Friday, April 28, 2006

A Godly Piano Player In The Whorehouse

“I sat there in the sanctuary, thinking about Jesus as a storyteller. He knew the audience he was trying to reach, he defined his demographics, and tailored his stories accordingly. He took complex theological concepts and turned them into clear, entertaining stories that even a child could understand. And the way he handled special effects! He would do great in Hollywood today.” --Sheryl Anderson, “What Would Jesus Write?”

There’s a plan afoot in Hollywood to influence minds. No, the secular humanists aren’t behind it. This time devote Christians hope to use the media of movies and television to promote their viewpoints –- by working inside the great beast.

Details can be found in a series of essays collected in the book, Behind The Screen: Hollywood Insiders On Faith, Film, and Culture, edited by Spencer Lewerenz and Barbara Nicolosi. In the introduction the editors explain how Act One, a nonprofit program, was created to train “artist-apostles,” believers in Jesus who would try to transform, not take over, Hollywood.

Behind The Screen promotes the opinion that angry letters and boycotts don’t work against the studios. Hating and ignoring Hollywood only allows it to produce more unChristian trash. Instead, the staff and graduates of Act One hope to subtly influence the creative process, increasing the chances of more uplifting and positive entertainment to be produced.

But when I think of horror movies –- the intense, graphic horrors on the screen today –- I don’t associate them with uplifting themes. But Scott Derrickson in his essay says that as a Christian he feels compelled to deal with the dark side of existence. That’s why he was involved with such movies as Urban Legends: Final Cut and Hellraiser: Inferno.

The main point behind Act One is that most people go to mainstream movies; that’s where the numbers are. There are movies targeted at Christian audiences such as The Omega Code and Carmen: The Champion, but they appeal to Christians only and most of them aren’t that well made. Also, nonbelievers are put off by strong messages in overtly Christian films. People don’t want to be lectured.

Instead a positive Christian theme can be placed in a variety of mainstream entertainments, even in a television show like Charmed, a program following the supernatural adventures of three sexily-dressed sisters who are modern day witches. A Christian writer for Charmed explains in her essay how she projected positive values in a script, the importance of familial love and good winning over evil. (Me, I only noticed the boobs on Charmed. The witches don’t appear to be that bright.)

In his essay Scott Derrickson advises the Christian artist to belong to the Quality Club. A Christian doesn’t have to agree with everything promulgated by Hollywood, but he must succeed in the business or lose the opportunity to share his faith in the mission field of Tinseltown. A key rule of the Quality Club is moral integrity, servicing your employer to the best of your ability.

Derrickson sums up by stating: “It is morally questionable to seek the subversion of your employer’s business with covert Christian motives, and it is morally objectionable to fail to deliver what you are paid to deliver.”

What Act One seems to offer is a way to render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s –- while also letting Caesar render unto apostle-artists a great paycheck and maybe –- maybe –- the chance to bring someone to Jesus.

It’s like a Christian being paid to play the piano in a brothel. He hates all the sin around him, but if he slips in an inspirational song now and then, someone might pause from screwing or being screwed and find their way to God.

Until the cops raid the joint and shut it down.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dan Brown: Burgeoning Hack

The scientist had the look of eagles in his eyes.

No, Dan Brown didn’t write that last sentence –- even though I wouldn’t be surprised if he had. I’m amazed how many people think Dan Brown is such a good writer. Sorry, I ain’t buying.

Yup, Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code are both best sellers. But because something is popular doesn’t mean it can hold up to some scrutiny. I enjoy a good story; there’s nothing wrong with great entertainment. But because something is “entertainment” doesn’t mean that its crappy flaws have to be excused.

Intro To Creative Writing -- Rule #1: Never stoop to having your character conveniently look into a mirror and describe himself in detail to the reader. Brown does this both of his books, right in the opening scenes, to introduce his hero. In The Da Vinci Code he also has one of the villains study his reflection in an airplane window for the benefit of the reader.

A good writer can bring a character to life without the character obsessing with his looks in a reflection. When Brown writes his autobiography, maybe he’ll have a mirror hanging over his computer.

Besides the mirror cheat, Brown evinces hackism by overwriting at times. For example, his description of a French police inspector investigating the murder scene in The Da Vinci Code. The inspector stands there with shoulders thrown back, his chin buried into his chest. What happened? Was this inspector walking down a Parisian street when someone defenestrated a small safe from the fifth floor, hitting said inspector on the back of his head?

Shoulders thrown back, chin in chest. Try it. In front of a mirror. Hurts, don’t it? How stupid do you look? That stupid, huh?

I don’t remember if the inspector ever stood with his arms akimbo. If he did, he would’ve blown apart from the extreme tension.

Trudging along, let’s examine this ripe bit from Angels & Demons, a description of an anti-matter bomb exploding over Rome at night:

“It shot out in all directions, accelerating with incomprehensible speed, gobbling up the dark. As the sphere of light grew, it intensified, like a burgeoning fiend preparing to consume the entire sky.”

