In the current American scene, references to “culture” have become as ubiquitous as references to freedom, diversity, and acceptance. While many Christians are leery of what the secular world thinks those latter three words mean, we are quite ready to accept contemporary definitions of “culture.” For most people, culture is “books and movies and things,” although if you ask a thoughtful person to elaborate on what he meant by “things,” he might say, “Well, magazines and the internet, and news, and fashion, maybe even the kind of artwork Starbucks puts on their cups at Christmas.
In the last five weeks, I have read Hamlet out loud four times, and watched most of Branagh's version four times, as well. While Hamlet is a great many things, during these readings, the play more and more struck me as a story about a series of very terrible plans. I am willing to credit Fortinbras and the Devil for fitting, cunning plans. Everyone else, however, is quite lost. Here are the dumb plans of Hamlet, ranked.
When I was fifteen, I saw Blade Runner and it overwhelmed me, though I had little sense of what the film was about. When I revisited the film several months ago, I found it was about epistemology, doubt, and personhood. On my first viewing, all these things went over my head. I could appreciate the film, but not fully.
After lately seeing Larry Nassar receive a nearly 200 year jail sentence, I was reminded of the other profoundly long jail sentences modern courts sometimes set for egregious crimes. In 1994, Charles Scott Robinson was sentenced to 30,000 years in jail after he was convicted of raping six children. This is the longest jail sentence ever given in America, though jail terms in the 500 to 1000 year range are not entirely uncommon. In 1989, a court in Thailand convicted Chamoy Thipyaso of corporate fraud and sentenced him to 141,078 years in jail.
God will not always help you rise.
In the first canto of the Comedy, Dante is lost in a dark wood. Then, like the prodigal son, he comes to himself. Unsure of how long he has been lost, Dante sees light emanating from behind a mountain before him. We know that the darkness around him is sin, and the light is God, and that Dante is rising to be with God, his Deliverer. However, his path up the mountain is blocked by three vicious beasts, and Dante retreats back down the mountain where he encounters Virgil, who leads him into Hell.
Talking to the damned is more difficult than you might imagine. When Dante enters Hell, he is lost, lamenting his spiritual malaise, and yet he has been given time and space to find the path to God again. Hell makes for an unusual path to God, for it is littered with the souls of those who finally rejected God. If a man who feared Hell had the chance to talk to a man who had actually been eternally consigned to Hell, what kind of questions would be the most spiritually helpful? Yet, many of the conversations Dante has with the damned strike modern ears as rather bland.
As modern men, we take the arbitrary nature of the world for granted. Every man is obviously allowed to determine the rules for himself. I pray you have not seen many vampire movies, or many zombie pictures or werewolf films, but if you have, you know that within the first act, the director must establish the particular vampire or zombie rules which will govern this film. Will the vampires in this film be averse to garlic or not? How about holy water? Sunlight? Crosses? Silver bullets? Stakes through the heart?
No one is truly offended by a man who criticizes others. A man who criticizes others can be easily dismissed. Mencken criticized Americans and Americans gobbled it up. No latter day atheist is more beloved of Christians than Christopher Hitchens, who mocked and belittled Christians in winsome fashion. The cynicism of Ambrose Bierce indicted all who breathed, and yet we read Bierce with a knowing smile. When I read a man criticize others, I get to criticize others with him. What is more, I am skilled at dodging the insults generally directed at others.
Given that clean entertainment is one of the great sacred cows of American Christianity, I should probably begin with a bona fide or two, so I’ll say that, with a few notable exceptions, I would be perfectly content for America to return to the old Hays Code standard for motion pictures: no graphic sex, no graphic violence, no pointed profanity, and no ridicule of the clergy. The merciless demand for realism which has arisen since the abandonment of the Hays Code in 1968 has polluted American art beyond measure. Gone is subtlety, gone is nuance, gone is dignity.