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Jimmy Fallon and the Comedy of Personhood

If you’ve spent more than 2 hours on Facebook a week, it’s likely one of your ‘friends’ has posted a video from Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. He has take over the video-waves with a brilliant social media strategy that, fortunately for him, has the support of those in power at NBC. Although I am not usually awake when he airs, much less watching TV, I have been well introduced to his later night antics via Youtube.

I’ll be honest with you. I have fallen prey to the Lay’s syndrome as played out on Youtube. You can’t watch just one. So I have found myself, a few times, rolling through clip after clip of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Some of the lip-sync battles he has with his guests, although staged, still have this joy and goofiness that are Fallon’s trademarks. I particularly like how Fallon and his writers aren’t trying to be like their predecessors. He is paving his own path.

No one will expect from Jimmy Fallon the incisive yet comedic style of George Carlin. He won’t have the introverted comedic insight of Jerry Seinfeld. His humor won’t be the over-the-top physicality of Will Ferrell. Fallon is a goofy guy, who delights in the goofiness of others. He’s somewhat awkward and can never keep a straight face. What he has realized is that his comedy feeds off of others. I don’t know if it was because of his many years at SNL, but he’s at his best when he’s reacting to other people. His guest conversation seem less staged than Leno, but to, he find his stride when there’s a game.

You can tell he’s a competitive guy. When he’s playing a games of Catchphrase, Charades, or Pictionary, I’m usually on the floor because I’ve laughed so hard I cried and cried till I’ve fallen. What’s so great about these games is that he’s finding humor in the regular personalities in these ‘irregular’ people, i.e. Entertainment Tonight superstars. He’s revealing to his studio, TV, and internet audiences that these are normal people who make normal mistakes just like you and me. He’s, in a sense, demythologizing stardom, revealing that these idols are just persons. What makes it even bettter is that he is delighting in their personhood. He’s isn’t treating them like stars. He’s completely comfortable playing Pictionary with Jennifer Aniston, Lenny Kravitz, and CeeLo Green (that video is worth a watch because we all have a teammate like CeeLo). He looks at, speaks with, and delights in their quirks and little weaknesses. He is showing to his audience in a subtle way, the cult of stardom is misplaced. He’s also showing to the starts, yes, you can be treated normal in this overly public life of yours. You don’t have to hold this façade of perfection. You can acknowledge you are bad at guessing random words or drawing pictures.

It is also refreshing to see a comedian who, instead of constantly berating the mistakes and foibles of stars, uses his humor to show that they will always make mistakes. He de-romantizes them. None of these people are perfect, despite what the makeup department can do. Whereas the former comedy seems heavy, harsh, and condescending: “hey look at this person whom you thought was perfect. Well they aren’t. Point and laugh.” Fallon’s humor says, “Let’s delight in the fact that this person is human, and being human is rather comical.”

Why I Am a “Duck Dynasty” Fan


“Why are people standing in line to see me!? I thought Clint Eastwood was cool in all the western movies, but I’m not gonna stand in line to see him…The only person I’d stand in line for is God Almighty. ‘You made the Universe? All right, I’ll get in line.'” -Jase Robertson

I love my home state more than words can say. For all her problems, Louisiana is one of the greatest places in the world to grow up. And the reason I am a “Duck Dynasty” fan is because it has communicated to the rest of this nation precisely why Louisiana is so great.

The main reason I like the Duckmen is not the praying before meals every episode. Nor is it the “family values” that the show portrays. Both of these additions are important to the overall message of the show, but from both a spiritual and cultural angle, they are not the main points I would like to praise. No, the main contribution the Robertsons seem to bring to the world of television is a basic sense of humility.

The fact of the matter is that I do not own a TV. It has been years since I bothered to follow a TV show. “Downton Abbey” is the only program that I have shown the slightest interest in since graduating from college (I watch episodes on my laptop). The reason why I avoid the American palantir is because of the amount of pride I am subjected to when I enter its glow. Much like the televisions or palantirs of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, ours are controlled by those who have the strongest ego, the most vivacious will, and, therefore, those who are most arrogant and prideful…but who are also the best at disguising it. After all, no one on television appears egotistical. Everyone presents themselves as polite, reasonable, even tempered, and even ethical.

