The Long, Slow, Painful Death of The Simpsons

Twentieth Century Fox

I can say without any exaggeration that The Simpsons has influenced me more than any other television show in existence. As a child I would watch in the presence of my older brother, noting what he found humorous, so I knew when to laugh.  He would often explain why something was funny, since my 8-year-old self missed most of the high-level humor.  For instance, when Homer becomes a big brother to a poor child named Pepi, Pepi says, “Papa Homer, you are so learn-ed.”  Homer corrects him, “It’s learned, son.  Learned.”  If you don’t know how the word is really pronounced, the joke is lost.  I believe this kind of humor, this “high-level” humor, is what made The Simpsons a great (perhaps greatest) comedy.  It’s not what makes it great because, let’s face it, the show hasn’t been good for about 13 seasons.  Right around season 10, it started the long and steady decline toward mediocrity.  Now, when I do give it another chance, it is like visiting an old friend who is dying of a painful terminal illness.  It’s sad, it’s tragic, and it’s at the point where you just want their suffering to end.  The Simpsons needs to die.

It’s hard to begin.  How does one describe the comic genius that made The Simpsons special?  Well, here are 2 clips that I’ll use as examples.  This first one comes from ” Deep Space Homer” in season 5.  We’ve just seen a shot of Homer’s space shuttle and an escaped ant moved past the camera.  Here is Kent Brockman’s reaction.

As a member of the media, Kent Brockman is prone to sensationalism.  We see it in an earlier episode in which Kent claims, ” I’ve been to Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and I can say without hyperbole that this is a million times worse than all of them put together.”  He is referring to a rebellion at Bart’s summer camp.  The writers are poking fun at how ridiculous the news media can be in an attempt to make a story more interesting.  But what really makes this funny is that Kent clearly believes his own sensational claims.  He jumps from one radical conclusion to the next and even accepts that the invasion is a foregone conclusion, which is why he is already trying to convince the ant overlords that he can be useful.  This is very silly, but we in the audience can see the work of intelligent people behind the scenes.

In this next clip, we find Mr. Burns attempting to win Homer’s trust.  Homer has become the head of the union at the power plant and Mr. Burns is threatening to remove their dental plan.  This clip comes from season 4, and the title is, “Last Exit to Springfield”.

There is this Infinite Monkey Theorem that assumes if a monkey were to hit the keys on a typewriter into infinity, it would eventually write Shakespeare.  A variation is that an infinite number of chimps (or some really high number) banging on typewriters would eventually produce some great piece of literature.  I actually wrote about this in A Universe of Infinite Chimps.  Anyway, in the clip we can see that the monkeys are smoking and focusing intently on their work, just like a bunch of human writers.  They are also chained to their typewriters.  I’m sure the writers who wrote this scene were thinking of themselves.  When Mr. Burns reads what the monkey wrote, it turns out to be the first line of Charles Dickens’, A Tale of Two Cities.  But the monkey wrote “blurst” instead of “worst”, so Mr. Burns completely overlooks the incredible feat and judges the animal like he would some great author.  It plays on our expectations, and Mr. Burns’ sincerity and serious tone throughout the exchange makes for the perfect contrast to the ludicrous event.

The main point I want to make with these clips is that the early episodes were cleverly written by intelligent people who were aiming high at their audience.  Sure, there is plenty of slapstick to be found, but slapstick is only funny if it’s carried out by a person or entity with dignity and intelligence.  The Simpsons often referenced classic literature and film in these great episodes.  Even now, I find myself discovering things that I first learned from The Simpsons.  Perhaps I’ll recall a scene after watching  a classic Alfred Hitchcock film, or Citizen Kane.  In 6th grade I got a congratulatory letter sent home for knowing what the scientific name for the Northern Lights was: aurora borealis.  I learned that from Principal Skinner.

As I’ve previously mentioned, it was around season 10 that the show started to suffer creatively.  If you search around the internet you’ll see a consensus on this moment in the show’s history as the beginning of the end.  Some blame the shift toward a younger audience.  Some blame new producers, or the exodus of Conan O’Brien from the staff (though he left after season 5).   Others simply believe that the show had run out of clever ideas, like any long-running program.  I’m sure there were a number of reasons for the decline, but the fact remains that The Simpsons has shuffled on into an endless sunset.

Here’s a preview of the first episode of season 23.

So here we have Homer in a ridiculous situation with a celebrity guest star.  This is the norm.  Critic Jim Schembri of The Sydney Morning Herald summed it up pretty well when he wrote,  “Now the show has in essence fermented into a limp parody of itself. Memorable story arcs have been sacrificed for the sake of celebrity walk-ons and punchline-hungry dialogue.”  He is absolutely correct.  Once rich characters have been emptied of intelligence, emotion and dignity for the sake of selling out to the lowest common denominator of humor and entertainment.  It’s pathetic, and a lesson in the cost of pride and greed.

This show is a cash cow, and has been for many years.  The voice actors make millions and the producers make even more.  They have nothing to prove and nowhere to go.  I imagine Matt Groening, the creator, has become much like George Lucas.  Both men made something that the people loved, and they gained incredible wealth and fame.  But at some point they lost touch with the original vision, and traded it all for just a little more.  Look at this quote from Groening in 2006.

I honestly don’t see any end in sight. I think it’s possible that the show will become too financially cumbersome… but right now, the show is creatively, I think, as good or better than it’s ever been. The animation is incredibly detailed and imaginative, and the stories do things that we haven’t done before. So creatively there’s no reason to quit.

You know that once a storyteller starts focusing on the “incredibly detailed” animation, he has lost his soul (i.e. James Cameron with Avatar and George Lucas with everything since Star Wars Special Edition).

It saddens me that The Simpsons now has more mediocre and bad episodes than good and great ones.  It also saddens me that I wish for its swift death, so that the memory of what was right isn’t overshadowed by what is so very wrong.  All we can do is re-watch those episodes from the golden age, and hope that future generations will understand that The Simpsons was at one time the greatest show on television.  And not because it was the most popular, or the longest- running, but because it was clever and profoundly hilarious.

Saying Something Positive About McDonald’s

When do you ever hear something positive about McDonald’s?

My betrothed will not take kindly to what I’m about to say.  She’s about the most outspoken person I’ve ever met in opposition to fast food.  That being said, I hope she and the rest of you can see through to the point I will attempt to make in the following post:  McDonald’s should be admired for its excellence.

Fat people sued them because they were looking for a delicious scapegoat for their reckless gluttony.  Morgan Spurlock demonized them in his documentary, Super Size Me, in which he ate nothing but McDonald’s food for a month.  He suffered physically for this feat, but I wonder why he didn’t just pour salt down his throat and marvel at how dehydrated he got.  Ronald McDonald, the clown who serves as the face of their kid-focused charitable endeavors, is often targeted by comedians for being creepy.  McDonald’s has also been forced into posting all of their nutrition facts.  This seems unfair since you can easily consume a couple thousand calories at most chain restaurants.   Lately, there has been a push in some communities against the Happy Meal, since it “lures” kids into eating unhealthy food.  You know, because kids are the ones who drive themselves to McDonald’s and pay for everything.  It really seems like McDonald’s is being singled out.  But why?

They are the #1 fast food chain in the world.  They serve nearly 70 million people a day in about 120 countries.  They employ 400,000 people and earned over 20 billion in revenue in 2010.  McDonald’s has become a symbol of globalization, spreading their brand throughout the civilized world.  In short, they are the best at what they do.

McDonald’s has achieved a level of excellence which should be praised.  Yes, for their ability to succeed in a global marketplace, and to evolve with the times, McDonald’s should be commended.

I am not saying everyone should eat McDonald’s all of the time.  That makes you fat and unhealthy much like eating out most other places would.   What I’m saying is that they are the global leader in their area of the marketplace for a reason.  They are easy to target for their contribution to American obesity, but when it comes down to it these same people who point a greasy finger at them are the reason McDonald’s is the powerhouse that it is.  If we didn’t like it, McDonald’s wouldn’t exist.

So let’s just admit to ourselves that McDonald’s is the best at what they do.  And let’s also accept responsibility for what we put into our bodies without acting like helpless victims at the mercy of such a delicious juggernaut.

The Powerful Subtext of Homeward Bound

Subtext-a message which is not stated directly but can be inferred.

Homeward Bound is one of those rare childhood films that can mean more to you as an adult.  I would place Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in the same category, and I explain why in the posts, Willy Wonka is a Fine Wine and Finding God in Film.  These films touch upon universal themes that children either overlook or fail to appreciate because there is much about life they have yet to experience.  In the case of Homeward Bound, it took many repeat viewings and a good amount of growing up for me to grasp the powerful subtext at its core.  From beginning to end this story is about fatherhood.

The film opens with the character of Chance, a young “pup” of a dog, delivering a brief monologue about his past.  He says,  “I was abandoned when I was very young. I lived on the streets scranging for food, sleeping wherever I could; that seemed like fun at first, but pretty soon, it landed me behind bars.”  We learn that he was separated from his parents, and likely also separated from his first owners.  Like a child whose father walked out, Chance feels the sting of abandonment.

The human children in the film, Peter, Hope and Jamie, are faced with the difficulty of accepting a new man in the role of father.  In the beginning of the film we witness a wedding between their mother and her new husband, Bob.  The children, especially Peter, are noticeably troubled.  There is a touching moment immediately after the couple finishes saying their vows where Peter looks down at Shadow and pats him.  It makes me wonder, what happened to Peter’s father?  Did he walk out on the family, or did he die?  It’s likely that Shadow was either Peter’s father’s dog, or given to Peter by his father.  Regardless, we can assume that Shadow is deeply connected to Peter and his lost father.  And in many ways Shadow fills the role of father for both Peter and Chance.

Without question, Shadow is the heart and soul of Homeward Bound.  He is loyal, faithful, and wise.  He is the leader and protector of Chance and the cat, Sassy.  At the start of the film we see that Shadow views Chance much like an old man views the younger generation.  He says, “I’d sure like to give that dog a talking to,” when Chance misbehaves at the wedding.  Then he continues by asking Chance the rhetorical question, “Would a rolled up newspaper mean anything to you?”  Shadow understands that Chance needs guidance and discipline.  He has a lot to learn, since he has grown up without a fatherly example.

