Bible in Pop Culture Week 4: In El Salvador, “Jacob wrestled the angel / And the angel was overcome”

 

 

The track “Bullet the Blue Sky” by U2 was released in 1987 on the album “The Joshua Tree.” The lyrics of the song were inspired by a trip that Bono took to Central America in 1985 with Amnesty International. On the trip, he stayed in the mountains in the north of the country with a group of guerilla fighters. While he was in the hills, he witnessed Salvadorean planes firebombing villages nearby in an attempt to kill guerilla fighters. Officially, the U.S. was acting in an advisory role in El Salvadore to strengthen the military dictatorship running the country as a bulwark against Communism. What this meant in practical terms was that the U.S. government was supplying arms, munitions, tactical advice and often manpower that led directly the tens of thousands of civilian deaths.

Bono, who described himself as a person who regularly read Scripture, was upset that Christians in America were supporting a proxy war that resulted in the devastation he was witnessing, so he penned the lyrics for “Bullet the Blue Sky” using Biblical references. A section of the lyrics reads as follows:

“In the howling wind comes a stinging rain / See it driving nails / Into the souls in the tree of pain / From a firefly, a red orange glow / See the face of fear / Running scared on the valley below / Bullet the blue sky / In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum / Jacob wrestled the angel / And the angel was overcome.”

The lyrics describe strafing runs and the dropping of napalm, as well as an interpretation of Jacob’s wrestling with an angel that seems to present the good, innocent villagers as the angel being overcome by man’s evil.

Sources: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=911 & the above video.

Gummy Bear

RIP: Gummy Bear

About nine months ago or so, my wife found a dog that was waiting to die at a shelter. He was scheduled to be put down that day, because he was old, sick and wasn’t expected to live more than another two months anyway. She felt sorry for him and took him home, so his last few months of life could be spent somewhere comfortable, where he could have good food and companionship. It was obvious the dog had been mistreated and probably neglected in the past. He had weird habits. At night he wound run to the bathroom and hide behind the toilet. He stayed under the bed most of the time and only came out to eat.

Gummy Bear (we called him that because he had no teeth left) never stopped being weird, but he bulked up and became fairly healthy. He was still mostly blind and bumped into things regularly but his walking improved. He was with us for about nine months and then, just as I was coming home form a trip to Israel, he started having issues. When I got home, my wife was at work and Gummy Bear was under the bed, as usual. Before I’d even taken my coat off, I smelled urine and saw a puddle edging out from under the bed. He peed and laid down in it. I put him in the tub and cleaned everything up and then took him out for a walk. The next few days we woke up to the smell of urine coming from under the bed and then he started crapping blood both inside and outside the apartment.

Gummy Bear had tumors and maybe cancer and I guess old age finally caught up with him. So, we took him to animal control to have him put down today.

So long, pal. I guess I’ll just have to walk myself in the morning and evenings now.

Night and Fog: The Holocaust in Film

The documentary, Night and Fog, directed by Alain Resnais, was produced in 1955 as a short historical documentary about concentration camps used during the Holocaust. The film’s original language is French and the original title is “Nuit et brouillard.” I watched the film using English subtitles. Night and Fog doesn’t attempt to explain how the Holocaust happened. Rather, it is a short film that attempts to explain what happened using a combination of historical footage and contemporary images and video of several concentration camps in Poland. Night and Fog is full of juxtapositions of contradictions: contemporary scenes vs. historical scenes, idyllic music vs. dramatic music, the normal or mundane vs. the absurd reality of the camps.

Night and Fog mixes scenes of contemporary color footage with historical black and white footage. This is done in a way that contrasts the almost pastoral scenes of the period of filming with the reality of what happened in those places in the past. As the narrator says, almost any place, even a resort village with a county fair, could lead to a concentration camp. In the contemporary footage, the narrator reinforces this contradiction by describing how new grass is growing, how a person might mistake a building for an actual clinic, and how the only thing left to see is a shell, devoid of the actions, emotions and experiences of the people that lived there. To go beyond that faҫade of normalcy, the historical footage is used, showing what actually went on inside those buildings and on those grounds. It’s a powerful way to remind the viewer to not dismiss the intensity of the events that happened in concentration camps just because they do not look that dangerous anymore.