At this risk of sounding moralistic, it is this hypocrisy that makes TV so disgusting to me. Whether its a news program full of “talking-heads,” a talk show laiden with “gurus,” a sitcom full of “relevance,” or a crime drama full of “investigators,” I can’t help but feel that behind the smiling faces of all these TV personalities lies hidden the career-driven face of ego. I accuse no particular individual of this, but it seems beyond a shadow of a doubt that the raw success of television is due more to ambition than any other factor. When I watch the antics of the Robertsons, however, I see no such evidence of hypocrisy. The Duck Commander can be commanding, even arrogant, at times, but it is never disguised by politeness or pithy truisms. Whether its sucking honey out of a beehive with a shop vac, trying to catch a lizard by covering the warehouse in saw-dust or suffering from donut-indigestion after an eating contest, these boys are the kind of wise-fools that can be found in any part of our great state.

I once defended Louisiana to a British woman by saying, “Whatever we are, we are sincere. You may bring many charges against Louisiana, charges of crassness or ignorance, but duplicity could never be one of them.” Down here, everyone plays the character called “myself.” Our politicians are corrupt, but we re-elect them anyway, because we prefer honest corruption to the sorts of nonsense the people of California and New York are having to deal with right now. We like Jazz Bands that play old instruments because at least its real music they’re playing: not electronic noises recorded by lab techs and regurgitated by a “DJ” at his computer. We like cooking food we’ve grown or killed ourselves. We like slacking off at work and not making excuses for it. We like dressing weird and growing beards and looking like we haven’t showered in a week…cause maybe we haven’t. We like the Robertsons because we are like the Robertsons: we lead lives free of subterfuge.

So what if Louisiana comes out 49th out of the 50 states in most every survey, poll, study and census. Our citizens might not have the “best quality of life” according to the standards yuppie bureaucrats set, but we lead happy, happy, happy lives. It has a lot to do with our family. It has more to do with our faith. We are proud to be a place where our TV stars sit around the table at the end of the day and praise the providence of God. There is little else for us to be proud of and we know it. God is God. We are but foolish men. And all is right with the world. Welcome to Louisiana.

Moving Downton

Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Warning! Warning! If you yourself are a regular visitor to the Abbey that is Downton, if you have found yourself caught up in the tension of Lady Mary’s romance with the dashing Matthew Crawley, then I am certain that you were a little more than disappointed Sunday night when the dashing Mr. Crawley became the dead Mr. Crawley. People have often made the connection between Downton Abbey and Jane Austen, so I feel it is not too much of a stretch to say that it would have been like the death of Mr. Darcy or the passing of Colonel Brandon (not to be confused with the Downton character Mr. Tom Branson). In short, it was an utterly inorganic plot twist that has drastically altered the nature of the story. What was a classy, well-shot, sharply acted period drama has gone the way of Days of Our Lives. Or Dallas. Or Deliverance. Death for the sake of drama. Death without substance or meaning or movement. Whatever Downton is, it is no longer Pride & Prejudice or even Tess of the d’Ubervilles.

Now, for the sake of the substantial argument, of what effect this has on the literary meaning, I suggest you visit tomandlorenzo.com (http://www.tomandlorenzo.com/2013/02/downton-abbey-visitors-from-the-south.html) . I do not plan on providing a literary analysis when they have already done a far better job of it. Rather, I wish to reflect momentarily on the death of Downton, a death which happened simultaneous with the death of Mr. Crawley. The reality is that this plot twist was never really a part of plan of the writer, Mr. Julian Fellowes. He had every intention, when he started the series 4 years ago, to provide the audience with a neatly told period drama complete with snappy dialogue, lush sets and classic romance. He produced scenery-based story that evolved into a serial. He certainly didn’t want to become a serial killer. But now that the death toll has been ratcheted up to the point where over half the episodes involve murder, suicide, fatal illness or tragic accident, one does have to wonder where all this is going. And whether it is worth watching. The reason for this is a confluence of two factors: the studio’s pressure to produce hype and the contractual demands of the actors. In short, as Downton has blossomed into the most successful British drama since ‘Macbeth,’ there was great pressure from the studio to keep the drama coming, regardless of the cost. At the same time, there was a great urge from the cast (most recently, Matthew Crawley’s Dan Stevens) to break out of the overly cloistered world of Downton. And lets face it: who can blame these emotions. If you are studio exec, why not ask for ever-increasing tragedy to keep the hype coming? If you are a 20-something actor, do you really want to do period drama for 5 years straight? The result: death and destruction at epic levels. Viewers have seen more death in Downton bedrooms than they did during the wars scenes.

