I couldn’t put my finger on it for sure. But it definitely happened.
There was definitely a time it was not okay to like Brett Favre.
With his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and, perhaps more significantly, being inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame (and his #4 retired), it seems like that time has definitely passed.
Actually that’s probably not fair. It seems like it’s been past for a while now. But with his recent inclusion in the most exclusive club available to football’s greatest, it seems that the time for hatred has officially ended.
But the weird part is I sometimes feel like the only one who remembers it existed at all. But, I mean, that can’t possibly be true, can it? I can’t be the only one who remembers when Favre was as easy to mock as Michael Jackson (back when it was okay to mock Michael Jackson) and the general internet consensus was he’d been reduced to a washed-up has-been who couldn’t play any more and probably never could if we’re being honest, and also he sent pictures of his dick to everyone. Or at least to one person.
Although actually to say that was only one time isn’t really fair, either. Well, okay, the dick pics only came up once, but much like Favre’s famous indecision regarding his retirement…s, the football-watching world could never seem to make up it’s mind about Favre.
Remember back in 2005 when Green Bay drafted Aaron Rodgers? For the next two years,
all the reports ranged between saying Favre was gruff and unwelcoming to the rookie to flat-out calling him a terrible teammate. The fact that these two years happened to coincide with two of the worst in Favre’s career to that point is probably coincidence. Then, 2007, redemption. Favre led the upstart Packers to a surprising 13-3 record, putting up some of the best numbers of his career. Sports Illustrated declared him sportsperson of the year and did an article on what a mentor he was to Rodgers and the other QBs. Suddenly, Favre had become a good teammate.
For one year. The next year Favre got traded to New York, had a strong start to the season, but faded down the stretch as his new team missed the playoffs. ESPN officially declared him “locker room cancer.” The old reports resurfaced. Favre and Rodgers never got along. Favre never made Rodgers feel comfortable. Favre ripped the head off of kittens and ate the placenta of unborn children.
The thing is, the actual facts of those reports hardly changed at all, if you pushed deep enough to actually find them. Favre didn’t go out of his way to help Rodgers take his job, what Rodgers was obviously brought in to (eventually) do, but if Rodgers came to him looking for specific help, he’d provide it. We can debate all day about whether Favre should have made the younger player seek him out or if he should do more to be a “good” teammate, but the simple fact is the reports stayed virtually the same year-to-year, while the judgments and narratives in those news stories varied widely.
And that’s a pattern that holds true not with the little things, t00. Late in the 2009 season, Favre (now with the Vikings) had a Monday night game at the Chicago Bears. Leading up to the game, the story was the freezing cold conditions, and how Favre hadn’t won such a game in almost two years.
The Vikings sleepwalked through the first half, spotting Chicago 16 points, before ultimately falling behind 23-6 midway through the third quarter. But led by Favre and Adrian Peterson, nearly pulled off a comeback for the ages, coming all the way back to tie the game at 23, falling behind again, only to put together a 68-yard drive that ended when Favre hit Sidney Rice for a touchdown on fourth and goal with 16 seconds left in the game.
Just before that score, one of the game’s announcers commented on all the claims that Favre could no longer play well in cold weather, saying “There’s nothing wrong with that guy in any weather after how he’s played tonight.”
But on the Vikes’ first drive in overtime, Peterson fumbled the ball. The Bears recovered it, and rammed a touchdown drive down the Vikings’ throats, winning the game.
The next time the Vikings came to Chicago, in 2010, to play another game in freezing weather, the story told by all national news writers was, again, “Favre can’t play in cold weather… Favre hasn’t won a game played in freezing temperatures in three years.”
You could chalk it up to what Matthew McConaughey, portraying Jack Lengyal, said in We Are Marshall: That “Winning is everything and nothing else matters.” But it’s far more likely that in the word of professional football, perception simply is not reality.
Perception trumps reality.
So there’s something I don’t admit publicly very often.
I’m a Detroit Lions fan.
And since the Lions has just finished an awful season (again), there are significant questions about whether they’ll fire their coach (again).
But this wasn’t just any bad season. It obviously isn’t the worst Lions season in recent history, but it might have been the most frustrating. I’m so mad, I actually might be happier if Detroit had lost at Green Bay in Week 10 and finished with a worse record. Because at least then they wouldn’t have wasted what should have been a historic moment, ending a 24-year-long road losing streak to Green Bay, on a meaningless season.
They could have done it last year. In Week 17. With the division on the line. For a franchise record 12th win. And with the game tied halfway through the third quarter. And instead, they let the Packers, who had struggled all season when facing top-flight defenses, roll up 30 points.
No. Even when the football gods finally choose to smile on us, the Lambeau curse is finally broken in the midst of late-season surge that
all became meaningless three weeks later after Rodgers flopped like a Cristiano Ronaldo and those cheese eaters got an unearned extra play. And also because the defense let the Rams run all over them a week later. But, mostly, the first thing!
All right, I never claimed to be a well-adjusted person, the point is this season sucked. And after what seemed like such a promising offseason, such a terrible real season should leave the Lions with one very clear answer as to what to do with Caldwell.
They need to keep him.
Despite the 1-7 start, and the 7-9 final record, there are four very important reasons getting rid of Caldwell this year would be a terrible decision.
Reason One: That Second Half Surge
Yes yes yes, as everyone has said, as I said just a few paragraphs ago, the fact that the Lions went 6-2 after their bye week meant, in the grand scheme of things, nothing. The Lions still missed the playoffs and couldn’t even get to a .500 record. And the strength of schedule in the second half definitely helped (6 games against playoff teams in Weeks 1-8, compared to 2 games against the Packers in Weeks 9-17).
But that doesn’t mean we should just ignore that resurgence. A lot of teams who start 1-7 would quit on their coach. This same team has quit on lesser coaches in the not-too-distant past. That Caldwell kept the team focused, and improving, in an otherwise lost season is a good indication that last year’s 11-5 record is closer to what we can expect in the future than this year’s 7-9.
But more importantly than all of that, the improved record over the final 8 games can be largely attributed to promoting Jim Bob Cooter to offensive coordinator. Matthew Stafford never looked fully comfortable in previous OC Joe Lombardi’s offense. This was supposed to be the year he took a major step forward after spending all of 2014 learning the offense and playing it safe. Instead, with Lombardi, Stafford was heading to another mediocre season (13 TDs, 11 INTs, 64.5% completions, 84.1 rating after week 8). When Cooter had a chance to implement his offense following the bye week, Stafford transformed into one of the best QBs in the league almost overnight (19 TDs, 2 INTs, 70% completions, 110.1 rating in weeks 9-17).
Stafford needs to stay in Cooter’s offense. It seems he has finally found someone who can curb his problems with incompletions and interceptions without sacrificing his offensive proficiency. The last thing he needs now is to have to learn a fourth offense in his young career. And the best way to be sure Cooter stays around is to keep his boss around. Caldwell needs to stay.
Reason Two: An Inexperienced GM
Yes! The Lions seem to have finally changed their ways. After firing General Manager Martin Mayhew, they broke recent trends and chose not to promote from within and instead searched far and wide before bringing in Bob Quinn from the New England Patriots.
Right now, these all appear to be good signs and indicate that the Powers that Be recognize that there are systemic problems in the franchise and are attempting to address them.
But none of this changes the fact that Quinn comes to Detroit with no experience as a GM, and while his experience with the ever-consistent Patriots is certainly what made him an attractive hire, it’s worth noting that he joined the Patriots in 2000, the same year as Bill Belichick. The Patriots have not hired a new coach since then, or even looked at another
one. Not only has Quinn never made this kind of decision before, he’s never been a part of it. Or observed it. Or, probably, even thought about it.
Hiring a new coach is always a gamble. Asking a new GM to take that kind of a gamble when we already have a coach one year removed from an 11-win season does not make sense right now.
Reason Three: The Other Teams Have a Head Start
When the Lions made massive, sweeping changes this season, they announced they were going to wait to hire a new GM before they made a decision on their coach. And that’s fine, that makes sense.
But when they waited until yesterday to bring in their new GM, they gave all the other teams who fired their coaches a free week to research, scout, interview, and form relationships with all the hot coaching prospects.
Even if Quinn and his staff get to work right away, they’re probably not going to get their first choice.
And this is especially true, because…
Reason Four: That Second Half Surge
Okay, so when I said earlier that the Lions 6-2 performance over the season’s last eight weeks accomplished nothing, that wasn’t quite true…
It pushed the Lions to 16th on the NFL Draft Board.
Any new coach who comes in is going to want to bring in his own players and reshape the team to suit his preferences. While it wouldn’t be impossible for the Lions to do that this summer, it’s definitely a lot harder when you’re drafting in the middle of the pack and (presumably) getting middle-of-the-pack college players.
I would vehemently disagree with anyone who would say that the Lions should have folded during the second half of the season in an attempt to get a higher draft pick, but there’s no denying that by not doing so they made any new coach’s job that much harder.
