Another Week Ends

1. Believe it or not, today marks the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. […]

David Zahl / 3.10.17

1. Believe it or not, today marks the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No small thing for those who grew up in the 90s and/or appreciate good television. The AV Club has been mining the series all week for great articles, but the single best thing I’ve read is Sophie Gilbert’s piece in The Atlantic about “The Radical Empathy of Buffy‘s Best Episode”, AKA season 5’s “The Body”, which Gilbert calls “one of the most sophisticated analyses of the impact of death ever produced on television”. Amen to that. As for our own celebration, I invite you to check out our archive of Joss Whedon-related posts. My all-time favorite interview would be this one, which captures much of the man’s peculiar charm and includes the following denouement:

My stories do have hope because that is one of the things that is part of the solution–if there can be one. We use stories to connect, to care about people, to care about a situation. To turn the mundane heroic, to make people really think about who they are. They’re useful. And they’re also useful to me. Because if I wrote what I really think, I would be so sad all the time. We create to fill a gap–not just to avoid the idea of dying, it’s to fill some particular gap in ourselves. So yeah, I write things where people lay down their lives for each other. And on a personal level, I know many wonderful people who are spending their lives trying to help others, or who are just decent and kind. I have friends who are extraordinary, I love my family. But on a macro level, I don’t see that in the world. So I have a need to create it. Hopefully, that need gets translated into somebody relating to it and feeling hope. Because if we take that away, then I’m definitely right. I want to be wrong, more than anything. I hate to say it, it’s that line from The Lord of the Rings–“I give hope to men; I keep none for myself.” They say it in Elvish, so it sounds supercool.

2. Buffy’s not the only cultural artifact celebrating a birthday at present. One of the great unsung religious masterpieces of the last half decade has to be Lift to Experience’s The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, which just received a 20th anniversary reissue (and remix), as well as a feature over at Aquarium Drunkard. If indie rock is even remotely your thing and you’re not familiar with this record, well, you should be.

3. Megan Garber contributed a lengthy review of South and West, the brand new collection of Joan Didion’s unpublished notes from a couple of trips she took in the early 1970s. While the best line has got to be the one Garber reproduces of Joan describing a man she dated before her husband–“We lived together for some years and I think we most fully understood each other when I tried to kill him with a kitchen knife”(!)–the irony at the center of the piece is what struck me most:

“There’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper,” the novelist and essayist informed her audience, “is the tactic of a secret bully.” Writing, she suggested, was not merely self-centered, but selfish; it was “an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.” There is something deeply invasive about the simple practice of storytelling, when the story one is telling happens not to be one’s own. As Didion put it in her first essay collection, 1968’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, “writers are always selling somebody out.”

Denizens of 2017, so eager for mentors and meaning, are doing to Didion roughly what she did to Orwell in 1975, and for roughly the same reason: They take—and they sell—and they sell out—because they love.

Identity-for-purchase: It’s a decidedly American idea, and one that Didion, a cultural critic whether writing essays or novels, was primed to criticize. Yet now, as New York’s Molly Fischer noted after the Céline ad came out in early 2015, it is Didion who has become a signifier of literary chic, Didion who has become the product that is conspicuously consumed. The author, at 82, represents a very 2017-resonant fusion of girlish longing and jaded ennui, a sense of the world’s promises and also of its great capacity to leave those promises unfulfilled…

4. While we’re on the subject of identity, a study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior explains What Happens To Your Identity When You Lose Your Job. It’s pretty much a “paging Captain Obvious” situation, but still:

Impostor syndrome has an opposite, too, one that can be just as damaging to your self-esteem: What happens when you do feel like you belong in your job, so much so that it’s become a core part of your identity — and then your job goes away? As a study recently published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior recently explained, researchers found that job insecurity can cause people to lose some of their sense of self.

5. Next up, the Christian Science Monitor published a timely editorial by Joan Blades, “Why I’ve Left My Liberal Comfort Zone”, in which the co-founder of ueber-progressive advocacy group endorsed a refreshingly gracious approach to healing ideological division. It sparked a great convo on The Mockingcast roundtable:

I am steeped in the progressive culture… However, true progress requires stretching myself beyond comfort. There is another approach that I ask my progressive friends and everyone to consider – “love thy neighbor.”… [For example,] even though I have not persuaded my good friend Jacob that climate is a critical concern, he cares more now in part because he cares about me.Also because I did not insist that he accept my view of climate science.

