Sunday, June 28, 2009

"Gran Torino" and Violence

spoilers and all

There are many films that feature not merely "righteous" violence, but "redemptive" violence. That is, a violent act becomes a necessary, regenerative, redeeming act; within the narrative and within the context, violence is an obvious and successful solution to a threatening problem. In the film's narrative, violence works to bring about the good it intends.

Gran Torino appears that it may follow the redemptive violence myth. Walt Kowalski is repeatedly successful when he uses the threat of violence to defend innocent, threatened people. However, the real success of Walt's transformation is not in his use of violence to protect the innocent, but in the relationships he builds, particularly with Thao and Sue Lor. He becomes heroic not because he's willing to violently destroy evil, but because he becomes willing to build friendships, engage with people. The motif of the tools is important: it is easier to destroy than to build, but building is what matters. He helps Thao by teaching him, by providing for him. The middle of the film is devoid of much violence at all, and that is when Walt is able to do good.

But in this peaceful middle, Walt has not given up his belief in regenerative violence. When Thao is again harassed, Walt goes violently after one of the gang members that harasses him. He violently beats the man, tells him to leave Thao alone, and threatens him with further violence. What happens, however, of course does not end the violence. The gang shoots up the Lors' home and beats and rapes Sue. Violence begets violence.

Walt realizes the role he played in this cycle, how his own violence makes him responsible for what happened. When he sees Sue, he drops his drink, goes home, and begins mutilating his fists by punching through glass. Given that Walt is clearly dying, a viewer may now expect the violent shootout in which Walt nobly and bravely sacrifices himself to help Thao and Sue. Sort of. It is not redemptive violence, but redemptive self-sacrifice: Walt goes unarmed, allowing himself to be murdered so that the gang would be imprisoned. He uses the final shootout scene not to wage righteous violence, but to bring about redemption through sacrifice.

Now, the image of the selfless hero sacrificing his own life for the greater good (often with explicit Christ imagery) is not new in art: the very violent Matrix trilogy ends with peace, not destruction, brought about when Neo sacrifices himself and, indeed, finds himself sprawled out on screen as if crucified. Reading Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the comparisons of Randle Patrick McMurphy to Jesus become almost a bit much. It may even be that this has become a tired, repetitive, uncreative image. It is, however, a story worth repeating, especially in American film: if the deconstruction of the redemptive violence myth seems itself overplayed, it is only because the redemptive violence myth is even more overplayed.

And while Christians often seem to perpetuate and encourage the redemptive violence, it seems rather obvious to point out that the story of Jesus's life is one of redemptive self-sacrifice. In The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder writes that Jesus explicitly rejected the "Zealot" option of violence. Indeed, when Peter tries to violently defend Jesus against arrest, Jesus stops him, telling him that living by the sword means dying by the sword (in other words, violence begets violence). I'm afraid that given a different context, many American Christians today might defend Peter's actions, seeing his violent self-defense as entirely justified (I can't stomach a serious response to this). But Jesus offers a different message: that redemption cannot come through righteous violence, that waging violence does not bring about salvation or peace. That message is in direct conflict not only with many violent films, but with the logic that justifies perpetuating America's current wars.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gratuitous Link

In The New Yorker, Jill Lepore writes about the origins of "parenthood:"

"There have always been parents, and parents have always been besotted with their children, awestruck by their impossible beauty, dopey high jinks, and strange little minds. But 'parenthood,' the word, dates only to the middle of the nineteenth century, and the notion that parenthood is a distinct stage of life, shared by men and women, is historically in its infancy."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


In the Minnesota Independent, Andy Birkey writes about Bullseye Collection Agency in Monticello. Bullseye sends out "collections notices with a WWJD header," and "According to court documents, 'Bullseye admits that "WWJD" is a "business motto" that should be interpreted as a reference to Jesus Christ."

Interestingly enough, there may be an answer to the question of what Jesus would do regarding debt collection; however, I don't think it is an answer Bullseye Collection Agency wants to hear.

