Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Doctor Who Review - "The Magician's Apprentice"

The premiere episode of Doctor Who this year, despite ending on a sharp cliffhanger, was better than any of its series finales in recent memory. This is a very good sign.

I've been more excited for series 9 than any other Doctor Who series I've lived through, and last weekend's episode only confirmed my hopes. We may be looking at the best-written, best-conceived set of episodes since the show's revival over ten years ago.

I'd like to start reviewing episodes of this show as they come out, but I'm afraid I can't do that without MAXIMUM SPOILERS. So beware. Also, if you haven't yet, take advantage of the BBC's (perhaps only temporary) generosity and watch the episode online legally for free. No joke.

The tone that this first episode sets for the series is lighter than that of last year's, with strong emphasis on the brilliant chemistry between the three leads: The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), and Missy (Michelle Gomez). At the same time, it has a realism and melancholia about it that makes it more effective than most of last year's "dark" series. The episode also does something that characterizes the best Doctor Who stories in that it gracefully balances character, plot, and environment, with spectacular results.

When I was trying to figure out what made this episode seem so fresh and different, I realized that we never see the Doctor inside of the Tardis; in fact, we only get a fleeting glimpse of the Tardis interior at all. For that matter, aside from the cold open, we don't see the titular character until half way through the episode.

These choices do not detract from the episode, rather they are carefully calculated to bring the focus to where it matters: the absence of the Doctor from the lives of his friends (Clara and Missy) who are genuinely worried for his safety.

Clara, who has been promised to live out her golden years this season, is in rare form, managing to remain cold and confident while still being warm and cuddly when necessary. In another departure from last season, we see very little of her life at school—this episode doesn't have time for B stories.

And then there's Missy. She arguably stole the show in series 8, and it looks like she might do the same again. Besides being an absolute pleasure to watch, she gets some of the funniest lines (one of my favorites is when she exasperatedly repeats the word "anachronisms" after hearing an electric guitar in 1138 A.D. Essex). But she isn't just comic relief; she delivers as a positively despicable villain as well. When she and Clara come face-to-face, there is a delightfully Mission: Impossible vibe to the music and mise-en-scène, and an unexpected bit of cruel menace will remind you why Missy is feared across the universe.

Now about that guitar. That particular anachronism comes in during what may be Capaldi's most iconic shot as the Doctor, so far at least, if not for the rest of his run. The reveal is set up so perfectly that I remember having my breath slightly taken away, and thinking: "is that a tank?" Capaldi's performance of his metal rendition of the Doctor Who theme is a nice nod to his own punk-rocker status, and you can't help but smile when he begins to play Oh, Pretty Woman when he spots Missy and Clara from afar (I don't know what I like better about this moment: Clara's reaction, or the fact that you don't know which woman the reference is meant for, if not both).

All this, and I've barely said a word about the plot. I guess it's hard to analyze when I've only seen the first of two parts. At its simplest, the plot has to do with the Doctor's death, or at least what he foresees as his own death, and what it has to do with another one of his oldest enemies.

"The Doctor is dying" has become an all-too-familiar trope (and that's not even counting regeneration drama), and one which I dislike because it never truly delivers. This time, however, the use of it isn't insufferable, because the story never relies on it for its tension.

The focus of the death conceit is meant to reveal how the Doctor would respond to his upcoming demise. Missy describes the way a Time Lord is supposed to die as full of "meditation, repentance, and acceptance ... contemplation of the absolute." This, of course, is exactly what the Doctor cannot achieve. We see his hyper-intelligent ADHD on display in the prequel shorts "Prologue" and "The Doctor's Meditation," in which his constant worrying and procrastination leads him to abandon repentance, and throw an explosive three-week party (Clara aptly references Dylan Thomas' Do not go gentle into that good night). This party is comparable to the two-hundred year "farewell tour" of series 6, but, despite being on a much smaller scale, I find the former much more effective. The Doctor's eccentricity ("it's my party, and all of me is invited") doesn't alienate us him, it only brings us closer to his humanity, if such a term could be applied to him. When Clara and the Doctor are reunited, it feels real. There's a great shot during their hug of the Doctor's tortured eyes glancing over his sunglasses—if you watch it enough times, it will start to haunt you. When he meets Missy, she too seems like an old friend, despite the fact that he's supposed to think she's dead. The ease into which they slide into buddy banter is perfectly captured.

But the plot must be pushed forward, here by a new monster called Colony Sarff (Jami Reid-Quarrell), who more evokes Star Wars Sith Lords and Harry Potter Death Eaters than a Doctor Who alien. He leads our trio to his employer, who, as I'm sure you know, is Davros. The events of the cold open, the Doctor's assumed death, and the words of the Fourth Doctor in "Genesis of the Daleks" that we hear again in "The Magician's Apprentice," all of these things are connected, though only implicitly. This ambiguity, this refusal to face the elephant in the room is what creates the tension of the episode. This is what makes the Doctor's shame compelling. We really don't know how bad his "bad thing" was.

Bringing back the Tom Baker-era reference to the question of whether or not the means justifies the end and giving it immediate relevance is a bit of thematic brilliance, even if the coincidence of the cold open is hard to swallow. It's actually rather interesting when you consider the implication that, even if the Doctor avoided such opportunities (killing evil dictators before they become powerful), he would eventually stumble across one, if only by accident, where he would be forced to make a decision. We don't get to find out his decision in this episode, but it will inevitably be the focus of the next.

The second half of the episode has some great nostalgia triggers. Besides the Doctor interacting with Davros (Julian Bleach), and several references to their past dialogues, we get multiple Dalek models, and we revisit their home planet, Skaro (the reveal of the planet involves one of my new favorite bits of technobabble: "syncing with the spectrum"). We get a great idea of the iconic good versus evil relationship of the Doctor and Davros, of the conflict that "survived the time war." Davros gets some deliciously evil, yet still character-rich lines ("Hunter and prey, held in the ecstasy of crisis. Is this not life at its purest?" "Let this be my final victory, let me hear you say it, just once: compassion is wrong.")

I should admit that Missy and Clara's "deaths" had no emotional effect on me, nor, while being emotionally effective, did the Doctor's begging for Clara's life convince me she was actually about to die. No one questions (or so I thought) that these characters will be back for the next episode. I understand that, again, the episode doesn't rely on this tension, but this fake-out trope, similar to the one I mentioned earlier, is tiresome, manipulative, and, honestly, not necessary, given the other great sources of drama in the show. While this is the biggest flaw of "The Magician's Apprentice," I thought the episode was a fantastic start to the series ... though perhaps I'll need to see part two before I can judge it truly.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

On Pilgrimage

Nowadays, it is rare to hear the word “pilgrimage.” Even more rare is when someone should invite you to participate in a pilgrimage. Somehow, though, when this very thing happened to me a few months ago, it didn’t come as a surprise to me. My time with Gioventù Studentesca hasn’t been long, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned it isn’t, it’s predictable.

It wasn’t until well after the pilgrimage that I realized what a senseless thing to do it would seem to someone not led by my motivations. To walk ten miles from one church to another, across an unfriendly landscape, carrying a statue on a litter on my shoulders, no less. Many would call this absurd.

