Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Here's my review....

A snip....

"Through a Gospel lens, what makes Boyhood so important is that it tracks how a human person is basically lost through the lack of a serious and intelligent formation in his youth. As Aristotle noted in his Nicomachean Ethics, a happy life comes down to habits of virtue instilled in youth. Boyhood lurches through the journey of a young person who is given little if any formation in virtue. Because of his parents’ fundamental superficiality, and its resulting selfishness and immaturity, they have no habits of virtue to hand on to him. The concepts of justice, prudence, moderation and fortitude are never even offered to the child, never mind faith, hope and charity. He is raised without any measure of meaning beyond his own inclinations – in a truly, thoroughly, tragically, unexamined life. And, at the end, as the now man trips on mushrooms and exchanges banalities with another equally lost Millennial, we know that, probably, the man will live a life as Plato said, “not worth living” in the imprisonment and misery of narcissism. The cake is baked."

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why Good People Do Media Wrong

Somebody just sent me yet another little pro-life video to review.  They said they wanted my notes, but, if anybody wants notes, they should ask BEFORE the thing is done, not after.  Afterward, what you want is a review.  Except you really don't.  You want me to love it and send it around to everybody I know and then maybe a millionaire will send the producers a million dollars.

Don't get me wrong.  I am eighty gazillion times pro-life and completely down with any effort that might save a life.  But I am deeply frustrated with the repeated fruitless efforts of the movement -- and frankly the broader Christian community - in the area of media.

Here's the letter I sent back in response to the piece.  I post it here because it is generally instructive.


Thanks for sharing the trailer with me.  As you know, this kind of project is very close to my heart.

Having said that, I think this piece suffers from the ailment of most of this kind of overt pro-life media - and indeed most "evangelistic" media made in the Church.  That is, the people who are making it are NOT the audience of the piece, and they do not realize that.  If the audience for this is clean cut, morally responsible, clear-thinking Christian white kids, then this piece has the possibility of finding a hearing with them.  But, in truth, that is not the main group to whom we need to make an appeal in works of this kind.  

When I see projects like this coming from pro-lifers, I really want to tell them to go and stay at a crisis pregnancy center for a weekend and meet the women there who are in crisis.  These places are far from lily white and they are also frequented by young women who tend to be highly streetwise and sexually active.  I'm just telling it like it is here.  This piece plays like a PSA on the Hallmark Channel when it needs to play like a showstopper on MTV.

Here's a case in point.  This is a film promoted by Planned Parenthood about the same topic.  Just watch the first few minutes:

Did you notice how the piece from the demon servers at Planned Prenthood was rooted in the Latino community?   They even start in church, the bastards!  That would be like us starting a video in a strip club.   But they don't care because they are intent on connecting with their intended audience whereas we are intent on not offending our donors and pastors.  Did you see how the pace is very fast?  Did you notice the unique things they did with direct address and establishing rapport with the protagonist?  And I could go on as to how it is a better piece for the intended audience then the one made by the pro-lifers.  

My feeling is, what you have sent me is the kind of piece that will do well with people who are already well-disposed to give a Catholic/pro-life video a hearing.  It isn't provocative enough to get past the walls of anyone who isn't already well-disposed.  It isn't creative enough to intrigue.  It isn't anything it should be except, well, nice.

In terms of overall creative vision, the piece is full of the same stock photo type images that pepper all these kinds of things:  young women staring out at the horizon, nature shots, young families having a good time, blah blah blah.  There isn't anything interesting in the vision of the piece in terms of style of shooting, perspective or metaphor.

Having said that, from a production standpoint, the piece is shot well and edited well and the sound is even.  Just those three things does mark an improvement in pro-life/religious media in the last twenty years.

One last thought....  There is a reason Planned Parenthood media is peppered with the likes of Scarlet Johansen, Ashley Judd, Gwneth Paltrow, Katie Perry, Lady Gaga, etc.  We live in a celebrity driven culture.  "Ride the horse in the direction in which it is going."

