Should "Wiggle" Make Your Conscience Wiggle?

Yes, most definitely. If your conscience isn't nagged, bothered, made uncomfortable, niggled at, and wiggled by this song, I would suggest that your conscience is malformed and you need to work on that. I can only shake my head in disappointement that Jason Derulo now has, not one, but two singles hovering among the top ten hits which both degrade, objectify, anatomize, and "utilitize" the human person, particularly women. "Wiggle", the fourth single from Derulo's album Talk Dirty (2014), focuses on what you would expect it to: the particular parts of women's bodies that can move in such a way as to sexually arouse their male spectators. It is voyeuristic; it is porn-lite. And if we're concerned about the so-called "rape culture", maybe we had better start analyzing songs like this which encourage it.

Every lyric in this song is an insult to women, even (and perhaps especially) the line in which Derulo claims that he's "in this club making wedding plans". This line is perhaps the most foul because it is the deepest lie. For one thing, there is no country on earth (as yet, that I'm aware of) that has made it legal to marry only a part of a person's body. The only "wedding plans" Derulo has in mind involve a woman's backside. She is not a person to him; she is not even simply a body. She is nothing but a mound of flesh. Her body can be referred to in the same way we refer to cuts of meat: steak; rib; sirloin; tenderloin; chuck; brisket. It is possible to section her off and only partake of those particular bits that you find the choicest. Derulo has no interest in marrying a person, in being joined for life to a woman he desires, admires, respects, and loves; he just wants to indulge in a little rump roast. This process of depersonification is what makes it easier to objectify a human being, to think of her as not a person with thoughts, feelings, and dignity, who possesses an inherent right to our respect. This is what makes it easier for us to view pornographic images and think that there's nothing wrong with it because the persons involved are "not real". This is what makes it possible for us to degrade sexuality to such a point where it is not a matter of "we", or even "you and I", but simply "me". As Rollo May has remarked in his book Love and Will, modern sexuality tends to shift the classic fig leaf away from the genitals in order to obscure the human face. We obscure the other's face, her person, her dignity, in order to objectify, use, and abuse in "good" conscience. The music video for "Wiggle" encourages this by showing repeated images of an ice sculpture of a woman's nude torso; the head, of course, is completely absent. This is where voyeurism, pornography, misogyny, and "rape culture" originate. And it's a hit single. And we act shocked and scandalized when freshmen on college campuses dutifully repeat similar refrains en masse. We just as dutifully refuse to make the connection. Please don't take it personally when I say that we are a culture of utter morons.

This problem extends far beyond the actual physical interactions between men and women. Derulo makes it easy for me to immediately start talking about the problems modern technology causes in perpetuating this kind of abuse against the privacy of a woman's body: "If I take pictures while you do your dance, / I can make you famous on Instagram". Rather than being a place reserved for loving intimacy, a woman's body can now be photographed, videoed, posted, disseminated, shared, liked, tweeted, almost instantly and entirely without her knowledge or permission. Her body becomes a household object, accessible from any device, to be ogled and abused by an infinite number of anonymous "users". If the face is not visible, then the image is of nothing but a body, an impersonal object, a thing to be utilized for the enjoyment of others. Her "fame" has nothing to do with who she is as a person; her value is measured by the amount of pleasure her body parts give to other people. And, again, we act shocked and scandalized when military personnel are charged after secretly filming women having sex with them and sharing it as "homemade" porn, or when young girls kill themselves over their appearances in pornographic videos on the internet. We're shocked -- until we hear this song playing and say, "Oh wait, I have to dance, I love this song." Unfortunately, Jason Derulo is probably not going to do what the lead singer of Staind did to save your dignity during one of his concerts. In fact, he might invite you onstage so he can molest you himself: "Come on, baby, turn around, / You're a star, girl, take a bow". The Derulos of the world are normalizing this kind of behavior so that young men somehow feel that it is okay to publicly grope women at outdoor events. And, through this star-studded encouragement, young women are tricked into believing that exposing as much skin as possible and dancing provocatively is a sign of female power and independence. Again, if we don't see the connection between the two, we are cultural morons.

To people like Derulo and his rap collaborator Snoop Dogg, the future of every woman is pornography. Every invitation to fame and fortune made by these men is an invitation to the abuse of her body as an object of sexual utility: "You're a star, girl, take a bow"; "I can make you famous"; "Tired of working that 9 to 5? / Oh, baby, let me come and change your life"; "You've got a bright future behind you". This "bright future", as emphasized in the "joke" itself, is one of allowing men to indulge their sexual fantasies. Every well-endowed woman can be proud of the bright future she has dancing, stripping, pornographing, and prostituting for the pleasure of such voyeuristic canines as Snoop Dogg, depicted in "Wiggle"'s music video as watching women's behinds through binoculars. Snoop Dogg's addition to the song explicitly describes such sexual fantasies of oral and anal sex, fantasies that are given greater clarity through pornographic images, and are too often pursued with or without the permission of "real" women, women who in all truthfulness have lost their reality in the deepening abstraction provided by voyeurism and pornography. Women become nothing but a means to an end, a body without a soul, that headless torso with exaggerated body parts. This is what lies at the root of all misogyny: a desire for women actually to be headless, soulless, person-less objects requiring nothing beyond basic functionality, least of all love or respect.

I've heard people argue that we shouldn't get too worked up about things like this. After all, it's "just a song". And they're right. We shouldn't necessarily start boycotts and revolutions every time we run into something that sends a negative message about who we are and how we relate as human beings. After all, an overabundance of boycotts and revolutions stunts their power to move the general populace. But it's incredibly naive to think that the lyrics, images, and ideologies we expose ourselves to every day have no affect on us. They do. They are affecting all of us all the time in very real ways. We need to stop being shocked about the behavior of our young men and women, and start making ourselves aware of the places where these attitudes start. They're sitting right in front of us. They are assaulting our ears and eyes everyday, out in the open, in the public square, in front of our children, with smiles on their faces and upbeat jangles. When confronted with toxicity, the best thing to do is reduce your exposure. So that's what we should do. When the song comes on the radio, change the station. When the music video comes on the television, change the channel. When it plays at parties, don't dance. Request a song change. Don't buy the album or the song; don't put it on your iPod or your phone. And if someone asks you why you don't want to hear the song, tell them the truth. There are a hundred little ways we can protect ourselves and those around us from imbibing a toxic culture that promotes the use and abuse of women in such an open and shameless way. Let's help put an end to "rape culture" by avoiding and teaching others to avoid those little things that foster its growth in our daily lives.

If you or someone you know is affected by pornography, I highly recommend Matt Fradd's book Delivered and his blog as an excellent resource for all things porn-related.


The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!


"Love's Labor's Lost": Shakespeare and the Doctrine of Justification

A little while ago, I got my hands on a book by author Joseph Pearce called Shakespeare on Love: Seeing the Catholic Presence in Romeo and Juliet, which changed the way I viewed that play in particular, as well as the way I read Shakespeare in general. Pearce has written books on Lewis, Tolkien, Solzhenitsyn, Chesterton, Belloc, and other prominent Catholic/Christian thinkers and writers of the 20th century and beyond. His work on Shakespeare is especially interesting because he makes the argument in both The Quest for Shakespeare and Through Shakespeare's Eyes that Shakespeare was a believing Catholic in a time when Catholicism in England was regarded as treasonous and often ended in martyrdom. Pearce applies this argument for Shakespeare's Catholicism to a reading of his plays; Through Shakespeare's Eyes considers King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, and Hamlet, while Shakespeare on Love tackles Romeo and Juliet. While he didn't allay all of my aggravations about Romeo and Juliet, Pearce did allow me to read the play with new eyes and get a better insight into what Shakespeare may have been trying to do with the play. His work inspired me to read through some of the other plays myself and see what I might find if I looked "through Shakespeare's Catholic eyes", as it were. I decided to look at Love's Labor's Lost and see what I could see.

Love's Labor's Lost is a play full of bawdy humor and witticisms, in which the King of Navarre and his gentlemen (Biron, Dumaine, and Longueville) spar against the Princess of France and her ladies (Rosaline, Catherine, and Maria) in a verbal battle of wisecracks and repartee. The King and his gentlemen have made vows to forsake the pleasures of life, including wooing women, to devote themselves to study. The Princess, however, arrives to conduct some business on behalf of her father. Naturally, the men fall head over heels for the women and break their vows in order to woo them, with much hilarity stemming from their failed attempts. The subplot of the play provides a sort of commentary on both the wit and learning of the gentlefolk by presenting buffoonish characters who make a mockery of both English and academic parlance. Much of this is standard Shakespearean fare, but the ending sets Love's Labor's Lost apart from most of his comedies in that it does not end with a marriage. Rather than eventually agreeing to marry their suitors, the death of the king of France sends the Princess home without making any assured commitments to her suitor. The King and his gentlemen, however, agree to spend themselves for one year in the ascetic life in order to prove their love for their respective ladies, putting themselves in the self-same position they intended to pursue at the play's opening. Personally, I find the play both funny and satisfying, since I disapprove of the King and his gentlemen getting their way in this instance. But are we meant to see anything distinctly Catholic in it?

Naturally, take everything I'm about to say with a grain of salt. I've done absolutely zero research into this whatsoever. No postdoctoral fellowships or research grants have gone into the making of this post. All I've done is read the play and thought about it a bit, and here's what I've come up with. There seem to be some hints that a small and implicit commentary is being made on the theological controversy surrounding the Protestant idea of sola fide, or justification through faith alone. According to the proponents of the Reformation, a person would find salvation only through their faith in Christ and not through any good works they might have performed during their earthly life. Catholicism, on the other hand, came to be linked by many of its antagonists with a sort of simoniac behavior towards justification, the idea that salvation could, in a sense, be "earned" or "bought" by a certain amount of charitable works or pieties. This is not the Catholic position, but it is one that has been repeated and perpetuated to the point that even my Norton Shakespeare asserts in a footnote that "Protestants considered it a common 'heresy' ... to think, as Catholics did, that one could be 'saved by merit'" [emphasis added]. At no time and in no place did the Catholic Church ever believe or teach that a person could be "saved by merit", as the Council of Trent definitively stated in its clarification of the truth of justification: " to those who work well unto the end and trust in God, eternal life is to be offered, both as a grace mercifully promised to the sons of God through Christ Jesus, and as a reward promised by God himself, to be faithfully given to their good works and merits" (Ch. XVI). The Catholic position is that both faith and works are necessary for the salvation of souls, along with the grace of God given as a complete gift to the soul through the sacrament of Baptism. One can perform good works without faith, but this will not merit one salvation; likewise, one can have faith without working for one's own sanctification or the sanctification of others, but this will not of necessity grant one eternal life. We must both accept the gift of God's grace in our lives and cooperate with Him in that grace through our actions in order to receive both the gift and the reward of the Beatific Vision.

Love's Labor's Lost, written fifty years after the Council of Trent's promulgation of the canon containing the official clarification on the matter of justification, could have been used as a small soapbox from which Shakespeare might have quietly made his Catholic faith clearer to his Protestant and Catholic brethren. Of course, this would have to have been done with extreme delicacy, since heresy was punishable by death, and the Catholic position on justification was considered a heresy in Reformation England. Only once in the play is the matter explicitly referred to: the Princess, in a game of witticisms at the expense of the King's poor Forester, purposefully misinterprets the man's words in such a way that it seems that he has claimed she is not beautiful. She gives him money for being honest about her looks, to which he responds that everything she possesses is beautiful. Her response points directly at the theological problem of justification: "See, see, my beauty will be saved by merit! / O heresy in fair, fit for these days -- / A giving hand, though foul, shall have fair praise." The Princess here mocks the supposed Catholic belief that charity from an unfaithful ("foul") person can merit the praise of heaven. This may seem to put Shakespeare back in the Reformation camp, but, if Pearce is correct in his assertion that Shakespeare was a faithful Catholic who knew his stuff, Shakespeare is well aware that this is decidedly not the true Catholic position. The underlying matter of the play, then, works to put this wrong understanding to rights.

