Pre-Passion Thoughts

There are apparently a reasonable number of people who are waiting to hear what I think of The Passion of the Christ, because I keep getting peppered about it. I do intend to see it soon, but I’m waiting for the church groups to thin about a bit, which I under is as unreasonable an expectation as waiting to see Titanic until all the teenage girls have cleared out, but even so. Having not seen the film yet, I can’t comment about how the film does its job, but I do have a couple of observations to make in the meantime.

The first is that the fact that Hollywood has been surprised at how massively successful the film is shows that despite assuming they are the tastemakers, in a number of ways Hollywooders are indeed truly disconnected from the masses. No, this is not a “liberal elite” rant, since by and large my values are closer to an agent in LA than to the guy flying a NASCAR flag off his front porch a mile down the road from me. But maybe living here in the sticks and doing a lot of my shopping at Wal-Mart gives me an insight the guy terrified of Target doesn’t have.

Which is: This thing was never not going to be a hit. There are a lot of Christians. There are a lot of Mel Gibson fans. Do the math. But even more than that, realize that evangelicals are basically starving for mainstream recognition. Evangelicals don’t like it when one of the flock leaves to move toward the mainstream, but when the process works the other way, watch out. Mel Gibson is a huge star, openly religious in a manly “speak that mass in Latin” way, and he made it clear from the onset he was pitching the work to the hardcore evangelicals. Even if it this film had been a pile of trash the evangelicals would have flocked to it (so long as it was a sincere profession of faith).

Now it might have been that some people in Hollywood sensed that it might be a big hit, but then decided it was simply not politically correct to say so. Well, of course we know how the heartland feels about politically correct. So, yeah, I expected the film to be pretty big. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to be $125 million on the first weekend big, but I don’t think anyone expected that — probably even the evangelicals — so I don’t feel all that put out.

Regarding the anti-semitism charge against the film: Again, haven’t seen the film, so I can’t say. But I will say that the evangelical masses picked up Mel’s talking point about the subject with alacrity, which was: The Jews didn’t kill Jesus. We all did, as sinners, because he came to die for our sins. Now, the real question is: Do the evangelicals actually believe this line? My opinion: Yeah, mostly. Yes, you have a few extreme nutbags on the fringe of evangelicism who still think the Jews are behind every evil in the world, but as the 20th century has amply shown, some people are just looking for an excuse — any excuse — to hate the Jews, and if it wasn’t because they killed Jesus it would be because they run the banks or are corrupting the racial purity of the Vaterland or they’re just simply breathing the same oxygen as the rest of us.

(Some people suggest Jews are a little too twitchy about anti-Semitism, most then, most people didn’t have an entire continent murderously expunged of their co-religionists within the last 70 years, so I guess most people should shut the Hell up about that and allow that perhaps Jews have earned the right to be a little sensitive.)

Having said that, most American evangelicals are not anti-semites because being an anti-semite is simply not nice, and most American evangelicals are nice people, even if their doctrine is annoyingly strident at times. I suppose if you were to press an evangelical he or she might allow that most Jews (as well as atheists, agnostics, Muslims and most everyone from Mongolia to Paupa New Guinea) are probably going to Hell for not accepting Christ, but they’d also think you were being kind of mean for hounding them about that topic — and more to the point I think most of them wouldn’t see why that means you’d think they’d wish Jews and others ill.

Also to the point, and this is something I harp on because I think it’s important for non-evangelicals to realize, it’s important to remember that just because evangelicals are stridently faithful doesn’t mean they’re stupid. Many if not most of them are aware that in Jesus’ time there were different Jewish sects with different agendas. They’re also pretty aware the Jesus himself was Jewish as were his disciples. I think many evangelicals are reasonably offended by a blanket charge of anti-Semitism because it suggests that they are unlearned or incapable of understanding the political complexities both of Jesus’ time and of ours.

So, I don’t think this film — in the US at least — will incite anyone to hate the Jews except for those who don’t need much incitement to do so. And I would imagine those people will be quickly shouted down by evangelicals who are on message about who it is who killed Jesus (i.e., all us sinners), and who can’t abide being openly rude to other people.

(Yes, I know — what about them being openly rude to gays and lesbians recently? I don’t see most evangelicals being personally rude to gays and lesbians even if they oppose their right to be married, and I think if you plopped down a married gay couple in front of your average evangelical, while the encounter might be awkward, I would think it would be rather difficult for your average evangelical to wish the pair ill — again, it’s that nice thing. This is one of the reasons, of course, that San Francisco started marrying off gays and lesbians — it’s easy to be mean to homosexuals abstractly, but rather more difficult when they’re right in front of you with their wedding bands.)

Now, I reserve the right to change my mind about any of this after I’ve actually seen the film — you’ll note I’ve studiously avoided discussing the content of the film in any way. When I have, of course, I’ll update.

Tactile

This is going to sound silly, but I’ll tell you that one of the things that I like best about writing is the typing. Recently, after years and years of two-finger typing, I suddenly developed Mad Typing Skillz. I still type with two fingers on each hand (actually, it’s more like three fingers on my right and a single finger — my middle finger, as it happens — on the left), but I can type incredibly fast and I don’t have to look at the keyboard anymore to do it. I’ve joked before to people that one of the great things about my typing speed is that I typically type as fast as I think, but I don’t seem to be out-typing my thoughts these days, which means either I am thinking faster than I used to, or (more likely, I think), my brain automatically downshifted whenever I sat in front of a keyboard, and has to do less of that now. In any event, my brain and my typing are still in lockstep — here’s hoping that both are more efficient.

Typing is the most natural way for me to write, I think primarily because that’s how I do almost all of it. I hardly ever write with a pen or pencil — mostly I use that method to take notes at a business meeting or if I’m in the mood to write short things, like song lyrics or (brace yourself) poetry. But for anything longer than a paragraph, typing is they way to go, if for no other reason than it’s faster and my writing is astoundingly illegible to the point that sometimes even I can’t decipher what the hell it is I wrote. People have noted that typing has lead to the downfall of handwriting. I don’t think this is true in my particular case, as I’ve always had atrocious handwriting (if you look at my elementary school report cards you’ll see “A” after “A” in every subject except penmanship, in which I regularly earned “Cs” and “Ds”; I was relieved in junior high when they stopped grading me on it), but I think in a general sense this is probably correct.

But handwriting is — sorry — terribly inefficient, whereas typing, even with the ergonomic nightmare that is the QWERTY keyboard, is well-suited for the mass production of the written word. And there’s the tactile sense of typing which is so satisfying; I love to press the keys on my computer keyboard and feel the click that lets me know the data has made it to the screen. My favorite keyboard in the house is the one on my Toshiba tablet laptop, on which I am writing at the moment. Many people find the keys on laptops too shallow, but for me it has a perfect throw, and the slightly-smaller-than-scale keyboard is perfect for my slightly-smaller-than-scale hands.

I type the fastest on this keyboard, even though I use it for longer pieces only infrequently, doing most of my work on my desktop, and its perfectly sufficient Microsoft basic keyboard. My other laptop — we are positively infested with computers here in the Scalzi household — has a terrible keyboard: Its keys are mushy and you feel like you’re typing through mashed potatoes. This is opposed to the crisp, punchy return of the Toshiba. Yes, I know I’m going deep into typing geek territory, but look — I type for a living. Mechanics have their favorite tools. So do I.

For the best tactile typing experience, however, nothing beats an electric typewriter; say, one of those cast-iron IBM Selectrics from about 1976. Manual typewriters were too much work — you really had to whack at them to drive the keys home — but an electric typewriter required only just a certain amount of pressure to get going. And there was a complementary physical reaction to your typing action, namely, the mashing of the key (or the type ball, which ever) through the ribbon into the paper with a whack! that you could feel through the whole machine. Add in the constant vibrating hum of the typewriter when you turned it on, and what you had, my friends, was a festival of touch.

I don’t get nostalgic for typewriters — the idea of not being able to go back into your document and change it on the fly is flat-out terrifying for someone who started writing in the computer era, and I’m always tempted to go back to authors who wrote their books on typewriter and ask them, “How did you live through such barbarian times?!?” — but I will allow they offered the definitive typing experience, against which the computer, for all its other advantages, provides only a pale simulacrum.

I’ve written an immense amount in the last couple of weeks, between finishing the novel and working on a series of articles for the Uncle John’s books, and ranting about gay marriage and writing here in the Whatever. I regret to say that I haven’t been taking fabulous care of my wrists in that time (even now, as I type this, I’m doing it from a reclining position on my bed, the keyboard propped up on my leg — ergonomic experts, start your screaming). It’s not debilitating, but I’m a little sore, and I’ve given some thought to getting some of that voice-recognition software that lets you write by speaking into a microphone. I’ve avoided it so far because I’m cheap, but also because I do think my writing “voice” would change by switching the medium through which it makes it to the screen. This is my voice when I type. It’s similar to my voice when I speak, but there are differences. Both of them are “true” voices — which is to say one is no less me than the other — and I’m loath to silence one of them out of mere convenience.

So I suppose I better take better care of my wrists. Very well; I’m stopping typing now.

Manic Monday

Mondays have suddenly become my busy day, thanks to the fact that I have to knock off work at about 3 in the afternoon in order to drive to Athena’s daycare, pick her up and then drive her over to the YMCA for her gymnastics class, which she loves almost unreasonably (she’s always very sad to leave). So it means most things I need to do on Mondays get crammed into a short amount of time. This is my way of saying — this is all you get today. Please don’t hate me.