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Culture Briefs

- - Sunday, July 11, 2010

Why Twilight?

"As a society, we have a history of dismissing popular culture, especially that consumed by young women, as silly and therefore irrelevant. As I wrote here when the first 'Twilight' movie came out, to locate the draw of 'Twilight' in Taylor Lautner's beefed-up body or [Robert] Pattinson's tortured brooding is to miss the point entirely. There are plenty of movies and TV shows featuring exceedingly beautiful young people and unlikely love stories that do not even come close to achieving the kind of off-the-charts popularity of the 'Twilight' franchise. …

"So what is this 'something more'? I think it's none other than the 'something more' the founding father of American psychology, William James, identified over 100 years ago when trying to explain the object of all religious experience. … I believe that it is a longing for a world beyond ordinary experience that drives much of our fixation with the supernatural in our current pop culture offerings. … In my view, the massive popularity of 'Twilight' can only be properly understood if one sees its human-vampire romance as a vehicle for supplying subtle and easily digestible religious content to a spiritually starved culture."

Jennifer Hahn, writing on "Seeing 'Something More' in Twilight" on June 28 at Trans/Missions

Why Africa?

"In a dramatic victory over the U.S. last Saturday, Ghana advanced to the quarterfinals and … ushered in a FIFA-inflected Pan-African moment. Former President Thabo Mbeki, who had receded from view after his own party recalled him in 2008, re-emerged this week to call on South Africans to back Ghana's Black Stars. While in office, Mbeki often promoted an African Renaissance involving achievements in culture, science, and politics to outweigh the problems often associated with Africa. …

"Several provinces here are officially encouraging South Africans to fly the Ghanaian flag and wear their national colors. As the ultimate embrace, Nelson Mandela invited the Black Stars over for a visit this Saturday, probably hoping to celebrate a victory in the quarterfinals and to prep the team for a semifinal match next week. …

"The current solidarity between South Africa and Ghana stands in contrast to the wave of violent attacks in South Africa on immigrants from other African countries a few years ago. In May 2008, locals in townships near Johannesburg attacked migrants from Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Malawi. Over the next few weeks, the violence spread to other cities across the country, and the government had set up refugee camps to house migrants fleeing the attacks."

Anmol Chaddha, writing on "Ghana and the Fragile World-Cup Pan-Africanism," on July 2 at the Atlantic

Why 'famous'?

"What an offensive corruption of our curriculum. Children are to be taught the fabled best of Islam and the imagined worst of Australia to blind us all to the real challenges Islam poses even to a country that's peacefully integrated the many more Buddhists here:

"'Every Australian school student would be taught positive aspects about Islam and Muslims — and that Australia is a racist country — under a proposal … outlined in the 'Learning From One Another: Bringing Muslim Perspectives into Australian Schools' booklet, published during the week by the Australian Curriculum Studies Association and the University of Melbourne's Center for Excellence in Islamic Studies. … The booklet refers to the al Qaeda of Osama bin Laden as 'a famous name' synonymous with the traditionalist movement in Islam. It makes no reference to terrorism. …

"How impudent for a largely immigrant community, comprising a very small minority, to demand English classes now be taught more from their perspective rather than the communal perspective of the country to which most chose to come — a communal perspective that reflects the values and institutions that have made this country worth coming to in the first place. It is particularly offensive in that the host nation is demonized as racist while the very real and in some cases lethal challenges posed by the newcomers are glossed over."

Andrew Bolt, writing on "'Famous' bin Laden: teaching children our fear of terrorism is racist," on July 11 at the Melbourne Herald-Sun