Another Week Ends: Attachment Parenting, Sendak on Innocence, Self-Disclosure, Fraudulent Psych, Prometheus, Avengers, and Josh Hamiltonby David Zahl on May 11, 2012 • 1:59 pm
1. Why Is This Attractive Woman Breast-Feeding This Giant Child? asks Hanna Rosin over at Slate, in response to Time’s, um, eye-catching cover this past week. You know the one I’m talking about – at least you do if you’ve seen it (below). The story within, bearing the not-so-subtle title of “Are You Mom Enough?”, profiles the controversial world of radical attachment parenting and the man behind it, Dr. Bill Sears. Now I’m as big a proponent of breastfeeding as the next guy (…), so the reason I include the article here has nothing to do with developmental health or women’s rights, as important as those things may be. Instead, it’s relevant to us as a particularly inescapable present-tense example of cultural Law. We’ve said it once, we’ll say it again: if you think leaving church equates to getting out from under the strictures of crushing existential demand, think again. Indeed, as Rosin so accurately pinpoints, these standards of maternal righteousness have begun to take on Sermon-on-the-Mount-like proportions:
Attachment parenting demands not just certain actions you take with your baby but also certain emotional states to accompany those actions. So, it’s not just enough to breast-feed but one has to experience “breast-feeding induced maternal nirvana.” And it’s not enough to snuggle—you have to snuggle enough to achieve a spiritual high… Once women were just expected to tolerate their babies, Betty Draper style, but now they are expected to experience “jouissance,” loosely translated as “orgasm.” And this is what makes the movement truly oppressive.
Lisa Belkin has an irenic response over at the Huffington Post that’s also worth reading.
2. On a related note, no doubt you’ve heard that illustrator and author Maurice Sendak died this past week. The Atlantic summed up part of Sendak’s counter-cultural legacy–his taking issue with contemporary understandings of childhood innocence (which also happen to be thoroughly un-biblical, one might add). He will be missed:
Sendak railed against what he perceived to be an insidiously overprotective parent culture. The evidence does suggest we adults sometimes take our good-natured desire to protect children from unpleasantness to perverse depths. I see it in the phenomenon of “helicopter parenting,” for instance—the misguided attempt to thwart all potential pitfalls through hovering omnipresence. We seek to foil internal darkness, too, by plying young people with antidepressants and anxiety medication. And we’re highly sensitive about showing children any sort of “challenging” material, even in cases when censorship verges on absurd.
But it is this expurgated account of childhood—what he called “the great 19th-century fantasy that paints childhood as an eternally innocent paradise”—that Maurice Sendak fought tooth and claw, horn and beak. He knew that children are unavoidably beset by grief, yearning, anxiety, and rage, the same wild and turbulent emotions that seize adult human beings...When fairy tales flirt with trouble, but avoid real consequences, they really work. And yet the possibility of straying too far—the Lindbergh scenario—haunts Sendak’s work. “Certainly,” Sendak told the Caldecott audience, “we want to protect our children from new and painful experiences that are beyond their emotional comprehension and intensify anxiety.” The child must return home safely for the story to have ameliorative power; Sendak criticized Roald Dahl and Hans Christian Andersen for veering into unnecessary cruelty. Still, he insisted that children are more complicated, tolerant readers than we think, and that they will surprise us in their ability to respond to difficult literature.
If you’ve never heard Sendak speak about his love for William Blake, it’s worth your time. Plus:
3. Elsewhere, Gawker and Gizmodo picked up an amusing report from the Harvard psychology department about the pleasure of self-disclosure (and implicit narcissism). According to their research, we enjoy talking about ourselves so much that we’re willing to forgo payment in order to do so. From the Gawker piece, ht RT:
Using MRI scans, the psychologists found that the regions of the brain associated with reward [the same area that responds to reward and satisfaction from food, money or sex] lit up like a Christmas tree when people got to talk about themselves.
[Moreover, the researchers] found that people enjoyed themselves more and were willing to give up more money when they thought their answers (either about themselves or others) would be shared with another person than when they were told their responses would be kept absolutely private.
4. NPR ran a fascinating if a bit tentative segment on the psychology of fraud called “Why Good People Do Bad Things.” Turn the title around, and you almost have a Mockingbird breakout (seriously: we have one in the archives from John Zahl called “Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?”). Talk about understatement:
Over the past couple of decades, psychologists have documented many different ways that our minds fail to see what is directly in front of us. They’ve come up with a concept called “bounded ethicality”: That’s the notion that cognitively, our ability to behave ethically is seriously limited, because we don’t always see the ethical big picture.
5. If you’ve seen The Avengers–which if box office numbers are to be believed, you probably have–then you saw the trailer for Ridley Scott’s upcoming Prometheus. The NY Times published an article about the man behind Alien and Blade Runner (and… A Good Year), in which some of the film’s subtext emerged, and let’s just say it sounds interesting in a could-be-2001-could-be-Battlefield-Earth kind of way:
In news conferences and in conversation Mr. Scott has evinced sympathy for the notion — popular in some circles, including the Vatican — that it is almost “mathematically impossible” for life on Earth to have gotten to where it is today without help. “It is so enormously irrational that we can do this,” he went on, referring to our conversation — “two specs of atoms on a carbon ball.”
“Who pushed it along?” he asked. Have we been previsited by gods or aliens? “The fact that they’d be at least a billion years ahead of us in technology is daunting, and one might use the word God or gods or engineers of life in space.” And would we want to meet them again? Mr. Scott’s countryman the cosmologist Stephen Hawking has suggested that we should be careful Out There. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet,” Dr. Hawking said.
Mr. Scott agreed: “Hopefully they won’t visit.” As the movie suggests, however, we might not be able to resist visiting them, whether they like it or not.
6. Speaking of The Avengers, though, three cheers for Joss! Yes, The Hulk stole the show, and yes, Whedon’s dialogue coming out of Robert Downey Jr.’s mouth was a match made in heaven. And it’s a strange day indeed when the weakest character in a Whedon film is the female lead. Rolling Stone put out a pretty laughable ranking of all his projects (Dollhouse Season 2 was incredible! And Serenity behind season one of Buffy?! Puh-leeze. At least they get the top pick right). Thankfully, Joss himself provided a list of his top ten Buffy episodes over on EW. Amidst all the Whedon hype, if you’ve never read Kris Opat’s review of Joss’ ‘space-opera’ Serenity, it touches on a number of the reasons we keep featuring him on here. Actually, come to think of it, if you’ve never seen Serenity, best to do that before anything else.
7. In keeping with a rather bleak column this week, The Times also published an entertaining list of Books People Lie About. Top spot? You guessed it! Substitute the word “Bible” for “Corrections” in the second item and you have a pretty accurate statement as well, at least in my experience.
8. We’ll end on an upbeat note. Texas slugger Josh Hamilton speaks about his faith (and his problems with addiction) with remarkable humility and wisdom on ESPN. He gets going around the 5 minute mark:
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