OK, if the blast accelerated at an “incomprehensible speed,” would it have time to “gobble” up the dark? Wouldn’t it simply obliterate the night in an instant? A fast-slow explosion. Sounds oxymoronic. Or at least turgid. But not as turgid as the term “burgeoning fiend.” Is that anything like a flourishing imp? A budding boogeyman? A sprouting sprite?

But Dan Brown doesn’t have to worry. He can produce rough patches of purple prose in his novels and still make the bestseller lists. After all, he has the look of dollar signs in his eyes.

[Note: To give credit (or blame) where it’s due: Robert Moore Williams wrote about the eagle-eyed scientist in the classic low-fi sci-fi novel, The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles (1961). Unlike Brown’s bestsellers, I found Moore’s novel to be entertaining, in a train wreck sort of way. Try to top this plot: A rogue protein molecule menaces mankind. After being struck by a stray cosmic ray, the mutated protein infects humans, transforming victims into howling zombies.]

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Lowly Conspiracy Monger Pushes Dotty Claim

Apparently Richard C. Hoagland has never encountered a dot he couldn’t connect.

During the Apollo space program he served as a science advisor to newsman Walter Cronkite and CBS-TV news. Since that time Hoagland through his website and book has constructed one of the greatest conspiracy theories of modern times. (Of course, it involves the Freemasons; that organization’s involvement is de rigueur with any far-flung, far-out conspiracy claims.)

One key point in his theory is the face on Mars. Back in 1976 a NASA space probe photographed a section of Mars where it seemed a giant face was staring up into the sky. Was this a monument, evidence left behind by alien beings? More photos taken in 2002 by another satellite proved that the “structure” was an illusion created by natural features and the play of light and shadow.

But Hoagland couldn’t accept that answer. In the 1976 photo the face looked manlike and Hoagland claimed that it indeed had humanoid features. But when the 2002 images showed the manlike features weren’t really there, Hoagland backtracked a bit and said he never claimed what would be revealed by clearer images would prove to be an exact match to a human face.

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But Hoagland has a way of making the dots connect after the fact. Sometimes he doesn’t tie A with B; he just skips most of the alphabet and goes right to Z.

The pyramid shape is fairly common on earth, whether it be manmade or natural. After a satellite image suggested a pyramid structure on Mars, Hoagland worked backwards, trying to find conspiratorial evidence with anything pyramidal. When he came across a Martian pyramid in a “Tom Corbett, Space Cadet” SF story from old View Master reels, then he had to connect that dot, it wasn’t a coincidence.

So why would the conspirators behind the great cover-up put a clue to such a Martian structure in a kid’s story from the 1950s? You got me.

Hoagland’s latest dotty claim is that comic book artist Jack Kirby during the late 1950s wrote a face on Mars story under the influence of the conspiracy; his work was based upon inside info. (Race To The Moon #2, Harvey Comics.) To quote Hoagland:

"Kirby wrote this amazingly prophetic tale only eleven months after the Space Age officially began -- with the surprising Russian launch of Sputnik 1, October 4, 1957--

"But -- eighteen years before the rest of us would see (from Viking 1) what was waiting for the Human Race on Mars ….



"So, in 1958 … how did Kirby know?!"

Then Hoagland writes:

"So, how does a lowly 'comic artist' in the 1950’s become privy to the Greatest Secret in the History of Man … before it could be known?!

"One reasonable possibility is that Jack Kirby somehow saw the same View Master reels from “Tom Corbett: Space Cadet” that we were loaned -- only much, much earlier. However, this cannot be the answer ... because the Corbett reels – while containing much extraordinary information relating to Cydonia we have verfied [sic] five decades later – did NOT contain a single mention of “a giant face on Mars!”

"So -- if he didn’t get his information from “Tom Corbett,” regarding “ruins of an ancient, war-torn civilization on the planet Mars … presided over by a giant head …” -- how did Jack Kirby know about “the Face!?

"The answers’ [sic] obvious: he was simply told."

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Here’s another obvious answer:

Jack Kirby –- who co-created many of the famous Marvel superheroes like the Fantastic Four –- had a great imagination. Kirby dreamt up many comic book stories during his long career. With such a body of work, it’s probable that one of his ideas would coincide with some event in real life, especially after time marched on. By chance the Mars Orbiter in 1972 happened to fly over a certain area of Mars when the light and shadows visually transformed part of the surface into a manlike face. There’s no need to deduce that the face on Mars is an artificial construct and that some mysterious insiders let Kirby know about the face years before it was photographed.

Once again: if you’re trying to keep hidden knowledge hidden, then why reveal in a story for kids?

And once again: You got me.

Maybe Hoagland is part of another conspiracy to spread disinformation, a dupe keeping the truth hidden from the masses by making silly claims that obscure the real story.

Anyone can selectively connect dots, can't they?

The Spirit of Jack Kirby Confronts Hoagland