7 Quick Takes: In Poor Taste

Ha.

Never mind the talk about sex, gin, or condoms –  I really ruffled some feathers when I allowed my violent distaste for “The Little Drummer Boy” to spill over into the public realm.  Well, I stand by my words.  It’s just a dumb, dumb song, and I don’t like it.  Harumph all you want.

Okay, that was kind of a stretch.  My point is that, despite my entirely justifiable disdain, I can understand why you would like “The Little Drummer Boy.”  Not because there’s anything good about it (there’s not), or because there’s anything wrong with you (there is), but because personal taste is a strange and embarrassing phenomenon.  As my old college professor used to say, De gustibus non figureoutum est.

So, just to let you know that even a sneering elitist like myself has some chinks in my armor (although my heart of stone remains intact), I present:

Seven Examples of Simcha’s Execrable Taste

1.  Footprints in the sand.  Did you ever look back on your life and see the part that was all soggy?  That was me, weeping heartfelt tears over this unforgivable bit of religious schlock.  It doesn’t even actually make sense.  When you felt the worst, that was when God was carrying you?  Does He do that?  In my experience, it’s more like He says, “Go ahead and have a tantrum — see if I care!”   And the He stands back with his arms folded and watches me make a fool of myself, until I get so worked up that I fall down and hit my head on the coffee table.  Then He picks me up, checks my pupils to make sure I don’t have a concussion, and maybe puts on Shaun the Sheep for a while until I calm down.

Don’t ask me what the sand would look like at this point.

But yeah, “Footprints in the sand” kind of gets me.  Whatever.

2.  Billy Joel’s “Leningrad.”

It’s bad enough that it’s Billy Joel, but why “Leningrad?”  I hang my head in shame.

3.  SpaghettiOs.  Yes, I realize it’s basically extruded flour glue in warm ketchup.

 

Remember that movie Se7en where the guy makes the fat guy eat all those SpaghettiOs?  Hated the movie, but I would love to be that fat guy.  Except for when he gets killed.

4.  Plastic leaves.  We had a Greek myths birthday party in September, and I liked how the dining room looked with strings of plastic ivy tacked onto the wallpaper, so I left them up.  They’re from Dollar Tree, and now my house looks like Dollar Tree.  It’s my house, and that’s how I like it.

5.  Gold or silver spray paint.  IT MAKES EVERYTHING LOOK FANCIER, and you can’t tell me otherwise.  So if you get something like this from me for Christmas

it’s not ironic hipster kitsch.  I just thought it was purty.  Don’t you like pretty things?  What are you, some kind of monster?

6.  Nic Cage.

 

Not because of his puppy dog eyes or his upsetting hair, the shredded wheat-like likes of which have not been seen since Gene Wilder in his heyday

 

– but because of a kind of a funny story.  You see, about ten years into my marriage, my husband rented a movie with Nicholas Cage in it.  I forget what it was, but it sure stunk, as Nicholas Cage movies are wont to do (yes, Bad Lieutenant was mesmerizing.  The Rock was fun. Raising Arizona was amusing, though overrated — but let’s face it, he’s only still around for the same reason as you keep that horrible old tippy coffee table:  because it more or less does the job, and you just don’t have the time right now to go out and get a replacement.  Nicholas Cage:  go ahead and put a wet glass on him.)

Oh, I think the movie was Ghost Rider!  Anyway, we just couldn’t watch it.  And we are people who watched Zardoz all the way through.  We watched Thunderball all the way through.  We watched Yentl, for pete’s sake.  Anyway, it developed that my husband had chosen Ghost Rider because he thought I had some particular affection for Nicholas Cage (which I don’t); and I watched it because I thought he wanted to watch it (which he didn’t).  Very Gift of the Magi, isn’t it?

So that’s why I like Nicholas Cage.

7.  Budweiser.

 

I like how it tastes.  So sue me.

And then head over to Conversion Diary, where Jen Fulwiler is hosting 7 Quick Takes.  I can almost guarantee you that nobody else’s list will force you to think about Nicholas Cage’s hair.  Although Advent is a penitential season.

If the movie offend thee

You all surprise me.  You really do.  As I write, there are seven comments on The Jerk’s first movie review, and not a single one expressing moderate to quivering righteous indignation at the implicit endorsement of a trashy piece of work likeRoadhouse.   I was expecting a nice loud chorus of, “AND YOU CALL THIS A CATHOLIC BLOG?”   Boy, if this were Inside Catholic, I’d have been excommunicated at least twice by now (although the second time wouldn’t count, because Pope Michael of Kansas has had his excommunication privileges temporarily taken away by his parents, who do, after all, own the garage apartment he lives in).

My flexible friend.

I guess I’ll just chalk your laxity up to the heat, and go ahead and write what I was planning to write anyway, because I think it’s an interesting topic.

I mean, we have to have some standards, yes?  You really can’t call yourself a good Catholic and then just go ahead and do whatever you want.   Seriously, no matter how many college courses we took, there must be some movies that Catholics shouldn’t watch, some music we shouldn’t listen to, some clothes we shouldn’t wear, words we shouldn’t use, quantities we shouldn’t drink, and so on.  That’s the whole catch in that “Love God, and do what you will” thing:  if you actually do love God, then you’re not going to want to move away from Him; and certain activities certainly do make that gap wider.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I am fairly susceptible to the “It’s okay because I’m edgy” trap.  It’s not conscious, but I tend to feel that I’m sooo smart and ironic and a anyway a good mother and all, so it’s probably really okay for me to do . . . well, just about anything, as long as I have lots of babies and pray most days.

In fact, it’s more than okay:  why, I’m rendering a valuable service to the reputation of the modern Church. By indulging in various seemingly unholy activities (and I’m talking about medium-bad stuff like drinking too much, showing a little too much skin, swearing, speeding, telling dirty jokes, etc.), I’m  not only not a bad Catholic, but it makes me an extra-good Catholic, because I’m not one of those fearful, novena-haunted zealots who can’t see past their own mantillas to the rich and burgeoning sensual world of culture and art.  No water in the wine!  We’re Catholics, not Puritans — we can handle it!  After all, how are we going to share the Good News if we’re too timid to step out of our crisis bunkers?  How will secular folks take us seriously if we look like weirdos?

Tell me they don’t look like weirdos.

Actually, despite the above picture which I couldn’t resist posting, the matter of how we dress is a whole other kettle of fish, which I definitely want to talk about later.  But for right now, in light of yesterday’s post, let’s just consider the movies we watch. We watch a lot of movies at our house.   Fairly often, my husband and I discuss whether or not it would be a good idea for us (just us, not the kids) to watch something–usually because it has too much graphic sexual stuff in it, but sometimes because it just has too much of a nasty feel.  We talk it over, based on what we know of the reputation of the director, the trailers we’ve seen, etc., and then decide together whether or not to see it (and if only one of us says, “Let’s not,” then we both don’t).

Sometimes it’s pretty obvious that a movie is not for us (or for anyone).  We discussed Sin City (this link is to the parents’ guide, which, in describing why the movie is inappropriate, is itself fairly inappropriate!) for about two seconds before we nixed it.   It looked like it might have some artistic merit, and yet it didn’t seem worth going to Hell for.  On the other hand, we did watch Eastern Promises, which was sexually explicit and violent and grim as all get out.  But it was a good movie, maybe great.  I cautiously recommend it.

We don’t want to miss out on good movies.  But I guess the best possible thing to do would be to err on the side of caution, and always always skip movies that we’re afraid might have a bad influence on us.

Or is that the best possible thing?  We love movies so much, and have such good conversations about them, that I have a very hard time believing that Catholics should confine themselves to G movies (do they even make those anymore?), although I do have some respect for people who have that much will power.  After all, approximately 94%* of western culture was made possible by the Church in one way or another, and not all of it is paintings of fat cherubim.

Here is what we have figured out:  it’s kind of like chastity**.  Say you’re abstaining.  So you’re not going to have sex today.  But, dammit, you are a married couple, and the chaste behavior of a married couple is different from the chaste behavior of a pair of dating teens.  So, yes, you’re allowed to do more, without doing everything.  But you have to be smart about it.  And you have to understand that your standards and limitations might change from month to month, or even day to day, depending on your mood, your attitude, your spiritual state, your current relationship with your spouse, what you did yesterday and the day before, etc.  What could be some good clean married fun one day can be a disaster the next, even if it’s objectively the exact same behavior — it all depends on the context, your motivations, and on what you know will happen to you if you do it, if you can be honest with yourself about your own weaknesses.  (And of course, there are some things which are always off-limits, no matter who you are or how you feel today.)

