Paris in the Summertime

Although CNN lists this among their hot topics on a newly formatted homepage, I’m not certain its really all that popular a topic, since only one other person has saved my same bookmarks on Delicious. I have to say, though, that I’m intrigued that Paris Hilton “found God” in jail.

Pop culture is a funny thing. My wife and I are intrigued by different cultures, and we love to experience them, but we both find it difficult at times to accept pop culture as a valid cultural manifestation. Once we admit defeat, however, we must admit that it is present: pop culture Americana at its worst, and if ever there was an epitome of this, it is Paris Hilton.

Apparently, though, she’s left it behind her, or at least that’s what she was saying when she was discharged from her adult time-out last week and had a nice sit-down with Larry King. After having time to get to know herself, she has formulated plans that include building a halfway house. After all, that’s the sort of thing that happens when you find God in the slammer.

Among the more interesting things Hilton discussed during her post-release interviews was her new found awareness of a sense of responsibility to the young girls that look upon/worship her as a role model/idol. Certainly, she would have significant amounts of negative role modeling to undo there after some of the other modeling (and occasional videography projects) she’s done. Despite my inescapable cynicism, however, something about this sounds believable.

I fear, though, that there is a test of faith that will occur here, as Hilton was immediately assaulted with publicity upon her release, and, has been well stated, there is no such thing as bad publicity in our entertainment industry, be it from incarceration or anything else. Whatever faith she has found she will find sorely tested, I imagine, by those she labeled as negative influences and from whom she wants to stay away.

No faith comes without testing. I hope Hilton’s is up for the challenge, because her gifts lend themselves to accomplishing much good. Hopefully, her time spent finding herself led to the discovery of the good person I’m sure she is. Hopefully, it led to the discovery of a faith…and a God…she’ll find is worth holding onto, popularity be damned.


Which, I guess, is sort of what faith is all about.


Life on Video

I’m an enormous fan of video. While I’m not a YouTube poster and I don’t upload images of my life onto Flickr, I do find myself occasionally drawn to those sites, and I wonder if it isn’t a matter of time. Statistically, as I understand it, this is a mark of the emergent generation more so than of my own GenX age, but I find myself crossing over from one generation to another in my interests, not as much because of my age but because of I have a huge dose of the geek gene when it comes to technology.

I’ve talked a few times here about the art-imitating-life-or-life-imitating-art debate, and I found this article through a Newsvine link today that I thought was interesting enough to bring it up again. There are very interesting results here: generally, most Americans think the media leads our society into a needlessly “liberal” (their word, not mine) and overly permissive worldview toward sexuality, God, and other subjects of importance. While I approach these types of studies with caution (I once had a psychology professor say that statistics are evil…you can make them say whatever you want), I do find it believable and interesting (if even in a prooftexting way) that Americans are dissatisfied with media coverage (“only 11 percent believe it has a positive impact,” according to the article). I bookmarked an interesting article today on my delicious page (on the sidebar) from BBC that provides an interesting glimpse into how we are perceived by other’s honestly frightening to me. As a news junkie a occasional journalist, I find it difficult at best to find impartial reporting out there…everything is slanted in one direction or the other.

That tangent aside, do we really think that television media is causing societal woes, or merely reflecting them?

Karen and I made the recent decision to ditch cable television. Initially, it was a financial decision, because we were paying a ridiculous amount of money to be locked into their schedule when we only actually watched 4-5 programs regularly, all of of which are available on iTunes significantly cheaper and a la carte. Since we went through with the decision, though, it has become a spiritual improvement in our lives: all of the time we ended up zoning in front of “white noise” television then has now turned to reading more books and engaging in the lost art of conversation. Either way, we come out of it smarter than three hours of meaningless channel surfing.

Television is certainly a valid medium of artistic expression, the same as film. However, there is a significant amount of crap on the airwaves as well. I can understand this study’s opinion that consistent intake of the crap leads to an overall degradation of one’s moral structure.

So, do I want to say that life imitates art here? No, because, if we’re honest, the garbage that is being aired isn’t art…it’s a gratuitous use of technology to indulge our voyeuristic tendencies. At some level, YouTube and Flickr and other platforms, including MySpace and Facebook, indulge the same tendencies. I’m just as guilty of liking to watch someone else’s life as you are, but, after a few glimpses at that type of content (unless it’s one of my friends), I’m either bored or disgusted, and “change the channel.”

The artistic content of television reflects our culture, and comments on it in extremely truthful ways.

The other content?

Well, I guess we just like to watch…

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A State of Misperception

Having moved from the north to the south a few years ago, I’ve noticed some definite disctinctives between the two.

Example: I was talking with a friend a couple of months ago during a long car-ride back from the beach. She had recently attended a wedding in Pittsburgh, and was commenting on how rude she perceived people from that city to be. I was a bit amazed by this, having spent a lot of time in Pittsburgh and counting it among my favorite cities, and asked her why she felt this way. She replied that everyone that she had encountered there was so abrupt and straightforward in what they said that it was offensive to her.

I laughed at this. Offensive to her southern sensibilities, perhaps, but to those of us used to that atomsphere, it’s actually very comforting. You know what everyone thinks immediately, without having to work beyond the false veneer of politeness that is the trademark of the south. Politeness takes a lot of valuable time…I’d rather just know what you think of me up front, not because I care, but because I know very quickly whether or not to waste my time with you.