We can understand the King of Navarre and his gentlemen to be subscribers of sola fide initially: they have decided to reject the pleasures of life -- food, sleep, and sex -- in order to devote themselves to study. They have sworn oaths to live on nothing but faith and, in doing so, lock themselves away from the world and shirk their responsibilities to the rest of humanity. After all, if all that is needed is faith, there is no reason why one should look to the needs and sufferings of those beyond oneself. You believe that Christ suffered and died to save you, and so you have merited it. What else needs to be done? What else is there to live for but to spend your time contemplating (studying) the goodness of God on your behalf until He comes to take you to Himself? The wrongheadedness of this position is quickly revealed when the Princess of France and her ladies arrive in the King's park and are denied admittance or hospitality due to the King's vow not to see women. He insists on lacking in generosity, charity, and hospitality to his guests, forcing them to sleep in tents in his park because his vow (his adherence to the doctrine of sola fide) justifies him in his actions (or lack thereof). The Princess comments on this critically: "I hear your grace has sworn out housekeeping. / 'Tis deadly sin to keep that oath, my lord, / And sin to break it." The "deadly sin" that the Princess explicitly refers to is the sin against hospitality, which had been considered a sacred duty since ancient times and which Shakespeare deals with more tragically in Macbeth. The Catholic undercurrent here, however, can be caught in the distinction between "deadly sin" and "sin": it is a "deadly sin", one that cuts the soul off from grace and kills it, to persist in the theological error of sola fide, while it is only "sin", a venial one, to break the oath he has made that causes him to cling to such an error. In the first two acts of the play, justification by faith alone is criticized, questioned, and ultimately discarded.

The King of Navarre and his gentlemen break their solemn oaths to study, but not in favor of a "Catholic" position in opposition to sola fide. Instead, they embrace a new kind of error at the eloquent insistence of Biron, the most verbose and personable of the King's three gentlemen. Biron resisted making the oath with the others at the play's opening, and is also the first to begin obviously wooing one of the Princess's ladies, Rosaline. He is the first to begin sonneteering, sighing and complaining of the melancholy of love, and he is the one the others turn to in search of justification for breaking their vow. Biron is not, however, the image of the Catholic man. He is, rather, the parody of both the Renaissance courtier and the supposed Catholic position of justification by merit alone. Biron's anthem could be "All You Need Is Love". He claims that the only books worth studying are a lady's eyes, that love will teach one all that is worth knowing, and that the fruits of love are far worthier than the fruits of the long labor of intellectual work. Biron rejects study (faith alone) for love (merit alone). In his monologue justifying the abandonment of their vows, Biron implicitly makes the true argument that it is not enough to be closed up with our faith and that we must come out of ourselves by living our faith in love: "But love, first learned in a lady's eyes, / Lives not alone immured in the brain, / But with the motion of all elements / Courses as swift as thought in every power, / And gives to every power a double power / Above their functions and their offices." Living out the life of charity is what strengthens our souls, perfects us in virtue, and fits us for heaven. As he continues in this vein, Biron compares the glories of love to the glories of the Greek gods and heroes, Bacchus, Hercules, and Apollo, concluding with the statement: "when love speaks, the voice of all the gods / Make heaven drowsy with the harmony."

This heavenly "drowsiness" that Biron speaks of is where Shakespeare shows how the false doctrine of justification through works dips into heresy. Just as justification through faith alone is a heretical statement about the nature of God's salvific work, justification through works alone is also heretical. The idea that our good acts -- charity towards the poor, brotherly love towards our neighbors, proper moderation in our personal pleasures, and so on -- without knowledge of Christ are enough to lull the justice of God to sleep so that we can slip through the gates of Heaven is just as misguided as the idea that professing Christ as Lord is enough to force the gates of Heaven open. Christ has explicitly spoken against both errors in the Gospels (Mt. 19:16-22; Mk. 10:17-22; Lk. 18:18-27; Mt. 7:21). The King's first vow to devote himself to study at the expense of his duties to others exemplifies loveless faith; Biron's encouragement to abandon their vows to pursue the Princess and her ladies exemplifies faithless love. Neither contains the totality of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Therefore, it is completely fitting that Shakespeare should end his play not with a marriage, as is the standard for romantic comedies, but with separation and the acceptance of new vows, ones that combine faith and love together. As the King and his gentlemen are clumsily wooing the Princess and her ladies, a messenger arrives with news that the King of France has died, making the Princess ipso facto the new Queen of France. The new Queen points to the men's broken oaths and foolish wooing as evidence that they are not serious about their attachments and, allegorically, are not serious about their religious belief. The ladies have interpreted all the men's actions as nothing more than a game, and that there never was any intention of "a world-without-end bargain" on their part. In order to prove their sincerity, the gentlemen are commanded by the ladies to spend the next year living a monastic lifestyle of austerity, fasting, and charity towards the sick. The gentlemen have now come full circle: they now enact those vows which they had promised and broken earlier in the play. The difference is that their faithfulness is now inspired by their love, and their love is made meaningful by their faithfulness.

There is evidence that Shakespeare also wrote a play entitled Love's Labor's Won, which perhaps might have allowed us to see these lords and ladies reconvene a year later and which might have ended with those hoped-for weddings. Unfortunately, the play seems to be entirely lost and its content completely unknown. The conclusion of Love's Labor's Lost should not be seen as wholly disappointing, however, since it allows us to hope for the future endeavors of the King and his men. It is the picture of the Christian life: the encounter with the Beloved inspires us to chase after Him and devote ourselves to His service, but the reward for such service is not here and now, but there and then. Our love for Him must be proved in lives of faithfulness to His word, and our faith must be lived through love, a truly living charity. This is what our salvation consists of, and we must each work it out in "fear and trembling", as the Council of Trent states, but with constant hope in the mercies of God. In the same way, the King, Biron, and the rest work out their courtship of the beloved ladies in "fear and trembling" at their possible rejection, but also in hope that, by being steadfast in obeying their command to love and serve, their ladies will accept them into the kingdom of their hearts. Is Love's Labor's Lost undeniably about the doctrine of justification? Perhaps not. But this reading does provide some satisfaction for the play's ending and explanation for its possible meaning through Shakespeare's presumably Catholic eyes.


The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!


"Love Never Felt So Good"... or Did It?

When I saw that Justin Timberlake and Michael Jackson were making their way up the charts with their duet "Love Never Felt So Good", my first thought was, "Hey... isn't Michael Jackson dead?" Modern technology then caught up with my momentary confusion (and fear of zombies) to inform me that the song is featured on Jackson's second posthumous album Xscape (2014); a remixed version has also been released with Timberlake adding his vocals to the track. The song was first written and recorded by Jackson and Paul Anka back in 1983 as a demo, but was never officially released under Jackson's name. So now, as a tribute to Jackson's impact on modern pop music, we have this song in its present form. I'm not a Michael Jackson fan, so I can't speak to the song's faithfulness to his legacy or anything else. What I can say something about is the content of the song, which seems somewhat paradoxical and yet completely stereotypical of the modern approach to love, and the increasing emphasis on the feeling of being in love rather than the essence of love itself.

