I’m going to say this loud enough so everyone can hear it. I’m not a Christmas person.
Let me say it again to make things clear: I AM NOT A CHRISTMAS PERSON.
I don’t recall ever believing in Santa Claus.
I’m the one who, when someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas!” or even Merry Christmas’ secularized bastard cousin “Season’s Greetings!” just shrugs and doesn’t say anything back.
The only Christmas movies I watch have either serial killer Santas or monsters in them.
I stop listening the radio at exactly 12:01 AM, November 1st.
You know why.
I’m the person who can walk past a Salvation Army bell ringer and not put any money in the bucket without a single shread of guilt.
I don’t hang Christmas lights. I’ve never owned an ugly Christmas sweater.
I don’t sing Christmas carols. I would never do this outside Keira Knightly’s doorway:
I only put up a Christmas tree because I live with other people. They’re the kind of people who like Christmas. I’m not. I’m not consumed with the Christmas spirit.
My heart is still three sizes too small.
I know the Whos were supposed to be the good guys, but I think the Grinch got a raw deal.
It’s not against the law to hate Christmas, you know.
Ok. I know. I know. My abnormal hatred/cynicism (I’m willing to admit it’s abnormal) of towards all things holly jolly yuletide and festive is rare. Not everyone holds with my beliefs. I suppose in the long run that’s a good thing. I guess the world would really suck if everyone was a Scrooge. It’s just that in this season of good will towards man, I’m wondering how much good will I actually have. Or need.
You see, my problem isn’t just with Christmas. I’m in a bit of a moral pickle. I haven’t really figured out what my ethical point of view is. I’m an adult. I should have figured this out by now. I studied philosophy. I managed to convince those people to give me a degree. I write a philosophy blog and I more than occasionally write about ethics. And as a philosopher, I should really have my ethical poo together. But I don’t. I have no idea which or whose school of ethics I do or should follow.
This is important. Not just because the moral in every Christmas story is that nothing matters in the world more than living in the spirit of brotherhood not just on Christmas, but one every day of the year. But because when I’m out on the rare occasion that I shop for Christmas presents, my ethical point of view has more to do with my shopping than I think it does.
I mean, should I buy a gift for a relative I despise out of a sense of deontological duty? Should I buy a gift that make everyone happy like a utilitarian would?
Or should I go Galt, declare my love for Ayn Rand and say screw everyone’s Merry Christmas and buy a shitload of presents for myself?
Because that’s what I really want to do. But I know I shouldn’t. It wouldn’t be the morally correct thing to spend all of my money on myself, even if I hate Christmas.
At least I don’t think it would be. Morally. Correct.
See what I mean? How can I tell if it is or isn’t the right thing if I have no moral theory of my own? I really need help, here. Those gift cards gotta go to somebody.
Now I really do feel like a Scrooge. If only one of the three Ghosts of Christmas would show me the way…
I suppose, then, this is what Christmas is all about.
Christmas is about thinking about the things that should matter to us most, like our family and friends.
Even John Galt would agree that friends and family matter to some degree.
…. as long as they’re not moochers.
Christmas is about a group of kids discovering the meaning of Christmas while decorating a jacked-up Christmas tree. It’s about realizing that a single, wonderful life does makes a difference. Or realizing we don’t need a Red Ryder carbine action 200 shot model air rifle to have the ultimate Christmas.
It’s about Billy finding out what happens if you feed Gizmo after midnight.
And why climbing down your own chimney dressed as Santa Claus is always a bad idea.
If you think about it (thankfully not for too long), Christmas is about assessing who we are and what we believe in. It’s about caring for our fellow man whether they deserve it or not.
And occasionally, just occasionally, Christmas is about this guy:
If you want people to think you’re a smart guy, it’s probably best that you steer clear of pop culture. Especially television.
You know, that place that made these people famous:
They don’t call it the boob tube for no good reason.
