Friday, August 10, 2012

Even More Hobbit Disappointment

Don't try and explain yourself. I'm pretty sure we're done.
So, on top of doing away with miniature photography, on top of the insanity of it now being a Hobbit Trilogy!, this list of companion figurines from Games Workshop contains quite a few SPOILERS as to the specific characters and contents in these clearly misguided movies. Here are a few of the highlights:

Drogo Baggins (Frodo's father) and the Tavern Maid
Dís, Mother of Kili and Fili
Gimli (Stubble) (More Gimli comic relief, I take it, 'cause that totally does justice to the character.)

Grinnah & Mirkwood Werewolves ('Cause wargs weren't enough, I guess.)
The Werebeast
The Willowhags
The Necromancer / Flesh Avatar
Narzug & Orc Summoner Coven
Tomb Wights
Mounted Tomb Wights
Saruman & The Ringwraiths
Vampire Bat Swarms
Galadriel (Water Steed)
Radagast’s Chariot / Spellfire Cart
Fire-wyrms (more dragons, great)
Braga & Goldscale Worshippers (some kind of dragon cult??)
Venomblade Assassin
Goldscale Priest (I guess so.)
Bofur on Cold-Drake (Yes, apparently Bofur will be riding a dragon.)
Dragon Thrall (whatever that is)
Fell Hatchlings
The Beornings (even though they didn't exist at the time of The Hobbit)
Turin, The Dragonslayer (as in the Turin Turambar from The Silmarillion, 'cause that makes sense.)

And, finally, this cryptic and very disconcerting heading:

Galadriel (Barrel)

I vow to you now, if Peter Jackson puts Galadriel in a barrel I'm walking out of the theater.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Everything Wrong With The Dark Knight Rises

I've decided to make what I'm sure will be the first of many posts on this much-anticipated movie a kind of list of reactions. Which are in no particular order. Make of it what you will:


  1. Pacing.
  2. Tone.
  3. Maniacal supervillanry.
  4. Doomsday devices.
  5. Uncompelling action sequences.
  6. A much, much too brief "re-training" period for Bruce. (Screen-time, I mean. 3 months in a few minutes? Cue sit-up montage.)
  7. A much, much too brief parallel "under seige" period for Gotham.
  8. Lucius Fox and Commissioner Gordon are side-lined.
  9. "Get the President on the line," etc.
  10. The old "fly away from the city, detonating the bomb and sacrificing yourself" trope (or should I say cliché) already used once this year by Avengers.
  11. A half-assed romance with Miranda Tate that means nothing and goes nowhere.
  12. "The Bat." That's a big one.
  13. Political commentary.
  14. Camp.
  15. Cat-woman's goggle, ear, things.
  16. Yet again, Bane is really just a tool.
  17. Batman having gone into retirement period. Batman doesn't retire for 8 years, no matter how good it is. Come on.
  18. No redemption for Gordon.
  19. The trivialization of Alfred's mourning.
  20. Alfred pretty much just showing up a couple of times to have rushed conversations that culminate in him saying something profound and insightful and then walking away dramatically.
  21. The Bat Cave? Meh.
  22. Everything, I mean everything about the ending.
Right after The Dark Knight came out I said that Christopher Nolan is gonna do another one, and it's going to be too huge, have nine million villains, in other words, fall into all the same "traps" the third installments in superhero series are famously plagued with. But for Nolan these wouldn't be traps. He would manage to unite it all into one cohesive story which hit at the heart of Batman and morality and all that stuff we love Nolan for.

