Weekend Reads: Hamilton, Ennio Morricone, Video Game Violence, The Far Side, Critical Race Theory

Recommended weekend reading material for July 11, 2020.

Every week, I compile a list of interesting, thought-provoking, and enjoyable articles, blog posts, and reviews. I hope they provide you with some good weekend reading material.

Like many of you, my family watched Hamilton on Disney+ over the July 4th weekend. I’m not usually a fan of musicals, but I found it very enjoyable, and it’s obvious why so many people (like my wife) love it so much. But it’s worth keeping in mind that for all of its value and genius, Hamilton is still entertainment, not history.

Although [historian Annette Gordon-Reed] praised the multiethnic portrayal of the Founding Fathers, she wondered whether the casting has helped “submerge” the issue of slavery. She also mused about how the play diverged from the efforts of historians who for the past 50 years have tried to bring a more complicated narrative to the era.

Hamilton is a good reminder that we need to realize that flawed, limited, imperfect human beings create flawed, limited, imperfect things and it’s possible to love something while still recognizing its shortcomings and weaknesses. (To his credit, even Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda recognizes this.)

Related: A profile of one of Hamilton’s most important characters: the Bullet.

Legendary composer Ennio Morricone, arguably best known for his iconic scores for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Westerns, has died at the age of 91.

The Italian composer, who scored more than 500 films — seven for his countryman Leone after they had met as kids in elementary school — died Monday in Rome following complications from a fall last week in which he broke his femur.

Tributes to Morricone have poured in from the likes of Massive Attack, Edgar Wright, Antonio Banderas, New Order, and Chance the Rapper. Meanwhile, Bandcamp considers Morricone’s legacy and influence.

IndieWire has released their list of the 40 best fantasy movies of all time. Many of the entries are obvious (e.g., Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Studio Ghibli) but some of them may surprise you.

These 40 fantasy films open up new worlds and new paths of understanding and empathy. Space-borne fantasy — “Star Wars” and its ilk, a rich enough world to inspire its own list — is excluded here, as are films in which fantasy is expressed primarily as simply daydreams. These are triumphs of imagination and world-building that seem incapable of losing their power to enchant.

In addition to being one of 2020’s most acclaimed video games, The Last of Us Part II is a perfect example of one of the problems inherent to violent video games.

The developers at Naughty Dog… have finally bridged the gap between story and action, dragging the story kicking and screaming and gurgling on its own blood to align with what you actually do in their games: kill people. The result is surreal, an expensive narrative experiment depicting what would actually happen if a real human being behaved like a video game character.

If this isn’t a cause for celebration, then I don’t know what is: The Far Side’s Gary Larson has returned to cartooning.

The “New Stuff” that you’ll see here is the result of my journey into the world of digital art. Believe me, this has been a bit of a learning curve for me. I hail from a world of pen and ink, and suddenly I was feeling like I was sitting at the controls of a 747. (True, I don’t get out much.) But as overwhelmed as I was, there was still something familiar there — a sense of adventure.

I’m with Kottke: “The new stuff is more painterly and definitely has that drawn-in-Procreate feel to it, but… Larson’s trademark humor is very much in evidence.”

Back in the ‘70s, the Trees Community offered a truly outsider approach to Christian music and culture.

With its focus on meditation and improvisation — earlier seemingly telepathic jams at the original loft continued to inform the group’s performances long after the acid had been excised from the scene — the group’s communal, feet-in-the-soil lifestyle looked strikingly different from the baby boomers who’d begun returning to churches. Sure, groovy clothes, flowing hair, and the occasional ripper were permitted in those spaces, but the theology remained largely conservative. What was happening in the odd, liturgical world of the Trees was something entirely different.

If you want some truly sublime and unusual music, then I highly recommend The Christ Tree, which is currently available on CD and vinyl. Songs like “Psalm 42” and “Psalm 45” are quite unlike anything you’ll hear in regular Christian music circles, and “Jesus He Knows” and “I Will Not Leave You Comfortless” are delightful little gems in their own right.

To this day, I’m hard-pressed to think of anything that sounds like a better deal than the Columbia Record & Tape Club and its promise of 11 albums for a penny.

Though business journalists have demystified the formula driving the Columbia Record & Tape Club, I remain hypnotized. Because in early 1983, when I was 12, there was no Craigslist or eBay or sidewalk boxes full of Crash Test Dummies discs. Back then, I marked my selections on the form in Parade magazine, added my mom’s check for $1.86 — the penny plus $1.85 for shipping — and waited by the mailbox.

I never joined myself, but I had friends who were members, and I used their connections to get a few albums back in high school.

Country music act Lady Antebellum recently changed their name to Lady A because of their former name’s association with slavery. However, Anita White had already been been performing under that moniker for two decades. Lady A (the band of white people) has now sued Lady A (the black woman) after the latter asked for $10 million to help rebrand and restart her career and support other black artists. This is not, as the kids might say, a good look for Lady A (the band, that is).

Growing up, “post-modernism” and “relativism” were the big bugaboos in my Christian circles. They’ve since been replaced by “Critical Race Theory” and “Marxism.” But given the current social media-driven clamor, most Christians may not know what those terms actually mean or how we ought to think of them.

Critical Race Theory is indeed deeply informed by Marxism. As a result, I recognize that, as a Christian scholar, I will not agree with all of its tenets. However — and bear in mind, this is coming from someone who wrote a dissertation about the ways in which Russian poets coped with Marxist-Leninist oppression — Marx was not wrong about absolutely everything. Very few thinkers are (probably because they are all made in God’s image) wrong about everything.

From the Blog

Earlier this week, I finished watching Dark, a tangled and elaborate German series about time travel that’s one of the most intriguing, engrossing, and stylish sci-fi titles that Netflix has released to date.

Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay Dark is that even when I felt completely confused, bewildered, and lost amidst all of the timelines, character arcs, and whatnot, I never got the feeling that the series itself was out of control, or that its creators didn’t know what they were doing.

Click here to read my full review. I always try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but I’m not sure that spoilers could ruin a series as convoluted as Dark.

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