The Sectarian Review Podcast

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http://sectarianreviewpodcast.weebly.com/

Well this may be it.

I’ve found myself less and less interested in writing for this medium lately. And a quick perusal of this blog will demonstrate that.

It should also reveal that I’ve been aiming my non-teaching efforts toward podcasting instead. There is something truly rewarding about having live conversations with people about the broad range of topics I’ve tried to cover in the blog. If you haven’t yet, I’d encourage you to check it out. Here’s the link to our Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/SectarianReview/

Also, I’ve created a dedicated website to the podcast where you can learn more about it and link to all the episodes.

If you do, please let me know what you’re thinking. What makes that thing so much fun is the dialogue with our listeners. Here’s the link to the site:

http://sectarianreviewpodcast.weebly.com/

If you’ve been reading this blog, thanks so much. I hope you’ll listen to Sectarian Review and talk back!

Be well.

The Football-Industrial Complex

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Hello dear reader. I wonder if you might allow me to call you “dear listener,” tonight.

As you may have seen from previous posts, I’ve gradually transitioned my blogging energies into podcasting. My podcast, Sectarian Review, offers me the chance to actually speak to other people about ideas and culture, and that has been a lot of fun and really gratifying. If you listen to podcasts, I hope you’ll check us out as well. We’re on iTunes and Stitcher and you can find a link here:

http://www.christianhumanist.org/2016/01/sectarian-review-5-the-football-industrial-complex/

There is no real reason these platforms can’t co-exist for a while, though. Below, find the introduction to our latest episode, a hostile inquiry into America’s (and Christendom’s) obsession with football. Drew Van’tland and Todd Pedlar joined me for a pretty lively discussion.

And I’m always looking for new collaborators. If you’d like to join us from time to time, please do let me know. This week, I had a philosopher and a physicist on the show. I’d love to include historians, economists, seminarians…anyone. Now for the intro:

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Hello everyone. Thanks for downloading another episode of the show. Danny Anderson here. Assistant Professor of English at Mount Aloysius College in Cresson, PA.

I want to give fair warning that this episode might be contentious, uncomfortable, and even unfair. This is my hope at least. Football occupies a gigantic space in our cultural consciousness and I think we should at least notice that. In doing so, we’re kind of going to be picking at scabs, an icky image, I know.

I should confess upfront that I have some personal issues with this subject, so I’ll have to work to avoid making this all about me and my psychology. I’m from Cleveland, a huge town for sports fandom, and spent almost all my youth utterly obsessed with the local teams, primarily the Browns. Now maybe it’s because the Browns’ terribleness makes it easy, but as I’ve gotten old and decrepit, I’ve come to a point where I don’t care much at all about it anymore.

Except that I do. I care that we as a society Recklessly engage in what I’ve come to know as the idolatry of my youth. I’ve watched, largely from a distance now, as Cleveland neglects almost every other part of its civic life for its obsession with trying to overcome the heartbreak of “The Drive” and “The Fumble.” I’m also disturbed as a person of Faith at Christendom’s dangerous conflation of the values of sport with the values of Christianity.

So these are my reasons for recording this episode. I know that as you listen, you might say to yourself “he’s ignoring all the positive things about football…teamwork, discipline, whatnot.” If this is the case, know that I’m not ignoring them, I’ve spent much of my life uttering those defenses myself. I’m simply rejecting them for the purposes of this discussion. As always, I want to encourage your angry or supportive responses, either at the Facebook page or our email sectarianreview@gmail.com. I even booted up a Twitter account, hopeless as I am in that medium.

Question 1: Idolatry – I just mentioned the term Idolatry in my prologue. I stand by it, but I’m open to debate. What is idolatry and how might it be related to American Football?

Question 2: Economic – I already threw Cleveland under the bus for what I think is a misappropriation of economic resources. Let’s talk with some specifics about the economics of the sport in America. What are some positive arguments one might make for our investment in this game. Why are those arguments silly?

