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Nicholas Frankovich on Several Things

At National Review Online. Like so many other writers I’ve discovered at the magazine over the years, Nicholas Frankovich has become the guy to go to for the Catholic culture overview.

On Trump’s intrusion into sports:

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. A few months later, they went to the White House for the traditional round of presidential congratulations. Manny Ramirez was a no-show. Why? He didn’t like the president, George W. Bush, a baseball man himself, a former part-owner of the Texas Rangers? Sox officials said Ramirez was visiting his sick grandmother. Boston won the Series again a few years later, and the president invited the team back to the White House. Again, no Ramirez. Bush’s response? A shrug, a teasing smirk. “I guess his grandmother died again,” he said.

On the decline in Catholic Literature:

The traditional Catholicism that is the setting of that backward-looking novel included a lot of looking backward itself, of course. That’s what made Catholicism traditional. For believers immersed in the faith, the past was alive no less than the present. They could see ghosts. A heavyweight from the Norman Mailer generation of American letters once commented on the Catholic writers of her generation. They were sure of themselves, she recalled, though not preachy. Spend time with them and it was hard to escape the impression that they knew something you didn’t. That’s gone. So the flowers in the garden aren’t what they used to be? Blame the flowers if you like, but it remains the case that the soil has been depleted.

Here he is on reasoning behind the Novus Ordo:

In the 20th century, Church leaders began to advocate an effort, more deliberate and thorough than in the past, to enculturate the faith among the various nations of the Third World: Catholic missionaries should learn, and learn to love, local customs and languages and to translate the faith into forms that would be meaningful and appealing to indigenous peoples. Implicit in their argument was the need for the Church to pour the Romanità out of Catholicism so that vessel could accommodate the new wine of non-Western cultures.

Read Sacrosanctum Concilium (1963), the Vatican II blueprint for liturgical reform, and you will notice a lot of concern for the mission lands. References to them dot the document, and in their glow the reader is led to imagine that the point of the many broadly sketched recommendations is only sensible and moderate, generous but not extravagant.

In the mission lands, let bishops adapt the liturgy to local cultures. Trust their circumspection and sober judgment: “Provisions shall also be made, when revising the liturgical books, for legitimate variations and adaptations to different groups, regions, and peoples, especially in mission lands, provided that the substantial unity of the Roman rite is preserved; and this should be borne in mind when drawing up the rites and devising rubrics.”

No sooner had Western Catholics digested and largely shrugged in agreement to the gist of this plan for liturgical reform than they discovered that Rome now counted them, too, as inhabitants of mission lands, in effect. In America, English was introduced into the Mass by increments, which meant of course that Latin was ushered out at the same pace, until the process was complete in the fall of 1970.

The movement away from the sacred, classical language and toward the vernacular was accompanied by a corresponding change in tone and style, from solemn and formal to less solemn and less formal. William F. Buckley Jr. recorded for posterity a typical reaction of many a Catholic: both a sense of loss and a glum resolve not to be sour about it. Surely some good could come of this?

of Reruns of Reruns of Reruns of Reruns of Reruns of Reruns of Reruns of Reruns of Reruns of Reruns of

It'sNotCalledTheWheel

‘What else is there?’

Frames from Mad Men Episode 5.8, 'Lady Lazarus'

Frames from Mad Men Season 5, Episode 8, ‘Lady Lazarus’

Last season […] I was showing that the culture [of the United States in 1968] was like Don. It was carnal, it was anxious, it was having a huge self-confidence problem… And now [in Season Seven] I want to look at the material and immaterial world. Things that are of this world — ambition, success, money, and time to some degree — and the contrast of what we can’t see, the spiritual, the internal life… When your needs are met, when you have a roof over your head[…] and at a certain point those needs are met, what else is there?

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner on the show’s seventh (and final) season, which premieres this Sunday night; interview with amc.com dated April 7, 2014; emphasis added.

***

DON DRAPER (1960)

You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.

–Matthew Weiner, Mad Men, Season 1, Episode 1 (‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’)

***

DON DRAPER (1960)

Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of a road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is OK. You are OK.

–Matthew Weiner, Mad Men, Season 1, Episode 1 (‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’)

***

DON DRAPER (1967)

You’re happy because you’re successful… for now.  But what is happiness?  It’s a moment before you need more happiness.

–Andre Jacquemetton & Maria Jacquemetton, Mad Men, Season 5, Episode 12 (‘Commissions and Fees’)

***

ROGER STERLING (1967)

What are the events in life? It’s like, you see a door. The first time you come to it, you say, ‘Oh, what’s on the other side of the door?’ Then you open a few doors and then you say, ‘I think I want to go over a bridge this time. I’m tired of doors.’ Finally you go through one of these things, and you come out the other side, and you realize that’s all there are: doors! And windows and bridges and gates. And they all open the same way. And they all close behind you. Look, life is supposed to be a path, and you go along, and these things happen to you, and they’re supposed to change your direction, but it turns out that’s not true.  Turns out the experiences are nothing. They’re just some pennies you pick up off the floor, stick in your pocket, and you’re just going in a straight line to you-know-where.

–Matthew Weiner, Mad Men, Season 6, Episode 1 (‘The Doorway, Part 1’)

***

DON DRAPER (1960)

I remember the first time I was a pallbearer. […] I remember thinking, ‘They’re letting me carry the box, they’re letting me be this close to it, they re not hiding anything from me now.’ And then I looked over and I saw all the old people waiting together by the grave and I remember thinking I… I just moved up a notch.

[…]

Jesus, Rachel, this is it. This is all there is, and I feel like it’s slipping through my fingers like a handful of sand. This is it. This is all there is.

–Bridget Bedard and Andre Jacquemetton & Maria Jacquemetton and Matthew Weiner, Mad Men, Season 1, Episode 10 (‘Long Weekend’)

***

What, after all, is the use of not having cancer, cirrhosis, and such, if a man comes home from work every day at five-thirty to the exurbs of Montclair or Memphis and there is the grass growing and the little family looking not quite at him but just past the side of his head, and there’s Cronkite on the tube and the smell of pot roast in the living room, and inside the house and outside in the pretty exurb has settled the noxious particles and the sadness of the old dying Western World, and him thinking: Jesus, is this it? Listening to Cronkite and the grass growing?

–Walker Percy, ‘Bourbon’, Esquire 84 (December 1975): pp. 148-149; collected in Signposts in a Strange Land

True Detective

Season Two

Crystal Blue Perdition

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Anyone getting psyched for the first of Breaking Bad‘s final eight (8) episodes could do worse than revisit this post from two years ago by a friend of Korrektiv. The commentary contained therein is still relevant, as is the link to the New York Times profile of the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan — a lapsed Catholic, in case you didn’t know (which reflects at least a few faint photons of glory on us). As an Extra Added Bonus, there’s a YouTube embed of an old (i.e., young) Bryan Cranston commercial for J.C. Penney that — at least for those of us not too familiar with the man’s pre-Walter White résumé — constitutes a real-life flashback as paradigm-shifting as anything on the show.

In case you didn’t click the first link above, here it is again.

And Hank exits the loo in 3… 2… 1…

The boys of…winter?

There seems to be something twitching in the cultural scalp that’s got so many folks itching about the fate of boyhood.

There’s this little gem from the fellow over at Wondermark which is just a hoot.

But it got me thinking about Hanna Rosin’s recent report in the Atlantic (WARNING: Much stripping of mystery and manners to the crude and obscene throughout):

One of the women had already seen the [porn] photo five times before her boyfriend showed it to her, so she just moved her pitcher of beer in front of his phone and kept on talking. He’d already suggested twice that night that they go to a strip club, and when their mutual friend asked if the two of them were getting married, he gave the friend the finger and made sure his girlfriend could see it, so she wouldn’t get any ideas about a forthcoming ring. She remained unfazed. She was used to his “juvenile thing,” she told me.