And it’s no coincidence that, as the number of television channels expanded, so did American waistlines. Television, America’s greatest purveyor of pop culture, is a kind of sugary, addictive brain candy that also makes your body fat.
You won’t have to conduct some scientific study at a major university to figure out that the less TV a person watches the better off that person is. Not just physically better off, but emotionally and intellectually better, too.
And there’s nothing on TV that will in any way make us think about things philosophically.
I think it goes without saying that the less TV we watch the better people we are, but there’s one thing that those who don’t spend their days in front of a glowing monitor (be it a computer or a television set) miss out on: pop culture.
Pop culture is:
…the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are preferred by an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture… this culture permeates the everyday lives of the society.
As much as we may hate to admit it, there’s a reason why many of us will “get” this image:
Or will find this meme funny:
Or immediately know this line and the name of the movie it comes from:
It is because by being tuned in to pop culture, we are plugged in to a culturally-based collective consciousness that allows us to communicate ideas, thoughts, theories, even jokes.
Try talking to someone who doesn’t pay attention to pop culture. You’ll find you won’t have much to talk about at all.
And one of those things you probably won’t talk about is the recent controversy over remarks made by Phil Robertson, star and patriarch of the basic cable reality television show, Duck Dynasty. The plot of the show centers around the day-to-day misadventures and family mayhem of Robertson and his family, who became extremely rich off of the duck call business.
Robertson was accused of making homophobic remarks in an interview with GQ Magazine.
Now for those of you who neither follow popular culture nor watch reality TV (because no one does, right?) this is what Phil Robertson said:
It seems like to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me.
And Robertson said:
There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on dudes! But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man.
Robertson stated that homosexual behavior is connected with “Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman,” and that gays “ won’t inherit the kingdom of God. It’s not right.”
Naturally, many people were angered by Robertson’s sentiments.
In response to the public outcry, A&E, the network that airs Duck Dynasty, suspended Robertson from the show.
That prompted Robertson’s supporters, like former Alaska governor and 2012 Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, to tweet this:
Of course, pop culture being what it is, Phil Robertson not only dominated the broadcast airwaves, he became a meme as well.
Now, some people say all of this arguing over the opinion of a reality TV star is nothing more than a waste of time. A distraction. We should be focused on other, more important matters.
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion and beliefs, even if their opinions and beliefs offend other people.
I guess it’s perfectly reasonable to expect that everybody’s got their own way of seeing things, but listen: the fact that a particular point of view came from the mouth of a reality TV star or they say it while there are other, important things going on, doesn’t mean that what the person said isn’t important.
And it doesn’t mean that the situation can’t get us thinking philosophically.
There’s a reason why people were offended by what Phil Robertson said.
And no, it’s not because some people are easily butthurt.
People were offended by what Phil Robertson said because they felt that what he said is wrong. They feel that certain beliefs are wrong – no matter what justification we have for holding those beliefs. Conversely, those who support Phil Robertson argue that his beliefs not only reflect his religious point of view, but that he is entitled to hold any belief he (or anyone else) wants, regardless of who he offends.
I don’t know how other people see things, but whenever I hear anyone say words like “wrong”, “justified belief”, “religion” or “God”, or when you debate whether it is right or wrong to remove a man from his job on a TV show, I start to think about morality. And when you’re using morality words, you’re thinking – and talking philosophically.
Yeah, we should be discussing the ethics of unmanned drones, war in the Middle East, international economic relations or our panopticonic reality, courtesy of the NSA – and sure, those are very important things to think about. But there is much to be discussed with the drama over Duck Dynasty or any other time a pop cultural icon or reality TV star grabs unwarranted media attention by saying or doing the wrong thing.
Or by saying the right thing, if you see things that way.
At best we can use the opportunity to strike up a moral debate (or two. or with everyone you know) over the ethics of personal opinions.
… and don’t forget, any scandal is perfect for memes.