Question 3: Cultural – Everyone knows that Marx called religion the opiate of the masses – something to keep the proletariat content in an oppressive system. Certainly he would replace that with football today, no? What cultural impact does the Football Industrial Complex impose on us?

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So that’s it. Have a listen and get in touch!

Danny

Sectarian Review: A Manifesto

Sectarian Review Picture Logo

Well episode 1 of Sectarian Review is in the books and you can have a listen here:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/TheSectarianReview

The next episode will be on the broad topic of voice. In that spirit, I wrote a manifesto to open the next show with:

Sectarian Review: A Manifesto

A voice cannot exist without ears. No word ever spoken since “God said” came from nothing. They say ashes to ashes, dust to dust; we say ashes from ashes, dust from dust.

Sectarian Review is hearing.

Sectarian Review is not knowing.

Progress strives to get things right, when getting things wrong is our perfect form. In wrongness we listen and our voices struggle to rise from forward-moving machines that finish the unfinished.

Sectarian Review is not speeches.

Sectarian Review is not a pounded desk.

We will fight against the terms “mansplaining” and “feminazi,” but will not ban them.

Sectarian Review rights no wrongs.

If you say “fixed in your privilege,” we understand the privilege in being fixed.

I don’t care what you have to say,

It makes no difference anyway.

Whatever it is.

I’m against it.

Sectarian Review is Groucho Marx.

Sectarian Review is chaos.

Sectarian Review listens to the weary wisdom of yellow wallpaper.

Sectarian Review speaks back into its madness.

Sectarian Review is a voice,

not in

but to

the wilderness.

Sectarian Review: A Call For Contributors

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Mark Greif recently published an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education that considered the importance of Partisan Review in American intellectual life:

(http://chronicle.com/article/Whats-Wrong-With-Public/189921/).

What Greif identified as important about PR, its intellectual cultural contribution, many listeners of the Christian Humanist network of podcasts desire to experience in our own historical moment. This is why we listen.

As a sometimes-contributor to The Christian Humanist Podcast, (http://www.christianhumanist.org/) I’ve found great satisfaction and excitement in engaging with my co-hosts and listeners in conversation about the life of the mind in all its complexity and variousness. So when Farmer, Grubbs, and Gilmour offered me the chance to begin my own podcast, I was honored, and would now like to take them up on their kind offer. I had initially intended to begin this project  last year, but unforeseen circumstances drew my time and attention and I had to hold off (long story short, I will be starting a new job as Assistant Professor of English at Mount Aloysius College this Fall). Now seems the time to begin this project.

I have no interest in hosting, as Michial puts it, The Danny Show. My own intellectual inspiration largely springs from New York Intellectuals like Lionel Trilling, who was a central figure in the Partisan Review crowd, and he worked within that larger, vibrant intellectual community. So the idea I have is to imagine Partisan Review in the CHP network. Nathan Gilmour suggested the name Sectarian Review, and this is what I’ve gone with.

The idea is to have a large pool of scholars from a variety of disciplines contribute regularly or semi-regularly and to aim for an episode once a month (at least at first). Topics are solicited, and might include subjects such as: the role of the artist in society, Disney and Culture, The Christian Imagination, political commitment in the age of Twitter, etc… In short, whatever strikes the contributors as worthy of discussion.

In the tradition of PR, I welcome contributors from across disciplines. Economists, rhetoricians, sociologists, historians, philosophers, literary scholars, mathematicians, musicologists, and gender studies, as well as professionals from law, clergy, and medicine would bring a diversity of intellectual perspectives that would, I believe, prove to be an enlightening hour of conversation. (I’m sure I left disciplines out of the above list, so please forgive me and take it as a sign of my openness to a variety of perspectives).

If you are interested in participating, please feel invited to contact me at danny.p.anderson@gmail.com

I look forward to developing something great with you.