The song's title carries with it a certain assumption about its meaning: when we hear the phrase "love never felt so good", we tend to complete it mentally with a temporal phrase, such as "until I met you; until I experienced your love". We have a tendency to assume that what is meant by this phrase is that love was never fully appreciated or experienced until the current beloved came into the lover's life and opened new vistas of love for him. Now, in the arms of this beloved, the goodness of love is truly felt and enjoyed. However, this interpretation is dead wrong in the context of the lyrical construction of this song. Rather than the beloved enhancing or perfecting the experience of love for the lover, the beloved is actually being held in opposition to love: "Baby, love never felt so good / And I doubt if it ever could / Not like you hold me". The message being conveyed here is not "you perfect love", but "you are better than love; I prefer you to love". In all likelihood, the pleasure of love could never give to one the same type of "goodness" that this other person is able to offer. The "goodness" that exists between the two is explicitly not love; it is something else, something better. But what exactly do the poet and the subject of his song share together? It is described in the lyrics as holding one another, spending nights together, and, oddly enough, loving each other. All of this appears to be a contradiction in terms: how can you prefer the beloved to love itself? How can your experience of the beloved be both love and not love at the same time? How is it possible to separate the two?

The truth is you can't, really. As human beings, we were built to love and be loved. It's everything we desire to receive from others and everything we truly want to give to others. To say we don't want love or that we want something better than love is to lie to ourselves about what we really are. There's no shame in desiring to be loved; it's part of what it means to be human. But we do need to understand the nature of love itself properly before we can fully understand what we truly desire when we want to be loved. As we are all well aware, loving and being loved are complicated matters. And the examples and experiences of love that we are privy to tend to mix that deepest desire of our hearts with a lot of other things that are not so desirable. As Josef Pieper comments in his essay "On Love", "we need only leaf through a few magazines at the barber's to want not to let the word 'love' cross our lips for a good long time". Sentimentalism and commercialism and sexualism, cheating and abuse, breakups and makeups and divorce and remarriage, pills and Playboy and prostitution and Cosmo, rape and abortion and cohabitation and commitment, almost everything surrounding the idea of love between the sexes serves to scare people away from love entirely. In the face of all of this, people have a tendency to want to boil things down to the basics and strip away anything else that seems extraneous. In the case of love, many people ask themselves: what do I like about being in love? And the answer usually runs something like this: the good feelings I get from it. Therefore, in order to avoid the bother and responsibility and even trauma that comes with the experience of love, a person may try to isolate those good feelings and work only to perpetuate them. In this case, the so-called lover and beloved will only come together in order to perpetuate good feelings with one another. All of the other nuisances and responsibilities that come with loving and being loved by another person are neatly avoided. One only keeps "the good stuff".

It's perfectly acceptable that the poet should make a distinction between what he experiences with his beloved in this song and what love actually is. It is true that what the two are doing together is not anyone's definition of "love". What's interesting to me in the chorus of this song is the evidence that, despite our insistence that the "good feelings" separated from the responsibilities of love is really what we want, we can't really fool the deepest desires of our hearts. The chorus of the song says this: "Baby, every time I love you / It's in and out of my life / In, out, baby / Tell me if you really love me / It's in and out my life / Drivin' me crazy". Is this the best songwriting the world has ever seen? Definitely not. (And they accuse Justin Bieber of being unoriginal.) But it does express something inherent to our human desire for love: we can't escape it. No matter how good the setup seems to be -- a beloved who provides a maximum experience of pleasure for a minimum amount of effort seems ideal -- the human heart will constantly clamor for more. "Good feelings" are actually not good enough. Erotic love desires permanence, commitment, and, yes, responsibility. We don't actually want the good things of our lives to flit in and out, to be here one moment and gone the next. We don't really want the beloved to be nothing more than a call-girl (or boy), an instrument of pleasure that we bring out of the closet when we're feeling down and put away again once we feel better. We actually want to relate to other people; we want the beloved to truly love us, to be a permanent part of our existence, to care for us in all aspects of our lives and not just physical stimulation. We want to know that we are valued as persons, that we are loved for who we are, that we are indispensable to someone. This is what the human heart truly longs for; this is what is driving the poet crazy.

The poet wants the beloved to "tell me if you really love me". This admission in a certain sense undoes everything that is said in the previous stanzas: there is nothing actually better than love, even if it doesn't always "feel so good". Our true happiness does not consist of a maximization of pleasure and a minimization of pain. Our true happiness consists of being affirmed by the true love of another, of abiding in that love with the assurance of permanence, and upholding that love in responsible reciprocity. Nothing truly feels as good as being secure in the love of the ones we love. This is a human truth that, no matter how much we twist and turn to try to get around it, and no matter how much we mangle the reality under a commercialized, sexualized, utilitarian mentality, will always rise to the surface, driving us crazy and making us restless until we seek it out and find it.


The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!


Is Iggy Azalea's "Fancy" Really All That Fancy?

When I was initially introduced to the musical stylings of Iggy Azalea, I thought, "Interesting, a
female Eminem." Listening to "Fancy", from Azalea's debut album The New Classic (2014), however, I started to change my mind: she's more like a modern incarnation of Gwen Stefani. Picking through the lyrics to "Fancy" changed my mind once more: no, no, she's just another media doll who is willing to sell her talent in exchange for fast cash and splash-in-the-pan fame. It's a shame, really. I think she could be a really refreshing voice if she took the time to rap on some poignant and original topics, but no, it's just sex and money pretty much 24/7. B-o-r-i-n-g, I-g-g-y. And this is a real shame, not just because it means that our culture continues to be pummeled with nothing but egotistical smash-and-grabs instead of true art. That's a travesty in itself, of course, but the real-life tragedy is in Azalea herself: rather than taking the opportunity to truly set herself apart in the rap world, she chooses to squander her talent in the same cesspool as Jason Derulo and Chris Brown, which, in my opinion, is a pretty sad place to be. Azalea may be able to buy all the fancy things the name brands have to offer her with all the money she's after, but it can't buy her -- or any of us -- meaning or integrity.