In The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder expertly argues that Jesus' ministry was political, and that Jesus spoke directly to economic issues. Jesus used the language of Jubilee, and that elements of the Jubilee "are not marginal but central in the teaching of Jesus. They are even at the center of his theology" (61). A major prescription of the Jubilee, one central to Jesus' teachings, is the forgiveness of financial debt. Some shenanigany policies and practices had made giant debts a problem, and Jesus was speaking to that. According to Yoder,

"The Lord's Prayer, which summarizes the thought of Jesus concerning prayer, includes the following request: ' remit us our debts as we ourselves have also remitted them to our debtors' [...] Jesus [...] tells us purely and simply to erase the debts of those who owe us money, that is to say, practice the jubilee" (62).

According to Yoder, Jesus advocated remitting financial debt as a key part of his new kingdom. I'm tempted to consider a debt collection agency using "WWJD?" as a business motto either ironic ignorance or offensive appropriation. However, I'm more than used to seeing Jesus' name attached to practices that I'm skeptical Jesus would endorse.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Gratuitous Link

Burger King ads are failing; writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic:

"This strikes a huge blow to the idea that what Americans want from their fast food joint is a Bobblehead King doll who sneaks into your bed, raps about square butts, and terrorizes you from outside your bedroom window."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

On Television Antiheroes

In the New York Times article "Get a Life, Holden Caulfield," Jennifer Schuessler suggests that today's teenagers don't relate to the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye anymore. Teacher Julie Johnson remarks:

"In general, they do not have much sympathy for alienated antiheroes."

This line stuck out to me, since the television landscape is littered with the "alienated antiheroes." From Tony Soprano, Larry David, Jimmy McNulty, Gregory House, and many, many more, popular television series seem to center around an antihero protagonist: appealing, charismatic, fascinating, yet immoral (or amoral), mean, antisocial. We like these characters, even as they grate against society (its conventions, its institutions, its rules, its people), sometimes from their natural personality, sometimes from a philosophical stance of indifference or cynicism. These are adult shows, and I find myself wondering: if teenagers today are not sympathetic to these alienated antiheroes, will they either come to like them as they grow into adult cynicism, or is the alienated antihero a generational phenomenon? Are we currently watching a bunch of adult versions of Holden Caulfield (is House's "Everybody lies" the adult version of Holden's disgust of "phonies"? I'm not asserting a direct influence, but suggesting the kind of teenager who finds Holden Caulfield appealing will be the kind of adult who finds Gregory House appealing)? And does that mean years from now television will feature a bunch of adult versions of Harry Potter?

The alienated antihero has a long history in literary tradition, of course, but his (he's usually male) popularity in contemporary television is distinct. But this too will likely pass, as a new generation of viewers finds a different sort of protagonist appealing (and watch for it--the trend may already be happening).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Reading and Parenthood

On the whole I think I'd prefer to read novels. Of all literary genres, the novel has the ability to suck me entirely into its imaginary world, even into the imaginary characters. I can feel submerged in a novel.

But with a toddler and an infant, I find my reading time limited, and reading plays works best. I know that I'm likely to be interrupted, and my reading may come in short snippets: it's not difficult to read a little bit of dialogue and then mark my spot when I need to stop. And plays read quickly, so I'll finish many more plays than I could finish novels, allowing for a variety of reading.

Drama rarely submerges me into a new universe, and rarely immerses me into the mind of an imaginary character. The pleasures drama offers are different: a deeper awareness of the artifice, consciousness of the performance. It's punchy, and, well, dramatic.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Afton Apple

In summer I often feel like Homer Simpson, with so many episodes beginning with my family out on some cheesy local family activity. Today we went to the Afton Apple Orchard to pick fresh strawberries. Fresh picked strawberries taste much better than grocery store strawberries: they are much juicier and softer, with a sweet-sour taste. At Afton Apple the strawberries you pick cost $1.80 per pound (we ended up with about 14 pounds today, half for eating fresh and half for freezing). They're really tasty, and it's a rather fun activity to take kids out to a strawberry field and pick them.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gratuitous Link

In Salon, read Glenn Greenwald's "The 'Bomb Iran' contingent's newfound concern for The Iranian People:"

"Much of the same faction now claiming such concern for the welfare of The Iranian People are the same people who have long been advocating a military attack on Iran and the dropping of large numbers of bombs on their country -- actions which would result in the slaughter of many of those very same Iranian People."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Snuffy's Malt Shop

periodically I will comment on the vegetarian options available at Twin Cities restaurants.

