Friday, December 29, 2006

Will the real Jesus please stand up?

I recently watched Talladega Nights, which as a movie was a wholly disappointing enterprise and odd mixture of graphic sexual language, poor character development, and awkward plot progression (though it begs the question of whether a movie can be disappointing if very little is expected in the first place). Despite the obvious and recurrent flaws of the movie, one scene did make me think. Early in the movie, Ricky Bobby is praying to "baby Jesus" while saying grace for a meal. When he is questioned about the correctness of his prayer, since Jesus was a man, Ricky replies that he just likes thinking of Jesus that way. Upon this confession, the others at the table communicate how they picture Jesus, each of which reflect some understanding about their character. The scene made me think about how many of us create a picture of Jesus to suit our particular bent in life. For example: to the conservatives, Jesus was a moral crusader campaigning for right action and behaviour; but to the liberals, Jesus was a revolutionary who advocated political anarchy in the name of transcendent love. Unfortunately, some of these stereotypes have become entrenched in wider culture and in the church, particularly the fair-skinned, sun-bleached, blue-eyed, domesticated image of Jesus that was perpetuated during my childhood, only to now be unfortunately replaced by the fair-skinned, sun-bleached, blue-eyed, tortured picture of Jim Caviezel's portrayal of Jesus in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. But how often do we question our Jesus - our preconceived notion of who Jesus is? Ricky Bobby is forced to consider his "baby Jesus", but I think that we do not often question our version of Jesus, and that we often allow such thoughts to interfere with our viewing of the real Jesus - the Jesus of the Bible and tradition and who was tough and loving and active and gentle and a complete paradox of God and Man. Let's make sure to look past our filters to see the real Jesus - not baby Jesus, not bloody Jesus, not conservative Jesus, not white Jesus, not anti-homosexual Jesus - Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, and the Saviour of the world.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Rocky Balboa

I was in my mid-teens when I first watched Rocky. Over the years, I have watched its sequels repeatedly, with the exception of Rocky V, which had a horrible reputation by that point. I did not want to tarnish the Rocky legacy in my own mind and heart; now, with the release of Rocky Balboa, I no longer need to worry about that happening. This film represents the true legacy of Rocky: a story about an ordinary man who faces extraordinary circumstances. Rocky Balboa is tied most closely with the first picture that won Best Picture thirty years ago stylistically and thematically; although it briefly acknowledges the largesse of the Rocky films in the 1980s, the film avoids the kind of cliche and overwrought sentimentality that plagued the films in the middle of the series. Stallone's Rocky is a man who is still seeking his true purpose, and who has to answer the question of who he really is in the only way he knows how: in the ring. He is proud but humble, weathered but earnest, tired but energized, and Stallone manages to convince the viewers that once again, he is Rocky, and not Stallone. His performance, and the film, have nuance and sublety and even a message, perhaps one of the most poignant of Stallone's career. One website connects these themes to Biblical principles and presents them in a way that Bible study leaders can then use in their small groups, but I think that that processing, while beneficial for some, may also inhibit the interpretation of the artistic nature of the film. Rocky Balboa, like the original Rocky, is about a man searching for his purpose in life, and trying to convince the people in his life to do the same. It took sixteen years for this movie to be made, but it was worth the wait. This is the movie for which Rocky fans have been waiting for thirty years, and it was worth the wait. Rocky Balboa shows that the character, the franchise, the city of Philadelphia, and Stallone the actor could "go the distance." And remember this advice from Rocky: "it's not about how hard you can hit; it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." I am glad that Stallone moved forward, and that he has inspired me to do the same.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Commodifying Christmas

In some ways, I do not like Christmas. I complain every year when Christmas decorations are up the day after Remembrance Day, and complain even more loudly when they precede that day. I rant and rave about how Christmas is being monopolized, corporatized, modified, commodified, and bastardized by companies, and how it is becoming little more than a hollow shell of its once glorious self. But today I was reminded that I too, whether by subconscious exposure or through direct saturation, model some of these practices which I detest so vehemently. I still measure gifts and evaluate spending and allow commercial interests to determine my personal relationships. I still match up my total expenditures against total income to find out if I am "making money" on Christmas. I still lose the meaning of Christmas in all of the hustle and bustle and merry-money-making. And I still make those same mistakes year after year without realizing it. I do not know exactly how to avoid this kind of mindset, since it is so all-pervasive, but I know that I need to try to do my part to keep away from the "X-mas-ization" of this sacred time. I hope that now that I have reflected on this year and observed some of my mistakes that I can fix them for next year, and really celebrate Christmas the way it needs to be celebrated: with gifts as honest expressions of caring for the people in my life, and receiving gifts with grace and joy. That's the kind of Christmas that I want.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Operation: Internship...Complete!

