EDITOR’S NOTE: We end this year by each taking a look back and picking our five best posts, explaining both their importance to us and to the world we currently live in. Clicking the banner images will link you to each post, so as 2015 comes to a close join us in remembering how far we’ve come, but also how far we still have to go.
Somewhere in our collective history someone decided to depict God as a bearded, old human, dwelling in the clouds above. The trend caught on and has been going strong for the past couple millennia. As ubiquitous as this portrayal of the almighty has become, we argue that this imagery is the root of some of the worst theology (and art, music, and video) out there today, and how problematic it’s become for both the believer and non-believer alike.
Few images have so perfectly captured the abject and hellish misery of war than this year’s photograph of the body of Aylan Kurdi- only 3 years old. A would-be refugee from the ongoing conflict in Syria, Aylan and his brother drowned after an overcrowded boat capsized during a desperate attempt to reach Europe. The photograph evokes the deepest feelings of sadness for the dead and sympathy for the living- but crucially missing from the emotional equation is anger. Read on to discover why pity for refugees simply doesn’t cut it. Continue reading →
Whimsical genius behind countless best-selling novels and comic books. Creative cadre to such literary giants as Terry Pratchett and Alan Moore. Champion of the plight of Syrian refugees. Perhaps one of the great authors of this time, with tales and yarns extending from the worlds of realism to science fiction to fantasy.
In many respects, a modern-day C.S. Lewis, with his ability to make the magical and divine seem every much as real and accessible as anything in the waking world.
Now for the unaware, Lucifer is a comic book series spin-off of Gaiman’s fantastical masterpiece Sandman. Dealing largely with themes of free will and fate, the series sees its titular character abdicate his infernal throne and become a beach-bum in Australia.
The series has been loosely (but still earnestly) adapted by FOX, with the show’s premier airing at this year’s ComicCon and a three minute trailer released for the public at large. Continue reading →
EDITOR’S NOTE: We end this year by each taking a look back and picking our five best posts, explaining both their importance to us and to the world we currently live in. Clicking the banner images will link you to each post, so as 2014 comes to a close join us in remembering how far we’ve come, but also how far we still have to go.
The rise of ISIS/ISIL/IS/”The Terrorist Organization Formerly Known as Prince” has driven a number of issues to the forefront of public discourse. “After 13 years of continual war, should the US embroil itself in yet another conflict?”, “Is lesser-evilism to be accepted in the form of the Assad regime?”, and perhaps most interestingly, “What should be the Christian response to the slaughter of score upon score of Iraqi Christians?”
One of the more divisive stories of the year was the rescue of Sargent Bowe Bergdahl, who hadn’t even set foot in the US again before being lambasted as a traitor and a coward of the worst breed. I argue that, had Bergdahl died in captivity, the very same people who’ve shouted themselves hoarse with accusations would be sobbing and lamenting over his loss. Bergdahl’s sin, like so many American military men and women, is that he survived one of America’s wars, and, in returning, serves as a reminder of the true cost of conflict, sacrifice, and hubris.
One of the last posts of the year, I decided to include my tirade against CNN’s Don Lemon not because of what he is now, but what I think he might become. His general obliviousness and gutlessness make him a bad journalist, to be sure, but the streak of relentless pettiness he’s demonstrated (see the aftermath of his Cosby-rape comments or his Reza Aslan interview) make him downright dangerous. Lemon seems to have pattern of grasping for anything to cover his ass when he gets caught in a mistake, often leading him to rely on the worst abuses of his position to defend himself. In the coming year, I can only imagine that Lemon’s “sail-with-the-wind” ethics will make him one of the most negative forces in our culture. If he weren’t so corrosive, I might almost look forward to that.
For all the sins of Western Christianity (and they aren’t few), I truly believe that it has, as both a religion and culture, been ruthlessly strawmanned by its critics over the years. In this post, I attempted to draw up some of the worst (or at least, most popular) stereotypes of Christianity and explain just how wrong and unfair they are. I argue that the general laziness in the portrayals of Christians and Christianity is not only inaccurate, but gives the real issues a free pass. As this culture drifts further and further away from a common religious heritage, I think it’s more important than ever to ensure that everybody gets a fair break.
Since most of my posts (okay, all of them) tend to focus on what I don’t like, I figured I’d end on what I do– and that came to us in the form of our new installment “Surprise Witness”. Here, we got to defend an aspect of culture which we think actually has some value, and although Evan and I only tested it out once this year, I’m hoping we can incorporate it a lot more in 2015. With it being so easy to paint things in strokes of only good and bad (and nobody’s more guilty of that than I), being able to glean something decent from our cultural refuse should be a good exercise for us all.
So what’s this all mean for us?
