Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Builders and Destroyers

I’ve been reflecting on this concept for quite some time – Neal Postman, in his famously unused graduation speech captures it well, but I’ve seen evidence of its truth all about of late. The basic idea is this: there are some who relish destruction – they love to tear down and to destroy. There are others who love to create and build – they envision things and they take the necessary steps to make those things reality.

The destroyers are evident – even among “creative” types. Witness for instance films like Rob Zombie’s uber-violent films or the ultra-subversive The Aristocrats. The basic goal of these films is to undercut anything that is decent and good and lovely. The goal is to offend, shock, and otherwise tear down things that we value; everything is subject to undercutting/mocking/destruction.

Or witness the more dark trends in comic books (or graphic novels, as we like to say now to dignify the genre). The storytelling is still quite grand, and the art is fantastic – but the types of stories that are being told are nihilistic and appalling (the same can be said for the films of Quentin Tarentino – When I first saw Reservoir Dogs, for instance, I thought that it was a wonderfully told film – a very neat way of telling the story – but the story itself sucked joy out of my life). The lust for subversion and glorification of darkness, violence, and general cruelty are marks of those who relish destruction.

And that is their right, and to a degree artistic responsibility – art does shine light on the whole human endeavor, glorious and profane. We need artistic reminders of our depravity, for our depravity is real. However, we also need artistic reminders that we bear the imago dei – that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. A few shining examples are out there: The first two Spider-Man films, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Passion of the Christ, Finding Neverland, the most excellent adaptation of Peter Pan that came out last year. And yet it still seems the destroyers are ascendant.

I even saw this theme as I was working on my next installment for "The Gospel According to Shakespeare": Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare depicts the wrath of the destroyers and the sorrow they cause – when the goth princes Demetrius and Chiron rape and mutiliate the heroine Lavinia, cutting out her tongue and chopping off her hands, we have a picture of the wrath of destroyers. They did this simply for the joy of “having” her, and when they were done, they were fixated on cruelty and destruction.

Lavinia’s uncle Marcus, on finding the ravaged girl in the woods, utters a long and terribly sad speech:
“…he hath cut those pretty fingers off,
That could have better sewed than Philomel.
O, had the monster seen those lily hands
Tremble like aspen leaves upon a lute
And make the silken strings delight to kiss them,
He would not then have touched them for his life.
Or had he heard the heavenly harmony
Which that sweet tongue hath made,
He would have dropped his knife and fell asleep
As Cerberus at the Thracian poet’s feet.” (42-51)

Again, the contrast of the creators and the destroyers – Lavinia, the creator of beauty, has come up against the destroyers, and fared badly in the bargain.

Postman, in his speech, casts builders (Like Lavinia) as Athenians and destroyers as Visigoths. He challenges us to nourish the inner Athenian. It seems too that God has called us to be builders -- Genesis 1 tells us that we were charged to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. Matthew 5 tells us to let our light shine before men that they may see our good deeds and praise our Father in heaven. I take these passages to point us toward building around us a culture that celebrates truth, beauty, and goodness.

Building is as simple as tending your garden, baking goods for your neighbors, generally being involved in culture and making a positive contribution (perhaps even writing a web log????). Far too often, I fall into the trap of neither being a builder nor a destroyer, but simply a consumer -- enjoying all the benefits of being surrounded by builders, without contributing anything myself.

Now is the time to step into the fray, overcome our fear, and begin to build.
More to come....

Soli Deo Gloria