Yesterday was my last day as a teacher at HCI. It is sad to think that I will not be with those kids and the staff when they come back in January, but it is also exhilirating to think that I have only one semester left before I can go and teach for a career. Everything is wrapping up well here, and all that is left is to finish up the moving back to Saskatoon. Oh, and Christmas too.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Reflections on Survivor

[Warning: Survivor discussion ahead!] Survivor: Cook Islands finished over the weekend, and it turns out that my pre-season predictions actually turned out pretty good, as all four of my picks made it at least to the jury, which was as good as the writers at RNO. The thing that really surprised me about this season was how interesting it became. Although the premise of racially-divided tribes was very engaging, the cast had initially seemed somewhat bland, and it seemed especially more so after some of the more colourful (and annoying) contestants were voted out early on. But the series produced one of the most physically talented Survivors yet (Ozzy), one of the most strategically talented Survivors yet (winner Yul), and one of the best "villains" yet (Jonathan), the three of whom made the season worth watching in spite of the presence of many immature and uninteresting cast members. It was also interesting to see the evolution of the game: the challenges were more difficult, the strategy was more involved, and the twists were more common and more drastic. Cook Islands also featured some Survivor firsts: the first time for three in front of a jury, the first all-minority final four, the first Asian-American winner, and the most diverse cast yet. In the end, it was a good season: not one of the best three, but probably in the top five or six seasons yet. The question now, of course, is how can Survivor stay fresh? Season 14 will be in Fiji, and it looks interesting, as it will feature some new twists, like two immunity idols and a tribe that gets to live in luxury. It looks interesting, but I think that Survivor is nearing the end of its run: I anticipate that there will be only two more seasons after Fiji, with one season being a second All-Stars edition. See you in Fiji!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Callin' in sick

Sometimes I need to be reminded that the world can go on without me, and this is one of those times - sick days. I rarely take them because I rarely get sick. I remember that my parents forced me to take a sick day in grade 12 (I was not going to take because I had too much stuff to do at school that day, or so I thought), so I stayed at home and played Donkey Kong all day until I felt better. I have rarely missed classes in university due to illness, and even rarely on this internship...until now. I started feeling woozy on Friday, and I spent the better part of the weekend stuffed up and headachey. I started to feel better, but then it turned into a stomach thing, and back into a feverish head thing. Normally, I would just push through it, but I know that if I do that it will just be worse for longer, so I think I will actually take a sick day tomorrow and avoid leaving the house. It is really difficult for me to do that, though - it almost feels like an admission of weakness; the irony, of course, is that it is, but that I still do not want to recognize the presence of such weakness despite its universality. So I will take a sick day, get caught up on some rest, and the world will go on without me, and I will just have to join in on Wednesday wherever the world may be. And hopefully I'll be feeling better by then.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Mark my words

I think I have discovered a new "worst thing about teaching": the marking. I had the unfortunate circumstance of starting all of my units at the same time due to the mid-semester break, and so all of the students' assignments came in around the same time, therein creating an overload of marking to be completed before I leave at the end of the week. But it is not just the workload that is bothersome - it's the entire enterprise as a philosophical debate. What qualifies me to grade students? And assuming I am qualified, how do I determine those marks? What is the difference between an 80 and an 85? A 75 and a 76? What does a 90 actually look like in practice? What does it matter if all the students do is look at the number and toss it away, maybe after arguing with me about it? Why do we even use this horribly inaccurate, idiosyncratic, seemingly arbitrary system to determine the worth of the students? Because our system is established around those marks, and we cannot change the system. Or so I am told. So, for now, I must put any philosophical debates aside and simply strive to get the marks in so that students can look at that number at which I painstakingly arrived, compare it with all of the others in the class, and stuff it in their binder never to glance again on my comments about comma splices or transitions. Well, maybe my class on Assessment and Evaluation will help me semester, after I have already completed internship. Sigh.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Studio 60

