Saturday, June 19, 2010

B&B: Basketball and Beelzebub

It's amazing what fits into a line of thought, so precipitous it was that game 7 of the NBA finals was played a couple of nights ago.  Lakers vs. Celtics, the classic, immortal battle of East Coast vs. West Coast.  And the Lakers won in a supposedly amazing comeback by Kobe Bryant.  As you can tell, I care nothing for basketball.  It's not my sport.  Give me the coliseum-like atmosphere of Jerry Jones' palace and a game of Football (that's American football to the people watching the linoleum peel in South Africa).  Football has so often been likened to the Ancient Roman sport of gladiatorial fighting, with two warriors fighting out to the death, or, when that got boring, watching Christians battle it out with the Lions. Real ones, not those in Detroit.  Cause the Lions usually won.  Or there have been the cases where Football has been compared to war, with terms of battle used in the game itself. Find George Carlin's comparison of baseball vs. football on youtube.  Carlin does an amazing job with this. 

There is a blog post, here, which deals with the "Tribalism" of football.  In short, football brings out the "violent tribal reservoir of the hindbrain", or the part of the sub-conscious mind that is wired toward domination, control, destruction.  John Stonger says that we attend sporting events such as football (hockey, wrestling, NASCAR) to see the destruction of another human being through the might and athletic ability of another.  There are teams to be sided on, and profit to be made by being on those teams.  It's the exaltation of mankind through the destruction of another.  And maybe this is taking it a little to extremes, but I think a comparison between tribal desires to raid other people's villages and the organized violence of football can be made.  I don't fully agree with Stonger's essay, or for those who commented below, all of which is worth reading, but I do see where winning and losing in sports can be compared with the forces that "Make" and "Unmake" our world.

As humans, we desire a sense of organization, of order, in our lives. Even as the world around us falls apart.  For example, take my room.  If I do nothing about my room, it will eventually become a pig sty.  This is because the natural order is for things to break down, for chaos to set in.  "The center cannot hold," as Yeats said.  Diane Duane, in her Wizard series, calls this Entropy, after the physics term in which a system breaks down given time and effects on a that system by friction, gravity, etc... It can also be termed "decay".  It makes sense, as only through decay and Entropy can new systems emerge, renewed.  If Las Vegas kept every resort and casino place ever made, those buildings would eventually crumble of their own making, because it is increasingly difficult to maintain a structure when the elements are continuously trying to break it down.  So the structures are torn down, and new buildings are made in their places.  Again, I digress...

Lets go back to the Laker/Celtics game.  The Lakers won, at home, and the spectators spilled out into the streets.  Revelatory (well, for those who were Laker fans), welling with pride for their city and for the athletes who had just been crowned the champions of their sport, most people went home.  Some however, decided that, in a drunken state, that the proper way to celebrate would be to destroy their own city.  Cars were burned, glass windows smashed, goods from store fronts looted.  Where is the pride from seeing those that represent your "tribe" conquer those from another?  You've just seen the best of mankind, athletically, and so now you are going to show us the worst possible behaviors as recompense? It makes no sense, that, after seeing the Creation of a champion team, people would want to spill out into the streets (most not coming from the arena, but rather from houses, bars, and back alleys) and Uncreate their city.  What force lies behind these actions? 

This happens far more often than one might think.  After important football games at the University of West Virginia, the sofas from the residential halls are routinely brought out into the campus and burned.  Most goal posts in football stadiums are now either retractable or easily removed, so that they cannot be broken down and destroyed by fans as they stampede onto the field after a game.  Granted, most of this happens with a generous amount of alcohol, but surely there has to be some underlying reason why, when a game is won, something has to be destroyed.  In a much more benign example, New York City has long had Ticker Tape parades whenever something major happens (from the Yankees winning the World Series, or the Astronauts coming back from the moon).  The symbolic throwing of paper from the windows is one of destroying records and useless files, and throwing them down upon the heads of heroes.  The same metaphoric idea takes place at Texas A&M with the lighting of the giant Bonfire prior to the Texas game. 

