Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Naked Truth: Theology of the Nude Body in Art

The word “nudity” has a lot of negative connotation, thanks to our broken nature. And thanks to a culture that’s saturated in sex, the body has been perverted and twisted into an object to be used. 
So when we talk about nude art, it’s common for many to hit a wall and write it off as disgraceful. Art should keep the body covered! Have some sense of dignity! Right?
The body, created by God, is inherently good, and nudity in art is totally aligned with Theology of the Body. Christopher West, a renowned Theology of the Body writer and speaker, has an article on his website on this very subject.
He mentions John Paul II insisted that the loincloths painted over the nude figures in the Sistine Chapel be removed, saying that it was the “sanctuary of the theology of the human body”.  West quotes John Paul II, saying this nude art “allows one to concentrate in some way on the whole truth of man, on the dignity and beauty — even ‘suprasensual’ beauty — of masculinity and femininity”.
In this age, we have to fight the culture that distorts the body. Artists, who Benedict XVI says are the “custodians of beauty”, have the special responsibility to reclaim the body as God’s masterpiece and to show the dignity of the entire person through the human form in their artwork. Art is meant to say something to society, and our message should be shooting from the rooftops that God's creation is beautiful and good.

Of course, the artwork itself must reflect that dignity. It can never be shown in a sexualized, objectifying manner that reduces the person to a merely sexual being, and the intention behind the work cannot be one of lust.
Rather than showing only body parts, it should show the entirety of the body, to reflect that the body is part of the whole person. Pope John Paul II said that pornography is evil not because it shows too much of a person, but because it shows too little of the whole person.
While authentic nude art is beautiful, we need to train ourselves to see the body the way God does, and to control the part of us that’s been whitewashed. We need to stop looking at the body the way the world does: as something bad, shameful and merely sexual.
The person is more than that. We are body and soul. To reject either one and say that it's bad is to reject God's goodness. Our bodies were created by God and are therefore good, and bodies became even more glorified when God Himself came and took on a human body to walk among us. When we show the entirety of the body in all its dignity and glory, as Michelangelo did in the Sistine Chapel or with David, we glorify God. We recognize his creation for what it is.
The body belongs to God, not the world. We can start a ripple effect, hoping that at least with our own work, we will slowly help people see the body the way God sees it: purely.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Problem of Dating

Girls, you see a cute guy. Instantly, you hope you have the chance to get to know him better. You make yourself available, you introduce yourself, you make small talk with him. Eventually, you get to know him a bit and he seems like a swell guy. 

But then nothing happens. Over and over. Maybe he wasn’t interested after all? Or maybe there’s a lot going on in his mind that women don’t quite understand. 

It’s not hard to look around and notice that there’s a problem in dating. Our culture has shifted dramatically over the past few decades, especially with the increase in technology. 

With dating, it seems to have responded to these changes with two extremes: the first is the “hookup” culture, where men and women go from complete strangers to sexual partners in a very short amount of time. 

The second extreme makes dating too serious. These relationships take too long to develop and very often, the guy is paralyzed to even ask the girl out. 

While men may have always struggled with mustering up the courage to ask a girl out, the problem seems to have gotten worse.

Several college men weighed in and expressed their take on what the problem is, and why it’s become more of a problem. Ultimately, all of them agreed, this problem stems from a man’s fear of rejection.

“In the secular world, it’s hard because he wants to get into her pants before her heart. [The other extreme is] men are afraid that they’re going to screw up the relationship and are afraid of that failure,” said Peter Ambrose, a business student.

“I call it the ‘rifle effect’. Guys just want to shoot once, but the odds are way better off with a shotgun.” 

One of the biggest reasons, besides fear, that men don’t ask women out is a lack of commitment, Ambrose said. 

“In the hookup culture, there is no responsibility. Why commit when you can have pleasure?” Ambrose said. 

