. According to Wikipedia, it reached #109 on the Billboard charts, so maybe it got played a bit in California.)

Booth pays a memorable visit to the Manson family. And Sharon Tate goes to the movies. I think that scene is what I'm going to remember most about this movie. On a shopping errand she passes a theater which is showing a junk movie in which she appears (The Wrecking Crew: Dean Martin as Matt Helm, secret agent). Delighted to see her name and picture on the advertisements, she coaxes the theater staff into giving her free admission (as though she could not afford it), and watches the movie with effervescent childlike delight, like a little girl thrilled at seeing herself in a home movie. It's a sweet, silly, poignant moment, and I hope Sharon Tate really was something like that. 

I gather that a typical culture wars sort of argument has taken place over Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Dalton and Booth are the good guys here, and they're also pretty reactionary, griping about the damn hippies. Some liberals took offense at this, some conservatives applauded it. I didn't really see it that way. I mean, it's there, but for one thing, the Manson family surely was as creepy, frightening, and disgusting as they are portrayed here. And for another, Dalton and Booth certainly look good and admirable in comparison to homicidal maniacs, but they are drunken hedonists, not exactly Knights of the West riding against the Dark Lord. 

Sorry if this is a little disjointed. I've been trying to get to it for a couple of days and may not have another chance for another couple of days. Final word: I greatly enjoyed this film; it did not seem too long at all (which I rather expected it would); I want to see it again.


Divine Mercy Sunday

Maybe it's my thoroughly Protestant roots, but I've never been entirely comfortable with certain aspects of Catholicism. Indulgences and related things are among them. But I am devoted to the idea, at least, of the Divine Mercy devotions, because I feel myself to be in such need of mercy. Janet posted this on Facebook, and I'm not entirely comfortable with everything the priest says here. But I was arrested by the phrase "Not too much mercy."

I don't think I've ever made an "act of perfect contrition." Yeah, I've said the words, but knowing they weren't 100% true. But I try. 

I did watch a televised (crudely, via what I assume to be iPhone video) Mass today. I really have a lot of difficulty with that; it just feels wrong in some elemental way. I certainly don't feel a part of it, and the few times I've tried to say the prayers and other parts that the congregation normally says, I felt like I was in some crazy Oral Roberts type thing, where he tells you to put your hand on the TV to receive a healing. But it seems important not to let go of Sunday Mass, even if watching it on TV is more of a statement than a participation.