Category: Culture

Top ten podcasts

This changes a lot because I’m subscribed to about 60 podcasts…so maybe this is just my favorites for 2016…so far…

1. The Briefing by Albert Moehler

It’s amazing that he’s able to do this podcast every week day. The quality of the content is remarkably high and deeply relevant. Moehler will be remembered as an Evangelical giant (warts & all).

2. Thinking in Public by Albert Moehler

I’m really am not that big a fan of Moehler (evidence to the contrary) but his podcasts are really great. I find his dogmatic adherence to mechanistic 6 day creationism to be both troubling and kind of heroic (watch the South Park episode about the Redskins and you may see what I mean). Also getting Mike Licona fired was pretty terrible. Moehler was just flat out factually incorrect in the way he dealt with the issue of inerrancy in that case, but part of why I respect the man so much is that he’s old school. He’s a man of integrity who acts on what he believes. But like all of us he’s not perfect. He’s also a former journalist and extremely well educated/well read/deeply sourced/scholarly etc. Thinking in public is simply an amazing resource for Christians and intellectuals. So so…so good…it just has become so infrequent, otherwise it would be my #1. He used to get one out every month. Now it seems like it’s every 2 or 3 months. He’s a busy guy so I’m just happy he does it at all.

3. MonsterTalk

I have loved cryptozoology & megafauna my whole life. I still remember a missionary from Africa telling me stories about 40 foot crocadiles and pythons that swam to Madagascar. I think I was 7 at the time and I bought it hook line and sinker. Or Ken Ham talking about Mkele Mbembe at Irving Bible Church. Or…I could go on and on. But this podcast is so great because it’s basically Thinking in Public with skeptics (and nerds) and of course about monsters instead of culture/theology. But the guys behind this podcast are really smart, cool, and civil. And they do a great job getting hold of experts and interesting guests. This podcast has really opened my eyes to how much fake stuff is out there and how important being skeptical is for a coherent Christian worldview (despite their protestations to the contrary this podcast suffers greatly from dogmatic materialism and ghettoized “science”). I  disagree with some of the fundamental assumptions at play here but despite that they’re doing a really great job, and I just learn so much every time I “tune in.” Additionally I feel so challenged and exhilarated by the wealth of information. Blake’s puns are nauseating…but he’s a nice dude so I’ll forgive him.

4. Serial 

Everybody loves this one…it’s great!

5. The Dice Tower

This podcast and the YouTube videos basically got me into board gaming. Tom Vasel and all these guys are awesome. Don’t believe me? Check out this video:

6. The Federalist Radio Hour

Just really high quality conservative political discussion. Being weekdaily makes it a huge plus.

7. You Must Remember This

I love old Hollywood. I love stories. I love movies. I love Karina Longworth! Even when she does those dumb character line readings (they all sound like a bad Katharine Hepburn imitation). The content and production values are just really great.

8. Unbelievable?

I don’t often learn much from this podcast anymore but it’s always entertaining and interesting. If you are interested in religion at all it’s worth checking out.

9. 5 Live Sports Podcasts

I listen to a lot of sports podcasts! Since cutting cable I’ve had to become more proactive about getting sports coverage. Maybe I’ll do a list of my top Ten sports podcasts. But for now I’m just saying 5 live sports coverage, the football one is probably my favorite but BBC stuff in general is fantastic and their sports coverage is very good.

10. Peeranormal

Heiser is one of the coolest evangelicals out there. His interests are so wide ranging and he’s really smart. I love Fortean paranormal stuff and the fact that they only discuss peer reviewed stuff on this podcast is just so original! I love it. This will probably be higher eventually but it’s very new so we’ll see.

The Mask Society Wants you to believe in

Last night while searching for something to watch on Netflix I saw a doc about the “boy crisis” in America. It is called The Mask you Live In. This morning I turned it on with eager anticipation. I turned it off 20 minutes later. 

This documentary was a chance to be honest with men, to listen to boys and understand their perspective on things. That is something women get all the time. But instead this doc fell prey to exactly what they claim they don’t want to do: force men to live in a mask. What they want is to solve the problem of masculinity, something men are continually damned for doing: being solvers. I can’t believe how many times I heard the women who raised me damn my father and grandfathers for trying to solve problems. Then when they couldn’t solve problems they were damned for that as well. Add this to the mass of media that shows men to be insensitive and incompetent as well. What was I supposed to believe about myself? No matter what I do in life I will be damned by women. If I am successful I will lose those I love, if I am not successful I will fail those I love. How many times have we seen that in movies? The man who provides for his family by being successful loses his family because he doesn’t spend enough time with them, but the stories we tell about unsuccessful men tell us the opposite: success equals love. So which is it? Only the perfect man who is equally sensitive and equally successful will be truly loved?

And more importantly what about me? What do I want? What do I get from all this struggle? Doesn’t matter. I’m a man. What I want simply isn’t relevant. Why? Because manliness is the problem and it must be fixed. By who? By men? No, by the idea that gender is socially constructed. The troubling thing about this idea isn’t so much that it’s false as that it gets used to try to make men into women. It’s inverse feminism. Feminism was predicated on the gnostic affirmation that womanliness was weakness and therefore women needed to rid themselves of the feminine mystique in order to be successful. Now we’re being told that the masculine mystique is keeping men in chains and if they want to be happy they need to become like women. None of this makes any sense at all, and all it’s doing is making us all more confused and unhappy.

I’ll never forget the end of Friday Night Lights. The moment that is most impactful to me is when the RB Billingsley is embraced by his father (wonderfully prayed by Tim McGraw). The whole film his father has abused him mercilessly and at this his lowest moment his father is finally there for him. That doesn’t make the Dad’s other evil actions justified but all the other stuff fades away as the Father embraces his son who has just lost the State championship, and the father takes his state championship ring off his finger and places it on the sons. The son is crying and the father just holds him. This is the secret to healing manliness. It isn’t to make men feminine, women are just as screwed up as men. That won’t solve anything. The only solution for broken manliness is the same as the solution to every other human woe: love. In that moment this bitter twisted red neck father becomes The Father. As in The Father from the parable of the prodigal sons. The Father literally takes his own possessions and covers the shame of the runaway son with his own glory and love. He places a ring on his finger! He gives him love that is unconditional. He welcomes an successful son home.

My favorite film of all time is Warrior. The end of the film has 2 brothers literally MMA fighting each other and it ends with them embracing, carrying, and forgiving each other. Everytime I watch it I begin to weep uncontrollably as soon as the song About Today begins to play. I don’t know why but that song’s deep tragic beauty just moves me. I don’t really feel like describing the ending of another sports film right now but each of the key moments of healing in Warrior are moments of unconditional love: between men. They are moments of total manly acceptance. And they are all ugly moments. Ugly moments made beautiful by radical self giving love.

Men don’t need to be fixed. They need to be accepted, they need to be loved. Regardless of performance. Regardless of success. They need a perfect love that casts out fear. And the good news is that this love is very real and very available, it doesn’t cost us anything. Because it cost our True Father everything: His Son. We are all prodigal sons looking for a father, for a home. We find substitutes for these unmet desires with success, sex, sports, etc. But none of those things matter out side of our true Father’s love made freely available to us through His Son. This is the only solution, this is the only possible remedy: a love that casts out fear.

The great coach Tom Landry wrote at the end of his autobiography:

“Think for a moment about the factors that most often prevent anyone from reaching his or her greatest potential-in whatever the field. In my experience as a football coach, I’ve seen two common barriers that most often prevent people from performing to their fullest potential. The first is a pattern of past failure and past mistakes. The second thing holding people back is a fear of failure.

The basic tenets of Christianity address both those problems and remove both barriers. As a Christian I believe my past is forgiven; I can start over with a clean slate. The mistakes of the past need not hold me back. Neither does my fear of failure-because as a Christian I believe God is in ultimate control of my life. While that doesn’t mean I’ll always win the championship or never get fired, it means I can believe the promise of Romans 8:28, which says God can bring good out of every experience for those who trust in him. So I don’t need to worry about failing.”

Really what holds us back is fear of failure. Failing our wives, mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. That’s what drives so much of our manly dysfunction. That’s why men don’t want to cry in public: they feel they’ve failed someone and lost love in the process. But Jesus says to us men you cannot fail me, I took all the failure in the world upon myself and I ate it up. I absorbed it all and I beat it literally to death. You don’t have to worry about failing anymore because while sons and daughters may reject and disrespect you, wives may leave or cheat on you, fathers and mothers abuse and abandon you I will be with you always.

Amen.

Godzilla!