Looking back, it seems that we’re becoming more introspective as a culture. More and more, it seems that we are becoming actively involved in voicing our views and values, and turning criticism inwards on ourselves. How we deal with race, sexuality, power, faith, ethics- these are all rising to the forefront of our discourse. In spite of what some have argued, the Culture Wars are far from over. If anything, they’re just getting started and I, for one, am looking forward to that.
Roughly six years ago I sat in a guest house in London, England, and complained to a Korean friend about not being attractive. It’s funny seeing it typed out now, and it wasn’t so starkly apparent at the time, but that’s exactly what I was worried about. We were studying abroad with a group of mostly White classmates from a predominantly White liberal arts college, and as an eighteen-year-old I had dating on the mind. That, and the beginnings of the idea that things might not be so easy for me given the colour of my skin.
And unlike John Cho and his suit, my skin does not peel away to reveal more equally-good-looking skin underneath.
My primary source was media and pop culture, and how interracial relationships weren’t showcased much, if at all [not much has changed, 2009!]. I suggested that this might create a life-imitating-art situation, where young non-hyphenated-American women might not be as open to the idea of getting together with an Asian guy due to never seeing it on screens small or large. He brought up that he’d had no problems in the past [being musical, and with that bone structure?], as well as the more damning evidence that neither had I. With that I left the topic of conversation alone, not entirely convinced or at peace with the whole thing.
I’ve ragged on Christians and Christianity alike, both in practice and doctrine, and I’ve never felt unjustified in doing so. Nevertheless, and for all its issues, it really can’t be denied that in the past 20 to 30 years the religion’s really gotten the short end of the stick. In the interest of equity to all, we’re going to spend some time hashing out some of the more popular portrayals of Christians and explaining why they’re unfair, inaccurate, or even just plain spiteful.
There was an episode of Weeds (gah- there’s hours of my life I’ll never get back) depicting the creation of this megachurch in the suburb that the show was (at first, anyways) largely centered on satirizing. And that’s fair; these things do exist, and usually in the wealthier, WASPier neighborhoods of this nation. And that was all fine and well until the episode where the zealous church-goers started speaking in tongues.
EVAN: Today’s topic is something that I hold very near and dear to my heart. Years of research on the topic has made me witness to all of the arguments that can be used against needing to have racially accurate casting, and because of this I’m going to propose something a little different
EVAN: That I switch sides for this conversation, and speak out against it.
GORDON: Intriguing. Mind starting us off with the first salvo?
EVAN: Statement: Racially accurate casting is not important. The most talented actor should be the one who gets the role.
GORDON: Doesn’t appearance play a key role in what makes an actor good? Peter Dinklage is good, but you wouldn’t really find him believable playing Abraham Lincoln or Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
EVAN: In this case his stature, not his race, is what would keep him from playing either role in a convincing manner.
GORDON: But isn’t that essentially the same issue? Imagine the great Denzel Washington playing Lincoln- you’d be sitting there the entire time, no matter how much of a powerhouse Washington would be, taken out of the film because you have to deal with a black guy playing a white guy during the height of the civil war.
In any piece of film where you’re expecting realism, you’re going to expect the actors to conform to the styles and facts of the time. If you portray Georgia in the 1960s, you’re obviously not going to have a largely black cast portraying the upper class or if you were to set the scene in early 1900s Ghana you wouldn’t have a cast comprised of Caucasians. It wouldn’t make sense, no matter how good they are.
EVAN: If anything, Cloud Atlas at least proves that a talented actor can portray whoever they like, given an adequate amount of makeup. Halle Berry plays a Korean Man in the film, and does so in a convincing fashion that doesn’t at all take viewers out of the film in the least.
GORDON: I haven’t seen that film, so I can’t speak to the use of the actors for the parts they play. From my understanding that was a work of fantasy (or science fiction, I’m only going off what I can gather from the trailers). And in one or two movies, it’s probably not a big deal. After all, Cate Blanchett played Bob Dylan.
But imagine this applied to each and every movie, it simply wouldn’t work. Realism would deteriorate- and this would be especially detrimental in a film trying to deal directly with race relations.
EVAN: I personally feel that allowing any race to play any other speaks much more in terms of race relations. That’s a world where colour is a non-issue because it shouldn’t be.
EVAN:I’m dying, Gordon. My life force is seeping out of me.
GORDON: Try to stick with it…
GORDON: And while it’s true that race ought to be a non-issue, that’s simply not how things are or have been in the past. Using black actors to play black characters and white actors to play white characters is fundamental to demonstrating past inequity and injustice with American racism and segregation. And that’s just one element.
Let’s talk about Indians playing Arabs. It happened in Lost and it happened in Community (with multiple actors), but Arabs look nothing like Indians. Indian actors are used simply because they fit the stereotype of what most people think an Arab looks like. It perpetuates an inaccuracy.
