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1) This week, the Atlantic posted an article entitled “That’s Not Funny! Today’s college students can’t seem to take a joke.” It seems that students who once had healthy desire not to step on controversial toes have seamlessly evolved into politcal-correctness police: The article’s author, Caitlin Flanagan, writes: “O, Utopia. Why must your sweet governance always turn so quickly from the Edenic to the Stalinist?” The article is ripe with provoking material on little-l laws and low anthropology.

Apparently it’s challenging for stand-up comedians to do live acts on college campuses, because it’s near-impossible to satisfy all the sensitivities the students have. The inability to measure up to the myriad laws of sensitivity result in the inevitable sacrifice of ultimately “immutable” truths:

The students would love him [comedian Geoff Keith]…. But he would not tell the jokes that kill at the clubs…. Those jokes include observations about power and sex and even rape—and each, in its complicated way, addresses certain ugly and possibly immutable truths. But they are jokes, not lessons from the gender-studies classroom. Their first objective is to be funny, not to service any philosophical ideal. They go where comedy always wants to go, to the darkness, and they sucker-punch you with a laugh when you don’t think you should laugh.

And maybe you shouldn’t. These young people have decided that some subjects—among them rape and race—are so serious that they shouldn’t be fodder for comics. They want a world that’s less cruel; they want to play a game that isn’t rigged in favor of the powerful. And it’s their student-activities money, after all—they have every right to hire the exact type of entertainment that matches their beliefs. Still, there’s always a price to pay for walling off discussion of certain thoughts and ideas. Drive those ideas underground, especially the dark ones, and they fester.

Flanagan suggests that even if dark themes aren’t addressed out loud, they nevertheless exist. Though darkness [sin] is inherent, Flanagan argues that comedy has the ability to make the “immutable” truth of man’s dark nature approachable.

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2) On the bright side, there’s a hilarious new computer game at your fingertips. This weekend, take some time to enjoy this philosophical spin off the classic Super Mario Bros, called Ennuigi. The game’s tagline reads: “Spend some time with a depressed, laconic Luigi as he chain smokes and wanders through a crumbling Mushroom Kingdom, ruminating on ontology, ethics, family, identity, and the mistakes he and his brother have made.”

3) At The New Yorker, Joshua Rothman reviewed one of U2’s recent concerts. Entitled “U2: Bring Back the Irony,” this review illustrates the band’s tug-of-war between new and old, sincerity and irony. The concert was split into themes of “innocence” and “experience”:

… the “innocence” half was elegiac and angry, with Bono singing about the Troubles and the death of his mother, while the “experience” half was more expansive, optimistic, and uplifting. In this way, the narrative was essentially Christian. Experience was understood as the rediscovery of innocence.

Rothman doesn’t slam U2’s ‘new’ style but nevertheless admits:

…it’s hard not to miss the U2 of the nineties….

Back then, they mocked and resisted the pop-culture machine, which co-opts even the subtlest ideas by turning them into brands, slogans, and images. They knew they were part of that machine; in a sense, they recognized their own ugliness. Now, especially in its live show, U2 seems to shy away from everything ambiguous, ugly, and false—a problem for a band that wants to sing about love, beauty, and the state of the world. The band’s relentless positivity is another kind of falsehood…

During those [90s] concerts, U2 acknowledged that its own peculiar combination of spiritual populism, rock theatricality, and social seriousness could be bizarre, unsettling, and even offensive. That didn’t make it worthless; in some ways, it was more effective for being strange. U2 turned that strangeness into art. The band’s great subject became the separation of meaning from meaninglessness.

4) Speaking of the debatable value of irony, the reviews for the David Foster Wallace biopic, The End of the Tour, are overall positive. Here’s one that calls director James Ponsoldt’s touch “gentle genius.” The film might, however, be a little “too straight, too simple, too sentimental” for true DFW fans.

The result is less portrait of an artist than snapshot of a brief, meaningful encounter, shared between two men enjoying different stages of professional success. That one of these men happens to be a modern literary hero is almost, if not quite, incidental….

…it’s hard to imagine how a Wallace fan could be unmoved by scenes of Segel reciting the writer’s articulated, transcribed anxieties. Either way, the movie’s insights—into professional envy, into fear of fraudulence, into the strange business of forging a friendship—extend beyond the boundaries of its biographical roots.

5) Feeding the 4,000: Newlyweds in Turkey traded a traditional wedding celebration for feeding 4,000 Syrian refugees in a breadline.

The idea came from the groom’s father…

“When he told that to the bride she was really shocked because, you can imagine, as a bride you wouldn’t think about this—it’s all about you and your groom,” says Hatice Avci, the international communications manager for KYM [a Turkish relief program]. “In southeastern Turkey there is a real culture of sharing with people in need…. They love to share their food, their table, everything they have. That’s why the bride also accepted. And afterwards she was quite amazed about it…. It’s like sharing a dinner with your friends and family.”

Additionally, the Calais Migrant Crisis has been in the news this week: Thousands of migrants from different areas of unrest have been gathering in Calais in the north of France. Resources are wearing thin, which might explain why these these photos, posted by The Guardian, are particularly moving. Here you’ll see a makeshift church in the Calais shantytown known as “The Jungle.”

6) A book review for A Beautiful Question, by Frank Wilczek, surfaced on Slate. Wilczek, the Nobel-Prize winning particle physicist, addresses the question: “Is the world a work of art?”

All forces of nature, from electromagnetism to gravity, “embody, at their heart, a common principle: local symmetry,” Wilczek writes. It’s this symmetry that calls to us. When we declare a certain color combination aesthetically pleasing, what we’re really admiring is its perfect order. Our love of lakes and rivers is a way of paying homage to the timely organization of waves, to the synchronized dance of wind and air…

To Wilczek’s first-page question (“Is the world a work of art?”), his response is a resounding yes. But while Wilczek mulls over the larger question that answer demands—why does this artful arrangement of a universe exist?—he does not actually answer it.

Definitely sounds like potential material for further theological investigation, particularly in the idea of beauty.

Strays:

  • Mockingbird’s newest resource, Law and Gospel: A Theology for Sinners (and Saints) plays a pretty critical role in this blogger’s exciting testimony.
  • McSweeney’s depiction of St. Francis’s original-hipster Instagram is worthy of your chuckles.
  • Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman remains as divisive as ever: A bookstore in Michigan is offering to refund it; meanwhile, sci-fi writer Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in an edgy blog post that Watchman “redeems the young woman [Lee] who wrote this book, who wanted to tell some truths about the Southern society that lies to itself so much.” I myself wouldn’t single out the American South as the only society that lies to itself; I think we all do, and Watchman is universally substantial because of it.
  • Harry Potter has once again risen from the dead, making headlines due to a tumblr theory suggesting that, in the final installment, Dumbledore worked as symbol for death. If this sparks your interest, dive into Mockingbird’s Harry Potter vault, here.
  • In dialogue with my earlier critique of vocation, here is a particularly beautiful testimony about “the call”: