Identity

HBO’s State of Play, Season Two, Episode One – The Science of Happiness

HBO’s State of Play, Season Two, Episode One – The Science of Happiness

Mockingbird favorite Peter Berg (creator, NBC’s Friday Night Lights series, co-creator HBO’s The Leftovers) is back with another season of State of Play.  This season will be a four-part documentary series that goes behind the scenes of the “football life”. In episode one, “Happiness”, Berg features three prominent NFL players and how they have struggled to find happiness after their professional football careers. Berg also interviews a number of high profile psychologists who break down the “science” of happiness.

Berg’s results are mixed. Happiness in a post-NFL life is achieved (according to Berg’s panel of professionals) by finding a combination of…

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Lonely Ladies and Distracted Dudes: A Few Thoughts on Romantic (and Sexual) Illusion

Lonely Ladies and Distracted Dudes: A Few Thoughts on Romantic (and Sexual) Illusion

There’s a line toward the beginning of Whit Stillman’s Barcelona (above – 2:15 mark) where the protagonist, Ted Boynton, admits to having “a real romantic illusion problem”. He is frustrated that he seems to fall for women based almost exclusively on physical appearance, when what he really wants is “to see the real person, maybe even look into her eyes and see her soul.” He says these words with a completely straight face, and his cousin Fred responds incredulously. It’s a funny interchange, not the least because Ted sounds convinced that this phenomenon, of sexual attraction overwhelming better judgment, is peculiar to him…

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Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash: A Parable of Stifling Perfection

Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash: A Parable of Stifling Perfection

[Mild spoilers follow.] As a writer, I’ve found, you’re always searching for material. A friend’s talking to you about a bad breakup, years of religious doubt and self-recrimination for doubting, a car wreck, DUI, or lost job. Suddenly, once an insight seems to hit you – or even a situation with a certain intellectual appeal – the ideas become all, and their textures, contexts, and the unfortunate people living in them become pared back, leaving you with what feels like the beginnings of a great article, essay, even poem. The real world fades away, and all you’re left with, all you…

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The Trivial Pursuits of Lena Dunham

The Trivial Pursuits of Lena Dunham

In one of the final chapters of Lena Dunham’s new memoir Not That Kind of Girl, entitled “Therapy & Me”, Lena describes her first anxiety-ridden experience of sitting down as a germophobic, obsessive-compulsive nine-year-old with a prospective shrink. It is a “quirky, self-destructive Lena” moment, like so many moments in her book, and her show Girls, and so it would be nearly unremarkable if it weren’t for the subtext:

The first doctor, a violet-haired grandma-aged woman with a German surname, asks me a few simple questions and then invites me to play with the toys scattered across her floor. She sits…

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Unredeemable Art and Wise Words From Madeleine L’Engle

Unredeemable Art and Wise Words From Madeleine L’Engle

When it comes to favorite art, I have an ever-growing list of guilty pleasures, a term which usually refers to some kind of light-hearted or even redeemable creation: Unfortunately, here, I’m not going to write about redemption in Taylor Swift’s new album (“It’s fun though…”). I’m more interested in the less redeemable batch, even art that remains thoroughly, maybe explicitly, un-Christian. Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man, for example, traces the loss of religion in a young man’s life but simultaneously remains truthful and affecting. Or, let’s talk about James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now, which authentically details…

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Sinner and Saint Vincent

Sinner and Saint Vincent

St. Vincent arrived in theaters just in time for All Saints’ Sunday, the day the church recognizes and remembers those in the parish community who have died, and all the other “saints” that went before them. It is not a coincidence; first-time director Ted Melfi must have known what was on the church calendar in some regard, given the assignment that’s handed out by Brother Geraghty (Chris O’Dowd), to his middle school class. The assignment is this: to find out about and present on a living saint in the community—not Athanasius, not Mother Teresa, not even Pope Francis—but a “saint…

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The Hospitality Sting: We Are All the Least of These

The Hospitality Sting: We Are All the Least of These

In yet another one my “live your best life” moments, I started a new scripture study on hospitality last week. As a Mississippian, I was raised to smile broadly at people I find tiresome and to entertain with the latest Jr. League Cookbook. You know, life skills. So, I thought it would be good to study the Good Book in the hopes of making my hospitality mean something. As so often happens, God had other plans.

