Things I Didn’t Want To Know (As It Turns Out)

The other night I succumbed to Si’s in-absentia blandishments and watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I knew it was going to be stupid, but I was willing to believe him when he assured me that it was stupid and fun. Alas, I just didn’t enjoy it that much. The whole production seemed to shoot for “so bad it’s good,” and it overshot its target — it’s so bad that it missed its chance to be good, and ends up just really, really bad. I’m always willing to cut Keanu Reeves a break (among the various actors of the “make a quizzical expression and that makes it really profound” stripe, I prefer him), and I appreciate pop-cultural gestures toward acknowledging the value in academic knowledge, and I’m not an entirely humorless old grouch, but Bill and Ted just made me wonder how long the movie would drag on. Best parts: Clarence Clemons, Fee Waybill, and Martha Davis as the three governing people in the future, and the scene(s) where Bill and Ted meet themselves traveling through time. The rest? As Pippa frequently says, “I want my two hours back!”

The other thing I didn’t want to know came to my attention in the course of my research for the Theology Cards project. I was looking into the numerous examples of virgin-martyrs in early church history, most of whom turn out to be legendary. I wanted to pin down just which ones were more likely fictive, and which had a plausible claim to factuality. As I scanned down the list I came to St. Catherine of Alexandria, a wildly popular saint whose stature seems to serve as a displaced compensation for Christian complicity in the lynching of Hypatia. The Wikipedia confirmed my recollection that “Historians believe that Catherine probably did not exist.” It also, however, provided the answer to a question that had troubled me since I was a youth. though I knew that Catherine had been tortured on “the wheel,” and that the wheel was variously associated with spikes and with “breaking,” I could never figure out what wheels had to do with torture (and iconographic treatments of Catherine were of little help). I’ve asked medievalist friends and ancient historians, but no one I asked has ever had a clear idea how this torture worked. Now I know, and it took my an hour or so of queasiness to pull myself together again.

I noticed recently that I’ve gotten more sensitive to cruelty in my advancing years. Margaret and I went to see Mr and Mrs Smith, and we both appreciated many aspects of the movie (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the tension in their relationship, Vince Vaughn), but Margaret was troubled by the plot holes. The plot caverns, to be more precise. I, in turn, was almost sleepless over the way the movie could invite us to delight in a couple’s love to such an extent that we were expected simply to disregard the staggering quantity of people whom they killed.

That experience catalyzed my latent horror at the ways our culture deals with denies mortality. (I may have disabled my capacity to enjoy the spy/thriller movies that our family has long enjoyed.) But reading about Catherine, watching the Smiths in action, I couldn’t help thinking about the U.S. government’s determination to sacrifice lives and torture captives in order to buy a respite (ephemeral at best, illusory at worst) from fears that its own belligerence reifies and magnifies.

6 thoughts on “Things I Didn’t Want To Know (As It Turns Out)

  1. Bill and Ted’s, like Animal House, Fasttimes at Ridgement High, and American Pie, is all about the context in which the movie is seen. Case in point, the Rocky Horror Picture Show is, when it comes down to it, a very bad movie (one could also add Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, which is a very, very bad movie). The cultural experience of the movie, however, cannot be divorced from its viewing context.

    I loved Bill and Ted’s. It is forever tied to my college experience. It is easier to appreciate the humor in stupid movies when you are suffocating in an environment of concentrated over-seriousness. It is also much funnier when your mind is altered by substances found in college dorms.

  2. (Commenting from Mr. and Mrs. Smith to the end of the post:)

    I am having a similar response to movies lately. I used to watch all kinds of stuff and especially enjoyed the action plot. Mr. and Mrs. Smith was fine until the very end. Before the last scene, there were people who died, but there seemed to be more of a focus on the intrigue or mystery of it. By the end, the killing was ridiculous.

    Where’s the morality? The reflection?

    Maybe I’m just “old” now. Is this what comes with ordination? An expectation that people will reflect on their actions and thoughts and work toward healing and reconciliation?

  3. Jesus’ words in Luke 23:34 come to mind: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” I have just finished reading the Catechism of Creation recently put forth by the Episcopal Church’s Committee on Science, Technology and Faith. I suggest that all should review it, and then come back and review AKMA”S post. It may add some perspective on the ways in which we choose to entertain ourselves. Films such as these certainly do nothing to help us fulfill the purpose for which we have been created.

  4. I personally enjoyed “Bill & Ted.” I think Frank is right — it’s all in the context in which you view it. “Rocky Horror,” seen at home, is just plain awful. But seen with a bunch of friends at a theater, with toilet paper and squirt guns and . . . well . . . context is everything.

    Besides, ya gotta love the scene of Ghengis Khan reeking havoc in the mall on a skateboard dressed in shoulder pads and helmet and armed with an aluminum bat. Not only that, but ultimately, it’s a good idea to “Be excellent to each other.”

  5. Do you ever smack yourself on the forehead and commend your ignorance to God? Today was another instance. When I read “virgin-martyrs in early church history, most of whom turn out to be legendary,” I wondered how I could ever have missed that. And I’m the original skeptic.

    Of course there have to be many legendary martyrs, virgin or otherwise. There have to be many St. Catherines in various parts of the world. At a time when news wasn’t collected in the systematic way it is now, these stories would have been passed along orally for generations. Over time, a certain virtue or virtues would begin to distill down to a story that would be given a name.

    I don’t know how I’ve managed to live so long and escape being run over by a car. 🙂

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