Wednesday 9 January 2019

The Quiet of Good and the Glamour of Evil

I have been in bed with either the flu or food poisoning for two days. Too wretched for most of Monday to do anything but sleep or  stare at the horrible lampshade on the ceiling (which came with the flat) by evening I felt briefly well enough to watch something on Netflix.

Netflix is a morass of evil dressed up as entertainment, I concluded after B.A. and I watched Anthony Bourdain drag himself around the world to hang out with local chefs, curse and eat too much. In the end, Bourdain committed suicide offscreen, and it might have been the flu talking, but I concluded it was the show itself that was to blame. Apparently Bourdain was exhausted, so why didn't he just lock the door and sleep for three days? Or check himself into the hospital? But I suppose a production company can't sue a dead man.

Anyway, sick in bed but feeling somewhat (if temporarily) better, I scrolled through Netflix moaning, "Why isn't there anything Catholic?" At last I found Moonstruck, which is the Christmas go-to film for many of the women of my family. We can quote from it extensively ("Chrissy, bring me the KNIFE!"), but I hadn't see it for a while.

It started off well, and as B.A. was now home from work, I nudged him whenever a holy picture, pinned up in several Italian-owned Brooklyn shops, was in shot. I got quite teary eyed over that. The weak part of the film is, of course, the scene-chewing of Nicholas Cage ("HUH, sweetie?") and the evil part is Cage telling Cher (e.g. Loretta Castorini, surely a heroine for single/widowed women aged 37) that he doesn't care if she goes to hell as long as she gets into his bed.

Cage, as Ronnie Cammareri, makes an odd little speech including the idea that we aren't on the earth to love "the right people": "We are here to love the wrong people, to break our hearts, and die." That is a dangerous and stupid philosophy, and ridiculous in this context as Ronnie is clearly not at all the "wrong person" for Loretta for several reasons. She even knows his family, for heaven's sake, although, yes, it's inconvenient that she's engaged to his brother.*

The film ends well for the Castorini and Cammareri families. I, however, was suddenly and violently and disgustingly ill, so I stayed in bed another day and eventually binge-watched Sherlock.

The contemporary Sherlock is cleverly photographed, written, and acted, and if Sherlock is to be believed the best and most love-worthy women are high-class hookers and paid assassins. The sweet pathologist with her heart on her sleeve is a loser, and the respectable-looking landlady is a retired stripper. Yes, I see that it is good TV to overturn viewers' expectations, but the endless nudge-nudge, wink-wink, "everybody's bent" message is worst than wearisome, it's wicked.

I was frankly relieved to find myself having an instant message conversation with two theologate classmates, a priest and a married mum of four. The priest (who was eating supper) dropped out soon, but the mum kept on and thanked me for the work I do for LSN. This was quite heartening because it is actually very difficult to wade through the sludge every work day, scooping for the most harmful pieces of sludge, so I can say to the reading public, "Look, here's the sludge you really need to worry about."

And families really do need to worry about the sludge, as this column by Rod Dreher illustrates. The sludge is waiting to come into every house via the television or the computer or the radio or the child's homework assignment. Some Catholic families still have little stoups of holy water. The original idea was to ward off any demons who might leap onto you after you leave your holy Christian house and expel any demons who clung to you when you came back in. Whereas I do believe in real, take-possession-of-foolhardy-people demons, I think the average person is much more in danger of tracking, or inviting, really bad ideas into the house.

And the horror of the really bad ideas is that they cause mass suffering. Compared to the 19th century, for the western world, or to 1980, for everywhere outside the western world, we are all so materially rich, and yet there is so much unhappiness. White American men are committing suicide in droves, for example, apparently thanks to the sexual revolution. And yet insane numbers of girls have decided to have their breasts cut off and become white American men. What?!

All this evil and all this unhappiness is terribly exciting, but the truth is that happiness, like goodness, is rather quiet. The other day I had the good fortune to eat lunch with a traditional Catholic family. This is Scotland, so the fact that they live in an Arts-and-Craft neo-mediaeval cottage is not particularly notable, except that it added to a very timeless scene: a young mother and father and their many children of different sizes all gathered around a stone hearth, watching the flames after a good lunch. Apart from the fact that everyone was healthy and clean and the mother's and my skirts ended mid-calf, it could have been any year after the invention of the standard chimney (in northern Europe, 11th or 12th century, apparently).

There was a Disney cartoon playing in a different room, and the children drifted in and out, apparently torn between the video and interest in what the adults were doing, which was not very much: just talking, holding or feeding the baby, and looking at the fire. And I was struck by how very peaceful, happy and good this all was, and how very rich in all the important ways this family was.

Gainfully employed man + patient woman + healthy children + roof + hearth = happiness.

The children are homeschooled, by the way; the sludge I wade through for work and entertainment is kept well away from the beautiful A&C doors and windows. I really am not sure of how much of a chance other parents have of passing on such a quiet, happy and good life to their children without homeschooling and keeping the internet, trash-music and trash-TV out of their homes. However, I suppose everything I write these days has the potential of inspiring one more parent to say, "Enough. We're homeschooling from now on" or "Enough. We're not going to allow Netflix to turn our kids into zombies."

Naturally I was a little sad that my home doesn't have a fireplace, let alone any children, in it. My generation was told in a million ways that being a stay-at-home mother was the waste of a life and that homeschooling was a sure sign of "religious mania." Now, of course, I can think of no vocation for women more important than that of the homeschooling married mother--unless, of course, it is the prayers of cloistered nuns keeping the end of the world at bay.

*Since I haven't mentioned this for some time, I will repeat that the whole point of the story of Romeo and Juliet was that the only reason their marriage would have been inadmissible to their families was their fathers' dumb feud. They shared the same religious faith, the same culture, the same class, and even the same town. Shakespeare's point was not that there is "unity in diversity," but that personal feuds are harmful to society. My own philosophy of marriage is that if husband and wife share the same core values (which may not be shared ethnic and religious identities, but very often are), then they will probably be happy.

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