1. Nothing like an essay deflating “the curation craze” to kick off a list of curated links…! Writing for The New Republic, Miya Tokumitsu reflects on the present-day ubiquity of “a word that barely existed forty years ago” and many of her thoughts echo what we heard earlier today from Mary Karr about the triumph of the subjective. Tokumitsu sees the phenomenon as one way we as a culture have come to baptize control in the waters of prestige. A means of filtering existence that makes us feel better about ourselves. In other words, we curate to impose a sense of order on the world, and in doing so flatter our role within it–the great irony being that these impulses (to control and thereby justify) are about the most universal, non-individualized forces out there, an irony not lost on advertisers, who leverage the language of personal curation to move massive amounts of homogeneous product.

So if Tokumitsu is right, the rise in popularity of “curation”–esp as it relates to self-understanding–says more about our underlying (post-religious) anxieties than it does about our tastes, i.e., it’s a method by which we attempt to both harness chaos and fulfill all righteousness. No wonder it’s so pervasive. Which begs the question, what does a playlist full of power ballads say about its curator? Probably nothing that Joe Elliott and co haven’t already covered in vivid detail, ht WTH:

hipsterbarbie2

https://instagram.com/socalitybarbie/

“Curation” has come to validate what would otherwise be simple preferences as not merely unique, but profoundly so. In bestowing great importance to “just picking stuff,” curation in its contemporary, ecumenical sense reinforces many of the personal values promoted by neoliberalism: atomized individualism, the thrall of personalization, aestheticized control, and, of course, consumption-as-authenticity.

Essential to personalization is the aura of control. Curation of the commonplace not only elevates preference but also implies a sense of order that is determined by the individual. It imparts a sense of self-determination and dominant power much in the manner of 401-k investment portfolios and small-business entrepreneurship… We’re all masters of our tiny, curated realms.

Retailers bombard consumers with emails announcing the latest stock, “curated” specifically for Labor Day weekend, cocktail hour, the “gadget-loving dad.” Yet retailers depend on a critical mass of people desiring the same goods. What appears personalized and creative ends up being neither.

blessed

2. In First Things, Peter Leithart issued a pretty convincing (and refreshingly non-malicious) argument for Why Evangelical Films Fail:

Evangelicalism is a word religion. I’m a big fan of words, but even talking pictures aren’t fundamentally about words. It’s no accident that the hall of fame for directors has a large share of Catholics (Fellini, Hitchcock, Scorsese), Orthodox (Tarkovsky, Eisenstein), and sacramental Protestants (Bergman, Malick). This can’t be the whole story, of course […] But there’s something to it: Evangelical films over-explain, over-talk. They don’t trust the images to do the work.

Evangelicalism is also a conversionist faith. Theologically speaking, character development is “sanctification.” A conversionist form of Christianity places less emphasis on sanctification than on conversion and justification. In films, that translates into drastic oversimplification of human psychology. For Evangelicals, there are only two sets of motivations, as there are two kinds of people: Saved and unsaved. That is not the whole story.

Though I’m an Evangelical Protestant, I find the characters in a good mainstream film more psychologically real than characters in Evangelical films. It need not be so. One need only read a bit of Augustine’s Confessions or Pascal or Kierkegaard or Dostoevsky to get a taste for the possibilities of Christian psychology.”

I would offer one qualification: the problem with these films isn’t so much that they should move on from justification as a key human motivation, so much as develop a more expansive (or less shallow) understanding of it, psychologically speaking. Ironically, until the theology at the heart can account for the lack of (measurable, visible) sanctification in a believer, the films will fail to connect on a non preaching-to-the-choir level. That said, for all that they get wrong, disappointing columns like this (from an otherwise respected writer) lead one to believe that the Evangelical estimation of imagery–at least when it comes to sex–may not be as impoverished as it is made out to be. Cue Alain de Botton.

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3. While we’re on the subject of motivation, though, The Atlantic dives into Alex Gibney’s iconoclastic new documentary about Steve Jobs, The Man in the Machine. The film sounds like a 90 minute attempt to push back against those who would seek not just to excuse Job’s well-documented bullying but to actively justify it (there’s that word again). Apparently a key part of the documentary involves footage of a deposition Jobs gave to the SEC in 2008.

There is, in this SEC interview of the CEO of the one of the world’s most powerful companies, a distinctly pouting petulance. And that somehow puts everything else—the betrayals, the bullying, the blithely self-centric worldview—into human perspective. Jobs was, maybe, a Great Man who was also, in many ways, a small child: self-absorbed and desperate to please, those two things not contradicting but instead, in ways productive and not, informing each other.