Danny Anderson

The Hebraic Roots of Christianity

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Marvin Wilson of Gordon College about his new book Exploring Our Hebraic Heritage. Wilson argues that Christianity was not invented in the first century and, in fact, begins with Abraham, not Jesus himself. He claims that in undervaluing these Jewish roots, Christian thought relies too heavily on Greek-influenced dualism and leaves much of the richness of the faith unexplored. In an attempt to deepen Christianity’s own intellectual tradition then, the author offers examples of Jewish theological practices that he suggests might serve the life of the Christian mind well.

The podcast of the interview can be found at the Christian Humanist at the following link:

http://www.christianhumanist.org/2014/09/christian-humanist-profiles-11-marvin-wilson-on-our-hebraic-heritage/

3 Things to Remember When Talking about This Issue on the Internet

This is the Issue that people are talking about on the internet today. While there are no strict rules for participating in this “conversation” per se, there are three important guidelines which should govern one’s actions. They will enhance the predictability of your contribution and ensure that the status quo remains undisturbed:

1). The future of civilization is at stake.

We are at the threshold of Hell. Whatever happens with regards to This Issue will solely determine the course of our survival/freedom/access to delicious apple pies.

Make no mistake; this event or controversy is unprecedented in the course of human events and our response must be unquestionably and demonstrably correct, or Hitler will have finally won.

2). You are Right and They are Wrong.

At perilous times like these, it is obviously vital that the boundary between those on history’s good side and the minions of Cthulu are absolutely clear.

If our certainty in our own righteousness wavers even a little, then our journey to the Dark Side will be complete. To graciously listen to the positions of our best opponents is paramount to treason. Violators of this ethos will be stained with the blood of the innocent and ostracized.

In fact, let’s just get this straight right now: there are no “best opponents.” The group is defined by the actions and opinions of its most fringe members. The appearance of thoughtfulness or nuance is a trap designed to steal your soul. If you disagree with Them, They are both flotsam AND jestsam.

In addition, since the construction of this border wall between obviously-good and obviously-evil is so vital, lumping vast numbers of people into convenient ideological groups is crucial. Don’t be fooled by apparent “reasonableness.” If They say something that challenges You, throw them in your prefabricated box and let history judge them harshly. Also, come up with some sort of devil-term to describe the lot of them. That’s always good.

3). You cannot go too far in making your point.

Again, I cannot stress the significance of this moment enough. It’s all riding on what you’re about to post to Facebook, so go big or go home. Manners and goodwill toward others is some Necronomicon crap. Remember how nice Idi Amin seemed in that movie?

Seriously, if a public figure makes a statement that puts them in the devil box, they probably have unnatural relationships with squirrels or something. If not that, then they were in some elite college fraternity where they swore to destroy the world of goodness and rainbows and replace it with toxic nerve gas and New Coke. And now they’re in power. What are you going to do about it?

The world is a buffet of curse words and reductionist logic.

You know what you have to do.

English: A black and white icon of two people ...

English: A black and white icon of two people talking to indicate discussion with peers or neighbors, possibly in educational settings. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Smart Phones, Freedom, and Alephs

Aleph

When people ask me what makes something “literary,” I typically say something about how literature reads you even as you read it. Literary art provides an opportunity to think.

The moments at which my job is most satisfying are those in which the stories and poems I’ve assigned point an accusing finger at me and draw back the curtain between the mystical and the “real” in my life. I love it when the book I’m reading seems to know me, and I really love it when it tells me I’m not OK.

I have, like many others, brought my smart phone into numerous aspects of my life. It is communication, entertainment, work, and study; so much of what makes me human has been given over to the machine. There is a certain liberty in this. I am now able to find answers and questions anywhere I am. Wherever I am, the universe is before me in all its complexity, its strangeness, and its dullness. So remarkable is the device, I never stop to ask whether it is me or the phone that’s the tool.

I’ve thought of instruments like my Samsung as a kind of power so liberating I’ve even encouraged my students to wield it, but I wonder if I’ve been living a free life within a prison.

The Aleph (short story collection)

The Aleph (short story collection) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently, I taught Jorge Luis Borges’s short story “The Aleph.” The story is landmark of magical realism, and therefore asks the reader to not only question the distinction between magic and real, but to look for the magic in the real.