I casually mentioned this hospitality scripture study to one of my closest friends, “You should totally do it,” I told her. Only retrospectively am I…

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The Uncertain Lessons of Lie Witness News

The Uncertain Lessons of Lie Witness News

We haven’t done a straight social science post in a while, so here goes. The Pacific Standard published a goldmine of fallibility and low anthropology last week in David Dunning’s not-so-subtly titled “We Are All Confident Idiots,” ht TB. Dunning, a professor at Cornell, takes as his jumping off point the brilliant “Lie Witness News” segments that Jimmy Kimmel does on his late-night show, where street respondents fake knowledge about a fictitious subject rather than admit they don’t know, or aren’t aware of something. It’s hilarious… until you realize that you do the exact same thing, all the time. Just yesterday…

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“In Pain You Shall Bring Forth Children”

“In Pain You Shall Bring Forth Children”

The first time I gave birth nearly three years ago, it knocked me off my feet in every way possible: physically, mentally, emotionally. A few weeks in, my husband and I were sitting on the couch, staring at each other with sleep-deprived eyes, and I burst into tears. His glazed eyes widened–my emotional avalanche was apropos of nothing. And yet…everything.

I’ve always felt it was under-discussed, this postpartum newborn period devoid of sleep, glutted with hormones, and full of fear. All around me, people posted pictures of their fresh babies on social media, even hiring professional photographers to place said baby…

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When a Foodie Repents

When a Foodie Repents

It’s been coming for a while now, but this past month may have been the tipping point. For the first time, more of the TV viewing in our household had to do with food than not. The new episodes of Top Chef were the least of the culprits. I’m talking about entire seasons of The Mind of a Chef and No Reservations, about on-demand movies like The Trip to Italy and Chef. (They’re all pretty great, btw). The only thing saving us from drowning in our own saliva was fresh Portlandia on Netflix. That show’s relentless, hilarious lampooning of foodie-ism was just the artisanal…

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On TV: The Boardwalk Empire Series Finale and the Warning Label on the Side Panel of the American Dream

On TV: The Boardwalk Empire Series Finale and the Warning Label on the Side Panel of the American Dream

The fifth and final season of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire concluded last week. It ends having not quite the widespread appeal of The Sopranos or Game of Thrones, but the reviews were strong, due largely to how well the show balanced a fictionalized morality tale with an historical account of the emergence of the American gangster during the Prohibition era. BE centers around the rise of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) to prominence as the preeminent bootlegger in Atlanta City in the early 1920’s. The Nucky Thompson character is based on real life gangster Nucky Johnson who was an associate of Al…

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Tavris and Aronson on Justification

We’ve posted at length on Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson’s Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), a book which brilliantly details the far-reaching consequences of self-justification and cuts toward the heart of the human condition.

Perpetrators are motivated to reduce their moral culpability; victims are motivated to maximize their moral blamelessness. Depending on which side of the wall we are on, we systematically distort our memories and account of the event to produce the maximum consonance between what happened and how we see ourselves… The relatively small number of people who cannot or will not reduce dissonance this way pay a large psychological price in guilt, anguish, anxiety, nightmares, and sleepless nights. The pain of living with horrors they have committed, but cannot morally accept, would be searing, which is why most people will reach for any justification available to assuage the dissonance.

The unendurability of such a price generally leads people to rationalize one way or another to conform events to a pre-existing picture we have of ourselves. Such dissonance can be eased by delusion, “moral acceptance” – basically, anything goes – but the Christian message enters into that dissonance, formulates it. “I do not do what I want to do, but I do the very thing I hate”; “simul iustus et peccator, saint and sinner at once”. Christians are so often described as self-righteous not least because our religion’s self-helpy, aspirational form may encourage us to distort things still-more to maximize consonance between “what happened” and our newly-inflated picture of ourselves, between the ideal of linear sanctification and the empirical evidence of recidivism. The only message which can speak effectively to the all-pervasive problem of justification is the assurance that what happened has been forgiven and is now of no consequence, and how we see ourselves was delusory to begin with.