Friday, May 26, 2006
Sunday, May 21, 2006
This will be my last post on this subject. I don't think I want to beat it into the ground.
What amazes me about the characters in The Davinci Code is the way that they conduct their business and do their work. Most of the book's characters are academics, but they all go about their work each day like they were solving Cyptoquips. Most of the people in academia I know go about their work in a much different fashion. People in the sciences spend their days repeating banal procedures or engaging themselves in trial and error. Academics I know who involve themselves in the liberal arts tend to spend their days reading and then trying to craft explanations that an elite group of their peers might actually understand.
Moreover, Robert Langdon, the book's main character, is a symbologist and that isn't even a real academic discipline.
Finally, I'll post a link to an article about the stylistic deficits of the book. I'm not one to judge, but I did find the article interesting. Link
Okay, that's enough Dan Brown for now. I may succumb to temptation and post something when I actually finish the book, but I doubt it.
Monday, May 15, 2006
When I was growing up, my Springfield, Missouri, home was less than half a mile away from Brad Pitt's boyhood church. As I went to college, my dormitory was just across the street from Brad Pitt's old frat house. Now that I live in Singapore, each day I get to pass a gigantic billboard with a picture of Brad smiling down on me and urging me to buy a brand of expensive European watches. Even though the presence of Brad Pitt seems to loom around wherever I go, most of these things are coincidences. Springfield isn't that big, so when someone makes it big it seems that nearly everyone has a little insider knowledge or a personal anecdote. (Just ask my mom who has taught a few of the Pitt nephews.) What is far more problematic is when the ubiquity celebrity isnot created by coincidence, but by a constructed multi-million dollar marketing scheme.
In Singapore the advertising market isn't that big, it is about the size of Chicago; so when the powers that be want to get the word out, all they have to do is spend the big bucks and the entire market has been reached. A Star Wars exhibit opened up at the science center and for a brief period of time every other television commercial urged you to go see this exhibit of "galactic proportions." A nostalgic movie theaterreopened and the exact same poster of a smiling Singaporean couple dressed in eighties garb was placed at every bus stop in the entire town. However, the mother of all massive marketing campaigns that I have observed in Singapore features a bunch of Indians, a flock of doves, and Richard Gere wielding a credit card.
The commercial starts with some haunting Indian music and a camera panning over the red landscape of India. Next we are shown a picture of a smiling Indian salesman wearing a turban and traditional Indian clothes who talking to Richard Gere. Throughout the entire commercial, Richard takes on an almost savior-like appearance. He appears calm and collected, and he is wearing a spotless all-white suit and his show white hair shines in the sun. The salesman explains to Richard that if you buy the birds and release them you will obtain luck. Next, a girl goes up to one of the salesmen and asks for two birds because her brother is going on a journey. The salesmen shakes his head and frowns when thegirl pulls out here money and asks for two birds. "I'm sorry," he says, "that is only enough for one bird." At this cue, Richard Gere springs into action and discreetly pulls out his Visa. All of the jolly Indians smile and the next shot is of a the girl preparing to release her single bird. As soon as she lets it go, Richard gives the wink and a flock of doves flies out from every direction. The commercial ends with the smiling face of the little girl and a sales pitch for the credit card.
If I had only seen this commercial once or twice, I would have been impressed by it. If I had seen this commercial only ten to twenty times, I would have remembered it and remarked about the rarity of seeing A-list celebrities in ads. However, I estimate that I have seen this commercial well over one hundred times in the past ten months. Watching this thing has almost become a ritual. It is routinely shown on bus and subway LCDs, it is on television, and an extended commercial is shown in the movie theater before each movie.
I'm even getting a little concerned. What will my life be like when I go back to the states and don't get to see this commercial? When I walk don't the street in Springfield and I can't find a Jumbo-Tron to watch this thing on, what will I do? I've seena lot of movies in the theater since moving to Singapore and I have gotten quite used to seeing this commercial. Will I be mentally prepared to watch a feature film on a big screen without this commercial as a prelude? Maybe I'll just have to emulate this thing myself. I can buy myself a white suit and I can get a buddy to dress up in a turban. I could even release a few doves in the movie theater before the show. I guess that is what this commercial wanted me to do isn't it? Release birds in an obscure Indian ritual.... Maybe the goal was for me to become more like Richard Gere! In the commercial he bought luck, in Shall We Dance he bought dancing lessons, and in Pretty Woman he bought....
