Aristotle and me on “The Avengers”

We saw The Avengers, the movie that’s setting box office records.  We went whole hog, springing for the version in 3-D AND Imax.

Like other comic book movies, it was mostly what Aristotle in his Poetics called “spectacle.”   Movies today go all out with high-tech special effects.  They can be fun to watch.  (Though frankly I have not yet seen a new generation 3-D flick that made satisfying use of that technology, including this one.  A trailer for the new Spider Man movie was more promising, showing a deeper field of vision than the usual flatness with a few things jumping out at you.  I didn’t think the Imax version of “The Avengers” added that much either.)  Anyway, the overall spectacle of “The Avengers” was fun.  But as Aristotle goes on to say, spectacle is the lowest level of dramatic art.

In addition to spectacle, though, unlike many comic book movies, “The Avengers” also had interesting characters, well-rendered and, in what is often considered optional for the genre, well-acted.  “The Avengers” put serious actors like Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johannsen in silly superhero costumes.  But it paid off!  The computer-enhanced Ruffalo–who was sensitive and angst-ridden as Bruce Banner– made a great Incredible Hulk.  One of my favorite parts of the movie was when Scarlett Johannsen, as the Black Widow, took a call on her cell while she was on the verge of being tortured and complained to the caller, “I’m working!”, going on to thrash the Russian interrogator while she was still tied up in her chair.

There were other good moments.  Captain America, being of the Greatest Generation (waking up in our day after being frozen), dismissing Loki’s claim to be a god by saying that “There’s only one God.  And I don’t think he dresses like you do” [something like that].  And did anyone catch what the Hulk said, in one of his few actual lines, when he was flailing Loki about?  Some comment about his alleged divinity.  (In the Marvel universe, the residents of Asgard like Thor and Loki are not so much deities as they were to the Norse and Germanic pagans; rather, they are denizens of another planet.)

Still, though, there was not enough of what Aristotle considered the most important part of a drama.  Namely, the story.  I prefer plots with twists and turns, a narrative that goes somewhere, with maybe surprises along the way.  There wasn’t a lot of that in this movie, basically just good guys and bad guys fighting each other.  Internal conflict is far more interesting, as in, to cite another comic book movie, The Dark Knight, which is also being reprised this summer.  Aristotle’s heroes are not just “good guys”; rather, they are noble figures who have a tragic flaw–a hamartia, which is the New Testament word for “sin”–that gives them complexity and doom.


Was Mitt Romney a high school bully?

The Washington Post has a big story of the sort that opposition researchers love, an event from the past that can discredit a candidate with voters.  Reportedly, when Mitt Romney was in high school, he and some friends jumped a guy with long hair–someone who was also teased as being gay–and cut his hair.

Romney does not remember the incident, but has apologized anyway.  Meanwhile, some bloggers are questioning the story, noting at least one big contradiction in the account.

First of all, is this a legitimate story, or is it biased gotcha journalism with a political purpose?

Second, is it fair to use a person’s childhood or adolescent behavior to discredit him as an adult?

Third, does this incident disclose a character flaw that should disqualify a person from public office?

Fourth, do you think this report could harm Romney’s squeaky-clean image, to the point of making voters–who often care more for image than for issues–think that he’s mean and so refuse to vote for him?

Finally, is this story a portent that  journalism, political discourse, and our democratic republic are all doomed?


via Mitt Romney’s prep school classmates recall pranks, but also troubling incidents – The Washington Post.

Religious preference & too many gods

The great sociologist of religion Peter Berger comments on the project of Andrew Bowen, who in 2011 practiced a different religion each month—Hindu in January, Baha’i in February, Zoroastrian in March, etc.  Religion today, he says, is no longer a matter of personal identity, history, or belief.  Rather, it is a voluntary association:

In the pluralistic situation every religious institution, which it likes this or not, becomes a voluntary association. Max Weber, one of the fathers of the sociology of religion, distinguished between two institutional forms of religion—the “church”, into which one is born, and the “sect”, which one joins as an adult. The historian Richard Niebuhr suggested that American history has created (presumably inadvertently) a third form of religious institution—the “denomination”, which in many ways looks like a “church”, but which one nevertheless freely joins and belongs to, and which is in competition with other religious bodies. On the level of consciousness, religion loses its taken-for-granted quality, instead becomes a matter of individual decision. The peculiarly American term “religious preference” nicely catches both levels. Put differently, the challenge of secularity, where it exists (it does in some places, notably in Europe), is that there is an absence of gods; the challenge of plurality is that there are too many gods.