This realization has caused me to question myself: Why should I want to go on a pilgrimage? Perhaps suffer discomfort and inconvenience? And most importantly, does this pilgrimage change anything in any substantial and meaningful way? I certainly was far from a fully realized person before this pilgrimage, so if it didn’t get me closer, was it worth it?

One reason to go on a pilgrimage is one that made itself present to me more than I expected, indeed, more than had ever even crossed my mind. We go on pilgrimage to bear witness to others. How strange it must be to see ordinary people walking along a trail where no one was meant to walk (seriously, I don’t remember crossing someone else’s path a single time). There was something definitely joyful about jarring people who seemed to have no business being jarred during their daily routine. But miraculously, people looked at us, people smiled, they honked their horns in approval. Some even asked "what on earth are you doing, and what’s that you’re carrying?" I almost wouldn’t know how to answer them, I’m just now figuring it out myself.

I, like many, have a very distracting life. And as most young people are, I’m exceedingly preoccupied with my future. I’m always trying to avoid the bad outcomes of life, and working to make the best one possible happen. But this whirlwind can make it hard to think about anything else. Now, I don’t think you should give up on your life plans, just consider why you have them.

While going on a ten-mile pilgrimage may seem like a pointless trip to nowhere, I think it was just what was needed. All my plans for what I want to be in the future mean nothing if I can’t find worth in what I am now. I was able to slow down and just walk, not for the sake of getting somewhere, but for the sake of being someone. And not just being someone, but encountering someone. I believe that God loves to meet us during events that are paradoxically both everyday, and bizarre. It’s His way of saying "Look! This could happen all the time, if you let it."

This pilgrimage opened up a new way of looking at the relationship between God and reality precisely because it took me somewhere I didn’t know I wanted to go. I saw with fresh eyes the nature of grace in the same way that a long absence from a familiar place brings back memories you forgot you had. It was a way of bringing my life back to the origin, finding a meaning to my plans that I couldn’t find while looking at them from the inside. Sometimes you just need that one crazy person to bring you outside of yourself. It’s better out there.

This article was originally written in response to the August 15th, 2014 Youngstown Marian Pilgrimage. All editing and formatting liberties are taken to reproduce this article.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Musicians in the Orchestra

This oil painting by Edgar Degas was made in 1872, and gives us a worm’s eye view of a stage on which ballerinas dance, and places us directly behind three musicians in the orchestra pit.

The musicians that have their backs to us play, from left to right,  a violin, a cello, and an oboe, respectively. Along with their instruments, their differing hair colors (brown, black, and white) give these men character: they aren’t just standard extras in the performance, they are humans contributing their passion to it.

Beyond layers of sheet music and violin bow tips, we see the edge of the stage. A line of flowery-dressed dancers trails off into the background, while one stands apart from them, gazing forward open-armed. Though she smiles toward the audience, the position that we are in makes it seem that she is looking towards the pit, and by extension, at us.

The backdrop that the ballerinas are set against is abstract and impenetrable. Wide brush strokes of silver, blue, and green only just define a tree and sky. The crude and scattered markings become smoother around the figures of the ballerinas. It is obvious that Degas wants us to be paying attention to the musicians in the foreground—the little people whom he has made big.

The image is split down the middle horizontally by the stage, defining two separate worlds. The ballerinas are adored by the audience, floating beatifically across the stage, while the musicians below them often go unnoticed. The top of the image is also somewhat divided, but vertically, subtly pointing out the greater admiration given to the leading role than to the background characters. Upon close inspection, one can see contempt on each one of the secondary ballerinas faces. It’s hard to believe that this is an accident, given the expression of the lead dancer.

It’s likely that Degas was inspired to paint this image after witnessing a performance similar to it, and realizing the important roles the musicians and minor dancers play. In creating Musicians in the Orchestra, he lets us into his mind; we enter into a realization of the profound within the forgotten details.

This paper was written for my Visual Art and the Catholic Imagination college course. All necessary editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this text.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Stoning of Saint Stephen

This oil painting from 1625 is the first work of the Dutch Golden Age master, Rembrandt van Rijn. It tells the biblical story of the martyrdom of St. Stephen, who was stoned until dead by the Jewish citizens for his Christian faith.

The image strongly uses light and dark, or chiaroscuro, in its layout. We see a rear view of a man on the back of a horse, as well as one of Stephen’s executioners, both in relative darkness. In contrast, Stephen, surrounded by a group of men holding stones, is in direct, almost heavenly light. You can even make out the very line that separates the light from the darkness, as if it were a spotlight on the action.

Strangely, Stephen wears a bright red robe with tassels and intricate design, while the men around him wear simple white or dull colored tunics. Though this may be historically unlikely, it certainly draws the eye towards the Saint, who is the focal point of the painting. The man on the horse is also in scarlet, though, and wears a feathered turban. Behind him and to the left, even deeper into the darkness, is a similarly dressed man, and in the background, on a hill, stand a huddle of officials watching the stoning, and talking among themselves. All of their clothing seems to be inspired by Southern European Renaissance garb.

Even farther into the background stands an aged castle, beautifully designed and overgrown with foliage. It stands against a foreboding grey sky, one that looks like it may at any time open up to witness the tragic and transcendent event below.

We find Stephen himself on his knees, one hand stretched up towards the heavens, the other opening up towards the ground. The line of motion of his arms gives his figure a sense of urgency and dynamism. In his face we see fear, but also acceptance of his fate. His eyes squint in anticipation, his lips purse.

Directly above him, a bearded man stands ready to crush his head with a stone. His arms are raised above his head dramatically, forming that familiar triangle shape. The other men’s faces generally display either hatred or agony, but this man is collected, exhibiting only a stern pity. Next to him, we see a man who has just released his stone. Catching Stephen in the small of the back, the stone is shown in midair just beyond the edge of his side.

This painting uses prominent contrast of light and color to illustrate religious persecution, and the humanity of the players, which often gets muddled up in the process. Though our sympathy lies with Stephen, the design of his murderers leads us to think about their emotions and motivations, as if made clear by the same divine light that illuminates their bodies.

This paper was written for my Visual Art and the Catholic Imagination college course. All necessary editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this text.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Resurrection of Jesus

This 1424 image is by Master Francke, a German Gothic painter. It shows Christ emerging from His stone tomb, surrounded by drowsy guardsmen.

The style of the painting is idealistic, but with a sense of caricature, especially of the guards around the tomb. Heads are made large for their bodies, and the faces are grotesque and distorted.

In the center of the painting, we see a tomb that looks more like a standard coffin than the traditional cave-like structure we’re familiar with. Christ has His back to the viewers, one leg over the edge of the tomb. He’s draped in a triumphant red cloak, and holds a scepter bearing a red banner and capped with a gold cross. His halo is nothing but a thin circle around His head; it uses the golden morning light in the background as its coloring. Though we can only see the top half of Christ’s face, His eye and eyebrow convey a sense of strength and determination.

Against the horizon stand brown rocky cliffs and evergreen trees. They are simply crafted, and are designed to lead the eye back to the main action.

In the foreground we see about ten of the grotesque guards, all dressed in bright and diverse clothing, and completely surrounding the tomb. Many of them carry spears or swords. While some of their faces are hidden in their sleep, others seem just about to open their eyes and catch sight of the escaping figure of Christ.

