Friday, January 1. 2010
Happy New Year!
A small gift I picked up at Kenny's New Year's Eve party, which I will pass on to you: an essay from the New York Times that reminds me what is possible with popular writing on philosophy.
Ross Douthat's essay analyzes James Cameron's latest blockbuster "Avatar" and finds it is one more Hollywood tribute to pantheism, along with the likes of "Dances with Wolves", "The Lion King", and "Star Wars". That's obvious enough; the American audience is familiar by now with ham-fisted eco-fables that glorify Nature and those who commune with it. (I would throw in "Princess Mononoke", too, but Joe Morgenstern beat me to the punch.)
But Douthat moved beyond the obvious, to make a spot-on analysis of why American movies have been so taken with pantheism: ambivalence about technology, and the need for a more immediate (and less inconvenient) sense of divinity. And, even better still, he provides as terse, eloquent, and devastating a critique of pantheism as you'll ever find in 190 words.
How could they possibly allow this much wisdom in a newspaper? And in the Times, no less?
And that's just the content. On a process level, check out the dude's bibliography. My enduring respect goes to anyone who can cite five movies, two gurus, a Pew Forum report, a historian, four philosophers, and a scientist (not to mention the casual allusions to Christian theology)inside of 800 words, and not even break his conversational tone. That's what Augie would call "Plato to NATO" -- a well-read person bringing the full weight of their intellect to a conversation, even if it is just about a pop sci-fi movie.
I continue to despair of writing anything remarkable, but for different reasons than before. Once upon a time it felt like people like me, or Kenny Felder, or Augie Turak were all alone in the cultural landscape. The volume of the cultural noise has gone way up in the last decade, but amidst the ocean of drivel there is more sensible thinking to be found than ever before.
So, here's to a new year, a new decade, and the ongoing hope that wisdom is possible, if not easy.
Saturday, June 27. 2009
Ethics, in the classical Greek sense, is an attempt to answer the question, "How should we live?" Or, to put it another way, "What would be a good life?" If you develop a system of ethics, you should be able to apply it to your own life, or any other life for that matter, and answer the question: "Was that a good life?"
Which brings us to Michael Jackson.
Yes, sirree, that's a real stumper.
People find meaningfulness in all kinds of things: success, fame, power, impact, uniqueness, love, happiness, virtue. On some of those measures, Michael was off the charts. He was enormously talented, enjoying the kind of fame and fortune and cultural influence that was shared by few, and not likely to be repeated again in our hyper-fragmented culture. Thriller not only holds the record for most albums sold, it's actually still a really good album; popular music doesn't often have that much staying power. The economic productivity of this one life is staggering -- Jackson's annual residuals alone are about 100 times greater than my entire lifetime output. He generously supported lots of charities, which almost lets you forgive the new levels of personal extravagance he reached with his Neverland. And man, could he dance. It must have been fun, to be able to dance like that. So, yeah . . . a lot to admire. Who could say it wasn't Good?
And yet . . . there is the other side. It's hard to gauge whether he was happy, since he was so far withdrawn from reality, but the smart money would guess he was miserable in his freakishness. Lots of people withdraw from reality, but few have hundreds of millions of dollars at their disposal to propel their weirdness. We accept that great artists sometimes suffer for the sake of their creative powers, and even behave badly. We are not used to them becoming barely recognizable as human. Robbed of a real childhood, he spent the rest of his life trying to get it back, and becoming more and more grotesque in the process. (The Onion, as always, nailed it with their headline: "King of Pop dead at 12." I doubt that he molested those children, but I do think he lusted after their innocence in a manner that was disturbing. None of this was immoral, exactly, though it was repulsive.
So how do you add all that up? Was it worth it? Had a 12-year-old Michael been offered a vision of his future life, would have accepted the whole deal? Unparalleled fame and accomplishment, along with misery, isolation, suspicion, and disgust? Some people would, but I know I would not and, I suspect, neither would Michael. Achievement is pretty empty when you find yourself cut off from the rest of world. It's not the sort of life one would choose. That, I think, is the source of the international mourning – people recognize the tragedy of someone being so poor while being so rich. Now that the awkward man-child is gone, everyone is free to embrace the good things of his life and try to forget, or at least forgive, the shadows. I like to remember him playing the Scarecrow in The Wiz, when he was at the peak of his powers, still recognizable as a black male with magnificent talent and vitality, and not yet transformed into mythological figure, the fey creature with the one white glove.
Monday, May 25. 2009
In the hands of any other studio, WALL-E would be unwatchable. The eco-tale would have been way too heavy-handed -- just another manifestation of our cultures' current passion for pretending to do things to save the planet. But, as it happens, this is a Pixar film, where story-telling is the number one mission, and the writers know that a mere moral is not the engine of compelling narrative. While WALL-E presents one of the most repulsive of dystopias I've ever come across, it doesn't seem to have any particular ax to grind. It tells the story, and lets the political and philosophical chips fall where they may. It is that innocence, that willingness to let the story lead us where it will, that charms me.
Had DreamWorks done this film, it would be stuffed with sly digs at current cultural figures -- we would be watching WALL-E doing impressions of George W. that he picked up from salvaged videotape. But WALL-E does not have an ironic circuit in his chassis. He doesn't despise the consumerist culture that has buried the planet in trash; rather, he marvels at the artifacts he finds, celebrating the mysteries of a Rubic's Cube, or the delight of popping bubble wrap. WALL-E loves this junk, because he senses the purpose and passions of the humanity that brought it about.
Nor does the movie vilify technology. (How could it, when its protagonists are technological wonders?) Robots are not the dehumanized, thoughtless powers of destruction, as two and a half decades of Terminator movies have taught us, but rather the builders and helpers we always wanted, as ingenious and limited as their creators. The robots, at least, have the virtues of diligence and faithfulness, a passion for the Directive. It's the humans who seem mindlessly mechanical, trapped in an endless cycle of virtual pseudo-pleasures. But even the people (always the villains of the eco-fable) are treated with gentleness and respect. For all of their ignorance and big-fat-slobdom, all the people are basically decent, sometimes even heroic, and instead of hating them for losing their humanity we find ourselves loving them for regaining it.
Having read several books about minds and machines lately (Pinker, Dennett, Hofstadter, etc.) I couldn't help but ponder over the lives of the robots. Pinker suggested that a truly intelligent robot would have to have something like emotions -- high-level, diffuse motivations -- to be able to function independently without direction. WALL-E seems to capture that vision of artificial intelligence quite well. The cleaning droid Mo doesn't just clean, he has a passion for cleaning, and the sight of WALL-E's dirty tracks excite such a furious need in him that he overcomes the other directives that usually keep confined to the flight deck. Eve doesn't just seek out life -- she is frustrated when she can't find it, overjoyed when she does find it, bitterly disappointed when she loses it. In the emotional lives of machines, we see the reflection of our own needs. People long for purpose, to strive for a goal, because without striving we are merely existing. I loved how the Captain of the Axiom saw the bleak cityscape of earth, and in spite of it said, "We have to go back." Life isn't living without struggle. To work is human.
Saturday, May 23. 2009
In response to Kenny's comments on the primacy of effort:
Tuesday, May 19. 2009
The writers at the New Yorker keep coming up with new angles on a recurring theme: talent is Out, effort is In.
I had already written previously about Malcolm Gladwell's latest book, Outliers, in which he details how effort and opportunity are more important than talent in creating super-successful people. Now, in another article, "How David Beats Goliath," (The New Yorker, May 11, 2009) he asks a seemingly simple question for a dedicated basketball fan such as himself: "Why don't more teams play the full-court press?" It doesn't take a genius to realize that a weaker team can dramatically slow down a superior team by playing the full-court press: guarding their opponents they moment they get the ball, and doing everything in their power to stop them from advancing to mid-court in the required 10 seconds. And yet, you rarely see that strategy pursued, at any level of play.
Gladwell followed up on those who did use the full-court press -- a team of 12-year-old girls in the National Junior Basketball league, and the teams of college coach Rick Pitino -- and found that they triumphed . . . at a price. The full-court press is an exhausting strategy, one that requires players to run and run and run. Few teams, it turns out, are willing to work that hard. It also makes for rather ugly basketball, a rushing and flailing of arms and legs instead of the graceful passes and shots players like to make and fans like to watch. The full-court press is stigmatized -- those who use it are met with both anger and contempt, and some officials make biased calls to discourage its use.