Later in the film, after the animals have spent many days journeying through the woods in an attempt to return home, Sassy gets caught in a river and tumbles over a waterfall.  Once Shadow and Chance determine that she must be dead, we see the first moment in which Chance recognizes that Shadow is worthy of his respect.  Here is the exchange.

Shadow: [after Sassy is lost in the river] I shouldn’t have made her come.

Chance: It’s not your fault, she wanted to come.

Shadow: But it’s my responsibility. I had a responsibility to Sassy – to love her and protect her – the same as I have to you… and to Peter. And the same as you have to Jamie.

Chance: But we didn’t ask for this job.

Shadow: We didn’t have to. It’s built in. Has been ever since the dawn of time… when a few wild dogs took it upon themselves to watch over man, to bark when he’s in danger, to run and play with him when he’s happy, to nuzzle him when he’s lonely. That’s why they call us man’s best friend.

Chance: [narrating] Looking at him that night, he seemed so wise… and ancient, like the first dog who ever walked the earth. I just hope that one day, I can be like him.

The exchange could easily be applied to fatherhood.  Shadow speaks of having a responsibility to love and protect those who depend on him.  And when Chance challenges this obligation by saying, “But we didn’t ask for this job,” Shadow responds that it is built-in.  It is a deep and undeniable truth of life.  Many fathers don’t ask to be fathers.  Many fathers don’t accept the responsibility to love and protect their children. Chance is just beginning to understand.

Near the end of the film, Shadow falls into a hole and it appears that he may never get out.  Watch from minute 1 to minute 4.  After, I will explain how this is the moment that Chance fully accepts fatherhood, and Shadow answers the problem of abandonment, which permeates the entire film.

“I won’t let you give up,” Chance promises Shadow.  He has become the loving protector.  He gets down in the mud with Shadow to give him the strength to move forward.  Chance also finally acknowledges that he loves Shadow and wants him by his side.  This shows a profound devotion, much like the kind a father experiences with his son.  But at the same time Shadow believes that his life is nearing its end.  He states, “I have nothing left to give.”  Despite Chance’s sincere efforts to encourage him, Shadow takes this desperate occasion to teach Chance a “final” lesson.  He says, “You’ve learned  everything you need, Chance. Now all you have to learn is how to say goodbye.”  Every father must leave his son someday, and even if he was entirely loving and wise and loyal the son must learn to be on his own.  He must make peace with the absence of his father.

If you continue to watch that clip you will see the children playing basketball with Bob.  They are very happy, and we witness a touching moment in which Peter and Hope call their new father, dad.  It tells us that the children, especially Peter, have accepted him.  This means that they have learned to make peace with the father that is lost. It also indicates that they have made peace with the likelihood that their animals will never return.  They have matured by learning how to say goodbye.  And a major part of saying goodbye is the ability to say hello to what is in front of you.

The return of the animals at the end is deeply moving.  It is also profound.  After Sassy and Chance return, Peter becomes sad as he embraces the likelihood that Shadow was unable to make it.

“It was too far.  He was just too old,” Peter tells himself.

The gulf between the living and the dead appears too far for us to ever be reunited.  How could we ever hope to see them again?

I can’t help but think about God at this moment.  I think about the promise of new life.  All that is written about God being our loving Father, our protector.  How often are we like Peter, losing hope?  It’s too far.  He is too old.  It’s just an old story.

My Father isn’t about to rise over that hill.

Homeward Bound is about fatherhood, and healing from the pain of abandonment when fathers leave.  The entire film is an expression of a father’s devotion to be reunited with his son.

It is about boundless love.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:38-39)

Parents and the Children Who Bring Them to Rated-R Movies

I once saw a rated-R movie at 10:30 pm and there were children younger than 8 running up and down the aisles.   Unfortunately, that wasn’t a surprise for me and my friends.  We have gotten to the point where we expect to find little kids in theaters showcasing films with ratings of PG-13 and higher.  For the toddler, it must be a strange transition to go from Dora crossing rainbow bridges to Lisbeth Salander hog-tying a naked rapist.  I wonder if this phenomenon comes out of the parent’s shameless ignorance, or is it just plain old-fashioned negligence?

I suppose I could go down the road of society’s ever eroding standards of right and wrong.  Parents feel less societal pressure to abide by any set standard of acceptable behavior, since standards are so darn oppressive, and this makes it less shameful to bring your kid to see something like Superbad or Bridesmaids.  Nah, who am I?  I don’t even have kids.

 

So this is what I’m going to do.  I’m not going to make any judgements about what might have gotten the kids into the theater.  Instead, I’m just going to write about why they shouldn’t be there.

For one, it is a huge distraction to have babies crying and toddlers speaking loudly amidst the presentation of a film geared toward adults, and especially at late hours.  When someone takes out a loan to see a movie like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo at 9 o’clock at night, they expect to avoid the Nick Jr. crowd.  It is hugely inconsiderate to everyone else in the theater when a parent brings their child, who is either too young to understand what they are seeing or too young to handle what they are seeing, to an adult crowd.  Perhaps I have it all wrong and these people are brave pioneers in the fight against responsible boundaries, but I’m pretty sure they just don’t care enough about their kids.