The image lacks realistic perspective, and seems to crawl up rather than back into space. The general composition of the image presses flat against the viewing plane, and uses the triangular shape of the guards, the tomb, and Christ Himself to point directly to Christ’s face.

What is the artist trying to show us with this image? Jesus isn’t here to just stare back at us: He has places to go. Whether it’s over the hills we see in the background, or past the edge of the painting, He is headed out to complete His mission. His stare also seems to fall on the sleeping and inattentive men around Him, too distracted to notice the glorious event they might have been a part of. Whatever we do, we certainly should not be like the passive soldiers in this painting. I think they are representative of, not those who are purely evil, but those who simply take no notice of the Christian life, like in the parable when the seed falls upon the path.

This painting can be seen as a call to action: to get behind Christ and follow Him into eternity. We’ve witnessed His triumph over death, and now we can walk away from those who are spiritually asleep, and wake up to new life.

This paper was written for my Visual Art and the Catholic Imagination college course. All necessary editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this text.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Carrying of the Cross

The Carrying of the Cross by Jacquemart de Hesdin, a French Renaissance painter, depicts Christ on His way to Calvary amid a large group of people. I would call the style idealistic, with a focus on the characters depicted and their role in the overall narrative that connects the separate parts of the painting.

The use of color in the painting involves bold contrast. The entire image seems to burn with a golden glow, with large patches of red and deep blue scattered across it. Christ and Mary are linked together with striking blue robes, as she follows Him, weeping. Christ is turned to face a cluster of women, who reach out to Him mournfully. We think of Jesus meeting the women of Jerusalem, as well as meeting his mother, a juxtaposition of the fourth and eighth stations of the cross.

The cross that Christ carries is T-shaped, and hanging impossibly far back behind and over His shoulder. A man with some semblance of a halo around his head, similar to one around Mary’s, reaches out in wonder as if to support the end of the cross. Perhaps this is meant to be Simon of Cyrene, or perhaps Simon is the older man whose face is sharply inserted between Christ’s and Mary’s.

The painting has a busy background, though it gives the impression of moving straight up rather than back into the distance. Soldiers, clerics, and warriors armed with shields and spears crowd behind Christ. One of the thieves who is to be crucified alongside of Christ carries an identical cross behind Him. The shapes of the two crosses intersect, and provide a strong geometric framework that bisects the painting. Just behind him, you can just see the second thief.

Behind this sprawl of people, a rocky cliff crawls up on the right, and a castle is placed opposite it on the left. Between the two is a brilliant night blue sky with a morbid scene against it. We see Judas hanging himself from a tree, one hand grasping the noose symbolically. A ladder leans against the tree beneath him, as what looks like a winged demon flies around his head. A small figure, half hidden by the horizon, looks up at Judas in horror. This whole scene is greatly out of scale: while logically, it must be farther away than the castle, it’s painted big enough to be much closer.

Christ Himself doesn’t seem to be the main figure in this image, or at least not the only one. He almost seems to be lost among the action that’s going on. When you consider this along with the relative size of Judas, it’s clear that the artist wants much of the attention to be on the recent suicide in the background. The story is clear: the man above is responsible for the events below, and the event below is in turn responsible for the choice Judas finally made. The man now dead will soon be joined by the man he betrayed, but will most likely have a less glorious epilogue.

This paper was written for my Visual Art and the Catholic Imagination college course. All necessary editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this text.

Monday, August 10, 2015

What I Know and Don't Know About Art

Because I’ve grown up in an artistic family, I feel like I have had more positive experiences with art than usual. For as long as I can remember, I’ve not only been surrounded by books about and prints of fine art, but been encouraged to create my own art as well. As far as visual art goes, I mostly have experience drawing in pencil and marker.

Creating art has always been my primary mode of self-expression in my everyday life, even if most of my art is kept to myself. I think art can be used to show an audience otherwise inexpressible things about oneself, and also about what the artist believes about the world and what lies beyond it. While art can be meaningful when kept between the artist and God, the primary direction of art should from the artist to humanity.

I think there is an inherent mystique about art that makes it hard to ever know everything about it, whether in general as a concept, or in reference to any specific work. This tension can be frustrating, but also very liberating. It opens up a new way of looking at things for both artists and those who merely observe.

Because of the mysterious nature of art, and the fact that it is a term spread across such a disparate group of mediums, it is hard to come up with a satisfying definition of art. Anything you try to come up with seems to exclude one thing or another that could be considered art.

The best definition I can think of is “a work of human production that in some way can bring us closer to Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.” Now a huge amount of things can fall into this category. Not all of them might be considered ‘good art.’ One thing I don’t know about art is any particular way of deciding whether it is good, or whether such a thing even can be done. Perhaps if it falls under my definition at all, it automatically has some worth. But surely some art is better than others?

The theme of paradox that is prevalent in this course seems to fit well with my experience with art. I know that art is often found in unexpected and unexplainable places, and can change your life in seemingly impossible ways. There is something beautiful about the fact that a thing that may seem so small and unimportant (as many people may see art, especially amateur art) can be the seed of the greatest existential conversions.

Art is often described as something which is used to produce an emotion, whether positive or negative. While this is indeed a function of art, it is important to allow the artwork to carry that emotion to its natural conclusion, which should be some sort of greater realization of the previously mentioned Transcendentals. Finding out exactly how this next step, the resolution to an experience, will play out is one of the most exciting parts of art for me.

This paper was written for my Visual Art and the Catholic Imagination college course. All necessary editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this text.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Metropolis (1927) and A.I. (2001) - A Comparison

Fritz Lang’s masterpiece classic Metropolis (1927), and Steven Spielberg’s modern fable A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) are joined together by the common theme of cyborgs infiltrating the ranks of humans. While A.I. experiments with the idea of cyborgs living among us as humans, and the consequences of their longevity, Metropolis shows the perverse effects of a single troublesome robot.

A. I. plays on your emotions, gaining sympathy for it’s protagonist cyborg, David (Haley Joel Osment), a beautiful boy child, who is sweet and innocent and wants nothing but genuine love from his “mother.” As the movie progresses, we feel his desire, and the performance of the character drives the movie. This is in contrast with Maria (Brigette Helm), of Metropolis, who is a demonic trickster, a manipulative seductress designed to subjugate, and who eventually leads to the utter chaos which colors the film’s climax.

David represents technology with a face, it makes us ask ourselves if we could ever create something which surpasses us in dignity. We are presented with the notion of a robot who can love, which leads to ever more complex questions: “What’s the definition of love? Is love symmetrical? Is it always based on reciprocal emotions? Is family love, by parents and siblings, a biological given or culturally conditioned?” (Levy, 2005).

Both films involve the idea robots as sex workers, Gigolo Joe (Jude Law) being a prominent character in A.I., and Maria engaging in a hypnotic erotic display: “He literally rebuilds Maria and reintroduces her to the masses as an exotic dancer in a seedy nightclub. Here the robot Maria dances half-naked in such a seductive fashion that a riot breaks out and during the chaos the local waterworks is all but destroyed and the lower levels of the city become flooded” (Cornea, 2007, p. 18). This might suggest that technology cannot love, but only be the instigator of lust, that if one tries to treat robots as humans, it will always lead to perversion, sexual or otherwise. On the other hand, in the case of David, it may demonstrate a widespread misunderstanding of the robotic being: that they will love if they are shown love, that they simply need to be viewed with a transformed eye.

