One Heaven of a Screening Party by Tom Cooper

Have you ever gone to one of those screening parties where a few friends or a group watched a movie and then discussed it or socialized? I’ve always enjoyed those special evenings. However, the downside was that by the time the film ended, it was often too late at night to have much discussion and, although on some occasions it was a great film, sometimes someone would choose a boring or depressing film.

What if there were creative ways to have screening parties that serve a higher purpose? Group fusion can be fun and uplifting especially in the winter or on a rainy night when it’s not easy to work or play outdoors.

Since this site if about primal spirituality, obviously if you are reading this you might wish to bring a group together to screen a short talk by someone like David Karchere, Martin Exeter, Jane Anetrini or others with catalytic thoughts on spirituality. Then you can expand upon their thinking over some wine or coffee. Or you could choose other spiritual leaders you value, like Deepak Chopra, Joel Osteen, Marianne Williamson, Wayne Dyer, Pope Francis, Barbara Marx Hubbard, or the Dalai Lama and watch a video to spark discussion.

But why limit oneself to what others call “spiritual?” There are a lot of inspiring TED talks, documentaries on environmental sustainability, and artistic performances which can be great openers for a stimulating media evening. In an age when just about all recent and current major speakers and performers are online, there are endless possibilities.

One of my favorite media nights involved my family inviting several friends over for an evening of laughter. Who says that spiritual people always have to be serious meditators who watch only deep programs? As I recall this rich evening back in the 1990s, I chose four of the funniest excerpts I had ever seen which had kept theater audiences in stitches and I showed each ten-minute clip back to back in our living room with brief introductions.

In case you are wondering which scenes I chose, I recall choosing the infamous “Charles Grodin pretends to be blind in a restaurant” scene from The Woman in Red (with Gene Wilder and Kelly LeBrock). Another clip I selected showed a mock rock and roll group from This is Spinal Tap (by Rob Reiner). Next came an excerpt from Horse Feathers (by the Marx Brothers) featuring Chico, Harpo, and Groucho talking total nonsense, and then we ended with a funny scene from Oh God with George Burns, so there was a little spiritual content at the end to ignite discussion.

If, as Proverbs indicates, “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine,” then why not try a comedy night with a few of your own favorite excerpts, leaving time at the end for more laughter mixed with thought? You may recall that the famous writer Norman Cousins checked himself out of his hospital when he had a serious illness and he watched nothing but episodes of Candid camera coupled with megadoses of vitamin C.

I’m not a doctor and I won’t prescribe comic media as a cure-all for disease. But I think Cousin’s book, Anatomy of an Illness, makes a good case for how sustained laughter can be healthy therapy.

In case you haven’t looked recently, you can find almost all the great stand-up comic acts of the 20th and 21st century are online on YouTube and similar sites. So in one evening, you can easily screen Abbott and Costello’s famous “Who’s on First?”, Rodney Dangerfield’s “Can’t Get No Respect,” Tina Fey as Sarah Palin or Amy Poehler as Donald Trump from Saturday Night Live, and some of the most famous British, Russian, Italian, or Israeli comedians back-to-back-to-back, all in 30-40 minutes and in English! The possibilities are endless.

Planning an evening media feast is just like preparing a great meal—the menu is entirely up to you but you want to make sure to have something appropriate for everyone. After all, not all comedians fit everyone’s taste and not every great movie clip is universally appealing—even if it is one of your or my favorites. So giving a little thought to who is coming and how mature the presentation will be (especially if children are in the mix) is important.

Over the past two years in this blog, I’ve mentioned dozens of “media that matter” which touch or center upon the theme of primal spirituality. If you’ve not seen some of them, perhaps a group gathering is the right time to try out one or two of the shorter ones?

And of course, if there are spiritual works you’ve heard a lot about— like The Secret, or What the Bleep, or Chariots of Fire, or The Shift, there’s no harm in showing an entire feature film if you start early in the evening. Most features are 80-110 minutes but its best to check the running time. Why? Because films like Gandhi, Camelot, Lawrence of Arabia, and South Pacific all run over two hours. After such a screening very little if any time remains for group interaction.

If your screening group meets weekly or monthly like a book club, you can take an important work like Madiba (the four-part made-for-TV story of Nelson Mandela’s life) and discuss and view one episode each month. You can also work with films that share a common theme on a weekly or monthly basis. For example, if you choose “spiritual communities & utopias” as your topic for a four-month cycle, you could watch Brigadoon, Lost Horizon (Uranda’s favorite film), Camelot, part I, and then Camelot part II (the film, like the play, has a lengthy intermission) as a four-part series.

Naturally, I am not prescribing any of these possibilities but rather seeking to open doors by offering possibilities. People engage in all kinds of activities together in groups from going to boxing matches to watching horror films. Why not build substance instead by watching something together which elevates, educates, lubricates, or inspires? Laughter is the “mind sneezing” and we all need to sneeze out our tired concepts and self-restricting structures.

A screening group need not be an institutional coterie. You can arrange a movie night for your family, close friends, neighbors, work colleagues, rock band, classmates, or Super Bowl party clan. Ideally, you can, at the very least, have a lot of fun and at the most generate thoughts and actions that raise consciousness and activate fresh creation. What you do and how you do it is totally up to you.

It’s always great to involve others in the planning too. After all, anything I can do, we can do better! Happy screening and bon appétit.

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 that 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 audiobook 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 at 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…

 

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