Where do we turn for love in the modern age? A variety of apps promise instant sex, momentary intimacy, group vouched safety. In this odd little story, one Irish man talks about his disenchantingly modern experience with a creature of myth.
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Every few years hollywood is shocked by an utterly predictable success. Some startling maverick producer actually markets a movie to an underserved audience. The flick makes major bank, and a mad scramble begins, as studios line up to cash in. Five years ago it was the grey dollar, as the critically acclaimed Kings Speech dragged in sexagenarians who’d drifted away from the action packed vacuity of the block buster era. Our screens are still filled with it’s predictable follow ups, from Cannes darling Amour to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Five years before that it was kids movies; as a series of franchises, from Harry Potter to Spy Kids proved that tweens had a powerful grip on mammy and daddy’s credit card. Now another, arguably more sinister trend has taken hold, as Hollywood seeks to cash in on a long ignored and even disdained audience. Mel Gibson might be persona non grata, but his 2004 spatterfest The Passion of the Christ nailed a market so lucrative even progressive, secular Hollywood could no longer ignore it. Ever since, the Jeebus movie has edged towards becoming a box office mainstay. Contemporary Christian movies religiously follow a variety of tropes. They exist in a post racial America of prosperous, hard striving, counter-culturally embattled Christian families, whose faith sets them at odds with a world literally in thrall to the devil. Their production tends towards the almost pornographically chintzy, and they’re most often staffed from a self contained stable of avowedly Christian actors.
Most of these movies – like the flurry of wide release Bollywood flicks current aimed at the Indian diaspora – appeal exclusively to their target audience. But breakout hits like this years ‘War Room’ prove that even ‘the lost’ (as evangelicals refer to their secular brethren) are no longer allergic to holy fluff. ‘War Room’ depicts a particularly pentecostal version of Christianity, in which the almighty can be compelled to intervene in ones career and marriage, but only if the lowly penitent rolls up her sleeves and really squeezes out an old prayer. This world view, with it’s sinister implication that misfortune is the deserved result of insufficient faith, ties into the evangelical belief that prayer is a weapon of mass demonic destruction. To a conservative America, still in the grip of a variety of wars on abstract concepts, from terrorism to the gay agenda, the idea holds a powerful appeal. To this view, the social ills of our time are not so much the result of economic inequality, or a history of prejudice, as the active intervention of Satan and his minions. The heavens fight a proxy war on earth, intervening in daily life for good or ill, much like the Gods of the Greek pantheon. With mortals as their emissaries, empowered to perform magic, good and evil battle in our daily lives.
The War Room’s setup exemplifies this narrative. An elderly magical black woman ‘Miss Clara’, played by Karen Abercrombie, helps repair the failing marriage of a wealthy couple, by her ‘war room’, essentially a closet full of prayer paraphernalia. Making her own Christ closet enables the young wife Elizabeth (played by Priscilla Shirer) to battle the demons threatening her marriage. Notable incidents in the film include a mugger fleeing, after a verbal slap down, ‘in the name of jesus’, and a alluring temptress defeated from afar by the power of prayer.
Producers, the Kendrick brothers, have created a slew of ‘educational materials’, to accompany the film. This merch includes a bible study kit, a branded teen prayer journal, the original War Room novel and a ‘battle plan for prayer’ which exhorts the reader to build a magic prayer room of their very own. This rather lucrative package, marketed directly to evangelical churches, along with suggestions to block book tickets, invites comparisons to George Lucas’s galactic scale entrepreneurship.
Fireproof, The highest grossing independent film of 2008, set the kindling to the current round of Christian flicks. The film – which in a deeply Freudian moment begins with a small child asking her mother if she can marry her father, is a romantic fantasy in which an inattentive fireman follows a forty step programme encouraging him to smash his porn riddled computer, and love his cheating wife unconditionally.
Despite their increasing ambition, relatively high budget Jeebus movies are not yet guaranteed success. The formula to reach a wider audience seems to require an Oprah style appeal to the power of positive thinking. ‘Yellow Day’, which opened to minute box office last month, features a glossy combination of animation and live action. The film imagines a kids camp where once a year on the mysterious ‘Yellow Day’ God ‘bestows incredible visions and miracles’ on the faithful, like a narcissistic santa claus. Perhaps the movies failure lies in it’s emphasise on the more feverish, fantastical aspects of evangelicalism.
Last years creepy ‘Heaven is for real’, recounted the story of a four year old boy who has a near death vision of heaven. This trip includes meeting Jesus riding a rainbow coloured stallion, and hanging out with his own miscarried sister. The film based on a purportedly non-fiction new york times best seller, as been labelled ‘heaven tourism’. Its 12 million dollar budget (huge in Christian cinema terms), grossed over 100, 000, 000 world wide. Heaven is for real doubtless owes part of its success to its promotion by media titan, Sony Pictures. Signalling increased investment in the segment by mainstream studios. But also to it’s marketing as a chilling M Night Shyamalan style mystery.
Whats concerning about the rise of such films is not their proselytisation of a belief system, but rather their sanctification of prosperity, their replacement of the vacuity of consumerism, with a kind of sinister conformity – predicated on a just world in which pain proceeds according to a plan. If there is a more malicious machine than the cynical dream factory of hollywood, it’s the the Christian Industrial complex. A hope franchise, with thousands of branches, that ensures capitalist conformity across the economically blighted flyover states. The evangelical block, wilfully courted by post Goldwater Republicans, upheld by Conservative Christian radio, televangelism, Christian publishers, Christian rock, and increasingly Jeebus movies, are selling a very particular kind of celluloid opium. One that appeals to the vulnerable, even as it forestalls any effort to challenge their circumstances.
The ‘Death Cafe‘ movement invites us to discuss death over tea and cakes. For Culture File, I visited the death cafe at The Irish Hospice Foundations’ Forum on End of Life. Chatting with people approaching the end of life, and others working to make its passing less painful, inevitably made death for a moment more difficult to ignore. It’s almost a year since a close friend of mine, a wonderful charismatic, hilarious, talented man, took his own life; and with it a kind of innocence amongst our group in college. A kind of certainty that we were immune from futile injury. My childhood was shaped by the death of the woman closest to me, my nana Kate. Shortly after school I lost two friends, one to a still unsolved murder, and another to a still incurable illness. Death is something I think about often, but rarely discuss. In a sense, whats the point? But perhaps there is a reason to talk about it after all. ‘Think Ahead‘ is a pen and paper form that lets us write down how we’d like our send off, what our wishes are around our treatment at the end of life. While Irish law still criminalises assisted dying, thinking about how we want our lives to be celebrated, and how we want to be taken care of when we cannot express our wishes, can perhaps insure we live our lives a little more, while we still have them.
Voices include Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness and Sarah Murphy of Think Ahead Download:‘Death Cafe’
Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire fame is bringing a unique piece to the Aula Maxima at UCC this evening. In collaboration with physiologist Professor Ken O’Halloran, and neuroscientist Professor John Cryan, he’ll be performing a piece called ‘For Heart & Breath‘. Released as an album last year, in live performance the piece relies on measures the breath and heartbeats of its performers to create a feedback loop of performance and appreciation. I headed down to UCC to speak with professor Ken O’Halloran about music, physiology and the often surprising links between art and science, breath and brain.
A few months ago, Irish company Immersive VR education ran a successful kickstarter to create a virtual reality simulation of the Apollo 11 journey to the moon. Put like that it sound kind unbelievable – we actually built a craft that travelled to the moon! Sure, we haven’t gone back in forty three years, but it’s damned impressive all the same.
If you’re lucky enough to own one of the oculus rift developer kits (consumer versions still haven’t hit the market), you can download a demo of the experience at Immersive VR’s site.
I sat down with Immersive’s founder David Whelan to try out this epic voyage, all from the comfort of a swivel chair in his Waterford based home office.
Roger Gregg is a dramatist, poet, musician, actor and performer. Over a long career on radio and theatre, he’s had dozens of plays performed all over the world, and written and recorded numerous radio dramas as ‘Crazy Dog Audio Theatre‘.
Today Roger continues to record and perform, with his ‘Bee Loud Glade Cabaret’. Bee Loud shows fuse poetry and music, giving new life to verse, mythology and storytelling.
Roger appeared in episode one of Mad Scientists of Music, and this episode continues our discussion. Roger talks about everything from his radio influences, to his career in Irish theatre, to the inimitable power of sound.
Crazy Dog Audio Theatre – Studio Cuts
Crazy Dog Audio Theatre – Time Out For Bill Lizard
Bee Loud Glade Cabaret – Up Yours (featuring the words of Gerry Murphy)
Bee Loud Glade Cabaret – Too Lovely for words (featuring the words of Gerry Murphy)
Bee Loud Glade Cabaret – The Boney (featuring the words of Iggy McGovern)
Bee Loud Glade Cabaret – Helen’s Kiss
Crazy Dog Audio Theatre – Infidel
Roger Gregg – We’re number one
Bee Loud Glade Cabaret – Night Start
Roger Gregg – The Hollow Men (featuring the words of T.S Elliot)