The social struggle between humans and cyborgs is brought to the foreground when David is captured and forced to participate in the Flesh Fair: “The Flesh Fair represents orga angst against mecha. Many orga see the mecha as a threat to the future of humankind. To quash their fears, captured mecha, most of whom have pain receptors like David, are subjected to terrible ends” (Kowalski, 2008, p. 258). This kind of sadistic purging ritual is exactly what happens in to Maria: “In the last chapter of this picture, after the artificial Mary has turned traitor to Rotwang and Masterman, the "woman" is discovered and burned. During this scene the manufactured Mary suddenly changes into the form of the metal creature” (Hall, 1927). While some level of malice seems to be necessary to destroy such life-like machines, one must admit that such a display is only criminal if the robots are, indeed, alive. Should these robots, which seem exactly like people, be treated like people? This is the question that infects A.I., and the film never gives a clear answer. Metropolis, on the other hand, has a clear answer: Maria is evil, the science that brought her about is perverse, and nothing but ruin will come of her. She represents a complete corruption of the human form, down to the fact that she is identical and opposite to the virtuous leading lady.

While Metropolis tells stories of cyborgs with a warning, A.I. is much less sure of itself, and far more open to contrasting interpretations. The robot Maria represents the moral decay that infects the city of Metropolis: “When the film ends with the apocalyptic destruction of the city and the start of a new future, we have been warned of what modernity could become” (Prakash, 2010, p. 4) David, on the other hand, who is almost definitely the most virtuous character of the film, represents the kernel of goodness inside humanity, in fact, he is only ever violent against a robotic double of himself. His inability to be corrupt may represent his worthiness—or it may just be a hint that he has far less in common with humanity than he thinks.


Kowalski, D. A. (2008). Discussing Five Spielberg Films. In Steven Spielberg and philosophy (p. 258). Lexington, KY. The University Press of Kentucky.

Cornea, C. (2007). Introduction: The Formation of the Genre. In Science fiction cinema between fantasy and reality (p. 18). New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Levy, E. (2005). A.I. Artificial Intelligence: Spielberg’s Grimmest, Darkest Sci-Fi. Emanuel Levy. Retrieved from link.

Prakash, G. (2010). Introduction. In Noir Urbanisms (p. 4). Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press

Hall, B. (1927). Metropolis. The New York Times. Retrieved from link.

This paper was written for my Science Fiction Cinema college course. All necessary editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this text.

Friday, August 7, 2015

"Made Up" - Miscellaneous Concept Art

Here are the last bits of Made Up concept art. The futurist city one merely showcases my poor ability to draw mechanical-architecturey things, but I'm actually really pleased with how the first one turned out. Click for full size, it's worth it.

Tell me what you think below! All your support is appreciated! View on Tumblr here and here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Made Up" - Ursus Concept Art

This is my final character piece for now. This is the assumed villain of the story, a "probot" named Ursus. His visual inspiration is equal parts Doctor Doom, Rick Deckard, and Robespierre, but someone has actually said it looks like me. I guess artists always create in their own image. You tell me how it turned out.

Let me know what you think! I'm really proud of this work, so it means a lot! View on Tumblr.

Monday, July 27, 2015

"Made Up" - Violet Haskell Concept Art

Next is the detective in the story, Violet Haskell. In my head as I drew her was a combination of Glenn Close and Dana Scully. This is how it turned out.

Share your thoughts in the comments ... it really makes a difference! View on Tumblr.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

"Made Up" - Adam Concept Art

Here is the next bit of concept art - Adam, Ian's human bartender brother. I based his face a bit on Mark Strong as George Knightley, in the same way that I based Ian's hair on Raymond Coulthard as Frank Churchill's (and his face on robot-y Colin Morgan). The picture ended up kind of weird (there's some distortion, mostly due to the way I was sitting and looking at the page as I was drawing - I guess I'll never learn), but make of it what you will.

Let me know what you think in the comments! View on Tumblr.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

"Made Up" - Ian Concept Art

My sister and I have begun planning for a new graphic series involving artificial intelligence. We had originally planned to submit it to this year's Comic Vine contest, but we just ended up not having enough time. We're still going to develop it, maybe even enter it next year. I have several pieces of concept art finished and in the works, which I will post here over the next few days. This drawing is of the android protagonist, Ian.

Let me know what you think in the comments below! Follow for more content! View on Tumblr.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Francis Corner Concept Art

I haven't shared any visual art in a while, so I thought I might as well post some of the concept art I'd been slaving over in past weeks. Here are some images of the protagonist of my prospective series. The first one was drawn quite recently. The second, as you can see, was completed over a year ago, and was begun almost a year and a half before that. That's how long it takes for my thoughts to process sometimes. Don't worry, I'm speeding up. Something will happen this decade. Either way, I'm glad to see my style has improved. Enjoy.

Click image for full size:

By the way, I increased the saturation on the second one. That's why it has a sort of weird gray halo. It made it more visible, and it actually looks more like the physical image, so I kept it. Gotta compensate for lousy scan jobs. View on Tumblr.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Utilitarianism and Christianity