Does any of that matter, in the end? Was Einstein, too, something of a man-child? Would Edison, when questioned and challenged, have tucked up his legs in a silent, sulking tantrum? We don’t really know, mostly because these Great Men did their Great Things in the age before video, before social media, before depositions and the documentaries that convert their proceedings into media. They lived in a time that afforded people the luxury of being remembered, and defined, for the What of their lives rather than the Who. Steve Jobs did not have that luck. He lived in a time—we live in a time—when a new holism is being brought to bear on history, when our assessments of our heroes can take into account not just their achievements, but their smaller, human-scaled contributions. We live in an age of complicated idolatry. The irony is that we do so, in large part, because of Steve Jobs.

4. Not to be missed is the multi-part testimony that Christianity Today has been running from Samantha Blythe. Not just an incredible story, but beautifully written. First installment is here. Second one is here. Part three is up too. More on their way, I’m told. If you ever read her post on “Me and (Former) Pastor T”, that one’s pretty great too, and may give you a sense of where it’s all heading.

5. Social Science Study of the Week–by a long shot–is the staggering survey of The Science of Forgiveness over at Salon, courtesy of Megan Feldman Bettencourt, author of the brand new Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World. While the article naturally phrases forgiveness in terms of its results (what it produces in/for you rather than as an end in itself, or for others), the bottomline is, forgiveness is really good for you. Nice shout-out to the Templeton Foundation, too.

6. Some pretty funny stuff out there this week: First, “Hipster Barbie Is So Much Better at Instagram Than You” cracked me up, def an Instagram feed worth following. Next,  The Toast uncovered the hilarious truth that The Best Comments On The Internet Are On Alternate History YouTube Video Channels (e.g., “Samnites teaming up with the Carthaginians? haha. Dream on.”). The Brooklyn Bar Menu Generator is the micro-site of the week. Finally, the Guardian collected recently deceased fantasy author/humorist Terry Pratchett’s 50 Greatest Quotes, making quite a case for his position in the top ranks of British aphorists. Twitter should rejoice. A couple of favorites, ht MM:

Give a man a fire and he’s warm for the day. But set fire to him and he’s warm for the rest of his life.

Pets are always a help in times of stress. And in times of starvation, too, of course.

I commend my soul to any God that can find it.

7. Ian MacKaye of Fugazi has always been an interesting bird, one of punk’s greatest ideologues by any measure. But previous exposure didn’t prepare me for the astounding interview he gave to Huck recently. That he quotes C.S. Lewis at the end is probably one of the less arresting things, if that gives you an idea. There’s some nonsense mixed-in, mind you, but interesting nonsense. A few favorite soundbites, ht JF:

The idea that you have to grow all the time… I mean, visualise a person, you or me, perpetually growing. It’s not a pretty picture. At some point we’re going to burst. And that is true of all things. The real issue here is a different word that starts with G R. Greed. That’s what we talk about when we talk about growth. More for me – that’s the concept…

0814afe2My definition of punk is the free space. It’s an area in which new ideas can be presented without having to go through the filtration or perversion of profiteering. So, if we’re not worried about selling things, then we can actually think… What I received from the counterculture was a gift; the permission to create freely. And my reaction was to take care of this gift and keep it alive because it continues to give. Of course, there were some people who thought, ‘Wow. If I polish it, I can sell it.’ And then it ceases to be a gift…

The reason we like endings is that they’re manageable. Think about the effect of the electronic medium on the way we think. Radio, television, movies, computers. At some point things became serialized as stories. But when you live in a society where you’re constantly being shown stories, our brains become reformatted to create narratives in our own lives…

What about legacy. Does that matter to you?
No. I already have a legacy and I realize how perverted it is, and misleading. I’m not interested in legacy in terms of my reputation. I am however interested in leaving a trail.

8. Finally, a couple of great new podcasts to check out. First there’s The Smell of Music, a new project from Mbird contributor Blake Collier and friends, which explores the worst of music. And the other is–wait for it–New Persuasive Words, a cast very similar in purview and tone to that of this site but hosted by our friends in Philadelphia, Scott Jones and Bill Borrer. Highly recommended. Oh and the guys were kind enough to have me on for their most recent episode to talk about our Law and Gospel book. You can get that episode, entitled “I Fought The Law”, here.

Strays

– Did not expect to see an article in The WSJ about The Band written by… Harold Bloom. Take a load off Fanny, indeed.
– The Atlantic traces the origins of Pope Francis’ humility. Don’t know about you but I learned a lot.
– This just in: Henry the VIII voted the worst monarch in history. All evidence to the contrary aside, the Cranmerian in me doth objecteth.
– Need a good cry? Just watch some Thai ads.
– Finally, next Friday (9/11), here in Charlottesville, we’re having a Mockingbird Party! Partly to update local folks on all that we’ve been doing, and partly to celebrate the release of Law and Gospel. 6-8pm at Christ Episcopal Church. Wine and beer and light appetizers will be served, and you are invited! Hope you can join us. Email us at info@mbird.com for more details or to rsvp.