The grilled veggie sandwich at Snuffy's Malt Shop is very tasty. However, while at some restaurants a grilled veggie sandwich is a fresh, crisp, healthy choice, the grilled veggie sandwich at Snuffy's is very greasy. It's more like you're eating a grilled cheese sandwich that has tomato, green peppers, mushrooms, and loads of onions added to it. It is also not very stable--it falls apart easily, making it difficult to eat. I don't mind picking off and eating the veggies that fall off, but I wouldn't recommend this sandwich if you are on a date and want to impress somebody. But what do I know about dating? My understanding of dining out for a date (and how you might turn off a date based on how you eat) comes largely from Seinfeld.

Connie's Creamy Cone

Connie's Creamy Cone on the corner of Dale and Maryland in St. Paul has 24 flavors of soft serve ice cream. You have little idea the heights of decadence these flavors allow you. I had a flurry of mint ice cream mixed with cookie dough. Whatever particular flavor tempts you, you can drown yourself in it at Connie's.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Out and About and Hungry

One thing I have to be aware of, as a parent of a nursing infant, is the relative comfort of places to breastfeed while in public. Knowing that seeing strangers' boobies tends to make people edgy (where do you look? eye contact? it's awkward.), I always feel the need to tuck myself and my baby away in a hideout when it is meal time. As a result, I have very strong opinions about different places and judge them based on how easy and pleasant they make breastfeeding for the patrons. When impressed or horrified, I will blog give credit here, so that others in the TC know which places are great and which suck.

We go to malls a lot. It's free, climate controlled, and stimulating for small children. Most stores/malls don't have a good space for nursing--many women end up feeding their children in toilet stalls. I refuse to do that; there is no way in hell I would eat my meal in a public bathroom, so how could I allow my child to do that? Ick. It took me about six months into motherhood to realize that dressing rooms work relatively well (better than going out to the car, anyway), though it is hard on the back to sit on those half-benches, plus you end up having to stare at yourself half naked in the big mirrors under the bright lights, and who needs that? But there is one store that rises above the others in awesomeness--Macy's.

Usually we shop at Maplewood or Rosedale Malls, and the Macy's at both malls have large lounges inside the ladies' rooms. There are couches, end tables, and magazines, and best of all, they are separate rooms from the actual bathrooms, so they smell nice (or neutral, anyway). They are big, so if you have a female shopping companion or two, there is plenty of space to sit around and chat. I have not yet found a place as accommodating as Macy's. I will say, though, that I went to the 3rd floor of Macy's as MOA, and I was disappointed to end up in a fitting room because they had a regular crappy bathroom. But it is possible a sweet lounge exists there, just not on the third floor.

Kudos to you, Macy's! My baby and I appreciate all you do. Penney's could learn from you (I couldn't even get my stroller in the fitting room there...).

Monday, June 15, 2009

On that which makes me most like a hippie.

I try hard not to kill bugs.

Of course any human-sized person that goes for walks and is willing to drive a car and doesn't constantly monitor every movement will end up killing bugs. But I don't step on ants if I can avoid it. When bugs are on me, I try to get them off me without hurting them. My wife even bought a bug catcher from PETA so that when she screams in horror at a bug in our house, she can alert me and I can release the bug into the wild. I don't even like seeing other people kill bugs. I do not rationalize this or explain it or justify it. When I stopped eating meat, for some reason I could no longer bring myself to deliberately hurt bugs either.

This has been on that which makes me most like a hippie.

How we do summer in the T.C.

At The City Pages, Emily Kaiser explains "how we do it" in Minnesota.

On Frozen Vegetables

Plants form the core of my diet anyway, but this week the consumption of fruit and vegetables goes into overdrive for reasons of frugality and practicality.

We hosted a small party for my son's baptism this weekend, and we had about five times more fruit than was necessary. It's not that we assume everybody else eats like us (meat was served), but we always love when there is a lot of fruit at parties, and we eat so much it's easy to forget what's a reasonable portion. So now we have a lot of really great fruit to eat before it goes bad--not exactly an unappealing situation.