Another reason these pre-pre pubescents should stay home is that the things they are being exposed to are truly terrible and sometimes disturbing.  I remember flipping the channels as a kid, and stopping on a movie about giant mosquitoes that bit people until their eyes exploded.  This affected me for quite some time because I was still too young to know that stuff like that didn’t happen.  Little kids are still a long way off from knowing the difference between reality and pretend.   And even if they did posses the processing power to know that a film was fake, they still lack the mental and emotional maturity to respond appropriately to the images and messages being shot at them.   The contents of many films today, even PG-13, are not appropriate for young minds.  Perhaps I have it all wrong, and kids are more advanced these days, but I’m pretty sure they shouldn’t be exposed to murder, gore, and violent sex.

Children shouldn’t be allowed into rated-R movies.  It’s annoying and negligent.  It serves no one but the selfish parent who won’t get a babysitter.  Stop doing it.

Now.

 

How to Judge Movies

I’ve seen many movies.  I’ve seen too many movies.  It is impossible for me to justify how much time I’ve spent watching them.  It has been said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something.  Well, I don’t think I’m quite there but I’m close enough to claim some authority on the subject of film.  For today’s purpose I will write on the subject of judging the quality of a movie: a topic I have pondered much.

Do you believe movies, or any form of art, can be judged objectively?  Can two people with entirely different tastes watch the same film and agree upon the value of its content and structure?   Or are they entirely at the mercy of their individual interpretations, feelings, and opinions?  Could it be both?

When I watch a movie many things occur inside of my head.  I become a part of the viewing experience and allow myself to be subject to the unfolding drama.  Perhaps I am deeply moved, or maybe I am irritated.  One or more characters might resonate with me, and I feel connected.  Inversely, I may not feel any connection to either the story or the characters.  The movie does nothing to reach me, and I walk away unaffected.  All of these reactions have to do with my personal experience with the film.  This is one of two ways that we can judge a movie, and this is likely the way that most people judge them.

The second type of judgement is more detached and objective.  Objectivity is best exemplified, in my opinion, in math.  2+2=4 no matter what any crackpot philosopher says.  When you plug a concrete value into a concrete equation you get a concrete result.  If I challenged the answer of 4 in the equation of 2+2 I would be either a fool, an intelligent fool, or a brilliant fool.  No quantity of words and abstract explanations could change the answer. It is accepted as truth.  So can a film be objectively good, even if I don’t particularly enjoy it?

An artist is an intentional and purposeful being.  Even those artists who say they are making something strange and undefinable operate due to some knowable motivation.  Consider the Terrence Malick film, Tree of Life.  I have heard that even he doesn’t have the words or knowledge to describe what it all means.  And one could argue that any good piece of art can’t be easily defined.  Even so, he understood that to make a movie he needed a plot and some characters.  He needed a setting and some themes.  It is clear in watching that grace and truth are themes, as well as life and death.  The conclusions of the film are abstract, but it doesn’t take away from the necessary and concrete pieces that all stories must contain.  You must have character, plot, setting, theme, and a structure that serves them all.  Tree of Life was nominated for best picture because it can be judged along the same lines as The Artist.  They are very different in content and effect, but the academy understood that both were masterfully constructed by artists who understand the core makeup of a good film.  Movies must follow the rules of good storytelling, and for that reason they can be judged objectively.

Think of a house.  It has been designed by a master architect.  The woodwork has been crafted by a master carpenter.  The plumbing has been installed by a master plumber.  This house is designed to stand and function properly.  It serves the purpose of a house.  No one intentionally builds a house to have leaky pipes.  Now, you might love this house.  You think the layout suits your tastes and needs.  The color scheme is fantastic.  The tiled bathroom seems to call out your name.  Then again, you might not like this house at all.  It’s too big, or too small.  Maybe you don’t like the neighbors.  The house is well-built, but it just doesn’t feel right for you.  It is the same with a movie.  It could be well put together, following the crucial building blocks of a good story, but you don’t find yourself captivated by it.  You don’t  want to spend much time living inside of it because it doesn’t speak to you.  Of course another scenario might be that the movie isn’t well put together, like a house that’s falling apart, but you find some special charm about it that makes you want to stay a while.  A movie can be objectively bad, but subjectively satisfying.  Face/Off and Independence Day come to mind for me.

I hope this has cleared things up for you.  This is how I judge movies; on two levels.  I think it allows for much freedom, to like a bad film and to dislike a good one.  It also distinguishes between the realms of the heart and the mind without putting up a wall between them. So whether a movie touches your heart, your mind, or both, take some time to admire the fine craftsmanship.

Is America a Christian Nation?

Is our country a Christian nation?

