Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Brave film fears females

I can’t think of one good male role model in Disney/Pixar’s “Brave.” Nor does it treat its female characters very well, either, although the full explanation requires a spoiler alert. Not that we don’t expect there to be a happy ending, but I was slightly surprised by *how* we get through the middle of the film. So I’ll leave that to later. All the male characters–including and especially the King, who is our titular heroine Merida’s father–are ineffectual braggarts and buffoons. The King relies on the Queen to handle virtually every difficult situation. All he and the other clan leaders (and their sons and followers) do is fight, and they don’t even do that very well. None of these “warriors” would last a day in the world of Game of Thrones. Princess Merida’s little triplet brothers do assist her a couple times, but only after they’re bribed to do so, or see a chance for mischief-making.

  **spoiler alert **
Directors (and authors) Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman (along with another “co-director”/author and a fourth author, whose names we’ll omit out of charity) do not treat their women very well. For a story that is supposed to be about female empowerment, the film’s ending completely undercuts its message. Yes, we see Merida become a skilled archer; and she appears to know something about living in the forest. A tomboy, she chafes under her mother’s tutelage about all the things that Princesses do or do not do. And (no, this isn’t the spoiler) she and her mother do eventually come to terms, with each giving a little toward the other’s position. What really floored me, in a scene that isn’t even necessary to the plot, in the very last couple minutes, the Queen, who is wrapped in a large tapestry, reveals to her husband that she is naked under those yards and yards of fabric. King Fergus panics, and tells all the men around him to avert their eyes out of “respect.” Earlier in the film, we saw at least four adult male bare butts, unabashedly marching through the castle courtyard. That’s eight cheeks, minimum; probably more. We know several other companions must also be nude from the waste down. But the merest possibility that we might see any nude female flesh is a cause for concern and distress. Unlike the male nudity, we don’t actually see *any* female skin–possibly one shoulder, that’s all. But female nakedness is so powerful that the slightest hint of it sends everyone into a tizzy. The message is clear: female bodies, and feminine sexuality, is dangerous. It is to be hidden or controlled at all costs. It is not really a surprise that a movie from our culture would fear women (look at almost any legislature these days), but to find it in a movie that bills itself as a *feminist* fable is appalling. The movie does offer an excellent opportunity to talk about our society’s fear of female sexuality, but if you don’t want to have that conversation, to undo the unconscious damage of the film, then I recommend skipping it entirely. P.S. Like “Hunger Games,” “Brave” is another film that does *not* know how archers actually shoot arrows from bows. (original post, with links, at So May We Be)

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

sermon bingo

Just seeing the phrase makes me angry. Seeing it as a featured article in the UUWorld made me angry and sad. “Sermon Bingo.” Author Cheryl Gardner (who is undoubtedly a wonderful person; I am not unhappy with her) wrote about teachers playing “buzzword bingo” while their principal blathered on. As a young engineer, I would often joke about such a game, noting the many empty phrases and “meaningless jargon” that we had to hear from “the suits.” Seeing that concept applied to a sermon–which is supposed to be filled with meaning, supposed to be relevant and reverent and engaging–made me angry and sad. Part of this is surely defensiveness around my profession (and my self-identity as a preacher). I also think it is more. If people perceive that our sermons are merely empty words, then there is something wrong–with the people speaking, and with the people who accept the meaningless blather without demanding something better. I believe that Ms. Gardner was not serious in her suggestion. I think her column was more about what words and concepts might be central to our tradition. She suggests a list beginning with “justice, equality, acceptance…” I agree that most of her list are worthy concepts, but if we are over-using them, if they have become toothless, if our sermons are not providing real sustenance, real comfort and real challenge, then I mourn for our movement. BTW, there already is a “big church bingo” app for the iPhone. Despite the claims of the mother who invented it, I do *not* believe that it helps children pay attention to the sermon. Well–they probably are paying more attention, to earn the candy or other post-worship reward, but I doubt that they’re engaging those words, or applying them to their lives. What they *are* learning is to disconnect the words from their contexts, the sounds from their meanings. In other words, the game is a self-fulfilling prophecy, ensuring that the preached words become empty. I have preached sermons where certain sub-groups of the congregation are to make a specific noise or action, when they hear their “magic word.” Perhaps I am fooling myself, but I think this kind of activity, while somewhat similar to “sermon bingo” actually promotes engagement with the material and a communal feel, as various groups interact. Again, I think Ms. Garnder was trying to point out the positive words and phrases that come up frequently in our sermons and services. So, in that spirit, here are some that appear in virtually all of my services: beings, breaths, challenge, comfort, compassion, courage, evolving, feed, feel, give, growing, help, relax, think, together. I like to believe that those words are being taken into the heads and hearts of the congregation I serve, helping them to survive, and helping them to thrive. I want to believe that these words can help us to transform ourselves, each other, and our world. That’s much better outcome than a piece of gum for a “bingo.” (original post, with links, at So May We Be)