The story’s narrator, Borges, has an irritating acquaintance, Carlos Argentino, who is the cousin of Borges’s late love interest, Beatriz Viterbo. Carlos Argentino is a bad poet who, as it turns out, has access to a magical point in the universe in which all other points in the universe can be seen. This is the Aleph, and it gives Argentino direct visual access to all the objects, landscapes, and people about which he writes his terrible poetry.

The story is awe-inspiring as a work of literary art, and the paragraphs in which Borges describes what he finally sees in the Aleph are particularly mesmerizing. In addition, it is an extremely funny story, with Borges’s subtle digs at Carlos Argentino’s ineptness and inflated ego providing the narrative spine of the story. I was therefore a little disappointed that it proved to be a little alienating and difficult for my students to enthusiastically embrace.

To combat moments moments like this, I’ve developed a little bag of teaching tricks, and I pulled one of them out during our discussion of “The Aleph.” The internet has given us tools for live polling via text messaging and Tweeting. When I have difficulty getting students to pose questions or make observations in class, I will from time to time project one of these live polling environments to the screen in our class. Often, this will jump-start conversation by providing students with a concrete statement or question to respond to.

In this particular case, however, our retractable white screen was as silent as my students. This was slightly disappointing, but I was mostly irritated by the fact that the vast majority of the class were clearly typing things into their smartphones. I’m no Sherlock Holmes, but even I could deduce that I was merely providing them cover while they mentally exited my classroom and entered the intoxicating liberation of cyberspace.

Eventually, I squeezed a little water from stone and we had a decent conversation about the story. One moment in particular seemed to draw some interest. After Borges has experienced the majestic, God-like view the Aleph offers, he stumbles into the street and makes the following observation:

In the street, on the Constitución stairs, in the subway, all the faces struck me as familiar. I feared that not a single thing was left to cause me surprise; I was afraid I would never be quit of the impression that I had ‘returned.’ Happily, at the end of a few nights of insomnia, forgetfulness worked in me again.

This puzzling moment was productive for us. It raised questions about the value of mystery, wonder, and imagination. Carlos Argentino had endless, literal access to everything in the universe and his poetry suffered for it (though he ironically garners acclaim from the publishing industry – another hilarious cultural critique Borges offers). His direct, instant access reduced his poetry to pale, mimetic description. His poetry was strangled by the brutish hands of fact and the oxygen of imagination was cut off.

The fear that Borges experiences then is a powerful one, and the relief his forgetfulness brings is tangible. The overwhelming clarity of the Aleph threatened to sap the very joy from life, which lies in encountering the unknown and struggling to make sense of it.

After class, I wandered back to my office and noticed just how readily and enthusiastically students slip into the black mirrors of their smartphones at any opportunity. Like Carlos Argentino scurrying under his basement steps to submit to the easy immediacy of the Aleph, we compulsively reach for our devices to connect us to our digitized universe. And this is by no means exclusive to the young. At playgrounds, restaurants, and school assemblies all over the industrialized world, people of all ages, myself included, shun the profound, magical surprise of the street, the stairs, and the subway for the pale titillation of the virtual.

What to ultimately do about this new reality is unclear to me. Until I figure it out, I will leave my phone in the car when I go out to eat with my family. Perhaps the answer lies in the unexpected things children say.

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Mark Driscoll and Christian-on-Christian Crime

By now, most people who would care about such things already know about the allegations of plagiarism against Mark Driscoll, the Seattle-based megachurch pastor. For those who wish to get caught up on the situation, Slate ran a fabulous take-down of Driscoll that should fill in the gaps, here.

