Feeding Our Minds

Dear Folks,I had a great vacation, quite low key but wonderful in many ways. Part of my October preparation for Halloween is watching old horror movies. Most of the best ones are from the 1920’s and 1930’s, though there are exceptions, like the 1953 “House of Wax” with Vincent Price.Storytelling is a powerful part of being human. It helps express and form cultures, provides common imagery, captures and forms imaginations, and expresses and shapes our values. Some stories I find especially interesting as delving into the realm of mystery, the edges of our understanding. Horror stories can give us the feeling of being transported into the realm of mystery. Good science fiction can do the same.Bram Stoker published “Dracula” in 1897, and in 1922 there was a German movie “Nosferatu” based on the book. It portrayed the vampire as rat-like, a form of vermin, a plague. Since the memory of the Spanish flu was still fresh, this would have resonated with a lot of people. Many people have not heard of it because Bram Stoker’s widow would not give permission for the movie to be made, and she sued and confiscated copies of the film. It was many years later that a copy was discovered. In the meantime, “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi came out in 1931. When most people think “vampire” the image that pops into their heads is some version of BelaLugosi’s Dracula, and so he has become a cultural icon. This time the vampire was presented as suave, charming, even seductive. This resonates with our understanding that evil is seductiveand that makes it especially dangerous.During the 1970’s there came a trend of “slasher” movies, with less artistry, less ponderingmystery, and a lot more graphic violence. It is in our nature to recoil from violence and greatbodily harm, but with persistent conditioning we can lose that, and that’s not a good thing. Iremember in college, I was once waiting at a bus stop, and three high school kids joined. As wechatted, I mentioned I was going to see a movie.“What’re you going to see?”“I haven’t decided yet.”“You should see Friday the 13th, part three!”“Oh, you’re the ones who keep going to these movies, so they keep making them. I’m notinterested.”“But this is the best one; it’s really funny.”“Funny?”“There’s this one scene where three guys get their head chopped off at the same time!”“And that’s funny?”“You have to be there.”“No, I don’t.” I wound up seeing “The Great Mouse Detective” (with Vincent Price) and it was very good.I remember when the movie “The Passion of the Christ” came out, many voices were decrying how bloody and violent it was. I didn’t notice those particular voices decrying the other hundred gazillion movies that were really bloody and violent, but this one caught their ire. There was also criticism of Christians who have been concerned about violence in film but approved of “The Passion of the Christ.” Were they hypocrites? There is a critical point: During the Passion movie, I think people identify with the sufferer, and it sharpens our horror of violence and cruelty. Many other movies present violence as thrilling, empowering and satisfying, with no sympathy for those who suffer.As we think of the stories we take in, we may ask, what are we feeding our minds? How might they shift our perspective, our sympathies, our values, our thoughts?Blessings,Fr. Jim

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