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.

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The only crappy thing about CW’s The Flash

Candice Patton…oh man she’s awful. Granted I’m only just now wrapping up Season 1 so maybe she gets better…but right now this show is basically perfect…except for her unbievability as a human. She has zero chemistry with either men she’s supposed to have feelings for and she always looks wonderstruck in the dumbest way possible.

I just watched a flashback scene where she was quite moving for the first time, so maybe the future is bright but so far it’s been basically all on Grant Gustin to convince people that Iris is important to this story. 

Here’s hoping, because until this year I didn’t care at all about these characters. The amazing Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox changed my mind forever. Now The Flash (Barry Allen) is one of my favorite characters. And I never would’ve watched that film if Kevin Smith hadn’t talked about Kevin Conroy’s amazing but brief performance in Flashpoint on his podcast Fatman on Batman. With just a few words Conroy reduces me to tears (admittedly like Mr Smith, this is not hard to do). But the Flash is a highly underrated superhero and it’s really awesome to see him get such a wonderful treatment by the CW thanks to Berlanti, Kreisberg, and the inestimable Geoff Johns!

Also the Mark Hamil episode may be the single greatest thing in the history of things. And I think it’s basically an icon of the cult/geek/comic zeitgeist we’re currently swirling in. I will probably do a post on that someday.

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.

Why I am a Christian

There are many things I could say here, but to focus the issue I should really rephrase the question: why do I remain a Christian?

The answer is fairly obvious: Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected from death. This is part historical truth and part theological reality. The historical truth is quite easy to prove. Bart Ehrman’s excellent book Did Jesus Exist? absolutely smashes the stupid claims of mythicists (it is charitable to call them stupid for truly they are in fact evil). But he comes to what should be a troubling conclusion for a non Christian historian such as he: the disciples believed that they saw Jesus die and then they believed they saw him return to life. Yet Ehrman remains deconverted from Christianity, as he is unsure how to understand the experience of the disciples. But this piece of history seems relatively easy for me to interpret: after suffering death on the cross Jesus was raised to eschatological life. Lazarus died again. Others who had been brought back to life had eventually died again. Jesus would never die again. Resurrection is the thing that will happen to all people at the return of Christ and the consummation of all things (this is one of the many one reasons I’m not an annihilationist) and resurrection means more than simply breathing again it means the totality of your being is brought into a new reality. Jesus was the first fruits of this, he brought in the final things through his resurrection but the rest of creation awaits her redemption.

This is why I remain a Christian: Jesus was resurrected from death. The mythicists are wrong. The atheists are wrong. The Unbelieving Jews (as opposed to Messianic Jews) are wrong. The Muslims have shadows of this but can’t fully accept Jesus as messiah or his resurrection. But the simple record of history can’t be understood satisfactorily without this conclusion. This is all I need. To paraphrase the inestimable Pelikan: if Jesus has risen from the dead nothing else matters, and if he has not then nothing matters. Paul basically said the same thing 2000 years earlier and it will remain true 2000 years after Jesus returns. He is what makes life worth living, and he is the one who will give us “life after life after death.”