They should have called Catharsis before they started shooting.  What can I say?....

Just one idiot's opinion.  God bless -


Thursday, June 12, 2014

"Fault Iin Our Stars" is a slow-moving, talky vision of Millenials without any spiritual or philosophical depth dealing with death. It is interesting at points because of the way it showcases young people today being totally cut off from all the wisdom of the ages. They are literally cast off into the cosmos completely disconnected from the hope they might have found if only they were better educated. Basically harmless for older teens. I found it strangely unaffecting considering it was a depiction of the death of young people in love.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Sheep Without a Shepherd

There was a powerful reaction last night to my presentation at a local parish on the liturgy and beauty. At a certain point, I felt like I was living that scene in the Old Testament when the people are stung to the heart and cry out to the prophet, "What must we do?!" That was how the people were last night. There were several people who were almost crying out, "How can we fix this? Where do we start?" It occurred to me that one of the ironies of the post-Conciliar Church is that even amidst the relentless call for full participation, our laity have never felt so completely helpless in the face of the entrenched attitudes in the parish and diocesan bureaucracies.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mom was Right

[This is the introduction of the book on which I am working in between everything else....]


We were raised by adage.  My mother and father came from a generation that saw itself as connected to the ones that had come before.  They had none of the modern kneejerk reaction against the argument from authority.  Pithy wisdom had been handed down to them and they handed it down to their four daughters. 

Sometimes the adages were simply an assent to some common truth that long ago had become a cliché. Clichés.  But, Mom even had an adage about clichés, namely, “Things get to be a cliché because they tend to be stubbornly true.”

My sisters and I used to make fun of the parental adages.  We used to fall on the floor laughing as we would act out Mom running through her, “Five Reasons Not to Get Married” talk.  (When the four of our took our time getting married well into our thirties, Mom noted with chagrin that she should have given us, “Five Reasons to Get Married” adages.)  Even as we laughed, the parental adages were a bonding thing among us as sisters.  It gave us a shared sense of knowing from whence we came. 

Once, in my mid-thirties, I was out shopping with Doris, an elderly woman from my apartment complex.  I had offered to be her companion when she needed to go out as she was unsteady on her feet and, like so many elderly, nervous in crowds of people.  Having me beside her made her feel safe.  I was there basically because as Mom’s adage goes, “It’s very nice to be needed.”

Doris was picking through red delicious apples in between sharing reminiscences of her years working at the old Fox Studios.  She looked up suddenly, “You are very well bred, Barbara.”

I held open the plastic bag for her, “Am I?  I guess it is my parents.”  Her nod left no room for doubt, “Of course, it is.”

My parents’ adages basically came down to formulas of good breeding.  They gave us all a confidence about stepping out and taking on the world because we had our inner store of truths assuring us that everything that might happen has already happened before.   Coming from a French family, Mom called it savoir faire, which literally means, “knowing what to do.”

My sense of so many of my students today is that they are ill-bred in this sense.  Nobody seems to have shared adages with them and the weird convictions they hold often have been cobbled together from somebody’s tattoo or a passing T-shirt.  It’s a terribly unstable way to live.

I think that the Boomers didn’t raise their kids with adages because that generation was famously intent on not trusting anyone over thirty.  That’s fine, except that only leaves you with wisdom from a stoned Woodstock refugee to live by.  And Woodstock was a very ridiculous and slimy thing.  I’ve seen the documentary.  Most of the music wasn’t even that good. 

Bad breeding means you either don’t know what to do or how to do what you know you ought to do.  It’s a crippling thing that I often see passing like a shadow over my undergrad’s faces.  “Should I step up or stay in my seat?”  “Should I laugh or sneer?”  “Should I trust you or fight you?”  “Should I be as hurt as I feel or should I get some therapy?”

What we have is a couple of unmoored generations, flitting about in the sea of modern chaos, unable to help themselves, and unable to pass on to their own children some words of authority about how to live.