All this would be interesting enough on its own. But Gladwell loves isomorphisms -- he wants to see if this same phenomena maps to other sorts of struggles. And before you know it, he draws parallels with the military history, and academic studies of how underdogs prevail in battle. Lawrence of Arabia played the military equivalent of the full-court press, using the everywhere-at-once attacks of his Bedouin troops in the places his foes were weakest. They prevailed because the hustled, and refused to play by the rules that favored their opponents. Those same tactics -- small, fast, non-traditional, and out-of-bounds -- have now redefined modern warfare in an age of terrorism and insurgency. David can win against Goliath, but only by using methods Goliath finds repellant.
The triumph of effort found another voice this week in another New Yorker article ("Don't! The secret of self-control," May 18, 2009) that looked at the unexpected results of psychological research in the sixties. Some researches had created "the marshmallow test," a simple exercise to see how long four-year-olds could resist eating a treat in order to earn a greater reward later. Kids' abilities to defer gratification varied significantly, but they could also be taught cognitive tricks to make it easier. The researchers didn't realize the significance of their findings until they followed up on their subjects decades later . . . and found that the marshmallow test was profoundly predictive of success in later life. Those who passed the marshmallow test scored higher on the SAT. Those who couldn't resist the marshmallow were more likely to have behavioral problems, had trouble paying attention and maintaining friendships.
For years educators and parents have been focusing on IQ as the most important cognitive measure, when it turns out willpower was more significant. And willpower, they've found, is not some mysterious quality of character, but rather a specific skill for controlling one's attention, focusing on certain thoughts and tuning out others. Persistence of attention and effort are what ensure lifelong success.
What does this mean for our culture? I hope it signals a rejuvenation of the American meritocracy, restoring our faith that people can control their destinies, if they are willing to pay the price. The "land of opportunity" is really "the land of the opportunity to work." Effort is not omnipotent, but it's the closest thing to it.
Wednesday, May 13. 2009
I recently discovered the NetFlix Instant feature, that allows you to download and instantly view movies. I've come to think of it as "Where Commercially Unsuccessful Films Go To Die", because the vast majority of the films offered do not interest me, and with good reason. It's as if the studios said, "Aw, what the hell, we're not getting any more out of this old thing anyway, let 'em download it and see what happens. I only wish folks would start pirating the damn thing." Sometimes there are really good, really old films that are so mined out that they go to Instant -- e.g. Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven -- but mostly they are trash-films from two or three years ago, or an underappreciated gem that underperformed. Which, from a studio executive's point of view, is the same as trash.
So, I have a mixed reaction when I see a film I actually would want to see show up in the Instant section. When Joss Whedon's Serenity showed up, I thought, "YES! . . . I mean . . . Aw, that's too bad." Serenity is a really, really good movie, and it pains me to see it sitting next to Hellraiser III.
I got another one of these forsaken classics this week: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Prince Caspian was one of the better Narnia books, so you think it would make a better film than The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. And you would be right. Director Andrew Adamson wins the Peter Jackson "Oh My God, That's Exactly How I Imagined It" Award with the ruins of Cair Paravel and the entire character of Reepicheep.
Adamson also succeeds at staying true to the essential nature and intent of the story, but not letting that get in the way of making a good movie. Critics had complained that the first Narnia movie couldn't sustain much action because its protagonists were so young, so it looks like the producers focused on making this one a little faster and more furious. Peter's swordplay still feels a little sluggish, though his duel with Miraz sustained the dramatic tension fairly well. Meanwhile, Susan seems to be giving Legolas a run for his money in the "Bows are so badass" category, not to mention reminding us that red fletching is the perfect accessory to a killer outfit:
Speaking of which, I imagine that C. S. Lewis, were he writing a Hollywood script instead of a Christian allegory, would be kicking himself for not using the story devices incorporated in this Prince Caspian film: "Of course! Frustrated romantic tension between Susan and Caspian! Why didn't I think of that?" The movie is full of similar innovations, which deviate from the text's literal plot but not from its mood or overall theme. Nikabrik's plot to summon the White Witch, for instance, kept all the best dialogue, but blew it up to a visually dramatic action sequence instead of just a quick brawl in the dark. I don't remember a lot about the actual war campaign from the book, which shows that the movie did a better story-telling job when it came to the failed attack on Miraz' castle and the ego-battles between Caspian and Peter. Narnia fans should rejoice; a basically faithful adaptation also turned out to be a fun movie.
Ok, now that I have the fanboy stuff out of the way, a few more thoughtful reflections.