So imagine this, hot, young, head coaching prospect. There’s a franchise out there that might be hiring. This franchise has, in the Super Bowl era, made the playoffs 11 times with a 1-11. Their star wide receiver is probably going to retire and
leave you with a gaping whole on your roster. Hiring you means they would have just fired their most successful coach since 1952. You won’t get your first choice of players this April. And to top it all off, waiting for their call means ignoring the six other franchises blowing up your phone for a week (or longer).
In what world do you wait to see their choice? In what world do you answer that call if it comes?
There are a lot of tough decisions coming for this franchise. Despite their strong showing in the last eight weeks they are definitely in rebuilding mode. But this choice should be pretty clear.
The Lions need to keep Jim Caldwell in 2016.
So I just finally got the chance to watch Sinister the other day. I’m pretty behind the times on my horror films, I suppose, but I figured this one was worth checking out. It struck me as significant for a couple of reasons, notably for being Scott Derrickson’s only critical success (relatively speaking) as a director and one of the few movies in which Ethan Hawke’s acting looked tolerable. Having watched it, I found another reason it stands out, at least to me: Although the movie was quite scary at points, the movie’s villain was not. At all.
And that got me thinking, ‘What makes for a good horror villain?’ It’s always seemed to me that the quality of villain is inversely proportionate to how far out of his way a normal person would have to go in order to become a victim. And, of course, you can’t start a line of thinking like that without eventually composing a list like this.
So, just in time for Halloween, presenting a completely new, never-been-done-before-don’t-even-bother-asking-Google idea, the definitive power rankings of the best horror villains!*
*Author’s note: this list was assembled almost at random using the first eleven horror villains I could think of. This list does not necessarily represent the opinions of Word Press, Hero McPiePants Productions, the WNBA, or this author.
As a general rule I’m going to ignore any sequels for this list, so we’re dealing with only the originals (except for the times I don’t feel like it). I’m also including only villains from movies I’ve actually seen, so Leatherface, for example, is out because I’ve never watched the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre. I did try to watch the 2003 remake but it was so stupid that halfway through I tried to gnaw my face off. I’m proud to say the resulting struggle was more entertaining than anything in the film.
So now that the legal disclaimers are done, let’s kick off the bottom of the list, with…
Film: Sinister (2012)
There are horror villains who stalk their victims. There are horror villains who wait patiently for their victims to come to them. And then there’s one guy who leaves a box of homemade movies in the attic, hoping the next family who moves into that house will find them, watch them all, get scared, and move away, where he finally possesses one of their children and kills them. Oh yeah, they also have to have small children, or the whole plan kind of falls apart. Using this method, is it any wonder he’s successfully victimized only six families in five decades? Props to Derrickson for making a compelling movie about a boring villain, but next time just choose a more interesting monster and make your job easier.
Is it cheating to use two for one slot? Of course not, I make the rules, I can do what I want. Besides, they’re very similar in their behavior. Samara is much better known, but Aparat was much more terrifying, at least to me, so I figured this was a good compromise.
So if I found the story of Aparat so scary, why’d I rank him so low on this list? Because he, like Samara, is only interested in killing people who watch his VHS tape. Just a few years ago these two probably would have ranked much higher on this list. But seriously, guys, it’s 2015. Even I don’t remember what VHS tapes are.
Oh, also, I think speaking Aparat’s name aloud was another way to incur his wrath, so hopefully you aren’t reading this list out loud to anyone, and if you are, good luck with that.
#8: The Blair Witch
Film: The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Was The Blair Witch Project an impressive film, given its shoestring budget? Absolutely. Was it influential on the horror genre, even to this day? Undeniably. But is it, objectively, scary? I don’t think I’m alone in saying not really. But even if you do find it scary, it can’t possibly be because of the antagonist. To fall victim to her(?) you have to specifically seek her out, let her lead you in circles for days on end, follow some random noises into a decrepit old house, and then… something happens. Something we never find out about. It could be anything from giving you millions of dollars to turning your internal organs into waffles. Spooky
Seriously, lady, the kid who made Marble Hornets did you better than you did, and he makes videos for free on YouTube.
Also, the villains from Marble Hornets will not be appearing on this list because I didn’t think of them until too late.
#7: Jason Voorhees
Film: Friday the 13th Parts 2-A Billion (1981-2009…and counting)
Yeah, we’re ignoring the original film here because no one cares about an old lady killing a bunch of teenagers. That said, it’s by far the best film in the series.
