Thursday, March 31, 2016

Misunderstanding “Ben Hur”

With Easter just past us, this seems a timely topic.

The trailer for a new movie version of “Ben Hur” is out there:

After browsing the comments sections of several sites to see what viewers think, I’m amazed by the lack of knowledge of many of them about their history—the background of ideas which form our civilization.

For instance, many commenters mention the previous (1959) version, usually favorably—but they describe the religious theme of that work as “tacked on.”

Tacked on? Really?

Religion—the battle of religions—is steeped through every frame of that film. The character Ben-Hur is caught between two opposing forces.

On one side, paganism—as represented by the words of his childhood friend Messala, by consul Quintus Arrius, and by Judean governor Pontius Pilate. It’s a world focused on control of the physical world. An ethos of beauty, power, violence, and sensuality. The scenes in Rome are filled with parties and parades. The chief physical conflict is a chariot race, after which Ben-Hur becomes for the populace, in Pilate’s phrase, “their one god.”

Throughout is a display of pagan gods, and pagan ideals, focused on the here and now.

On the other side, as counter-argument, is Ben-Hur’s own religion, but also the message of love and peace offered by a young rabbi, who before the flick ends will be crucified by the all-powerful Roman state.

To miss fhe battle of religions is a display of anti-religious smugness and staggering ignorance not just of history, but of themselves and their own civilization. After all, don’t we live in a thoroughly pagan time, with our own fake gods of celebrities, athletes, wealth and power? With Christianity living for the most part on the fringe. Religion, for today’s pagans, is something to be mocked, not taken seriously—a complex theology like Christianity seen through sound-bite stereotypes, easily dismissed with a phrase.

For comparison of movies, here’s a trailer for the 1959 version:

Needless to say, a masterpiece. If you can see the 1959 version on a real movie screen, do so, to get the full, overwhelming movie experience.

As for the new version, it’s up to you to judge whether it’s worth seeing!

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Cycles or Progression?

There are two ways of viewing history.

One is the progressive, linear view, which assumes anything today is better than anything in the past.

The other sees history going in waves or cycles—matching the rhythmns of nature and the universe.

If everything today is better, than why has literature regressed from past peaks?


I thought this as I was memorizing a poem today. My fiancee’s mother is impressed when I recite poetry. Hey, whatever works. I decided to recite some Dylan Thomas:

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day,
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”

Note the euphony—age, rage, day—which adds to the emotion of the piece.

Here’s the question: Why were poets of the 1950’s so much better than those today? Why has the art deteriorated? I can think of two other poems off the top of my head from that era which could easily be classified as masterpieces: “Thou Shalt Not Kill,” by Kenneth Rexroth, and “Daddy,” (too obvious) by Sylvia Plath. Incidentally, Plath more than lives up to her giant reputation, once you read her poetry—or more, hear her voice reading it!

But, the question is out there. What happened to poetry?

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Fighting Against Establishments

As an objective, non-partisan observer (I loathe both political parties) with no dog in the fight, I find interesting the goings-on of the political race. Especially now, the panic and hysteria in the Republican Party created by Donald Trump’s victories. Because someone’s power and turf are at stake, party Insiders will fight ruthlessly to protect their petty fiefdoms against change. As they’re currently doing.

I know this well, because I faced the same thing—on a vastly smaller scale—during my days last decade leading the notorious Underground Literary Alliance. Our lit-establishment opponents proved capable of virtually anything. The lies and distortions made about us and our ideas were amazing. Shocking assertions were manufactured out of nothing. (I notice Trump’s opponents doing this over his not disowning someone fast enough, or enough times—accusing him of thus holding the person’s ideology.)

Part of what’s going on is Trump’s personality. Yes, he’s a bit of a barbarian, but is also too strong and assured for the weaselly puppets he’s facing. In any field, the go-along-to-get-along crowd are most comfortable with mediocrity—because they themselves are mediocrities. Many people hate anyone who stands out—who by force of personality can’t help but stand out. I found this myself within the ULA itself at times; at least, once a number of petty egos entered the gang. For Trump, he might be a very bad President or a great one—but he will not be boring. He won’t be a mediocrity.

The same thing, incidentally, would or will happen with the Democrats if Bernie Sanders shows signs of being able to actually win the thing. Apparatchiks of any variety fear change.