While Christianity is often considered to be a rather general religion, a label covering many different belief systems rather than a specific set of ethics, its best forms have certain philosophies that can be carefully examined as such. Below, these philosophies will be compared with those of utilitarianism, an ethical system not necessarily related to religion. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the similarities between utilitarianism and Christianity, and then to show how the latter is different from, and, in fact, superior to the former. This will be accomplished through an examination of what the utilitarian and Christian ideas of pleasure are, what role absolute rules have in both sets of ethics, the sacrificial nature of the two, and finally, how the ultimate focus of each make them distinct. Understanding what these ethical beliefs are, how they are similar and different, and which, if either, is a better system is of the utmost importance in modern times. Both Christianity and utilitarianism, in their various forms, are common today, and are often put at odds with each other, when they should actually each be viewed as complex systems that overlap more than many people think.  
In order to begin with a clear understanding of the basic ideas under examination, the terms presented should be defined and explained as they are understood in this paper. Utilitarianism, in general, is the belief that one should act in such a way as to provide the most pleasure for the greatest number of people possible. Christianity here refers to the teachings of Christ, upheld by the Roman Catholic Tradition, on the way humanity ought to act and care for one another.
Utilitarianism may appear immediately incompatible with Christianity due to its focus on producing pleasure. The Christian practice of self-denial and sacrifice seems opposed to a system entirely concerned with hedonism. What has to be understood here is what is meant by pleasure: whether base and fleeting pleasures are sought after, or higher ones. While it is true that some utilitarians surely are more concerned with immediate gratification, there is room in this philosophy for the striving towards higher levels of happiness. As J.S. Mill says to those who dismiss utilitarianism as degrading, it is in fact the latter “who represent human nature in a degrading light; since the accusation supposes human beings to be capable of no pleasures except those of which swine are capable.” Could it not be said that any objective good that Christianity elevates as worthy to attain can fit into this system, replacing the ambiguous term “pleasure”? Consider a man who is faced with the choice of either committing a robbery or living without some luxury he desires. Suppose that this robbery would also benefit several of this man’s friends, while it would only hurt the one victim of the theft. One might say the utilitarian would naturally choose the robbery as the better option because it would give the most pleasure to the majority of people, but that is only if you believe that luxury is the greatest pleasure. Wouldn’t most people agree that the joy of a clean and pure conscience is a greater pleasure than that of any luxury the world could supply? The man could very well choose to control his desires, providing the pleasure of innocence to himself and his accomplices, and the pleasure of maintaining his goods to the potential victim. In this way, it is clear that utilitarianism need not be dismissed on the grounds that the values it upholds are opposed to Christianity.
One concern that a Christian might have in the consideration of utilitarianism is that, in the latter philosophy, there might be a time when the objective evil of one action is so far outweighed by the great benefit it could provide, causing the choice of this evil to be a good. Such an extreme case may be only theoretical, but its possibility remains troubling. Although Mill suggests that there is almost never such a thing as an absolutely good or evil action when he says: “It is not the fault of any creed, but of the complicated nature of human affairs, that rules of conduct cannot be so framed as to require no exceptions, and that hardly any kind of action can safely be laid down as either always obligatory or always condemnable,” it is a reasonable stance to take that there must be some things that are never justifiable. For those in agreement with this stance, there is a practice of utilitarianism called “rule utilitarianism,” in which certain morals are laid down as guidelines for the specific workings of the method. This allows certain evils, which are agreed to be illicit in all cases, to be taken out of the pool of ethical responses to a situation. Suppose a rule utilitarianist who believes that murder is objectively wrong is faced with the choice between this evil and an overwhelmingly convincing amount of good for a majority. Even if his conscience could be convinced that the murder would be a good, his rule against murder would save him from having to choose this evil. This system seems to allow the philosophies behind utilitarianism to be retained, while not letting them be the last judge of morality. Also, this looks quite a bit like Christianity.
The self-sacrificial nature of both utilitarianism and Christianity is striking. While the central idea of Christianity is based around sacrificing oneself for others, utilitarianism also has the theme of suffering for the sake of the good of others. A utilitarian must not only concern himself with his own pleasure, but with the pleasure of all. If his own displeasure causes pleasure for the majority, it is right and noble to suffer that displeasure. While this seems compatible with Christianity, it raises some questions. Suppose there are only two people involved: whose pleasure is most important? If Person One must either be pleased while Person Two is displeased, or displeased while Person One is pleased, it seems each option is as equally balanced as the other. In that case, it seems that the utilitarian would have no problem in picking the more selfish choice of the two, content in being pleased, while also keeping the pleasure as balanced as it could be. But is this how a Christian should act? Another question: when it comes to sacrifice, must the sacrifice only make sense if there is an immediate and obvious gain of pleasure in others? Mill implies that one would not sacrifice his safety or life “if the hero or martyr did not believe that it would earn for others immunity from similar sacrifices.” This implies that sacrifice for an ideal or a principle could be senseless, and the holy martyrs, whose martyrdoms may, in fact, have led to further persecution, acted stupidly, if not unethically. On the other hand, the claim could be made that the sacrifice of a martyr would cause such an abundance of holy pleasure in his soul, and by example, in the souls of those who witness his sacrifice, that his actions would be justified. Regardless, this nature that both philosophies share emphasize the parallels between the two, and, depending on your perspective, can look identical within them.
So after considering these similarities, why might one believe Christianity to be superior to utilitarianism? What it comes down to is that utilitarianism is concerned with numbers and not people. As long as the mathematical equation that a certain situation presents is optimized, the ethical code of utilitarianism is satisfied. Christianity, on the other hand, requires that love be shown to each individual simply because it is what is good for them. While one philosophy has a bird’s eye view, looking out on humanity like ants in an ant farm, the other strives to connect with each person for their own sake, to make that all-important human encounter. Notice the distinction made here: it is not that the physical result of these two methods need be all that different, it is the philosophy behind the actions that is in question. Pure utilitarianism will cause an intellectual glitch in one’s motivations, causing noble actions to become misguided and cynical. Consider a man who might go through his life worrying whether Person One and Person Two are receiving an equal amount of pleasure, but forgets that he is going to this trouble in the first place for the reason that both of these people are good, and that their happiness is good. In conclusion, while many aspects of utilitarianism can be squared with Christianity, and while the former ethical system may actually be beneficial to those who consider its merits, the philosophy behind the two beliefs differ fundamentally, and there is positive evidence to suggest that Christianity, in its focus on the human person rather than the human species, is the better method of the two.

This paper was written for my Spring 2015 Foundations of Ethics college class. All references are from J.S. Mill's Utilitarianism. All necessary editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this text.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Biblicality of the Rosary


What’s more Catholic than the rosary? One of the most iconically papist images also happens to be one nowhere found in the Scriptures, a fact which our separated brethren seldom fail to point out. How can we justify this old yet often unclear practice? What does the rosary have to do with the Bible?

First of all, the rosary itself should be explained. Simply put, it is a set of prayers said using a cord with beads, the beads numbering the prayers. The main prayers used are the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary. These prayers are used to meditate on different events, or “mysteries,” from the lives of the Virgin Mary and Christ. These mysteries are divided into three or four groups of five each, and are marked by ten Hail Marys, or a decade.

I shall now attempt to systematically unpack the Catholic beliefs that support the prayer of the rosary, and build a Scriptural defense of this method of prayer. Along with biblical references, it should include insight from Popes, Councils, Saints, and Catholic figureheads from history.


Many find the very idea of praying to anyone but God problematic. The crucial part of this issue is the definition of prayer. While many assume prayer implies worship, this does not have to be the case. There is a certain kind of worshipful prayer that is reserved for God alone, but, when understood correctly, prayer can be given to any saint or angel. Prayer, as Christians have always understood it until relatively recent times, simply means speaking with one’s soul. As one uses the body to communicate with others who have bodies, one must use the soul to communicate with those who are pure spirit. There is no element of worship here, in fact it may differ very little from communicating with our fellow men. Why, for instance, would our God give us a guardian angel that he would forbid us from communicating with?

Intercessory prayer, asking someone to pray to God for them, is the most common form of prayer to saints and angels. Some may say that this is wrong on the grounds that “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” But don’t we then defy this verse every time we ask a friend or family member to pray for us? Being a part of the Body of Christ, which all Christians, whether on Earth or beyond, are included in, we have the privilege to not only ask for prayers from our earthly friends, but from those in Heaven and Purgatory as well. In doing this, we do not seek a way around Christ, but rather an enriched prayer through Christ. “There is no reason why certain others should not be called in a certain way mediators between God and man, that is to say, in so far as they co-operate by predisposing and ministering in the union of man with God.” If you value the prayer of a holy person you know, how much more should you value the prayer of one who can see the face of God!

One might ask why we should believe that saints can hear our prayers at all. Yet in the Scriptures we find:
“the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders … with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints … and another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer; and he was given much incense to mingle with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar before the throne; and the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God.”
So we see that the saints are laying prayers before God, and the prayers indeed seem to be those of others. After telling of the heroes of the Old Testament, Paul tells us “we are surrounded by … a cloud of witnesses,” implying that those who are departed in Christ are still aware and active in the events on Earth. Also, because those in Heaven are undoubtedly in the presence of more grace than we on Earth could conceive to receive, God would most likely let us take full advantage of our heavenly brethren through their intercession. After all this, it is reasonable to assume that those in Heaven do, in fact, hear our prayers, and act on them.

