Christian Monsters

Check out Monsters in America by Scott Poole on Amazon!
Check out Monsters in America on Amazon!

Why does every culture tell monster stories? It’s a fascinating question. An excellent book I’ve been reading lately by Scott Poole suggests that monsters are a safe way for us to talk about those aspects of our culture we’re not particularly proud of.

As Scott says:

Master narratives are, by definition, lies and untruths. This is why we need to study monsters. They are the things hiding in history’s dark places, the silences that scream if you listen closely enough. Cultural critic Greil Marcus writes that “parts of history, because they don’t fit the story a people wants to tell itself, survive only as haunts and fairy tales, accessible only as specters and spooks.”

It's everyone's favorite spiritual dysfunctions!
Everyone’s favorite spiritual dysfunctions!

Scott works wonders with this methodology in his book (which you should absolutely check out if you’re a horror movie junkie at all!

You might also recognize this approach to monsters from Matt Mikalatos’ excellent book Night of the Living Dead Christian. Matt uses traditional monster movie tropes to explore issues of spiritual formation. I’ve already written at length about how hilarious and awesome NotLDC is. In fact, I liked it so much, we ripped it off for our current sermon series.

So for the next few weeks, rather than retread ground that’s already been covered to such great effect, I’m going to follow Scott’s approach more closely. Scott says,

Seeing America through its monsters offers a new perspective on old questions. It allows us to look into the shadows, to rifle through those trunks in the attic we have been warned to leave alone. Not all of our myths will make it out of here alive.

In this series of posts, I’m going to explore some of the monsters Evangelical Christianity has created. We’ll look at how the persons (and people groups) have been mythologized and misrepresented. We’ll also ask why: what do we gain by projecting our fears onto these “monsters”?Continue reading

The Kids Are All Right

As with all my Film Reflections, watch out for spoilers.

Kids_credits_KCalifornian couple Nic and Jules have been together for twenty-something years. Nic is a doctor (the two met at college, when Jules came to the hospital where Nic was a resident), and Jules quit her job when the two had children.  We learn early on that they had their two children, Joni (18) and Laser (15), with the help of a sperm donor since they are not biologically compatible. Now that the kids are older, Jules is starting a new business – landscaping.

The film follows the family through the so-normal-it’s-dull growing pains of a 21st century family. Joni is leaving for college at the end of the summer, and is trying to figure out how to be her own person. Laser is friends with a guy who is a bully and leads Laser to make increasingly bad decisions. Both kids know that their ‘father’ is actually a sperm donor, and since Joni is 18, she makes contact. The kids meet Paul, a late-30s, never-married organic restaurant owner, and are instantly taken with him. He begins spending more and more time with the family, which causes problems…

Nic and Jules have been growing apart.  Nic is the quintessential micro-manager to Jules’ free spirit. Their lives and their marriage has become routine, so when Paul hires Jules to landscape the backyard of his newly purchased house, their inevitable affair is no surprise (again, so cliché it’s bland). The climax of the film showcases the inevitable implosion of the nuclear family, and ends on a positive note; even though the family is physically displaced by Joni’s departure for college, we get the sense that Nic and Jules and their kids are going to be all right.

Bland. Boring. The kids’ rebellion (the height of which is Joni riding a motorcycle with Paul, which Nic has expressly forbidden – gasp!) is boring. Nic and Jules’ marital problems are the stuff of stereotypes and sitcoms – two people who love each other have grown apart and are trying to figure out how to reconnect. Even Paul, the donor dad, is so banal as to be forgettable. He’s a basically nice guy who’s maybe still a little juvenile. Nothing about the story is especially compelling or memorable.

Oh, except for the fact that Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are lesbians. (The whole film in fact, from the excellent acting to well-written script, seem to pursue the banal and stereotypical precisely for this reason.) Nic and Jules’ sexuality is nearly an afterthought in the film. No one – not the kids, not Paul (Mark Ruffalo), no one! – thinks that Nic and Jules shouldn’t be married or have kids. No one thinks that Joni and Laser are going to grow up sexually deviant (Joni seems almost totally uninterested in sex, and Laser is grossed out when he discovers that his moms think he might be gay).

In fact, the film’s strongest argument is its most subtle: a person’s sexuality doesn’t define her (or him). Lesbian couples have the same problems as anyone else. Kids raised by same-sex couples are pretty much normal kids. In short, the film is arguing that gay people really are people too.

What’s probably most sad to me is that this film even needed to be made. Especially Evangelical Christians are notorious for demonizing gay and lesbian persons. In “discussions” of same-sex marriage, we often claim that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry will destroy the fabric of heterosexual marriages (this while we allow our divorce rates to climb over 50%). The Kids Are All Right argues that a person’s sexual orientation has nothing to do with whether a marriage will be healthy, or for that matter whether children will be healthy. While it should go without saying, the film argues that gay and lesbian persons are just as capable of love and commitment – and no more susceptible to temptation – than a ‘normal’ heterosexual person.

While it should go without saying that gay persons are people too, fully human and no more defined by their sexual orientation than a heterosexual person, it doesn’t go without saying because we Christians need to hear and learn that so badly. Our marriages have problems because we’re people, not because someone’s gay. Our kids struggle because growing up is tough, not because of ‘the Gays’. The Kids Are All Right is trying to say, Hey everybody, can we all calm down a little bit and start talking about what we have in common instead of what makes us different?

The debate over same-sex marriage in this country is far from over. We would all do well to listen to this bland, boring film and reevaluate our own rhetoric. If we can’t engage those who disagree with us as whole persons, equal conversation partners, then our discussion cannot move forward.

Bottom Line: The film isn’t that interesting as a story; its power comes from the conversations it generates in the wake of its viewing.

Have you seen the film? What do you think of its stance on same-sex marriage and/or parenting?