Sure, fear of rejection is a legitimate obstacle to overcome in pursuit of a woman. But why does this problem seem more pronounced now? Stanton Skerjanec, a political science student, believes the 1960’s sexual revolution played a significant part in the shift of today’s dating scene. 

“There was a blur between feminine and masculine. Sexism was a real thing, but feminism was devastating,” he said.

He thinks that because radical feminism encouraged women to take on masculine roles, the men became more passive, and sometimes, even feminine. 

Another huge factor in the dating problem to consider is the advancement in technology. While it has developed leaps and bounds in a very short span of time, it also carries with it some cons, including a culture that has become less personable and in tune with meaningful social interaction.

“With new technology, we have the possibility of making so many connections,” said Ryan Bax, an engineering student. “We can meet so many more people. Back then [before modern technology], there was less opportunity, so you had to take that chance. Now you can still meet a lot of people.”

“Back then, we didn’t have multimedia and all these things we kind of use as a crutch,” said Thomas Defilippis, a math and English student.  “I don’t believe in having a conversation in text — it’s trying to impress. It’s an idea of who that person is. It needs to be in person so you can see body language.”

Although our dating scene has been affected by fear of rejection or commitment, feminism and technology, these men all agreed that to counteract the problem, it’s helpful to be friends first. 

Ambrose shared that in his opinion, there should be four steps to a naturally progressing relationship. Step one begins with friendship. Step two moves to a one on one relationship, where the man asks a girl on a casual date, such as going to coffee. Step three is “courtship and dating”, where the relationship becomes more exclusive and committed. Step four is “engagement and discernment”, when the couple is more intensely discerning whether they should marry.

Skerjanec agreed with this theory of natural progression.

“We don’t give casual dating enough credit … it’s like a flower. It has to bloom, not burst forth,” he said. 

 “Deepen friendships first. A lot of people put on a face with dating. When you’re friends first, you get to see their real face first,” said Joseph Poretta, a business management and marketing student.  

“Ask friends on dates! One date won’t ruin a relationship, and be up front. There’s gotta be girls in mind that you’re dying to get to know — or you’re just being too picky,” Bax said.

A huge gray area of miscommunication, however, is flirting. It’s difficult to appropriately show interest and will almost always look different in every person. And while all of these men agreed that while it was appropriate for a girl to flirt and show interest, the man should be the one initiating a relationship.

“I’m a big fan of the guy doing all this. The guy should ask out. Flirting adds excitement to friendships, but it’s a gray area. I’m totally okay with it. But if it goes on for too long, it can be confusing and someone needs to step up and say something,” Bax said. 

And while friendships with the opposite sex are wonderful, if you’re pursuing a relationship, at some point, a man just needs to step up and actually ask. 

“When asking a girl out, it should be very intentional. You really have to step out and just go for it. The guy has to take control, the guy has to make the move, even if he doesn’t know,” Defilippis said. 

“I think that’s the healthy way. I lay down my pride and my dignity, and she could say no. But that’s the way it has to be done. It’s very nerve-racking and girls don’t know how scary it is.”

In the end, the state of dating is not doomed — but its problems are something to be aware of. And though it’s tempting to complain about the challenges, it can be motivation to be the best example of balance in our lives, even in the area of dating. 

And yes, there are good men out there.

“For those that say chivalry is dead, chivalry is not dead, they’re just looking in the wrong places,” Defilippis said. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Pardox of "Royals": A push for anti-consumerism in a mainstream music industry

Blood stains. Ball gowns. Trashin’ the hotel room. We don’t care, we’re driving Cadillacs in our dreams.
“Royals”, the indie-pop single of the moment that has managed to knock Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” from the top spot, plants an ironic anti-consumerist flag in the entertainment industry. 
Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O'Connor, better known by her stage name as Lorde, manages to break into mainstream pop with a message that challenges its obsession with wealth — a decidedly anti-mainstream meaning. 
In a materialistic culture that thrives on selling products, implicitly telling consumers that they are never enough, Lorde reminds us that, contrary to this belief, we’re actually okay without all that. 
Without worrying about keeping up with the latest, not only are we free to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, but we can rest in that it’s okay to be normal. 
We’ll never be royals/ it don’t run in our blood/ that kind of luxe just ain’t for us/ we crave a different kind of buzz,” she sings. “And everyone that knows us knows that we’re fine with this/ we didn’t come for money [… ] Life is great without a care/ we aren’t caught up in your love affair.”
And while Lorde specifically sings about money and the music industry, this can be applied to anything: feeling pressure to conform to standard ideas of beauty or to be so accomplished in the professional world by the time we reach 25. 
These things aren’t bad in themselves, but becoming too wrapped up in them, we forget what’s really important. “Royals” is a good reminder to stay out of it, and the non-conformist in me loves that idea. 
Despite her youth, Lorde’s communicated a deep truth that many people beyond her years fail to grasp. If we want to be truly happy, we have to shift our mentality of greedy pursuit of royalty — in whatever form it takes in our lives — to a simplistic contentment in who we are and what we already have. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Film Industry Heroes: You're Doin' It Wrong

America loves heroes. I mean, it's in human nature to love a hero because, as Neil Gaiman put it, they "don't show us dragons exist, they show us dragons can be beaten."

In other words, heroes are proof that we can overcome the hardships life throws our way. Their stories show us we are more than our littleness and weakness. We can be strong.

But America is especially obsessed with them. Half the movies coming out nowadays are superhero blockbusters or remakes of favorite heroes of old.

However, I’ve been noticing a growing trend in the way modern heroes are portrayed. 

There's a line from this summer's "The Lone Ranger" that, I think, sums it up: "There comes a time, Kimosabe, when good man must wear mask."

Reminiscent of the story of Robin Hood, the hero of the film, The Lone Ranger, is forced to become a bandit because men, who were supposed to be good, such as sheriffs, were evil. 

Good had to be disguised because the society he lived in no longer recognized good.

The fact that movies like this one are being produced speaks volumes about our culture.

See, our culture has a fascination with anti-heroes, or villians. In disastrous events like Sandy Hook, Aurora Colorado or the Boston Marathon Bombings, our focus is on the killers and why they would commit something so horrible. We hardly glance at the victims, or the emergency response teams that show up to save the day. We're more fascinated by what lunatic is on the loose now. 

G.K. Chesterton said, "The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the center is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately, and the book is monotonous. You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons. The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of today discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world.”

Chesterton's onto something. My whole life, I've wondered why, generally, the stories produced during my lifetime were so forgettable; sure, they were fun initially, but that was it. And on the other hand, old stories like The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, or older stories of King Arthur and Robin Hood, were so memorable. 

It's because now, as a culture, our focus has shifted to the villain; we don't glorify virtue anymore. What was once taboo is celebrated and traditional virtue is mocked and called “outdated”. We went from portraying the normal, every day hero beating the dragons. Now, we focus on the dragon among dragons. 

“The Lone Ranger” was a dud because the hero wasn't actually a hero. (Also the plot was boring.) He didn't sacrifice himself in any way, he didn’t have any "save the day" moments or stunts. He was almost a sidekick to Johnny Depp's anti-hero, Tonto. Tonto wasn't a hero at all, he was incredibly selfish, but he was still the focus of the film.

Even in many superhero movies, there is a growing trend in the "hero" being the guy that's really messed up. Take Robert Downey Jr.'s Ironman, for example. I'll admit, he's as entertaining as heck, but is he a real hero? I don't think so.

 And maybe we like that because we can relate to it, or we're entertained by it. But it doesn't give us anything to look up to. The stories that stay with us are transcendent; they remind us who we were made to be. We were made for more. We were made for greatness. We were made to rise above ourselves, not to be complacent in our weakness. 

I’m not saying that movies like this are wrong to watch; still, it’s good to pay attention to what we’re subliminally being fed in media. They tell us what is worthy of being admired, and if we pay to enjoy that media, we send a message back to the producers that this is the kind of media we want to see.

