Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, Free for CAPC Members
Reinke wants to help readers not be manipulated and enthralled by the spectacles of our media age. Instead, he shows that we see the greatest spectacle of all in the Cross.
In January, I wrote about the culture events I most looked forward to in 2008. Some events turned out to be better than I expected, others much, much worse, and still others never even happened. Now that 2008 is coming to a close, I thought it would be a good time to look at my predictions and see which cultural events actually had an impact this year.
My prediction: Star Wars the Clone Wars
The last film I saw in theaters this summer was perhaps the worst movie I have even seen (and, Lord willing, ever will see) in theaters: Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The movie was essentially the first three episodes of the TV series tossed onto the big screen. Highlights from the film include a smelly baby Hutt nicknamed “Stinky” and the suspiciously flamboyant uncle of Jabba the Hutt (spoiler: the feathered Hutt is the villain). The film was received to almost universal disgust. Thankfully, the TV series has received slightly more favorable reviews. I’ve only managed to watch one episode of the series and found that it was mildly entertaining, but not something I would buy on DVD or watch faithfully. The show was action heavy and included a cute moral at the end, something about believing in yourself or working as a team. I still believe that the Star Wars universe could be the perfect setting for a adult TV series, but the Clone Wars cartoon is not that series.
The real event: The Failure of Heroes
Season one was the best TV drama/adventure I had seen in a long time. I didn’t believe that a super hero story could be done so well on television until I watched Hero learn that he could control time. Yes, the dialogue was bad and some of the acting was subpar, but overall the show managed to weave an interesting plot and develop some great characters. The second season didn’t meet expectations, but most people wrote it off to the Writer’s Strike, but then Season Three happened this fall and most of us were left wondering how such a great concept could become so awful. The already Emo characters became even more tortured, the well established characters began to randomly act out of character, and as the company was exposed, the mystery left the show. The Clone Wars was bad, but most of us expect that; Lucas is known for letting his fans down. Heroes, on the other hand, built up a great premise only to fail epically.
My prediction: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
As with the Clone Wars cartoon, I had hoped that Price Caspian would turn out well despite a nagging feeling that it was doomed from the start. However, unlike the Clone Wars, some viewers felt that Prince Caspian did manage to be an acceptable adaptation. Unlike the first Narnia film, which seemed to strip the essential theological themes from Lewis’s, Prince Caspian explores the theme of childlike faith, as Carissa pointed out in her review of the film.
The real event: The Dark Knight/WALL-E/Expelled
While Prince Caspian was a better adaptation than most people expected, it could hardly be called the movie event of the year. Other movies made 2008 an exciting year for films. The Dark Knight made nearly ever other superhero movie seem childish and almost a waste of film. Tapping into the more mature comic tradition of Frank Miller’s Batman, Christopher Nolan used the superhero genre to skillfully engage dark themes such as the nature of evil and how it can be confronted. In a similar way, WALL-E set a new standard for CG animated films. Through stunning visuals and great character development, Pixar told us a story without the heavy-handed irony, cynicism, or superficiality found in most CGI movies. For Christians, there was much to be thankful for in these films. Both were well-made and worth of praise, and both engaged ideas that are important for our modern culture to wrestle with: the nature of evil (its very existence is a bother to the modern mind) and the value of sincere storytelling. But among Christians, no film stirred up more debate (or excitement) this year than Ben Stein’s Expelled. Presented as an objective look at how people have been persecuted for challenging the theory of evolution, Expelled offered Christians a voice in the media, a chance to present views which oppose evolution in a form that is accepted in the world. But underneath the conceit of a documentary, Expelled was really a biased and not entirely honest attack on evolution, following in the Michael Moore school of “documentaries.” This film was difficult for many Christians to deal with because it seemed to support something good, but was doing so in a highly questionable manner. For more on Expelled be sure to read Carissa’s review and my own post on voting with our dollars.
My prediction: The Presidential Elections
Enough blog posts have been written about the elections in the last few months that there is no need for me to comment here, except to say that I got this one right! It certainly was an important event.
The real event: the debate
One aspect of this election that I didn’t anticipate was how Christians divided over Obama. For the first time in decades, many evangelical Christians voted for a pro-choice, big government president and many others (like myself) seriously considered it. The belief that Christians can only vote for a pro-life candidate was profoundly challenged in the last eight years by a president who was very vocal in his faith but made decisions which were not the best for the poor, the earth, or our country. Whether or not you agree with that last statement, the challenge for all of us now is to honor the man who will be our leader for the next 4-8 years.
My prediction: Sufjan Steven’s new album
Was not released.
The real event: ?
This was the year I stopped listening to music, so no event stood out in my mind. For several reasons (lack of interest in new music, driving less, and the inability to study and listen to music) I have hardly listened to any music this year. Hopefully our readers can suggest some major music events for this year.
My prediction: Cormac McCarthy’s Next Novel
Unfortunately, I missed this one too. No new McCarthy novel was released this year.
The real event: the Twilight series
Although the first book was published in 2005, 2008 was the year the series took off with the release of the first movie adaptation. I did not (and hopefully will not) read any of the books, but throughout the year I heard people talking about this vampire love story were the characters don’t have sex! Oh, and it was written by a Mormon. The combination of teenage fantasy, chastity, and the Latter Day Saints was perfect to set off debate in the Church. Should young girls be obsessively following boys like Edward? Does the absence of sex make a book good (answer=no)? Should Christians be reading a book written by a Mormon? Should they read stories about vampires? Carissa reviewed each book in the series starting with Twilight, and engaged most of these questions.
My prediction: Fallout 3
Fallout 3 was one of the rare events of this year that exceeded my expectations. Deep gameplay, stunning visuals, adult themes, and a good story made Fallout 3 my game of the year. In the coming weeks I’ll have an in depth analysis of the game, but for now it’s enough to say that I was extremely impressed.
The real event: GTA4
Every time a Grand Theft Auto game comes out I’m convinced that Rockstar will finally run out of ways to improve the game, and every time they defy my expectations. GTA4, which will likely be the top of most game of the year lists, moved the series away from its “boy it’s fun to run people over and beat hookers” style gameplay towards a more mature portrayal of crime, although this change was not enough to get me to play the game.
Next week I’ll take a look at the cultural events I’m most interested in for 2009. Until then, please leave a comment telling me what your most memorable events of 2008 were.
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