We can agree to disagree on The Last Jedi, and the criteria for truly excellent movies, and art in general. Here’s a very short summary of what follows: While entertaining, the new Star Wars installment, and those to whom it is being installed, reveal much about our contemporary, hay-wired humanity.
Certainly, with art you’re free to play the “almighty subjective” card. After all, “It’s all opinion. To each, his own. Who’s to say?” If that’s you, you can stop reading. We’re going to disagree. But note that in doing so you’ve made an important point. You pronounce, at least with regard to art and matters beautiful, the impossibility of a shared humanity. You pronounce us all isolates, meaninglessly crashing into one another, confined to our own prisons. Indeed, if you play this card, all evaluation is absurd. Who can say anything about anything that isn’t strictly empirical (like 2+2)?
While artistic evaluation is less than empirical, if it’s true that to see the world sanely is to see it God-bathed (Sheed), if beauty is one of God’s attributes, from the vantage of God some art is much better than other. Art and beauty are not measured by primal, human impulse. We are not the center. Recognizing and observing Him, and how He sees, is a basis for authentic communion and community. If one recognizes God and the standard of holiness, we must admit our need to be rightly formed for the good, the true and the beautiful.
This tendency for self-centered, “almighty subjective” evaluation of all things uniquely distinguishes younger generations, their education, their politics, their ethics, their world, their art… and has over recent years claimed older generations. To the contrary:
- (1) There is an objective good/beauty regarding art (attributes of God),
- (2) Understanding and seeing this good/beauty does matter,
- (3) Our self-centered, primal “guts” are not the determinant of good/beauty, and,
- (4) We need to be formed in and for good/beauty (which is the purpose of a truly classical, liberal education).
We are what we eat. We’re a generation that has been feeding on a steady diet of pixels, actually and figuratively. Our passive, video-game, device-addicted, entitlement culture has reduced us to a pixelated humanity. Pixelated relationship with God. Pixelated relationship with self. Pixelated relationships with others. We’ve become the electronic dots we worship. Our humanity has become a connect-the-dot picture, versus a Rembrandt– one flush with depth, color and meaning.
We’ve reduced the value of everything to that which excites, stimulates, dazzles. And as it becomes harder and harder to do, we’ve become the most depressed, “bored” and broken society ever.
Even in “good Christian homes” we’re a generation more inclined to spend hours a day glued to a device, versus looking out and being enraptured by a moment of surrounding beauty. We’d exchange inane impulse-thoughtlets for hours rather than enter into a meaningful, face-to-face moment of true communion and connection. Even in religion and faith– we’ve reduced the value to the “powerful” that happens in that place, at that time, with those people… the crescendo of the next great worship song, versus having eyes of wonder for each new moment of God’s presence.
Consider what Christmas really is and how our culture has subjected it. Christmas is not a fleeting season of religion-laced festivity where we impart gifts designed to further pixelate us, or waste precious time resulting in the same. Christmas is about heaven coming to earth in the ordinary. In the mess. In the obscure. In the utterly and completely human. Christmas is about authentic, divine-human communion.
Christmas challenges us to consider our measure of life. Not by what gives us a thrill. Not by impulse. Not by what is immediate. In fact, we ought to regard the ANTI-CHRISTmas as whatever can keep us distracted from our nature in God, a sacred place of divine-human communion made manifest in our inmost temple, fashioned for His indwelling. Christmas is about more fully discovering, celebrating and cultivating His resounding sound in still and silence.
Of course, if we’ve never discovered Him in ourselves, we’ll never seek and discover Him in others. We’ll never recognize this ultimate, authentic purpose lining the path of our human existence… extending through all eternity.
So, what’s this got to do with The Last Jedi? It’s a tortured, bewildering mess that hacks the classical “hero” theme. While it has moments that touch authentic, human depth (Kylo Ren’s inner conflict), it’s portrait is more of a caricature… not delivered by someone who really gets and lives the layered, authentic richness and depth of our human drama, but like pixels. The poverty of such art is perhaps best illustrated not by the installment itself, but by those to whom it was installed– the many who, while with family and friends, after the lights came up, buried themselves in all the pixels they missed while gone from the “real” world.
By contrast, if you have the time: these last days of Christmas, dive into BBC’s multi-episode production of Little Dorrit. Better yet, dive into the ultimate drama starring you! Invite your family to join you for just 45 minutes of meaningful talking and praying using the Live IT Gathering Guide (MassImpact.us/LIVE-IT). You’ll experience God more fully alive in the manger of your soul, and in your relationships.
Emmanuel! God is not just with us, He is in us!