I’ll pay for the media that praises real virtue and gives me something to hope for, even if the culture I live in no longer recognizes the good.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

"Man of Steel" Review

Henry Cavill in Man of Steel

Grade: B-

If you spent your days since The Dark Knight Rises weeping because Christopher Nolan’s genius might never be found in another superhero again, fear not.

While Christopher Nolan only produces and co-writes Man of Steel, the latest superhero reboot, traces of his grittier hero formula are found…to a point.

The details in Clark Kent’s backstory make this reboot a bit more unique than others and more akin to the The Dark Knight series. Zack Snyder, director, explores Kent’s emotional and social struggles growing up so differently from the rest of us.

The film gives glimpses into Kent’s past, showing him trying save those around him without giving away his gifts, out of fear that he would not be accepted. By the time he’s a young adult, he struggles to find his place in the world that so desperately needs him but would also be wary of his gifts should he show them.

But despite his own fears and those of Mr. and Mrs. Kent, Clark can’t ignore his conscience.  

Before I get into what’s wrong, I have to say, Snyder does so much right in this version. First, exploring Superman’s character itself humanizes him — much like we saw of Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight. The best scenes in the movie are the flashbacks to Kent’s younger years, as the biggest challenge he faces is himself.

Diane Lane and Kevin Costner give terrific performances as Mr. and Mrs. Kent, and Henry Cavill, who plays Superman, gives a soulful turn to both Kent’s vulnerable insecurity and Superman’s moral conviction in a way that balances both the human and super sides of him.

This film is also probably the most obvious about Superman as a Christ-like figure. He comes from another world, he saves humanity, accepts his role as savior at the age of 33. There are several shots in the movie when he falls or flies in the shape of a cross. There’s even a scene where Kent seeks a priest’s advice and Christ radiates through the stained-glass window behind him. Maybe it’s a bit too out there, but personally, I liked the reminder.

But, alas. Despite what’s going for it, we only see glimpses of an epic film with great potential depth until we are drowned in special effects and an overly-drawn out climax battling General Zod in New York City. I almost felt like all those poor buildings did. The film had such potential to revitalize our beloved hero but turns back to the same blockbuster formula of overdone CGI and a cliché climax — thankfully, it ends on a simpler note.

Amy Adams gives a feistier spin to reporter and love interest, Lois Lane, but as a pair, it doesn’t quite seem to work between her and Kent. There’s also very little development on any character other than Kents’s, even costing the film its romance.

As a whole, the movie is entertaining and is a more unique take on a hero, as opposed to, say … The Amazing Spider-Man. Here we actually have a reason to reboot and redefine Superman. And while the film has some great moments, it also loses some of its luster in the middle. Is it worthy of The Dark Knight reboot? No. But is it a good movie? Definitely. It’s certainly received the Nolan-esque “dark and gritty” facelift that most recent superhero movies seem to be applying.

Some critics aren’t gung-ho about the trend of making superhero stories darker. Gone are the “KA-POW!” days of our timeless heroes, but while I believe the darkness has a time and place, I also believe that the trend is a good thing.

 What the darkness does to the superheroes, in giving them some kind of inner conflict, a struggle to accept their responsibility or a struggle to choose the good, is a reflection of our own inner struggle.

We all have the capability for greatness — it’s getting there that’s the hard part. We all struggle with choosing good, with accepting who we are and doing the right thing sometimes. We all have a darkness within us and the battle between evil and good doesn’t just rage in fantasy stories. It happens in our own hearts, on a daily basis.

What the superheroes teach us through it, provided they show that they overcome those struggles and choose good, is there is always hope and always a chance to get up, even if we’ve screwed up.

Darkness isn’t a bad thing. Without it, we wouldn’t have light. But in dark stories, the light must always be shown, because there is the ineffable truth that hope and goodness always wins. And despite its weaknesses, Man of Steel shows this.