The first thing we need to explore is what it means to be Christian.  If you were looking at the true definition of Christian you would find that it can only apply to a human being.  Christians are followers of Jesus Christ who accept his identity as God, savior, and master of their lives.  Jesus told his followers, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”(John 14:15)  Christians love Jesus and live a life that expresses love toward him.  They still sin and fail regularly at imitating him, but at their core they are devoted to the struggle of seeking God in a fallen world.  True Christians are living and active, so this means that CDs and books and movies cannot truly be Christian.  They don’t have the life of God in them.  In the same way a country cannot be truly Christian.  Even if 100% of the citizenry were Christians, and all of the government’s policies were informed by Christian principles, what we would have is a very large Christian community composed of individual believers.  The United States would not be Christian; its people would be Christian.

Now, all of that being said I know that when people call an object “Christian” they don’t believe that it is saved by Jesus.  They likely mean that it has a message which somehow ties into God.  Switchfoot is a Christian band.  Their music is shaped by their beliefs and many call it Christian.  In its own way it points to Christ, so I will say that when anything outside of a human being is labeled “Christian” it must in some way point to Jesus Christ.

The two working definitions of Christian that I will use for the rest of this post are:

  1. A human being who accepts Jesus Christ as their personal  savior, which results in an inner transformation turning the individual, over a lifetime, into the likeness of Jesus Christ.  This means their thoughts and actions will be increasingly like those of Jesus as they seek to know him.  More than a title or affiliation or even religion, Christianity is giving all of yourself with the belief that God will give you his own life in return.
  2.  Anything that is not a human that points to Jesus Christ as he is portrayed in the gospels.  Examples are music, paintings, movies, books, culture, etc.

Is our country a Christian nation?

I have heard arguments from both sides regarding the Christian foundations of America.  One side claims that the founding members of this country were largely Christian, or at least heavily informed by Christian principles.  As a result they drafted our core documents with divine assistance from God and turned to Him in prayer before taking critical first steps as a nation.  The other side points out that many of them were Deists (namely Thomas Jefferson who made his own Bible by taking out all that mystical stuff about miracles and resurrections) or simply non-religious like the Enlightenment hero, Benjamin Franklin.  This side also is keen on emphasizing the separation of church and state, which they say is the intention of our founders.  Taken even further, this separation is used as proof that the founders wanted religion far removed from the governing bodies of this land.  So what’s the deal?

Based on what I’ve gathered, and trying really hard not to let my own bias taint my senses, I believe that Christianity did play a critical role in the formation of this country.  But at the same time ideas shaped by the Enlightenment were used to craft our government structures.  The Bible was not the central document through which the Constitution was formed.  That being said, many of the men who had a hand in the beginning were devout Christians, so it is not correct to assume that they wanted Christians to be separated from government entirely.  Their ideal government wouldn’t be one in which men didn’t allow their faith to play a role in their decisions.  Religion would never be forced on anyone, but America would also not force the religious to deny their convictions once in public office.   If you need some proof of someone in high office exercising their faith, just look to George Washington or Abraham Lincoln.   American citizens elect these people to reflect their own values.

More important than where we were yesterday as a nation is where we are today.  Does our culture look Christian?  Do our policies look Christian?  Are our people even Christian?

Certainly, the dominant culture in this country is far from reflecting Christian values.  The American Dream at its core is about amassing worldly wealth and happiness so that you can have a comfortable life.  Is this anything like what Christ meant when he said to his followers, ” If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”? (Matthew 16:24)  The values that we see on television are shallow and ungodly.  Physical beauty and the vitality of youth is idolized and sex is used as a tool for profit.  How many advertisers and television shows whore themselves in our living rooms?  The internet spills over with porn with millions of men and women captivated by the dull lustful glow of their computer screens.  This isn’t about gay marriage and abortion, though legalized abortion is perhaps the greatest noose around the neck of America’s spirit.  This is about a culture of death.  We live in a culture of death.  In one moment we are thrilled by distant or digital violence and in the next promised that eternal beauty and health is attainable.  Just buy this or watch this or read this.  So much of our culture is based on avoiding the reality of our inevitable deaths.  This is the opposite of the Christian life. Clearly we cannot call our culture “Christian” since it does little to point anyone to Jesus Christ.

But what about our people?

How many people who say they are Christians are truly followers of Christ?  Say 70% of the country identified themselves as Christian.  Of those, how many go to church maybe once or twice a year and live their lives as if they didn’t love Jesus?  A conservative guess would be half.  Just consider all of the people you know who call themselves Christian or Catholic.  Of those, how many would you actually label as a legitimate follower of Jesus Christ?  How many actually live as if God was the love of their life?  I even recognize that I am in danger of falling into this category when I consider how little I resemble Jesus and how much I embody the culture in which I live.

The point I’m trying to make is that Christians, true believers who live for God, are not the majority in this country.  Christians are in the minority.  Many conservatives hold tightly to their traditional “Christian” values but their lives are far from the heart of God.

Most Americans are not Christian.

Is America a Christian nation?  No.  We were once much more united by Christian values, but we are currently far removed from that past.  Our culture is not Christian.  Our people are not Christian.  And increasingly less so.

God moves in the hearts of people.  What will become of ours?

The Far-Reaching Consequences of a Shrinking Egg

Egg on the right is the original 39g

If you know me, you know this story.

