1. A worthy editorial from David Brooks (ht JS and AZ) from Tuesday’s NY Times, entitled “High-Five Nation”, tracing an important change in national attitudes over the past 50 years:
When you glimpse back on those days [immediately following World War II] you see a people — even the rich and famous celebrities — who were overawed by the scope of the events around them. The war produced such monumental effects, and such rivers of blood, that the individual ego seemed petty in comparison. The problems of one or two little people, as the movie line had it, didn’t amount to a hill of beans.
When you look from today back to 1945, you are looking into a different cultural epoch, across a sort of narcissism line. Humility, the sense that nobody is that different from anybody else, was a large part of the culture then. But that humility came under attack in the ensuing decades. Self-effacement became identified with conformity and self-repression. A different ethos came to the fore, which the sociologists call “expressive individualism.” Instead of being humble before God and history, moral salvation could be found through intimate contact with oneself and by exposing the beauty, the power and the divinity within.
Today, immodesty is as ubiquitous as advertising, and for the same reasons. To scoop up just a few examples of self-indulgent expression from the past few days, there is Joe Wilson using the House floor as his own private “Crossfire”; there is Kanye West grabbing the microphone from Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards to give us his opinion that the wrong person won; there is Michael Jordan’s egomaniacal and self-indulgent Hall of Fame speech. Baseball and football games are now so routinely interrupted by self-celebration, you don’t even notice it anymore.
It’s funny how the nation’s mood was at its most humble when its actual achievements were at their most extraordinary.
2. CNN reports on the ongoing saga of the Ameythst Initiative, a group of 135 university presidents and chancellors who came together a year ago to sign a declaration that the 21-year old drinking age is not working. Looks like something has had the, um, opposite effect of what was intended. Go figure (ht Brendan Sorem):
A study of binge drinking published in the Journal of the American Medical Association announced that “despite efforts at prevention, the prevalence of binge drinking among college students is continuing to rise, and so are the harms associated with it.”
The principal problem of 2009 is not drunken driving. The principal problem of 2009 is clandestine binge drinking. That is why the Amethyst presidents believe a public debate is so urgent. The law does not say drink responsibly or drink in moderation. It says don’t drink. To those affected by it, those who in the eyes of the law are, in every other respect legal adults, it is Prohibition. And it is incomprehensible.
[ed. note: highly reminiscent of the “Teach Drinking” article in the July issue of The Atlantic.]
3. Be sure to sign up for the new “Hymn Share” project happening over at High Street Hymns. These guys are doing the best work out there with church music: uplifting and tasteful (but never boring) re-settings of theologically astounding and poetically sublime hymnody. This project sounds like it will be a treasure trove!
4. Stephen Colbert appears on the cover of this month’s Rolling Stone. The interview within is priceless, esp the following:
Does faith still play a big part in your life?
Very much. I am highly variable in my devotion. From a doctrinal point of view or a dogmatic point of view or a strictly Catholic adherent point of view, I’m first to say that I talk a good game, but I don’t know how good I am about it in practice. I saw how my mother’s faith was very valuable to her and valuable to my brothers and sisters, and I’m moved by the words of Christ, and I’ll leave it at that.
But you do teach Sunday school?
I teach the seven year olds. I’m the catechist for their first communion.
5. Music. I’ve been greatly enjoying the Beatles remasters released last week. The critics were right about one thing – Sgt Pepper is a different beast in mono than in stereo. No longer my least favorite Beatles album!
Then there was the Whitney Houston/Oprah interview, the undeniably most touching section of which had to be:
Oprah: Would you just sit in your room and do drugs?
Whitney: Yeah. Talk on the phone. Watch TV. Listen to gospel. I would still read my Bible, amazingly enough. I would still read my Bible. I still had it in me. I knew God was there. I knew the light was there and I was just trying to get back to it. I just kept trying to get back to that spirituality.
Finally, in honor of the very, very exciting Pavement reunion announced this week, here’s their classic video for “Cut Your Hair”: