Maltshop Guy: What’s outside of Pleasantville?
David: Oh, it doesn’t matter.
Margaret Henderson: What’s outside of Pleasantville?
David: There are some places that the road doesn’t go in a circle. There are some places where the road keeps going.
Margaret Henderson: Keeps going?
David: Yeah, yeah. It just keeps going. It all keeps going.
George Parker: What happened? One minute, everything’s fine… What went wrong?
David: Nothing went wrong. People change.
George Parker: People change?
David: Yeah, people change.
George Parker: Can they change back?
David: [grins] I don’t know. I think it’s harder.
–From the movie Pleasantville (1998). Source: IMDb.
It is after 2 am. I am watching the tee-vee. A man with a mullet is trying to sell me a 168-piece set of knives. Most are clearly not for cucumbers, bread, or ham. Well, maybe the ham, if it still has legs and needs to be subdued. The on-screen graphic tells me this is a “$1,851.00 value.” But I can have all 168 knives for $199.98. I can even pay them off in “two easy flex payments.” If I am puzzled as to how I should transport my knives, the man with the mullet advises me to “carry them around in my pocket,” which is “the way most people do.” If I act now, the samurai sword that is part of the set will arrive with a red silken sheath. The silken sheath is demonstrated to me on-air. Finally, I am urged to “like” the man’s page on Facebook. As the program ends, I am not sure, on this cold Thanksgiving morning, whether I should laugh or cry for my country.
In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome. The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary. Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. –Kalends of Christmas Day, from the Mass at Midnight
It is hard to write about Advent or Christmas. It is hard to come up with something that has not already been said. What I am about to say has been said elsewhere and said better. But I will say it anyhow.
In Jesus, the Word does not only take flesh. The Word takes on a biography, a story with a thousand characters and details. It is the same litany of particulars that make me into Justin, or you into yourself. Continue reading
Almost a decade ago, I began to acquire priestly stoles I could not possibly use.
In 2005, while attending the School of the Americas protest in Fort Benning, Georgia, I browsed the stalls of the vendors. A woman from Latin America operated one stall, full of crafts and hand-woven cloth. Among her wares was a rich purple stole. It bore images of Jesus in the desert and women at a well and was draped on a hanger.
The scene triggered something. I had to have it. I moved as if in a dream. My heart beat louder while I wrote my credit card number on a piece of yellow paper. I paid eighty dollars I would have done better to save.
I went back to my friends. I showed them my grocery bag, warily removing the purple stole from it as though authorities would be more concerned about this than about the demonstration. Teasingly, my friends made me try it on. They liked how it looked and told me I would be a Jesuit one day.
Catholic guilt overtook me. I could not keep the stole. Stoles were sacred clothes. They were for sacred men. Sacred words had been said over these men by other men who had been authorized to say them. I did not feel God looking over my shoulder. But I definitely felt Pope Benedict looking over my shoulder. Continue reading
The slavish honoring of the rich by elite schools, despite the lofty rhetoric about public service, is clear to the students. The object is to make money. These institutions have an insatiable appetite for donations and constant fund-raising campaigns to boost multibillion-dollar endowments. This constant need can be met only by producing rich alumni. But grabbing what you can, as John Ruskin said, isn’t any less wicked when you grab it with the power of your brains than with the power of your fists.
Most of these students are so conditioned to success that they become afraid to take risks. They have been taught from a young age by zealous parents, schools, and institutional authorities what constitutes failure and success. They are socialized to obey. They obsess over grades and seek to please professors, even if what their professors teach is fatuous. The point is to get ahead, and getting ahead means deference to authority. Challenging authority is never a career advancer….
The products of these institutions, as Hoggart noted, have “difficulty in choosing a direction in a world where there is no longer a master to please, a toffee-apple at the end of each stage, a certificate, a place in the upper half of the assessable world.”
Chris Hedges writing in Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle