Media fingers wrong ‘Man of Steel’ character in Jesus analogy

June 15, 2013

Unless you’ve been living on Krypton lately, you’re probably aware that the latest Superman film, “Man of Steel,” has hit theaters. And over the last few days, it seems like every entertainment reporter has jumped on the “Superman is an allegory for Jesus” band wagon while seemingly convinced they’ve uncovered some brand new interpretation to the world’s first superhero (Also see: here and here among others).

Their argument goes something like this. Superman sacrifices himself for humanity at the age of 33. Jesus sacrifices himself for humanity at the age of 33. Superman has god-like powers. Jesus has god-like powers. And there certainly are several other not so subtle visual cues sprinkled throughout the film. So I guess it’s case closed, right? If only these reporters had more hands on which to pat themselves on the back in a way that could properly express the level of their self-satisfaction!

Unfortunately, like a poor marksman, they missed their target. They fingered the wrong Jesus! (Writer’s note: that last sentence was not intended to sound as dirty as it did.). Let’s take a closer look at both these fictional characters and see if they really do have as much in common as I keep hearing.

1. Mission – Superman’s mission in “Man of Steel” (here on out referred to as MOS) is to protect the Earth and the human race from total destruction. According to the Bible, Jesus’ mission is to end the world.

According to Genesis 6, god already tried to exterminate humanity once before with a flood. The Bible clearly explains that The Second Coming of Christ will bring about a final solution commonly referred to as the “End of Days” or “Final Judgment,” where both the still living…and obviously the resurrected dead, will face God’s judgment. Even self-proclaimed Christians will be judged (Matthew 7:21-232 Corinthians 5:10). Those righteous will be granted eternal life while the wicked will…also be granted eternal life, only they’ll be tortured during all that eternity (Matthew 5:29-3025:31-46Mark 9:43-48). So really, since everyone’s getting an eternal life regardless of their behavior, the righteous get nothing…except freedom from senseless torture. Cause god so loved the world…yada, yada, yada. According to the apostle Paul:

We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (NIV, 2 Corinthians 5:6-10)

So part of Jesus’ mission is to make everyone submit to him…you know, kneel before God. But mostly it’s to end the world. Not exactly the same thing Superman’s after.

2. Response to adversity – Though Superman is willing to kill if absolutely necessary to protect humanity, he really kinda doesn’t wanna. In fact, it’s a pretty big deal with him. Not only does Superman avoid killing whenever possible, there are numerous examples in MOS where Superman restrains himself from so much as throwing a single punch even when individuals flagrantly harass him and those around him. Even when harassers taunt him to fight back while pushing him seemingly almost to his breaking point. Superman doesn’t even throw a punch. And it of course would be so easy for him to do so. He wouldn’t even have to ball his fist. A simple flick of his finger could sever a man’s head from his body. And yet, even at his angriest, Superman chooses not to fight back.

Jesus, not so much. According to the Bible, eating shrimp warrants the death penalty (Leviticus 11:10). Lot’s wife is transformed into salt for committing the crime of turning her head (Genesis 19:6). God floods the Earth simply because humans and angels started sleeping together (Genesis 6:1-6). God says disobedient children should be stoned to death (Deut. 21:18-21). God thinks all ten of The Ten Commandments are punishable by death. Hell, god sends down bears to murder 42 kids whose only crime was making fun of a bald man (2 Kings 2:23-24). One would have a hard time thinking up an offense god wouldn’t think warranted death. And then of course the fun doesn’t end with death. God also thinks that all sinners should then be tortured for eternity. Eat shrimp; eternal torture. Own any possessions at all; eternal torture. Hardly very Superman-like, if you ask me.

3. Sacrifice – In MOS, Superman willingly surrenders to his adversary, Zod, knowing full well it could likely lead to his own death. Superman so loved the world that he was willing to sacrifice his one and only life to protect them. If Superman believed in any kind of afterlife, there’s no indication in the film.  This is it for him. Superman literally puts everything on the line. So that we can live and the Earth will be safe. Jesus on the other hand, does not dramatically come out of hiding to turn himself in to his adversaries. He is arrested, tried, convicted, and executed against his will (well, except for his whole being part of the very god that made it all happen in the first place). Then Jesus sacrifices his mortality in order to return to being master of the universe. Talk about your first world problems. Am I right? Hold your horses, Mel Gibson. I know. I know. it was a really painful weekend. Tell that to all the Filipinos who actually willingly go out of their way to be crucified every Easter without the reward of becoming the most powerful god in all the Biblical pantheon at the end. Some sacrifice! Hey Jesus, next time let me take your place. I’ll happily trade my mortality to become a living god for the price of one shitty weekend.