Maybe being like Richard Gere isn't such a good idea. I guess I better just shop at places that take Visa. The card is, apparently, everywhere you want to be.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Thursday, May 11, 2006
I once visited a pastor's home in the United States. It was a nice home that looked just like any other upper middle class home. There were books and magazines on the coffee table, a computer desk in the corner, and a comfortable couch. However, there was one thing that was odd and seemed a little out of place. Upon entering the front door, one of the first things that a visitor saw was a poster that had an organized mission statement for the pastor's family and underneath the statement were some family rules. It was a nice statement, the mission statement referred to preaching the gospel and glorifying God within the household and the rules were based mostly on the Proverbs, but it was written and displayed in pretty much the same way a Christian CEO would display a corporate policy or church board would list their objectives.
At the time, I didn't think too much about the mission statement sign. In fact, I thought it was kind of nice that they had everything written down. It wasn't until yesterday when I was talking to a fellow teacher that I work with here in Singapore that I remembered the mission statement. She and I were discussing her son's video game playing habits and in response to one of my questions she replied, "That's not part of the [family's] program."
"Program?" I repeated. She responded, "Yes, the program."
When I think about my experiences growing up, I realize that I didn't have any programs or mission statements. When I was a young child, my family had a few rules that mainly dictated how far away from the house I could go and the time that I had to go to bed; but by the time I had entered high school most the rules had gone by the wayside, and my family seemed to operate on a loose set of expectations that we would love and respect each other.
Looking back, sometimes I do wish that my parents had been a little bit harder on me when it came to doing things that I didn't really want to do. In retrospect I kind of wish my parents had made me read the Bible a little bit, pushed me harder to master a musical instrument, or required some kind of physical training. However, I understand why they probably didn't do these things. I was a pretty good kid and did almost everything they asked. Why would they push the envelop and tempt rebellion when their kid is already obedient, church-going, an A students, and an Eagle Scout?
Still, even if my parents had decided to do some of these things, I can't imagine being brought up in an almost corporate way. What kind of mentality would I have? Would I need a day planner for Saturday game night? Would my allowance be docked if I didn't show up on time to something? If I wanted to do something that wasn't on "the program" would it be possible? What if as I grew up I began to disagree with one of more of the points on the mission statement?
Maybe all of these questions are silly. In the my Grandparents' day home life was centered around work. People worked outside the home and the whole family worked inside the home too. Without electricity and indoor plumbing, eating and cleaning took a lot of time. People today, including myself, don't expect to work much in the home. Sure, the grass might need to be cut with the riding lawnmower, the dishes and clothes might need to be put in their respective automatic washers, and sometimes we might even use hazardous chemicals to clean the toilets; but for the most part a person isn't tired after they do those things. There's still seems to be plenty of energy to sit up and watch Jay Leno until eleven o'clock.
Today, life away from the house isn't centered on work, but on serving a corporation. If you "work" at all it is usually done behind the phosphorescent glow of the computer screen. Could it be possible that the key to success in today's society is operating your family like a corporation? Since information and skills are now a commodity, is it the duty of parents to store them up inside of their children. Should a kid's life be structured to produce optimal efficiency in each endeavor?
I sure hope that we haven't created a society that phases out (or at least schedules) day dreaming and soul searching, and commodifies the amount of time we spend in our relationships with other people. I don't have any kids and I probably won't for a while, but I do teach kids and I occasionally give advice. My stock answer for the junior high kids that I teach is usually "obey your parents." Yet, as I interact with the kids more and more, I am searching for what that truly means.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
I've read the first fifty pages of The Davinci Code and I still haven't turned to witchcraft or paganism, and I still desire to be in the mission field.
A Brian McLaren interview was sent in a Sojourners newsletter today, and I thought that I would repost parts of it. I don't agree with all of it, but it is sure to ruffle some feathers.
Do you think the book contains any significantly detrimental distortions of the Christian faith?
McLaren: The book is fiction and it's filled with a lot of fiction about a lot of things that a lot of people have already debunked. But frankly, I don't think it has more harmful ideas in it than the Left Behind novels. And in a certain way, what the Left Behind novels do, the way they twist scripture toward a certain theological and political end, I think Brown is twisting scripture, just to other political ends. But at the end of the day, the difference is I don't think Brown really cares that much about theology. He just wanted to write a page-turner and he was very successful at that.