The other reason is that our freezer is packed to the walls, mostly with frozen vegetables. Why do we buy frozen vegetables? They always seem like a good idea, but then there's no need for them. We always have a lot of fresh vegetables around for preparing meals (if we don't, we immediately go to the store to get more). We always have canned vegetables when we need something quicker and easier. So what's the function of a frozen vegetable? I don't know. They just take up freezer space, doing nothing. For any purpose, fresh or canned vegetables are preferable.

Note that this does not apply to frozen fruit, which is wonderful. I have fruit smoothies for breakfast two or three days a week with this frozen fruit (thank you, Magic Bullet). Another terrific snack is to mix frozen blueberries and frozen raspberries together in a bowl and let them sit for a few hours; as they melt together their juices get mixed, and you get a deliciously sweet, cool snack. It's also hard to get good, affordable fresh strawberries in the winter, but cheap and good frozen strawberries are always available. Frozen fruit is very, very useful.

But frozen veggies aren't. We realized this and stopped buying them long ago, but the thing about frozen things in your freezer is that there are frozen things in your freezer for a long, long time. So to clear out freezer space, rather than throwing all these bags of veggies away, we'll go ahead and try to eat them. I don't think it will be great, but it won't be so bad, and during a week when I'll be eating fresh cantaloupe, watermelon, grapefruit, fuji apples, green grapes, red grapes, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries, I think I'll be having plenty of tasty, fresh, healthy food (this will also help my body recover from the junkfood weekend--such binges require purification), so I'll get by.

I think this is a practical thing to do every so often: go through the cupboards and freezer, find the food that really isn't that appealing to you but has been there a long time, and then find ways to eat it. You clear out space for the food you do like, but you don't waste food and money by throwing it out (if you do it a bunch in a week, it's feels like a cheap week, since you probably spent the money on this food a long time ago).

So it's fresh fruit and frozen vegetable week in our household.

On closer inspection, 3/4 of the frozen veggies are past expiration, which is just as well because we still have a lot of fresh veggies to eat too, of course. So now to make the frozen veggies palatable, I'm mixing them. Frozen lima beans into a fresh salad. Frozen broccoli into marinara sauce on pasta. It looks like fresh fruit and frozen veggie week became, like most weeks, fresh fruit and fresh veggie week. So that's good.

Let me trim all this gibberish down to a simple message, an important message, a message especially for those graduates ready to embark out into the world:

Don't buy frozen vegetables.

Fresh vegetables are better and canned vegetables are easier.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Evidently, most drug users have a good time.

In the Above the Influence "Human Puppet" ad (see link), a bunch of kids appear to have a really fun time mocking a girl that has passed out. This is the anti-drug ad: a bunch of kids having some laughs at a party. The full context of the ad isn't really made clear: one might watching this ad and think "Gosh, it looks like three out of four drug users have a lot of fun." What are the other people doing? Are they also doing drugs? Near the end, some girl says "Come on, let's go back to the party." What, this fun you're obviously having isn't the end of it? You get to go and do even more partying? What's at this party, where some people are evidently using a lot of drugs? Is the message that I should avoid being like the passed-out girl, or that I should be more like those funny kids having a mild good time?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Donut Story

Peep for the Roseville Bakery. At 4:50 a.m., it was my turn to spend time with a wakeful infant. By 5:50, I despaired of getting any sleep at all. This is the point when I realized it was almost 6:00, and a little drive would probably put the child to sleep. If I have to be awake anyway, why not be driving to a bakery to get donuts? Now I have donuts. Delicious, sugary donuts.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Khan!!! I mean, Favre!!!

At Pacifist Viking, I discuss why even though I don't want to see Brett Favre join the Vikings, I would root for him if he did.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Am I allowed to crap on the carpet?

One argument used by meat-eaters to justify killing animals for food is the "But animals do it" argument. It sounds reasonable: since animals slaughter other animals for their food, why shouldn't humans slaughter animals for our food? Aside from the fact that people mostly eat animals that don't eat other animals (cows, chickens), this argument is shaky at its very core.

