9.08.2015

PostConsumer Culture Club #1—The Week of August 30-September 5

I'm not exactly sure what the next year will look like for me.

There is the potential I could start writing a book (Lord, open that door), I have a number of articles on worship music already written that I am going to share starting in November (whoops, I just shared one a couple of days ago), and I would really like to flex my interviewing skills and do more podcasting (I have lots of ideas...). I am also in the (slow) process of being ordained as an Anglican Priest. And so I am going to attempt putting out a weekly article that is simple for me to write but hopefully fun and informative for everyone else. I am calling it "PostConsumer Culture Club".

Here's the description:
PostConsumer Culture Club: A list of everything we at PostConsumer Reports have been digesting this week, with brief commentary. Hopefully, we can culture something good in you. Happy PostConsuming!


Of course the "we" is just me, but who knows, maybe one day there will be multiple contributors to PostConsumer Reports. The idea is to share in brief everything I have watched, listened to, read, or whatevered over the past week. To quote Sufjan (my guru) "The world is abundant," and I hope to share some of that abundance I was blessed by over the past week.

So let's get started. Here is Week #1, August 30-September 5

Album: Yo Yo Ma Plays Ennio Moricone
My wife told me about this album. It is beautiful. It is also a POMO mashup, featuring both the iconic film soundtrack composer Ennio Moricone and the ceaselessly creative Yo Yo Ma, both of whom I love (who doesn't?). Yo Yo Ma's arrangements of the now classic source material are often stunning. I plan to purchase this album soon, but for now I listen to it on a Youtube playlist:




TV: Curb Your Enthusiasm
I am just as irritated by Larry David as everyone else—and yet I love him. Amazon Prime just started offering the full series of Larry David's somewhat improvised comic nightmare Curb Your Enthusiasm. Previously I have watched the first 3 seasons and the Seinfeld reunion season (An aside: a fascinating study is to intentionally look back at the old Seinfeld episodes through the lens of Larry David's character on Curb. Knowing George Costanza is Larry David opens up fascinating and disturbing avenues of meaning). Watching a few episodes of the show now it is striking how disorganized and unrealized a good portion of the material is. It often feels sloppy and rushed, despite continual concentrated nuggets of comedic brillianve. Larry David and his band of narcissistic foils (along with Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, and Susie Essman, season 4, which I am currently watching, also features Mel Brooks, Ben Stiller, and David Schwimmer) are all naturally funny people and so the show is nearly always cringe-worthily fun to watch. Still, the show could have been a lot better if David and his show-runners and directors had been more disciplined. There is a chance I'll work my way through the rest of the series...and there is a pretty...pretty....pretty good chance I will not.

Documentary: Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles
I have always been fascinated by Orson Welles the man and work he created on film and so I immediately watched this documentary when I came onto Amazon Prime. It is excellent, managing to uphold the myth of the man who created such profound art while also delving into his frustrating and self-damaging flaws. If anything, the documentary serves as an introduction to the many films of his hardly anyone has seen. It's started me on a Welles movie kick beginning with The Stranger. A number of his films are available for streaming on Amazon Prime (some for free and some for a fee) and Netflix, but some of his films I will have to hold out for a Criterion Collection edition. Here's to hoping his film about the Shakespearian character Falstaff Chimes at Midnight gets an American release soon. 

Podcast: On the Media: "Broad Questions" and a commentary on the media's reporting of the stock market
I often find the news perplexing, especially when journalists do not supply us with enough contextual information to set the stage for whatever story they are reporting. Never is this more true then when economic news or stock market updates are reported. Whenever their numbers and percentages are being spit out, I don't exactly know how to take any of it. It's all too jargony and insider speak for me. Well, I had my annoyances and suspicions validated this week by the excellent NPR show On the Media, who featured a segment on the recent Dow Jones points plummet and how news outlets reported on it. The segment turned out to be more of an excoriation on how the news typically reports on economics. The best quote comes from financial journalist Felix Salmon, who had this to say: "The fact is that almost nobody trades the DOW...The DOW is this bizarre media thing. The only people who care about the DOW are reporters. Traders don't care..." and "There is actually almost nothing unequivocally true about the stock market. Market's are incredibly messy things and incredibly complex things. And if we try to boil them down to some simple truth or simple causality or a simple story that we're telling we are going to be over simplifying, lying, and basically negating the role of chance. The fact is the media should not report on intra-day movements with the stock market because they are random and meaningless. If you want to report on the stock market you should report on what's happened over the past few months or the past few years, not what's happened today. What's happened today is never relevant or interesting or important...What it does is it makes people feel stupid because they listen to you saying 'and the SMP went down 0.3% to close at 14.3' and they think to themselves 'I don't know what that means, I must be stupid.' Why is it helpful to make your listeners feel stupid?"