It is true we hold Mary in a higher place than all other saints, in fact, as the highest creature in existence. But is this unjust, given that we hold her as Mother of God, conceived without sin? The Marian Dogmas are not the topic of this paper, so I will assume them to be accepted. Suffice to say that it makes much sense that our savior would want to create a perfect vessel for his entry into salvation history, and she deserves the praise and veneration that we as Catholics give her. “This very special devotion...differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit, and greatly fosters this adoration.”


Mary is not only the mother of Jesus Christ, but the spiritual mother of the whole Church. When Christ tells Mary “Woman, behold, your son!” and John, “Behold, your mother!” He gives Mary not just as a mother to John, but to all of us. So we can see that:
“We are indebted to Christ for sharing in some way with us the right, which is peculiarly His own, of calling God our Father and possessing Him as such, we are in like manner indebted to Him for His loving generosity in sharing with us the right to call Mary our Mother and to cherish her as such.”
As her spiritual children, we can request spiritual aid of her as a child requests physical aid of a mother. We are not nurtured at her breast as Christ was, but we are allowed to be nurtured by her grace through the same Christ’s mercy.

Christ Himself, being a loving Son of his human mother, is ever present to her desires, making her intercession extremely powerful. Many surely have been saved through the intercession of Mary who otherwise would have failed to reach that goal.
“All men, moreover, are filled with the hope and confidence that petitions which might be received with less favour from the lips of unworthy men, God will accept when they are recommended by the most Holy Mother, and will grant with all favours.”
We can thus conclude that Mary should not only be a model of perfect holiness for us, but a figure of maternal compassion, who we can know personally through prayer and petition. She, of course, desires the union of all people to her Son, and will with no doubt fly to the aid of any who ask her for it. With both the imitation of her, and her personal intercession, we have an unstoppable force for the salvation of souls.
“God has established for us a most suitable example of every virtue [Mary] … If we, with her powerful help, should dedicate ourselves wholly and entirely to [imitating her], we can portray at least an outline of such great virtue and sanctity, and reproducing that perfect conformity of our lives to all God's designs which she possessed in so marvelous a degree, we shall follow her into heaven.”


As for the rosary itself, it is a perfect application of these Marian truths. It is both a supplication and a meditation. It uses all parts of one’s being:
“Now the rosary...has a beautiful combination…First of all, it is vocal; we say some prayers with our lips. Secondly it’s mental, because as we say, for example, the Hail Mary, we are not so much concentrating on the Hail Mary; we are thinking about the mystery...Then in addition to the mental (the prayer, the thought), and the vocal (the prayer itself), there is the physical, the movement of the fingers over the beads.”
It is important to note that because “we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestations of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the Catholic Church does not teach the rosary as a doctrine, but as a purely private revelation. Some “so-called ‘private’ revelations … have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith.” We do, though, hold that “the origin of this form of prayer is divine rather than human,” coming directly from the mind of God through the heart of Mary.

While the utterly biblical Lord’s Prayer features prominently, the Hail Mary is the technical crux of the rosary. Half of this prayer comes from the Scriptures: “Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you!” “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” The second half is simply a fine example of intercessory prayer.

Some may protest at the idea of repeating the same prayer to Mary ten times, while the Lord’s Prayer is only said once at each decade. To them I say: If our veneration of Mary is idolatry, then one word of praise is just as much a sin as a thousand. But if it is not idolatry, “why do you strike me?”

Some may call the rosary vain repetition: “in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” To them I say: stop praying vainly, and start praying the rosary, meaning every word you say. For if one word meant sincerely is good, think how tremendous a thousand will be.

The voice is indeed a crucial part of this prayer, for “when ... faith is exercised by vocally repeating the Our Father and Hail Mary of the Rosary prayers, … it is evident how close we are brought to Mary … [who] stands revealed at once as God's Mother and our Mother.” Truly there is a great power in our words, and “by [these] vocal prayers with which [the rosary] is intermingled, we are enabled to express and profess our faith in God.”

We are thus faced with a prayer system which is theologically sound and mechanically beautiful, which should not fail to bring many souls closer to Christ.


But the most biblical aspect of the rosary has yet to be discussed: the mysteries themselves. These events, taken directly from the Gospels, place us directly into the shoes of Mary and Christ, as they make salvation history. “We are once more brought face to face with the marvel of our salvation; we watch the mysteries of our Redemption as though they were unfolding before our eyes.”

We also see how important Mary’s relationship with Christ is here; when something happens, she is there, when a new chapter unfolds, she is witness to it. Jesus, in His life and death, can not escape the loving and sorrowful gaze of His mother. We can thus “bring to mind the divine and everlasting bond which links her with the joys and sorrows, the humiliations and triumphs of Christ in directing and helping mankind to eternal life.”

Meditating on these mysteries no doubt causes the reception of innumerable graces, for they tell the very story of God’s love. The Scriptures tell us “blessed is the man [whose] … delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night,” and “this book of the law … you shall meditate on it day and night.” Paul commands us to “think about these things” which are good and true and beautiful. Furthermore, we are taught:
“Meditation engages thought, imagination, emotion, and desire. This mobilization of faculties is necessary in order to deepen our convictions of faith, prompt the conversion of our heart, and strengthen our will to follow Christ. Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in ... the rosary. This form of prayerful reflection is of great value, but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with him.”
By meditating on the holy mysteries, we open ourselves to the love that bonds Mary and Christ, and it is no wonder that “she who was so intimately associated with the mystery of human salvation is just as closely associated with the distribution of the graces which for all time will flow from the Redemption.” 

And so we come to the mysteries: “the chief mysteries of our religion follow one another, as they are brought before our mind for contemplation: first of all the mysteries in which the Word was made flesh,” at the moment of the Incarnation, at the Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary, “and Mary ... performed her maternal duties for Him with a holy joy,” during her visit to her cousin, Elizabeth, the birth of Christ, His Presentation, and His childhood. “There come then the sorrows, the agony,” in a garden, at a pillar, under a crown of thorns, and under a cross, “and [the] death of the suffering Christ … then follow the mysteries full of His glory; His triumph over death, the Ascension into heaven, the sending of the Holy Spirit, the resplendent brightness of Mary received among the stars, and finally the everlasting glory of all the saints in heaven united with the glory of the Mother and her Son.”

Additionally, one can use the Luminous mysteries, given to us in this century: Christ’s Baptism, His acts at Cana, His Proclamation of the Kingdom, His Transfiguration, and His Last Supper.


Accused of idolatry, blasphemy, heresy, stupidity, unchristianity, Catholics still are praying the rosary. The only reasonable explanation is that, like myself, they continue to be enriched by grace through it, and through the Scriptures which it proudly upholds. To those who will not understand Mary’s importance, let them think of their own mother’s influence on them. May her tender wisdom assist all Christians in growing closer to Christ.


1. The Holy Bible. Revised Standard Version. Second Catholic Edition. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006. Print.

2. Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiæ. Web.

3. Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. ST PAULS PUBLICATIONS. Print.

