Podcast #36: Ben and Rich Look Forward (General Culture/Film)

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This Week: Ben and Rich run through the list of things that Christ and Pop Culture said they were most looking forward to in the coming year and share their own thoughts. Lots of talk about the Christian’s challenge in this economy, Harry Potter (we know you can’t get enough), and Watchmen.

Every week, Richard Clark and Ben Bartlett sit back and discuss the posts of the previous week on Christ and Pop Culture, acknowledge and respond to the big issues in popular culture, and give a sneak peak at the week ahead. We love feedback! If you’d like to respond you can comment on the website, send an email to christandpopculture@gmail.com, or go to our contact page. We would love to respond to feedback on the show, so do it now! Subscribe to us in iTunes by clicking here. While you’re at it, give us some good iTunes feedback! We’ll love you forever!

About CAPC Writers
  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Here’s a recent Wired interview with Alan Moore. I don’t think he really gets into how Watchmen can’t really translate into film since its really about the comics medium itself and demands the stage that only a comic can offer. Douglas Wolk treats that in small part in his book, Understanding Comics. Elsewhere, Wolk describes Watchmen as “an allegorical critique and history of the comics medium” (see this Slate article from 2003).

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    I know all those arguments and I agree with them. Except I can’t bring myself care. Call it a guilty pleasure I guess.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    I still recommend the Moore interview because the man is completely fascinating.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    p.s. Though I loved Harry Potter, the story was nothing I’d call substantial. It was fun and rollicking and I devoured the stories, but they were neither the height of literary exploration nor the vessel for anything deeper than what Doonesbury offers in any given month.

    Is Doonesbury still published?

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Here’s one of my problems with Harry Potter. We were told that it was great because it had tons of kids reading again, and that it would radically change how they approach reading in general. Are those kids still reading other stuff now (specifically, good literature)? Or are some of them just trying to find Harry Potter knock-offs and others returning to the TV?

    As far as I can tell, despite 7 books that together are significantly longer than the Bible, the post-Potter world is not reading with any greater consistency than they were before. Which says to me that HP is a particularly creative brand of cotton candy, but it has not caused anyone to upgrade to steak later on.

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..A Father’s Gifts

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Ben, no offense but I’m astounded by the irrelevance of that argument!

    What we have in Harry Potter is a well-written story (yes, despite all the adverbs) with a consistent and well-paced story arc that is not just fun to read, but filled with depth and meaning.

    What I love about the books is that they deal adequately with really hard subjects, in spite of being a book for young adults and adolescents. Obviously it’s no Odyssey or War and Peace, but it’s not supposed to be that. It’s supposed to be a Narnia. And it succeeds in that it tells a ripping good yarn that keeps one fascinated and thinking every time they read it, well into adulthood.

    Does it get non-readers to read? Who the heck cares? What does that have to do with anything?

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Not to nitpick (like you believe that), but your problem Ben is not with the books but with some aspect of the hype surrounding them. I don’t believe it was ever fair to put the burden of American cultural literacy on the backs of seven volumes of a juvenile fantasy series. Or upon any work, for that matter. What Harry Potter did do was demonstrate that if books are engaging enough in the currency with which juvenile readers wish to be engaged, of course they’ll momentarily forsake Call of Duty or Halo or Hannah Montana for a book. I’m only amused that people ever doubted that.

    As far as whether kids really did get pushed toward books as a viable form of recreation, I can’t really tell anything along this line because all the kids who got into Harry Potter when it came out (let’s say they were ten at the release of the first book—a year younger than Harry and his two pals) are now in their twenties, and will probably have developed whichever reading tastes they’ll have and it would be impossible to point to Harry Potter for that.

    I know teenagers now who loved the books and read voraciously and read well (Les Mis, Moby Dick, etc.), but they were readers before HP came out. And of course there are those who after HP needed to find their next fix. Eragon. His Dark Materials. The Tale of Despereaux. Twilight. Ink Heart. Ink Heart. Artemis Fowl. Et cetera. But this kind of thing is hardly strange. After I read a little of Raymond Chandler, I went out and read all of his works. Then after reading one work by Murakami, I read a ton of his stuff. And then stuff that related and would help me interpret Murakami.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    @Ben – Heh, I also think Rich thinks more highly of the series than he ought. But then I also think that of you and Narnia. So I guess we’re even there ^_^

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    Ha! Also, The Dane: Why don’t you apologize for nitpicking when you actually nitpick?

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Why would I apologize for doing something that I love?

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    Oh goodness.

    Dane, you’re correct to say that I have a problem with the hype surrounding Harry Potter. However, it would be incorrect to say that is my central problem. I just mentioned it as an offhand comment in the vein of, “this has no substance,” but it isn’t the center of my argument.

    Harry Potter is just not deep literature. There are some nice themes of friendship and acceptance and family and courage, but those are themes you can find watching Saturday morning cartoons. The presence of a moral lesson does not literature make.

    Good literature is such because in addition to being well written, it contains special insight into Truth. It causes us to be more thoughtful about the world around us, and challenges or strengthens our conceptions about our existence. Good literature endures because people keep going back to it for insight and wisdom (for example, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a good story, but The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is great literature).

    That is why Chronicles of Narnia are good literature and Harry Potter is not. Harry Potter is extremely creative (which is why I enjoyed reading every book) and imaginative. However, it is childishly written and provides no special insight into human nature or the truth of the world around us. It’s just a fun story with some nice little moral lessons.