There’s not much to say about Mr. Voorhees. On the positive side of things, he can absorb any amount of damage and is unstoppable… if you ignore all the times he’s been stopped, of course. But on the other hand, he’s bound to Camp Crystal Lake. He can only massacre the teens who, like clockwork, show up at his camp every year. He remains unable to leave its borders. I mean, if you (again) ignore the dumb films… The really dumb ones… The ones where… Look, it’s a crappy franchise. Shut up.
#6: The Spirit of the Mirror
Film: Oculus (2013)
There’s a lot of good things to say about The Spirit of the Mirror. It can manipulate its victims’ perceptions of reality, is basically impossible to kill, and the mirror eats dogs! That said, it’s also not a very… adaptable villain. It’s entirely reliant on victims locating the mirror, buying this priceless artifact, doing no research about any previous owner, ignoring any early warning signs, not noticing when their dog is eaten, and eventually dying a slow, horrible death. In the age of the internet, it’s hard to imagine this thing keeping its secret for long. It’s only a matter of time before it gets its own Wikipedia page.
Film: Scream (1996)
Having exhausted all of the passive villains, we’re finally to the ones who actually, y’know, do something. On the downside, that means starting with the worst of them, the Ghostface killer (not to be confused with the Ghostface Killah, who’s scary for completely different reasons). Without a doubt Scream is a seminal slasher film. There’s a reason it’s the highest-grossing slasher in US history. That said, it’s a little hard to take any horror villain seriously when he fails to kill Jamie Kennedy. Had he only been able to do that, we would all have been spared the much greater horror of Kickin’ it Old Skool. A man can dream, though…
#4: The Lamia
Film: Drag Me to Hell (2011)
Pros: Relentlessly pursues victims, can attack anywhere, essentially all-powerful.
Cons: In order for him to come after you, you have to shame an old gypsy lady. They’re shockingly hard to come by these days.
#3: Michael Myers
Film: Halloween (1978, definitely not 2007)
The Grandfather of all slashers, Myers did it first (except for maybe Leatherface, depending on how you count) and did it best (except for maybe Leatherface, because, again, I haven’t seen it). As lethal and indestructible as Jason and as tenacious as Ghostface, Myers exceeds both in viciousness. He kills people because they’re there. In order to become his victim, no one has to come to the camp he was killed at, or have an affair with his mother, or have sex on screen (though plenty do). If you have the audacity to live, chances are pretty good you’ll end up on his hit list.
Film: Saw (2004)
Sure, Michael Meyers is big, strong, and terrifying, but y’know what’s really scary? A middle-aged cancer patient! Okay, fine, that’s a bad comparison, but consider this: Meyers may relentlessly stalk his victim, but he can still be slowed down by doors, walls, and other obstacles. On the other had, Jigsaw, despite suffering from terminal cancer, can be anywhere at any time, regardless of the logical problems that creates. His other mysterious powers include the ability to find a seemingly endless number of deserted warehouses, the ability to retroactively form contacts with the police, and the ability to sedate himself for hours at a time with no training. The gore probably has its place, but it’s how realistic the Saw films are that make them truly terrifying!
#1: Freddy Krueger
Film: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
If the measure of a horror villain’s quality is how unavoidable he is, no one else can ever compare to Freddy Krueger. There’s no haunted house to investigate, no enchanted item to mistakenly disturb, no old woman with mysterious powers to offend, no place to run. If you fall asleep, you’re dead. As the film wears on and the protagonists become more and more sleep deprived, he becomes increasingly dangerous by his very nature. He can’t be avoided, placated, or destroyed. He’s the best horror villain of all horror villains.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to take in Iowa State’s drubbing of the Hapless–er, I mean, Kansas Jayhawks. It was a lot of fun and good to see the Cyclones get a win (the quality of the opponent notwithstanding). Despite my Nebraska loyalties, I’ve been a part-time ISU fan for a long time. After all, my favorite football game of all time happened October 1, 2005, when the Huskers and Cyclones battled to a double-overtime Nebraska win.
While nothing beats being in Memorial Stadium for a Husker game, the overall game experience was great. My girlfriend’s father, with whom I attended, knew a lot about football and was a great conversationalist, and whoever runs the PA system at Jack Trice Stadium does a lot of fun things to keep the crowd in the game.
But while I loved the experience overall and hope to get to another game soon, one thing I definitely cannot say I enjoyed was the fans. While they were friendly enough to me (though it certainly helped that I was wearing the right colors), it made me more than a little uncomfortable the way they talked about their coach (one of the most successful ISU has ever had), their starting quarterback (the team’s leader, and best player, for about four straight years now), and their offensive coordinator (who was in the middle of producing over 500 yards of offense).