In 2006 Cadbury eggs shrunk in America from 39g to 34g.  At that time Cadbury of America hid behind the slogan, “They haven’t gotten smaller, you’ve gotten bigger.”   Of course this was just a ploy and the lid was eventually blown off on the Conan O’Brien show when B.J. Novak (Ryan from The Office) held up the 2005 egg next to the 2006 version.  The difference in size was obvious.  Fortunately, the egg remained the same size in all other countries so any true connoisseur could obtain them with just a little extra effort.  Then in 2008 Canada shrunk their egg to match the American version, and by 2010 only England, the home of Cadbury, held true to the 39g classic.  In just a few short years only one bastion remains.  England is the final stronghold.

A bit of detective work, some would call an obsessive crusade, has revealed to me that Hershey is the true culprit in this crime against humanity.  They are the ones who distribute Cadbury products in America, and they were the first to experiment with the reduction.  I have to believe that when most people didn’t even notice the difference, or when they did notice didn’t care enough to boycott, the power players around the world saw an opportunity to save buckets of money.  If people are going to spend the same amount for less egg it only makes sense to produce more of the smaller eggs.  I can’t say I blame them, but I can’t say I don’t despise them deeply.

So what are the implications of this Hershey/Cadbury (Now Kraft owns Cadbury so they are included as well)  power play?  What happens when a people grow apathetic to the growing influence of their governments and corporations?  Liberty is traded for ignorance.  Freedom is traded for a false sense of security.  The powerful become stronger while those subjected to them become weaker.

We’ve settled, people.  We’ve settled for a smaller Cadbury egg.  When Netflix went crazy with arrogance and decided to raise prices and make their service less convenient by breaking it into two entities, people jumped ship by the hundreds of thousands.  This forced Netflix to keep their prices low and ditch that lame “Flixster” idea.  When Bank of America said they were going to start charging a $5 debit card fee, people revolted and forced the banking giant to drop that scheme.  The American people have the power to change policies.  We are the ones who give these corporations power.  We are to blame for the 34g Cadbury egg.

As long as the same nerds who hate George Lucas keep giving him money, George will keep ruining Star Wars.  As long as people keep seeing bad 3D movies, Hollywood will keep making them.  As long as we keep watching the new terrible episodes of The Simpsons, they will keep animating them and ruining their once great legacy.  As long as we keep eating these false 34g Cadbury eggs, they will keep feeding them to us.

This Easter season, don’t settle for less.  Purchase your eggs from England and take a stand against tyranny.  Another American Revolution is coming, but this time our freedom comes from the British.

Why Google is the Antichrist

You know you’ve made it when people start believing that you might be the Antichrist. Basically every modern president, and a good number of world leaders ranging from Hitler to the Pope have been given that title by some group of people searching for a sign of the end. A few years back someone told me, in all seriousness, that Obama was the Antichrist and Oprah was his false prophet. Now, that sounds pretty ridiculous, but let’s for a moment consider what qualities one must possess to be a worthy contender for the title. The Bible contains a number of verses that describe this “man of lawlessness” or “son of perdition” who “exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God”. (2 Thessalonians 2:4) Basically he will be a powerful figure with incredible influence over the people of the world who will attempt to take the place of God. Look at this verse…

“And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in heaven. And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast.” (Revelation 13)

Wow, that is a lot of power and influence! Who or what could possibly possess these striking and blasphemous qualities? I submit, after much consideration and a few Google searches, that Google is a legitimate contender.

Let’s start right at the Google search engine. If you type in “Google is” you get the following suggestions: Google Israel, Google is God, Google is, and Google is evil. Israel is significant as it is the home of God’s chosen people, the Jews. It contains the city of Jerusalem, which was the site of the Temple. The Jewish people built this temple thousands of years ago, and it contained something called the Holy of Holies, which was a sacred place in which God resided. This temple was destroyed long ago, but many believe that it will soon be rebuilt. Anyway, it is significant that Google Israel is the first thing to pop up considering the following verse, “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel–let the reader understand.” (Matthew 24:15) In one sense, it is not hard to envision a rebuilt temple with a computer inside of it containing the internet, and as a result Google. But in another sense you can see how Google is already standing in the holy place since this is the first suggestion to pop up, and Google is in close proximity to Israel. Let the reader understand. Google is God doesn’t require much explanation. The verses I’ve already written for you contain much about the Antichrist attempting to seize God’s place in the world. God is meant to be the focal point for those who believe, and as an idol which steals our attention from the Almighty, Google takes His place. Google is might need some clarification. In the Bible God refers to Himself at various points as I AM. Jesus also does this. I AM is a way of stating absolute being. Google is strikes me as similar to I AM since it is a simple statement of being. Once again, Google attempts to supersede God. Google is evil looks like a warning to me. The Antichrist will be evil underneath all of his attempts to appear like God, just as this fourth suggestion appears underneath the others.

I also want you to consider the nature of the Google search engine. What do we use it for? Have you ever heard someone say, “What did we do before Google?” We use it as a means to find the answers. Do you have a strange rash? Type it into Google and find some answers. Want to know what Christians or Muslims believe? Just search for it in Google. Want to know anything and everything? All you have to do is sit down at your computer and search. Google is the number one search engine, and as such guides millions and millions of people every day to the information that Google deems appropriate for them to see based on their terms. Who do we turn to for the answers? Who has authority to guide us? What influence.