The verdict? Nope. He couldn't do it. Pretty good effort I have to say. Not fundamentally flawed, I don't think, just poorly executed. Most of all I think it's pretty clear that Nolan didn't really wanna make this movie.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Peter Jackson: The Next George Lucas

Further evidence that Mr. Jackson's losing his mind:

Peter Jackson On Doing Away With Miniature Photography For The Hobbit

Remember when Lucas did away with miniatures and conventional special effects in favor of computer animation? That turned out great! I call it "Skywalker Syndrome." So far it's produced the Prequel Trilogy and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull among others. Let's hope the Hobbit films aren't quite in that category, but it's looking worrisome.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Treasures Of The Anglican Patrimony: The Prayer Of Humble Access

Part One

The Prayer of Humble Access. What kind of a series on the Anglican Patrimony would this be if it had started anywhere else? I find that those who have little or no experience with Anglo-Catholicism often pick out this one prayer above all else. Rightly so, it's a fantastic example of everything the Anglican Patrimony is about: theocentricity, piety, meekness, contrition, hieratic language, beauty, eloquence, solemnity, nobility, and so on.

The Prayer of Humble Access was composed by Thomas Cranmer especially for the 1548 Communion Service and was later incorporated into the first Book of Common Prayer (BCP) the following year. Here's how it appeared initially (a contemporary transliteration follows the original):
"WE do not preſume to come to this thy table (o mercifull lord) truſting in our owne righteouſnes, but in thy manifold & great mercies: we be not woorthie ſo much as to gather up the cromes under thy table: but thou art the ſame lorde whoſe propertie is alwayes to have mercie: Graunt us therefore (gracious lorde) ſo to eate the fleſhe of thy dere ſonne Jeſus Chriſt, and to drynke his bloud in theſe holy Miſteries, that we may continuallye dwell in hym, and he in us, that our ſynfull bodyes may bee made cleane by his body, and our ſoules waſhed through hys moſt precious bloud. Amen."
"WE do not presume to come to this thy Table (O merciful Lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, in these holy Mysteries, that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood. Amen."
The prayer was revised slightly for the 1662 Prayer Book (the book still in force in the Church of England), which is identical to the version that appears in both the 1928 American BCP and traditional language rite of the 1979 book:
"WE do not presume to come to this Thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under they table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen."
"Strange to say, it was in the Middle Ages, 'the Ages of Faith', that Communion [of the laity] was less frequent than at any other period of the Church's history," (Catholic Encyclopedia). It is likely that this was due largely to the influence of the development and prevalence of Jansenistic tendencies, many believing that they could never approach the Sacrament in confidence by virtue of their great unworthiness. While it is, of course, true that we shall never merit the great mercies which Christ deigns to bestow upon us, this does not mean we should not accept them when he does, provided we are aware of our unworthiness and properly disposed as a result. Aside from the stain of serious sin, it is the simple acknowledgement of our lowly estate that puts us in the right place to receive grace. That is humility, which is all God asks. This is, in fact, precisely what Saint Paul prescribes:
"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged," (1 Cor. 11:27-31).
One of the common tenets of the Reformation was the stress of more frequent Communion of the laity. To be sure the more radical strains, including that of Dr. Cranmer himself, emphasized this as a result of their belief that the Eucharist was not a recapitulation of the Sacrifice of Christ, but nothing more than a memorial meal. The "virtue [of the Eucharist] was limited to the receivers of the communion, and the laity derived no benefit from private masses performed by priests," (Thomas Cranmer and the English Reformation, 1489-1556).

Of course the Reformers also called for a more central role for Holy Scripture in the life of the Church, and Saint Paul explicitly enjoins humility before the Lord's Table. If, as proper Bible-believing Christians, we are to obey this command, the laity ought to be given the opportunity to express this humility liturgically prior to their Communion, right? Well...yeah.

