Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category

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Manning up with Casting Crowns

28 March 2014

Casting Crowns arrived on the music scene in 1999. By a long but steady ascent, they have become one of the few Evangelical bands to move between Christian and secular radio, touting positive messages for general audiences. As such, their lyrics hold special insight into values popular among conservative American believers. Among the consolidation of virtues Casting Crowns is responsible for is a set of gender expectations for men. In particular, their code turns on concepts of moral integrity, inner piety, protection of women and children, and evangelism.

In 2011 Casting Crowns released the single “Courageous,” which accompanied the film by the same name. With a story about a police officer in the background, the song laments the loss of traditional manliness, when men “were warriors on the front lines, standing unafraid.” Now, men are “watchers on the sidelines while our families slip away.” The golden days of patriarchy have waned into the dark days of men without backbone and purpose. The refrain that Christian men are “taking back the fight” does not refer to a program to subject women. Rather, the fight is directed at the heart, turning to a life of prayer. This battle to regain the authoritative self starts with the regaining of the authentic self, “on our knees with lifted hands.” Those who “reignite the passion,” the song goes on to say, “become warriors.” Accordingly, the battle for one’s place in the family has been internalized to take place on the war-field of the heart, in which lethargy and cowardice are put to death via prayer. The song ends with the promise, “In the war of the mind I will make my stand.”

Casting Crown’s inner masculinity continues to the be the basis for external masculine honor in 2014’s “Heroes.” The woman of the song expresses her valor in financial ways, supporting her two children (notably after her breadwinning husband abandons her). The high school boy in the second verse “walks against the flow” in fairly nebulous moral ways, not following “the hopeless road” but “willing to stand alone.” His manhood comes through principally in a moralistic separation from the world (though this is somehow equated with seeing the school as “his mission field”). Again, the battle is fought in internal terms, battling for moral integrity through self-discipline and prayer.

Through both songs one hears the moralistic theme of Promise Keepers set in the militaristic language of John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. Thus lead vocalist Mark Hall confesses his penchant for uber-manly movies like Braveheart, saying, “I think that’s my spirit in me longing to be the warrior that God created me to be.” Yet his battle-loving language is simply the key through which he sings of a longing to return to traditional values beginning with the conquest of self. Notably, this sort of Evangelicalism is still psychological and inward-facing while much of the rest of Christianity is turning toward the social sciences and political action.

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Cosmopolitan Courting Pre-teens through Boy Band

9 November 2012

Cosmopolitan magazine, long established as the publication for hip but insecure modern women, is being more aggressive about pursuing an untapped demographic: pre-teen girls.  For the very issue dedicated to achieving a sixty-minute orgasm, Cosmo features One Direction, the boy band of the moment.  That’s one way to use candy.  Somehow the magazine felt it warranted to usher 12 year-old girls from the theme of pop star crushes to the theme of performing advanced sex positions with a bored playboy of a boyfriend.  Profligate journalistic executives have no business reaching out to middle schoolers.

Others are wowed by the novely of an all-male appearance on the cover of a women’s magazine.  I cry foul.

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Men Losing It: Five Cult Albums

10 August 2012

Occasionally men lose it. They flip. They get their heart smashed and then plummet, or absolutely erupt, or both. That makes for a dangerous situation, resulting in some really unsavory headlines. It also produces some of the most fabulous, gut-wrenching cult albums of all time. Here are five of them from men at their best, worst moments. I highly encourage you to listen to these albums. I also strongly suggest you don’t, if you enjoy being happy.

1. Sugar – Beaster (1993). As the B-side EP to Copper Blue, these tracks should have been the scraps. Au contraire. These are the juiciest cuts. Together, it makes up the  feistiest, most explosive material from Bob Mould, who rails about betrayal and angst. Sugar’s punk past festers wonderfully at this juncture.

2. Weezer – Pinkerton (1996). After the eminently likeable blue album, Weezer did an about-face and released a most unpopable sound. A rock opera gone bad, Pinkerton features Rivers Cuomo’s terrifying descent in self-pitying loneliness after a series of obliterated relationships, including a misguided crush on a lesbian.

3. Chris Whitley – Din of Ecstasy (1995). Many artists, especially after receiving popular acclaim on their first album, take a new turn. Whitley jumps off the rails. His American steel bluegrass is replaced by soaring electric guitars and soulful noise rock. Drugs and anger play out more strongly here than on any of his other work. Underneath the abrasive presentation is sheer genius at work.  Was the album was released twenty years too soon – or too late?

4. Damian Rice – O (2002). This very well may be the most self-loathing, girl-loathing, life-loathing album ever made. Yet just when you think Rice’s dysfunctional libido has consumed him, he bounces back with an inscrutable sweetness.  Watch the movie Closer to maximize the psychological pain.

5. The Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen (1993). Greg Dulli lives in hell most of the week, with breaks to go to the bar. It’s unclear what sent him into his emotional spiral, but the grunge rocker knows all too intimately the terrors of his self-destructive eros in “Gentlemen” and “What Jail Is Really Like.”  This is one of the unsung albums of that strange foray Americans took into alternative rock.