Let's assume that animals are amoral beings (for if we call animals moral beings, added to what we already know about the intelligence and emotions of animals, we must further question whether they should be eaten). It does seem rather absurd for humans to get our morality from amoral beings. It conflates the behavior of beings that have a choice about their behavior with beings that have no choice in their behavior (indeed, some animals are biologically required to eat meat, while humans are not). Are proponents of this defense of meat-eating willing to apply this same logic to any other issues? Because if we're going to judge one activity based on the behavior of amoral beings, should we judge all our activities on the behavior of amoral beings? I'm not entirely uncomfortable with this idea (as Dostoevsky frames it, that "everything is permitted"), but I doubt very much the proponents of the "But animals do it" argument are comfortable rejecting all human ethics. Do they want humans to behave as animals in other aspects of life? Do they want to claim that humans are really no better than the animals we're willing to eat? Do they want to claim a superior species would be justified in eating humans? Do they want to reject the premise that humans are rational beings capable of choosing our actions?

I think this smacks of defensive justification for a desired behavior, not an objectively reasoned out position.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sven is overfriended

Sven Sundgaard, the future figurehead mayor of corporate city-state "Twin Cities Sponsored By Target," has reached his limit of facespace friends (Pioneer Press).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

On Falstaff

I read Falstaff as a rollicking combination of Kramer, Jerry, and George from Seinfeld.  Like Kramer, he is the eccentric clown.  Like Jerry, he's a wit with cool distance.  And like George, he's selfish, dishonest, devious, pathetic (a man of temptation--but what tempts you?).  Depending on the setting, the context, and the characters he shares a scene with, the different sides of his self emerge.

How they play basketball in the T.C.

On the east side of St. Paul, people have portable basketball hoops that they drag to the curb.  In my neighborhood kids are frequently playing basketball in the street.

That's how we do it in the T.C.

Veggie Stir Fry

Stir Fry is the best vegan meal I make: delicious, filling, and extremely healthy.

The two items we always include are broccoli and tofu. This meal also features string beans, carrots, red bell pepper, and onion. Washing and cutting the vegetables is the longest and most tedious part of the process; after that, it's very easy. Toss all the cut vegetables into a wok. Cut tofu and add seasoning (teriyaki works well). After that it is obvious: stir and fry. Heat it and stir it for as long as you like. We usually serve the stir fry over brown rice; for a lighter meal the rice can be skipped.

This meal is also very affordable: I'd estimate a large serving for two people costs between five and ten dollars, depending on the ingredients you choose. If you have kids and they like vegetables, it ends up being a wonderful family meal.

But I never trusted Gus.

At the Vikings Locker Room at Rosedale Center, "In Gus We Trust" shirts are marked down, 50% of of $18.99.  But $9.50 is still way too much money for a shirt to wear ironically.

How many of these t-shirts have they sold in the last few months?  I know that non-sports-fan relatives sometimes pick out strange gifts for sports fans they know but don't quite understand--I doubt even they are buying this t-shirt.

But mark your prices down 75%, Vikings Locker Room, and I'll have a t-shirt to wear to a fantasy football draft. 

cross-posted at Pacifist Viking

Against the Vikings Signing Favre

At Pacifist Viking, I discuss some of the reasons why Brett Favre as a Viking is a bad idea.

On Evolution

I tell you this: children are monkeys.  They look like little monkeys.  Their little faces are like little monkey faces.  Their little arms are like little monkey arms.  You watch a child run around and jump around and grab onto things and latch onto an adult, and you're looking at a little monkey.

The sound of a baby's crying is good evidence for the Theory of Evolution, in my opinion.  It has to be so completely annoying to a human being's ears so that an adult is absolutely compelled to care for a distressed baby.  You can't sleep through it, you can't drown it out, you can't just take it as background noise.  The human baby's crying evolved along with the human adult's ear to allow human beings to flourish.  A baby in distress will get immediate attention from an adult.

This has been "On Evolution."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Welcome, suckers.

Welcome to "That's how we do it in the T.C." Here's what we'll be discussing, with varying levels of stupidity.

We pay close attention to advertisements for some reason. They often displease us.

books, arts, ideas, good TV, bad TV

Our family is vegetarian. We'll write about eating, with special attention to vegan and vegetarian perspectives.

We walk around malls a lot.

a place to share amusing thoughts about raising kids.

sports, especially focused on the Minnesota Vikings (links and cross-posts with Pacifist Viking)

Minnesota life

living with our crazy idea about not killing animals

pacifist commentary on a militaristic culture

Religiously inclined
Comments on religion

It's like the 9th Amendment; we don't want to limit ourselves.

Hope you enjoy.