What is the motivation behind the riots in Los Angeles? I've been trying to figure this out. I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the idea of Entropy, or "Unmaking," as an opposite force to Creation.  Do an image search for Los Angeles Laker riots, and you'll see many images of people happily acknowledging the act of destruction and mayhem throughout the city.  With their beer bottles and their cigarette lighters in one hand, and a cell phone in the other, they proudly take pictures of themselves in front of a burning car, and then post it on the Internet for the world to see (or at least, they are posing for reporters instead of hiding their faces since they did something illegal).  Is this simply a case of jealousy, a sarcastic message that says, "Wow, you made millions of dollars putting a ball into a hoop while I sit inside a miserable apartment with two kids and no money and a terrible job, and so I'll go out and make myself known to the world?"  Is it a barbaric need to pillage and burn, even your own city, after your "tribe" had conquered the neighboring one?  A misguided instinct brought on by materialism and the violence that wells up from the subconscious.  Honestly, I have no idea. 

I do know that if you look at news reports from June 2009, you'll see the exact same riots going on, since the Lakers won the NBA Championship last year, too.  You would think (and this is sidebar) that the LAPD would have expected such a thing to happen again, and brought out all of their forces to keep such a thing from happening.  If a riot is expected, at least try to stop it.  Unless it's more beneficial to have a riot take place in order to unwind pent up emotions from daily life.  Again, I don't know the answer. 

I do know that there are forces in this world that Create and Uncreate.  Orson Scott Card, in his Alvin the Maker series, has many discussions about the nature of the Unmaker.  He personifies the Unmaker as that of Satan, or as Diane Duane calls it, Death.  That most of us live our whole lives trying to promote building, creation, growth, there are some that would rather propagate destruction, decay, death.  (I looked at this before, October 22, 2007, in this post.) They not only want to destroy all that we have built, the glory of the moment, but they want us to watch them do it.  They want the attention that those who have Created something magnificent have.  They want the power that destroying something brings with it.  The terrorists of 9/11 thrive on it.  And if we forget, they will not hesitate but to send out another taped message, or send a suicide bomber to a busy marketplace in Baghdad.  And always there will be cameras to capture the carnage, and always the Unmakers will proudly claim responsibility.  "Look at us! We have Unmade what you have created!"

Next time, I want to take a look at the Unmakers more closely, at the ways that they "Unmake" a creation, from fame and fortune, to the physical manifestations of mankind.  Lets look more closely at the wind howling around the monument of Ozymandias, and see whether it was Entropy, or mankind's own desire for destruction, that made the desert swallow it whole.

Monday, June 14, 2010

B&B: The Magicians and The Mold

So to recap, God created us in His own image, so we, in turn, have this insatiable desire to Create things in our own image. The Gods themselves, those that were made by the Greek citizens in the polytheistic societies, were ones that had affairs, were greedy, lustful, and did all that mankind would do, but on a supernatural level. They were made in our own image, partially to justify our own behaviors, and also to entertain us of people much more powerful than us that control our universe. That they ultimately fall, and are consumed by those emotions, turning demigods into trees and fair maidens into spiders, those are stories made up to bring the perfect down off their pedestals and make them like us. Just as Joan Osborne did in her song.

This also applies to the rich and famous in today's world. The fall of the mighty off of the pedestals that we made for them (and consequently, tore down), is similar to the stories the ancient Greeks would have made about the Gods on Mt. Olympus. That our "Gods" live in "The White House," or play on "Pebble Beach Golf Course" is immaterial. They do the same thing, from supernatural and society-moving activities to the very human and very base actions of following their own hormones and emotions.

But I digress. Let's switch subjects.


Take a gander over at Google Earth, and walk down the streets on maps that are intricately carved out by satellites speeding across the sky taking pictures of every square millimeter of our planet. Everything is so precise, so final. It lacks the emotional response of the maps made back in the middle ages, where you see the edges of the maps fall off into whiteness, filled with strange creatures, sea dragons, people with one foot and one large eyeball. Those are the frontiers that we still yearn to explore. They could not know what lay beyond the cities and roads they traveled, so they made it up. Created the edges of our worlds with their imaginations, or with stories and rumors from across Europe. What excitement to extend the boundaries that are known, and drawn the coast lines farther, as if some 6 year old with a crayon were creating it from some mystical place. (Actually, there is a book like that. Pick up Harold and the Purple Crayon sometime. It'll only take a second, but it's a magnificent book that shows the idea of "Creating" so simply and elegantly.)

