Shantaram

If you think that James Bond and Indiana Jones epitomize life’s greatest adventures, you have not yet read Shantaram. If you imagine that Tolstoy, Homer, and Scott created the largest epic panoramas, you have not yet experienced Shantaram. If you imagine that you have colored in your experiential rainbow like no one who has ever lived, you have not yet met Gregory David Roberts, the author of Shantaram.

 

I once taught a course entitled “What is a Masterpiece?” at Harvard. One answer was “a work which successfully and comprehensively creates an engaging world of its own.” Enter Shantaram. Another feature of a time-honored masterpiece is that it is populated by compelling characters you would want to meet or observe in the real world. Once again, Shantaram.

 

If you are fascinated by cats because they have nine lives, you will want to meet “Lin,” the hero of Shantaram. If you are seduced by love story plots which are impossible to predict, welcome to Shantaram.

 

When I read Gregory Roberts’ best seller, I desperately wanted to Google all the characters to see which ones were real and what they looked like. My wife, who devoured the book, searched the Internet for the characters since any fan knows that wanting to see Lin, Prabaker, Karla, Lisa, Didier, and Madame Cho becomes an addiction. Now it will become possible to see them all incessantly on screens of all sizes since Shantaram is in development to become a Television Series on Apple TV+.

 

It seems impossible to see the hidden mysteries of India and Afghanistan without great danger, expense, and risk. And yet Shantaram makes you into a first class voyeur. The work is all major genres in one—mystery, autobiography, action adventure, tragic comedy, and romance. It is even laced with physics, cosmology, and especially ethics since Lin pursues not only his leading lady, but also the true nature of justice and ultimately the meaning of life.

 

And that is why I am writing about this great book long after it first became a best-seller. Unlike the Tao, Bible, Koran, Bhagavad Gita, and so many other books which can be one’s guide for life, and unlike the more recent “soft religion” or spirituality texts by Williamson, Dyer, Chopra, and others espoused by New Age and “alternative” gurus, Shantaram seems at first to be anything but a work about integrity and Divine depth.

 

It is after all a novel with fictional characters, and yet they are based upon real lives. The protagonist is a former bank robber, heroin addict, and escaped convict who joins the Bombay mafia, and yet after his ongoing transformation, he may be among the most spiritual and ethical people you will ever meet. Shantaram seems to be about a modern day odyssey through the slums of India and tribal war zones of Afghanistan, and yet it is about our neighborhood—the one populated by homo sapiens—and it is about the need to awaken and about life itself.

 

The book is almost 1,000 pages! And the audio book takes over 40 hours to listen to. So one can only imagine the length of the upcoming television series with Charlie Hunnam in the lead in the visualization of Shantaram. Johnny Depp and other celebrities have been in the forefront of embracing a book-to-movie conversion. So the visualization of Shantaram should be both epic and Hollywood gourmet.

 

A commitment to read or see it is more like a marriage than a date—you could go on two honeymoons in the time it takes to fully absorb it. For a month or two of your life, it saturates your thinking and perhaps your choices. And yet, it is worth it. The author, Greg Roberts, who has become a spiritual visionary in his own way, has committed his life to vertical art and meaningful social change. And his life partner, who wishes to remain virtually anonymous, is also a spiritual benefactor, thinker, and donor, who seeks to take Shantaram to the next mediated level.

 

If by chance I am preaching to the choir because you have already read the book, you’ll be happy to know that there is a sequel called The Mountain Shadow which is even longer! Both books have received outstanding reviews as literature, drama, and in-depth engagement.

 

But that is not why I am including Shantaram in my blog, Media that Matters. While Roberts laces his works with philosophy and spiritual insights, he has demonstrated that a transformational lighthouse does not have to be a work of theology or channeled revelation. It can be a novel which is itself novel in that it seems first to be about one life and then somehow becomes about Life itself.

 

Even the name Shantaram has spiritual significance. It means man of peace and as time progresses, the character’s name changes from Lin to Lin-baba. Baba is an affectionate suffix in India which is also charged with Light.  Still one cannot judge a book by (the name on) its cover. That cover must be opened to reveal a galaxy of characters who debate and reveal—to varying degrees—the nature of character itself. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Shantaram.