Which in turn reminded me of Jeff Minick’s piece in Chronicles (WARNING: much discussion of the restoration of mystery and manners throughout):

We begin by teaching boys from an early age the romance and adventure of life. How did the adolescent who played a high-minded knight-errant evolve into a sullen, nihilistic teenager? How did that same adolescent become the 30-year-old who wears his baseball cap backward, plays more video games than the teenager, and lives with his parents? Boys who come of age watching sex and violence in movies, or the cynicism offered by most television comedies, who listen to loveless music drenched in ugliness and despair, who possess no sense of responsibility or consequence, will likely join Peter Pan’s tribe of Lost Boys. To buck this trend, we must keep a vigilant watch on the culture. To grow men, we must teach our boys heroism, taking our models from literature, movies, and living examples.

Which in turn recalled that this book will be coming out sometime soon:

From his celebrated appearance, hatchet in hand, in Parson Mason Locke Weems’s Life of Washington to Booth Tarkington’s Penrod, the all-American boy was an iconic figure in American literature for well over a century. Sometimes he was a “good boy,” whose dutiful behavior was intended as a model for real boys to emulate. Other times, he was a “bad boy,” whose mischievous escapades could be excused either as youthful exuberance that foreshadowed adult industriousness or as deserved attacks on undemocratic pomp and pretension. But whether good or bad, the all-American boy was a product of the historical moment in which he made his appearance in print, and to trace his evolution over time is to take a fresh view of America’s cultural history, which is precisely what Larzer Ziff accomplishes in All-American Boy.

Spotted

Via Colossal, a cool blog about the art world.

Sometimes I think I’m too much of a fogey, because this, to me, is interesting but not significant.

Ars longa, caenum facile: Part II

The frisson between porn and lit continues…

On the face of it, this case pivots on a trivial legal distinction – to wit: “that simply viewing child porn on the Internet is not enough to prove its procurement or possession.”

But it has it’s roots in the deeply inhaled myth that pornography is just another art form – and as long as the perveyor is not directly harming another, well, we all know art has no affect on it’s audience, right?

Sed contra est, what one bloke from Rockford, Ill. has to say about it all:

Libertarians insist that these innocent fantasies do not lead to harm. After all, we know from a series of enlightened court rulings that the state has no interest in banning erotic novels if there are the slightest pretensions to literary merit – yes, an obvious reference to Lady Chatterley’s Lover. After all, moral questions can all be reduced to subjective value, can’t they?  

Libertarians put the case directly. We should enjoy the freedom to read or watch anything we like so long as no one has been demonstrably harmed. So, if a father of two little girls becomes aware that his next-door neighbor is addicted to virtual pornography depicting the rape, torture, and murder of little girls, it is none of his business. If people feed their imagination on images of sexual violence – as, by the way, so many sex offenders predictably do – this has absolutely no bearing on what kind of people they are or on the crimes they might some day be willing to commit.

What say you all?

Today in Literature*

 

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely
The pangs of despised love…

 The book is called “50 Shades of Grey” written by TV executive E.L. James and it’s apparently leaving quite a dust in its wake. It’s being kicked about as the latest political football in the culture wars and has raised as many eyebrows for who’s reading it as for its content. A genre of erotic literature, it is attracting women of all sorts because it’s heroine, Anastasia Steel, is drawn sympethetically. A young women in search of love – and finding Christian Grey (I’m not making these names up!), a powerful young executive with a penchant for whips and chains.

First there were “mommy bloggers” and now, thanks to 50 Shades, there’s “mommy porn.” I pray that never the twain shall meet.