4. Writers’ lack of subtlety – Not much rhymes with Superman. Buperman. Duperman. Blooperman. But you know what rhymes with God? I’ll give you a hint. Like Jesus, he too wants to end the world. Like Jesus, he too believes in killing his adversaries. Like Jesus, he too was tried, convicted, and sentenced to what was expected to be a certain death for the actions he took trying to save his people.

zod

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Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ as Rorschach Test.

February 19, 2013

Several months ago, I wrote about the strange phenomenon of obsessive viewers of the film “The Shining” discovering alleged hidden messages in the film. In that article, I briefly mentioned a documentary that came out last year titled “Room 237” that chronicled several of the stranger theories out there about the “true” meaning behind Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. Well I’ve finally caught up with that documentary and found it to be a fascinating film.

I doubt the filmmaker believes any of the interpretations presented in the “Room 237” but I greatly enjoyed listening to the cast of kooks who maintain them. Most of the interpretations presented in this film, with only a few exceptions, are totally bonkers. But that’s what’s great about this film. It uses “The Shining” to demonstrate the psychological phenomenon of pareidolia, which is when a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) is perceived as significant. We see the same grasping of tenuous connections among tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists. This is an exploration of Kubrick’s “The Shining” as Rorschach Test.

The “theorists” presented here commit a host of logical fallacies and assumptions that range from the slightly plausible to the utterly impossible. And while the latter often made me want to shout at the screen, they also proved the most fun such as the interpretation that the film was Kubrick’s confession for working with NASA to fake the moon landing. There are so many levels to why this is ridiculous, not least of which because the Apollo 11 undeniably did land on the moon and all the claims moon landing deniers have presented to prove otherwise have been thoroughly debunked. But putting that obvious fact aside, the “researcher” putting forth this notion in the film just plain makes things up like when he wildly speculates that the reason Kubrick changed the room number from 217 in the novel to 237 was because 237 MUST HAVE BEEN the number of the studio where they filmed the fake moon landing? Um, citation needed?

At another point in the film, a researcher makes a huge deal out of a simple continuity error in which Jack’s typewriter is gray in some scenes but eggshell color in others. The “researcher” claims this must be deliberate on Kubrick’s part because Kubrick controls absolutely every aspect of every frame of his films when the far simpler explanation is Kubrick and his crew were not superhuman and they shot those scenes at different times, using whatever typewriter happened to be available…like any other filmmaker would. This example further illustrates how naive the interpreters are to the filmmaking process. As a filmmaker myself, I have at least some experience. But one doesn’t have to be a filmmaker to realize that constantly adding to a film’s budget with absurd things like demanding a production assistant run out to buy TWO typewriters of different colors when only one was required is the kind of stuff that wouldn’t go unnoticed.

Then there’s the claim that Kubrick designed the film to be viewed  backwards and forwards simultaneously, one direction superimposed over the other, which is just flat-out impossible. In fact, I dare anyone to try, especially when limited by the  linear editing machines of the time. And with all the minute details these self-proclaimed “researchers” noticed, one minor detail they “overlooked” (no pun intended) was that Ray Lovejoy edited the film, NOT Kubrick. So Lovejoy would have to be in on all these editing tricks Kubrick supposedly wanted in the film too, right?

As debunkers of the infamous The Bible Code have demonstrated, one can find seemingly profound connections in just about any text of a certain length. In films, I suppose the equivalent would be the weirder a film gets in its choices, the more people can find an unintended wacky interpretation. I’d love to see someone apply the same rigor to investigating Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room.” I’m sure someone could then come away from that film believing Wiseau caused 9/11 or killed Paul McCartney, or whatever. Of course, the reason that might not happen is because what people really latched onto here is the larger than life mythology surrounding Stanley Kubrick himself. Because Kubrick was known to be a bit obsessive and a perfectionist, the underlying and totally baseless assumptions these interpreters make is Kubrick (1) was an unparalleled genius, (2) had superhuman abilities to control every aspect of both the production and every frame of the final product, and (3) had the fanatical desire to bury important hidden messages in his films so deep that there’d be no reason to believe anyone would ever find them. So when you begin with the assumption that Kubrick is totally infallible, then every continuity error becomes a clue to unlocking his true, hidden message. That’s where these theorists go wrong; they fail to recognize Kubrick was every bit as flawed and human as the rest of us.