As with so many other things, for whatever reason Dr. Cranmer did what he did, the result is not only beautiful, but, in and of itself and leaving aside historical implications, doctrinally sound and praiseworthy. In this particular example, we can even see a direct fulfillment of the wishes of the the Council of Trent, which also sought to reform the Church, though whilst preserving unity and orthodoxy, of course. Consider the following prescriptions from the Council:
"'Frequent and daily Communion...should be open to all the faithful, of whatever rank and condition of life; so that no one who is in the state of grace, and who approaches the holy table with a right and devout intention, can be lawfully hindered therefrom.' (2) 'A right intention consists in this: that he who approaches the Holy Table should do so, not out of routine, or vainglory, or human respect, but for the purpose of pleasing God, or being more closely united with Him by charity, and of seeking this Divine remedy for his weaknesses and defects'. Rule 3 declares that 'it is sufficient that they (the daily communicants) be free from mortal sin, with the purpose of never sinning in future', and Rule 4 enjoins that 'care is to be taken that Holy Communion be proceeded by serious preparation and followed by a suitable thanksgiving, according to each one's strength, circumstances, and duties,'" (Catholic Encyclopedia).
In other words, the Reformers weren't all wrong. Funnily enough, the Prayer of Humble Access provides a near perfect liturgical expression of these Tridentine instructions. But more than that, it is beautiful. I can speak from experience, unlike many of the prayers of the current Ordinary Form, if one is paying attention at all, it is really very difficult to pray the Humble Access and not mean it; like all good prayer, it evokes that for which it is petitioning God. Of course, grace has something to do with it, but who's to say that the grace of God cannot be mediated to us through the agency of liturgical language itself? Isn't that just to say that there should be a reciprocal relationship between words and belief? Prayer and work? Liturgy and life?

Lex orandi, lex credendi.

Next Up: Choral Evensong

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Treasures Of The Anglican Patrimony: Introduction

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI responded to the "repeated" and "insistent" requests of groups of Anglicans "to be received into full Catholic communion individually as well as corporately," with the promulgation of the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus. The document provides for the erection of "Personal Ordinariates" around the world in which former Anglicans may enter the full communion of the Catholic Church, while still retaining what is good, true, and beautiful in the "patrimony" of historic Anglicanism.

Our Lady of Walsingham, Houston:
The Principal Church of the American Ordinariate
As the Holy Father says, the first and most important goal of this scheme was "to guarantee the unity of the episcopate and to preside over and safeguard the universal communion of all the Churches." As Fr. Z rightly likes to remind us so frequently, "Benedict is the Pope of Christian Unity." The reconciliation of what the Catechism calls the Church's "separated brethren," is of primary importance to the Holy Father because "every division among the baptized in Jesus Christ wounds that which the Church is and that for which the Church exists; in fact, 'such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages that most holy cause, the preaching the Gospel to every creature.'"

But, this was not the only goal. The Constitution says that the Holy See has also acted "so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared." That last phrase is key. Soon after the promulgation of Anglicanorum coetibus many in the Church began to speak of Benedict's apparent plan for the "mutual enrichment" of various liturgical uses within the Latin Rite. Especially they point to the 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum that cleared the way for wider celebration of what that document termed the Extraordinary Form. But this also applies to the Anglican Use, most of whom are bringing with them a particular reverance and dedication to the Sacred Liturgy, amongst other things, which it seems the Holy Father would like to exert a "gravitational pull," to use Fr. Z's phrase, on the celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Use.
The Westminster Abbey Choir at St. Peter's in Rome
Since then many have attempted to examine the nature of the Anglican Patrimony to which the Holy Father is referring, to determine what it is the Ordinariates are bringing to the Church, and why His Holiness is so enamoured of it. (So enamoured, in fact, that he issued a personal invitation to the Choir of Westminster Abbey to sing at St. Peter's for, not just any feast, but the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul! I find it astounding that this event went by largely unnoticed. It wasn't that long ago the English were still hanging, drawing and quartering Catholics after all.) Several laudable articles have been produced, including this one by one of the Episcopal Vicars of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham himself, Monsignor Andrew Burnham, this one by Shawn Tribe of New Liturgical Movement, and one by Dr. James Patrick of the Walsingham Society in four parts: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.
While all of these efforts are certainly commendable, I like the notion that an essential part of the Anglican Patrimony is what's been referred to as the peculiar Anglican "ethos," and this can be very hard to pin down. It can be difficult to explain to a Roman Catholic exactly what it is about Anglicanism, especially Anglican liturgy, which is so beautiful. Nevertheless, this is an extermely important task. If the Holy Father's goal of mutual enrichment is to be realized, those in the Ordinariate must take it upon themselves to bring the gift of their Anglican heritage and traditions to the wider Church.
I think perhaps the best way to come to an understanding of the Anglican Patrimony is to experience it firsthand. So, in an attempt to contribute something in that vein, here beginneth a new series on PopSophia entitled "Treasures of the Anglican Patrimony," in which I shall present particular (especially liturgical) elements of our tradition and provide cursory examinations of the same.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Marvel's Track Record, And What To Expect In The Future