The studio might say that this is the best way to move the plot forward. The actors might say that this is the best way to move their careers along. The question remains: is this the best way to move your audience. Ending the series on Sunday with a happy Mary and Matthew would have been a far better way to tell the story. Leave off that last two minutes of the car wreck, and Downton Abbey would have gone down in history as one of the most poignant, polished and well-told stories in television history. By continuing it (unnecessarily) past its natural story arc, your audience is moved toward jadedness and cynicism. The point is that the writers and producers have sacrificed meaning for the sake of longevity. They have momentum  but it is not positive momentum  They have bought into the ‘Superstition of Progress:’ that a thing moving fast (like a car) must be moving forward unstoppably  It is ironic that the full consequences of this superstition go over the heads of the producers while they have them fall right on the head of Matthew Crawley. It is a pity that it had to fall on the heads of his fans as well.

Oh well: at least the management of Downton is now in the hands of a sensible Irish Catholic (provided, of course, they don’t kill Branson off as well…).

Of Resignation and Self Gift

“Mr. Lacourrege, can the Pope retire?” This was the question posed to me last Tuesday during my C period class. Its a group of about 30 freshmen, and Konnor Gaubert is one of the more curious of the bunch.

“Yes, Konnor, the Pope can retire, if he wants. Historically, its happened a couple of times before.”

“Do you think it will happen again, Mr. Lacourrege?”

“Well, certainly it could, but for the last six centuries or so, the attitude of the Popes has been to die with their boots on. You know, to keep the job until they pass away?”

“But do you think it could happen today, Mr. Lacourrege.”

“Probably not, Konnor. I mean, in today’s world, its highly unlikely that the Pope would ‘retire.’ Especially the current Pope. He’s a work-a-holic German.”

“So you really don’t think it could happen.”

“No, Konnor, I don’t. Now lets move on.”

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahhahhahahaha.

Heaven has the most vengeful sense of humor, especially when dealing with proud and impatient men such as myself. It is a great comfort to know that the Pope is neither proud nor impatient. It is my supreme hope that the next Pope follows in Benedict’s footsteps in this regard. Really, though, I woke up this morning feeling more proud to be a Catholic than I have ever felt in my life. The media has, as usual, put a completely wrong spin on the thing. They say he is stepping down because of political pressure (which is certainly not true). They say that the butler scandal has taken a toll on him (which may be true). Of course, fact is always stranger than fiction;

“I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to steer the ship of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
“For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”

This short statement might be one of the most profound things the Pope has ever written on vocation. I say this well aware of the many profound things that he has already written on vocation. Yet in so simple a statement, with words that qualify his action, the Pope explains that he feels no longer capable of praying and suffering and acting and speaking for the Flock of Christ. He cites age, not politics. He cites weakness, not scandal. In short, he says that he is unable to make a full gift of self, and that is why he is stepping down.
The sheer sanity of the Catholic faith can be missed by those who are not looking for it. Our Papa has just admitted that he is too old to sail the Ship. Its as simple a statement as could have been made by an 84 year old shrimper on Bayou St. John. Heck, it could have been made by St. John the fishermen! It could have been made by St. Peter the fishermen. That’s the whole point of this event. Sometimes, a teacher gives the wrong answer to a question. Sometimes a Pope runs out of strength. And when we do, the Holy Spirit is cool with it. He’s totally ready for it. He knows better than anyone that we hold this treasure in earthen vessels. Because the Church is more earthy than the world, the world misunderstands Her. The world assumes that a man only relinquishes power when power is wrestled from him. The Church, on the other hand, knows the natural law: when a man can no longer give, his giving up is not defeat, but victory for those to whom he gives. Pope Benedict XVI has not died physically, but his resignation represents a spiritual death that will bear fruit for us, his children. Now, excuse me: I must prepare a lesson plan in which I die to self, apologize and reward the curiosity of Konnor Gaubert.

