MICHAEL GUNGOR On The Problem With The Christian Music Industry

So much of what this man writes here is spot-on and applicable not just to Christian Music, but art, film, television, religion, politics…A very well thought out and articulated essay.






Date: Monday, December 9, 2013

Hey Everyone,

As promised earlier, after the incredible buzz around his blog post below in the past week (there have been more than 360,000 views of this blog post in the past 7 days) Michael Gungor expressed to me a desire to write a follow-up blog post to this original post he wrote almost 2 years ago.

I am excited to announce that Michael emailed me his follow-up blog post that he just finished two days ago, and you can read it immediately, by clicking on the link below.

Michael Gungor: A Follow-Up To My Blog Post On The Problem With The Christian Music Industry





When you are in a touring band, there is a lot of time that is…

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Where Yat

Where Yat?

            Being an Air Force veteran that has settled in a town far from home, I often get asked where I’m from. “New Orleans” I tell people, and almost invariably, their response is something along the lines of “You don’t sound like you’re from New Orleans.” Years ago this would puzzle me, but I’ve gradually grown accustomed to the fact that by and large a majority of people from outside of southern Louisiana are under the impression that the predominant dialect of New Orleans and the surrounding area is something akin to a grossly exaggerated Scarlett O Hara drawl. I guess they can hardly be blamed. Movies that are set in New Orleans often have characters talking with very pronounced southern accents: Dennis Quaid in Big Easy, Tiana in The Princess and the Frog, and Gena Rowlands in The Skeleton Key, with the latter being notable in that her character not only speaks with a distinct Southern drawl, but also calls attention to Kate Hudson’s character’s accent. This often elicits a laugh from locals as nothing about Kate Hudson’s accent would seem particularly remarkable to a native of New Orleans, and in fact her accent is less of an oddity than the accent of the character calling attention to it.

            There is a short passage in the opening of John Kennedy Toole’s seminal novel A Confederacy of Dunces which attempts to describe the New Orleans accent. It describes the accent as hard to distinguish from the accents of Hoboken, Astoria, Jersey City, and Manhattan. It implies that the accent originates from German and Irish immigrants and that this accounts for the seeming similarities between the dialects and inflections in the two seemingly disparate areas. Indeed, one of the first reactions people have when my accent creeps into the edges of a conversation is that I “sound like I’m from Brooklyn” and the similarities in the dialects are undeniable. The way in which he weaves the local dialect into the dialogue is a large part of the charm of Toole’s novel, as the New Orleans dialect has a bit of an exaggerated quality that lends itself well to comedy, much the way a stereotypical New York accent can be used to great comedic effect.

            New Orleanians have a particular self awareness about the oddity of our accent and dialect, and much of our local comedy and writing reflects a sort of self referential amusement with how somewhat out of place our way of speaking is in the Deep South. Local musicians Benny Grunch and the Bunch have made a cottage industry out of songs about local events and culture, all sung in a comically overblown New Orleans accent. One of their most popular songs “Ain’t Dere No More” is a lament about the huge number of local business that have gone away and been replaced by larger corporate entities. Post-Katrina the expression “Ain’t dere no more.” has taken on an even broader meaning in New Orleans culture, and a popular routine is to replace many of the locations in the original song with seemingly mundane locations particular to the person singing that in fact “ain’t dere no more.”

            There are many expressions in New Orleans that are so particular to the city that outsiders are often hard pressed to understand what they mean without context. The strip of grass that separates the two lanes of a highway, typically called the median elsewhere in the country, is universally referred to as the “neutral ground”, with median being virtually unheard of. This is owing to the fact that earlier in the city’s history, the median was a place where the various disparate social groups would meet, conduct business, and socialize, while still maintaining the cultural borders that even to this day still define the various areas of the city. Elsewhere in the country, people often drink soda, but in New Orleans the word soda is unheard of, to the point that as a child I thought it was an archaic expression. When I finally left the city for the first time after high school, I was initially amused to hear people refer to soft drinks as sodas, and even to this day friends and family members chuckle when I use the word soda, as if I had said something quaint. Likewise, a brown paper bag in the greater New Orleans area is almost universally referred to as a Schwegmann’s bag, after a local grocery store chain. This is in spite of the fact that the Schwegmann family got out of the grocery business in 1996 after over a century, and in fact is one of the businesses that features prominently in the song “Ain’t Dere No More”.  Speaking of families, in New Orleans, when asking about another individual’s family, they are typically referred to collectively as “your mom an dem”, an expression that always seems to elicit an amused reaction from people unfamiliar with the dialect. In fact, the dialect itself takes its name from a common local expression. The dialect (and the people who speak it) are collectively referred to as “Yats” after the common expression “Where yat?” which can variously be used as a salutation or to genuinely inquire about another individuals whereabouts.

