Weekend Reads (Oct 29): U2, Halloween, Medieval Theology, The Rapture
Recommended weekend reading for October 29, 2022.
Every week, I compile a list of interesting and thought-provoking articles to offer you some enjoyable weekend reading material.
In his upcoming memoir, Bono reflects on his family, U2’s early days, Live Aid, and giving everyone a free U2 album.
I take full responsibility. Not Guy O, not Edge, not Adam, not Larry, not Tim Cook, not Eddy Cue. I’d thought if we could just put our music within reach of people, they might choose to reach out toward it. Not quite. As one social media wisecracker put it, “Woke up this morning to find Bono in my kitchen, drinking my coffee, wearing my dressing gown, reading my paper.” Or, less kind, “The free U2 album is overpriced.” Mea culpa.
At first I thought this was just an internet squall. We were Santa Claus and we’d knocked a few bricks out as we went down the chimney with our bag of songs. But quite quickly we realised we’d bumped into a serious discussion about the access of big tech to our lives. The part of me that will always be punk rock thought this was exactly what the Clash would do. Subversive. But subversive is hard to claim when you’re working with a company that’s about to be the biggest on Earth.
I still remember how pissed off people were when they woke up to find U2’s Songs of Innocence in their iTunes library. On the one hand, the frustration and concerns about tech overreach (and rock star egos) were certainly understandable. On the other hand, in the grand scheme of things, a free U2 album ranks pretty low on the ways in which technology has negatively impacted our lives.
Released between two of the band’s landmark albums — 2001’s chillingly beautiful Things We Lost in the Fire and 2005’s gleefully noisy The Great Destroyer— it’s a haunting echo of an album, comprising long passages and tunnels through grief, uncertainty and countless moments of harrowing tension. “I was frustrated a lot at that time, I was writing a lot of songs about dying, and people dying,” Sparhawk told The Quietus in 2021. “I was mentally ill, and mental illness is frustrating.”
From my review of the album: “As much as I love Low, and as much as their music has impacted me, I had begun to wonder if the only reason I was buying Low records was because they were Low records… Trust, however, is wholly different, an experience that reminds me of why I loved, and continue to love, this trio’s music so much.”
When I saw Low in concert in February 2003, they played several songs from Trust as well as a tribute to Mister Rogers, who had died earlier that day. I recorded most of their set; watch below.
Cory Doctorow uses a bit of obscure technology from the early ‘00s — a handheld barcode scanner called the Cuecat — as a jumping off point to discuss how the tech industry’s relationship with its users has changed since then.
Once we gave companies the power to literally criminalize the reconfiguration of their products, everything changed. In the Cuecat era, a corporate meeting to plan a product that acted against its users’ interests had to ask, “How will we sweeten the pot and/or obfuscate our code so that our users don’t remove the anti-features we’re planning to harm them with?”
But in a world of Felony Contempt of Business Model, that discussion changes to “Given that we can literally imprison anyone who helps our users get more out of this product, how can we punish users who are disloyal enough to simply quit our service or switch away from our product?”
Doctorow also wrote an excellent article on the kerfuffle between Adobe and Pantone, a kerfuffle that might require Adobe users to pay $15/month just so they can keep using their preferred colors in their Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign documents (more info here).
Even as it’s grown in both ability and popularity, AI-generated art has become increasingly controversial, especially in anime and manga circles.
While there’s a long-established culture of creating fan art from copyrighted manga and anime, many are drawing a line in the sand where AI creates a similar artwork. Rest of World spoke to generative AI companies, artists, and legal experts, who saw this backlash as being rooted in the intense loyalty of anime and manga circles — and, in Japan, the lenient laws on copyright and data-scraping. The rise of these models isn’t just blurring lines around ownership and liability, but already stoking panic that artists will lose their livelihoods.
I blogged about the challenges posed by AI-generated art earlier this month: “For all of its impressive-ness, AI-generated art seems like yet another example of developers and engineers assuming a ‘values neutral’ stance and racing ahead without pausing to consider the legal and ethical implications of their work.”
Concentrating too much power in only a couple social media companies is what created the mess we’re in. The way out is more platforms, free to make the best decisions for their users knowing that there are options to leave and less lock-in for developers.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say again and again: if you’re concerned about social media platforms and algorithms, and the control that they exert over our online lives and speech, then stop relying on “Big Tech.” Instead, start your own website and create your own platform. It’s not as scary or difficult as you might think.
Halloween’s right around the corner, so now’s the perfect time to dive into a spooky read. The Thriftbooks staff has picked their favorite scary books (and movies) while K.W. Colyard has compiled a list of the 50 scariest books of all time. For example, Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan:
The title novella of this collection follows one man, Clarke, who begins investigating cases of madness and debauchery — all of which seem to have supernatural causes — after he watches a doctor permanently disable a young woman in pursuit of religious fervor. Recording these strange encounters for posterity, Clarke soon finds himself facing a seductress of great power. At once sexy, grotesque, and grim, Arthur Machen’s horror stories remain some of the most influential — and horrifying — today.