So, in the same way, a movie that is fine to watch one evening, and gives us food for thought, and provokes rich, marriage-building conversation and camaraderie–this same movie might be an occasion of sin, or even a sin, the next week.  It all depends.

So, what’s a movie viewer to do?  I think this is the point at which many good Catholics throw up their hands and decide to play it safe, and just stick with super-safe fare.  Which means you are going to end up seeing a lot of Doris Day

and then you will have to claw your own eyeballs out, which would be a shame.  There are other approaches, however.  Here is what we do:

  • As I mentioned, we discuss movies ahead of time, and we try and be honest about our mental, spiritual, emotional, and, ahem, physical state.
  • Then we watch the movie.  If someone starts, say, taking their clothes off, we cover our eyes.  To cut the tension, we make spitting noises at each other, or occasionally punch each other.
  • If it gets too bad, we turn it off.

Well, that’s it.  There’s my brilliant three-point strategy for avoiding hellfire without having to watch Calamity Jane.

I once posted a silly review of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours (in which I compared it to the Odyssey; yes, I did), and warned the readers that the movie contained “some tough scenes, including partial nudity and various creepy and depressing conversations.”  Well, someone who signed himself “Scandalized” responded:

I watched this movie based on the author’s recommendation. I’m sorry I did as I believe it’s offensive to God to sit through a movie like this. The nudity, the gay kissing scene, the trashy dressed room mate? What the author describes as ‘tough’ scenes to watch would be more accurately defined as occasions of sin.

[snip]

There was a time when this kind of entertainment would have been blacklisted by the Catholic Church (under pain of mortal sin we would have watched it)….but now (for the mature viewer, anyway) it’s become entertainment good enough to be praised on a Catholic blog.

So I says to him:

I’m truly sorry you were disappointed. If you never watch movies that have nudity or immorality in them, however, I’m not sure why you decided to watch this one, when I warned you that those scenes were in it! I thought the photo of the shark graffiti would serve as warning, also.

Maybe it will make you feel better if you know that my husband and I cover our eyes and make stupid noises during certain types of scenes in movies. Then we quickly peek at the screen – uh oh, they’re still naked – look away again, bah bah bah bah – and then look again to see if it’s safe yet.

You see, I agree with you that movies can be an occasion of sin. We make an effort not to watch those scenes which are bad for our souls, and we do make the decision to skip certain movies altogether, even if they seem like they would be entertaining.

The Church no longer lists forbidden movies, but she still holds us to the same standards — it’s just that we’re supposed to impose those standards on ourselves.

So, one question: did you watch the whole movie, or did you turn it off when it started offending you?

Durned if he never got back to me on that last question.  But that’s what it boils down to, it seems to me.  If the movie offend thee, then turn it off.

_______________________________________________

*Shut up, I said “approximately”

**By this hugely misunderstood word, I do not mean “celibacy.”  I mean living in such a way that your sexual behavior is appropriate to your station in life.

Finally got around to watching Inglourious Basterds

photo source

I’ll admit it, I felt great watching the first half of Inglourious Basterds.  We saw it a few weeks ago, and it was exactly the palate cleanser I thought I needed after that appalling gorgon Helen Thomas gave tongue to her revolting little swan song.  It wasn’t Thomas herself who gave me concentration camp nightmares.  What really made my flesh crawl were the throngs of little cockroach voices cheering her on in comboxes everywhere. (They feel safe to come out when it’s dark, you know).  I know that people are at their worst when anonymously reacting to a news story, but I was horrified by the sheer numbers of those who felt comfortable shrieking out in fury against the Jews.  Things have changed.  You don’t have to be paranoid to realize that antisemitism is creeping back into style.