I became interested in the social function of insults while doing research on the Stoic philosophers, who spent a lot of time thinking about how best to deal with them. I thought this was an odd thing for philosophers to do, but ultimately realized that they were on to something. After all, one role of philosophy is to teach us how to have a good life, and insults—whether blatant, benign, or even backhanded—have the power to make us miserable.
What I realized was that the pain caused by insults is really just a symptom of a far more serious ailment: our participation in the social hierarchy game. We are people who need to be among people. The problem is that once we are among them, we feel compelled to sort ourselves into social hierarchies. If we were wolves, we’d fight to…
Some people are Spring people. Some people like Summer. Or Winter.
I’m definitely an Autumn kind of gal.
I’m super into Halloween.
Yes, I refer to Halloween as a holiday.
It’s like my Christmas.
I dress up, bake holiday-themed goodies, and play holiday-appropriate music.
No. I don’t worship the Devil.
I’ve been asked that before.
For me, Halloween is the time to dwell upon all things spooky and scary.
I like to think of myself as spooky and a little bit scary. Wednesday Addams is my totem animal.
I’ve found the quickest way to get into the spooky and scary mood is through the cinema.
Actually, the quickest way might be through a Ouija board. But then, who wants to risk conjuring up Captain Howdy while trying to communicate with the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe?
I must say that it’s not very often that watching a creature feature gets one thinking about U.S. foreign policy. After all, the point of a creature feature is to spook you out or even scare you a little bit. It’s even less likely that a 1950s B-grade, sci-fi flick would get one thinking about foreign policy and philosophy.
It would be fair to say that it doesn’t really happen at all.
It’s not that fifties cinema wasn’t political or philosophical. Fifties films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Day of the Triffids, and The Day the Earth Stood Still (not to mention Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone) not only are classic sci-fi films, but are also plenty political and philosophical.
Spend an afternoon watching movies on Syfy. You’ll see.
The reason, I think, so few sci-fi flicks get me (us?) thinking about politics and philosophy really has more to do with the fact that Hollywood so rarely makes old-fashioned monster movies these days. Modern cinema is all special effects or all slice and dice.
Paranormal Activity-whatever numbered sequel they’re up to by now.
We don’t think because movies no longer encourage us to think… about anything.
Oh wait, Cloverfield came out a few years ago.
That movie got me thinking. Not sure if all my thoughts about it were political or philosophical, though.*
To be honest, that movie kind of messed me up, man.
I used to think that only vampire and zombie bites were dangerous.
Unfortunately for monster flick lovers like me, we have to look to the past to enjoy a good “What the F@#K is THAT???!” flick.
Giant lizard films from the sixties are always a good place to start.
A remake of Godzilla was released a few years ago. I’m not going to beat a dead horse but if there was anything worth watching in that barely watchable movie (admit it, it was barely watchable), it was Jean Reno – who is by definition required viewing no matter what movie he is in.
Actually, the problem isn’t the Godzilla remake. To be honest, there is a problem with Godzilla movies in general. Watch more than two Godzilla movies and you’ll soon discover that if you can get past the comically bad dubbing, the weird made-for-American-audiences re-editing, strangely choreographed monster fight sequences, and chuckle-inducing monster suits, your intestinal constitution is stronger than any champion competitive food eater.
Oh God, I hear they’re making another one. Another remake.
Why must they punish my eyes so?
The funny thing is, is that even though Godzilla flicks are, qualitatively speaking, pretty awful movies, once you see past all that‘s not worth watching, there’s actually something really smart going on. Godzilla movies are not only some of the finest examples of unintentional madcap comedy, they’re some of the best teaching tools around.
Especially if one is inclined to think about philosophy or foreign policy.
When I was a kid, weekends meant only one thing: spending my Saturday afternoons watching bad movies. In the days before basic cable and the endless stream of made-for-Syfy and the Lifetime Network’s obscure 80’s actors cinematic crapfests, one only had local television affiliates and a bunny-eared antenna to view the best of the worst cinema ever made. I remember the local Los Angeles affiliate, KHJ (now KCAL) aired Movie Macabre, hosted by Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.