My most recent television project was to try watching Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, NBC's much-hyped new drama about the production of a weekly sketch comedy series from Aaron Sorkin (Sports Night, The West Wing). Although I feared that it might quickly devolve into a self-congratulatory pat on the back in-joke for the entertainment industry, and though according to this flowchart I have no business watching the show, I have now watched the first two episodes and been riveted. The writing is compelling, the pacing is captivating, the interplay between characters is intriguing, and the hypothesizing of "what if this was real" is engaging. It is smart, funny, and knows when to be serious and when to lighten up. In addition, it is interesting to note how the interaction of religion and culture will be developed, as leading cast member Harriet Hayes is a devout Christian (even praying before showtime) while there are show sketches about "crazy Christians". I waited to check it out until NBC confirmed a full-season order, so at least major plotlines can be resolved. (By the way, has anyone else noticed how NBC took over the TV world again this year? Heroes, Studio 60, the Thursday comedy powerhouse of My Name Is Earl and The Office...for the first time since the end of Seinfeld, NBC is actually Must-See TV. But I digress.) So Studio 60 should keep me busy over the holidays, especially with no new episodes of Heroes until January. Now, the question is whether I will actually try to watch 30 Rock...

Friday, December 08, 2006

The final six

[Survivor spoiler alert!] Survivor: Cook Islands is finally nearing its conclusion, as there are now six survivors left after the ouster of my favourite from this season, Jonathan (which was not only a silly move strategically for several of the remaining six, but also one that makes the show far less entertaining). But an important question remains: it is now December 8, and there are two episodes and a finale left, and if form were to hold true, the finale would be on Christmas Eve. There is some talk that because there were more Survivors at the beginning and a larger jury, that there might be three Survivors facing the jury. Three! As much as I enjoy the twists and turns that are introduced to the game, this is somewhat akin to Jeopardy! eliminating Final Jeopardy! without notice, or The Price Is Right just up and trashing the Showcase Showdown. The fact is that the conclusion of this season will be interesting, but that I do not foresee that Survivor has much time left before it really has gone too far. Then again, it is essentially the pioneer of a genre, and it is now in its thirteenth season - how much more can it give? I guess "Yul" see what happens over the next few weeks, and it would be "Adam" shame if they messed with the jury.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

History bites

I have recently rediscovered the wonder of History Bites, a Canadian comedy show that satirizes historical eras by imagining if television was around in that time. I discovered it in my search for resources for teaching (in which several episodes will be most useful), but they are also very entertaining just watched by themselves. And then I realized that I actually enjoy being a history geek: knowing the dates, and how things work together, and even debating the validity of the history upon which we focus and the accepted canon of historical knowledge, especially at a secondary level. I also enjoy communicating that knowledge, and determining creative ways for students to learn it. I realized a few weeks ago that I think I would rather be a history teacher that uses literature than an English teacher that uses history. (I do use the word "history" rather than "social studies" deliberately - the two terms are often conflated, but are not equivalent. But I digress.) Anyway, my point is that I like history, and especially History Bites.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Reading style

Sometimes, they get these internet quizzes right. I think this is actually a fairly accurate description of me as a reader (and a description that seems to be appropriate for a high school English teacher, too).

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen

You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Dedicated Reader
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

(Thanks to QOWP for the link.)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

For your consideration

I recently watched the newest Christopher Guest (and company) film For Your Consideration, which is all about what happens to the cast of an independent film when Oscar buzz hits. It is as hilarious as its predecessors in this family (A Mighty Wind, Best In Show, Waiting For Guffman, and This Is Spinal Tap), though it is slightly less of a "mockumentary" in the truest sense - that feel comes from the interspersion of entertainment news bits throughout the film. Nevertheless, it is certainly a mockumentary, and maintains Guest's title as the king of that unfortunately limited genre. The mockumentary has begun to expand into television, as some shows like The Office have made use of the format, while others like Arrested Development have also maintained that feel but without the presence of the documentary interviews, but still there are few mockumentaries. Why is it a fairly limited genre - why are more people not making mockumentaries? I think it might be because it is slightly more difficult to create the world of the movie and also to create the world viewing the world of the movie all within the movie. It is difficult to make a funny mockumentary, and it requires a lot of ingenuity from the director as well as the actors to do so well. But with documentaries on the rise, as they have been in recent years, should it not follow that mockumentaries will also see a surgence (not really a resurgence, since there is no surge to repeat)? In some ways, I hope that more mockumentaries can succeed, but I also hope that the genre maintains the general level of quality that it has kept so far. And that Christopher Guest keeps making great movies.


Life of Turner is licensed under a Creative Commons Canada License. Subscribe to posts [Atom] [RSS].