So I enjoyed this movie, at first. Who wouldn’t want to see pure evil get some payback for a change?  The story was fascinating, and each scene was, of course, gorgeously shot.  I laughed and laughed at the funny scenes, and in the tense scenes, I nearly chewed through the arm of the couch.  Even though I covered my eyes while the avenging basterds carved up helpless Nazis by the dozen, I enjoyed it.  On the whole, it was an entertaining, wildly original movie.  But I felt sick and guilty by the end.

Not because of its incredibly brutal and graphic violence, which was, according to the Tarantino tradition, lovingly caressed by the camera so that not a single splat of brain tissue was left behind or forgotten.  I think his ultraviolent genre is tiresome, but I can work around it and enjoy a movie, as long as my husband tells me when it’s safe to look.

The movie annoyed me because I don’t know what it was for.  I guess it was, in part, supposed to be an indulgent revenge fantasy which makes reparations for the Holocaust,  using the only means a movie maker has:  by redoing it all on screen.  This is the way things should have happened, right?  It scratched that anti-evil itch.  And as I said, I enjoyed it at first.

I don’t mind a movie that isn’t for or about anything, as long as it’s entertaining . . . unless it’s this one.  Why?  Because every time the Jews won, I was reminded of how, in real life, they didn’t.  The revenge was so complete, so over-the-top, it stopped working for me.  Hitler wasn’t merely  gunned down at close range — his killer went back and sprayed more bullets, and more and more and more bullets, back and forth across his dead face.  The sheer boundless triumph of the victory was answered, in my mind, by a persistent echo which said, louder and louder as the movie went on, “The opposite happened.”  I’m sorry, I know this is terribly melodramatic, but the piles of dead children in my recent  nightmares didn’t get much satisfaction from this film.

I had other problems with it, too.  Why were there no Jews in it?  I know there were supposed to be — but why did those characters not appear Jewish in any way?  Okay, some of the actors had big brown eyes, but aside from that, there was not a speck of Jewish culture or sensibility to be found.  That would have made the revenge more satisfying, if some of the avengers had been identifiable as Jews in anything but their thirst for vengeance.

There’s another big problem:  vengeance isn’t actually an especially Jewish trait.  Oh, in personal matters, maybe (just ask my husband).  But in large matters, Jews thinktoo much to be able to carry out a plot so simple as utterly blotting out the enemy.  Jews are never single-minded, but in this movie, all they had to say was “YAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!” as they gouged out larynxes with their bare hands, or whatever.  No argument, no analysis, no guilt, and no jokes?  Come on.

There was no sadness in the movie, either, only rage.  That struck me as unforgivably lacking in a movie about Jews.  Jews are always sad, even when they’re enjoying themselves.

I know you can argue that this wasn’t really a movie about the Holocaust, or about Jews, or about the war.  I get that:  it was about revenge in general.  My husband thinks that, if the movie was saying anything at all, it was saying that revenge is hollow.  It certainly felt that way by the end, with the distorted image of the giant face laughing maniacally as everything went up in flames — an image so tawdry and overblown that it had to be deliberately clichéd, right?  So it wasn’t just a regular cliché, but an ironic cliché?  Meant to show you that . . . what?

It was also clearly supposed to be a movie about movies.  Everything happens within a theater, either literally (at the end, when all the biggest Nazis die) or figuratively (when the “German Sergeant York” is rewarded for killing Allies by starring as himself in a movie about killing Allies).  References and homages to other films abound.  Okay, so it’s about movies.  But . . . what about movies?

Tarantino is so childish, but he frames scenes like a god, so it’s hard to stay away.  He keeps hinting at gargantuan talent, but he’s so darn lazy:  his movies are set up to be meaningful, but rarely deliver. Once again in this film, Tarantino is under the impression that he is actually saying something, when he merely sets the stage, and then rolls the credits.

I wouldn’t say “don’t watch this movie.”  I would just caution you that you will feel agitated and unhappy inside after you do (and not only because of the nearly illegible yellow subtitles) .  Quentin Tarantino is not going to grow up, so I just wish he would would hire a partner who could take his original ideas, his brilliant comic inspirations, his wild pairings of image and sound, and turn them into a movie that knows what it’s about.

What do you think?  Am I missing something here?  I was fully prepared to enjoy this movie, but it didn’t happen.