Azalea's "Fancy" spends most of its time -- I mean, most of its time that isn't spent in self-aggrandizement -- harping on the same tired tropes you'll find in any female party song, from Ke$ha to Lady Gaga to Nicki Minaj to Miley Cyrus. All of the necessary chants in favor of one's own world status and Venusian power over men are present to make clear just how much of a goddess one is: "Film star, yeah, I'm deluxe, / Classic, expensive, you don't get to touch". The demands for first-class treatment and prestige are trotted out with due process: "Swagger on super, I can't shop at no department". And of course, it is made abundantly clear to everyone what kind of alcohol is being consumed (necessarily expensive), and that it is being drunk excessively: "Cup of Ace, cup of Goose, cup of Cris / ... Takin' all the liquor straight, never chase that / ... Champagne spilling, you should taste that". Because nothing says "fancy" like spilling your drink. Or wasting good alcohol just because you can. And, of course, nothing says "class" like flaunting your heedless waste and excess, especially for our environmentally-challenged, first-world lifestyle of decadence and opulence. Add a trashed hotel room to the alcohol abuse (classic "fancy" behavior, naturally), as well as some overtly expensive status symbols ("somethin' worth half a ticket on my wrist"), and you pretty much have the recipe for modern "me-generation" disaster. Recessions, and "global warming", and first-world poverty, and pretty much every other buzzword you can think of has its roots in this pattern of behavior.

I'm not trying to put the blame on poor Iggy. After all, this modern mess is over a century in the making, and Azalea is just as much a symptom of it as recession. But her example is a very effective way to hold a mirror up to ourselves and to see our own individual and social problems. Perhaps the most disturbing trend exhibited here is Azalea's obsession with money: "So get my money on time, if they not money, decline / ... Put that paper over all... / Never turn down money". She basically admits in this song that she is willing to do anything for money, suffer any degradation, give up any sort of integrity: the money is priority. Money is god. It is money that she worships, that she works for, that she chases after, that she lusts after. It is telling that the line "Never turn down money" occurs immediately after she has been tantalizing a supposed male with her desirability: the desire for money above all else almost instantly degenerates into prostitution. The lust for money is so all-encompassing that even the integrity of the body, the dignity of one's own person, can be sacrificed to it in a heartbeat. None of us are immune to this threat. Whether it's our bodies, our time, our talents, our families, even our opinions, everything about us can be sacrificed on the altar of money if we are willing to "put that paper over all". And the modern world tells us that we should do exactly that. Men and women should give up their ability to serve their spouses and raise their children properly in order to chase the almighty dollar. Young people should sacrifice their true talents and desires in order to pursue lucrative career paths they neither desire nor enjoy. Our governments are willing to cater to the whims of wealthy lobbyists rather than pursue the common good in order to maintain an exorbitant status quo. This is a pervasive problem; it starts with the fear and selfishness of the individual and spreads to affect the entire population. Intense individualistic greed is at the heart of the breakdown in our culture.

The more modern problem with our wealth -- at least, compared to how these problems appeared sixty years ago -- is that their destructive aspects are more evident and more consequential. Practically speaking, money cannot be an end in itself. We cannot really "put that paper above all". Money is just a symbol, a sign for other things. Our wealth has to be directed to some sort of end: the maintenance of a family, investment in societal goods, charitable work, and so on. The problem for most modern people is that their focus on money has no end goal. It has become an end in itself, and, when its uselessness is perceived by those who acquire it, its end tends to become destructive -- self-destructive first, and then socially destructive. Young starlets, like Iggy Azalea and Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus and whoever else, end up in trouble precisely because they have money without purpose. The media tells us that happiness lies in money because money can get you things. We are subjected to a veritable onslaught of advertising that convinces us to dump our money into alcohol, fashion, cars, technological gizmos, and whatever else, but even these things lack a purpose in our lives. Why do we want these things? The makers of "stuff" can't really tell us that. They can't give us purpose. Things can't give us purpose. And the frustration of wasting all of our time and effort on purposeless things tends to drive us to destructive ends. We try to tell ourselves that the end of alcohol is fun (which is true), but fun becomes drunkenness, debauchery, and destruction, none of which are really any fun and are harmful to both ourselves and others. Fashion and cars and gizmos, purposeless in and of themselves, take on a role as status symbols; they become a way for us to bring others down and build ourselves up. Azalea uses her "fancy" status symbols, her wealth and her fame, to put down other people: men are not good enough to have her, and women are not good enough to compare with her. Azalea, of course, is not unique in this; almost all pop music caters to this mentality. More importantly, we cater to this mentality. We want to be envied. We want others to see what we have and think we're somehow better because of it. We think that wealth and influence over others we will gives us meaning and purpose. We think that, as Azalea's rap collaborator Charli XCX says, it "feels so good getting what I want", so that must be what the goal of life is. But it's not. And persisting in this misconception is what is destroying our world, our culture, our relationships, and ourselves.

So what can we do about this? I think a good first step would be to rethink our priorities in life: what is truly important? What do we truly want out of life? What truly makes us happy in this world? What is a reasonable and balanced way of achieving that?  And perhaps a good second step would be to put our desire for money in its proper context, remembering that money is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Earning money must be for a purpose, and we should have an awareness of what that purpose is in our own lives. Finally, rather than encouraging individual wealth and success in our culture as the entire measure of our lives, we should really be encouraging personal integrity and social responsibility if we plan on living in a civilized society in the next century. Selfish individualism is a cultural dead-end. It's time to take a cue from the "fancy" lifestyle of Azalea and the rest, and make an about-face before we become the indentured slaves of the dollar bill.


The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!


300: What Does Sacrifice Actually Mean?

Zack Snyder's 300 (2006), an adaptation of Frank Miller's comic series of the same name, is one of my favorite films. From that, and from my previous post on Fight Club (1999), you are perhaps already forming an idea of what kind of moviegoer I am. I like epic films. I like brain-twisters. I like a lot of bloody carnage. But what I really like in these films -- something that is often absent or co-opted in other films -- is their sense of heroism and self-sacrifice. In some films (like Fight Club and 300), this can be difficult to see and often can be overshadowed by things like multiple personality disorders and CGI-enhanced abdominal muscles. I find it unfortunate and rather bizarre that the first thing many people say to me when I express my admiration for this film is, "You know their abs are fake, right?" It bothers me that many people can't seem to get past the superficial elements of the film in order to see the strength of the story being told beneath them. Underneath the CGI are real characters, not empty husks, and underneath the slow-motion action sequences and suspended globules of blood is a story that tackles head-on the question of what sacrifice really means.