Google is available all over the world and in almost every language. Remember the verse from earlier, which states that the Antichrist has “authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation”.

Google is also a portal to all of the evil that can be found online. This is the darkness underneath the false appearance that we find so appealing. It tempts millions to sin.

As a corporation, Google’s informal slogan was “Don’t be evil.” Does that strike anyone as a little suspicious?

Google basically owns the Internet. Here is a line from an article I found at the top of my Google search:

Google decides what information is going to be seen in front of all else. People go to Google.com first, so ultimately because of its loyal following, Google has been given by many the authority to decide what gets seen on the internet and what doesn’t.

Along with this authority, Google also owns YouTube, which is the window to the world for many. Google has the whole world in its hands with Google Earth and maps out our lives with Google Maps.
In many ways, Google is the Internet. The source of billions of pages of information containing our histories, religions, politics, hopes, dreams, fears, and destinies. Such power. Such influence. Such a capacity for evil.

Watch this video.

A Note: Verses from the Bible can be stripped out of context and used to promote a variety of ungodly ideologies. Satan himself does this in the Bible. (Matthew 4) The Bible is meant to be read as a way to connect with God, or to understand Him better. I wrote this partially to entertain and partially to draw attention to how influential Google is in our lives. I’m not truly a believer that Google is the Antichrist, but I am a believer that Google is a powerful entity with the power to shape our thoughts through the spreading of information. We must be aware of the influence of technology, and especially the internet, in all of our lives whether or not we believe in God. But to the Christians I would say not to scoff at the idea of Google as an antichrist since it can serve as a wide gateway to a whole world of sin.

Nate King’s Unconventional Christmas Movie List

By Nate King

Over the holidays most sit down to a prescribed dose of traditional Christmas movie cheer. I, like anyone, have my own list of films that usually wind up getting watched every season. Classics like A Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Family Vacation and Elf (Yeah it’s a classic, don’t fight me on this) are watched without fail at least once every November/December.

However I’ve discovered another list of films, films that don’t seem to be recognized quite so often under the average persons category of “Christmas movie”, yet ones which also find their way into my home the same time every year. This is a list of all those movies, and believe it or not they are all Christmas movies.

1. Die Hard 1 and 2

It’s reasonable to assume this list owes it’s entire existence to these first two films. I only noticed this unconventional Christmas habit after discovering just how often Die Hard had been watched in my home each season. It’s also the first out-of-the-ordinary Christmas film I remember watching and it would be foolish to think it hasn’t lead to others. See, my mom apparently has a thing for manly men solving the worlds problems with guns, which must have made John McClane a particular attraction of hers, because every year without fail me and my mom have wound up in front of the TV watching Die Hard together. A Christmas party turned hostage situation laced with one man’s pain and sacrifice for the good of his soon to be ex-wife. What could be more seasonal? And the sequel, sure it’s pretty bad but it only follows naturally, what do you expect us to do; not watch it?

2. Lethal Weapon

Murtough and Riggs: Two cops with only one thing in common, a hate for working in pairs. It’s the story of two of the most dissimilar people on the planet being forced together over the holidays and having to make the best of it. It’s like every family Christmas gathering you’ve ever been to! Throw in a climax leg choke-hold in a jollied up, Christmas lit, suburban neighborhood and you’ve got yourself a Yuletide classic. Bonus points for direction by Richard Donner.

3. Road to Perdition

One of my favorite films of all time. I suppose it’s less a habit of watching this one during the Christmas season than it is watching it all year round, which happens to include the Christmas season. A Christmastime tale of family love, loyalty, and betrayal, all leading up to the greatest use of a Tommy gun in cinema history. Good and evil archetypes are woven into a simple yet seamless story, while every frame remains purposefully shot, and every actor (including my Hombre) chomps away at the chilly set pieces. Set in the winter of 1931 it’s an incredibly moving examination of the powerful relationship between father and son. You know who else was a father and son? God and Jesus.

4. Fellowship of the Ring

The greatest of all three of The Lord of the Rings films. Never let anyone tell you different, and don’t dare refute me. The series holiday release schedule may have sparked its position on this list, but this film’s particular tear-jerking execution of the books greatest promises: themes of friendship, love, sacrifice and death, ensure its survival in the dvd player throughout the cold winter months. You shall not pass through the season without watching this movie at least once.

5. The Proposition

Perhaps the greatest western made in the past decade, it’s not a western at all. Or is it? Well it’s not, but wait – then again – you’re wrong – it is! Get what I mean? Set in the Australian outback it’s far from anywhere that the word “western” might be applicable as a descriptor, just the same it exemplifies the genre keeping all the bells and whistles, style and substance that one would associate with Sergio Leone himself. This tale follows an alienated brother of outlaws as he seeks redemption for himself and his youngest sibling, all the while paralleling the life of an English law enforcement officer struggling to protect and provide for his wife during the Christmas season, in one of the least Christmasy places on earth.

6. In Bruges

One of my new favorites and an instant Christmas classic. Set in Bruges over the holiday, two assassins wrestle over the soul of a young man. A story revolving around judgment and death, it’s themes garner bonus points for intricate reflection upon the concepts of heaven and hell, right and wrong and the true origins of Christmas, Christ and our relation to him.