I spent many Saturday afternoons watching craptacular gems like The Werewolf of Washington, The Monster Club, The Devil’s Rain, Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks, and The Incredible Melting Man.
I may be wrong but I think John Saxon hosted a show called Kung-Fu Theatre.
Those movies were pretty bad, too.
Still, more than any other memory of those Saturdays spent boob-tubing away my early childhood, I remember watching Godzilla movies.
Enough Godzilla flicks to last a Japanese school boy in too-tight-shorts a life time.
Admittedly, by the time Godzilla was pitted against the giant, flying, pollution-dispensing, melted shuttlecock-looking, Smog Monster, the intelligence quotient of the film series had reached an all-time low.
By the mid-1960s, Godzilla flicks had started the slippery slide down the crap scale from slightly stupid movies to full-blown, “you’ve got to be kidding me”-inducing plotlines involving the son of Godzilla (never once addressing where Mrs. Godzilla, was) and pitting the King of Monsters against America’s own racially-metaphored monster, King Kong.
The sad thing is Godzilla started out as kind of a smart film.
An invention of the Toho Picture Company, Godzilla made his film debut in Gojira released in 1954. Originally an anti-nuke, anti-war allegory, Gojira was re-cut for U.S. audiences with footage of American actor Raymond Burr (best known as TV’s Perry Mason) and re-titled Godzilla, King of Monsters.
Gojira was intended to be a cautionary tale; a warning against man’s arrogance and want to harness the power of the gods creating real-life monsters (nuclear weapons) that can destroy man and the planet. Gojira producer, Tomoyuki Tanaka, said:
The theme of the film from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind.
However, in the Americanized Godzilla, King of Monsters, any references to the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August, 1945, and U.S. hydrogen bomb tests (in the originalGojira we’re told the hydrogen bomb is what createdGodzilla) were also removed from the film.
By the way, Raymond Burr plays a reporter named “Steve Martin”. His character’s name still makes me laugh.
It’s not unreasonable that a Japanese film company would make an anti-nuke movie.
Japan is the only country to have been bombed twice with nuclear weapons.
Watching the original Gojira and its anti-nuke message got me thinking: Of course, being anti-nuke is a political position, but if being anti anything means you’ve taken a stand against something because you think it’s wrong, you’re taking a moral position as well.
If you’re talking morals, you’re talking philosophy.
And if you’re talking about the ethics of atomic warfare, you’re talking foreign policy.
We’ve all heard the explanation before: The United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to save lives that would have been lost in U.S. invasion of Japan. The explanation is utilitarian. The bombs were dropped to produce the greatest good for the greatest number. The English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) explains:
… actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.
The utilitarian position is this: if dropping atomic bombs on Japan would save lives and end the war, ending thousands of Japanese lives was a small price to pay for saving millions of American and Allied lives. U.S. government argued Hiroshima and Nagasaki were military targets; which made destroying the cities all the more necessary. Therefore, the total destruction of two Japanese cities was a necessary and morally justified act.
It was the only solution.
Utilitarian justifications for military action are not uncommon. The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, the Bush Doctrine, military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Libya, Grenada, the Balkans, and American support of coups in Iran and Chile, were all based on utilitarian arguments. In arguing for military action in Iraq, President George W. Bush stated:
By confronting evil and lawless regimes, we do not create a problem, we reveal a problem. And we will lead the world in opposing it… We have a great opportunity to extend a just peace, by replacing poverty, repression, and resentment around the world with the hope of a better day.
That, my friends, is a utilitarian argument.
But wait, you say, the Vietnam War ended badly for the United States. As did the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you think about it, more than a few “interventions” have gone very badly. If this is so, how can you justify military aggression if the result is worse than the initial problem?
If you just said that, congratulations. You figured out the problem with utilitarianism.
You see, the utilitarian (moral) position tells us that if we possess the means to end or prevent the suffering of others, we are obligated to act. We would be neglecting our moral duty if we do not. Taking lives is not necessarily wrong if our ultimate goal is to increase the overall good (or happiness) of the whole.
So, if dropping bombs from unmanned drones will decrease violent acts of Islamic extremism, then blowing up weddings, unarmed journalists or people eating lunch is morally justified.
On its face, that all sounds fine and dandy. But, if you haven’t already realized it, not every bomb falls on its intended target. And sometimes our best utilitarian intentions fall victim to the law of unintended consequences.
Utilitarian ethics tells us that if we ought to act if we have the means to increase the happiness of the whole, but the sometimes inaccurate calculation of (best) consequences leads to bad things happening rather than the outcomes we expected. Sometimes, despite our best intentions and expectations, the situation ends up much worse than before we did anything.
WORSE LIKE THIS:
If you’re a utilitarian, this is unacceptable.
Because the moral rightness or wrongness depends on the consequences of our actions, not our intentions. We can have all the best intentions in the world, but if we act and the consequences are bad, then our actions are morally wrong.
Because in the real world when we act, we risk more than creating an irradiated, 150 foot, “big-gutted, big-butted” prehistoric beast hell-bent on destroying Tokyo.
In the real world, we must weigh our actions against the possibility that we’ll kill real people and cause real damage to others.
Even if our intentions tell us unmanned drones will get the job done.
* Actually Cloverfield is a political movie. One need not look too deeply into the plot to see the parallels between the events in the film and the terrorist attack on New York on September 11th, 2001.
1) John Stuart Mill. “Utilitarianism”. Twenty Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy. 1988. Eds. G. Lee Bowie, Meredith W. Michaels, Robert C. Solomon, and Robert J. Fogelin. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. p. 571
2) Sam Stall, Lou Harry, and Julia Spaulding. The Encyclopedia of Guilty Pleasures: 1001 Things You Hate to Love. 2004. Philadelphia: Quirk Books. p.108.
3) Steve Ryfle. “Godzilla’s Footprint”. Gojira DVD insert.
4) The Evolving Presidency: Addresses, Cases, Essays, Letters, Reports, Resolutions, Transcripts, and Other Landmark Documents, 1787-2004. 2004. 2nd Edition. Ed. Michael Nelson. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press. pp. 288.
You know the saying “you learn something new every day”?
I learned something new. I learned that just because something is labeled “kid friendly” that that doesn’t necessarily make it so.
I’ve seen at least ten “kid friendly” movies that I would never show to children.
Well, I wouldn’t. Unless I really hated that kid.
Because I like overthinking about things and I have nothing better to do, I decided to made up a little list of family-friendly movies (that aren’t):
The Secret Of NIMH
The Dark Crystal
The Neverending Story
Return To OZ
The Adventures of Mark Twain
Clash of the Titans (original)
All of these movies are more than a little disturbing.
Most I still won’t watch alone in the dark.
These movies were so traumatizing to me that I remember exactly when and where I first watched each movie. The first of these cinematic horrors I saw was The Dark Crystal.
I saw it when I was 8 years old.
I was at school.
The movie terrified me.
There was no way I could leave the classroom.
I would have been a total wuss if I’d closed or covered my eyes.
The funny thing about The Dark Crystal is that it was made by the same people who made the Muppets. The Muppets were all about being cute and cuddly and making people happy.
They kind of scared me, too.
I thought back then at eight years old as I do now –The Dark Crystal is like an episode of Sesame Street plunged down to the ninth rung of Hell. I’ve often suspected that, if you looked deep down inside of Bert’s mind, it looks a little like The Dark Crystal. That might explain why that “Bert is evil” meme was popular a few years ago.
The Dark Crystal came out a long time ago, so some of you might not remember what the movie is about (I can’t forget as it is seared upon my memory). In a nutshell, the movie’s plot kind of goes like this:
A creepy puppet dude named Jen (he’s actually the last of an extinct race of creatures called Gelflings) is bequeathed the task of finding a shard from an ancient and magical crystal.
