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Degeneration Now!

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Degeneration Now!

Richard Beck Peacock

Indulge me while I give some context to my lament. I was brought up in an orthodox Catholic home, pretty typical of middle class Americans of that religion at the time. I went to Catholic schools taught by the stock variety of grim nuns of the day, heavily robed and frozen in time. Then I attended a Jesuit High school, training us boys in the dry academic fashion and rigid logic of the church fathers. The moral landscape and the mythology inherent in that world of Catholicism were both combative and dire. In it the devil and God, aided by Arch Angels and centuries of saints, battled each other for dominance over our souls.

Priests and nuns graphically informed us of the utterly black consequences of giving in to our basest desires and action. The proscriptions by them covered everything big and small -- greed, lying to parents, gluttony, cheating your sister, eating meat on Fridays, gossiping, denying of God's will, but especially anything having to do with our sexuality and the pleasures derived from it. Endless sermons were rapturously preached by unmarried priests and cranky Immaculate Heart of Mary nuns warning of the consequences of our lust, the most base part of our nature. Dante's description of hell was a classically handy reference for the imagery of everlasting punishment. So it was confession on Saturday nights and mass on Sunday morning and moral downfalls by Tuesday afternoon. That was life.

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The downfalls. Yes, there were other things happening for us as well -- all that stuff going on at the street corner, in movie houses, in the back seat of cars where a new moral order was competing. The real world. Hence the conflict. Naturally we all soon learned the deep excitement that the other gender (or the same gender, or one's own body) relentlessly stirred. So the old battle lines were firmly reemphasized -- good vs. bad; right vs. wrong; light vs. dark; heaven vs. hell, God vs. the Devil, the Madonna's virginity vs. our gross private dreams,

What could be more logical? As it was defined for us, we all live in this dualistic world at war, no escape. If you try, the church had a built-in hammer: Guilt. Catholics are famous for every variety and level of guilt that they can be brought to the front. Guilt was planted so deeply into the mind and heart that it sucked joy out of believers silently. One accepted the color Purgatory-gray as being the basic shade of existence.

Personally, it was a long, sometimes arduous journey out this worldview. I struggled mightily. Most of us did back then and too many didn't make it. Freedom is a hard elusive road for those imprisoned from an early age. But somehow my inner disquiet kept pushing me to find another way accept myself and to interact with the world. A good education helped enormously. Books saved me. Myth and Ritual in Christianity by Alan Watts, for one, along with the writing of Teilhard de Chardin and Joseph Campbell opened doors in my mind. The monk Thomas Merton and Catholic socialist traditions changed the framework of my thinking. A host of humanists and literary giants followed, each stripping away my fear and ignorance. I was also helped by many enlightened and risk-taking people, too many to name, who physically entered my life. I was still damaged goods, and still am, but I broke the bonds that stopped growth.

When I married and had children I was determined not to lay on them my strange heritage. Many others of my generation tried as well. What to teach? Good old solid humanism -- fair play, intellectual curiosity, tolerance, an openness for adventure, respect for the environment, concern for the less well-off, ready humor, a sense of the oneness of things -- all the good stuff. Was I, and were others, successful in breaking out of the mold? I like to think so.

Flash forward to now. Many popular mythologies have been largely debunked in the West. Old people in strongly old world neighborhoods continue to pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Pentecostals still rant about the apocalypse and its avenging angels. Mormons do their Mormon thing. Certainly Islam is on the rise and Orthodox Jews continue their death grip on their rituals. But most of us are beyond that.

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Or are we? (Let me interject here and claim some insight. I've taught courses in motion pictures for 35 years at the college level and have written extensively about the art, industry and technical aspects of the medium). Hasn't the Entertainment Media filled the void and created another series of colossal mythologies that make the older ones pale in comparison? For sheer power of imagery, Hollywood outstrips anything the Catholics, Baptists, Hindus, or Buddhists could ever impose on the wide-eyed young. The Superheroes of my traditional religion were people like St. Christopher who carried babies across streams, St Francis of Assisi who gave away all his money, wore rags and loved birds, St Michael the Archangel who had a sword and wings but mostly wandered around looking slightly gay (God's army was the first with a Don ask/Don't Tell policy). The Virgin Mary was always in her clean royal blue cape and fixed bewildered gaze. And of course Jesus who said things love your enemies and like turn the other cheek ended up on a cross.

How can these people match up with the Superheroes of the Hollywood media factories? Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man and all those like them still to come -- these guys Rule! They do it with enormous power, brutality and efficiency, terrifyingly performed by the world's most talented and highly paid actors, shot in brilliant color and with seamless special effects, wrapped with a feverish music score and booming sound design, edited for max hyper-beat and visual mind blast. The fantasies are written by teams of industrious 30 year-olds in Burbank with deep understating of the comic book mentality, touching into that underground steam of consciousness that runs through the brains of young boys. These movies bring the most talented artisans in the industry into their camp and with budgets topping 100 million a picture. The net result is over-the-top mind numbing experiences, kinetic mega-trips.

Sam Raimi, the director/writer of the three Spider-Man films is now back making straight horror flicks again with "Drag Me To Hell", He recently philosophized. "What I wanted a this time was a real audience thrill machine. I wanted to give them an out-of-control ride and I wanted to get them out of their seats screaming. I love it when at a horror movie you can sense the audience bonding together. It's a communal experience". Something like the First Church of Franchised Nightmares.

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Degeneration Now!

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Thoughtful, interesting and a point of view we nee... by Federico Moramarco on Sunday, Sep 6, 2009 at 12:27:50 PM