I don't know if Marvel Studios were planning all this way back in 2003 when the atrocious Hulk debuted. Regardless of whether they were or not, and regardless of the fact that 2008's The Incredible Hulk only half-acknowledges the existence of Ang Lee's train wreck, it's still true, I think, to say that Joss Whedon's The Avengers is 9 years, 7 films, and a combined $1.1 Billion in the making.

At this point, it doesn't even matter if the movies were good or not; Marvel gets huge geek props just for trying.

Of course, with the exception of Hulk, they were good. Very good. In fact, if you ask me, of the 6 Marvel films in the Avengers Movie Universe produced so far (not counting Hulk):

     1 was second only to The Dark Knight when it comes to superhero movies (The Avengers),
     2 were amazing (Captain America and Iron Man 2),
     2 were very good (Thor and Iron Man),
     and only 1 was mediocre (The Incredible Hulk).

What's more, in one sense The Dark Knight is really an unfair comparison, not really qualifying as a straight "superhero flick," making The Avengers really the best there's ever been. That's a pretty impressive track record.

Here's the ambitious list of films in the same universe Marvel is already in the process of producing:

     Iron Man 3,
     Thor 2,
     Captain America 2,
     The Avengers 2,
     Black Widow,
     Nick Fury,
     and War Machine.

More than that, here's the list of films Marvel have yet to confirm, but are believed to be in the early stages of development:

     The Warriors Three,
     The Winter Soldier,
     War Machine,
     Black Panther,
     Ant-Man, a spy movie,
     Iron Fist,
     Dr. Strange,
     Guardians of the Galaxy,
    and, finally, The Avengers 3 in 2017...

...most likely to be based on the Secret Invasion, which will have been set-up in previous films. If they can maintain the same ratio they've been able to thus far for the 19 or so films on the way that would make for a grand total of roughly:

     4 films almost as good as or better than The Dark Knight,
     8 or 9 amazing superhero movies,
     8 or 9 very good movies,
     and only 4 mediocre ones.

But let's see if we can get a little bit more objective with this analysis. Also, let's give Marvel the benefit of the doubt and pretend Hulk never happened. There are a lot of ways to measure a movie's success: Worldwide Gross, Opening Weekend, Critical Reception, and so on. Let's take a look at how some of these numbers can help us understand the enormity of what Marvel have accomplished.

Consider sheer Worldwide Gross, for example:

The Avengers is projected to displace Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest for the #6 spot on the list of the highest grossing films of all time, putting half of the films in the Avengers Movie Universe in the Top 100 highest grossing films of all time.

But how do these numbers compare with actual profits earned? It doesn't matter how much money a movie brings in if it cost too much to make:

Incredibly, at 1.1 Billion, The Avengers is itself expected to gross more than the combined budget of the entire franchise, turning every dime grossed by the other 5 films into pure profit. This is what Marvel knew all along, and why they were willing to expend so much time, effort, and cash to get The Avengers made. Somebody finally figured out that geeks have money. And their favorite thing to do with said money is spend it on geeky stuff.