Instead I noted that I don’t need proof that climate change is happening. Even if there is only a 10 percent chance that we are destroying the planet’s capacity to support future generations, I find that unconscionable. This gave Jacob the space to consider the possibility that climate change is an unacceptable risk rather than react to a demand. And Jacob has caused me to see that climate change is the progressive “end times” story.

This is not a one-way exchange. I care about Jacob’s concern that as religious conservatives he and his community are becoming marginalized. We have remarkably different beliefs, but we are learning to hold the tension of our differences and listen to each other with humility.

George Saunders outlined a similar strategy on The AV Club the other day, albeit one that cautioned rather brilliantly/bravely against overstating the dangers of cultural appropriation, e.g., the ones lurking underneath much of the Joan Didion review mentioned above.

6. Your weekend listening recommendation (other than you know what) is the episode “Triassic Park” of the podcast Criminal that came to us via Facebook, ht MO. In a fascinating illustration of Romans 7 anthropology, we learn that hundreds of people apparently steal petrified wood each year from the Petrified Forest National Park. Then, after returning home, they mail the wood back to the park, often enclosing “conscience letters”. The park decided to display these letters publicly to deter potential thieves, but unfortunately, the idea backfired. The Park found that the more they told tourists about how terrible it was to steal petrified wood, the more it seemed that people tried to steal, ht MO. Ha!

7. Your weekend viewing recommendation is definitely Patriot, which just debuted on Amazon. The premise didn’t sound appealing to me either, but I’m so glad I took the plunge, ht BG. Incredibly funny (the engineering lingo jokes!), genuinely suspenseful, and not without heart. Wes A is clearly a primary reference point but by no means the only one. Plus, Michael Chernus – nuff said. I swallowed the first four episodes in a single sitting…

Also very excited about season 2 of Love, which hits Netflix this weekend. Not sure how much more Apatow awesomeness I can handle, what with Crashing having become the series I most look forward to watching  these days. Speaking of which, Pete Holmes put himself in the hot seat on You Made It Weird this week, allowing his friend and fellow comic Mike Birbiglia to interview him about the show. Needless to say, the subject of Pete’s rediscovered (gnostic-ish) faith came up in a winsome way. Rohr’s Falling Upwards gets a nice mention too.

8. In the most recent episode of Same Old Song, Scott highlighted the ending of a post/rant Andrew Sullivan penned the other day for NY Mag, in which the famed essayist shifted gears (beautifully) from the executive branch to reflect on the nature of faith and silence. No matter where you “stand” on where Andrew’s coming from in the first half of the piece re: DJT, get a load of this:

I’ve managed to see Scorsese’s Silence twice in the last couple of weeks. It literally silenced me. It’s a surpassingly beautiful movie — but its genius lies in the complexity of its understanding of what faith really is. For some secular liberals, faith is some kind of easy, simple abdication of reason — a liberation from reality. For Scorsese, it’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery, and often inseparable from crippling, perpetual doubt. You see this in the main protagonist’s evolution: from a certain, absolutist arrogance to a long sacrifice of pride toward a deeper spiritual truth. Faith is a result, in the end, of living, of seeing your previous certainties crumble and be rebuilt, shakily, on new grounds…

There are moments — surpassingly rare but often indelible — when you do hear the voice of God and see the face of Jesus. You never forget them — and I count those few moments in my life when I have heard the voice and seen the face as mere intimations of what is to come. But the rest is indeed silence. And the conscience is something that cannot sometimes hear itself. I’ve rarely seen the depth of this truth more beautifully unpacked. Which is why, perhaps, the movie has had such a tiny audience so far. Those without faith have no patience for a long meditation on it; those with faith in our time are filled too often with a passionate certainty to appreciate it. And this movie’s mysterious imagery can confound anyone. But its very complexity and subtlety gave me hope in this vulgar, extremist time. We cannot avoid this surreality all around us. But it may be possible occasionally to transcend it.

9. Finally, the long read of the week, which we’ll attempt to unpack next week, is William Deresiewicz’s masterful (and rather frightening) essay for The American Scholar on “Power, Class, and the New Campus Religion.” Oy vey.