Maybe its just that movies and games have become so much more graphically violent, that I recognize a conscious retreat back to earlier movie conventions. I have seen so many blood-smeared faces since Braveheart and Gladiator that it strikes me as singularly odd to have a full-scale battle scene where not a single drop of blood is shed. People (and centaurs, and fauns, etc. etc.) get shot with arrows, crushed under rocks, slashed with swords, and the only evidence of damage done is a short surprised grunt before collapsing to the ground. No blood. Ever. No screams, either -- howling in agony does not happen in magical fairylands. So I ask myself -- is this better? True, it's not dulling our capacity for horror by bathing us in gore . . . But do we do any better, making battle look so clean and . . . noble? C.S. Lewis, a veteran of war, believed in the just use of violence and would probably approve of his heroes and heroines being unapologetically forceful in their cause. But I wouldn't want to disconnect it from the consequences, either. My favorite scene in the whole movie, the one that showed the most depth and courage, is when Peter is standing on the bridge of the castle, gazing back at his troops trapped behind a gate, realizing that because he made the wrong decision, his friends and comrades are doomed to die. In that one slow-motion moment, we feel everything about that war -- the horror of battle, the nobility of their sacrifice, the terror of the struggle, and the awful need to keep moving through unspeakable grief. Now that is war.
Thursday, April 9. 2009
Some good comments from Gary and Kenny; let me return to those in a moment.
Pinker had another point in The Stuff of Thought (another of his books that I just finished and am still digesting) that seemed relevant to the discussion, about the nature of taboos. A taboo is a cultural norm, but it's not just that a certain action is proscribed, but rather that even directly thinking about something is forbidden. You can violate a taboo just by mentioning it in conversation, or otherwise inviting other people to think thoughts that should not be thought. Taboos are kinda weird, because it's not that the taboo subject is completely unknown to the people who respect the taboo – it's just that they don't want to think about it directly, or behave as if it's a subject for rational contemplation.
Sex used to be a taboo subject in our culture. You could offend someone just by mentioning its existence. Everyone, of course, knew all about sex and certainly engaged in it – it was just not a subject for conversation or contemplation. Over the last fifty years or so that taboo has faded considerably, given what you see on TV, but you will still see some boundaries in what most people will comfortably talk about in public. Religion was also a great taboo that has faded over time; there is more talk now about the "religious marketplace" in which people freely mix and match religious traditions and beliefs. But with religion, too, we become conscious of certain taboos when we see them violated. Recently, the atheists started crossing a taboo line by boldly, publically declaring the non-existence of God. Lots of thinkers declined to believe in divine personage over the centuries, but their opinions tended to be quiet and oblique. It is still largely considered rude to announce one's atheism loudly in a dinner party.
Why do we have taboos, if everyone knows about what we're not talking about? In The Stuff of Thought, Pinker suggests some taboos are related to the terms on which we define our relationships. The anthropologist Alan Fiske categorized all human relationships into three broad categories: Communality (freely sharing among kin and community), Authority (using power to claim resources), and Exchange (trading resources for mutual gain). Each kind of relationship has its own rules and logic, and if you mismatch the rules to the situation, the result is a faux pax. A man who gets up from his mother's Thanksgiving feast (Communality) and offers to pay her $200 for it (Exchange) will certainly offend her and everyone present. Likewise, if a waiter in a restaurant provides good service in hopes of receiving a big tip (Exchange) and instead gets a hearty "thanks!" from the patron (Communality), the waiter will be offended.
Some topics, then, are taboo because they frame the relationship with the wrong set of instinctive relationship-logic. Pinker gives the example of the pre-nuptial contract. Since half of all marriages in our country now end in divorce, you might logically think everyone ought to get a pre-nuptial contract spelling out how a divorce would be handled. Yet most couples strenuously resist even discussing prenuptials, because it engages Exchange mentality ("I'll give you this if you give me that") at precisely the time they want to be emphasizing Communality ("what's mine is yours and what's yours is mine") to ensure a committed marriage. Even thinking the thoughts can bring about the outcome they are trying to avoid in the first place.
I think religious taboos follow a similar sort of logic. People don't want to discuss religion because it undermines the intuitive logic of Communality ("we are all children of God") and Authority ("He alone is the Lord") which defines the nature of our relationships with each other. Whether there actually is a God is not the point – we just want to keep treating each other as if there is a God. And while specific religious traditions have blurred into one another in the multicultural melting pot, the most basic common elements of religion as a definer of our relationships persists: a belief in God (though barely defined), and a vague consensus on a moral reality.
Which brings us up to the current conversation about the genesis of morals. Whenever I pursue moral arguments out to their logical ends (as Singer does), I wind up standing at the precipice of this final taboo: no one wants to admit that our morals are hanging in space with no visible support. Even atheists such as Pinker, who are perfectly comfortable declaring God to be "palpably unreal," are unwilling to say that "there is no moral law." Even after demonstrating that the emotions that support morality and ethics are evolved mechanisms, he will still vehemently insist there really is such a thing as right and wrong. Pinker suggests that maybe morality is the necessary result of logical truth: it always stands to reason that everyone is better off if everyone helps everyone else. Maybe our brains evolved the moral emotions to perceive an objective truth, just like we evolved the mechanism to understand mathematics. These explanations are hardly explanations; to define morality as merely enlightened self-interest is just to say, once again, that we only have self-interest and all we do is look out for ourselves. To say that morality is character of the universe simply begs the question: morality is real because it's real. I have to suspect that Pinker is holding back for reasons other than logic. Perhaps even he can't override the programming in his brain that says right and wrong are real. Or perhaps he just knows it's taboo: to declare morality to be non-rational is social suicide. Nobody trusts the man who has no law.
Sunday, March 29. 2009
In his comments to yesterday's post, Kenny writes:
I love what you're doing with this. I love the careful analysis of the basis of the moral instinct which I exploited, but did not examine at all, in my essay.
But where I feel like you are headed, or at least where my brain heads once I start down this path, is to the ultimate question: why, in fact, is it a bad thing to boil babies? If Pinker is right--if "Boiling babies is bad" is just a convenient shorthand for "Humans have a hard-coded instinctive aversion to boiling babies"--then, as Bergman's knight says, life is an outrageous horror. Nothing really matters at all. Pinker can't even say to me "You should face the truth," because any sentence that contains the word "should" is fundamentally meaningless in his world.
Believe me, I understand dangers of nihilism when asking these questions. These posts have taken me a very long time to write, because I keep alternating between the excitement of knowing I'm asking the right question, and the stark depression of realizing I don't like the answers I'm finding.
Pinker devoted an entire book – The Blank Slate – to showing the awful mistakes that come from rejecting a truth when it threatens to overturn your world view. Pinker was just trying to state what he thought was obvious: that there is such a thing as human nature, and that certain things about our nature are built-in, hard-wired capacities of our organism. But lots of forces lined up against him – progressive liberal academia as well as right-wing fundamentalists – because they couldn't comprehend how there could be human nature and still preserve the things they held most dear: moral responsibility, free will, self-determination, or an immortal soul. The result is that otherwise rational beings twist themselves into knots trying to sustain their world-view, trapped in self-contradictions and sometimes spinning out disastrous policies as a result.
We've all seen this sort of conceptual evolution in others, and even in ourselves. In this week's Independent I saw an interview with Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus and Jesus, Interrupted. Ehrman was an evangelical, fundamentalist Christian who wanted to learn as much as possible about the scriptures, and who found himself inexorably dragged into questioning his faith as he learned of historical critiques of the Bible. It's relatively easy for someone like me or Kenny to look a fundamentalist in the eye and say: "Look, I know you think that everything hinges on the Bible being absolutely true. It feels like if the Bible is taken away, everything is going to crumble and you'll be left in total darkness in a meaningless universe. But I'm telling you, it's not like that. You will not become a bad person by doubting. You might even become a better person. It takes some getting used to, living in the doubt. But eventually you'll realize that dealing with the doubt is better than caging yourself in a lie. And you might even find the real truth, the thing you were hoping to find in the scriptures to begin with."
We are no better, though. When the evolutionary biologists come along, telling us that our morals are evolved mechanisms for reciprocal altruism, we plug our ears and say, "LALALALALA -- I'm not listening! I know you're probably right, but if I start believing that, I will live in a meaningless universe, and I don't want to live in a meaningless universe." And Pinker say, "Look, I know it feels that way right now, but . . ."
I'm not saying anything Kenny doesn't already know. Kenny wrote that essay on poverty because he believes in trying to face the truth, even if it's a truth he can't handle. He put his moral conviction out for all to see, in spite of the fact that he couldn't live by it himself, because he trusts that facing the truth will ultimately lead to the best possible outcome. I agree with him . . . which is why I'm going to keep going down this rabbit hole.