Slow Media Matter – Book Review of Slow Media by Jennifer Rauch

Slow Media - Book by Jennifer RauchWhat if some of the most important media ethics issues of our day are being largely eclipsed by some of the most obvious ones. As academics, media professionals and citizens, we constantly express concern about privacy, the limits of free speech, the “fake news” nomenclature, media bias and what I have called “slash, flash, trash, and crash for cash”—the endless increase in mediated violence, tabloid junk, and mega-hyped sensation.

 

But what if we are missing some of the most substantial issues—those which inform and magnify all the others—issues like media speed and saturation. After all, if media machines, processes, and programming are constantly proliferating and accelerating, would that not automatically multiply and intensify instances of ethics violations and related problems already occurring? What if saturation and acceleration also introduce and magnify yet other problems—including media addiction, irreversible social speed-up, undetected mind control, threats to sustainability, and much more?

 

Indeed authors such as Kovach and Rosensteil have explained in their co-authored books like Warp Speed how media speed-up creates more ethical errors since practitioners have far less time to think through the accuracy of their content and the consequences of their actions, Rushkoff, Turkle, Postman, Meyrowitz, and others have also pointed to the type of mindless, displaced, if not amoral society we approximate when we become screen-obsessed and far less at home with each other and with thoughtful conversation.

 

Part of the backlash to screen obsession has appeared via “media detox” hotels and weekends, faculty taking their students on media fasts and diets (see Fast Media/Media Fast) and an upsurge in those interested in the simple outdoor life of camping, boating, and even imitating the Amish, Cogi, and Old Order Mennonites by creating homes with minimal or no media. Many people living in the midst of such an alternative or counter-movement do not perceive it as “backlash” at all but rather as the natural status quo, the desired norm, as harmony with the natural rhythms of life and thus balanced living.

 

Thus, it is only natural that a literature should emerge about the value of Thoreau’s and Emerson’s more contemplative life, about what may be learned by indigenous and spiritual societies who practice endless silence, and about the virtues of previous decades and more balanced relationships with media.

 

And what if all of this has profound implications for our own recovering of an awareness of our primal spirituality? It seems almost impossible to do so in an ocean of noise pollution and people looking down (at their cells) rather than looking up. How can you know who you are beneath your media programming if you are constantly consuming and regurgitating the electronically recycled thinking of others?

 

Enter Jennifer Rauch and her book (published October 2018 with Oxford Press) entitled Slow Media: Why Slow is Satisfying, Sustainable, and Smart. At the outset Professor Rauch makes it clear that she is not one of those Neo-Luddites (she uses the term post-Luddites) committed to media bashing. Indeed she experienced ambivalence both in temporarily fasting from and returning to media culture. So there is nothing extreme in her approach. Indeed she includes the research of both a U.S. and U.K. survey which affirm that many people aspire to slow down, temper, or take retreats from their media intake. She is hardly alone and her large list of over 300 references suggests that she has many scholarly, artistic, and professional kindred spirits.

 

Nor is the book pure theory nor abstract ideal. Rauch empirically demonstrates the negative impact of runaway “fast media,” not only upon our lives but also upon the environment as in this passage:

E-waste is also a fast growing concern…. Today discarded electronics alone account for over three million tons of trash per year in the U.S. and around 35 million tons worldwide. (p. 3)

There are many such convincing passages, each well documented within the scholar’s treasure trove of over 460 notes! But the book does not focus upon the negative. It provides many positive passages supporting the value of slowing down. Many slow down benefits are intuitive just as within the slow-food movement when we actually taste our food and better nourish ourselves when we take our time. But other benefits include tangible examples of media we may not have encountered—such as a publication which only prints news after the authors have had weeks to consider the accuracy, multiple perspectives, and analysis of the initial reports. Rauch introduces the reader to a wide variety of such alternative and thought-driven media.

 

As with Turkle and others, Rauch traces her values back far beyond the electronic age to the much simpler, self-reliant Transcendentalist umwelt of Emerson, Whitman, and especially Thoreau. The values of contemplation, nature, simplicity, and independent perspective are reaffirmed. But none of the recent contemplative books, of which hers is the most recent, are merely repackaged Thoreau. A lot of fresh insight is introduced in Slow Media such that original thinking (unlike formulaic fast-media thinking) is not only championed but also demonstrated.

