Category: Arts

A few weeks ago in connection with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, I looked at Lex Luthor as the would-be crony capitalist über Alles, and pointed to Bruce Wayne along with Senator Finch as the economic and political counterpoints to such corruption, respectively.

In this week’s Acton Commentary, Daniel Menjivar looks more closely at Bruce Wayne as representative of aristocratic virtue, the capitalist hero to Luthor’s crony capitalist villain. And while, as Menjivar concludes, “In cape and cowl he is a true hero, the Dark Knight. But in suit and tie, Bruce Wayne is the quintessential capitalist superhero, a shining example of corporate nobility,” Menjivar also notes that Wayne is an imperfect hero.

Threat Bruce Wayne“One clear fault is Bruce’s assumption that by simply fulfilling the material needs of the survivors he has done his part. This is most clearly evidenced in the character of Wallace Keefe, the very man that Bruce Wayne pulled from the rubble of the Wayne building in Metropolis. Wallace loses his legs in the aftermath of the battle, however, he refuses and returns all of Bruce Wayne’s checks,” writes Menjivar.

In an earlier post I compared the political economy of superheroes in the DC and Marvel universes. And today I have a piece up at The Stream examining the figure of Lex Luthor, the crony capitalist villain featured in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

LexCorp (more…)

This year will deliver major superhero ensemble films that provide alternative views of the limitations and proper exercise of power. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice premiered this spring to uneven reviews, and Captain America: Civil War is due out later this summer. As Charlie Jane Anders has observed, these films offer a noteworthy message to our contemporary situation. “These films are all about a man with superpowers and colorful clothes, and the question of whether he (and his friends, in Civil War) have too much power and too little accountability,” writes Anders.
batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justiceThe differences that promise to be on offer between the DC and Marvel explorations of power and its limits have something to teach us about the vigilance required of those in power. In the DC universe, Batman worries about the corruption of Superman and the dangers represented abuse of superpowers. If there is even the slightest chance that Superman might be corrupted and turn evil, opines the Dark Knight, then we have to assume that as an absolute certainty and take steps, however harsh, to mitigate the threat and neutralize the risk.

2426935a1c408307820919afb636e71fThe sixth season finale of The Walking Dead aired last night and sets up an anxious off-season of waiting and deliberation about what will happen next. I may have some more to say about the larger dynamics of the show as the survivors in this most recent season have really transitioned from concerns about mere survival to actually building community with longer-term plans.

But for now I want to focus briefly on the path Carol has walked over the last few episodes culminating in her difficult encounter with a group of Saviors. Carol and Morgan continue to disagree, but what was striking to me is that as Carol left the group this time, unlike last time, she did so voluntarily. And as became clear in the course of last night’s episode, her departure is due to a complex of realities: her concern for her friends, her recognition that her love for them imposes obligations, and her further recognition that these duties are taking a huge toll on her.

Carol essentially goes into exile and forswears community with other human beings because she recognizes that to love is to risk, to risk perhaps even killing other human beings, and she can no longer bring herself to do so. The zombie apocalypse won’t leave Carol alone, however, and so she is placed in situations where she either has to kill others or be killed. Even after everything she has been through, Carol remains a human being, and she is beginning to come to greater realization about what that means for love and community with others.

Carol’s interactions with Morgan reveal something true about love, a reality captured well by CS Lewis:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Aristotle said that a person who doesn’t need the community of other human beings is either a god or a beast. The Walking Dead has lots of behavior on either extreme, but as Carol’s ongoing conflicts indicate, the struggle to remain human is real. And as Lewis concludes, “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

handsomizer-stephen-masonFor most musicians, the prospect of a long and stable career in the arts is a lifelong dream. For those who actually “make it,” aspirations can shift in surprising ways.

For Jars of Clay, a popular rock band who achieved success in the 1990s — and wrote the music for Acton’s film series, For the Life of the World — that vocational reckoning came late in their careers. After 20 years of full-time work in the music industry, they decided that in order to stay creative, they would need to diversify their work.

For Stephen Mason, the band’s lead guitarist, it meant a transition to part-time work as a barber.

“I fell in love with the experience of the barbershop as a kid,” he says, a seed that grew to fruition in The Handsomizer, his new barbershop in Nashville, which is connected to the side of the Jars of Clay studio. (more…)

As the author of a book titled The Roots of Coincidence, Arthur Koestler would appreciate the coinky dinks of the past week. First, I finished re-reading Koestler’s two nonfiction works of 20th century European madness, Dialogue with Death and Scum of the Earth. One details the author’s imprisonment by Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War and the other covers his incarceration by the French in the first months of World War II – and both are harrowing.

Second, last week I viewed Trumbo, Spartacus, and the Coen brothers’ latest cinematic opus, Hail, Caesar! Trumbois another Hollywood tale of how the Second Red Scare oppressed the creative caste of Tinsel Town, violated their First Amendment rights and ruined lives of people inherently better than you and I because of their entertainment industry connections or something. The title character of Trumbo was resurrected from Red-baiting ignominy by a screenwriting credit on the Stanley Kubrick sword-and-sandal epic Spartacus, which aired last week on Turner Classic Movies. Hail, Caesar! includes a subplot about bumbling communists in the final days of the Hollywood studio system. Oh, and back to Koestler: His first novel was 1939’s The Gladiators, which also told of the Roman slave revolt led by – readers already are way ahead of me here – Spartacus.

It’s been one of those weeks!

Let’s unpack this, shall we? Koestler noted in the 1965 reissue of The Gladiators that (more…)

OK, this is going to be a tough call. But Acton Research Fellow Jordan Ballor has bravely stepped up with his nominee for the “Worst Christmas Song Ever” in a piece for Patheos. His pick? Band Aid’s syrupy “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” Ballor reminds us that the song …

… was released in 1984 as part of Band Aid, an effort organized by Bob Geldof in response to a famine that struck the east African nation of Ethiopia. The song certainly captures the spirit of the season, as its charitable aims are noble enough. The problem, however, is in how these good intentions are translated into word and deed. The song describes Africa largely as a barren wasteland, “Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears.” It continues in this vein. Africa, the onetime breadbasket of the Roman Empire and home of the Nile River is a land “where nothing ever grows, no rain nor rivers flow.” The title question likewise plays into the supposed desperation of the continent. The only “Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.” The response to this call is supposed to be charity from the affluent West, to “feed the world” and thereby “let them know it’s Christmastime again.”

In this depiction of Africa, “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” perfectly encapsulated the patronizing approach to international development that dominated the twentieth century and is still largely with us today. On this account, rich people in Europe and North America have a duty to help those who cannot help themselves in Africa, a place destitute not only of material resources but also spiritual and intellectual assets as well. As development economist William Easterly has argued, this attitude evinces a kind of tyrannical neo-colonialism, where the power, knowledge, and wealth lies entirely with the “First World” and those in the developing world are reduced to a kind of vassalage.

Agree with Ballor? Give us your pick for the worst Christmas song ever in the comment boxes below.