Saturday, April 29, 2006

Two Disappointments and An Unexpected Gem

Disappointment #1:Crunchy Cons

I recently mentioned that I was looking forward to (to put it mildly... see Literary Euphoria) reading this book. I was so disappointed with Crunchy Cons that I’m not going to expend the energy to type its lengthy subtitle. In short, the book’s author, Rod Dreher, claims to expand on his revelation of a new movement within political conservatism (and more specifically the Republican Party) that is trying to “[reclaim] what’s best in conservatism”, namely “the permanent things” – faith, family, community, and legacy. Instead, Dreher spends his time repeatedly stating that he desires to see conservatives return to their small-government, faith-based, family-centered foundation by using the government to reign-in big business, put controls on the free market, provide tax-breaks and other policies that encourage the growth of small businesses (especially if they are family-owned, organic farms), use zoning laws to encourage the preservation of historic buildings and prevent suburban sprawl, encourage the development of alternate energy sources, encourage the expansion of private civil organizations (like churches and charities), and care for the poor. The book oozes with these inconsistencies of philosophy and proposed action. By the end of the second chapter, I was vainly hoping that he would remove his Guy Fawkes mask and reveal that it was really Joe Lieberman underneath. This book just reinforced to me that nowadays there is no practical difference between the two major American parties and that the terms “conservative” and “liberal” have become meaningless except at their most radical. Reading Crunchy Cons inspired me in one significant way… I need to come up with a catchy, alliterative phrase for “Christian Libertarian”. (Speaking of libertarianism, instead of Crunchy Cons, I recommend reading What It Means To Be A Libertarian.)

Disappointment #2: Crash

I had wanted to see this movie since I saw the first trailers for it. Being the frugal people that we are, we were waiting for it to come onto DVD then to the library before we saw it. However, the videophiles in us are stronger than the penny-pinchers, so as soon as it won the Academy Award for best picture, we went out and bought it. I had heard such great things about this movie, and I thought it was a great concept, but I was thoroughly disappointed. Many of the situations seemed forced, and the dialogue frequently seemed unnatural to the character to whom it was assigned. The screenwriter boldly used the device of pulling you down what seemed a stereotypical story path only to yank you into an emotionally charged, unexpected denouement. This would have been an excellent technique to reinforce the movie’s theme of shattering stereotypes had the writer not gone to this well so often that I felt like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia with no wizard to clean up the mess that had been made. The rare gems in this movie (Sandra Bullock’s performance was a pleasant surprise, and I always enjoy watching Don Cheadle) are not worth the almost 2 hours. The tagline for Crash is “You think you know who you are. You have no idea.” There are three movies that better explore this concept: Grand Canyon and Changing Lanes (both of which also explore race) and one of my all-time favorite movies, 13 Conversations About One Thing. Dramas, like all things in Creation, should bring you to a point where you ask, “What has this movie revealed to me about God? Humanity? Myself?” Crash left me asking, “I’ve seen this done better elsewhere. Is it too late to start Grand Canyon?”

The Gem: The Man Born Blind

I have already admitted to having literary-ADD. This constant switching back and forth between books can have its setbacks… for example, I was looking for one of only a handful of good quotes from Crunchy Cons to read to Frodo the other night and realized, long after Frodo gave up waiting for me to find it, that the quote I wanted was in the Thomas Sowell book, Inside American Education, that I am also reading. (At least that more logically explains why I thought it was a good quote!) However, sometimes literary-ADD can lead me to a wonderful work of literature that I otherwise would not have found. I have read a goodly amount of C.S. Lewis’ fiction, but it was the Stephen King series that I am presently in the midst of that led me to the C.S. Lewis short story entitled The Man Born Blind. In the preface to the short story collection, The Dark Tower and Other Stories (fans of Stephen King just went “Ah ha!”), editor Walter Hooper describes the story as being about a man born with double, congenital cataracts who has his sight restored and then goes on a quest to learn what light is. I guess that is the best way to describe this story, but it seems so desperately insufficient that it is almost painful. I rarely cry when I read, but when I read this aloud to Frodo last Sunday, I had to stop to compose myself in order to finish the story… then broke down immediately upon concluding it. Read this story. Then ask yourself, “What is Light?”

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