But the books – there’s a trilogy of them – while clearly meant to draw a new line in the sand for sexual politics are also a barometer of our culture’s loss of creature, of mystery and of manners.  This loss is nowhere clearer than in the cultural saturation of pornography. The more sexual “freedom” we gain the more we lose any sense of ritual’s place in relations between the sexes. The prevailing – and often conflicting – concerns for equality, individuality and pleasure not only prevent courtship from occurring and have bottomed out relations between the sexes to the lowest, rawest and most explicit denominators: flesh and fornitication. These same forces have rendered men as boys incapable of courting women and likewise leaves women lonely and desperate for some sort of courtship ritual. I am reminded of what Mary Eberstadt, quoting Roger Scruton, recently pointed out in her excellent work “Adam and Eve after the Pill” (a review of which will be arriving anon):

“…Roger Scruton has put the paradox about men and pornography memorably, ‘This, it seems to me, is the real risk attached to pornography. those who become addicted to this risk-free form of sex run a risk fo another and greater kind. They risk the loss of love, in a world whre only love brings happiness.” 

But reversing course on this matter is a bit like trying to stop an ocean liner on a dime.

Enter E.L. James, whose BDSM themes do nothing more than reinforce the fact that porn is here to stay – but with this difference, that unlike the conventional [sic] hard core pornography, BDSM requires that participants, as Wikipedia notes (I dare not look anywhere else for the info – and even Wiki’s got some rather disquieting images to accompany its text), take on “complementary, but unequal roles, thus the idea of consent of both the partners becomes essential.” Thus, the BDSM relationship serves as a bad imitation of the traditional courting ritual between the sexes.

 I haven’t read the trilogy and don’t intend to, but Carolyn Moynihan over at Crisis has stared into the abyss long enough for us (although it’s not clear whether she made it through the entire trilogy herself) and come back with much to tell about James’ literary efforts.    She complains, rightfully so, that the explicit nature of the material eclipses any literary effort invovled.

“The problem for those of us who wouldn’t touch this stuff with a barge-pole — let alone download it onto our iPad — is its popularity,” Moynihan writes. “It has been dubbed ‘mommy porn’ because it is allegedly being devoured by ‘mainstream’ and ‘suburban’ women over 30 and not just by young urbanites. It even has its academic apologists. Two of them writing on the CNN website invoke ‘the novel’s compelling relevance’ and suggest that its ‘abundant references to classic literature unlock a subtler commentary [than its fan-fiction origins suggest] on enduring obstacles to women’s individual freedom and rights.’ The classic references include Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre and Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

Perhaps the popularity could also be a sign of the culture attempting to address the fact that because manchilds are not quite connecting with women, James’ readers see Ana Street as the spokeswoman for all those lonely women looking for a romantic connection at any cost. The disconnect between men and women, as Eberstadt points out in her book, is precisely due to the prevalence of porn – one of several rotten fruit, she says, of our sexual mores’ upset apple cart. “…[I]t is surely the sexual revolution that is the prime mover,” she writes, of sexual immaturity among men and a disparing attitude toward romance by women. “This seems so for two reasons,” Eberstadt continues. “First, it has led to an atrophying of the protective instinct in many men – because many have nothing to protect. The powerful majority desire for recreative rather than procreative  sex has led not only to a marriage dearth, but also to a birth dearth; as the old saying correctly goes, ‘Adults don’t make babies; babies make adults.'”

So what, then, is James trying to provide women in her stories? Again, Moynihan is helpful here in peering through the keyhole to the goings on in Christian Gray’s world. While Moynihan proposes that the popularity of the trilogy can be attributed to “the herd mentality among an entertainment and titillation focused public that sends people stampeding after the latest daring foray into forbidden subjects, whether blasphemy or bondage,” she dismisses the proposal that the work has a literary pedigree.

“Frankly, I think James has a cheek to even mention Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Eyre and Tess in the context of an SM relationship, whose object is depraved sensual pleasure,” she writes. “Whatever male ‘power’ they contended with in their very different ways, they were women of moral sensitivity who aspired to married love and, to a woman, would have been revolted by the Shades of Grey conceit.”

True enough. But consider: Could it be that James’ work is attempting to flesh out (pun intended) the grammar of that “moral sensitivity” which Bennet, Eyre and Tess possessed and were guided in large part by? Fleshing out, in fact, in a way that your average Harlequin romance or other bodice rippers cannot?  As I’ll discuss in a bit, the BDSM comes with its own social norms and mores – and could it be that James – consciously or otherwise – has tapped into that deep well in women which desires to see that same sort of “moral sensitivity” – even if it’s not quite in keeping with the tastes of the Regency or Early or Late Victorian England.

But you can’t give what you don’t have – especially if you already gave away what you wish you had again. So there’s no question that we can see the BDSM culture as even a pale reflection of true society any more than a vampire can expect to see anything but the mirror when he looks into it.  Indeed, thanks to the Sexual Revolution, the social norms in 18th-19th century England were vastly different from what we have today. But if BDSM is not society then neither is much of what passes for culture today true culture, a point Eberstadt makes in her book:

“Ubiquitously, it seems, those who were once husbands and fathers and providers have traded in their ties and insurance cards for video games and baseball hats worn backwards. It is a message that the popular culture also broadcasts nonstop – from vehicles for women like Sex in the City and The View to those popular among men, including such commercially successful examples as the Jackass franchise, the Spike channel, and just about every comedy about idiot males to issue from Hollywood in recent memory.”

Which brings us back to the question of what makes Ana Steele such an atrractive heroine for women? To answer that, let us look at her motivations. Again, not having read the work, I can only speculate. But it seems that Eberstadt might have the answer in her analysis of the Sexual Revolution’s marvellous failure to produce anything but monsters such as Christian Gray. Moynihan states that if women are eating up the Gray trilogy, it is a sign that things have come to a bad pass indeed for women in America.  “The pornification of sex,” she points out, “if it has truly captured the imagination of wives and mothers, is a path to personal and social oblivion.”

And yet, as Eberstadt notes, the Sexual Revolution has rendered American society fertile ground for just such a view of sex. ‘Today’s revolution against traditional marriage amounts to two charges made repeatedly, almost always by women and with many echoes elsewhere in contemporary sources: first, that the combined pressures of motherhood and marriage and breadwinning are just too much to bear; and second, that many of today’s marriages – that is to say, marriages made among enlightened, older, educated, sophisticated popele – are sexual deserts” (Emphasis mine).

Doesn’t it seem that Christian Gray redresses both these charges in his “Red Room of Pain” – by enabling Ana to give her self exclusively to Gray with plenty of sex, even meaningful and playful sex  – in a context where roles and ends are clearly defined?

Furthermore, Eberstadt declares the war of the sexes over and the winner is – no one.

“There are no more sexes, only lists of chores that one gender unit mysteriously does better than the other” and in a more literal sense “because contemporary man, many comtemporary women charge, has lost interest in sex” (Emphasis mine).

Christian Gray takes the mystery out of the gender confusion by showing a fervid – some would say excessive – interest in sex. Perhaps I am saying nothing more than this – that it is easy to see why the female imagination might be ensnared by James’ work. But I would like to push it a step further and recall two other fictions, one classic (it is at least recognized as canonical) and one which is a modern cult-classic. I am speaking of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Brett Easton-Ellis’ American Psycho. 

It is the central thesis of E. Michael Jones’ book  Monsters from the Id: The Rise of Horror in Fiction and Film that the cause for the rise in horror as a major genre of literature and film has been the undermining of natural law in the individual and in society. The book – perhaps the best written on the subject – is rife with examples. Does culture condone abortion and pornography? We have a film which helps us work through this horror: Alien. Has modern thought rationalized what is evil into what is good – such as adultery and incest? We have a story for that too: Frankenstein. Is society feeling a bit queasy about sexual libertinism? Let’s look at Dracula and make sense of it, shall we? In each case, the monster created is an avenger out to unmask, wittingly or not, the unnatural and depraved state of society while at the same time hinting at some sort of – dare I say it? – korrektiv.