In other words, as hard as it may seem to accomplish, if you can pave the way for a quality super-blockbuster like The Avengers, which exists within a consistent movie universe, utilizing the same actors, it will all pay off in the end, because you will have managed to do something no one thought possible. And people will come to see it. Like Apple and Target, Marvel have discovered that the best way to get people to buy your stuff isn't to make it cheap, it's to make it good and exciting.

Sheer box office gross is relatively easily tainted by environmental factors like competing films, a bad economy, and the like. Probably the best indicator of how excited fans are to see a film are the opening weekend results. Considering that every film opens on a different number of screens, though, to get a fair read you need to consider the per theater averages for the opening weekend:

When you compare those numbers to the adjusted-for-inflation, per theater averages of Jurassic Park at $29,138, The Return of the King at $23,186, and kind of amazingly, what was supposedly "the most anticipated movie of all time," Star Wars: Episode 1 at $28,283 (averaging only 60% per theater what The Avengers did), you start to realize the league these movies are in.

But money isn't everything. If they were smarter the studios would understand that in a (geeky) venture like this, it's not so important that each individual film make loads of money. What's important is that the whole series continues to be well-received by the public. As long as they can maintain a relatively high standard for the films in the series, and pave the way for more super-blockbusters like The Avengers, the potential for money to be made off this franchise is almost endless. 

So how do you measure lasting public opinion objectively? Let's look at the (surprisingly unfavorable) results from three major review sites:

It seems the general population doesn't agree with me about the quality of these movies. Maybe, though, this sample is too objective. After all, as I suggested above, it's not really fair to compare Iron Man with The King's Speech. Let's see how they stack up against the same average reception ratings of some other big genre movies:

I happen to think Nevertheless, it is clear these movies rank amongst the best genre films of all time. Even more germane to our purposes is the following chart which breaks down the same information as above by genre franchise:

The Avengers Movie Universe comes in fourth in this list, behind three franchises which I would argue are not "genre" films per se and are perhaps inappropriate comparisons for these Marvel superhero movies. And yet, even if that is not the case, to have created the fourth-best genre film franchise of all time is no mean feat.

All of this is to say that the folks at Disney/Marvel have really accomplished something special with these movies. And there are more to come. If they can maintain a similar level of average quality across the remaining films in this franchise (however many that will end up being), we're looking at a truly revolutionary and historical film-making event. And they're about superheros.

Godspeed Marvel. Godspeed.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What If Warner Bros. Were As Smart As Disney?

In 2013, a Superman reboot entitled Man of Steel is set to be released. It's directed by Zack Snyder of Dawn of the Dead, 300, and Watchmen fame, written by David S. Goyer who helped Christopher Nolan pen the first two installments of his Dark Knight Saga, and produced and "grandfathered" by Christopher Nolan himself. It's also been announced that Nolan and Goyer will cooperate similarly on a Batman reboot to be released in 2015, The Dark Knight Rises being the last in Christopher Nolan's personal Bat-verse.

2011's Green Lantern was...lackluster, to be sure, but Ang Lee's atrocious Hulk and Louis Leterrier's mediocre The Incredible Hulk, didn't stop Marvel. Cleverly, they managed to move forward with the Hulk's story while only half acknowledging the existence of the first film. Warner Brothers could easily do something similar simply by recasting Hal Jordan if they didn't want to risk a pseudo-sequel along the lines of The Incredible Hulk.

Back in 2007, following the release of Superman Returns and Batman Begins, Joss Whedon was attached to direct a Wonder Woman adaptation to match the recently executed reboots of the other two chief Justice League properties. Eventually the project fell through. But, given the astounding success Joss Whedon brought Marvel's The Avengers, I have no doubt that Warner Brothers are looking at that Wonder Woman idea again (with or without Whedon himself), to coincide this time with the re-reboots coming in the next couple of years.

Clearly, Warner Brothers is within striking distance of following in Marvel's footsteps and bringing the Justice League together for the first time on the big screen. More than that, doing so under the oversight of Christopher Nolan.