Jen must place the shard back into place so as to reunite the creepier-looking Mystics and even creepier-looking Skeksis into one race (species?). Wait, I’m missing something…. Ok – let me backtrack a bit. You see, before the crystal broke the Mystics and the Skeksis were one race and when the crystal split, they split into the peaceful (but nevertheless creepy-looking) Mystics, and evil and truly too-frightening-for-any-child-to- watch Skeksis. The Mystics and the Skeksis have to be reunited to bring peace back to the land…. Or something like that.
Oh yeah, Jen finds out that he’s not the only remaining Gelfling. He finds another one, a nice (but no less creepy) female Gelfling named Kira. You know she’s a girl because she has wings. She also has a dog-like thing called “Fizzgig”.
That thing has piranha teeth.
In a kid’s movie.
Anyway, for reasons that I can’t quite remember (and I’m not going to watch to see why) the evil Skeksis wiped out the small and harmless Gelflings. Once the Skeksis get wind of Jen’s mission, they attempt to kill Jen as well.
Oh wait! Now I remember! The Skeksis want Jen dead because according to a prophesy, a Gelfling will mend the crystal and bring together the Mystics and the Skeksis. And the Skeksis don’t want to reunite with the Mystics.
Did I fail to mention something that looks like this is in this movie?
If you’re not already convinced this is the scariest movie ever made, there may be something wrong with you.
As much as The Dark Crystal is a relentlessly disturbing movie it’s also kind of a downer. Sure, Jen accomplishes his task; he shoves the shard back into the crystal and the Mystics and Skeksis are reunited.
But none of that happens before a bunch of terrible s#!t happens.
Mostly at the hands of the Skeksis.
Here’s a short list of all the bad s#!t that happens in the movie:
Dozens of innocent creatures are ruthlessly slaughtered at a party.
Jen and Kira’s long-legged, transport-thingies are killed.
Adorable little creatures called Podlings (who look like a muppet Bob the Builder) are rounded up and drained of their “essence” –they literally have their life sucked out of them.
Skeksis die (including the Emperor of the Skeksis, who literally disintegrates in front of his subjects).
Augra is imprisoned and threatened with torture.
The Gelflings are genocided until only two remain.
Kira is stabbed in the back (by a Skeksis) and dies.
Never mind that Kira is brought back to life. She was stabbed in the back and died!
Throughout the movie, the Skeksis are nothing short of the embodiment of evil. Their only purpose (would you call that their telos?) is to destroy as much good in the world as possible. But at the end of the movie, when the crystal is repaired by Jen, the Skeksis aren’t punished. They’re rewarded.
The Skeksis are reunited with the Mystics and are returned to their original celestial forms. Everything ends happily ever after.
That got me thinking.
You see, when I first saw The Dark Crystal, I was too busy trying not to poop my pants to pay attention to what was going on. But as I got older, I realized that something was terribly amiss with the end of the movie. I thought the Skeksis got off way too easy.
There’s no arguing that the Skeksis weren’t evil. They were evil creatures that committed evil deeds. If our religious and legal systems are any indication of how we feel about evil and those who do evil, punishments for evil doing is well-deserved. The Bible says:
He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power. (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9)
Although I may have wanted to see the Skeksis burn in eternal fire for their evil deeds, luckily for the Skeksis they live in a world that operates under a different system of ethics. I didn’t notice it back then (probably ‘cause I was too busy being scared s#!tless) but The Dark Crystal has a bit of an Eastern philosophy vibe. The Dark Crystal has more to do with the philosophy of this guy:
Or this guy:
Than this guy:
Or this guy:
The skeksis and the Mystic’s need to be reunited; to throw off their worldly bodies, rejoin their fragmented souls and move on, as perfected souls, to the spirit realm, reflects the Eastern philosophical position that there is no eternal punishment after death, but that our lives are part of an eternal cycle of death and rebirth.