 

Areas pertinent to ethics are spelled out not only regarding an environmental ethic, and the overall ethics of speed, but also in specific ways such as how to support “slow journalism.” As Rauch explains:

 

The Slow Journalism movement could benefit from borrowing the GCF (Good/Clean/Fair—ed.) motto. An early proponent of this perspective was scholar Harold Gess. He envisions good journalism as… committed to the well-being of its community; clean as treating sources ethically pursuing social justice, and supporting sustainable eco-systems and livelihoods; and fair as making media as accessible to the community and ensuring non-exploitative working conditions. (p. 39)

 

It is fair to say that speed-up and size impact both the micro-ethics pertaining to the multiple momentary decisions made by individual media professionals and consumers and to the macro-ethics involved in whether “truth” and the earth itself can be saved. Slow Media also invites contemplation of many other related topics such as green media and what Rauch calls “media mindfulness”—the process by which we make conscious choices about which media we consume and produce rather than working mindlessly out of routine, addiction, or habituation. And there is far more food for thought throughout Rauch’s volume including a careful comparison of the Slow Food movement itself to slow media.

 

Virtually all publications have areas where there could be improvement and this is no exception. One could point out some key sources which are missing, unacknowledged, or under-reported.

 

Given that the author has so much to say one might also lament that the primary text (without pre and post materials) is only around 135 pages. Indeed there are many hit-and-run passages which beg for longer explanation.

 

Yet these are smaller matters in a book which is larger in its importance. So they read like a “minus” behind a giant “A” on a rich, densely-packed thesis or term paper. This is a book to read, distribute, adopt for classes, and publicize.

 

While slow media might seem like a fringe fad worthy of little attention, a closer look at the book shows that it fosters X-ray vision into some of the deeper patterns of both our social denouement and positive possibilities.  Although the pell-mell status quo may argue that “small” and “slow” newtopian visions are quixotic nostalgia at the extreme, clearly Jennifer Rauch has made clear that it is our own fast media and Western society which now live at the extreme and which exemplify excess.

 

It is time to restore the balance. How?

1) Read this book

2) Consider that the outer imbalance of nature and society is a reflection of the inner imbalance within humanity. Thus, our own inner balance of heart and mind aligned with Divine spirit is essential. The macro is simply the micro writ large.

 

The true media we are must move at the speed of the Divine, not at artificial tempos seeking to improve upon the Tao. Slow down and slow media take us to a very important destination, the one where we can Be Still and Know…

 

My Three Favorite Movies for Saving the World

The story is told that a celebrity was asked to name her favorite language. She replied, “It depends. For romance I prefer French, for poetry Italian, for business English, and for secrecy I speak Swedish, since so few people understand it outside of Scandinavia.”

I have to give a similar reply when people ask me about my favorite film. If they mean the film that uplifts me most, I give one answer; if they mean one of the most creative films likely to inspire young film-makers, I give another reply; and if they mean a movie which is great for the whole family or the whole world, I might give yet another answer.

So in the context of this blog about media that matter, I have to give yet other answers. My favorite movie about changing the world is different than my favorite film about changing myself or about saving the planet or creating world peace. Alas, there are so many inventive films about important themes that it is hard to name just ten or twenty.

But let me make the attempt by introducing three films not yet discussed in this Media That Matter blog, three films which address primal spirituality goals in three different ways. And three films which I would definitely call my favorites in this context.

The first film is a European comedy by Philipe de Broca called King of Hearts (1967), starring Alan Bates and Genevieve Bujold. To my view, this film best addresses the absurd human condition and why it needs to change. The other two films, The Shift (2009) a feature film with Wayne Dyer and Portia de Rossi, best illustrates how change is made at an inner level while An Inconvenient Truth (with Al Gore by Davis Guggenheim) best articulates what we can do in an outer way to restore our planet.

Although The Shift is the most overtly spiritual, all three contribute to an understanding of both the degeneration of humanity and to the regeneration which is so necessary. I am not claiming they are the absolute best–after all, I’ve devoted over 30 blogs to many other titles of “media that matter.”  I’m simply saying that of all the “change the world” or “change yourself” films, these three are my personal favorites and I hope you will screen them if they seem up your alley.