Pastor Mark preaching at the Temple of Artemis

Pastor Mark preaching at the Temple of Artemis (Photo credit: Mars Hill Church)

His guilt or innocence is less interesting to me than the public conversation about him. I frankly have rather low expectations for much Christian writing, so the idea that a Christian Bestseller is less than academically rigorous is not exactly world-shaking to me. Andy Crouch wrote what I think is the best response to this situation, and he makes that same point. Crouch’s main point, however, is a brilliant one; that the major problem with the Driscoll plagiarism affair is that is an example of a dangerous idolatry among believers, a point I will return to at the end.

I am, however, still haunted by the question of how people of faith should respond to one another.

One thing I constantly try to do in class is to get my largely Christian students to think critically about their faith. “Critical” is the critical word here, because this goal necessitates casting suspicion upon people who ostensibly believe as they do. This sometimes causes friction with students who take an broad “us against them” view of the role of salt and light in the world. 

This conflict spilled over into my personal life as well. Like many people, I posted a snarky link to the above Slate article on my Facebook page, with a comment along the lines of “Hey Driscoll, is it the kick-butt Jesus or the panzy Jesus that cites his sources,” alluding to (and let’s just admit it — poking fun at) Driscoll’s famously hyper-masculine view of the Christian faith. There was a pretty good conversation that followed that link, but I later noticed, in other friends’ feeds, status updates that complained about Christians publicly complaining about other Christians (I know, I know. The irony of that was not lost on me either. It was all I could do to refrain from pointing it out — you guessed it — publicly). 

Being who I am, the whole thing reminds me of any number of Philip Roth stories. The Ghost Writer, for example, spends much of its narrative energy chronicling young Nathan Zuckerman’s conflict with his Jewish community over the scandal of his fiction. The story naturally bears striking parallels to Roth’s own personal history with his community’s reaction to his work going back to the beginning of his career. Essentially, the conflict boils down to “is it good for the Jews.”

The communal fear on display in this story is not without merit, but also not healthy from a perspective of self-reflection. I wonder if Roth’s work offers parallels that Christians might make use of as we adjudicate Driscoll’s actions in public. Primarily, we must ask if it is truly bad for the Christian public image for believers to show that we are thinking beings and that we demand certain ethical standards be met in spite of our “oneness.” Is it really better that we remain publicly silent while the culture of idolatry that Crouch identifies proliferates and is rewarded?

I believe this all points to a paradox built into the very fabric of the faith. I’m sure than many Christians who prefer the “Thin Blue Line” approach to controversy point to New Testament passages like 1 Corinthians 6 as their guiding scripture. The edicts of those verses demand that Christians show a united front to non-believers and that they not bring public lawsuits against one another. There is, of course, much wisdom here, but I think it must be doing more than asking “is it good for the Christians?” It is asking of believers to rise above the crassness and self-interestedness of their non-believing neighbors. If Crouch is right, then are Driscoll’s critics not identifying a similar crassness in his public-celebrity persona?

This is a complication, but the paradox I mentioned above lies at a different level. The passage from 1 Corinthians. Has that letter not become a public scolding of Christians by another Christian? Does the visibility of that fracture within Christendom not build respect for the faith? What is good for the Christians?

 

 

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Christian Kryptonite

Kryptonite

Kryptonite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some reason, I can’t get away from Superman this week (is it the abs, do you think?). My last post puzzled over Man of Steel, I brought the movie up in my Introduction to Literature class, and here I am responding to more critics of the film.

This time, I want to address the phenomenon of Christians taking umbrage with the Christologizing of Kal-El.

Lately, I’ve been on the hunt for journals of cultural criticism that aren’t stupid and petty. The quest led me to an article calledMan of Steel and the tiredness of Christ Figures” at a website called think Christian. The author, Josh Larsen, has written a thoughtful and somewhat surprising diatribe against finding Jesus in secular movies, Man of Steel being the occasion for his argument.

I find the article intriguing, if only because it is so unexpected. The overwhelming trend in Christian cultural criticism (if such a thing exists) seems to be to (maybe a bit desperately) usurp popular cultural artifacts and re-purpose them as extended metaphors for the Cross. I think there must be some money to be made here in packaging youth group bible study curricula or something. “Finding Jesus in True Blood.” Coming to a Christian bookstore near you.