And I really don’t mean to call the Cyclone fans out in this, because it’s hardly an attitude native to Ames.
Ohio State fans are already whining about their team, despite being undefeated. San Francisco 49er followers started to complain early and often last year, in spite of three straight trips to the NFC Championship game. Heck, reading the comments of Texas fans in the last days of Mack Brown is about like reading the diary of a middle school girl who’d just been dumped (“He said we’d win games together, and he said we’d be national champs forever, and it wasn’t true! And now my life is ruined!”).
I guess that’s just how sports are. The entitled whining, the undue scrutinizing. That is just what football fans do.
But that’s not what the best fans in college football should do.
As bad as I felt for Rhoads listening to the grumbling from delusional fans who don’t understand why it might be hard to win more than a couple of games a season in a place like Ames, I’ve been outright disgusted by Husker fans over the past day and a half.
There’s a lot of reason to be frustrated right now. We’re 2-3 and we could easily be 5-0. But. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and it can’t all fall on the coaches. But. This is a staff trying to adjust to a new program, a new culture and environment, and players they didn’t recruit. But. Let’s not pretend this was the worst loss Nebraska’s had. It’s not even the worst loss in the past decade. If Pelini and his staff could turn the 2009 season around after losing to Iowa State at home, there’s every reason to believe Riley and his staff can turn this one around after losing to Illinois on the road.
But they can’t do it without our support. If you don’t believe fan support absolutely can impact a program, look no further than the aforementioned Pelini regime. Losing the fanbase caused him to go from a hot up-and-comer (in 2011 Bleacher Report ranked him #11 on their list of best coaches in the nation) to a loud-mouthed buffoon in just a few years. Once he lost support of the fans, he was always on the defensive, always trying to justify his employment. It made it all but impossible for him to learn from his mistakes or grow as a coach. And so he didn’t.
The worst thing we can possibly do right now is repeat that scenario with Riley. I don’t know if he’s the man we need for the job, and neither does anyone else. I do know that if we run him out of town before we get a chance to find out, the rest of the football world is going to spend the next year shit-talking our program. I know nobody, coaches or recruits, will want to be a part of that kind of toxic atmosphere. I know the condition of our program absolutely cannot improve if we can’t shake those aspects of it.
The title of best football fans is not something we can just claim. We need to earn it. To defend it. We haven’t been doing this for several years now. I include myself in this.
After this week the game against Wisconsin has suddenly become a lot less important to the division championship, and a lot more critical to our program than anyone could have predicted. Let’s show up in full force and full throat. It’s time to earn that plaque we hang in our stadium the way we expect our team to earn championships.
Some days you sit down intending to write about education, and what comes out instead is a ramble about how a legal drama needs to be more like professional wrestling.
So I discovered this show called Suits recently, and by “discovered” I mean I pulled a Christopher Columbus and found something millions of people already knew about.
As is my wont when I get really into a show, I started researching it, mostly how well it’s been received. I’m only a little over two seasons in at this point (the fifth season just started airing) but I was really shocked to see that pretty much everybody else in the world thought the second season was significantly better than the first.
Even though I disagree with that opinion, once I thought about it a bit I can’t really pretend I don’t understand why. The storytelling in the first is a bit… shit, really. Even though the show’s Wikipedia page says it had 12 episodes, thinking back on it I can only remember… two. There’s the first episode, explaining how the two main characters came to work together, and then there’s the one where they win their case because a random side character makes a casual statement that leads to an epiphany and they form a brilliant argument that legally probably makes very little sense.
It wasn’t exactly wildly original storytelling is what I’m saying. But it didn’t need to
be. What made the show work was not its plots, but the dynamic between the characters. The first episode sold us on the idea of a snappy, wisecracking legal super team: Harvey, the experienced, jaded lawyer who makes a living knowing what you’re going to do before you know, and Mike, the rookie who still wants to save the world and makes up for his lack of experience with the fact that he’s memorized every court case in history. Both the characters and actors played off of and balanced each other perfectly, and the fact that they never lost worked in the show’s favor because it made you want to be them. They were the legal system’s Superman…s. Supermans.
Moving into the second season, the show ditched the first’s episodic formula in favor of slow-developing, overarching story lines, which in theory was probably a wise move. However, as a result of this, the legal team that’d spent the first season as the smartest guys in the room spent basically the entire second season two steps behind the new antagonists.