On Kubrick’s alleged dual narratives and hidden messages in ‘The Shining’

September 23, 2012

Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining is a masterpiece. I think most serious film scholars, critics, and fans agree with that. But one aspect of the film that is highly debatable is the popular notion that Kubrick layered hidden messages or even whole dual narratives into the film. And many of the speculations about the meaning of these hidden messages happen to revolve around conspiracy theories.

The weird speculative theories about hidden messages in the film is the subject of a recent documentary called “Room 237” that I have not yet seen, and until recently, I was totally unaware this was even a thing. It first came to my attention earlier this year when I came across an article linking to a series of YouTube videosthat begin as if they’re objective analyses of the film, but ultimately reveal analyst Rob Ager’s true agenda late in the series when Ager eventually stops talking about The Shining altogether in favor of straight propaganda promoting his crazy gold-standard conspiracy theory. If I made a video analyzing, say, Citizen Kane that lasted the better part of an hour, and devoted at least a quarter of that analysis making a political argument about the evils of capitalism or whatever bullshit political theme I supposedly pulled from subtle symbolism in the film, and did so to the point that I stopped even mentioning the film Citizen Kane at all, you’d be right to not take me seriously.

Other than the whole gold standard thing, there are numerous other wacky interpretations of The Shining out there, as the New York Times article about Room 237 linked to above alluded to, like the theory that Kubrick worked in a hidden confession about having played a part in faking the moon landing. Some others, like the Native American slaughter motifs and Kubrick’s concerns over the Holocaust even made it onto the film’s Wikipedia page.

So is the film The Shining REALLY ABOUT Stanley Kubrick’s veiled confession of the part he played in faking the moon landing?

Is it about the slaughter of the Native Americans?

Is it about how the sinister elite plotted to rid America of the gold standard (the one true currency…somehow)?

In one word:  NO.

I know the weird iconography in the film has led many pattern-seeking people to go anomaly hunting and find all sorts of alleged “hidden meanings” in The Shining, but it’s just a product of the psychological phenomena known as pareidolia. We’re driven to see patterns, particularly when presented with ambiguous stimuli such as amorphous shapes. This is why it’s easier to see images in things like clouds than in most other things we might be looking at. It’s this pattern-seeking tendency that allows us to see coherent objects and subjects from the millions of pixels in films to begin with. If Kubrick did have hidden messages in The Shining, it almost certainly had nothing to do with the gold standard or the slaughter of Native Americans, etc. It’s just a great film by a master artist that happens to be full of weird, ambiguous imagery and dialogue that can be endlessly analyzed and used to find almost any interpretation the viewer is looking for. It’s like Yoda’s cave; what you find is ultimately what you brought in with you.

Further reading about the documentary Room 237 from Aint It Cool News’ critics Quint and Nording.


Cara Santa Maria talks science and religion on the Nerdist Podcast

May 17, 2012

A few months ago, I had no idea who Cara Santa Maria was, but I’m quickly becoming a huge fan. I first discovered her when she was announced as a leading contributor to the Huffington Post’s Science section. And if ever a publication was in more need of one since in the past, the Huff Po’s idea of an expert on medicine included Jim Carey and Jenny McCarthy.

Still, after the announcement, I started following Cara Santa Maria on Twitter, but hadn’t really checked out her work until very recently when she did a great video piece in her column called “Talk Nerdy to me”  that investigated the scientific research for intercessory prayer. Since then, she did several interesting pieces including one involving a conversation with Chris Mooney, whom I have a kind of love/hate relationship with if you’ve read my past writings on him. But one thing I loved about Cara Santa Maria is how she couldn’t be further from the science nerd stereotype. She is a young, attractive woman with a kind of rock n’ roll look who is just great at communicating science to the public in a fun and entertaining fashion.

But then she started to turn up as a semi-regular co-host on The Young Turks internet show, which I’ve been a huge fan of for awhile now. And if I had any doubt that she wasn’t stalking me, now she turns up on my current favorite podcast (now behind Filmspotting and The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe) , the Nerdist Podcast. On that show, they cover a lot of fascinating topics, but almost inevitably once they began discussing about criticism her pieces have generated, they got into a lengthy discussion of her hate mail from religious fundamentalists who reject evolution and insist on the existence of a soul despite all the evidence to the contrary, etc.