But I digress.

At any rate, Larsen argues that this is a wasteful endeavor and he makes a sound case for his position. In addition, I find it admirable that someone writing for what seems to be a mainstream Christian publication has the courage to stand against that very current. His willingness to challenge cultural orthodoxy is a welcome sign. Somehow though, his claim doesn’t sit entirely well with me.

The following statement is where I get stuck:

It seems to me that the practice of identifying Christ figures almost always brings more to the movies at hand than it does to our understanding of Christ. It adds religiosity and resonance (even if neither are intended), yet rarely informs our faith. As a theological exercise, Christ-figuring is a one-way street.

Larsen is a good writer, and the claim he makes here offers an insightful dissection of a shallowness in much Christian thinking about culture. He is right; often, Christians who try and apply the Jesus-stamp to movies like Man of Steel approach it in an intellectually lazy way that serves neither the faith nor the film very well.

Yet while Larsen correctly identifies a flaw in contemporary attempts at what he calls “Christ-figuring,” I think he unnecessarily pushes the practice as a whole into the mud as well.

If anything, a film like Man of Steel should be a very productive theological exercise if the viewer is willing to challenge his or her own imagination. The film presents what is clearly meant to be a vision of Jesus, yet this is not the same thing as presenting Jesus himself. It is in that distinction, subtle though it may be, that the “one way street” Larsen identifies can open up a new lane.

If we are to accept the analogy of Zack Snyder’s Superman as Jesus, then it offers a challenge to the Jesus that Christians widely accept. This Sacrificial Lamb takes out a whole lot of buildings on his way to Golgotha, mostly by throwing a rather sympathetic Satan through them. This is a motif in the film that many critics point and laugh at, but to the Christian viewer who is willing to stretch his or her imagination, it can be thought-provoking and it might just be profound.

Does a Christian really believe that the coming of Christ had a profound impact on the world? If so then we must accept that it was an act of utter violence, not just to the body of Jesus, but to the structures and fabric of human civilization. Christ is every bit as offensive to our world (including us) as Superman is to Metropolis’s version of Grand Central Terminal.

I do not suggest that this is a great film (though I freely admit enjoying it a great deal). I do, however, think that it offers the Christian who is willing to challenge his or her own personal orthodoxies an opportunity to do so. For the Christian who is, as Larsen complains about, simply trying to project dogma upon the movie, I agree that their efforts are juvenile. Shallow readings such as these have done incalculable damage to the Christian Imagination.

There is, though, a possible second direction in this cultural exchange. There is a revolutionary quality to Jesus’s messianic work, and revolutions do not look like Vacation Bible School crafts. By reflecting the horror of abject violence back at Christians who want to see smiling, gentle Jesus in everything, Man of Steel forces the imaginatively vibrant Christian to come to terms with a disturbing element of the faith, and though perhaps not entirely orthodox in itself, this vision can strengthen Orthodoxy in the long run. This, however, requires a dedication by the Christian to engage with culture via multi-lane highways, not, as Larsen identifies, one way streets.

Though we may like to imagine Jesus as muscle-bound in spandex, there are consequences inherent in that image. But I argue that the Christian Imagination is an underdeveloped muscle that needs tossed against a few buildings from time to time.

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Critics of Steel

Man of Steel

I am not well-equipped to comment about current events or, God-forbid, new movies. For whatever reason, having opinions about new things doesn’t interest me, and it sure doesn’t come very naturally.

I am, however, a bit confused at the critical reaction to the newest Superman movie, Man of Steel. So confused, in fact, that I must jot a few notes down about it. I just returned from watching it with our French exchange student and was surprised to find myself entranced. I had gone in expecting to be underwhelmed and was, happily, not.

I’m not a movie critic, so I won’t play on in the blogosphere, but as a viewer of the film and an observer of culture, I found it to be thrilling, thought-provoking, and full of heart, everything its critics say it is not. Ultimately, I think that the movie has much to add to our contemporary discourse regarding the freedom of the individual to be unpredictable and, thereby, vital.