After Man of Steel and the first film in the rebooted Batman franchise, the next step would be Wonder Woman and, if they attempted to follow in Marvel's Incredible Hulk footsteps, a Green Lantern pseudo-sequel (likely introducing the Sinestro Corps War). This is all the set-up needed for a Justice League film, potentially slated for release in Summer 2016. Justice League would introduce The Flash and Martian Manhunter in similar fashion to how The Avengers treated Black Widow and Hawkeye. The League's first villain would be Lex Luthor, as set up in Man of Steel à la Loki in Thor and The Avengers.

Justice League's success would pave the way for a Superman sequel in which he returns to Metropolis to fight another of his famous villains. Say, Metallo, or a Metallo-Parasite team-up. Brainiac might be the best choice. (Unless he's to be used as the Justice League 2 villain, as you'll see.) The Batman sequel would pit the Caped Crusader against a more serious of his villains than he faced in the first film. Perhaps, And, if they've learned anything from Nolan, the Batman sequel would not introduce Robin. Wonder Woman would probably not get a sequel. If a Green Lantern pseudo-sequel wasn't released before Justice League introducing the Sinestro Corps War, it would be now. The Flash and Martian Manhunter would get their own origin story prequels as well.

Leading to Justice League 2, which would either pick up where the Green Lantern pseudo-sequel left off with the Sinestro Corps War (if they went that route), or, if not, likely introduce Brainiac as the League's first major cosmic villain. This is very similar to what Marvel plans to do with the Avengers. The first film was just the team's origin story. In the sequel they will be forced to take their place on a more cosmic stage, facing off against Thanos. Brainiac is a good DC analogue for such a scheme. Justice League 2 would also introduce Aquaman, prepping him for a solo film of his own, though probably not his origin story.

After Justice League 2, Superman 3 would feature whatever major villain the Man of Tomorrow hasn't faced yet, or the return of Lex Luthor. Probably enough time would have passed in between The Dark Knight and the release of Batman 3 to attempt a post-Heath Ledger Joker. If all went well with Justice League 2, now is when they would start releasing solo films for more minor characters, just like Marvel is now doing for Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Nick Fury. I already mentioned Aquaman. We would likely see a Green Arrow film, also featuring Black Canary and maybe The Atom. There would also need to be a Green Lantern 3 to follow up with the Sinestro Corps War, assuming Justice League 2 didn't already do that. There's room for one more sequel. That would probably be whichever of Wonder Woman, The Flash, or Martian Manhunter made the most money.

Please let me see this movie.
Then follows Justice League 3 (adding Plastic Man, and maybe Hawkman and Hawkgirl, to the mix, though maybe not), in which our heroes would square off against their greatest enemy, Darkseid.

To sum up:
Man of Steel - Summer 2013
Batman (and it will probably be called that) - Summer 2015
Wonder Woman - Christmas 2015
Justice League - Summer 2016
Superman 2 (perhaps Man of Tomorrow) - Christmas 2016
The Flash - Spring 2017
Batman 2 - Summer 2017
Manhunter - Christmas 2017
Green Lantern 2ish - Spring 2018
Justice League 2 - Summer 2018
Aquaman - Christmas 2018
Green Arrow - Spring 2019
Superman 3 (maybe Last Son) - Summer 2019
Green Lantern 3ish - Christmas 2019
Wonder Woman/The Flash/Manhunter 2 - Spring 2020
Batman 3 - Summer 2020
The Atom - Christmas 2020
Justice League 3 - Spring 2021
But none of this will ever happen, because Warner Brothers will never see this post, and will never understand that I'm smarter than any of them. As a friend recently pointed out, if anything, they're most likely to make a Robin spin-off of the Batman reboot. Pathetic. Pull it together guys.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Did You Know There Are Only Ten Companies?

This is the problem I was trying to get at in the earlier post.