7.The Bourne Identity

It’s the classic scrooge tale, following a botched mission causing him to lose his memory, a once brainwashed super soldier so deeply enmeshed in the CIA covert ops system only one man knows he’s on our side is forced to come face to face with the reality of just who and what he is, and change his ways in light of the holiday season. It’s a tragic tale concerning lost identity and found purpose, and leads us to one of the greatest questions of our own lives; just who are we really and what is it we’re fighting for? When the Christmas season rolls around are we the person who finds it better to give, or receive?

8. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

A throwback to film noir’s golden days, it’s a detective comedy set in LA narrated by Robert Downy Jr. A crazy Christmas caper with Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas hats and other Christmas doodads filling up scenes from the same writer as Lethal Weapon. And Val Kilmer as “Gay Perry”.

9. Batman Returns

I really don’t see the need to explain this one. It’s Christmastime Batman with working Bat-presents. However I will defend its greatness. It’s a film that accepts its established character to such an extent its focus shifts entirely to the villains. A number of movies could learn a thing or two from this film. And it hosts the greatest performance of Michelle Pfeiffer’s life.

10. The Iron Giant

There’s a theory floating around that I created this film myself, and that somewhere in the post development process I simply hit my head so hard I, and every other member of the cast, crew and production just plain forgot. It only stands to reason because it encapsulates everything I love about everything so well. Don’t let my own biases fool you however, it’s an incredibly affecting modern day feature that everyone is sure to enjoy. Despite floundering at the box office upon release, it is one of the most intelligent science fiction movies in recent years, perfectly satirizing the militaristic fear of its 1950’s McCarthyite backdrop. It’s the heart wrenching tale of a boy and his giant weaponized space-invading robot who, with the help of Superman, learns the value of pacifism. Love, fear and sacrifice culminate in this epic story to tell us, We Are Who We Choose To Be.

11. Fargo

There is so much snow. So. Much. Snow.  It only seemed fitting to end this list with another movie I first experienced with my mother. The overwhelming parka use is enough of a reason to turn this movie on during a brisk winter night, but it’s important to know going in that the comforting images of bundled cast members are the best this movie has to offer in the way of making you feel all warm and tingly inside… well that and Frances McDormand. A wood-chipper? A wood-chipper???

Honorable Mention

Gremlins. It fell out of the loop a long time ago. It’d be a lie to say I still appreciate it the way you can argue I should. But those things are creepy man.

Super Honorable Mention

Superman The Movie (1978). Please, what list wouldn’t this movie be on? Lets hear it for the greatest portrayal of the person everyone should aspire to be, ever. No not the guy with superpowers who turns back time, the guy who puts everyone else before himself and who always finds time to recognize the partnership with his fellow man. “Don’t thank me warden, we’re all part of the same team.”

Additional Credit to: Nate King

Special Thanks: Nate King

The Real Santa

When I was 8 years old I heard something in the living room after everyone had gone to bed, and for one more year I believed in him.

I spent a good portion of today wrapping presents: gifts for nephews and nieces, siblings, parents, and fiancées.  When it was all done, and I had cleaned up the extra paper, I looked at the gifts all stacked together.  In that moment I remembered a time when I truly believed that not all gifts came from Mom and Dad, but also from a magical old man who wished for me and the other children of the world to have extra happiness on Christmas.  I recall the sense of wonder on Christmas Eve as I imagined Santa flying all over that strange world I knew so little about, and feeling that tingle of joy at the thought of him stopping at my house.  Every Christmas morning I found evidence of his fantastic visitation.  Always there were a few presents from Santa – the real Santa.

I was never told directly that Santa wasn’t a real person.  That fact came gradually as I came to understand the world in which I inhabited.  For sure, it didn’t help that my siblings were significantly older and far beyond their child-like belief.  Perhaps they did little to reinforce the story or assure me that my doubts were unfounded.  My young peers would discuss whether or not the jolly old elf actually existed, and it became increasingly difficult to believe.

How could he do it all in one night?

What about poor children?

What about kids who don’t celebrate Christmas?

What about houses that don’t have chimneys?

The questions mounted, and belief gave way to reason.  At the tender age of 7, Santa ceased to exist.  That is, until Christmas Eve the following year.

When I was 8 years old I heard something in the living room after everyone had gone to bed, and for one more year I believed in him.  I opened my door to see if my parents were out there, but they seemed to be fast asleep.  The living room was filled with presents along with that special joy found only on Christmas.  Perhaps Santa did exist.  At that moment I decided that I would believe in the man once again.  It wasn’t the kind of evidence that would hold up in court, but for an 8 year old longing to believe, it was all the proof I needed.  The real Santa was alive.

Now I buy the gifts, and I see behind the scenes.  Santa is me, and he is you.   He is a symbol for giving and kindness.  To some he is a mere secular distraction— a myth perpetuated by corporations and parents looking for another way to keep their kids in line.  To others he is a harmless holiday icon.  But who cares what we think?   Santa isn’t real to us.

We would do well to ask the children who the real Santa is.

They know.