Another Week Ends: Willy Loman Preaches, Complicated Mourning, Extroversion Mandates, Celebrity Marriage Formulas, Dependency Dilemmas, Kontiki, Mad Men and Rowan Williamsby David Zahl on Mar 16, 2012 • 4:25 pm
1. A little over four weeks until our Spring Conference in NYC (4/19-21), which means that on Monday night 3/19, the “Earlybird rates” will expire ($150/couple or $100/person all-inclusive). You can’t say we didn’t warn you… If you need an extra push, earlier this week the Episcopal News Service published a generous piece about Mockingbird, which describes our past conferences in flattering terms. So pre-register today! And speaking of our little organization, in the you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up department, a killer Mbird headline appeared in The NY Times recently that was just too uncanny not to share, “Nazareth Defeats Christ the King in Catholic High School Semifinal” ht CM.
2. Two remarkable profiles of actors popped up this past week, the first being an interview with comic actor Ed Helms nee Andy Bernard of The Office in QG this past month, in which Ed almost offhandedly remarks, “I think if I ever get to the point where I actually think I’m beloved, I might just stop working,” ht CB. And then there was The NY Times piece on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s preparation for his role as Willy Loman in Mike Nichols brand-new and apparently fabulous staging of “Death of a Salesman.” Hoffman’s process sounds remarkably like a preacher’s:
[Hoffman] says he wants to feel as human and exposed as possible each time he steps in front of the audience… “I tell you, it’s not the first thing that you want to do when you wake up in the morning,” Mr. Hoffman said of becoming Willy. “You have to find your way there, every morning, to do that… A performance is a living thing, so pinning it down is kind of impossible.”
3. Next, Slate reported on an alarming development in the Psychology world, “the Wrongheaded Movement to List Mourning as a Disorder”:
A group of psychiatrists have spearheaded a movement to include ongoing grief as a disorder, to be labeled “complicated” or “prolonged grief.” Others have proposed, separately, that a mourner can be labeled clinically depressed only two weeks after the loss of a loved one. The problem with both potential changes is that more people’s grief will be diagnosed as abnormal or extreme, in a culture that already leads mourners to feel they need to just “get over it” and “heal.”
What are the downsides of treating grief as a disease? …more people will feel shame and embarrassment about not grieving “properly” or getting over their loss fast enough. And the very language of “symptoms” and “duration” seems only to further diminish the significant event that precipitated these feelings in the first place—the death of a beloved person who can’t be replaced.
4. Along similarly oppressive lines, does our culture espouse The Law of Extroversion? According to the following insight from Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, it would appear so. Via Explore:
Introversion — along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness — is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living under the Extrovert Ideal are like women living in a man’s world, discounted because it goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality trait, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.
5. A half-serious article from John Tierney in The NY Times on “Refining the Formula That Predicts Celebrity Marriages’ Doom”. Bottomline is, relative levels of fame play a large role, esp when the woman outranks the man (AKA he feels judged/threatened), as does the type of fame. And while the link between narcissism and infidelity may not exactly be news, it’s still arresting to hear it put so clearly:
“Research has documented that women who wear skimpy or sexually provocative clothing tend to be higher on the trait of narcissism,” says Dr. Buss, a psychologist at the University of Texas. “My research on married couples found that the trait of narcissism predicted likelihood of sexual infidelity. Those high on narcissism feel entitled to have sex with others. Also, they oscillate between feelings of grandiosity and worthlessness, and the sexual attention helps keep them in the self-aggrandizing region of self-esteem.”
The final line about Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom is quite a kicker, too.
6. Parents have probably already seen Shirley Wang’s slightly depressing write up in The Wall Street Journal of how the “dependency dilemma” and its resulting stress is affecting U.S. Middle Class families. Sounds to this Mockingbird like the Law once again unconsciously wreaking havoc on love:
…these parents tended to have a very specific, idealized way of thinking about family time, says Tami Kremer-Sadlik, a former CELF research director who is now the director of programs for the division of social sciences at UCLA. These ideals appeared to generate guilt when work intruded on family life, and left parents feeling pressured to create perfect time together.
7. The South by Southwest festival has been in full swing this past week in Austin, TX, and one of the highlights we’re most sad about missing (besides The Hill and Wood gigs!) is the one-off reunion of Cotton Mather, those lost lo-fi heroes of late 90s, responsible for the classic, Beatle-esque Kontiki, which contains the bonafide Mbird anthem “Church of Wilson.” Little did we know that the record was born from such sadness and grief. Enough, it turns out, to have detached frontman Robert Harrison from his self-justification efforts for a while. In a little story for NPR anticipating this week’s gig, he looked back, ht JF:
My mother had recently passed away. My heart was feeling kind of blown open and music had taken on a different purpose for me. It was about, you know, healing. And I think, up until then, I had been trying to sort of please other people, write music that was very clever, that might have convinced people I could have gone to graduate school, had that been my ultimate design.
On another Beatle-esque note, there’s this incredibly thorough and borderline convincing forensic exploration of the “Paul is Dead” legend.
8. A handful of television articles that beg a mention. First, The Atlantic’s “The Post-Apocalyptic Morality of The Walking Dead” wisely highlights the thoughtfulness of the last few episodes (which have been the best of the entire run, IMO). Slate’s character study on Community’s Britta, ostensibly a bit of a pan, ends up revealing just how close to home that character is hitting for some people. Troy and Abed may get most of the best lines, but I personally think Gillian Jacobs has turned in the funniest performances this season – I start laughing just thinking about her leotard tree dance in the “Regional Holiday Music”. And then there’s Matt Zoller Seitz’s piece for New York Magazine, “What Makes Mad Men Great”:
Mad Men’s characters are more true to life than any others on TV because they’re so random, inscrutable, and mysterious, and because there’s no propulsive generic master narrative (the building of a gangster coalition, the completion of a stretch of railroad track, the creation of an innovative drug cartel) on which to string their decisions, revelations, and misfortunes. People do things and have things done to them while history rolls invisibly forward. Some of the show’s plot twists are out-of-nowhere melodramatic, and Weiner has a flair for turning subtext into text (while every major character commits deceptions and struggles with identity issues, Don is literally an impostor). But calling Mad Men a high-toned soap opera isn’t accurate, because when soap characters announce their motivations and analyze their impulses, we’re usually supposed to take whatever they say at face value. On Mad Men, explanatory speeches and dream sequences tend to muddy motivation rather than clarify it.
9. The NY Times published a new column by the terrific Eric Weiner (responsible for the recent piece on “Americans and God”) this time looking at the notion of sacred space, or ‘thin places.’ Admittedly not the most Mbird-sympathetic topic, but worth it for the low-church zingers he spouts (“Nothing gets in the way of a genuine experience more than expectations, which explains why so many ‘spiritual journeys’ disappoint”) on the way to a characteristically insightful conclusion.
P.S. As a special bonus this week in honor of just-announced resignation of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, a few of our favorite quotes. While we’re at it, leave it to Americana wunderkinds Sons of Bill (whose incredible new record Sirens drops on the 26th) to draft Rowan to star in their new video:
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