Saturday, March 10, 2012

In which the pond broods about art, koala bears, Michael Bay movies, John of Patmos, gambling, and Sydney Anglicans ...

(Above: oh look at the pretty koala bear).

Steven Spielberg makes a movie about the Holocaust:

‘‘I can’t comprehend how someone can be so insensitive to all the victims and people who have been scarred for life,’’ former inspector John Warren told Hobart newspaper The Mercury.
‘‘They would be outraged and so am I.’’

Hollywood makes sundry movies about the first and second world wars, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and other wars stretching back past Rome into the mists of time:

‘‘I can’t comprehend how someone can be so insensitive to all the victims and people who have been scarred for life,’’ former inspector John Warren told Hobart newspaper The Mercury.
‘‘They would be outraged and so am I.’’

And so on and so forth - we haven't got time to list Son of Sam or the Boston Strangler - because you can play this game with almost any form of art - novels, plays, movies, TV, ad infinitum - and any criminal event, and not just about Rodney Pople's landscape painting that caused the shock and horror in Tasmania. (and if you can stand the tedium, you can read more about the controversy here).

Compared to an average Arthur Boyd or Albert Tucker, that's exceedingly mild.

Meanwhile, Campbell Newman calls koalas "bears" confirming his mind and his heart is back in the nineteen thirties, when calling them bears was all the go (How much can Campbell Newman bear?)

But it's Sunday, and so it's hey ho, hey nonny no, and off to the religious mind, and first up is a quite fine bit of writing by Adam Gopnik about the Michael Bay implications of the Book of Revelations, and happily The Big Reveal is outside The New Yorker paywall for the moment.

Gopnik is reviewing a book by Elaine Pagels about Revelations, but adds his own tasty spin, much of which is about the fundamentalist mind and imagination;

The scarlet whores and mad beasts in Revelation are the Gentile followers of Paul—and so, in a neat irony, the spiritual ancestors of today’s Protestant evangelicals.

It's a hoot, and Gopnik also takes a detour through Gnostic texts, and a mourning that they were lost to the world for centuries, while the fevered Hollywood imaginings of the apocalyptic John of Patmos narrowly got the nod and made it into the Bible, and has left humanity bedevilled with maddened fundamentalism ever since:

Perhaps what most strikes the naïve reader of the Book of Revelation is what a close-run thing the battle is. When God finally gets tired of waiting it out and decides to end things, the back-and-forth between dragons and serpents and sea monsters and Jesus is less like a scouring of the stables than like a Giants-Patriots Super Bowl. It seems that Manichaeanism—bad god vs. good god—is the natural religion of mankind and that all faiths bend toward the Devil, to make sense of God’s furious impotence. A god omniscient and omnipotent and also powerless to stop evil remains a theological perplexity, even as it becomes a prop of faith. It gives you the advantage of clarity—only one guy worth worshipping—at the loss of lucidity: if he’s so great, why is he so weak?

Indeed, and Gopnik's wrap is just as satisfying, as he keeps the Michael Bay theme going, and then delivers a capper when Pagels starts talking about the moral arc of the universe tending towards justice:

Well, yeah, but this happens only after all the millions of heretics, past and present, have been burned alive and the planet destroyed. That’s some long arc. It’s like the inevitable moment in an apocalyptic blockbuster, “Independence Day” or “Armageddon” or “2012,” when the stars embrace and celebrate their survival. The Hans Zimmer music swells, and we’re reassured that it’s O.K. to rejoice. Millions are annihilated, every major city has been destroyed, but nobody you really like has died. It’s a Hollywood ending in that way, too.

It is a wondrous introduction to the Sydney Anglican mindset, and in particular to Michael Jensen's wondrous Sins of Sydney 2: Riding your Luck.

Jensen is a dead set sucker for the apocalyptic, and as is the way with bible bashers, spends a lot of time evoking the sin (actually way more time on the sin than on the cure), as he dwells amongst Thommo's two-up school, and betting on two flies racing up a wall. The conclusion?

Australians are a gambling people, and Sydney-sides are gamblers among gamblers.

Now where this leaves Las Vegas the pond isn't quite sure. Nor is it entirely clear where it leaves Macau and the Chinese, remembering that Macau overtook Vegas in terms of gaming revenue in 2007, and that the tiny island gets 40% of its GDP from gambling, with some 33 casinos in action (and y0u can wiki its gambling habit here).

And Sydney's still arguing over a second casino, and with a bit of luck might still tell James Packer to bugger off back to Vegas and Macau.

Not to worry, because in Jensen we find that peculiar class of condescension you might have expected from a Sydney Anglican:

The convicts and the working classes gambled because they were by turns bored and desperate. They could not change their circumstances by sheer hard work. They had to find some other path. They’d had so much bad fortune. Surely a quick turn of good luck was just around the corner. They played simple games like two-up, and were later to be attracted to housie, lotteries and poker machines.