And, as abrupt as I can be, my New England wife is even moreso, enough to suprise me at times.

Neither of us are abrupt because we don’t care or want to be rude. We simply recognize the value of brevity. My friend’s response? “I don’t know…they were just rude.”

This is an amusing portrait of cultural misperceptions for me. It occurs to me that our worldview, our metaphysical reality, is born from our cultural moors. Our culture is the lens through which we view everything.

It causes me to wonder if it is possible for any of us to have a completely accurate view of God. Apart from the essential facts that are clearly laid out for us in Scripture, can we truly see a God that is not contaminated by our cultural predispositions? I came from a small town, where everyone’s view of God was so culturally narrow that I had difficulty getting my childhood brain around the fact that He could even be relative to someone of another country, for example. That was the point where I began recognizing the value of relativity: if Christ looks this way to me, what does He look like to someone in Africa? Or Russia? Or Scotland? Or Chicago?

Now I wonder: are any of those accurate?

God is bigger than our perceptions. Impossibly bigger. He is also a constant, and separate. Therefore, He is who He is, regardless of how we see Him. The issue, I think, is just that: how we see Him. However well we educate ourselves, however objective we force ourselves to be, is it truly possible to step back and view God apart from our respective cultures? The more I ponder it, the more I find it to be impossibily difficult.

I don’t think that precludes those from different cultures from knowing Him…not at all. I do think, though, that it contributes to and perpetuates our intolerance and narrow-minded bigotry toward Believers of other psycho-social backgrounds. The problem isn’t with Him, it’s with us. However we want to slant our image of God, we fail to realize that He is who He is.

The irony, I think, is that it looks a bit different for different personalities. The kindness of Christ coming from me looks a bit different than when it comes from my southern friends, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is still kindness.

Catches my faith somewhere between rationalism and existentialism, so I guess I’ve defied a label again. God is who He is, but He looks a bit different in all of us.

Go figure.

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An Overall State of Being Disillusioned

I’ve been distracted by life for a week or so, and I haven’t spent much in the blogosphere, but I’m back on an irritated note, because I see some prominent examples today of a disturbing trend I’ve noticed for some time.

Following the latest round of presidential debates in New Hampshire, there’s a controversy on the Republican end of things about whether or not President Bush should pardon Scooter Libby before he has to spend any time in prison for being instrumental in leaking the names of CIA operatives.

Wait, wait, wait…pardon? Did someone just say pardon???

You know, I suppose I should expect this kind of thing from the good ole boys’ club now known as the Republican party, but even from Bush this surprises me. Libby intentionally left lives in danger, lives we will likely never know about, and now they’re talking about pardoning him???

Don’t get too upset yet, because this just keeps getting better. Anderson Cooper aired a story last night (the transcript wasn’t available as I wrote this) about how congressmen convicted of major crimes continue to receive a congressional pension (paid for by our tax dollars) even while incarcerated. Only conviction of treason can apparently forfeit this “right” that they have.

So our elected officials continue to ensure payment of their criminal co-workers while seriously considering pardoning others…well, obviously there are just things at work here that the “little people” can’t understand, right?

James Gilmore, a former Virginia attorney general and onetime Republican National Committee chairman, was quoted in the L.A. Times article as saying: “If the public believes there’s one law for a certain group of people in high places and another law for regular people, then you will destroy the law and destroy the system.”

I don’t think it’s a case of if we believe this any longer. It’s in front of us everyday. Politicians get pardoned and paid where we would be locked away to rot. Celebrities like Paris Hilton are released from jail to do house arrest for what was a much shorter sentence than was warranted by her consistent reckless actions to begin with. That brilliant decision was made after “extensive consultations with medical personnel.” Translation: we were paid entirely too much money to keep someone this hot in the tank.

There’s an important lesson here for Americans: we live in a society where only materialism matters. Or, to say it in a more crass way: money talks and bullshit walks. We live in a broken society, enslaved to a broken system, where power is everything because it is absolute, and has therefore corrupted absolutely. Those on top of the food chain live well and free of consequences, and play games with the future of a country with half-witted decisions, while passing the price of their failures off to the rest of us.

I think it was Winston Churchill who said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others we’ve tried. I would like to say that I lose faith in our government daily, but in all honestly, I have no faith in them left to lose. I am consistently disappointed and disillusioned with each news broadcast. I am awakened every time I read international news about how poorly we are perceived by other nations, and I cannot help but think that their criticisms are solid.

Karen made an eloquent point during a conversation a few weeks ago that America is driven by pride. Moreover, by a complete absence of humility. Our ethics and moral structure has spiraled out of control, and we are seeing the beginning of what I fear will be a cataclysmic end. I can’t believe that it is beyond hope, however. I see glimmers of hope in the presidential debates as we begin to feel out the early stages of the next election. At least we’re consistently fed up with this catastrophe called the Bush administration, and more people want to change it than not. I’m not one that votes with allegiance to either political party, but I’m happy to see that both parties are beginning to realize that we have a lot to change. I’m hoping that this is a catalyst for improvement.

Or, at worst, at least it will be the lesser of the evils.