Tuesday, February 04, 2003

The Ubiquity of Kitsch, and Preachiness

It's February, and we're about to see Washington and Lincoln reduced to shilling for car and furniture outlets again. I can't help thinking that is the ultimate fate of rulers everywhere:
  • Two very good friends once went to Europe, and they brought me back a souvenir—a T-shirt with the standard issue cartoon image of a Viking and the caption "ERIK BLOODAXE RULES OK"
  • I got to go to Japan once. I wound up with a coworker at the re-rebuilt Osaka Castle, still impressive even though it is not as large as the initial structure. Up on the third floor was the souvenir shop, where you could get Hideyoshi Toyotomi knicknacks.
  • Caesar, of course, sells pizzas these days (but who'd buy a pizza with a spear hole through it?)
  • As for King Tut, two words: Steve Martin. (Yes, I realize he was making fun of the marketing of Tutankhamen.)
Sturgeon's Law ("90% of everything is crap") seems to apply particularly to Christian music. I think I know part of the reason.

Remember Edith Hamilton's insightful distinction between Greek mythology and Norse mythology? In MTV generation terms, Greek mythology is like series TV; you know the good guys will win, and nothing can really change, lest continuity break. Norse mythology is like a movie. In hopes of minimizing the angular velocity of Ms. Hamilton's grave, here's a closer paraphrase: Greek mythology has no heroes, at least among the gods, because they always win. In Norse mythology, the gods are heroes, because they act even though they know that Ragnarok is coming and they're all going to die.

Christianity, at least the simple-minded Christianity of much Christian music, is like Greek mythology in that respect. Everything is going to be fine, and there's one answer to everything. Unfortunately, preaching is dull, and life's not like that. The best religious lyrics, as the English teacher always said, show rather than tell, and aren't cocksure: for example, "Mary was an Only Child" on Art Garfunkel's Angel Clare album, T.S. Eliot's "The Journey of the Magi," Holst's gorgeous setting of "Lullay My Liking," or Jars of Clay's "Flood."

I shouldn't pick specifically on Christian music, though; I've just been listening to a pagan webcast, and Wiccans can be just as preachy, as a really bad song I just heard about the "Burning Times" that parrotted the hype shows (come on, people, the reality was bad enough). Protest songs of course, often beat you over the head with preachiness and the singer's self-righteousness. (Speaking of which, two words: Natalie Merchant.)

A flashback and analogy

You've probably heard about how the notion of sum types (e.g. Algol 68 union s, Rust enum s, Haskell type s) and product types (e.g. tup...