There are two ideas of sacrifice being used throughout the narrative that are, in a sense, directly opposed to one another. On the one hand, there is the "sacrifice" required or recommended by the villainous or cowardly characters, such as Xerxes, Theron, Ephialtes, and the Ephors (those creepy old men who divine the will of the gods through drugged dancing girls). The notion of sacrifice proposed by these characters is one that undermines the true meaning of sacrifice by using the language of heroism to promote a form of moral slavery. It is in the "best interest" of Leonidas, king of the Spartans, to give Xerxes what he desires. It is "heroic" of him to allow Xerxes to conquer them without bloodshed, to put his own desire to fight aside in favor of "protecting" his people from certain death. Xerxes and Ephialtes tell Leonidas that it is in his own interest, as well as that of his comrades and nation, to join Xerxes; he and his loved ones will receive wealth, power, prestige, and reward beyond measure. Isn't that what a good leader should provide for his people? Isn't that what a good husband, father, king should choose for those he loves? Is it not a kind of sacrifice, a heroic sacrifice, to put aside his own pride in order to protect his family from the pain of losing him and his people from the horror of Xerxes' merciless army?

This notion of "sacrifice" is deeply flawed in two important ways. The first is in the means: it is never acceptable to make concessions to moral evil for the sake of a supposed good. The ends never justify the means. Leonidas desires to protect his nation from Xerxes' army, yes, and he could do so by simply agreeing to allow Xerxes to "oversee" Sparta and paying a tax. Bowing to Xerxes would allow his people to live in peace and avoid bloodshed. But this act has serious consequences attached to it. Xerxes' world is one built on slavery, and not just the kind that subjugates a person's physical body to the will of another: the slavery of Xerxes is a spiritual bondage. It is slavery to money. It is slavery to pleasure. It is slavery to ambition. The Ephors, Ephialtes, and Theron all make this abundantly clear through their words and actions throughout the film as they encourage Leonidas to capitulate to Xerxes' demands. In bowing to Xerxes, Leonidas must bow to all that he represents; he must bow to evil, yield to it, make concessions, and every concession is another step down the road to eternal bondage. There is no deal we can make with the devil that does not end in hell. When confronted with evil, there is no accord that can be struck, no truce to be made. The only proper response to evil is to fight it.

The second flaw in the villains' notion of "sacrifice" is the idea that one can demand the sacrifice of others for some vague notion of the "common good". Theron encourages Leonidas to use his power as king to make the decision to sacrifice the freedom of his people in exchange for their lives. Ephialtes asks Leonidas to sacrifice the safety of his men to satiate Ephialtes' own desires for glory and perhaps to strike a blow for equality. In both cases, Leonidas is asked to make others into a sacrifice on behalf of larger goals. This can be a very tempting idea, but it denies the reality of what a sacrifice truly is. A sacrifice must be a denial of self to oneself and a gift of self to others. No one can make the decision on behalf of others to sacrifice anything. No world leader anywhere can ever justly say, for example, "My people are going to make the sacrifice to never eat fast food again in order to ease the strain on our health care system", and then enforce that sacrifice on them. This is immediately not a sacrifice on anyone's part, but a slip into totalitarianism that denies the inviolability of the free will of every individual human person. It is true sometimes that "sacrifices must be made", but they can only be made on the individual level by the free choice of the person making the sacrificial gift of themselves on behalf of others. This is exactly what Leonidas and his three hundred do. Leonidas is careful to stress the importance of freedom in going to face Xerxes. He chooses to do it himself, and the men who come with him are each willing to sacrifice themselves to help stop the threat to their homeland. By telling the political leaders of his kingdom that he is merely "taking a walk", Leonidas strives to ensure that his sacrificial actions do not impinge on their freedom to make sacrificial choices of their own. This is what lies at the heart of all heroic sacrifice: the courage to make a sacrifice of oneself in freedom and out of love.

This second point is intrinsically connected to a third: we cannot sacrifice what is not ours to give. If the reality of sacrifice is a denial of the self in order to give of the self in love on behalf of others, then it stands to reason that the thing we must deny ourselves and the thing we must give of ourselves must actually be ours. And this is where 300 runs into a nasty little problem. Leonidas' queen Gorgo also attempts to make of herself a sacrifice in order to support her husband's heroic stand against evil, but her sacrifice falls short of its aims, both in the plot and in principle. Gorgo believes that she needs Theron's support in the senate in order to move the politicians to support open war against Xerxes; she agrees to give him whatever he wants in order to obtain his support. Naturally, as an ambitious and vicious character, Theron desires the queen's body in exchange for his voice. Gorgo agrees to this and, in doing so, betrays everything her husband is fighting for: freedom, integrity, reason, virtue. Her end goal of helping her husband does not justify the moral evil of adultery, regardless of the circumstances. While Leonidas has gone to war to protect his wife and the wives of his comrades from the rape and pillage of the Persian army, Gorgo enacts the very thing he fights and dies to shield her from. Rather than giving freedom to herself or others, Gorgo's submission to Theron's demands, her act of bowing to evil, makes her a slave to his word when he accuses her before the senate and works to set the politicians even more ardently against her. It may be argued that, regardless of the outcome of her actions, Gorgo's choice was indeed sacrificial because she subjected herself to something she did not want in order to give of herself to help the husband she loved. However, this idea does not take into account the reality of marriage, in which two people give completely of themselves to the other and receive the other in return as a gift. Gorgo's marital relationship with Leonidas means that her sexuality is absolutely something she cannot offer as a sacrifice for the war effort. Her sexual gift is something she has already given to Leonidas through their marriage and cannot be offered to anyone else while that marriage lasts. In effect, her sexual gift is not something that belongs solely to her and, therefore, cannot be sacrificed without denying Leonidas the freedom to make the sacrifice as well. She does not ask him if he is willing to make this sacrifice, nor does she have the opportunity to do so, but I have a strong suspicion that, even if she did, he would say no. Her actions, no matter what good she hoped to gain from it, cannot be considered truly sacrificial because they make concessions to evil and sacrifice what cannot be freely sacrificed.

It might be argued that Gorgo's and Leonidas' actions are symbolic of male and female sacrifice: a male yields his body up to physical death, while a woman yields her body up to a kind of sexual death. However, both men and women are called to the same kind of heroism, a heroism that does not make distinctions based on gender: that of the martyr. Martyrdom, the most perfect form of sacrifice, requires that the integrity of the soul remain unbroken. Martyrdom demands that one endure any sort of physical evil before one would dare to commit or participate in a moral evil. Martyrdom means that one acknowledges the good of the spiritual life as far above and beyond any good the physical life has to offer. For the martyr, the temptations of Xerxes fall on deaf ears, for the temptations to wealth, sex, and power have no hold on their hearts and are seen as the fleeting vanities that they are. It is the martyr who truly hopes for the good of all mankind when he is able to stand firm in the midst of the deepest trials and not crumble beneath the onslaught of evil. It is the martyr, the one who understands what true sacrifice consists of, who is able to "fight in the shade", to stand firm even when the sky is darkened with countless arrows: "You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day" (Ps. 91:5). This is the highest example of heroic sacrifice, and it is also the true glory of which Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans could only imagine.