EVAN: Isn’t the fact that the role is an Arab important a large enough step? This is a minority with a major role on a TV show, and an opportunity for minority actors to step up, which they have in both cases.
GORDON: Barring Monk and Arrested Development, when’s the last time you saw an Arab actor? I’m not trying to argue against Indian actors, or actors of Indian heritage getting roles, but for the purpose of portraying the world as it is (or at least with some realism) we should have actors with some vague resemblance to the people they’re portraying on film.
After all, would you not be thrown off by guys with German accents playing French resistance fighters during WWII?
EVAN: If they had German accents then they simply wouldn’t be right for the role, which brings me back to my first point.
GORDON: Which, by proxy, brings us back to my first response. Ethnicity (depending on the situation) is just as valid an element of a guy’s candidacy for a role dealing directly with ethnicity as accents, or height, or any other factor (actual talent, of course, being the most important).
Vincent Cassel should probably not play Malcolm X. Adrien Brody should probably not play the Queen of England, though that would be pretty funny.
EVAN: If we’re going to stick with believability, than why is it so important that Indians not play Arabs? No one has ever made a big deal out of this, so clearly people believe that they are what their role calls them to be-
Likewise a Korean can to play a Chinese person can play a Japanese person. Audiences can’t tell the difference and believe that they are whatever the role is, and that’s okay.
GORDON: But Koreans do not look Chinese, Chinese people don’t look Japanese, and Arabs and Indians certainly don’t look like each other. The only reason this happens is because most people either don’t know (partly due to this inaccurate casting) or don’t care (in other words, all non-whites are basically one homogenous mass.
If all your life, you had seen black men and been told “these are Uzbekistanis,” then you’d go your whole life simply assuming that Uzbekistanis are, in fact, indiscernible from guys from Benin.
Your ignorance should not dictate which actors get which parts. Further, no Uzbekistan could really ever get a chance to play and Uzbekistani because of the years of misinformation.
EVAN: But there is a huge difference between a black person and an Uzbekistani. The examples I made have similarities that the example you used clearly does not.
To be such a stickler for accuracy is the other extreme, and just as wrong. You wouldn’t get someone with mental problems to accurately portray a character with mental problems, that just doesn’t make sense. Race should matter if it is noticeable, and like I said in the case of shows like Lost it is not.
EVAN: The logic above was used against me by someone in a thread on Reddit You can check out our exchange here.
GORDON: Granted, my example was extreme, but that doesn’t change the point. Even though a Thai guy and a Japanese guy share more similarities than a Beninese guy and an Uzbekistani guy, there are still distinct differences between people from Thailand and people from Japan.
With regards to being a stickler- I admit, as I have previously, that you don’t have to have an exact replica of the character you’re trying to portray. Jet Li, I imagine, is doing pretty well for himself, and I still wouldn’t doubt his ability to portray a poor man very well. However, while you don’t need to be point for point, you do need to have some general similarity. That’s why we don’t have Emma Stone portraying Fidel Castro.
EVAN: I feel like the extremeness of your examples is damaging your point. If we’re sticking with race we should do that, and not bring in gender.
GORDON: It’s to demonstrate the underlying point in all of this: Verisimilitude. Realism. Accuracy.
EVAN: And since you said “you don’t have to have an exact replica of the character you’re trying to portray” why isn’t it okay to have Naveen Andrews play Sayid Jarrah on Lost?
GORDON: But the distinction is great enough. The accent is Indian, not Iraqi. Naveen does not look Iraqi. When an actor neither looks nor sounds like the character he is meant to portray, we have a problem.
EVAN: So if Jarrah had managed to sound Iraqi, would that have helped?
GORDON: It would’ve added to the realism and accuracy, yes. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s very clearly Indian, not Arab.
EVAN: Clear to a very select few. As mentioned, people didn’t seem to notice for the most part.
GORDON: Clear to a very select few. As mentioned, people didn’t seem to notice for the most part.
Most people don’t know what an Arab looks like. Do they know that Monk is Lebanese? That Cousin Maeby is Iraqi? Most do not. Ignorance is not an excuse for inaccurate casting.
EVAN: And that brings our exhausting exchange to an end. Trying to argue for something I so strongly disagree was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever done. I hope that in reading this you were able to see the holes in my argument and the truth in Gordon’s.
The past few paragraphs alone have had the same effect on Evan as that life-sucking device in the Princess Bride. Commend him for biting the bullet.
And as for our discussion next time, your options are: What do we make of the upcoming Star Wars sequel?
EVAN: And. . . how about . . . How much artistic merit is there in a show like Adventure Time?
GORDON: I like it.
And to our beloved and devoted followers (who would organize into a vicious and unholy army of darkness if we ever were to ask it of ’em), feel free to suggest your own topic down in the comments section.