The Atlantic‘s Connor Simpson recapped the movie’s opening-weekend success in a rather snarky way:

Hey, so, a whole lot of people sat through this two and a half hour bad movie. Man of Steel’s very successful opening weekend in the wake of a week of bad press for being not good and also kind of soulless was definitely a surprise. This was the second best opening of the summer. The only movie to have a better opening weekend was Iron Man 3. It’s just another example of D.C. falling behind Marvel at the movie theater. But, who cares? This thing already has a sequel planned and will make a jillion dollars globally. Then, in three years, we’ll get an equally bad and soulless sequel and the same thing will happen because people won’t remember how bad this one is. The movies are just magical.

A heartfelt, soulful review if there ever was one. Also, it’s probably worth noting that the definitive evidence offered in his summation of critical response were links to two other articles from The Atlantic. So at least he did his due diligence, I guess.

In all fairness, though, I read other responses to the film in advance and the sentiments described above pretty well cover much of the critical reaction. However, to read this blurb one would think that the film was universally panned. On the contrary, Rotten Tomatoes has it checking in in the mostly good range, with audience reaction positive by a wide margin. 

As I’ve said, I’m not interested in bashing critics, but I am confused about what they want at times. Is it too ridiculous? Is it too serious? Can it be both? (I’ve linked only to the same Atlantic articles as above, so I guess I’m a lazy reviewer too).

Let me just say that I think Superman is difficult to film in our day. He is not dark. He is an overwhelmingly good person. This has been traditionally what makes the movies about him suffer in recent years. How many ways can we think of to get kryptonite into our hero’s general vicinity?

I thought that Man of Steel did the only thing that could have been done with such a dilemma. It made the notion of actually being Superman central to the plot. So yes, this means that much of the opening act will be pensive and serious. What does it mean to be Superman in the modern world? For all those complaining about Christopher Nolan’s darker influence in the film, perhaps the answer is that it means something similar to what it means to be Batman.

I’ve also read critics who are bored with the whole Jesus thing going on in the film’s subtext. I can see their point on some level, but I don’t see how it’s a particularly boring mechanism. In fact, it seems that messianic imagery is so inescapable in this source material that to excise it is to impose an academic orthodoxy upon it by mechanical rote. Have fun with it. Make Superman tell us that he is 33 years old (as they do in the movie). We get it. We can nod appreciatively or dismissively, whatever our religious preference.

One element of the film that I found particularly rich, and that I haven’t seen written about, is the cultural disintegration of Krypton described in the movie. Superman’s father, Jor-El (played brilliantly by Russell Crowe) is debating with General Zod (played with more nuance than he’s getting credit for by Michael Shannon). One point of contention between the men is that Superman is a product of natural childbirth, the first in centuries on Krypton. The culture had instead come to develop Matrix-style fetus-farming, genetically pre-conditioning every Kryptonian for his or her role in life. Zod was designed to be a soldier etc.

Jor-El saw this as a dangerous avoidance of chance and partially blames its de-humanizing effects for the ultimate doom of Krypton. Zod saw Jor-El’s actions as heresy. This, to me, correlates with a contemporary debate in our society.

Our economies, our technological advances, our governmental structures, and our educational systems, seem to more and more favor specialization for the individual. College degrees must be STEM degrees and so on. Against these systematic forces stand the humanists and the people of faith (too often at odds with one another to see that they share the same adversary). I draw the battle lines between the forces of icy efficiency and those of passionate humanity — though I realize that those lines are not always (or even often) very neat. Nonetheless as we allow less and less room for uncertainty and individual diversity into our policy, do we risk creating a generation of Zods? Good men defending their own individual roles against the greater good of society, and ultimately becoming monsters?

In all the critical complaints about the necessity of another origin story for Superman, perhaps what is being missed is that Superman’s origins are indelibly tied to the doom of his race. And this might stand as a warning for our own future.

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