            In the years since I have left home, my accent and dialect have become a bit homogenized from extended contact with a much wider array of accents and dialects than I would typically encounter back home. When I joined the Air Force, I was infinitely amused at the array of accents and dialects that I encountered in basic and beyond as I had always been fascinated by speech and language as a child, but had little actual contact with anyone from outside the New Orleans metro area. Until that time, it had never occurred to me that I myself spoke in a distinctive “yat” and that it was a bit of a source of amusement for others how prominent my open mid-backed rounded vowels were. This was in spite of the fact that, even as a child, my parents always emphasized “speaking properly” and had encouraged me to be more articulate. This in turn was due to the fact that in New Orleans, despite the fact that the dialect is ubiquitous, a more stressed “yat” is considered to be something of a class indicator and suppression of it to a more “normalized” pronunciation is considered to be more proper. As a result, I had always taken a bit of pride in having a slightly more “posh” accent than many of the people I went to school with and likewise, in the intervening years it has become a source of gentle ribbing that my diminished accent and use of “foreign” words like soda and median is something of an indicator of how long I’ve been away from home. The oddity of all of this is that when I’m talking to my family or any local people originally from New Orleans (and there are more than a few here in Warrensburg) I find myself not entirely subconsciously affecting a more pronounced “yat” as a way of showing solidarity. Especially in light of the hurricane being a huge reason why so many of us are displaced from our home, the affectation is, in a sense, an attempt to preserve our culture in a place where many of our colloquialisms must seem as alien to others as British English.

            Therein lies the grand paradox of the typical New Orleans dialect. It is such a strong and specific indicator of our strangely isolated culture and yet even among native speakers, there are degrees of distinction that are all but indiscernible to the average listener. The difference between someone from Uptown and someone from the Ninth Ward and someone like myself from “Da Parish” is lost on anyone unfamiliar with those districts and yet it is a prominent enough part of our cultural identity to be a point of contention, even among friends and family members. Having been away from home for over a third of my life at this point gives me a bit more of a broad perspective. It’s notable that my parents bristle (mostly jokingly) when I suggest that their accent is stronger than I remember it being as a child. Likewise, many of my friends that I went to school will alternate between mock derision at my “mid-westernized” accent and amusement at what they consider my forced affectation of a dialect that I never fully embraced when I was legitimately a local. For me, it’s an interesting glimpse at how something as simple as a regional dialect plays into your identity and people’s perception of you.

Johnson’s Been Hit!

You know the moment. The moment in a movie where the heroes narrowly escape certain death by racing ahead of a fireball or collapsing building or some other calamity and triumphantly race past the camera, possibly letting out a spirited “yeehaw!” and definitely rolling to give a dramatic shot of their craft if they are in a spaceship or aircraft of some sort. These are literally my favorite scenes in some of my favorite movies. It’s the way I feel when a bill is overdue and I pay it at the last minute after payday or when I get to work with seconds to spare on the clock. It’s kinda how I feel pretty frequently.

But then there’s it’s ugly cousin: a trope that, near as I can tell, doesn’t have a name in any resource that bothers to give names to movie tropes and cliches, hence the blog title. This is the scene directly following the dramatic last minute escape when it’s realized that one of the characters has been shot, hit by an arrow, bitten, etc. and the triumphant escape scene suddenly becomes a gut wrenching reality check.

That’s the kind of week I’ve had.

The Horrors of Single Fatherhood

Lest the title be a bit misleading, let me say up front that being a father is the exact opposite of horror. There is no greater feeling than spending years at a time guiding the development of another little person who is a lot like you and watching their personality quirks emerge even as they embody qualities that you recognize from yourself, for better or for worse.

But that’s not what this post is about. This is about the curiously dreadful feelings associated with being a single father in modern America. It’s something so awful that men have a hard time adequately articulating it. One need look no further than in movies and TV to see the inherently different ways that single parentdom is presented, and likewise how it is perceived by the population as a whole.