Here’s why…

King of Hearts is a hilarious comedy, love story, and satire all in one which also makes you think. Although some have dubbed it an anti-war film, I think a more positive way to say it is pro-peace. And yet, this feature is much larger in scope than just war and peace. DeBroca’s masterpiece is also about the relationship between sanity and insanity and whether we have let the inmates run the asylum worldwide. A current look inside the White House, Kremlin, and other political pinnacles reveals that this topic is quite relevant.

Using a lovable array of caricatures mixed with more realistic characters, King of Hearts charms you into an innocent state while asking what has happened to human identity and civilization, and it does so in a way that does not preach or teach. It is one of those few films I had to screen more than once to discover all that I was missing the first time. Since it is a 60’s film, it’s probably best found in Netflix type outlets or possibly at your local library.

Once we screen King of Hearts, we’ll have a fresh x-ray best revealing the broken parts of humanity, such that we can move on to the remedy and the treatment. To me, the remedy comes in two parts: First, personal awakening and change and second, personal and collective action in the service of planet earth. In simpler words, one might say the remedy comes through inner change followed by outer change.

While there are many great, often short, films focusing upon many spiritual practices, communities, and teachings, The Shift starring Wayne Dyer, is to my view the most heart-opening feature length drama that reveals how inner shift happens. Although Dyer plays himself in the narrative, other well-known actors like Portia de Rossi, depict fictional people at various stages of (im)maturity who grow throughout the film.

An interesting subplot in The Shift depicts a media crew who come to make a film about Dyer. Over time their values are questioned and indeed they are transformed by the end of the film. So this is a film about a film and about Dyer reflecting upon Dyer. But we come to see in a gentle way that The Shift is also an audience-reflecting-upon-audience film and by the end we discover that the film is actually about us. It asks us if a shift is needed in our own lives and reveals the way to change without didacticism.

An Inconvenient Truth seems like the best known of these films since it won an Academy Award and because Al Gore’s climate change campaign is highly publicized. But I’m not sure the film’s inner meaning is truly known. To many it seems like a how-to film about saving the planet and in so much as that is true, I stand at the end of a very long line of people who commend Gore’s action plan. In that regard, one of the best parts of the film is the very long list of actions that each of us can take to bless and restore spaceship earth.

Moreover, unlike many environmental documentaries which dwell upon the problem, Gore models an aspect of the solution by his own walking-the-talk and provides innumerable practical actions one may take to make a difference. Indeed, he has devoted the recent decades of his life to creating a transformational movement worldwide devoted to sustainability.

But I think the film is about something far deeper which the critics seem to have missed. In one scene Gore opens up about the loss of his older sister, Nancy, whom he greatly loved. Although Gore’s father made his living from selling tobacco, Nancy’s death from cancer led Gore’s family to halt their entire business by no longer growing tobacco despite the risk and the loss of income. They chose other income products after Nancy’s passing.

In essence, Gore shows that all the outer actions in the world–from recycling to protests–will have no true impact unless individuals first have a change of heart which is then revealed in substantial action. While Gore articulates the importance of outer action, he models and points to the importance of inner change of heart which will then motivate outer change of behavior. An Inconvenient Truth is about far more than just climate change.

I doubt that anyone has watched these three films back-to-back-to-back because each is so different and aimed at different audiences. And yet if all three were shown worldwide on three consecutive nights, I’m betting important world discussion and change would follow.

Ethics Goes to the Movies

Theater, Hollywood, and prime-time television have long been obsessed with dramatic ethical dilemmas which hook audiences. From the earliest known and best loved theater, engaging characters have been obsessed with questions such as “to be or not to be?”, “to marry for love or for honor?”, and whether “to do the right thing but forContinue Reading

Media of Awakening

Although films and TV programs are often divided into the well-known genres of comedy, drama, horror, action, etc., I have long been interested in renaming some genres with more pro-social spiritual terms such as the “victory” (see blog posted on June 22, 2016) and “awakening.” What makes the “awakening” genre unique is that throughout theContinue Reading