Jensen does get around to brooding about the rich, the powerful, and the influential, and the way they were attracted to simple games like black jack and horse racing. There is after all plenty of evidence that gambling was at first the turf of the rich, because they were the only ones who had the readies to indulge in it.

There is, after all, plenty of historical reason to brood about the illegal casinos of Kings Cross, and the way they were patronised by the rich and the influential (including Kerry Packer with cash and gun in safe), and the way that politicians of the Robert Askin kind were always ready to accept the brown paper bag in the paw.

But deep within, Jensen exhibits the very same wowserism and wringing of hands he ascribes to the Protestant urban middle class of way back when, as he talks of gambling taking over the world, with the taxing government as "the house".

Gambling has become part of the psychopathy of our city home.

The Protestant cause failed to stop this development at the moment of its greatest influence on Australian society. They were unable to persuade others of the immorality of gambling – it was just not a compelling case to the overwhelming majority. Quite clearly, Sydney-siders just cannot see that gambling is immoral at all. All the preachers could do was shout louder.

Actually the Catholic church - that whore of Babylon - can't see much of a problem with gambling either, if the game is clean and the odds reasonable (something you can't say about poker machines, though they find room in the Catholic clubs for the slots).

But Jensen is - as you'd expect of a Sydney Anglican - a wowser of the first water. Which is why he prefers to talk of gambling as a form of morality, rather than a potentially dangerous and addictive behaviour, and why he proposes a theological solution, as opposed to practical notions to control social problems:

If you understand what you have as blessing, and your life as preserved in the lap of blessing, then gambling just doesn't make a lot of sense.

Luck is cold like a corpse. The blessing of God is warm with the blood of Jesus. Luck is a fickle mistress. Though life may be hard, God is not fickle but true.

Lordy, lordy, the image that came immediately to mind was of those heroic Salvation Army battlers out in the street, shouting ever the more louder about the warm blood of Jesus.

It's the standard Michael Bay version of the morality tale. The apocalypse of a psychopathic gambling city, and then the moral redemption in warm blood. Bring it on Elisha A. Hoffman, American pastor:

When the Bridegroom cometh will your robes be white?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?
Will your soul be ready for the mansions bright,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb?

Lay aside the garments that are stained with sin,
And be washed in the blood of the Lamb;
There’s a fountain flowing for the soul unclean,
O be washed in the blood of the Lamb!

It strikes the pond that all this talk of warm blood is deeply disturbing, roughly akin to vampirism, or a kind of hematolagnia:

A sexual fetish for blood which evokes arousal when present on the fetishist’s sexual partner, especially if nude. It is often accompanied by licking or drinking blood through bloodletting or biting.

But it needn't be sexual, because blood fetishism can also be a:

... belief within a society or culture that blood in itself (as a material substance) possesses powerful and magical properties.

When you think about it, it's as strange and as weird as gambling, maybe more so, and it's a reminder once again what a tragedy it was that John of Patmos's Book of Revelation - with its fundamentalist hatred of the pagan, narrowly made the cut and got voted into the Bible, while wonderful Gnostic works got the chop.

Which brings to mind another pet theme - the attitude of Sydney Anglicans to women - and a poem quoted by Gopnik as perfect for nineteen seventies feminists and adaptation into a song by Helen Reddy (oh no, not Helen Reddy) - but was in fact found in the jars of Nag Hammadi dating back to the third and fourth centuries.

I am the whore and the holy one.
I am the wife and the virgin.
I am the mother and the daughter.
I am the members of my mother.
I am the barren one
and many are her sons.
I am she whose wedding is great,
and I have not taken a husband.
I am the midwife and she who does not bear.
I am the solace of my labor pains.
I am the bride and the bridegroom . . .
Why, you who hate me, do you love me,
and hate those who love me?
You who deny me, confess me,
and you who confess me, deny me.
You who tell the truth about me, lie about me,
and you who have lied about me, tell the truth about me.

Now if that had made the cut, would we have been spared Michael Bay movies and Michael Jensen rabbiting on about a psychopathic city?

When the real problem is that Sydney motorists simply can't cope with a heavy downpour of rain ...

Probably not ... but thank the absent lord that through sheer luck, in this roll of the dice universe, that a peasant stumbled upon the sealed jars, to remind us that there's more to life than Sydney Anglicanism ...

(Below: oh you immoral working class ruffians you).


  1. My goodness, Michael Jensen does have a memory problem or is it just a case of double standards?

  2. Oh Calamity Jane (love the nick) it's simply too cruel and unkind to call gambling on the stock exchange a form of gambling even if it involves gambling on the stock exchange ... in a way that makes the blood surge and the heart palpitate like a junkie hoping to pull off the mother of all jackpots.


Comments older than two days are moderated and there will be a delay in publishing them.