The stark contrast between Western Kaiju movies and traditional kaiju movies is that in the west the human is the main character and the Kaiju are supporting. Godzilla 2014 made this abundantly clear. That movie is about a family and how their lives are ripped apart by kaiju. And it was filmed so that you always felt that the view was realistic, it was always from an angle that a regular person in the screaming masses could’ve actually seen. The main appeal of traditional kaiju films are the gigantic battles filmed like a sporting event (sumo wrestling specifically).

Pacific Rim has both these qualities. The awesome struggle between giants but still the film is really about several human characters. And in many ways it has more in common with alien invasion movies like Independence Day (and remember the dudes who made that movie made their own Godzilla film). The kaiju are soldiers in Pacific Rim, not characters.

But Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra, etc are characters. They are the main antagonists or protagonists in their films. Gamera and Mothra are always protagonists and Godzilla switches. King Kong might be the father of all this wonderful kaiju nonsense. And if he is he clearly falls under the traditional vein at least as much as the western one. It seems a bit obvious when you simply look at the titles. The first Kong film, and the same basic premise that keeps getting remade, is really the story of a few characters and their adventure. But without Kong and his island there’s no adventure to go on, and really Kong is the showpiece. He is the reason we are watching.

I don’t know why I felt the need to pen these thoughts, I was watching Godzilla 1984 for the first time and it just became abundantly clear to me how different the cultural lens are that have produced these kaiju movies. If the Jurassic Park films count then they also figure perfectly within the western frame.

And I think Godzilla is especially interesting as a cultural artifact. In some ways he represents the Asian ideal of natural balance. Godzilla changes from film to film in what he symbolizes. As I mentioned above sometimes he’s a hero and sometimes he’s a villain. When he’s a villain he often represents either the natural backlash against Japan’s rise leading to WWII or the shame and fear experienced by the Japanese in their failure during WWII, the penultimate moment being of course the atomic bomb. When he’s a hero it seems as if he represents the inverse natural principle: the hope of the balancing of nature. All this should make clear why Japanese Godzilla films are about Godzilla and why western versions are about people. The Japanese view themselves as a people, a community within a natural construct. Westerners deny both the community and the construct. As a Christian I see problems and virtues with both.

But take a step back and look at how amazingly appropriate Godzilla is as a Cold War Icon of Japan. First take a further step back  and think of another film that needs be discussed.

Seven Samurai is like Casablanca switched places with The Third Man…in Japan. What I mean by this is that Casablanca is in many ways about the United States gaining honor amongst the nations of the world for the first time. Not an honor of power or victory: an honor of moral dignity, of radical altruism. The third man is like the cynical inverse (a truly unfair one given how much money and work the US put into rebuilding war torn Europe) where we see the United States bumbling about in post war profiteering of the worst sort. In other words it halts the optimism of America’s place in the post war world.

Seven Samurai is like this in reverse. It takes a fallen disgraced people and personifies them as honorable peasants and Ronin. This is why the title is so telling. It isn’t called the seven Ronin, it’s called the seven samurai. This is like a film about 7 mafios or mercenaries in the west being called the seven Knights. Japan lost her sense of self after WWII. She had been shamed. She had gone from Samurai to Ronin. Yet according to Kurosawa she still had the soul of a glorious samurai. She wore the clothes of a Ronin but needed to reclaim the bearing of a Samurai.

The trouble is that practically speaking this was essentially existential optimism. Every other country had been left in the dust by the rise of the Soviet Union and the United States: two countries made of little countries. It’s no surprise when you consider the science of success as to why these two giants had arisen from the bones of WWII. They were big. Big means diverse. And diverse means more chance of success.

But this shows us why Godzilla is just as important as Seven Samurai to understand the soul of Japan. Gojira unsurprisingly came out the same year as Shichinin No Samurai and from the same studio. But what we see in the Kaiju genre is the Cold War writ large from a third party perspective. Two titans duking it out. When one looks carefully at the situation surrounding the nuclear bombing of Japan it is apparent that the strategy had little to do with conquering Japan and much to do with the Soviet Union. In a way the Cold War started on V E day. This means that Godzilla simply is the atomic bomb: a burning, crushing, apocalyotic monster indifferent to Japan. Japan was simply a playground now for the rising world Giants. Maybe they deserved this disgrace and maybe they didn’t, it didn’t matter: the world had become a kaiju and the Japanese felt like it was coming for them.