Concupiscence, True Communion, and ‘Friends’

I decided to repost my first thoughts posted on blog format. This post originally was written on Monday, June 30, 2008.

It does not correspond to the personal union or ‘communion’ to which man and woman have been reciprocally called ‘from the beginning,’ in fact, it is contrary to it, that one of the two persons should exist only as a subject of satisfaction of sexual urge and that the other should become exclusively the object for such satisfaction. Further, it does not correspond to this unity of ‘communion’–in fact, it is contrary to it–that both the man and the woman should mutually exist as objects for the satisfaction of sexual urge, and that each of them on his or her own part should be a subject of such satisfaction. Such a ‘reduction’ of the rich content of reciprocal and perennial attraction among human persons in their masculinity and femininity does not correspond to the ‘nature’ of the attraction in question. Such a ‘reduction,’ in fact, extinguishes the meaning proper to man and woman, a meaning that is person and ‘of communion,’ through which ‘the man will… unite with his wife and the two will be one flesh’ (Gen 2:4). ‘Concupiscence’ removes the intentional dimension of the reciprocal existence of man and woman from the personal perspective ‘of communion,’ which are proper to their perennial and reciprocal attraction, reducing this attraction and, so to speak, driving it toward utilitarian dimension, in whose sphere of influence one human being ‘makes use’ of another human being, ‘using her’ only to satisfy his own ‘urges.’
Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by Blessed John Paul II

Friends was one of the big sitcoms in the 90’s (you can hear the claps from the theme clap-clap-clap-clap). It had a lot of influence on my generation. Yet, this quote from John Paul II puts forward the basic weakness of the series.

There is a total reduction of the relationship between man and woman to one of sexual satisfaction. The two friends who ended up marrying each other began their intimate relationship with sex. When they hid the ‘relationship’ from the other friends, they where hiding the fact that they were having sex. To my knowledge, which is limited and finite, and possibly wrong, they didn’t go out on a ‘date’ until it was public knowledge that they were dating.

A relationship which ended in marriage was based and grounded upon a sexual relationship, i.e. sand. This is what my generation saw each week, and it is what John Paul II called the utilitarian dimension, wherein the person of the opposite sex is an object for sexual gratification. The ideal in this dimension is mutual sexual gratification, which, to many nowadays, means a basis for a solid marriage.

Friday Thoughts – Can The Muppet’s Save Television From Itself?

Last weekend, as reward for completing a paper I went with my sister for a bit of nostalgia, The Muppet Movie. It was one of those times when your glad the characters you love are back on stage. It held every bit of the cheesiness of the TV show and previous movies … and it was awesome. The plot revolved around the Muppet’s fighting for retention of their studio, which is going to be purchased by an evil oil tycoon (who can’t laugh). They had to put on one last show to raise 10 million dollars to save the studio.

SPOILER ALERT: Plot developments from the film will be revealed (and are necessary for me to make my point)

They pitched their idea to every major TV network and were rejected by all of them in typical Muppet outsider fashion. Kermit and company are told they are irrelevant. Their type of genuine homegrown slapstick comedy without violence, cursing, or much to any sex appeal. The show is picked up when a small TV network has to drop its show Punch Teacher because it is being sued.

The Muppet’s are a different sort of brand for Disney. They seem to transcend, in a certain sense, today’s media. They appeal via nostalgia to parents and naturally to kids. They break the mode or rather retain the mode that has been broken. Said mode is that non-human characters; i.e. animation, puppets, claymation, etc. do not dabble greatly in the sins of man (murder, excessive violence, sex). That is part of the Muppet’s brand.

And, frankly, give the world more. America needs actually wholesome television. Spongebob Squarepants is far from wholesome. Thanks to the ‘pioneer’ writers and animators of Ren and Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead cartoons have become more and more adult. The Muppet’s can bring back good childlike entertainment. Bring the brand to a major television network. It can survive. I’m putting all my entrainment eggs in one basket but that’s because I look at the store and its the only one I trust with my fragile entertainment eggs.