I’ve watched enough lifetime movies to know that men that cheat on their wives are the lowest form of cad on the planet. I suppose the cheating husband is one of the accepted villains in modern society. But in popular fiction the cheating female is almost never portrayed in such a negative light. Often, cheating on their spouse is a sign of how empowered the woman is and serves to show how inadequate the man is. Even when the cuckolded husband is presented in a positive light, it’s almost universally played for laughs when the wife is cheating on him and is equally universally accepted as a sign of his inadequacy as a partner. Worse still, the man is often expected to “man up” so he can earn the respect of his estranged other back. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a movie that suggested a woman should adjust her attitude and do her very best to earn her man back before the credits roll, and just as well since this is a patently absurd and immature idea of what it means to be in a relationship.

As much as marital infidelity on the woman’s part is played for laughs in movies (Crazy Stupid Love, Last Boy Scout, and Me Myself and Irene spring to mind) the one thing that goes completely unaddressed in a majority of serious movies about the subject is the abject horror felt by a man who is suddenly single and separated from his family and his home. Interestingly, this idea crops up in genre fiction more often than it doesn’t, precisely, I suspect for the reason that men have a difficult time presenting the idea any other way.

What am I talking about? Think of a few movies about Dad’s separated from their children. Robocop. Spawn. Mrs Doubtfire. The Santa Clause. What do they all have in common? In each and every one of them, the father is entirely consumed by a new identity that thoroughly obliterates his old persona and leaves him feeling isolated. Alex Murphy’s body is horribly maimed and he wakes up trapped inside a robotic shell, with only brief flashes of his old life to occupy him in his new “life”. Al Simmon’s separation from his family is a literal Hell, where he becomes a pawn of Satan for the express purpose of coming home and realizing his wife has since moved on from him and settled down with another man (his best friend) and his daughter doesn’t even know who he is. Robin Williams’ character Daniel is forced to impersonate an unattractive older woman just to spend time with his children, giving up his dignity and making questionable decisions in the process. Tim Allen’s character in the Santa Clause likewise finds himself going through an unfavorable transformation that Jeopardizes his ability to see his son.

What all these characters have in common (besides their completely unnatural transformations) is that in order to become worthy men again, they must first be torn down to nothing and built back up from scratch. Interestingly, though none of the above characters end up back together with their families by the end of their respective stories, they all become heroic (or at least respectable) in the eyes of their children.

That’s the hardest part for a single father who’s world sort of marches on without them. Learning to respect yourself again in a world that treats you, however gently at times, like the whole situation is your fault. We dream up these worlds where we become Cyborgs or Superheroes or even Santa Clause himself in an effort to be worthy of our place as providers and protectors. We see ourselves as hideous and misshapen and lost, but secretly hope that we still have the strength to be good fathers and maybe whole people again.

Taxes for people who can’t do math.

It never ceases to amaze me when people walk into the liquor store where I am employed and throw down easily my weeks allowance on lottery tickets and scratchers. Many of these people look like they don’t have two nickles to rub together and yet still won’t hesitate to fork over enough money to pay for a week or two of groceries on gambling.

One of the things that gets me the most is the “system” that most of the people have for what constitutes a “good” or “bad” ticket. I’ll spend innumerable minutes of my day reading off the corner numbers of dozens of tickets because “everybody knows” the winners are never  right at the beginning or end of a roll (my most recent big winner was the last ticket in a roll, but more on that later). The tickets with a thin white border between them always indicate that one or the other is a winner (also patently false. I actually tested this one myself). I get frequently asked which tickets are paying out the best, and I often fight the urge to point out that scratcher tickets are like a game of Candy Land: The winners are decided the instant the game begins and no amount of luck or system of measurement can tell you which tickets are winners short of actually buying one and seeing if it’s a winner. It’s sort of a gamble…

The customers who come in and don’t buy a ticket baffle me as much as the ones who dump half their paycheck into gambling on a bi-weekly basis. As confusing as this sounds, consider if you will, the customer who comes in asks what the Powerball jackpot is currently, then dismissively says that they’re not going to waste their two dollars on a potential jackpot of only forty million dollars. Only. Half the people who dismiss the forty million dollar jackpot look like forty dollars and a hot meal would do them some good. On the other hand, maybe it is in their best interest not to waste what little money they have gambling. For one, they now have more money to waste on their vice of choice and two, in the unlikely event that they won the Powerball, they would more than likely be dead soon after anyway, since for many of them, the only thing keeping them from completely subsuming themselves in vice is the fact that they can only afford so much each week.