    The Chronicles of Narnia are a unique blend of fantasy literature (Based on Spenser and MacDonald) and medevil literature (which was Lewis’ special area of study). They are designed to guide us to a new conception of our relationship to God’s world- They help us emotionally apprehend the sacrifice of the Son, stand in awe of unfolding creation, know what it is to really love the One who forgives our failings, and experience the sadness of our dying world giving way to the wonder of the world recreated. Each major piece of the series is designed to express theological truth in a creative form (this is even more evident in Lewis’ Space Trilogy Series, where he can even point to specific theological works that are expressed in his novels). Stacks of books have been written to show how carefully Lewis infused his work with meaning and purpose. The books are not designed to be merely ripping good yarns.

    Literary depth is not merely a function of having nice themes that everyone agrees with or using foreshadowing to lead up to a sympolic event. It is an expression of truth about the world that causes you to see with new eyes; something Harry Potter does not seem to have done for its many rabid fans.

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..A Father’s Gifts

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Oh, I never said it was your central problem. But it was the one you expressed. That and you think that Rich thinks too highly of the book. A notion I’d tend to agree with. I have never heard anyone suggest that the Potter books were deep literature. Except for Rich.

    I think most of the people who simply adore the series recognize that they’re fans of a (usually) very well-told story and not of the next work by Tolstoy. And that’s fine. People can be avid fans of something even if it doesn’t have a lot of depth. After all, I love Billy Madison and Duck Soup.

    I’m guessing that if it weren’t for Rich going on and on about how Truly Good Harry potter is, you probably wouldn’t have any ire for the series.
    _________________________

    As for, your definition of good literature. It is yours and you’re welcome to it. I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with it, but I do find it a bit limiting. I think good literature might also be good without speaking a wit to Truth. Or it might even go so far as to forward Lies. If a book is well-written, well-composed, and speaks to Truth, then it probably will also be considered good literature.

    (Of course, if one strains hard enough, one can argue that any book provides insights into truth, I suspect. Rich will here argue that Harry Potter absolutely provides such insights. And he will have to strain less than one would for other works.)

    I like what you say about The Chronicles of Narnia. For you the work is sacred and you make it so with your reverent descriptions. This was an important work for you and I can respect that. I liked most of the Chronicles, but they did not have nearly so lasting an effect on my character or psyche as they did upon yours. I don’t return to the books more than once every ten years or so and wouldn’t be greatly put off if I never had the opportunity to indulge in their world again. Actually, very little of formative reading has any hold or power over me still—I’ve mostly moved on to books that speak to me as I am now. The Chronicles no longer do so.

    While you are a booster for The Chronicles and Rich will likely have some quote from Harry Potter engraved on his tombstone, I much prefer either Winnie the Pooh or Watership Down. Those are the books I return to happily. I will make no argument here for my choices. These are classics and greats and considered so throughout the English-speaking world and are, I think, on a level (culturally speaking) with The Chronicles and perhaps a mite better off than Harry Potter (though of course only time will tell in the latter case).

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    I don’t have major disagreements with that position. It’s fine that Rich likes Harry Potter, in the same way that I like George RR Martin’s Fire and Ice series (great story, interesting characters, creative concepts… not great literature).

    I do think, though, that there is value to discussing and defining and making use of the dividing line between a good story and great literature. This is because it is important to have discernment when reading… are you reading for the fun of it or is there reason to pay special attention to its explorations of human nature or society?

    One of the saddest books I have read is Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. It really is a boring story, and the writing is thicker than need be. However, it is great literature because of how it highlights society’s capacity to squelch innocent holiness, and I was changed by it.

    When I teach my son to read, and give him guidance on what books are best, it is important that I help him learn to distinguish between literature that builds our understanding and moral character vs. stories that quicken the pulse and delight the mind. Both are fine and enjoyable and even helpful to read, but there is an important distinction between the fun and the helpful.

    It certainly doesn’t bother me that certain good literature doesn’t appeal to everyone. I happen to think Catcher in the Rye is some of the dullest drivel available to man, but it still worthwhile to read as an inventive and introspective consideration of angst and despair (and even hope?). However, I DO think we can make judgements on which category a book fills.

    That’s why, despite my usual distaste for comic books/graphic novels, I agree with Rich that Watchmen is great literature. It is unorthodox, to be sure, but is great literature nonetheless.

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..A Father’s Gifts

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    I tend to think that our rules for what counts as great literature are much more than subjective stipulations particular to each individual. Arbitrary in a way. I talk along these lines in the discussion that follows in one of the MOVIEGUIDE® articles, discussing how there is no objective standard for quote-unquote great art.

    Be that as it may, according to your personal definition for great literature, I can definitely see why you categorize certain books as you do. You place a premium on books that provoke thought (at least in the area of taxonomy, if not actual preference). According to this measure, Harry Potter will never measure up to Dostoevsky, Sallinger (though I’ve only so far read the *awesome* Franny & Zooey), Ishiguro, Yann Martel, or even Neil Gaiman or Alan Moore.

    (btw: as far as worthwhile, thought-provoking, literate comics go, Watchmen just barely nips the edge of the lit-comics iceberg. The book is worth the time to read, but there’s a world of great comics lit out there. Unfortunately, just as with cinema, much of the worthwhile comics stuff is not the stuff that is considered mainstream.)

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • http://www.benbartlett.blogspot.com Ben Bartlett

    By the way, I love the idea of Harry Potter quotes held up as expressions of our deepest longings and spiritual understandings.

    “I won’t abandon my friends,” said Harry fiercely. “And don’t pick on my mother!” he continued angrily, even though his scar was hurting again. In his heart he knew love would conquer all.

    Deep truths, to be sure.

    Ben Bartletts last blog post..A Father’s Gifts

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    I hope to have some quote about snogging on my own tombstone.

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies


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