Jones does a good job especially of documenting Mary Shelly’s troubled relationship with her lust-crazed husband Percy Bythe Shelly (not to mention her batty mother, an Ur-Gloria Steinem who believed in polyandry inter alia). It’s too bad he had not taken up Easton-Elllis’ work in his book. Whereas Frankenstein channels the myth of Prometheus to reveal the depths of human depravity – science eaten by its own “quest for fire” – in Easton-Ellis’ 1991 novel (I never saw the film) the anti-hero and possible psychopath Patrick Bateman attempts to rip the mask off the excesses, as he saw it, of Yuppiedom in the 1980s through an overlay of Dante’s Hell. Although the correspondences are somewhat vague, and the ending anything but conclusive, it is clear that the rank abuse and objectification, whether real or imagined, is meant to touch the nerve that lies raw just below the consumer instinct and says, This stuff is just stuff. Is this all there is?

Here’s what the author had to say about his work: “[Bateman] was crazy the same way [I was]. He did not come out of me sitting down and wanting to write a grand sweeping indictment of yuppie culture. It initiated because my own isolation and alienation at a point in my life. I was living like Patrick Bateman. I was slipping into a consumerist kind of void that was supposed to give me confidence and make me feel good about myself but just made me feel worse and worse and worse about myself. That is where the tension of “American Psycho” came from.”

Bateman’s story is an attempt to get a handle on the male “consumer” – and the novel is flawed, I think, for trying too hard to convey this notion through the depravities that Bateman visits on his female victims. I imagine the same sort of excess destroys the literary pretensions of 50 Shades as well. Nonetheless all those men who have turned in their credentials to manhood and fatherhood for unlimited access to the Spike Channel and the Spice Channel are in some sense represented by Mr. Bateman (it’s even hiding there in his name – get it?).

Is it too much of a leap of logic to assume that Ana Steel could be the female response to the Patrick Bateman’s in the world? (Her first name, by the way, means “resurrection.”)

Moynihan in her essay on 50 Shades of Gray and Eberstadt in her chapter on porn in Adam and Eve both conclude on a hopeful note.

For Moynihan, it’s a matter of numbers.

“But, so what if a few million women read the sick fantasies of a television executive?” she asks. “There are roughly 3.5 billion women in the world, and when the erotica boom has finally spent itself there will be more than enough of them still with their wits and dignity to carry on the work of love and civilisation that women in particular are equipped to do.”

Likewise, Eberstadt also places hope in hope – although one that possesses a more theological framework.

“‘Where sin increased,’ as Paul’s Letter to the Romans has it, ‘grace aboundeth all the more’ (5:20),” she writes. “The record of what pornography has wrought shows that kind of abundance too, though it may not yet be an issue of academic study…Look at energy fuleing all those atttempts to repair the damage done – the turns to counseling, therapists, priests, pastors and other working in these awful trenches to help the addicted get their real lives back.”

It remains to be seen, however, whether this hope will translate into the sort of cultural crucible necessary to cure women of their loneliness and men of their immaturity. But in the meantime, we should understand that just as Patrick Bateman will be written into the contemporary literary canon as the Everyman of today, so too, Ana Steel will remain a barometer of exactly how lonely women are – and how the abuses of the Sexual Revolution have borne fruit.

In the book of Genesis, God made man and woman and saw that it was good. Adam and Eve, I’d like you to meet Patrick Bateman and Ana Steel. They’re pikers, of course, in the sin department, but since they’re your children and the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree, I think they’re worth paying attention to – if only to learn how to work out own redemption – perhaps even with whips and chains.  

*I just can’t bring myself to steal Mr. Lickona’s excellent signature feature. But being a writer, I have no problem appropriating.

Today in Self-Pity

File under:  Up From the Comments:  Paul S. has let us know about a very funny joke… “With the success of Kick-Ass, Nemesis, and the upcoming Hit-Girl, Mark Millar begins work on the next generation of offensive characters…”

Right down to the hoodie and the knife.

Ha ha!