Well, we're done. Breaking Bad is over. Five seasons of fiction that exceeded the sum total of its parts. The cultural excitement and hand-wringing over its ending was something to behold. I am a fan, so no complaints from me, and I think they handled the end really well--kudos to all involved say I. There was added pressure given the apparent dismay over The Sopranos ending and the more recent Dexter season finale which seemed to draw a collective groan of disappointment. I don't get that crazed, but I did appreciate the careful way that the story was wrapped up. Like many people I think it was virtually impossible to exceed the depth and emotion of the Ozymandias two weeks before, but they managed to close out the show with aplomb. There was even just the right amount of final self-awareness from Walt, and he even got death on his own terms, which may or may not please all viewers. But the show managed to take a character from good to bad to worse to eveil and still keep us interested in spite of all that. Don't want to say much more given that there are still people getting around to watching the ending, but that was television time well spent.
On September 30th, 1929, John Logie Baird, inventor of the televisor, initiated the first ever live tv broadcast in London. A fitting beginning point for the Fall term's class on theology and media culture.
The class is going to focus on two principle media lenses--the first half will consider television, the second focusing on the digital shift and concentrating on social media. There is communication, media and cultural theory, plus theological methodologies, thinking about the way various media re-direct content, transform how and what we communicate. It's ultimately about joining dots between theology, culture and media exploring the interplays between various artifacts.
There seem to be museums devoted to anything and everything these days--museums of sex, torture, fashion, and in Zagreb, The Museum of Broken Relationships. Initially a conversation that turned into a travelling art exhibit focused on a toy that Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić were trying to decide which one of them would keep after their relationship failed, the museum now houses a growing collection of odd things that became an icon of a failed relationship. It's a sort of reverse self-help process, rather than focusing on recovery, the curators believe that donating to the museum's collection is a cathartic act that helps the donor overcome the loss by creating and contributing to the collection. The museum blurb declares,
"Whatever the motivation for donating personal belongings – be it sheer exhibitionism, therapeutic relief, or simple curiosity – people embraced the idea of exhibiting their love legacy as a sort of a ritual, a solemn ceremony. Our societies oblige us with our marriages, funerals, and even graduation farewells, but deny us any formal recognition of the demise of a relationship, despite its strong emotional effect. In the words of Roland Barthes in A Lover's Discourse: "Every passion, ultimately, has its spectator... (there is) no amorous oblation without a final theater.""
This would make for an interesting art project. In his very insightful book, The Language of Things, Deyan Sudjic speaks of the radical transformation of our relationship to things as more and more of our lives are filled with objects that we do not need (as I look around the room I am writing in...well, let's just say that I have a lot of objects that are purely decorative and serve no purpose other than fulfilling a certain aesthetic desire of mine).
You hear all the time of relationships that deteriorate into arguments over objects, sometimes valuable and sometimes purely sentimental value, and we all roll our eyes--we have a sense that it shouldn't come to this, that love shouldn't evaporate in a sea of worthless items, but in spite of that, it seems to happen a lot, so perhaps there is something redemptive in donating something that has no value other than it symbolizes love made then love broken, because thats what happens to love sometimes.
Julianna Barwick made her latest album, Nepenthe, in Iceland, and it evokes a lot of that Sigur Ros sound, lush and rolling landscapes, haunted in this case by some ghostly choir-gorgeous album. Nepenthe, is apparently a medicine for sorrow, a drug of forgetfulness according to Grek mythology, and this album works its medicinal magic via these beautiful songs.
Today, September 29, is National Coffee Day. The roots of coffee drinking are thought to have come from the Arab peninsular in the 15th century, and the first coffee house in London opened in 1652. They became places where, according to historian Brian Cowen, "places where people gathered to drink coffee, learn the news of the day, and perhaps to meet with other local residents and discuss matters of mutual concern," which sounds remarkably similar to Starbuck's 20th century attempt to create a third space where people could come together in some kind of community. Now we are awash in coffee and coffee shops, they are everywhere, a fixture of our amped up and caffeinated worlds--don't get me wrong, I'm a coffee lover-so I'll be making a pilgrimage today to my favourite coffee house to celebrate.
Much of my adult life has been wrestling with the complexities of religion, and how it plays out in my own life and the world around me. Last night at dinner someone asked me what my core value was, expecting I think, some kind of religious statement. To be honest, I felt a little stuck because for one thing, I don't really conceive of life in terms of 'key statements' that I live by, but also because I was aware that my 'core beliefs' if they exist, aren't necessarily that religious, which might be surprising given that my life has been so intimately wrapped up in religion. First I said, 'there is no god and we are his disciples,' but then I figured I should offer a bit more so I said something about that living a life of love will do you no harm, and followed it up with a coda that it won't do you any harm, but it will cost you--a bit of a bind really, what I meant was that I really believe attempting to live a life that is marked by graciousness and loving kindness will fuck you up, it will expose flaws deep in your psyche, will present daily challenges to ones sanity, will expose hypocrisies, weaknesses, and blatant bullshit like nothing else, and there will often be little in the way of positive result, because I think, as Amy Winehouse decreed, Love is a Losing Game--sure she was singing about romantic love, but I don't think its very different with any other kind of love.
