Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The difference between storytelling and pornography.

So far as I can tell, it's a clear line.

I do not come down very hard against violence or explicit content in the media, so long as adults are given the ability to control it (now if only they would).

Looking back on media that I consumed, even before high school, I'm amazed now at how much graphic content and adult themes I was exposed to. I will pick up a book that I read in the 6th grade and think, "I corrupted my young mind!"

In fact, I probably had zero understanding of the gravity of such things when I saw it.

But was what I read/heard/watched/played pornographic? I don't think so.

The line between the pornographic and the merely dramatic is partially a function of the author and partially a subjective quality in the consumer.

The same work can be either merely dramatic or pornographic for two individuals.

I believe the dividing line is drawn based upon the degree of subjective distance allowed between the consumer and the character.

In good storytelling, I fully expect conflicts to arise that are violent, problematic, etc. What I do not expect is an invitation by the author to take unreflective pleasure in evil acts.

As I said, the same artwork can be experienced in either way by different consumers. I do not doubt that some individuals play Grand Theft Auto perversely. But mostly, the thrills of the game do not feel substantially different than children playing "cops and robbers".

God of War 3, on the other hand, deliberately requires you, the player, to enjoy the very physical feeling of murder.

What about sex?

I believe it's a mistake to put sex on the same level as violence. It's worse. Perhaps that is counter-intuitive to people in my age group. "Make love, not war," etc. More Puritanical prudery from your local traditionalist Catholic. Yet there is a very simple reason why.

I can watch one man shoot another man without participating in the shooting. I can even pretend to shoot a man in the context of a game and not participate in it. Violence, whatever its inherent evil, does not by spectatorship or pretend compel complicity.

Sexually explicit content, however, does. That's partly cultural; but let's not fool ourselves: biology is a major player. It doesn't matter whether a novel, a film, or a game creates any level of distance between the actors and the consumer. Any recreation of the sounds, sights, and sensations of sex elicits immediate responses from the body. It is impossible to enjoy the "dramatic" element of a fully explicit rape scene without becoming emotionally complicit in it, at least partly.

Some scenes are carefully manufactured to communicate horror (think of the miserable sequence following the "key party" in the Elijah Wood film, "Ice Storm"). But even they eliminate nudity so that the horror is not compromised by natural reflexes.

The recent media spat over sexual video games is probably the best advertising they have ever witnessed. But their growing popularity likely has more to do with the lingering 60's cultural narrative that "pornography" no longer exists. So sayith the legend, the label of "porn" was only ever an instrument of patriarchy to control the free flow of information and maintain stultifying control over children and women.

So now we will have an epidemic of people who are controlled not by patriarchal institutions without, but by addiction, compulsion, and insecurity within. Hail freedom. Right?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

What are the strongest threads of atheistic thought today?

There's a common proverb that "For those who do not believe in God, no proof is possible; and for those who do, no proof is necessary."

I won't criticize this proverb too harshly--I know why it is so credible. But as a matter of history, the Catholic Church has come down on the side of saying, yes, God's existence is a fact knowable by reason.

In other words, the existence of God is not an object of faith (at least, not properly or exclusively).

It's the other things--the Resurrection, the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin Birth--that are objects of faith.

But God's existence is not. The existence of God is something that can be known. Such a statement is likely to draw criticism from believers and non-believers alike. But I would like to propose a fresh, all-encompassing approach to the God question. I would like to gather up the threads of atheistic discourse, analyze them into their components, and provide an alternative approach to uncovering the existence of God.

So here's my question. Where do I begin? How can I get the best bird's eye view of the current landscape of atheistic thought? I am already quite familiar with Richard Dawkins and But I still need to collect as many atheistic resources as possible. Perhaps some of my less pious friends will indulge me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Setting the infatuation record.

I'm in love with Laura Saad. And, reading her blog, is it really difficult for anyone to see why? But after six months of seeing each other, my degree of infatuation hasn't eased, it hasn't waned, it hasn't even plateaued. I remain still in the blissful state in which the very sight of Laura sends "happy juices" flowing all through my mind. And every day this feeling increases.

Love is not a feeling; it is a choice. Infatuation renders the choice easier to make... in some ways, infatuation makes the choice (to love) far less heroic than it otherwise would be.

Not that I complain. My last six months have not been easy, but the pains have been substantially offset by instinct and affection tugging on all of my paternal heartstrings. I am warned, both by friends and by knowledge, that the "easy days" do not last even for the healthiest of couples. And yet I feel that heeding these warnings too much would disallow me from savoring this slice of heaven. No!

In the private cocoon bordered by couch cushions and a blanket, there is a pervasive sense shared by Laura and me that our finding each other is both inexplicable and inevitable, and is by itself proof of God's existence and goodness. Each of us represents the fulfillment the other has sought since the lonely and cruel days of elementary school. And we fulfill it so well.

This all leaves me in a curious position vis-a-vis the "infatuation stage". I am both mentally preparing for its exit and each day overjoyed at its abiding presence. I know that my cautioning friends are not trying to be wet blankets... they only do not wish me to be dragged down too far by disappointment, or to confuse infatuation with "the real thing". I understand. And if they are right and automatic affection becomes someday rare, I will not be sad. But all the same, I cannot let go of the private joy in the possibility that my 6-month-and-counting infatuation trip may prove them wrong.

All I know is that many would die for what I now have, and I am among the luckiest people on the planet.

Monday, March 01, 2010

On feeling powerful

All right, I have a confession to make.

I actually think I'm pretty smart.

That's a dangerous opinion to have, because if I can't back it up, that makes me one of the world's most detestable kind of people; and even if I can back it up, being smart is, ultimately, of only relative importance in life. And if I ever forgot that fact, I wouldn't actually be all that smart, would I? See the rule about not being able to back it up.

But one doesn't have to be smart to feel powerful. Something about the combination of forces--a cup of coffee, good health, free time, and a medium of expression--is enough to make a lot of people feel a rush of "can do". The world at one's fingertips. Thought with the clarity of a three-dimensional Venn diagram (with bullets). Delusions of intellectual grandeur. It's almost as if I could wield ideas like a pair of Paul Bunyan's axes, chopping down the forests of obscurity, darkness and fear in the name of God, like some horseman of the apocalypse of the world of unreason.

It's a good feeling. And once in a blue moon it actually does contribute to something really awesome. But more often than not I just like to stew in the feeling, and finally, time gets wasted. Ironic.