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Getting Intimate with Karl Barth

16 August 2011

It is impossible to force Karl Barth, the eminent Reformed theologian of the 20th century, into any box, doctrinal or psychological. But I found this comment from Hans Frei the most perceptive I’ve read when it comes to psychoanalyzing the man.

[H]is relations with others, including many long and loyal friendships with other theologians and pastors, seem to have been forged through a sense of common vocation and common moral tasks, rather than through the art of mutual personal cultivation or direct in-depth “encounter.” His intimate relation with his long-time assistant, Charlotte von Kirschbaum, was in its way perhaps the most striking instance of the first type of relationship in his life; his sad misrelation to his wife was his paradigmatic failure in the other kind. . . . To what extent did a sense of shared vocation govern even his intimately personal, sexual life? [Hans W. Frei, Review Article: Eberhard Busch’s Biography of Karl Barth, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 51:1 (Mar 1982): 111].

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The Ultimate Men’s Summit, June 10-19

6 June 2011

Later this month we’ll witness the most ambitious attempt so far to recapture the glory years of the mythopoetic men’s movement.  The Ultimate Men’s Summit, happening online from the 10th to the 19th, will showcase over 75 presenters and field questions via telecom.  The line-up is a veritable who’s who in men’s work: Sam Keen, Warren Farrell, Bert Hoff, Bill Kauth, Herb Goldberg and (“Leader of the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement”) Robert Bly.   I encourage you to sign up for the conference HERE.  Registration is free.

I’m looking forward to the event, though the limitations are quite apparent in my mind.  The cast is dominated by psychologists and self-help gurus.  While a couple of men’s rights people should shake things up, the therapeutic feel of the conference won’t invite too many critical questions.  The conference is being pulled together by Shift Network, an organization devoted to an “evolution of consciousness” that includes “open exchange,” “restorative cycles,” and “global spiritual pluralism.”  Therefore I can all but assure attendees that the New Age ethic of the organizers will make room for a wide array of perspectives, sexualities and social groups, though they will leave prowling on the perimeter the usual suspects: liberal feminists, conservative pundits and orthodox Christians.

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Men, Travel and Sexism

13 September 2010

Ben Brazil’s recent article “Eat, Pray, Trash: What the Critics Don’t See” makes a provocative statement, that travel (and with it, spiritual liberation and the genre of travel stories) has been reserved for men.

Whether or not you find authenticity culture narcissistic, it’s not hard to see how the idea of travel works to support it. American literature and film celebrate few concepts as thoroughly as the open road. In Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild (to name just a few), travel becomes a means to free the sacred self from the mundane and to experience the joys of a world that suddenly seems to sparkle with divinity.

Of course, this has typically been understood as a male freedom. Gilbert flips the gender assumptions—she’s the one who leaves a spouse because she needs freedom—and some find the reaction against Eat Pray Love to be rooted in that sexist legacy.

I’m not sure Eat Pray Love is quite so dramatic as, say, Thelma and Louise, but Brazil’s article makes an interesting point. 

For me at least, it gets me wondering about the importance of travel for men.  Why is it that Campbell’s monomyth is described in terms of the hero’s journey?   Why has that language caught on in men’s groups?  And why, despite the unholy nature of plane travel these days, do so many men claim it as their lifestyle?

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TMNT: King, Warrior, Magician Lover

18 March 2010

Revelation!  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the mythopoetic king, warrior, magician, lover! 

Consider this summary from (today’s version of) Wikipedia:

Leonardo — The courageous leader and devoted student of martial arts, Leonardo wears a blue mask and wields two katana. He is the eldest of the four and the most skilled fighter of the turtles. “Leo” was named after the Italian polymath, scientist, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, Leonardo Da Vinci.

Raphael — The team’s bad boy, Raphael wears a red mask and wields a pair of sai. He has an aggressive nature and seldom hesitates to throw the first punch. He is an intense fighter. His personality can be alternately fierce and sarcastic, and often times delivers deadpan humor. Still, he is intensely loyal to his brothers and sensei. He is named after the Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance, Raphael Sanzio.

Donatello — The brilliant scientist, inventor, engineer, and technological genius, Donatello wears a purple mask and wields the bō staff. “Don” is perhaps the least violent Turtle, preferring to use his intellect to solve conflicts. He is named after the sculptor Donatello.

Michelangelo — Easy-going free-spirited, Michelangelo wears an orange mask and wields nunchaku. “Mikey” provides much of the comic relief. While he loves to relax, party, and eat pizza; this Turtle also has an adventurous and creative side. He is the youngest of the four. He is named after Michelangelo Buonarroti.

I mean, c’mon.  Leader, fighter, genius, comedian?  Four colors?  These are the masculine archetypes to a tee.  I should receive an honorary doctorate for this insight alone.