Music also played an important role in defining different scenes in the film. From nearly the beginning of the documentary, it became obvious that the music seemed to be intentionally off, playful when it should have been somber, dramatic when it should have been idyllic, and almost graceful when it should have been attempting to express the inexpressible sadness of the scene. One of the most obvious examples of misplaced music is the scene depicting what happens to those who are sent “right” (rather than left, to work) to mass extermination after arriving in the concentration camps. In a scene where the music should be dark and brooding, the tone is soft, graceful, and almost dreamy. Another example is the scene showing the latrine. The music in this scene is probably the most forceful of the whole film, but it comes in at a point where one of those most normal and mundane actions in human life occurs. Why is the music misplaced? Perhaps it is to more closely hold the attention of the viewer by intentionally being jarring and discordant.  And perhaps the fact that the most idyllic music is shown at moments of death is meant to emphasize the peace that death brought compared to those who suffered the horrors of life in the concentration camp, which also touches on the next point.

The juxtaposition of the mundane and normal with the horrific events going on in the camps seems to have been purposely done to both emphasize the unnaturalness of life in the camps and to show the scale of the atrocity. “Normal” life is shown in the home of the commandant, with his bored wife acting in much the same way as she would in “any garrison town.” Just beyond the fences were scenes of “normal” life in nearby villages and towns. These scenes are juxtaposed with the scenes of the “town” the SS had actually built, where every aspect of life is a struggle to survive, even the toilets, where every act of relieving oneself became a litmus test for life expectancy. Normal life for inmates before being brought to the concentration camps is expressed in the film through showing the images of people in their passports. The scale in terms of numbers of people is added by flipping through dozens and dozens of pages of a leger showing camp inmates. The scale of the violence is shown through the casual litter of bodies found by liberating forces and in the way they were disposed of, almost as if they were sacks of garbage. The absurdity of their living situation is shown through their sleeping accommodations coupled with images of the presence of a green house, a brothel and even a zoo on camp grounds. Why add these conflicting images? To continue to break down the idea that anything normal or regular was happening in the camps, to express that it was a break with the natural progress of humanity?

The imagery used in the film is graphic and shocking. The purpose seems to be to force the viewer to observe the real result and purpose of the camps. Close-ups are regularly used. The camera seems to continually focus on the eyes, both in still images and on the eyes of the dead. This might just be for shock value, but it might also be meant to remind the viewer of the images of living, happy people shown in the entry visa photos, before their lives were altered by being in the concentration camps.

Night and Fog uses many techniques to aid in the narration of what happened in the concentration camps, to add impact and express ideas that cannot necessarily be verbalized. The film’s biggest tool is that of juxtaposing imagery to deliver the messages of scale, violence, and absurdity, and the necessity of not forgetting what happened just because things seem to be ok ‘now’. The narrator expresses this need to not forget, to go beyond the apparent faҫade, and watch out for the return of “monsters” that would plunge the world back into the absurdity epitomized by the concentration camps.

Remembering the Times, When I First Heard of Michael Jackson

I’m not sure what happened to Michael Jackson as he aged, but what he became is nothing like what he was.  For the past few years the only thing people had to talk about when it came to Michael were comments about his child-abuse problem and the fact that he has undergone such an enormous amount of cosmetic surgery. In fact, I remember a few years ago there was a joke that his nose fell off.

It’s true that he really sank low before he died, but the first time I saw Michael Jackson I thought it was the best thing ever.  I was about 8 or 9 years old at the time and living on Hahn Air Force Base in Germany.  In Germany we only had one television channel (in English) and every day at I think it was 2:50 PM, there would be a few short Warner Brothers cartoons and then from 3:00 to 3:30 there would be one long cartoon.  My brother and I would rush home from school to make sure we caught those cartoons because there weren’t any others to be had.  On trips to the US to visit family we would record Saturday morning cartoons to bring back with us, or our grandmother would record them and send them to us.

Well, one day, instead of the usual short cartoons there were two music videos.  I don’t remember what the first one was, Thriller maybe, but the second one was Remember the Time.  It’s the first music video I clearly remember seeing.  I was fascinated.  The music was great.  The dancing was great.  The costumes were great!  My brother and I sat there, fascinated, half fearful that for some reason our parents would tell us to stop watching it, but they didn’t.  We went to church every Sunday and lived a pretty sheltered life on an Air Force Base in a foreign country, so something about the video seemed a little dangerous.  I loved the whole thing and when it was over I was disappointed.  Somehow the cartoons that day weren’t all that entertaining.