When there is a combination of religious plurality with a political system which guarantees freedom of religion, what comes about is, precisely, Niebuhr’s denominationalism. For well-known historical reasons, America has been in the vanguard of such a development. Its emergence in many parts of the world today has usually little to do with American influences, but is the result of the above-mentioned combination of a social and a political fact. Andrew Bowen has, in exemplary fashion, re-enacted this historical drama.

In the pluralistic situation every religion becomes a denomination—even Judaism, which is both a religion and a people, into which, by definition, one is born. In America Judaism has been born again (I choose the phrase deliberately) in at least three denominations.

via If it’s December, I’m Presbyterian | Religion and Other Curiosities.

HT:  Matthew Schmitz

President announces his support for gay marriage

President Obama’s position on gay marriage has evolved to the point that he’s now all for it.  That’s what he told ABC News.

One reason he cited was his Christian faith.  “You know, we [his wife Michele and he] are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and, hopefully, the better I’ll be as president.”

Will this help him or hurt him politically?  It would seem to bolster his progressive base, which has been somewhat disillusioned with him, while social conservatives are not likely to vote for him anyway.  Then again, support for gay marriage seems to be the cultural wave, with polls showing that more and more Americans are willing to change the very nature of marriage to accommodate homosexuals.

President Obama Affirms His Support for Same Sex Marriage | ABC News Blogs – Yahoo!.

Europe rejects austerity–how about the USA?

The countries of the European Union are voting out the leaders who had been pushing austerity measures to reduce debt, cut back the welfare states, and get their economies on a more solid footing.  French President Sarkozy was ousted in favor of  socialist Francois Hollande.  Greece, the nation in the worst shape of all, has voted out the coalition of center-left and center-right parties that accepted the tough conditions of Germany’s bailout.  In fact, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel is herself facing political setbacks.  And so is Great Britain’s David Cameron.

Now is all of this just the political dynamic of voters turning against the incumbents when the economy is a mess?  In that case, the trend might seem positive for American conservatives.  Or is it, as most commentators are saying, a reaction against the austerity measures, with voters not wanting their benefits cut, to the point of embracing politicians who promise to spend even more in order to help the economy grow.  In that case, it would herald well for American progressives.

Not that America has experienced much austerity from the current administration.  But do you think the general public would support a serious attempt to cut the budget any more than the Europeans would?

via After voters reject austerity, Europe ponders future of grand project – The Washington Post.

A week without this blog

Hello.  Test. Test. Is this thing on?  I think so, now.  After a week!

So the hosting company’s server went down, but then they had trouble transferring the files to a new one, and then they gave me an alphabet soup of technical gibberish in an effort to help me understand what was happening.  . . .

Let’s see if this time the blog stays up for more than minutes at a time.  Try to get on several times during the course of the day and if you can, help spread the word that Cranach is back.

I do appreciate the numerous expressions of concern that I received from many of you.  Some suspected something sinister, that we were being blocked or hacked.  (As someone observed, that post about Islam and Mormonism surely offended both Democrats and Republicans!)  I’m pretty sure, though, that the only sinister force at work is with my hosting company.

I’ve put up a couple of posts, below, that I tried in vain to post all last week.  I don’t think they are too dated.  But we’ll get caught up.

I just hope you didn’t break your habit with this blog.  I hope I didn’t break my habit with this blog.  It was kind of nice not doing it.  I read.  Watched TV.  Went to bed early.  Went to a movie to see “The Avengers.”  But I realize that I need it.  It made surfing the web frustrating when I found something that I couldn’t tell you guys about.