‘Get Out’ as Apocalypse Story

Director/writer Jordan Peele calls his film Get Out a “social thriller,” and if you’re like me, your newsfeed has been saturated with tasteful Vaguebooking about the film. But Get Out can be described, with equal accuracy and without spoilers, as a “contemporary apocalypse.” Apocalypse has become Hollywood shorthand for the highest possible stakes of an action sequence–any film that uses the destruction of all human life as a plot device. But in the traditional sense, apocalypse represents an entirely different genre of literature.

Classical apocalypse has less to do with annihilation than regime change. The Greek word apokalypsis means revelation, or uncovering. it’s a genre of literature–much like horror.

Get Out 3

I was terrified at “meet my parents.”

Get Out is a social thriller in the sense that it uses social evil (racism) to heighten an otherwise traditional horror film. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t spend 15 minutes with my hands over my eyes (but I only see four movies a year and have a low tolerance for visual violence so don’t listen to my definition of scary). A black man accompanies his white girlfriend’s family in the suburbs (a terrifying enough premise on its own), and everything you know (and don’t know) about horror film ensues. I’m not a fan of spoilers, though, so what follows is fairly obtuse on plot details.

Get Out is apocalyptic the same way that Revelation–and other books of the Bible–are social thrillers. The plot hinges on a systemic oppression, laden with specific and symbolic details, reaching a low point and with the hope that a protagonist can interrupt the systemic oppression, regardless of personal cost or total efficacy.

In a sense, apocalypse is a Quentin Tarantino-esque fantasy about future or past envision the triumph of the oppressed over the oppressor, resulting in the total collapse of the oppressor’s social structure. This is where our contemporary view of apocalypse comes from: the collapse of the oppressor’s social structure and all the fear that comes with losing the social order. Continue reading

Shawn Mendes, Mercy, and Emotional Labor

I keep a shortlist of words that are used only in church: grace, atonement, sanctification, mercy. My conviction is that they won’t make any sense, theologically, to the average Christian until these words find a place in the day-to-day of our secular lives.

Shawn Mendes’ “Mercy” caught my hopeful attention, his soulful repetition of the word becoming almost prayerful. Which would be great, if Mendes was actually having a conversation with God about the girl in question, a la Beyonce on “Sorry“: “I pray to the Lord you reveal what his truth is.” Beyonce (along with Warsan Shire’s poetry) uses the divine, like a close friend, as a dialogue partner to orient her to her next move in her relationship.

Mendes uses distorted-divine language to deify his love and assign her total power over his body, relinquishing his claim to autonomy and responsibility for his own moral compass. We’ve never seen that one before, have we, Hozier?

In about three listens, I moved from hopeful about “Mercy” to skin-crawlingly creeped out. Of course this song comes from the same imagination who sings, “I know I can treat you better than he can/and any girl like you deserves a gentleman.” I think what I deserve is a little less patronizing tone and a little more trust in my own decision-making capacity. The theological importance of mercy comes from its relationship to power. Mercy can only be bestowed by the powerful. Mercy means receiving a moment of breathing room from someone who has the power to crush you entirely. Mercy means benevolence. Continue reading

The Kingdom of Heaven is where Everyone Knows the Lyrics to Trap Queen

Someone asked me what the highlight of my weekend at youth retreat was. I had an answer. It was not a very pastoral answer. I thought about lying, but that didn’t seem very pastoral, either. So I said, “When they stayed up past curfew so they could keep singing ‘Trap Queen,’ using nothing but a piano, a single drum, and their voices.” Continue reading

Take me to Church, Part 2: A Parable of Popular Music

I still think “Take Me to Church” is a bad song. But I’m of a mind that if you’re going to criticize something, you had best offer a positive alternative. This week, i found an alternative. Where “Take Me to Church” is desperate, needy, and insecure, this song is gentle, self-confident, and mutually affirming.

Hozier lives in a self-absorbed world of loving out of insecurity (incidentally, the same world that Tove Lo lives in), with the hope that love will fill the every void and a conviction that anything less is insufficient. He contorts himself to satisfy his perception of what the lover wants:
“If I’m a pagan of the good times
My lover’s the sunlight
To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice.”

In no way is this a healthy relationship, with the Divine or with one’s lover. This orientation of appeasing, of “worthiness,” of putting a person on a pedestalā€¦ it’s a set up for failure. What about a healthy relationship where love is woven with religious experience? Exhibit B. “Sunday Candy” by Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment (Social Experiment is a somewhat fluid and collaborative group, so I’ll refer to individual members who worked on this song).

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Tell Me about your First World Problems. No For Real, Tell Me.

I didn’t used to mind the phrase “First World Problems.” I agree, the fact that they’re out of gingerbread donuts is a shallow thing to get upset about. It is, as Urban Dictionary defines the term, “Problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at.”

I see what you mean.

I see what you mean.

A poet friend of mine hates the phrase. He finds it hollow and reductive. The more we argue about it, the more he convinces me. “First World Problems” is part of the vocabulary of cynicism. Like “stuff white people like” or hipster racism, the phrase is fueled by the neoliberal armchair activist. It’s a language that owns privilege while disowning personal participation in social change. It’s defensive speech. By calling my frappuchino a “thing white people like,” I preempt the dialogue, so that I can’t be accused of being “racist” because I’ve already admitted my own self-awareness. Or by calling NPR a “thing for white people,” I assume people of color won’t–can’t be–interested in the same things I am. Continue reading

Take Me to Church? Nah Man, I’ll take you to School

Nobody loves a good God-in-pop-culture reference likes pastors do. The inverse is also true: nobody hates a throw-away, faux-philosophical divine reference as much as pastors. By which I mean: Grammy nomination or no, I’m not fond of Hozier’s hit song “Take Me to Church.”

The song is painfully slow, and every time I hear it on the radio it drags and drags and dragsā€¦. I change the dial eight times, and it’s still playing. Maybe this is artistic genius, making it as slow and dull as a poorly sung hymn (it’s Sunday morning, not a Tuesday afternoon funeral). I’ll give the song points for that one, but it’s downhill from there. Continue reading