The authors of the present, since the real world is now shown in satellite preciseness and clarity, must create worlds of their own. The maps that you find in the beginning of books are worlds that you will be visiting in those pages. What is the town of "Bree" like on the map of Tolkien's LOTR? How would the world of Narnia look standing at the thrones of the 4 kings and queens? These worlds are as real to us as the maps of the middle ages showed those magnificent creatures swimming at the edges of the unknown. Except the authors of modern day fantasy stories have an advantage. The world is theirs to create entirely. They are the God of that universe, and they can control everything. Such is the mold of every fantasy novel. Much like the potter, spinning his clay on a wheel to make a vase (cue "Unchained Melody"), or a baker kneading the dough out to make bread (with cheese and Rosemary). They all are creating something from a mold, much as God did Adam out of the mud of the riverbank in Eden.

These molds, drawn in intricate detail by each author, are now just as real to us as an atlas of our own Earth. We know what Middle Earth looks like, or Narnia. We know where Hagrid's house is, off to the side of Hogwarts School of Wizardry. And when we read a new book, with a familiar map on the inside of it's cover, we know that we are in for adventures with dragons and elves and dwarfs and whatever else that the creator, the author, has thrown in.

The key to this is our Suspension of Disbelief. We cannot descend into this other world until we have put on pause the belief that this reality is the only one that exists. We have to replace God with "Author" and our universe with another. One good example of this, in story form, is C.S. Lewis' book The Silver Chair, part of the Narnia series. The underground world is one that the witch created, but there are other worlds that we only get a glimpse at, which are farther down and even more strange.

Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

Lev Grossman took the mold that Tolkien, Lewis, and Rowling had kneaded into their universes, and threw them at the real world. He is very aware that, seeing the map on the inside cover of the book, that we are expecting something along the lines of the Narnia series. He knows that, by suggesting a school of wizardry, we are expecting a Harry Potter knock off that will ultimately end in the main character, Quentin Coldwater, saving the universe and blah blah blah... But this is not what happens at all. Because along with the molds of those lands, he throws in the gritty reality of our world. There is no disbelief to suspend at the beginning since Quentin is more interested in sleeping with Julia than studying Potions with Professor Snape. He reads the same pseudo-Narnian stories that we have, and his continued wish for that world to be true is somewhat pitiful. We pity this brilliant outcast, this boy full of teenage angst and self-loathing. We see too much of ourselves in this child.

There is no "Happily Ever After" in this book. Mainly because there is no happily ever after in real life. Things happen. People die. Hearts are broken. And very rarely is everything tied up into neat little packets like the endings of Full House episodes. It's much like the end of Law & Order, where very little is resolved and you're left feeling like you've run into a brick wall. But unlike L&O, this book does have a sequel, coming out Summer of 2011.

The section of the book where Quentin is in Brakebills School is my favorite part, if nothing else than because it is filled with such potential. The mold at this point is raw, unfashioned. The characters could be much more filled out by this time; they are mere shadows of what they could be. And while some people will not like this, it's the potential for what they could become that fascinates me. It leaves the imagination open to what this school would really be like, if I lived in it and became a part of it. It's the calm before the chaos that I see so much in books recently. The place where you most want to live, the place where you reluctantly leave because, if you didn't, there wouldn't be a story. It's this section of a book that gives the author a chance to shine. Grossman doesn't fulfill this need as well as someone like Orson Scott Card would, with brilliant dialogue and conversation. He is learning, however. Even at the end of the story there is much more depth in each soul.

Like many of the books Borders has promoted recently, this book is not perfect. It has its flaws and its moments of shining glory. Lev Grossman has done what many authors have done previously, what God did so many eons ago. He created a world with so much potential, but also with the imperfections that make it unique, make it interesting, almost human. If the twists of the normal fantasy world is of interest, try Stephen R. Donaldson's Mirror of Her Dreams and John Connolly's Book of Lost Things.
The next in this series will talk about the need to Make (create) versus the desire to Unmake (destroy). As for now, I'm gonna enjoy my new AC unit I have in my room.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bread and Blogs: Creation and the Creator

"Habalo..." It's Sim-language for "Hello." A person creates a person to live in an artificial world, with an artificial job, doing artificial things (with built in masks to cover nekkidity.) Anyone old enough to remember Bonanza will shake their head and groan, not understanding the metaphysical needs behind being endlessly addicted to a game like The Sims. Honestly, it never really did anything for me, as I found it to be too restrictive. Why only simulate part of your life, when you can live your life to the fullest in the real world? Course, that is rhetorical. I fell much more in love with Spore, where I could build creatures from the cellular level. See my blogs: Spore Blog 1 and Spore Blog 2 for the reviews on that game. Actually, I'll wait while you read those, because they are central to my line of thought. Go ahead...