In a lot of ways, it’s not hard to see the logic behind this decision. The idea of creating some drama by throwing our heroes a loss or two is not a bad one on its own. What was a bad idea was to keep those losses coming, consistently, for an entire season, because this really hurt the show in two unintended ways.
First, Harvey became absolutely insufferable. Harvey’s basically every cocky lawyer
character you’ve seen on every TV show ever. His brazenness works in season one because it’s absolutely well founded and he backs it up by being the best lawyer in town. But as soon as season two makes it clear there are better lawyers, his swagger immediately goes from charmingly abrasive to regular abrasive. He becomes that guy at every college party bragging about how awesome he was in high school.
Second, it showed us that these guys were not Supermen, they were losers. And this really hurts the drama at the end of the season. In one of the last episodes, Harvey gets a lawsuit he needs to win to protect the future of his firm. As soon as this storyline was brought up, I was fed up with it. The writers had just spent the better part of a year convincing me that Harvey couldn’t win a case to save his life. Now suddenly I was supposed to believe he could win one to save his firm?
And this is where the show needed to take a page from the best booked stories in professional wrestling.
I’ve mentioned my love of professional wrestling before and I’ve caught flak for it in the past. I will freely admit the claim that it’s little more than a soap opera is fairly accurate. But I love it because when it’s well done, it tells the most basic story of a hero overcoming incredible odds better than any other medium I’m familiar with.
Because it’s scripted, and more show than sport, wrestling often gets unfairly stigmatized for its storytelling. But even though the stories are basic, making them compelling is more difficult than it might initially seem. Push a face too often or too hard and fans get tired of him winning all the time. That’s been John Cena’s problem for years since he’s been WWE’s top (sometimes only) babyface for a decade.
However, fail to book a face to look appropriately dominating and fans lose interest quickly. In the run up to WrestleMania 31, the WWE had a laundry list of booking problems, but their biggest by far was that their heel champion, Brock Lesnar, had been getting pushed in exciting, high-octane matches in which he would beat people within an inch of their lives, while Roman Reigns, the babyface and (alleged) contender was booked in slow, plodding matches that saw him struggle to beat second-tier opponents. No one cared about his shot at Lesnar, because, in storyline, Lesnar should have kicked Reigns’ teeth in from bell to bell. The writers never gave the fans a reason to care.
I still really enjoyed season two of Suits. Mike’s development was still very well done, and I had enough positive positive feelings about the characters
from season one to stay invested. Even so, I still can’t get over how much better it could have been had they “booked” Harvey appropriately; had they just gotten their WWE on a bit more. If I’m going to care about a character’s big case, first I have to believe he can win it. And by the same token, someone with the swagger of the Rock can’t back it up with the winning percentage of Dolph Ziggler.
Over the past couple of years I’ve been trying to figure out if there is any one, worst possible personality trait for a person to have. Call it a vanity project, I guess, a description that also fits because for most of that time I would have said that pride was that trait.
I started musing over this about seven years ago when I went with a group of people on a missions trip to Mexico. During my time there we exclusively studied the book of James. With all due disrespect to Martin Luther, I found the time spent in James incredibly enlightening and convicting. I was convicted of a number of things through the Word, but the one I remember most vividly and that has affected my life even to this day was realizing just how much I had let my arrogant pride take control of my life. And how thoroughly that sin was destroying my relationships.
While the Bible tells us that a small sin doesn’t make you any less of a corrupt being than a great sin, it does recognize different degrees of sin. Whether it’s Jesus talking about Judas Iscariot, or
Which is why for a long time I would have said that pride is the worst attribute to have. While gluttony, greed, envy, wrath, and lust are usually treated as equals to pride (though the exact list has changed over the years), it’s not hard to imagine any of them having pride as their underlying cause.
Still, as destructive as pride can be in that regard, recently it seems to me that there’s one even more destructive sin: Accidy, which is usually translated “sloth,” but in its original meaning would be better understood as apathy.
Apathy can be the motivation behind just as many destructive behaviors as pride, but it’s far more insidious for a very important reason. Whereas pride is an unrighteous attitude, apathy is the absence of a righteous attitude, or any attitude at all. Because of this it seems harmless and is therefore a far more deceptive personality flaw.
But the cancer of apathy goes deeper than just its insidious nature. Of the deadly sins, all of them can be categorized in at least one of two positive ways that apathy cannot.