4. Leo XIII. Encyclical Letter. Magnae Dei Matris. 8 September 1892. Web.

5. Leo XIII. Encyclical Letter. Octobri Mense. 22 September 1891. Web.

6. The Rosary (Bishop Fulton J. Sheen) audio, June 17, 2011.

7. Vatican Council II. Dei verbum. Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. 18 November 1965. Web.

8. Leo XIII. Encyclical Letter. Diuturni Temporis. 5 September 1898. Web.

9. Leo XIII. Encyclical Letter. Adiutricem. 5 September 1895. Web.

10. Leo XIII. Encyclical Letter. Fidentem Piumque Animum. 20 September 1896. Web

This paper was written for my Spring 2014 Word of God: Scripture & Tradition college class. All necessary editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this text.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Forbidden Planet (1956) - A Response

While Forbidden Planet (1956) involves alien races, advanced robotics, and revolutionary technology, the movie more or less takes these elements for granted. The “vortex” in the movie is not one of space or of time, but of the mind.

The film is set in humanity’s future, and concerns the crew of a rescue mission contacting a colony planet which earth has lost contact with. All but two of the colonists have been destroyed through violent but unknown means, leaving behind only Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis). As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that the monster that has destroyed the colonists is the same that destroyed the planet’s previous inhabitants: the invisible but very physical manifestation of the id.

While the superhuman Krell’s own subconscious destroyed them, it is now Morbius (who has undergone a mind-altering technological procedure which has given him enhanced capabilities) who now threatens the planet. Awakened by threats to his childish and innocent daughter, the manifestation of his jealousy begins to kill off the crew.

It is clear that the wonder and terror the film produces is not dependent on the interplanetary travel or the technology that is discovered, but on the strange and frightening nature of the human person. This is “an important film within the genre because of its deliberate and foregrounded references to psychoanalysis” (Cornea, 2007, p. 53) and this quality makes the story stronger than a mere adventure flick; it is intimately relatable across genres.

It was noted that “what is unusual about Forbidden Planet is the fact that the threatening alien force, the monster, is seen to emanate from the mind of the male scientist” (Cornea, 2007, p. 56). The scientist is the figure who, in horror as well as science fiction, is portrayed as an authority, as having the answers. While not always sympathetic, he mainly plays the part of the savior, or the destroyer, set above the rest of humanity in some way. Here, the scientist is put on the level of those around him in a devastating and game-changing twist; he shares the same weakness as those of lower intelligence, and has found it to be his downfall.

The Freudian “tri-partite structuring” (Cornea, 2007, p. 53) motif can be seen in imagery the film uses. The Edenic gardens that Altaira spends her time in, at one with nature and the creatures that fill it, is analogous to the superego: this is the world as it should be, where peace and innocence are the standards. The red effects used to show the outline of the invisible monster representing the id can be seen in the laser of the commander (Leslie Nielsen), who destroys one of the previously gentle animals who, in the former’s presence, attacks Altaira. Lastly, the mechanical lair filled with the Krell’s machines (and Robbie the Robot) represent the ego, as they are the devices created to control and negotiate in a world of conflict.

Cornea, C. (2007). Science Fiction Films in the 1950s. In Science fiction cinema between fantasy and reality (p. 53-57). New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

This response was written for the Science Fiction Cinema college course I am currently taking. All necessary editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this text.

King Kong (1933) - A Response

King Kong (1933) is a hybrid film; while often considered horror, there is much of it that seems like high adventure, with strong elements of science fiction, often coming off more like dark fantasy. Though the film is filled with now-tired clichés and some lifeless performances, the narrative and visual effectiveness keep it enthralling to this day.

The catalyst of the plot, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), is a likeable, but altogether devious figure. He aims to get exactly what he wants (in this case, a smash hit) and gets exactly that. Though he may be the textbook protagonist of the film, he is not the hero - that role is Kong’s. Kong is who we see grow and change throughout the film, starting as a mere symbol of fear, and becoming a character who we pity and respect. It is interesting to note that Denham is never punished for his pettiness, he walks away, mainly unscathed, even closing the movie with a line and a swagger. This ironic role reversal of hero and villain could be seen as merely value blindness of the day (and of filmmakers), or as self-criticism cleverly interwoven into the plot.

Willis O’Brien provides timeless stop-motion special effects, perhaps the most famous element of the film. He is the one who made Kong not just a monster, but a character. While his creatures may not be technically convincing or accurate, they still deliver: they truly are how a child might imagine a dinosaur would be like, and in this way, they tap into a place of fear and excitement that modern CGI seldom can.

There is obvious racial and sexual commentary in the film, especially in the relationship between the actress, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and Kong. Aside from the black/white tension and rape metaphor, there is a theme of men pursuing women - first Denham searching for an actress, then the natives bargaining for Ann as a sacrifice, then Kong fighting desperately to find and keep his pet. These pursuits lead to destruction in one way or another, leading to the classic line “It was beauty killed the beast.”

One of the more curious details is the fact that the indigenous race of Skull Island are said to have built the wall (which functions as a “vortex,” or a barrier that separates reality from fiction) long ago, when they had a higher level of technological advancement. They have since devolved into the savage and superstitious tribe we see in the movie. Cornea explains that “the shock wave caused by Charles Darwin’s revolutionary book … was felt throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and many early films showed a concern with human evolution and the biological sciences” (Cornea, 2007, p. 15). This has interesting connotations for the horror element of the movie, implying that we not only fear attacks from those less evolved than us, both human and beast, but that we also fear our own devolution. Will there come a time when we forget our advancements, when we no longer know how to control the monsters of our past?

Cornea, C. (2007). Introduction: The Formation of the Genre. In Science fiction cinema between fantasy and reality (p. 15). New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

This response was written for the Science Fiction Cinema college course I am currently taking. All necessary editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this text.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Beowulf: Warrior and King

This essay was written in response to the following prompt: "Over the course of the poem, Beowulf transitions from a powerful warrior to a wise leader. His transition demonstrates that a differing set of values governs these two roles. In this society, what makes a warrior a good warrior and what makes a king a good king? Contrast these two roles, and analyze how Beowulf exemplifies a good warrior and then later a good king."

The epic of Beowulf begins with the Germanic hero exhibiting bravery, endurance, and selflessness, necessary ingredients for a warrior who will defeat one monster after another. But once Beowulf becomes king, instead of losing these traits through disuse, he only increases in them. In fact, if the king had become a cautious warrior as time went on, he may have survived this tale; but as we see in the end, his valor leads to his honorable death. The changes that Beowulf undergoes are positive rather than negative, for with his experience as warrior and king come wisdom and leadership.

A mysterious but imposing figure is Beowulf when he enters the story. He presents himself as a problem solver, an answer to the trials that the Danes have undergone. It is hard not to see him as a savior archetype, especially in light of his willingness to die in battle against Grendel, saying “if death must take me … no further for me need'st food prepare!” (11). It is clear that Beowulf puts duty before pleasure and safety, his skill alone demands that he use it to right wrongs. He is so devoted to valor that he is chagrined by the cowardly actions of Unferth, who is told that he is “the bane of thy brethren dear, thy closest kin, whence curse of hell awaits thee, well as thy wit may serve!” (14-15). Beowulf puts his soul before his life, thinking it better to die in battle, fulfilling his duty, than to run from conflict and damn himself.

The role of warrior is further exemplified by Beowulf’s treatment of authority. After his underwater victory over Grendel’s mother, he brings back the spoils of the monster and presents them to the Danish king: “Lo, now, this sea-booty … we've lustily brought thee, sign of glory; thou seest it here” (40). The reward which he could have kept as his own, he gives up in honor of his host. When the same king suffered the death of his friend, Beowulf encourages him to take heart and let him bring justice to the killer, telling him that “it beseems us better friends to avenge than fruitlessly mourn them.” (33). This demonstrates that the warrior values action and vengeance over remaining in a state of grieving.

The monster Grendel is described as a creature of murky origin, “his father they knew not, nor any brood that was born to him of treacherous spirits” (33). The indecisiveness of his nature and the bizarreness of his behavior easily make him a metaphorical figure of evil itself; demonic, hideous, and merciless. Beowulf, then, becomes the slayer of this evil, the vanquisher of demons and darkness. The warrior can now be seen as a cure for all ills, one who puts all things right fearlessly and flawlessly.

Beowulf, soon to become a king himself, begins to show the signs of it. The Danish king Hrothgar tells him “Firmly thou shalt all maintain, mighty strength with mood of wisdom” (41). Beowulf is becoming, not just a monster hunter, but a leader of men, a father figure. In the same breath, Hrothgar warns him against the corruption that so often comes with power, foreseeing that his power would soon extend to rulership. Hrothgar tells him of another, less wise king: “Though him the Maker with might endowed, delights of power, and uplifted high above all men … he endured all joyless strain of struggle and stress of woe ... Here find thy lesson! Of virtue advise thee!” (41). He spells out the makings of a good king: gentleness, generosity, and peace.

Later, Beowulf exercises his wisdom when he mentions the situation of an arranged marriage that he had witnessed in the land of the Danes. He tells his own king that these intermarriages rarely work when they have bad blood behind them, saying that “seldom ever when men are slain, does the murder-spear sink but briefest while, though the bride be fair!” (48). Years pass, and Beowulf becomes king. As he grows in age, he grows in experience and endurance. Fifty years of hard times and tragedy have made him hard as steel in a way that simply being the adventurer and warrior didn't (57-60). Though hardship has been plentiful in his life, Beowulf prides himself on remaining a just king; in his dying speech he says “I cared for mine own; feuds I sought not, nor falsely swore ever on oath” (65). Beowulf has done his best, and died a hero because of it.

“A good king he!” (57) says the narrator of the poem, and this Beowulf is. He is beloved by all for both his heroism, and his wisdom. Upon his death, he is greatly mourned, and all agree that their nation is doomed to fall apart without his hand to guide it. The loyalty he inspired among his people is represented in Wiglaf, the one soldier to stay and fight with him until his death, of whom it is said “the soul of one with care was cumbered. Kinship true can never be marred in a noble mind!” (61). This king is one who inspires true courage in the hearts of good men.

We have seen the transformation of a brave warrior to a wise king, a change which builds upon itself instead of being a handicap. As a king, Beowulf has all the strength and valor he had in his younger years, but has wisdom and experience that he never had before. Though his warrior spirit eventually leads him to his death, he would go down in legend as the greatest warrior-king that ever lived.

This paper was written for my Fall 2014 Western Civilization college class. Editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this essay. All references are from this translation of the text.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Why Is "Shut Up and Dance" Popular?

Summer has come early in my little corner of Steubenville; a long and tiresome winter has made us all want to skip through Spring and jump to the good stuff. Amid the limitless energy and trendiness of the quasi-hipster FUS drama department, it seems there is one song on everyone’s lips: Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon. Released last fall, this earworm is bound to be a Summer hit of 2015. Since I’m in the (for me) rare position of being around people who know where it’s at, I have the privilege of witnessing a bit of pop-culture history in the making, seeing what may well be an upcoming legend in the days before it becomes mainstream.

Image taken from the comment section of the official "Shut Up and Dance" music video.

This phenomenon has got me thinking about what makes a song popular, particularly this one. Sure, it has an infectious power-pop melody, a hilariously fun chorus, and, of course, it’s about love. But is that all there is to the song? My powers of overanalysis don’t think so (If you haven’t heard the song, and you’re the kind of person who likes to experience art before any criticism of it, I encourage you to scroll down and listen to it now).

The first thing to notice is the effective songwriting which does well in describing the innocent euphoria of falling in love. But this isn't any love, it's sweeping, epic, sexy love at first sight. When the protagonist of the song encounters the woman in question on the dance floor, there is a helpless internal reaction in both of them, one which causes them to see the other as the most important person in the room.

We were victims of the night,
The chemical, physical, kryptonite
Helpless to the bass and the fading light

For those who have a romantic connection to someone, whatever form it may take, it is easy to put yourself and whoever is in your heart directly into this song. The characters are acting out exactly what you long for: an effortless and purposeful connection.

Taking this theme further, the song makes clear that this isn't just an isolated instance of passion, a thrill that will eventually die down and pass, but something permanent.

This woman is my destiny
I knew we were born to be together

These lyrics are just what we want to say about our own love with confidence. Everyone dreams of someone they were destined to be with, someone whose existence completes their own. This is where the song hits you, right in the fundamental desire for eternal love.

These lofty ideas may seem out-of-place against the pop rock context of the song, but this is exactly what makes the song, and many songs like it, so powerful. The song is set on a dance floor, an environment that is easy to refer to derisively and disparagingly. It's an environment that has several connotations, one being that of the "cool party life": the fun, energetic, highly-sexed arena of youth and music. Also, that of the love-struck; falling in love on the dance floor is not a new idea by any means. This environment is obviously one that carries a cultural significance; this is a place where people want to meet "the other." By setting this love story in this environment, and linking it to an eternal value (which countless songs fail to do), Shut Up and Dance is affirming our desire, telling us that true love is attainable exactly where we seek it out.

The song includes imagery that suggests that this woman is the romantic ideal of the speaker, an archetype he has recognized for years before. He can tell that this woman fulfills a desire in him that he has felt for his whole life.

A backless dress and some beat up sneaks
My discothèque Juliet teenage dream

While we all may or may not find a romantic partner, I think these themes can be applied to a more infinite point of view. The desire for love that we all feel can be traced back to the desire for God, and we partially satisfy this desire in our encounters with Christ. These encounters aren't simply abstract, spiritual incidents, but incarnate interactions with other people; we meet Christ "on the dance floor" so to speak. If it was only possible to encounter Christ through intense sessions of isolated meditation, it would be a dry faith indeed, but we are given the gift of Christ in every person, in every event we participate in. Consider the words of the chorus:

"Oh, don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me."
I said, "You're holding back,"
She said, "Shut up and dance with me!"

They seem very forceful for coming from a stranger at a club, don't they? It's because they aren't from a stranger; these words come from someone who knows you, who loves you. They are so appealing because on some level we recognize that we either have met, or want to meet this amazing reality in someone, indeed, in everyone we know. The words are telling us to forget about impressions and artifice and to celebrate the point-of-view-transforming joy that Christ reveals in all things. Deep down, we all want to look past appearances and see the Truth that lies underneath.

So what do you think? Are these resonances the root of the song's appeal, or do people just like saying "Shut up and dance with me!"?

Note: Details of lyrics are rendered as accurately as possible given the limitations of the consensus-hating internet.