Amen! This is how I've felt for years listening to the daily "updates" on the stock market: Stupid. STOOPID. I hope we all feel a little better now.

Novel: The BFG by Roald Dahl
I just started reading this children's novel aloud to my boys every night. It is an interesting study in figuring out what drew me to a book like this when I was a child because The BFG was one of my absolute favorites. I still think it holds up well. I'm pretty sure what I liked about it was all the silly word play and gross out humor. To add to our excitement I just found out a live action film version of the book directed by Steven Spielberg (!) will be out next summer. Welcome to Excitementville!

Novel: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
I've been slogging my way through Mary Doria Russell's sci-fi novel about space exploration, diplomacy to alien cultures, and humanity's sin nature for a while now. It's supposed to be a classic work but I'm not convinced. The prose is somewhat clunky and the characters are kind of cloying and annoying. And there's not enough actual sci-fi for my liking.  I don't know...am I missing something?

Podcast: Faith and Culture: "The Politics of Belief" by Stanley Hauerwas
I am a long time student (from afar) of theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas. I try really hard to listen to everything he has to say, especially when I am uncomfortably challenged by it. Lately, I have felt really stuck in a rut when it comes to the podcasts I listen to. Simply put, I'm listening to too many interviews with atheist/agnostic/broadly universalist entertainers and it's just not good for my soul. I've needed some solidly good Christian teaching and thinking and so I've looked up my favorite theologians, like Hauerwas and Jeremy Begbie and started downloading other high brown Christian Podcasts like The Anglican Review. All that is to say, Hauerwas' address on the tensions between the Christian faith and national culture are riveting. My favorite quote is when he says Americans raise their kids with options so that when they are adults they can "make up their own mind" about what religion they'll adhere to, if any at all, but they never raise their kids to question their identity as Americans. 

The talk can be downloaded through itunes:
https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/faith-culture-politics-belief/id989630964?mt=2

Documentary: An Apology to Elephants
Who doesn't love elephants?! Circus trainers and ivory hungry black market Chinese traders, that's who! I'm a pretty big proponent of just letting animals be out in the wild doing animal things, especially when they are as intelligent and social as elephants or dolphins and whales (and don't forget the big cats!). Seriously people, leave them alone. Anyway, this is a great short documentary streaming on Amazon Prime. Bring your tissues!

TV: Reading Rainbow
We watched one episode of Reading Rainbow this week with our boys and that was all it took for the theme song to be stuck in my head for a whole day (I have also since seriously annoyed our boys by singing it repeatedly to them in a ridiculous voice). I love this show. It was a pillar of my childhood and I get all gushy inside being able to share it with our kids. I even love the books at the end that the kids share. It just makes me realize how wonderful the world is and how there is always something to discover I have never heard of before that someone else has to introduce me to. That was true when I was 6 years old and it's true now in my 30's. Finally, like his co-star Patrick Stewart in Star Trek TNG, Lavar Burton DOES NOT AGE. He looks nearly the same now as he did then. The man is a wonder of nature.

Film: Billy Madison
My family just moved to a new house and therefore we are pretty tired. For this reason, I did not protest a bit when my wife suggested we watch Adam Sandler's first self-starring film Billy Madison. We simply needed something to zone out to. This movie is far funnier and anarchic and dark and dare I say intelligent than I remembered it. There are some dry spots in it but there were more laughs per minute than anything we have watched in recent memory (I'm looking at you Wet, Hot, American Summer!), most especially the penguin, that clown who died, and Chris Farley's ball-of-rage bus driver. Watching it now I realize the film is a kind of an amoral satire on feel-good 80's films that take characters on a narrative arc of positive change and "learning a valuable lesson". Sandler basically pooped on every single one of those movies with Billy Madison. It is a masterclass on the futility of "learning valuable lessons." And for the fact it made us laugh so much it might just be a comedic masterpiece. I can't believe I am even saying that. (An aside: It is fascinating to observe that Sandler is essentially playing the same character in Billy Madison as he did in the more art-house Punch Drunk Love, with the latter character being a believable, more real-to-life version of the obvious cartoon that is Billy Madison.)

Stay tuned for PostConsumer Culture Club Week #2!





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