Tag Archives: Art

Throwing Stones and Lifting Swords.

Why are there so many holy wars on the Internet? It seems that whenever there is a choice to be made, people will defend their choice with more fervor than necessary. We’ve got Tabs Vs. Spaces, Vim vs. Emacs, Mac vs. PC (a classic)—the list seems endless.

Whenever I formulate this question, people respond by pointing out: “It’s the Internet,” as if it were some sort of tautology. Isn’t there a reason for this? Is the human race doomed to bicker over insignificant matters until they become zealous battles? In my city, people die because of a disagreement over the neighborhood they live in.

This not “just the internet,” and this is a serious matter.

That’s not to say that people are dying over web browsers and computer brands. I only mean to suggest that perhaps these disagreements are futile in most ways: there as so many problems in the world, and so many solutions. There are so many important things in the world, but we dedicate hours to laying out the comparative merits of tabs and spaces.

I feel foolish, dirty, and dissatisfied.

If a person is making art, then their art-making is important to them, right? If my art is making websites, why should my art hinge on whether or not I use Arial or Helvetica? Or—rather—why is the choice to use Arial treated like a crime? Would a community of painters oust a member for using house paint?

You might be saying to yourself right now, “But Key! Arial is just a knock-off of a better font—people only use it because it comes with Windows.” If you believe your stake in the politics of the past should be the sole dictator of every typographic (artistic) decision, then you’re part of the problem. It is as if you were to say: “You shouldn’t use burgundy because it is dark brown masquerading as red.” Is one color better than another?—what does this even mean?

(Besides, perhaps Arial would be the best choice for me because everyone can read it, and I want people to read my work without problems. Wouldn’t Arial be a reasonable choice for that purpose?)

Again, I feel ridiculous, filthy, and unfulfilled. It is as if I’m screaming from a mountain top at the top of my lungs, but—alas—the world is sleeping. Maybe I am sleeping?

A professor once told me it was important to test theories by applying them to the theory itself—doing so would show you how solid (or flimsy) the theory is. So today I’m setting up my own battle: the war against holy wars. See how ridiculous that sounds? It shows that the world is more complicated than picking a side and drawing a sword, and so I beg of you to lay your swords down.

Religulous, or “Bill Maher’s Excellent Adventure.”

Today I want to look at Bill Maher’s aggressive atheistic (or agnostic, I am not sure which) manifesto Religulous. In it, Maher starts and ends standing upon the prophesied site of apocalypse: Megiddo, in Israel. He, standing at the end of the world, informs the audience that religion is a dangerous force. Maher urges the under-represented minority of atheists and agnostics to make themselves heard, to “grow up or die.”

As I watched Maher’s trek across the world and his odd (but common) method of arguing with devout theists, I couldn’t help but think, “There is something else going on in this film. Something strange.”

Is this film Bill Maher’s soapbox? Of course it is—ever since ABC canceled Politically Incorrect, Bill Maher has used most of his media pull to exercise his first amendment rights. This movie, however, does something special. It turns Bill Maher into the object of debate. In Religulous, William Maher Jr. is not presented as the tenacious, impenetrable, and witty television icon we all know and love (or, perhaps, love to hate). Instead we are confronted with a Bill Maher who out-talks his opponents, never relents, and receives flack for obvious reasons.

Andrew O’hehir explains: …I gently tried to suggest to Maher [that] his scattershot and ad hominem attacks against many different forms of religious hypocrisy don’t add up to a coherent critique, and he’s not qualified to provide one. Any serious theologian from the mainstream Christian or Jewish traditions would have eaten his lunch for him, and that’s why we don’t see anybody like that in this film for more than a second or two. It would seem Maher used the Religulous project as an opportunity to reduce the religious world into a sideshow attraction and poke fun at them.

It is odd that most of the interviewees were left pleading “no, no, no” and trying to get a word in. In Religulous, the interviewer sees the most airtime—his subjects often take a back seat. If Religulous is a documentary, then what is it a documentary of? As Roger Ebert explains, This review is going to depend on one of my own deeply held beliefs: It’s not what the movie is about, it’s how it’s about it. This movie is about Bill Maher’s opinion of religion. Often the film looks as if it were lifted directly from Maher’s brain—thoughts of Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments included.

The camera work often grabs Bill Maher in a documentary fashion for short periods of time only to cut to a shot that includes the boom and another camera. This self-aware style only draws more attention to the true subject of the documentary: it documents Bill Maher’s documentary, if that makes sense. It is as if someone were to film a full-length behind the scenes documentary of Spinal Tap. Religulous is a meta-documentary, to word it in the most ridiculous way possible.

To look at the reactions, Bill Maher “plays to his base” of non-believers, pisses off the religious, and irks anyone with formal training in the Philosophy of Religion. The film, then, documents just how he has pleased us, his manner of pissing us off, and the process of irking us. I enjoyed it for these reasons, but if I were to take Maher’s arguments seriously (as seriously as the phrase “Grow up or die” implies) I would have hated it.

Forking it Over

As I scan the pages of Writer’s Market—digesting fluff advice and skipping from one market listing to the next as a fortunate stone does across a pond—I still imagine how life will be as a professional. “To churn out word after word at the drop of a hat (dime),” I wonder often, “am I made out for this sort of life?” There is a certain confidence this occupation requires, a kind of trust all ‘creative professionals’ must fork over. Indeed, there is true forking taking place here, but it is not a unique one.

There is a strange and fuzzy relationship between writer, written work, and reader. When a writer sits down to write, there is a sense in which the writer does not simply just dump thoughts onto a page—they think about who they’re writing for, what they’re writing for, how they want to be seen. In a sense, the act of writing has an effect on the person writing. I remember reading Orson Scott Card’s introduction to his classic Sci-fi “Speaker For the Dead.” He claims that, after creating an outline for the book, he found himself lacking the maturity to write such a book. It is only after several rewrites that he gained the mental maturity to write such a book.

Are the two entities separate: book and writer? The line is a marred one. The book creates the man while the man creates the book; it may be better to say that there is a reciprocation going on. Better still, we could say that books and people emerge and gain definition simultaneously. I could say that I don’t know who I am until I’ve lived life, until I’ve painted a great piece of art, until I’ve written a bestseller. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I am undefined until I’ve lived life, until I’ve painted a great piece of art, until I’ve written a bestseller.

Writing books, I think, is not a matter of just writing books. It turns out to be the path you walk on, even if you treat it as “just a job.” Like every good path, the ground underneath gives way a bit, leaving an imprint in the ground and a little dirt on everyone’s shoes: something is taken, and something is left over. Like it or not, I am changing with each word, and each word is changing with each thought.

Beginning my writing career will be a messy business. Other people—companies, magazines, journals, papers, publishers—will dictate the terms under which I write, the content they desire and, ultimately, whether or not my content is good enough. That is a vast amount of influence over my character that others wield. Then again, how is this situation any different from any other social situation? It seems that the conditions of the artists world are less foreign than is immediately apparent.

So which way should I fork, what must I fork, and who made the fork in the road? The Writer’s Market would lead me to believe that I must find, or make, a niche in the market. I can only assume that it takes a bit of fast-talk to convince an editor that a certain column is worth publishing—enter the query letter. What sort of person will I become if I succeed? If I fail? How will the act of writing inform my life, and the lives of others? I have already been “informed” that my previous/current work in ad-copy is the first sign of “selling out.” True or not—putting aside what “selling out” means in the first place—those words still have an effect on something.

In the next few months, I should tread carefully: there is a lot going on here that I want to take in.