First of all, each of the other deadly sins actually derives from an attribute of God. That may seem like nonsense at first, but there actually is a lot of logic to it. After all, human beings are created in the image of God, so we should naturally have aspects of His character reflected in our own. However, we’re also corrupt beings, and those character aspects, likewise, have become corrupt. We also see this reflected in scripture. God’s wrath is (hopefully) obvious, but most people I’ve talked to disagree with me about pride. After all, they’ll point out that Jesus, God incarnate, ate with the lepers and washed his disciples’ feet.
While this is certainly true and would reflect a high degree of humility on Christ’s part, it doesn’t, I would argue, represent a holistic interpretation of the Bible. It’s important to remember that Jesus is the same in person and character in the New Testament and the Old. This is, therefore, the same God who demands to be worshiped and served by all people at all times, and who, in response to Moses asking His name, simply responded “I AM,” as if His existence is a self-evident fact; as if the very existence of the universe were dependent on Him.
He’s right, of course; it is and it does. But that doesn’t make God humble, it only makes His pride not sinful. That’s the key: when God asserts those aspects of His character reflected in the deadly sins, he does so righteously. When we do so, we frequently do it unrighteously.
But because those traits are aspects of a good God, in and of themselves they cannot be bad. There’s a time and a place for them. Wrath is appropriately expressed toward injustice, just as lust is right to feel in the proper context.
There is no proper application of apathy. As Adam Ford has pointed out wonderfully in this comic, the very act of saying “I don’t care” is to say “This issue is not important enough to God that He would have me, as His representative on Earth, take a position on it.”
To serve God is to love what He loves, hate what He hates, and be indifferent toward those things He is indifferent toward. Unfortunately, there’s nothing God doesn’t care about. This is a God who, despite maintaining a universe billions of light years across, takes time to notice a dying bird. Who cares about me so much He knows how many hairs I have.
Okay, so in my case that last one isn’t very impressive, but the principle remains. If there is nothing God is apathetic toward, there ought to be nothing we are apathetic toward.
While that reason in itself should be sufficient for Christians, there is also another, more practical distinction between apathy and the other deadly sins. While apathy represents a lack of care, most sins are sins of passion. Although passion can cause problems of its own, any act of passion can be used to create. As a passionless sin, apathy cannot create, and therefore cannot improve anyone’s life in any way.
It should come as no surprise that it takes passion to create. After all, this too is a way in which we reflect our Creator, who, in contrast to most (particularly ancient) gods cares deeply for His creation. A passion for food (gluttony) can lead a person to discover new ways to prepare and enjoy food. A passion for money (greed) can drive a person to establish a successful company that becomes a mainstay of the economy… That sounded a lot less like right-wing propaganda in my head, I swear. Still, greed, while far from good, is a passion, and therefore a powerful motivator.
For all the time I’ve spent decrying pride, it’s very easy to see its potential influence here. I recall many times in school, for example, that I would receive a low score on a paper or assignment and use that shame to motivate myself to spend more time studying to do better in the future.
And I wouldn’t consider any of these to be (necessarily) proper applications of these passions. In my case I can definitely say it wasn’t. There was nothing righteous in not wanting my classmates to think I was dumb. But even my selfish motivations helped me get a better education, which I can now use to help my students.
Apathy can provide no similar motivation. It cannot be applied correctly, and when applied incorrectly it cannot be used to help anyone, in any way, in the present or in the future.
This may be just my own perspective, but in what I do every day, I don’t believe anything is more frustrating, damaging, or unproductive than apathy. It is the single worst character trait a person can have, and the world already has all the apathy it can stand.
For the love of God, be passionate.
“Anything worth saying is unsayable. That’s why we tell stories. Because life is too complicated to be explained any other way.” —Professor Peter Stine
Back in November, I said I was beginning a loosely-connected series of posts, which I didn’t follow up on until March, and I’m finally (sort of) wrapping up now, a month and a half later.
Three posts in six months. Slow and steady wins the race, right?
When I started, I acknowledged that I was beginning in a bit of an odd place, and, though I didn’t acknowledge it, I think I probably continued to an odd place, as well. In the English classes I teach, one of the concepts my fellow teachers and I try to drive home to our students is the “So what?” principle. If someone were to reader your thesis and their first question is “So what?” you probably need to choose a new thesis. So, if the thesis for my first two pieces was “These are two things I saw that didn’t tell very good stories,” I would agree that “so what?” would be an understandable response. So two stories were told poorly, why should anybody care?
Because, quite simply, the stories we tell (and the way we tell them) are very important.
And that’s a truth that’s been undermined in American society.