If you’re a practitioner of Hinduism you’re well aware of Samsara, the belief that humans can achieve higher consciousness, so long as we improve ourselves (that is accomplished by using lessons learned from one life to the next). Samsara is precisely what the Mystics’ their ultimate goal is – to regain their state of higher consciousness.
Of course, the Mystics’ goal is complicated by the fact that humans (and presumably Mystics and Skeksis as well) have free will. The Skeksis knowingly (and maliciously) chose a path of evil, and for that, the Skeksis were kept from moving on to a higher existence.
And because the souls of the Mystics were inextricably tied to the Skeksis, they were unable to move on as well.
In the film, we can see because the Mystics and Skeksis live apart (when they should be joined as one) that they are suffering.
By uniting the crystal, Jen finally releases the Mystics and Skeksis from their earth-bound suffering (Moska) and the united races are able to reach Nirvana, which is the state of liberation from earthly suffering and the cycle of death and rebirth. Buddha describes Nirvana as:
Where it is recognized that there is nothing but what is seen of the mind itself; where, recognizing the nature of the self-mind, no one longer cherishes the dualism of discrimination; where there is no more attachment to the external things.
The Buddha says when we abandon our desires and want of worldly goods; when we realize that we are not separate from others and see ourselves as one with all things, we can attain Nirvana.
Ok. So by the end of the movie everything is okay-dokey. The Mystics and the Skeksis are returned to their perfected state, the Podlings are released from captivity (with a minimal amount of essences drained), Kira is revived from the dead, peace is restored, and everybody lives happily ever after, right?
Well, no. Not for me, anyway.
There’s still the one thing that’s nagging me. I can’t stop thinking that the Skeksis got off easy. I may be totally Western moral systems about this, but I wanted to se the Skeksis suffer a little more than they did.
I mean, they stayed evil right up ‘til the end.
It doesn’t seem fair that the Skeksis could be so evil yet be allowed to reach Nirvana like the gentle, peaceful Mystics. It doesn’t matter if you follow the Ten Commandments or Buddha’s Eightfold Path, we’re expected to be good to others and to do the right thing. It seems karmically wrong that the Skeksis are not condemned to eternal torment or at least have to come back and live life over again.
When you get down to it, the Skeksis have no reason to do anything good.
So they don’t.
And at the end of the movie, they get to go to whatever paradise Skeksis and Mystics go to when their reunited.
That’s not only unnerving in the fictional world, it’s downright terrifying in the real world. The prospect that truly malevolent beings like Caligula, Pol Pot, Jack the Ripper, and Countess Elizabeth Bathory can go to the same Nirvana that awaits Dorothy Day, Caesar Chavez, and Miep Gies not only seems unfair, it seems wrong.
Imagine spending an eternity in Nirvana with the same S.O.B. Skeksis who just stabbed you in the back and killed you.
Assuming Kira was headed for Nirvana.
I suppose I’ve been a bit unfair to the Sksksis. Maybe they weren’t as much to blame for what they did as I think. Perhaps there’s another way of looking at the whole situation.
It’s entirely possible that the Skeksis, despite their unrepentant evil, were suffering. The separation of the Mystics and Skeksis may have been a source of great torment. The Skeksis were only half of what they were meant to be. That’s probably why the Skeksis were so cruel. The Skeksis were kind of like bullies. And like bullies, the Skeksis needed to hurt others to fill the void of their incomplete souls.
(We can also assume that the Mystics were suffering as well. This may be why, despite their peaceful and contemplative life, they sent Jen to repair the crystal).
In the end, the pain the Skeksis inflicted on others only amplified their own pain.
That’s why when Kira cuts the (Skeksis) Chamberlain’s hand, a Mystic’s hand also bleeds.
And also when one of the Mystics dies, a Skeksis also dies.