Many Christians are also reading this book and it's rocking their preconceived notions - or lack of preconceived notions - about Christ's life and the early years of the church. So many people don't know how we got the canon, for example. Should this book be a clarion call to the church to say, "Hey, we need to have a body of believers who are much more literate in church history." Is that something the church needs to be thinking about more strategically?
McLaren: Yes! You're exactly right. One of the problems is that the average Christian in the average church who listens to the average Christian broadcasting has such an oversimplified understanding of both the Bible and of church history - it would be deeply disturbing for them to really learn about church history. I think the disturbing would do them good. But a lot of times education is disturbing for people. And so if The Da Vinci Code causes people to ask questions and Christians have to dig deeper, that's a great thing, a great opportunity for growth. And it does show a weakness in the church giving either no understanding of church history or a very stilted, one-sided, sugarcoated version.
On the other hand, it's important for me to say I don't think anyone can learn good church history from Brown. There's been a lot of debunking of what he calls facts. But again, the guy's writing fiction so nobody should be surprised about that. The sad thing is there's an awful lot of us who claim to be telling objective truth and we actually have our own propaganda and our own versions of history as well.
Let me mention one other thing about Brown's book that I think is appealing to people. The church goes through a pendulum swing at times from overemphasizing the deity of Christ to overemphasizing the humanity of Christ. So a book like Brown's that overemphasizes the humanity of Christ can be a mirror to us saying that we might be underemphasizing the humanity of Christ.
Sunday, May 07, 2006
In Singapore, the race is on amongst Christian leaders to attack The Davinci Code. According to all of the big names in evangelical Christendom there is no greater threat to the faith than the release of Dan Brown's novel in film format. I saw a commercial for a seminar that featured Josh McDowell warning that hundreds of people were abandoning the faith and that some missionaries were leaving the field because of The Davinci Code. My church has hosted a seminar brought to us by the friendly people from Campus Crusade for Christ; Singapore Bible College professors are on the offensive; and we have even had a special presentation about the dangers of The Davinci Code delivered at the middle school and high school chapels.
I don't want to demean the efforts of the people who seek to uphold the truth and defend the faith. However, ultimately I think all of the attention is just making people more curious about a silly fictional novel. It is true that a lot of people are ignorant of basic historical facts and that the prevailing relativist mindset of the day pushes people to find man made construction and conspiracy theories in just about anything that makes sense. What else is new?
Because I am a Christian English teacher, I am consistently asked to weigh in on issues. Unfortunately, I usually don't have much to say. I haven't even bothered to read a single volume of Harry Potter and out of fear of hypocrisy I tend to keep mum about condemning movies. However, this time it is going to be different. I purchased The Davinci Code a week ago and in between grading term papers I'm going to read this book.
Nevermind that I finished The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukugawa this week and A Short History of the World by H.G. Wells last week. (The secular ideas in these books have been around for years and have inspired all breeds of humanism and warfare.) I'm not going to clutter the nearly infinite capacity of the blogosphere with rambling rehashes of these works. I realize that Tom Hanks, an insignificant feminist puppet of Dan Brown, is jesuitically wielding a pistol of lies at the temple of my Savior and marching on the front lines of Beelzebub's brigade. I'm going to read this book use this blog to drop the Fat Man of truth and obliterate the mushroom cloud of lies surrounding this deadly volume.
You can bet there will be at least on more blog post about this issue!
Stay tuned kiddos!
Monday, May 01, 2006
I've had a relaxed and sedentary three day weekend. It is Labor Day, but it seems like only the white collar crowd gets the day off in Singapore. It seems like a normal business day.
I was all set to install a Ubuntu or Mandriva Linux Distro on my Laptop, but it just proved too daunting of a task. I couldn't find a good partitioning program, I gounf out that you had to pay for Mandrive support, and Ubuntu doesn't really support my wi-fi card, sound card, or accelerated graphics card. Some people in linux forums said that I could make it work, but I guess I don't feel up to the challenge.
I did, however, give my computer a snazzy new desktop. I thought I would show off my slick new interface. I high recommend Crystal XP combined with Y'z Dock. They are very slick programs.