Anyway, if we go back to Genesis, to the sixth day, God created us in his own image. I wonder how far that goes, how exactly like God we actually are? And to a further extent, how much is God like us? (cue Joan Osborne). He must have known (actually He did know) that Adam would have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge (and Eve, too), and thus become cast out. He must have known that our curiosity about everything would propel us to evolving into what we are today, and even farther. It seems ironic, but if you think it, God created us in His own image, but made us flawed. Of course, the reason being, since He made us with self-awareness and free will (in His image), we have the ability to freely err from perfection. If we didn't have this, and we stayed perfectly in Paradise this whole time, there wouldn't be anything for God to be proud of. He would have a whole army of Robots, without any thoughts of greatness or progression. It's simply not the way things go.

So, as we are created in God's image, we become ourselves, Creators. The basic drive for raising families, raising cats, building houses and writing books. The need to create is a powerful emotion, one that overshadows the Devil's need to destroy (but more on that later). We have the same basic desire to be proud of what we create, living or non living. Just as God would be proud of us.

It's this emotion that drives us, in our daily rituals at the computer, to devote so much time to the characters we have online. We build up an elf on World of Warcraft, level after level, adorning him or her with ornate armor, magnificent weapons, and adept skills, only to have it sit on some server for all eternity while we try out the latest edition of Everquest. It seems useless, that we would spend so much of our lives on creating a character that is not real, but as we slay the dragon in the deepest dungeon of WOW, we experience the pride that God would feel about His followers. It matters little how transitory the pride or the character is. It is, of course, a shadow of God's emotions, but, as Plato would point out, we are but shadows of the real thing.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bread and Blogs: Introduction

I ate a loaf of bread recently. Not one that you would buy at a grocery store, rows upon rows of white, wheat, or other tastes confections of some giant factory in another state somewhere. This was a loaf made by one of my associates, Andrew (who has the house I mentioned some blogs ago), hand made and baked in his own kitchen. The loaf had a row of cheese baked into the middle, and was infused with Rosemary, a spice I cannot get enough of. The aroma is enough to make me warm and comfortable, content with the world. Makes me wonder if it is not Prozac the world needs, but a good diet of Rosemary each morning. The thought occurred to me, "Why would someone make bread like this?" Certainly, because of its exquisite taste and superior quality to anything made in today's supermarkets. But there has to be something more than that. It surely would cost more to make it yourself, unless you grew the herbs and the wheat...etc... , than to simply go buy a loaf of bread, stick some spices and cheese onto a sandwich, and bingo.

The answer, I think, lies in the making of the bread. But of course, it is much more than just the bread itself, but of the creation of it. A good baker creates the bread, from ingredients that are totally "unbreadlike". Similarly, an architect builds a house out of wood, or stone, glass, any other natural ingredients, creating a structure out of Nature's resources to stand tall and firm in the sunshine. Imagine the feeling that a person would have, when, having pulled the bread out of the oven, or after driving the last nail, he stands back and marvels at what he created. What pride in his work! Or, take holding a book in the hands of one who wrote it for the first time, with the slick, illustrated cover, the words of pages flowing one to another from beginning to end. These are our creations, and it's this feeling I want to take a look at. This will take more than one blog, so I'll split it up as I have done before. Briefly, here are the questions I want to look at:

  • What are the origins of "creation?" Or more specifically, what feelings make up the whole idea, and where do they come from?
  • How do our religious beliefs encourage our need to create?
  • Why do some people feel the need to "unmake," or destroy, while others are driven to create and to "make?"

  • How does Creating drive our daily activities, the aspects of our lives, from birth to death?

  • How can we create things in today's society? Or does society today encourage or dissuade Creating things?

I'll want to look at creating everyday items, such as the bread, as well as Literary works (especially Fantasy worlds such as Tolkien's or C.S. Lewis' worlds), and then the colossal creations of mankind, from Jerry Jones' stadium in Dallas, Texas to the Statue created recently in Senegal, Africa. So follow me, if you want to, and we'll see where this leads.