Related: Geoffrey Reiter reflects on Arthur Machen’s career: “Machen’s earlier work effectively manifests the horrific implications that undergird an existence without God; his later work displays compelling (and often beautiful) ways in which God’s presence might break through the barriers that our bland, materialistic modern world place to try to keep Him at bay.”
To be honest, I feel Boorman misreads The Lord of the Rings. He wants to read the Celtic and the Arthurian into the text in a way I do not think the text actually supports. Gandalf is not Merlin, and Galadriel is not the Lady of the Lake. Sure, I am sufficiently revisionistic in my preferences that I would not inherently mind an Arthurian-flavoured take on Tolkien, but as presented here, the story simply becomes too incoherent. Boorman’s ambitions are hampered by his limitations — and trying to put the entire Lord of the Rings into a single three hour film is one hell of a limitation.
What do I mean by incoherence? Well, one need look no further than Gandalf. We actually see Boorman’s Gandalf tauntingly encourage Boromir to take the Ring at one point. We see him psychologically bullying Bilbo. We see him literally abusing Gimli before the Doors of Moria to awaken “ancestral memories.” And yet we (and the other characters) are supposed to feel the same way about this wizard as we do with Tolkien’s original. It’s all very well to make Gandalf a magical trickster with a malevolent streak, but you can’t do such fundamental surgery on the character and hold everything else ceteris paribus. Change one thing, and something else will need to change further down the line.
And that’s not even the weirdest bit. Let’s just say that Galadriel/Frodo shippers would’ve really liked Boorman’s Lord of the Rings movie.
In this beautiful piece, Rachel Miller reflects on medieval and Renaissance theology, and how their perspective changes the way we view our lives and the universe around us.
[N]ot only did God fashion the universe through song, but as the Medieval and Renaissance thinker believed, He taught His creation how to dance to His music. He gave each star, planet, flower, beast, and person a role in His cosmic dance of love. The Renaissance poet Sir John Davies in his poem Orchestra states, “Kind nature first doth cause all things to love / Love makes them dance and in just order move.” Creation was made to love, and through love one lives his or her life, dancing in harmony with God and nature. Under this cosmology, Tillyard tells us that even though “the path of each [created thing] is different, yet all the paths together make up a perfect whole,” dancing in step to God’s creation song. Similar to St. Paul’s body of Christ analogy, which illustrates the diversity and unity in the Church, so the analogy of the cosmic dance underscores “the dignity of all creation”; since God has given each member of the “universe” a specific role to play, “no part is superfluous.”
Finally, as more Christians deconstruct their beliefs, many are experiencing trauma regarding the Rapture, i.e., the belief that Christians will suddenly ascend into heaven one day and leave everyone else behind to suffer.
“Rapture anxiety,” as it is often called, is recognized by some faith experts and mental health professionals as a type of religious trauma. Darren Slade, the president and CEO of the Global Center for Religious Research, has been studying religious trauma across several faiths and denominations for years.
“This is a real thing. It’s a chronic problem,” he says of rapture anxiety. “This is a new area of study, but in general, our research has revealed that religious trauma leads to an increase of anxiety, depression, paranoia and even some OCD-like behaviors: ‘I need to say this prayer of salvation so many times,’ ‘I need to confess my sins so often.’”
“Now imagine,” he continues, “You are taught that at any minute, you could be left here on Earth. What does that do to the teenager who just had premarital sex, or even simply took the Lord’s name in vain?”
As someone who grew up in a church that taught the Rapture, I definitely experienced my fair share of “Rapture moments.” My wife and I like to tell the story of one such moment early on in our marriage, when we were out to dinner. After we’d been seated, I went to the restroom for a few minutes. Upon returning to our table, I didn’t see my wife and dear reader, I confess I had a brief moment of panic that the Rapture had, indeed, happened and I’d been left behind. And then a few seconds later, I realized what had actually happened; the restaurant had simply moved us to another table.
That story’s a far cry from the anxiety and trauma described in the aforelinked article. I have no doubt, however, that others have experienced far worse because of Rapture theology, which — as the article points out — is a fairly recent development that’s based on a particular reading of the Bible and is believed by only a fraction of the world’s Christians.
From the Blog
Twenty years ago this week, Zhang Yimou’s Hero — a star-studded martial arts epic that’s one of the most visually stunning films I’ve ever seen — arrived in Chinese theaters. From my review from 2003:
I can remember several times during the movie when I had to suppress a giggle or a big dopey grin. And there were probably more that I can’t remember as I was likely lost in the movie at the time. I wasn’t grinning because Hero is upbeat or because it suddenly tossed out a humorous scene or bit of dialog. Nothing of the sort happens at all during the film, which never once loses its solemn air. I was simply experiencing that all too rare sensation when a film meets and then completely exceeds every single one of my expectations.
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