It needs to be noted that heeding adages doesn’t mean that a person surrenders their reasoning faculty.  As my father, the Naval historian, said to us many times, “A principle applies when it applies, and it doesn’t apply when it doesn’t apply.”  Admirals and generals are the ones who know the difference. 

I have had many assistants over the years, and it quickly struck me that the primary virtue of a good assistant was in knowing the exception to the rule.  You can’t really teach someone that.

Adages don’t replace the need to think, but they help a person to identify and heed patterns in life.  Experience is the certainty that comes from being able to say, “I have seen this before.”  Adages are valuable as other people’s experience.  In this case, the experience whom I loved and trusted and who I knew had my best interests at heart.

This book is me sharing what I received from my father born in 1930, and my mother born in 1939.  It’s good stuff, and the older I get, the better it gets.  I share it for my students and their generation.  And for my parents, so they can know we heard.

Some of Mom's Adages....

“People will always forgive you for what you do to them.  But they can almost never forgive you for what they do to you.”

"Trust your guts."

“There’s no fool like an old fool.”

“If you want your friendships to last, never talk to your friends about who they marry and how they raise their children.”

“Religion works.”

“There’s no innate virtue in poverty.”

“Money doesn’t mean class.”

“In a family, someone has to be the one to make the peace.”

“Family is the place that when you have to go, they have to take you in.”

“If you want to know how a man is going to treat you, see how he treats his mother.”

“Reasons not to get married:  1)  Because you are bored; 2) Because you want to get out of the house; 3) Because you think you can save him; 4) Because you are curious about sex; 5) Because you are pregnant.”

“Charity begins at home.”

“People wait to get married until one day they look around and whoever is standing there, that’s the one they take.”

“Babies haven’t changed.  It’s mommies who have changed.”

The Arrogance of the Banal

So, after three weeks of no Easter songs being sung at our Church on Sunday, and an extreme level of horribleness in the banal songs that were being sung, I finally had to say something, so I went up to our, um, fabulous, non-Catholic music ministry guy who never studied music but came to us from the world of local musical theater, after Mass... 

Barb: May I make a request?
Jazz Hands Guy: Um, sure.
Barb: Could we please sing some Easter songs during the Easter season?
Jazz Hands Guy: These are Easter songs! Everything we used this morning was Easter songs.
[Note from Barb: The opening hymn was "Come to the Table of Plenty" then there was "Shelter Me O God" and "Come and Drink" and something else equally non-seasonal]
Barb: Um, No. There are about 25 hymns in the hymnal for Easter --
Jazz Hands Guy: I get everthing from the Archdiocesan guidelines, so if you have a problem you should call the Pope!
Barb: Also, a recent Vatican guideline stipulated that we should not use songs at the liturgy in which the people take on the voice of God.
Jazz Hands Guy: What are you some kind of expert?!
Barb: Yes, actually.
Jazz Hands Guy: (sneering tone) You are? Well, you need to tell the Archdiocese then because --
Barb: I'm telling you. But I guess I should just speak to the pastor.
Jazz Hands Guy: (banging away on the piano with a sneer) Good luck!

Friday, May 09, 2014

Coming January 2015!

It's been about eight months in the writing although probably forty years in the brooding.  Stay tuned for more updates....

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

ATTN: NYC Area Artists

The Catholic Artists Society invites artists, patrons, friends of the arts and their families to its annual Solemn Mass for Artists. This year's Mass will mark the 15th anniversary of Pope St. John Paul II's influential Letter to Artists. A professional choir led by organist Jared Lamenzo and director Joshua South will sing Arvo Part's Berliner Messe, written in 1990. The Mass, according to the Missal of Pope St. John XXIII, will also feature music by Perotin, Hassler, Szamotul and Alain. A reception will follow outdoors, weather permitting. RSVP for the reception by May 2nd to

Sunday, May 4th, 3pm-6pm
The Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral, Mott Street (between Houston & Prince), New York, NY 10012