It’s just a really great conversation about communicating science to the public and dealing with denialists who reject scientific facts. Plus there are dick jokes! Here’s a link to the episode. And as they say on Nerdist, enjoy your burrito!

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Bill Donohue reveals himself to be one of the Three Stooges, the dumb one

April 13, 2012

Bill Donohue‘s in the news again. And surprise, surprise. He’s OUTRAGED about something in the media. So what trite and meaningless target has he picked this time? It’s the new comedy film The Three Stooges, because it features a sexy nun character in a swimsuit and Larry David’s portrayal of a nun character. Whether David plays some sort of male nun or whether he’s supposed to be playing some hideous-looking female nun, I don’t know because I haven’t seen the movie due to its looking really stupid. Though now that I know Bill Donohue doesn’t like it, I might just buy a ticket after all.

So why do I bother to give this sickening pile of excrement more of that attention he desperately craves? Well, because it gives me another excuse to post my favorite audio clips of Donohue applying for the role of worst person in the world. In the following two clips, we hear Donohue on a radio show passionately defend nothing short of mass child rape.

Donohue tries every trick in the book and it all goes so horribly bad for him because he happens to be talking with someone who was themselves a victim of rape by a Catholic priest and who is incredibly well versed in the damning report of abuse in Ireland schools.

We hear Donohue deny the undeniable facts and make up a host of his own, followed by him being called out on his repulsive lies and truly despicable attempts to re-frame the whole scandal to paint the rapists as the true victims while painting the child victims of rape as greedy liars who made up their accusations. And when it’s pointed out to Donohue that even Catholic Church officials themselves have accepted more responsibility for these atrocities than Donohue is willing to allow, he actually insists that the Church is lying because they’ve been “beaten down” by some phantom media conspiracy to destroy the Catholic Church. If ever there were more proof that Donohue is a committed fanatic, that’s got to be it. To actually deny even the involvement that the Church itself has admitted to and suggesting the very people who would have the most to lose from admitting guilt are lying—that’s just bonkers!

The spokesman for Fox did an excellent job of responding to Donohue’s complaints about The Three Stooges film:

Fox disagreed that Three Stooges diverges from the original series. “The movie, in keeping with the spirit of the original TV show and its stars, is a broad, slapstick comedy,” a Fox spokesperson said.

“As the Stooges have proved over time, laughter is a universal medicine. The nuns that Mr. Donohue alludes to, are in fact, caring, heroic characters in the movie, albeit within the framework of a very broad comedy,” the spokesperson continued. “And as far as the nun attire, I think we did the audinece a favor by letting Kate Upton wear the nun-kini rather than Larry David — it could have gone either way. We invite you to see the movie and decide for yourselves.”

So let’s be clear here. Child rape is a-ok with Bill Donohue, but dressing a nun character in a sexy swimsuit is UNACCEPTABLE! Way to prioritize, Bill.

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Classic scam rejected on ‘Shark Tank’

March 2, 2012

Having worked in reality television, I can’t watch reality television. But fortunately, Skepchick drew my attention to this clip from the show Shark Tank, where Mark Cuban called out a deliberate scammer.

The scammer, Ryan Naylor, attempted to get investors for his Power-Balance-like “applied kinesiology” wrist bands.How do we know he’s a deliberate scam artist and not just a naive fool? Well because he demonstrates the product on one of the sharks using an infamous applied kinesiology trick that requires deliberate deception.

The Australian Skeptics demonstrated and exposed these tactics years ago by showing exactly how its done:

I’m glad all the sharks rejected this fraudulent product but I’m especially proud of Mark Cuban for calling it out as a scam on network television immediately. Well done. This is a great example of applied skepticism in the media.

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An Honest Liar: The James Randi Story

February 23, 2012

Yup, unfortunately I”m still taking a break from the blog. I actually did write a lengthy piece a few weeks ago but WordPress accidentally erased it all, which was super discouraging. Anywho, I’ve been business with a lot of other projects and haven’t really been in the frame of mind to get back to blogging about skeptical issues. But I do plan to return at some point in the near future.

But in the meantime, here’s a trailer to an upcoming documentary about James Randi:

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