It's not right that everything you buy be made by just ten companies! How can that be good for anyone?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Principle Of Subsidiarity In The Hunger Games

Many critics have picked up on the political undertones present in The Hunger Games. Clearly that dystopian future has some parallels to our present American situation. In the film Katniss Everdeen volunteers to be the tribute from her home district that will compete in the annual Hunger Games for both glory and food. Almost immediately she is whisked away from her home and family and put aboard a train bound for the Capital. She and her compatriot Peeta are understandably astounded at the level of luxury which is available.

A striking contrast appears between life in the Capital and the outer districts. As tributes they are provided with nothing but the best. Nevertheless, the average level of wealth and comfort in the Capital is starkly different from that elsewhere. Back home Katniss was forced to hunt wild game, even squirrels, for her family to even survive. Here the populace has more than enough money to waste on keeping up with some ridiculously flamboyant and outlandish fashion trends. A very small number of people enjoying the benefits of the hard work of a very large number of people. A massive gap in the level of prosperity experienced between the rich and the poor. A non-existent or shrinking middle class.

Sound familiar?

I should say that I am deeply opposed to the suggestion that a work of art can or should be treated as the artist's propaganda. It is either propaganda or a work of art, it cannot be both. Nevertheless, works of art, insofar as they incarnate, give life and form to, the principles of the reality and world around us, can certainly take positions themselves on political and economic issues of the day. Even the Divine Comedy has political relevance in our day and age. But it has this relevance only insofar as it has a relation to Truth and Reality, and political ideas stem from those higher and more fundamental principles.

That being said, it is no coincidence that the situation in The Hunger Games is analagous to our own. Artists have no choice but to write from their own experience of the world, and certainly Susane Collins when she wrote the book, and the filmmakers when they adapted it with her help were drawing on the realities in the world they saw around them as they worked to create a work of art with significance and meaning.

Obviously, the film advocates the position that such a situation is undesireable. And rightly so. It is certainly not right that the men and women who are working day in and day out to produce good and valuable things for the use of their community should be deprived of a fair share in the fruits of their labor. It cannot be right for the people doing the actual work to go hungry so that those who own or have a stake in the factory or farm can have enough extra income to buy a summer home in Florida or what have you. The question is, though, how does one solve this situation once it arises? Is it right to take a portion of the wealth that would otherwise be taken by the very wealthy and redistribute it amongst the less fortunate? Well, I would argue that our economic situation is, perhaps, somewhat different from that presented in The Hunger Games. Regardless, it is tangential to the point of this post.

In the flim the root problem that lies behind both Panem's situation and ours comes out much clearer than it does in real life, namely, centralization. The real problem is that it is possible for the very few to have such a wide-reaching influence that they it is even possible for them to amass such an incredible and unbalanced amount of wealth. The problem is huge coroporations with higher GDP's than whole nations. The problem is "product integration." The problem is Staples and Office Depot cornering the office supply market in every city, town, and hamlet from sea to shining sea. Sure, all this stuff keeps prices down, but is that really the most important thing?

Wouldn't it be nice if when you bought a new computer you could do so from some mom and pop electronics store on Main Street and know that when, six months later, they're able to buy a new sign or, for that matter, send their kid to College, you had a small part in that? Wouldn't that be better than handing your money to some megalithic, faceless multi-national conglomerate that's going to spend it on God knows what?

For example, I'll wager that most of you have no idea that starting in the 70s, Nestlé began marketing its infant formula to less developed countries around the world, especially Africa. Sounds harmless enough, right? Here's the problem. Aside from the fact that these babies were deprived of important antibodies and other benefits that can only be obtained from their mothers' milk, when a mother stops breastfeeding regularly her milk soon dries up. If at some point in the future, as is very likely, it becomes impossible to provide formula for her baby due to unsanitary water or just lack of funds or availability, that baby must now go hungry, and may starve to death.