You know something, Western philosophy isn’t completely devoid of Eastern philosophical beliefs. The German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), also subscribed to Eastern philosophical beliefs.
Schopenhauer believed that suffering is an essential part of life (like Buddhists) but we can find relief from our suffering through contemplation, music, art, and philosophy. He also said we can find relief from suffering through the study of Eastern philosophy.
I guess Schopenhauer learned something new.
It’s plainly evident that the Skeksis were not satisfied as they were – that no amount of power, Podlings’ essences, genociding other creatures to extinction, or lavish robes and banquets could quell the deep pain the Skeksis felt. That’s why, at the end, the Skeksis needed to move on and let go of their belief that they were separate from the Mystics.
The Skeksis knew that the prophesy – wait, did I mention that there was a prophesy? – that the Skeksis and the Mystics would be rejoined as one race, had to happen.
They wouldn’t want to suffer forever, right?
So… if the Skeksis were indeed suffering, from an Eastern philosophical point of view the punishment-less ending of The Dark Crystal kind of makes sense.
Still… I think if Kira had got in a good roundhouse or drop-kick on one or two of those Skeksis before they merged with the Mystics, they could have called that whole decimating an entire race and stabbing-her-in-the-back-thing even.
NOTE: just in case you didn’t know, the Eight-fold Path is:
I must say, however, I’ve never seen any of The Fast and the Furious franchise.
I’m more of a horror/sci-fi person. Not much of an action fan.
On November 30, 2013, one of the stars of The Fast and the Furious franchise, Paul Walker, died in a car crash.
He was only 40 years old.
There’s something funny about movie stars. You never really think of them as having an actual age. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have spent one second thinking about his age. But now that I’m older, the first thought on my mind when I heard the news was the fact that Paul walker was only a few years older than me.
And even if he wasn’t so close to me in age, his death would still be tragic. He was a person. He has family and friends. And many fans who are now mourning his sudden and violent death.
I don’t know how many R.I.P. pages popped up on Facebook.
And, of course, his death made for plenty of programming on TMZ.
TMZ posted video of the car Paul Walker in in flames.
A few days after the crash, TMZ aired their “last known video footage” of Paul Walker.
You know, when a famous person dies, there’s no shortage of sensational coverage of a person’s life. Death, whether a person is famous or not, is often treated like an entertainment event. I guess if you’re famous or unfortunate enough to die in a spectacular fashion, the news and entertainment show vans and their cameras aren’t too far behind.
Unfortunately for Paul Walker, he was both.
But sometimes, it gets us thinking about those things that we otherwise often put off – like the inevitability of death. That death, no matter whether a person is 9 months or 99 years old, is an unpleasant and often unwelcome reality we all must face. But as tragic and uncomfortable as the subject of death (even the death of a famous person) is, it’s also an opportunity to ask philosophical questions.
Naturally, when someone dies, our minds often drift to questions about our own lives – what our lives mean. We ask if our lives have meaning. Have we accomplished all with our lives that we wanted to do? What will our lives mean to others after we’re gone? Have we made a difference?
When a celebrity dies, especially if there were others killed along with the famous person, we ask what is the true value of a life. Paul Walker was a famous person but he was not the only person killed in the accident. Walker’s friend, race car driver Roger Rodas, also perished.
I’m certain that many people were shocked and saddened by the death of Rodas, but if you spent any time watching the Hollywood-centered media, it’s likely that you may have had the idea that Paul Walker was the only occupant in the car.
That’s because in our media-driven culture, the lives of the rich and famous are often more valued than the lives of average people. We want to believe that our lives, that any life, is important and if tragedy befalls anyone, what happens to us will be treated as important as if it had happened to a famous person.
Look, I’m not downplaying the situation. Lives, whether the lives are famous or not, are equally valuable. That’s why it is so upsetting when any life is treated like it is less valuable. It’s why the fact that Roger Rodas’ death was virtually ignored by the entertainment media affects our moral sense on the value of life.