Wednesday, March 25. 2009
I have continued chipping away at Atlas Shrugged while on the elliptical machine. It has made for timely reading, since during the period I was reading it the financial system melted down. Lots of Ayn Rand fans have commented on the fact that current events somewhat parallel the events of Atlas Shrugged – government efforts to serve the needs of the unproductive leads to economic failure, which leads to more government interventions, which leads to more failure, etc. I must admit, Congress' platitudes about helping out the little guy by pushing Fannie and Freddie into ludicrous loans, and then the Wall Street rush to exploit this unsustainable generosity, looks an awful lot like the "looters" of Ayn Rand's magnus opus.
If current events made Rand's philosophy look more plausible, though, it was counteracted by the fact that I was also reading Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works at the same time. Evolutionary psychology blows a lot of big holes in Rand's philosophy, and it looks like the critics of Objectivism have noticed. It was screamingly obvious to me that Rand's view on sexuality – that people are sexually attracted to those who manifest their highest ideals – was perfectly consistent with what evolutionary psychology would predict for a woman. Females' genetic interests are best served by mating with the most fit male, i.e. the wealthiest, most productive one, and since they have such a high investment in having a baby, they will tend to be very selective of their mates. That same formula doesn't quite work for the males, though – males get much more genetic, ahem, bang for the buck by being promiscuous, since the have to invest much less than the female in generating offspring. Rand concocts a contorted theory that only men who hate themselves could be promiscuous, and that promiscuity is antithetical to their true nature. I didn't buy it. Even men who are profoundly committed to monogamy (such as yours truly) will admit that it is not the natural state of affairs – if commitment was natural, why would we have to make vows to stick to it? Evolutionary psychology presented a cleaner explanation than Rand, in this case.
The gaps were even more noticeable in Rand's notion of the virtue of selfishness, and the sin of altruism. Evolutionary biology points out that people are self-interested, but not exclusively self-interested. We are also predisposed to helping our relatives, since they share our genes, and helping our mates, since their genetic interests are mostly identical to ours. Rand would have us believe that altruism is nothing but an illusion and a sham, but in fact our inmost nature tells us otherwise. There are no children in Rand's books, because love for one's children blows apart most of her ideas. Nearly all parents do believe in sacrificing their own interests for the sake of their children's interests – and no amount of arguing will make us think otherwise. Again, evolutionary biology perfectly explains what Objectivism strains to cover.
If she was so wrong about human nature, then, why does her philosophy appeal so strongly to so many? The world-view in Atlas Shrugged is not implausible – I often find myself seeing life as a war between the competent producers and the incompetent freeloaders. There still may be some truth to be mined from it.
Saturday, March 21. 2009
I hope that when BeliefNet and other such outlets are judging “best spiritual films” for 2009, they will include Coraline, Henry Selick’s 3-D stop-motion animation adaption of Neil Gaiman’s novel. I’ve been a fan of Gaiman’s Sandman comic for years, and Coraline has the same creepy-fantastic-dreamworld feeling that pervades Gaiman’s stories of the King of Dreams. And, like Sandman or Pan’s Labyrinth, you go into it thinking you’re getting fantasy and are shocked to find that it’s really horror, a genre you wouldn’t have touched with a ten-foot-pole had you not been tricked into it. Then you have to deal with the surprising self-knowledge that you kind of like horror, if it’s done right.
Many parents will see trailers and think this is another Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride – that is, faux horror, a cute take on horror, not real horror. But when the MPAA ratings say “PG for thematic elements,” they mean that the movie is designed to creep you out. Critics seemed to differ on whether this is a good thing or not – some found it to be a defect in what they continued to mistake for a children’s film, while others recognized it as the film’s conscious achievement.
So, if Coraline is so horrific, why then am I proposing it as a “spiritual” film? Partially, it’s to cure the prevailing notion that “spiritual” is synonymous with sunshiny, feel-good moral uplift. There can be a lot of spiritual value in being disturbed, and sometimes the best way to discover the light is to face the darkness. But besides that, Coraline is packed with so much Jungean archetypal imagery and spiritual themes that some pop-culture grad student is certainly writing their Master’s thesis on it right now.
If you haven’t seen it yet, I would catch the DVD and then see if you caught the same details I did (caution: spoilers follow):
Continue reading "Coraline"
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