Michael Jackson was my first exposure to mainstream American music and I loved it.  I also wonder if that video has anything to do with my interest in history?  If you’re not familiar with it, the video had an Egyptian theme.  It’s a shame that a man that was able to influence so many people around the world through his music is dead, but I get the feeling that he brought it on himself, so I can’t really feel too badly about it.  Regardless, R.I.P. Michael.  I hope you’re in a better place… and if you are… don’t chase the cherubs!

Fievel Goes To Heaven

This morning I was sitting at my computer in the room after just having gotten out of bed, checking my e-mail. My wife came in and said in a serious tone, “Fievel is gone.” She was trying to be tough, but then she sat down on my knee and broke down, saying that she was so sad. So, I asked where Fievel was, and she told me that he was in the living room, in a small box she had lined with towels so he could rest in the sunlight while she was cooking lunch.

We went out to the living room and I saw the box sitting on the couch. I shifted the towels and saw Fievel laying there on his side. He could have been sleeping, but his chest wasn’t moving. I poked at him a bit, tickled his belly and rubbed the back of his head, but he didn’t move. So, I picked him up and listened for breath and felt for a heartbeat, but he truly was dead.

We got Fievel just over a week ago. Someone had abandoned him in a pile of garbage and one of my wife’s coworkers picked him up. Well, actually her dog picked him up, but she brought him home, and my wife, being the cat lover that she is, volunteered to take Fievel in, in the hopes that he would recover. She went over to her friend’s house after a long day at work and brought Fievel home.

When I first saw Fievel he was in pretty bad shape. He was filthy and crying. He was crapping blood and struggling weakly. He cried quite a bit too. We did what we could for him. We gave him a bath in warm water to clean him up and made sure he ate. The strange thing was that he didn’t want to eat. We had to force him to drink special kitten milk that we got for him. For a few days Fievel seemed to improve. The bloody crapping stopped and he seemed to get stronger, but then I noticed that he had a serious infection in one of his eyes. There was quite a bit of pus, which I tried my best to clean up. He still seemed to be doing ok though, and I still had hopes he might recover. Yesterday though, my opinion of the situation changed. Fievel had been keeping his infected eye closed, which is understandable, but yesterday I noticed that he was keeping both of his eyes closed and when I checked I realized that the infection had spread. He couldn’t walk anymore either. When he tried to, he would fall over and then he seemed too weak to be able to get up. He would try, then fall back over and pass out where he was. I talked to Margee about it and we were considering whether taking him to the vet was a good idea, or whether it was just too late. Then this morning, my wife took him to the living room to get some sun. She sat there for a bit, petting him, and he seemed to take comfort from that. He meowed weakly a few times and settled into the towel, and then he died.

At least we can be satisfied that we took him in and gave him a chance to live, when someone else had simply thrown him in the garbage. We kept him as comfortable as we could and made sure that he was fed. We held him often, because he liked it so much. He even purred when cradled in one of our arms, which I thought was amusing. The kitten was so small, but it already knew how to purr. One of our other cats, Dapper, was finally getting over her jealousy and was taking a liking to Fievel. She would stop by the carrier we were keeping him in to check on him, and would often walk up and give Fievel a few sniffs when he was exploring the floor. So, at least Fievel died comfortable and knowing that someone was caring for him. How cruel would it have been to leave him in the trash, to die alone in the heat, or to be eaten by something?

My wife prepared a shoebox and I gently laid Fievel into it. Then she covered him with a cloth and some newspaper and then I taped up the box, and wrote a few words on it. While she went to finish preparing lunch, I took Fievel out and placed him into the trash chute. It seemed a wrong and almost disrespectful way to send him on his way, but where in Singapore do you bury pets? It doesn’t matter much though, Fievel was already gone. Still, I hesitated when it came time to push the chute closed.

I suppose he chose a good time to go. My wife happened to be off from work today. At least she was here to spend some time with him and she got to see him off. I’m sure she would have felt worse if she had been at work and I had told her what had happened when she got home. We didn’t have Fievel long, but he had become part of our little family. I was never too interested in cats, but it’s hard to have any pet and see it die, no matter how short a time you’ve had it. It’s even harder to have a young pet die on you. This is the first time I remember having a pet pass away on me since my hamster died in Germany when I was a kid. I still remember my dad burying it in the woods there. I’m consoled by the fact that we did our best for Fievel and he died comfortably.