Here's a list of Nestlé brands. Every time you purchased one of those products you supported Nestlé's crimes. Now, certainly we cannot be held responsible for what other people do with our money without our knowledge. For that matter, the degree of separation between buying a box of Nesquik and Nestlé doing what it does may be sufficiently remote to relieve any burden of material cooperation in their activities.

Nevertheless, the root problem remains: when institutions, corporations, governments become as centralized as they are today, the degree to which they are capable of representing the interests of real people, real families is diminished drastically. This could be why only 37.8% of voters turned out for the 2010 elections. Consider this: Even at its height under the Emperor Augustus, the Roman Empire is estimated to have had a population of only 56.8 million people. Taking into account that a very large percentage of that figure were not even citizens and you're left with a civilization comparable in size to, say, the state of New York, spread out over an area the size of Mexico and Central America combined:

The Romans were smart enough to recognize that even an Empire of that (compared to today, small) size couldn't be successfully managed in a very centralized, federalistic way. Instead they entrusted the vast majority of the day-to-day governance to local province and town governments. Pretty much only military and and handful of political and economic ventures were handled from the top down. Of course, there was more than just this practical reality at work behind that decision.

The Romans, along with every other Western culture and civilization until relatively recently, understood and accepted what Catholic thinkers have called the Principle of Subsidiarity. The Principle of Subsidiarity states that those decisions which can be made, those things which can be handled, just as effectively by a constituent member of a larger group as by that larger group itself, should be left in their purview. For example, as a father it would be wrong, not to mention crazy, for me to attempt to insist on absolute control over everything that goes on in my family. There is no reason for me to insist that my daughter organize her clothes or toys in just such a way, as long as she's keeping things tidy enough for the household to continue to function safely and smoothly.

Similarly, in a political structure, there is no reason why the federal government should have to intervene in the day-to-day workings of a state or local government as long as it is abiding by the minimum of general principles set forth in the unifying document(s). The Founding Fathers understood and accepted this. Thus, the Tenth Ammendment, all but forgotten in this day and age.

The Principle of Subsidiarty in government and economics in fact rests on a more fundamental philosophical and metaphysical principle of reality, namely, the Hierarchy of Being. All the beings in the universe are organized into a vast hierarchy of mediation and participation. That is to say, at every level in the universal hierarchy a particular being participates, shares its being and qualities of that being, with the beings both above and below it.

For example, the diamondback rattlesnake is one species within the genus Reptile. All reptiles have certain characteristics, and as a reptile the diamondback rattlesnake shares these with its fellow reptiles. Nevertheless, it itself specializes in certain things and has a number of characteristics (or, perhaps, a certain combination of characteristics) that make it unique. Of course it's more complicated than that, but the idea is that this same principle applies to every other being in the cosmos. Humans are part of the genus Animal; animals are part of the genus Living Being; living beings are part of the genus Material Being; material beings are part of the genus Being, the ultimate genus in which everything that exists shares, which, as Aristotle would say, we call "God." This is the way the universe is organized. It is the way things are supposed to be organized on the human level as well: decentralization, particularism, subsidiarity, delegation.

In The Hunger Games, the poorer districts just want to be left alone. I'm sure they'd be happy to pay taxes and tribute to the central government in exchange for a unified currency and military, but there is a point at which that central government becomes not just a unifying influence, but a tyrannical power demanding ultimate allegiance. Alexis deToqueville saw this coming centuries ago:
He predicted that modern democratic government would degenerate into a huge, paternalistic state which would guide the individual in all of his affairs and insure that all of his needs were met. “For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances; what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?” 
It's probably sheer fantasy to expect the situation to change. We're much too dependent on the financial industry to come back from it now. Governmentally-speaking the writing's been on the wall since 1865. And the New Deal didn't help. I wonder, though, what could happen if, despite all their differences, Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party realized how much they have in common with one another. Their combined efforts would be a force to be reckoned with.
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