What I probably should have said is I am just trying to be a slightly nicer person, because that's the truth--there are so many arseholes in the world, and I don't want to be one if I can help it. I have let go of so many lofty religious aims, mainly because I don't think they work in people's lives, they just become baggage and I don't really think about life in terms of religious conceptions--redemption, salvation etc. it doesn't interest me to approach things that way. I have been thinking a lot about repentance lately, there have been a series of stories in the lectionary gospels that have utilized this idea--to me it means seeing what you have chosen up to now to not to see (because I think we spend our lives editing what we see-in ourselves, in each other and in the world around us)--and then doing something about it--I don't want to dress it up in language and ideas that have followed that thread for so long that they have nullified its invitation--in Jesus' accounting it seems that the people who have the hardest time with the concept are the ones who proclaim it, those who presumably have 'repented' but they haven't they have entered into some kind of religious blindspot-the 99 he jokes who have no need of it--as if 99 even exist-those to whom they direct their calls for repentance are already seeing differently. Why is religious so often such a blinder to reality? This is a question I ask more and more.
On Mark Vernon's blog recently there was a link to a new project being conducted by the RSA that I think looks quite interesting. It's called, The Brains Behind Spirituality, it is definitely worth a read. I realize it addresses these issues from a British angle, and that the American situation is somewhat different, however, I think there are resonances addressed in this initial article that make its finding of interest. The essay names something that I think should get more attention--contemporary spiritual embarassment--a lot of people I encounter wrestle with this on a regular basis--to claim spirtitual affiliation is often attended by hearers with visions of rabid fundamentalists etc. and having to clarify what one means by that over and over can be wearing. Anyway, the article is helpful I think and the findings will be interesting to engage with next year.
I'm about to start a new term at the theology school and my focus this time around will be theology and media culture, divided into two sections: television and digital media. So I have been mentally gathering thoughts and ideas and genrally scouring corners for ideas and materials to supplement my own thinking. I have spent the past couple of years thinking a lot about the interface between technology and faith, I think we have underestimated the link in terms of how technology reframes the way we look at the world.
Yesterday I wrote a blog about Twitter and Facebook, encapsulating my thinking and feeling about their various contributions to my self-understanding and how I interact with them, but in the course of that blog I also confessed to being a bit of an Instagram addict. I love imagery, always have, in all the modes they come to us, painting, two-dimensional, three-dimensional, photography on and on. I live in a world shaped by my relation to imagery, in fact, I do much of my thinking using imagery of one form or another as a starting point.
I came across this image and I think it is pretty interesting. The photography archive at The Library of Congress is a tiny square, a single pixel in a huge sea of Facebook and other digital media repositories (now we can't discuss this in terms of quality, it may not necessarily play out the same way on a graph if we were to apply quality or style etc. to the issue). I'm thinking about this in terms of what it says about our broader cultural context, and what it says to me is that we are living in a time where there are new literacies emerging and one of them is a new visual literacy, perhaps we might even say, hyper-visual literacy. We are awash in images, it's part of our 'new normal' to follow on from another recent blog post. There was a recent iphone ad that talks about the number of photos taken everyday with iPhone 5,
What does it mean that so many images flood our lives, well, I think it means that the meaning of the images themselves has changed--they have shifted from being artistic artifacts or some sort of representation of reality and they didn't really contribute much to the structuring or constructing of meaning, that was left to text, but these days it seems that our visual literacy is different and we reagrd images as expressions of reality rather than simple representations, and they make meaning, or at least we use them to make meaing of our lives whether text is present or not.
The conversation about the rise of the image and the fall of the word, of text, has been around for a while now, but we may actually be closer to that reality now, in terms of how we think about various and ascendant/descendant forms of literacy, than when those conversations began and essentially ended. Like many ideas, it may have been slightly ahead of its time, and now is a better time to think it through.
Normal. What is normal? Normal is what shapes our reality, a set of assumptions about the world. Normal changes. There has been talk of the 'new normal' for ages now, the perception behind that phrase being linked to an awareness that times are changing and with it so is our sense of normality.
Armed with this perspective a couple of researchers created The Mindset List, ostensibly as a way for them to remian more aware of the potential disconnects between their work as educators and the students they were going to teach. As they note, "“Every year at school,” teachers say, “we get older but the students stay the same age.”
This idea of normalcy is felt quiter heavily in the educational world I think, our weak point being that we always assume that our take or experience of the world is everyone elses, that may have true at some point, but it isn't now, hence The Mindset List, a brief overview of the way normalcy is different for each generation of the digital age.