That sounds extreme, but I don’t mean it in the same way that, say, a Fox News anchor would say Obama is undermining our freedoms. I don’t think anyone is actively trying to make people believe that story doesn’t matter. But as a culture, we’ve largely forgotten the idea that it does, and are resistant to considering this idea.
Consider a few statistics. 90 million US citizens, 30% of the population, currently are functionally illiterate. That makes up almost one in every three people that you meet.
Similarly, in order to be considered an “avid reader,” a person only needs to read two books in a year. On average that comes down to roughly 30 minutes a week. Is there any other hobby that this would be true of? No gym is designed for someone who might log 26 hours in it over the course of a year. TV shows don’t need to fight over viewers who can only make time for one of them every other week.
But that’s the market that any writer is forced to target.
This is especially important, because the written medium can be especially influential. Reading a story, unlike nearly any other activity, causes you to enter into the mind of another person, to see the world from his or her perspective. However, stories can influence us through a number of media. Even though reading is influential by its very nature, other media, such as film, can be influential through the use of powerful images or music, and compelling characters and conflicts.
And as a counter example to all that, take this year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, a movie that is blatantly, aggressively uninterested in telling a story.
To put it succinctly, the central conflict of Age of Ultron is caused by Tony Stark messing with powers he’s too arrogant to realize are beyond him. He creates the main villain by putting a super A.I. in a robot body. And then he defeats the main villain by… putting a super A.I. in a robot body.
What, exactly, is meant to be accomplish in that? From a storytelling perspective? A character perspective? A thematic perspective? As someone much quippier than I has already quipped, what has Stark learned except to push the “NOT a genocidal monster” button this time around? For that matter, does any character in this film have anything approaching an arc? What does this film have to offer to our cultural conversation beyond robots and punching?
Not a damn thing. And God help us if we don’t love it for that. We love it so much that it’s the highest-grossing movie in the country this year, and one of the best reviewed to boot. It’s a bit uncommon to see critics and audiences agree. It’s a bit unsettling to see them agree on this.
By buying this schlock again and again, as a culture we’re telling our story tellers that this is all we want. That we don’t need to see characters struggle or learn anything. We don’t need growth. All we need are explosions and one-liners.
This matters. This isn’t me trying to be smarter than a comic book movie. I love silly comic book movies. But we need stories, even the silly ones, to take risks. To challenge their characters, and consequently their audience. To pose bold questions that don’t have pat answers. To push us to consider a viewpoint other than our own.
Humans need stories. If we didn’t, why would they be such an important part of every culture in written history? And stories impact people. If that weren’t the case, why did Uncle Tom’s Cabin inspire the Civil War? The proof is all throughout history. Cultures are always reflected in and defined by the stories they tell.
But the truth of this should be even more obvious when approached from a Christian perspective. Any number of examples could be used here, but quite possibly the most noteworthy comes from the story of David and Bathsheba. After David has impregnated Bathsheba, had her husband murdered, and taken her as his wife, he receives a visit from the prophet Nathan, who’s been sent to convict David of his sin. Reading the chapter, the natural expectation is for Nathan to lay the holy judgment of God on David’s head, which he does… but in an unexpected way. Instead of a sermon a la Jonathan Edwards, what we get is a story about sheep.
And yet, that story drives Nathan’s point home far more effectively than any argument, threat, or curse ever could. Just as Stowe did with her story, or Harper Lee and Mark Twain in theirs. Or even contemporary writers like Collins and Green, whose impact on culture has been undeniable in the short term.
This may seem far removed from where I started, with video game nerds in high school and, well, video game nerds in virtual reality. But I finished watching those series shortly after hearing Gary Schmidt deliver an explanation of the importance of story, and the three topics became intertwined in my mind. As he showed, stories need to be told, and they deserve to be told well.
And if there’s any doubt left as to the importance of story, I think one of Schmidt’s anecdotes can lay it to rest. He recently was asked to lead a writing workshop for teens in Michigan, and was warned before beginning that one of the kids had recently lost his father, who had taken his own life. During the workshop, Schmidt noticed this kid writing with more fire and passion than anyone in the room.
He was writing a story about a boy, who was lost and alone. He was looking for his father, but his father had disappeared. Everywhere he went, the boy was surrounded by monsters, “the Uglies,” and he didn’t know what to do or where to go.
But everything was going to be all right. Because his father had left him a magic sword. All he had to do was find it, and he could make all the monsters go away.
And I’m just going to let that thought hang there. Because I have no way to follow that up.