The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!


"YOLO": You Only Live Once or You Oughta Look Out?

Before I even start talking about the infamous acronym popularized by Canadian rapper Drake's song "The Motto", you have to watch this music video for the song "YOLO" (2013) by the comedy musical group The Lonely Island, featuring Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar.

Did you watch it? No, you have to watch it first. Go watch it.

Okay, now that you've watched it, I hope you were as entertained as I was. The song was first released on an episode of Saturday Night Live last year, and provides an impressive and important counterpoint to the popular meaning of the phrase "You only live once". Most often, the phrase is used to justify or excuse dangerous, irresponsible, or immature behavior. The idea is that, since we only have one chance to experience everything in this world, we are completely justified in any sort of reckless behavior we may choose to indulge in. As long as we are gaining new experiences, it makes no difference whether these experiences have positive or negative effects on the totality of one's life. This motto is closely linked to the idea of "living without regrets", which most people understand to mean doing whatever one would like and not regretting doing it, regardless of what negative effects our choices might have on our lives. Although these mottoes purport to believe that "you only live once", in practice they actually deny the reality of human mortality and mutability, and naively assume that nothing we undergo has the power to destroy or diminish us in any way, shape, or form. This leads to a false belief about what it means to be a human person, which leads to choices that damage us both physically and spiritually. Both YOLO and "No regrets" have been manipulated by our culture's adolescent mentality to justify infantile behavior and a life philosophy of instant gratification, which have been incredibly damaging to the youth of our culture and, hence, to the future of culture itself.

The Lonely Island, well known for their parodic themes in all of their music, latch on to this infantile idea of YOLO and turn it on its head. Instead of justifying reckless and immature behavior, "YOLO" encourages people to take seriously the fact that we really do have only one life to live, and that the choices we make in this life will have a lasting impact on how this life turns out. To that end, The Lonely Island advises (humorously, of course) that we do everything within our power to protect and extend that life by avoiding dangerous behaviors, looking to our financial future, and basically avoiding any life experience whatsoever. The obsessive nature of this kind of self-preservation eventually devolves, in the video, into phobias, neuroses, and paranoia. The one life we have to live is constantly threatened by death and nothingness. Rather than supporting the recklessness that denies the mortality of the human person, this opposing idea of "you only live once" sees human existence as a one-time, fragile, ultimately meaningless thing that has no life or import beyond the temporal confines of the living body. The physical death of the body is seen as the end of all human activity and the end of our opportunities to gather up any enjoyment for ourselves; yet, in the process of this desperate struggle to store up joys, the joy of life is altogether sucked away. What The Lonely Island expresses in a humorous way is another unfortunate misconception about the human person as inexorably degenerating into nothingness. As with the misconception of immortality, the misconception of nothingness leads to errors in judgement about human life that has damaging effects on us both physically and spiritually.

What we're missing out on in both of these polarizing viewpoints is the pilgrim nature of the human person. Yes, in some ways we are poised between being and nothingness, but nothingness is not inexorable by any means and eternal being is far from assured. The frantic clawing for security in wealth, career, health, or any other area of life is a cover for the deep-seated despair in our lives that believes there is no way to escape the devastation of nothingness, but is desperate to hold it off for as long as possible. The reckless YOLO experience that is heedless of personal danger is guilty of another kind of sin, that of presumption, and a particularly Lutheran presumption at that. Luther believed that our faith in Christ saved us, and our personal acts, regardless of their moral merit or demerit, had no bearing whatsoever on our ultimate fate. In this sense, for Luther, after baptism and the solemn profession of faith in Christ, you are free to do whatever you want. In the same way, the YOLO lifestyle presumes that eternal being has already been bestowed on us and that personal actions are inconsequential to who we ultimately become or to how our actions effect others. Both ways of "only living once" are narrow and selfish, denying the reality of humanity and maintaining a staunch individualism that denies the intrinsic value of the other, as well.

The true way to live once for all requires us to find a mean between these two radical and false views of the human person and its place in the world. We must reaffirm the fact that our existence is a true good, that we were created out of love, and that all things that are set in motion or put into being are meant to stay in motion or in being. We are meant to be, really and truly. The first moment of our existence in the womb of our mothers propelled us forward into being, and we perpetually gravitate towards the Source of all being by nature. We are meant to continue in existence, and this reality must give us, first, the hope and, second, the courage to live our lives to the fullest, to seek after the good in all things, and to fully actualize all the potentialities of our being. This is the answer to the desperate despair of the paranoid neurotic within all of us that is desperate to build a fortress around itself in an attempt to cheat death: hope and courage. At the same time, we must combat the presumption that eternal being is already within our grasp. As long as we exist in this world, nothingness is still a reality for us. It is not inexorable and it by no means has an equal pull on us with the Source of our being. However, we always have the ability to make a free choice for nothingness rather than being. We can choose to deny our nature and aim ourselves towards nothing. This is always within our power. Because of this, we must be on our guard and act with prudence in all our decisions, making informed and wise choices for our good. In this, as well, we are required to hope that, in accordance with our choices for being, we may be granted that eternal being we desire from the core of our very selves.

Yes, it is true that we only live once. But what we decide to do with this one life is of the utmost importance. Courage, prudence, hope: these are the key ingredients for living life to the fullest. We must have the courage to go out into the world and make our mark, to use our talents as best we can, and, through our interactions with others and the experiences we accrue, to become the best person we can possibly be. This is an enormous task and requires great courage. But courage alone is foolhardy; it must be tempered by prudence. We must make choices every moment of our lives, and these choices will affect us in every imaginable way. We must be discerning so that we can make choices for our good, choices that continue to propel us toward being, and avoid those choices that will whittle us away to nothing. Prudence is required to temper courage and direct our lives to their ultimate ends. And, before everything and after, we must hope. Without hope, we cannot be courageous. Without hope, prudence is a false veneer. Hope is necessary to drive us forward and stir in us the fires of ingenuity, passion, creativity, and redemption.

So, YOLO? Yes, YOLO. But, as in all things, it's a matter of quality over quantity. You only live once, so you had better make this the best life you could possibly live.