A closing anecdote:

One of my regular customers, a well dressed, somewhat quiet old man, comes in on a semi regular basis and spends what can only be described as a somewhat excessive amount of money on top dollar scratcher tickets. No exaggeration, I’ve seen the man drop over five hundred dollars in one trip and walk out looking for all the world like he couldn’t figure out where his money had gone. It’s only fair to point out that this gentleman has hit several large jackpots in the past, but even the largest I ever saw him win hardly covers what he spends on tickets. In any case, this gentleman came into the store last week and proceeded to drop almost 200 dollars on ten and twenty dollar tickets before finally tapping himself out and walking dejectedly out of the store. He returned a moment later, happily proclaiming that he’d found a hundred dollar bill in the parking lot. Naturally, he took this amazing stroke of luck…and promptly spent it on more tickets saying it was a sign that it was “his lucky day”. After a losing streak he bought the last ticket in the roll (the one that’s never a winner) with his last ten dollars and promptly won one hundred dollars. He walked out with the cash without much fanfare and quietly confirmed many suspicions I’ve long held about the nature of the mechanics of the universe….

Star Trek Into Darkness Review

Before it’s release in 2009, J.J. Abrams Star Trek was a already polarizing fans with it’s radical departures from the series canon, many brought about by changes in the timeline caused by the film’s main villain Nero (Eric Bana) and his unexpected intrusion into the timeline established by the seminal 1960s television series. While reactions were somewhat mixed leading up to the movie’s release, the film was a smashing success and while there are still detractors, it has largely been accepted as an epic re-imagining of the series that met with  high accolades from critics and fans alike.

The release of this sequel in 2013 was met with somewhat more enthusiasm by fans, and while the film is undeniably an action packed extravaganza, I’m left wondering what the future of this franchise holds for long term fans of Star Trek.

Though I found the movie exciting and engaging, the way the characterization is handled continues to put a bit of a crimp in what would otherwise be a pretty thoroughly enjoyable movie experience.

But let’s start with the good. Karl Urban, though he’s given less to do in this movie than the last outing, continues to show that he has a deep appreciation for the character of Dr McCoy and plays the good doctor to a tee in every scene he’s in, easily shifting gears between grumpy country doctor, concerned friend, and even slick ladies man at one point. Urban’s performance was a highlight for many in the first film, and he continues to not disappoint here. Likewise, though he has little significant screentime this time around, John Cho continues to impress with his understated delivery as Hikaru Sulu, the Enterprise’s resident jack of all trades who like his counterpart from the earlier series and films seems equally at ease piloting a shuttle, acting as a helmsman, a scientist, and even captaining the ship when the need arises. Cho’s presence always takes centerstage when he’s onscreen, and he rarely overstays his welcome

The rest of the characters, though entertaining enough for the type of film it is, end up being either thinly drawn caricatures of their former selves, or completely mis-characterized. Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk come off more like a Zapp Brannigan type parody of the character of Kirk than an alternate interpretation of the character. Kirk’s zeal and brashness is shown here as being an almost reckless stupidity on many occasions and his suave personality is retooled into being a caddish skirt chaser. While it hardly derails the film, it certainly seems like a far cry to what was originally a layered approach to a character that is one of the most legendary in science fiction.

Likewise, while he physically looks the part, Zachary Quinto’s Spock acts more like an android in line with Next Generation’s Data than the conflicted, but ultimately supremely confident Vulcan that Leonard Nimoy portrayed originally, a shift in character made all the more jarring by the presence of Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime, who acts more in line with the original characterization of Spock. Here Spock spends most of the movie being almost confrontationally obtuse before having moments of rage that while not out of character for Spock, seem to be delivered more to set certain plot elements into motion ather than to be a commentary on the character.

Zoe Saldna’s Uhura exists soley to be Spock’s overly concerned girlfriend and is startlingly less progressive than her counterpart from over forty years ago who despite being very thinly characterized (the original Uhura didn’t even have a first name) still managed to seem very confident and self assured in all of her appearances in the series and films.

Rounding out the cast, Simon Pegg plays Scotty as a bit of hysterically over the top comic relief character in stark contrast to his original portrayal as a supremely confident engineer who was occasionally played for laughs when he would drunkenly brawl or be over protective of “his” ship. Anton Yelchin is given so little to do as Chekov that he didn’t even have a substantial presence in the film’s marketing, and the filmmakers seem content to make him run around looking nervous and stuttering like a Russian version of Winnie the Pooh’s Piglet.

Despite all of this though, the films breakneck pace, exciting and well done action sequences (particularly the very Sielbergian opening chase) and continued commitment to tell a very entertaining and satisfying Space Opera have made it a hit and won over even skeptical fans like myself. I only hope that with the next installment (and there will almost certainly be a next installment) that a little more care is taken at the script stage to ensure that we can have more great character moments to go with the breathtaking set pieces the series is now becoming known for.