Monday, April 9, 2012

Interaction vs. Critiscism

“Excrement. That’s what I think of Mr. J. Evans Pritchard. We’re not laying pipe. We’re talking about poetry. How can you describe poetry like American Bandstand? ‘Oh, I like Byron. I give him a 42, but I can’t dance to it.’ Now, I want you to rip out that page.”

It seems like a lot of people were confused and/or disappointed with the NonModern take on “The Hunger Games.” Part of that may be because this blog approaches stories in two different ways. Sometimes a connection point is highlighted, where the cultural conversation stumbles upon a truth that serves as a jumping off point to bring Biblical worldview into the dialogue. At other times a more “straight-forward” review is in mind, where the underlying worldview of a story is held up to reality and measured.

In the first case, anything may serve to spark a spiritual conversation. Authorial intent and worldview don’t have to reflect reality and truth. The story or elements of it are simply used to bring those ideas into play. That is not what was done with “The Hunger Games” here, although it could have been—there are plenty of opportunities in those stories to do so.

Instead, the approach taken in this case was a more objective review. The stories are currently so popular, even among people with a Biblical worldview and particularly among very young people still seeking out their own worldview, that an attempt was made to determine what the trilogy was actually presenting. What was the philosophy behind the stories?

Some may have assumed that NonModern is purely about finding “the good” in everything. After all, the Harry Potter books are highly praised here, and many “Christian” voices were speaking out against those stories.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of Professor Keating (who was evaluating poetry, not philosophy, and whose mission to inspire young, impressionable minds could have used a bit more caution) I contend that stories and art—any cultural product—must be measured on two standards: the aesthetic and the philosophical. Is it well done, pleasing and beautiful? And, does it communicate truth?

Some stories, like the Harry Potter ones, are high in quality on both accounts. Some, like the Charles Williams novels may be great on an idea level, but lacking as far as the story-telling mechanics are concerned. In the case of “The Hunger Games Trilogy,” the story-telling mechanics are excellent for the most part but the underlying philosophy of nihilism is faulty at best and dangerous at worst.

Then there are works like the “Twilight” series or the “Left Behind” books that are poorly written and communicate ideas that do not measure up to truth or are otherwise helpful in any way.

(Sometimes there may be stories that are “neutral” in quality, neither great nor terrible but simply passable or forgettable—like Larsson’ Millennium Trilogy. Or there are some that hard to place on the philosophical axis—usually satire efforts that have a lot of good thought provocation but may not know where to stop. Pratchett’s books can be this way, providing a good hard look at culture but never seeming to arrive at an objective understanding of the world. He is, after all, an Absurdist flavored Atheist.)

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