The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!


Is There a Problem with Ariana Grande's "Problem"?

Well, sure, there are a few. But none of them are really to her detriment. The problem she faces is humanity's problem, one we can all be sympathetic to in one way or another. "Problem" (2014), the debut single from Ariana Grande's upcoming and as yet untitled second album, is catchy and will have you toe-tapping along in no time. Although it makes use of one of my least favorite instruments, the sax, in the worst possible way (see Jason Derulo's "Talk Dirty" for another horrible example, as well as Jennifer Lopez's 2005 single "Get Right"), the song itself is enjoyable enough. The idea behind the lyrics relates an experience rather than an opinion, which leaves room for the listener to deliver the final judgement on what to do in this particular situation. The problem in "Problem" is what to do when you know intellectually that a relationship isn't right for you, but your emotional connection to the person makes it difficult for you to truly cut ties and move on. The experience is common enough, and "Problem" hits on all of the inconsistencies of the will that make firm resolutions largely untenable. I plan to highlight just a few points from the song's theme that I think shed some light on the problem of being resolute in our relationships with others, but also in our relationship with ourselves.

First of all, I guess I should make that judgement which, I think, "Problem" allows its audience to make: Go cold turkey. We are all well aware -- intellectually, at any rate -- that the best way to overcome an addiction is to remove the source of the addiction from your life completely. If you're trying to quit smoking, the best way is to get rid of your cigarettes and not buy any more. If you're trying to quit drinking, get rid of all your alcohol and don't buy any more. Don't even go into the liquor store. Avoid places where you know people will be drinking. We know these things. Of course, I wouldn't go so far as to say that we have "addictions" to our significant others and, if we break up with them, that we are trying to overcome an "addiction" necessarily. But there is a sense in which we truly are trying to "kick the habit", so to speak. Being in a relationship does create certain good feelings in us which, once they are removed, can cause us to feel empty and lonely. We go into a state of "withdrawal" in which we find it very difficult to be happy without those good feelings being fed to us by the significant other. The easiest way to fix that, it often seems, is simply to reestablish the relationship, just like the easiest way to kill the craving for a cigarette is just to have one. If the relationship is not a healthy one, then getting back into it is just like taking up our bad habit again: we satisfy our craving, but we continue to make ourselves unhealthy and make it more difficult for ourselves to make a clean break. In relationships, we have the added problem of the other person, as well. If we have said, in the words of Taylor Swift, that "we are never, ever, ever getting back together", but then we give in to the other's entreaties to satisfy our own cravings for good feelings, or even simply out of a misplaced sympathy, we do damage to the other person by setting up false hopes and do damage to ourselves by making our word something that can be manipulated and ignored. This is what leads to increasingly messy break-ups and severely damaged hearts. We need to make firm acts of the will in these cases and truly make an end of things.

Acts of the will are extremely difficult things for us. Our wills have been weakened by original sin and our bad habits. We can't say no to extra desserts and large sizes, so we're obese. We can't say no to sexual urges, so we fund a billion-dollar porn industry. We can't say no to alcohol, so we're intoxicated every weekend. We can't say no to Netflix and video games, so we waste hours and days of our lives doing nothing constructive. We can't say no to gossip, so the magazine racks, and even the newspapers, are filled with salacious headlines to tempt our curiosity. We can't say no to sales racks, so we buy cartloads of things we'll never need. Why can't we say no? Partially, I think, because no one asks us to. Our culture thrives -- if we can call it that -- on the mantra, "If it feels good, do it". Self-control is frowned upon by the consumerist mentality and laughed at by the corporate billionaires. Don't stop feeding your face, or you'll stop funding our bank accounts! Don't stop getting more of what you want, or you'll be missing out on the good things of life! You're only really living if other things control your life! The truth is that self-control, largely, keeps the rich from getting richer, and they don't want that. That's what advertising is all about. It feeds "addictions", weakens the will, and provides us with excuses to become more and more a slave to things rather than to become their masters. The truth is we can only be the masters of things once we are the masters of ourselves.

So how do we do that? How do we learn to master ourselves so that we can truly be free to make the best decisions for our health and well-being, both physical and spiritual? Well, self-control is a virtue and, like any virtue, it is only attained through exercise. Our wills must be exercised in order to make them stronger. Virtue is a habit and habits are built up through constant practice. So we can build up our willpower in the same way that we might build up muscle: start small with something you can handle, but also something that challenges you, like giving up one of your four coffees a day to try to reduce your dependency on caffeine. Refrain from getting large sizes of things at fast food places to gain mastery over your eating habits. Try getting up fifteen minutes earlier than you normally would on the weekends to gain mastery over your sleeping habits. Allot yourself only two hours of TV-watching or game-playing per day and stick to it. Traditional Catholic discipline stemming from the Desert Fathers and Mothers has always taught that exhibiting constant mastery over the desires of the body in small ways helps us to be steadfast when faced with stronger temptations to self-indulgence in both the physical and spiritual realms. Being able to deny one's stomach its inordinate desire for excess food, for instance, enables one to deny one's sexual drive its inordinate desire for gratification. Even more so, making a habit of denying the body makes it easier and more natural to be able to deny oneself in spiritual matters, such as the desire for fame and undue praise, the desire to be right at the expense of charity, or the desire even to receive the pleasures of God's presence in one's prayer life. The dry seasons of the soul are overcome much more readily by the person who is familiar with imposing "dry seasons" on his body.

All of this comes back around (finally) to Ariana Grande's "Problem". Her problem is a problem of the will and, as much as it relates to the problem of setting aside a bad relationship for good, it also relates to the much greater problem of our cultural lack of self-control. Grande's line, "I shouldn't want it / But I gotta have it", describes us all. We all need to wrestle with our willpower so that we can not only know what's best for us, but also have the ability -- the will -- to do it. This requires effort, it requires practice, it requires exercise in order to build a habit. It can be an arduous task, but it is within our reach and could be the answer to so many of our problems. Wouldn't it be nice to say, along with Grande's rap collaborator Iggy Azalea via rap artist Jay-Z, "I got 99 problems, but my will ain't one"?


The point of this blog is not to tell anyone what they should or should not consider entertaining, nor what films, books, lyrics, or television shows are morally or artistically good or bad. The point is to engage with the stories that are creating our culture on an intellectual level, to meet the morals with our minds before they go to our hearts. Once you know what's in the entertainment you imbibe and you're aware of how it may be shaping your perceptions of the world around you, well then, imbibe away!