Friday, July 31, 2009

Trailer: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Wes Anderson's movies take place in such an artificial, carefully crafted universe, it's only natural that he would turn to a form of animation, where he can control literally everything onscreen. I'm cautiously interested, since I think Anderson does his best work when some element is unruly enough to burst out of his micromanaged mise-en-scène, like Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums (still Wes Anderson's best work). I'm not sure if George Clooney's voice is enough to give Anderson's somewhat airless style the life it needs.

On the other hand, Roald Dahl wrote the original story, and his stuff is usually brilliant. Plus, stop-motion is underutilized, so good for them.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Christianity Today had this fascinating article on a third way between religious fundamentalism and religious relativism. The story is mostly about a Muslim leader on interfaith dialogue named Evoo Patel:

"For fifteen minutes the students debate the matter, fluctuating between constitutional rights and economic realities. Finally, Patel interrupts.

'I'm hearing you articulate two grand narratives. First, the narrative of American freedom. And second, the narrative of capitalism and productivity. But remember, the reporter is not calling you because you are an expert in economics or constitutional law. He's calling you because you are a minister. Don't be afraid to answer the question as a Christian. Answer out of the Christian narrative.'

The irony of a Muslim challenging a group of pastors to be more Christian was not lost on the students. Heads dropped as they contemplated a different response to the case study. Cassie Meyer assisted the students by adapting the scenario.

'Imagine you're the pastoral intern at the church in Grand Island,' Meyer says, 'and you've been given the responsibility to preach a sermon this Sunday addressing the conflict between the Christians and Muslims. What would you say from the pulpit? What would you use from Scripture?'

'The greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbors,' says one student. 'Whether we like it or not, these Somali Muslims are our neighbors and we are called to love them.'

'But many in the town don't view the Muslims as their neighbors,' says another student. 'They view them as intruders, unwanted outsiders, or even their enemies.'

'Do you think referring to the Muslims as 'enemies' in your sermon might inflame the problem?' Patel asks.

"' don't think so,' the student responds. 'Jesus calls us to love our enemies and to show kindness to aliens. But that would have to be made clear in the sermon. The story of the Good Samaritan comes to mind.' Patel is out of his chair, energized by what he is hearing.

'I want you to see what just happened,' he says. 'I want to affirm this. You are using the grand Christian narrative to respond to an interfaith conflict. First, I heard the Christian story of loving God and loving your neighbor. Second, I heard the Christian story of the Good Samaritan and the call to love the stranger. By using these stories, you are defining reality through the Christian narrative.

'Remember, the three most powerful narratives on the planet are narratives of religion, narratives of nation, and narratives of ethnicity/race. You cannot afford to forfeit that territory by talking about economics or the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Don't be afraid to be Christian ministers. If you don't use the Christian narrative to define reality for your people, then someone else will define reality for them with a different narrative.'

Patel's call to stand firmly on the Christian narrative isn't what most students expect to hear from a Muslim professor."

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jay-Z and American Hegemony

Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy has an interesting (to me, anyway) analysis of the limits of hard and soft power, as displayed in the current beef between Jay-Z and the Game.

"See, Jay-Z (Shawn Carter) is the closest thing to a hegemon which the rap world has known for a long time. He's #1 on the Forbes list of the top earning rappers. He has an unimpeachable reputation, both artistic and commercial, and has produced some of the all-time best (and best-selling) hip hop albums including standouts Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint and the Black Album. He spent several successful years as the CEO of Def Jam Records before buying out his contract a few months ago to release his new album on his own label. And he's got Beyonce. Nobody, but nobody, in the hip hop world has his combination of hard power and soft power. If there be hegemony, then this is it. Heck, when he tried to retire after the Black Album, he found himself dragged back into the game (shades of America's inward turn during the Clinton years?).

But the limits on his ability to use this power recalls the debates about U.S. primacy. Should he use this power to its fullest extent, as neo-conservatives would advise, imposing his will to reshape the world, forcing others to adapt to his values and leadership? Or should he fear a backlash against the unilateral use of power, as realists such as my colleague Steve Walt or liberals such as John Ikenberry would warn, and instead exercise self-restraint?"

Click here for the full article.