P.S. Mahna, mahna

Closed Captioned: Male Voice

Sitting in a busy loud coffee shop does not lead to being able to hear the tvs displayed, hence the need for {closed caption}.  I happened to glance up to the television in a fit of attention deficit to notice a commercial beginning. The caption said {male voice} and then went on with the script of the commercial.  At that moment it hit me, a person born deaf would have no concept of a {male voice}.  They would not put together that it is probably a lower frequency and pitch than a female voice.  They would have no concept of pitch and frequency in general, much relation between higher and lower.  That caption would have only visual comparisons, say the person speaking might have facial hair and a possibly large muscular structure.  It might be a stronger voice than that of a petite woman.  The commercial might give context to the type of man that is speaking, but then again I am speaking with a plethora of past commercial watching and listening experience.  I would like to turn this insight into a Chestertonian insight into the infinite, but as of yet nothing has occured to me.  What I do realize is that a person born deaf perceives the world differently that I do.

Nightcrawler and Catholicism

I have always been a fan of the X-Man Nightcrawler.  He had a most enviable ability, teleportation.  He also had a most unenviable appearance.  Nonetheless, the wisdom of Marvel and its writers put him in a monastery where he learned what true love and mercy is.  I post here an episode from the X-Men cartoon series of the 90’s that features mercy, forgiveness, repentance, and the existence of God.  It is one of the more favorable portrayals of Catholicism in the media.  Nightcrawler shows much in virtue and self-understanding.

The Special Case of CSI

Pieper speaks of Kant’s “most momentous” epistemological dogmatic assumption: all knowledge is discursive. This point is proven by many detective stories. Holmes proves his points through discursus. The great array of CSI criminal forensic experts use discursive means to solve the crimes. One comes to the knowledge of the crimes in this scientific manner. “According to Kant man’s knowledge is realized in the act of comparing, examining, relating, distinguishing, abstracting, deducing, demonstrating.” These are all acts of aggression. All use of the intellect is activity. It denies passivity. It precludes contemplation. It will be interesting to see how Chesterton develops his detective, Fr. Brown. Will all be solved by discursion or is there a certain passivity, a contemplation of the crime involved?

A Reflection on the Second Chapter of Leisure:The Basis of Culture

Concupiscence, True Communion, and Friends

It does not correspond to the personal union or ‘communion’ to which man and woman have been reciprocally called ‘from the beginning,’ in fact, it is contrary to it, that one of the two persons should exist only as a subject of satisfaction of sexual urge and that the other should become exclusively the object for such satisfaction.  Further, it does not correspond to this unity of ‘communion’–in fact, it is contrary to it–that both the man and the woman should mutually exist as objects for the satisfaction of sexual urge, and that each of them on his or her own part should be a subject of such satisfaction.  Such a ‘reduction’ of the rich content of reciprocal and perennial attraction among human persons in their masculinity and femininity does not correspond to the ‘nature’ of the attraction in question.  Such a ‘reduction,’ in fact, extinguishes the meaning proper to man and woman, a meaning that is person and ‘of communion,’ through which ‘the mane will… unite with his wife and the two will be one flesh’ (Gen 2:4).  ‘Concupiscenceremoves the intentional dimension of the reciprocal existence of man and woman from the personal perspective ‘of communion,’ which are proper to their perennial and reciprocal attraction, reducing this attraction and, so to speak, driving it toward utilitarian dimension, in whose sphere of influence one human being ‘makes use’ of another human being, ‘using her’ only to satisfy his own ‘urges.’

from Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II
Friends was one of the big sitcoms in the 90’s.  It had a lot of influence especially on my generation.  This quote from John Paul II puts forward the basic weakness of the series.  There is a total reduction of relationship between man and woman to sexual satisfaction.  The two friends who ended up marrying each other.  Their relationship started with sex.  When they hid the ‘relationship’ from the other friends, they where hiding them having sex.  To my knowledge, which is limited finite, and possibly wrong, they didn’t go out on a ‘date’ until it was public knowledge that they were dating.  A relationship which ended in marriage was based and grounded upon sexual intercourse (sand).  This is what my generation saw each week.  This is what John Paul II called the utilitarian dimension, where the person of the opposite sex is an object for sexual gratification.  The ideal in this dimension is mutual sexual gratification, which to many nowadays means a basis for a solid marriage.