Monday, November 12, 2012

Winona State Lecture on Nov. 14, 2012

I will be presenting as a part of Winona State University's Athenaeum Series at 1pm on November 14, 2012. The lecture is titled "Do Film Critics Matter?" and will be held on the second floor of the WSU Krueger Library. Here is the description of the lecture from the Athenaeum webpage:
Today film criticism finds itself at a crossroads. For most of the history of cinema, film criticism has been limited to a select few but with the advent of the internet, digital forces have democratized film criticism, flooding the market with new voices. And as digital sources erode print media, many film critics are finding themselves out of work. Simultaneously, films that are panned by both traditional and digital critics do extraordinarily well at the box office. This presentation will look at the change in film criticism and speculate on its value and function for the future.

Monday, November 05, 2012

On the 2012 Minnesota Marriage Amendment

Election Day 2012 is less than twenty-four hours away and while there are many offices to be filled and issues to be settled, here in Minnesota the topic that has dominated the debate is the proposed amendment to the state constitution that will define marriage as only existing between one man and one woman. To be clear, gay marriage is currently illegal in Minnesota and if the amendment fails it will still be illegal. All the marriage amendment will do is enshrine this policy into the state constitution and make it much more difficult to change in the future.
The debate over this amendment has been costly, intense, and passionate and at this point it is a crapshoot as to whether or not it will pass. However, given polling data and the history of success for amendments like this, supporters of the ballot initiative should be prepared for its passage. Yes, you read that correctly: supporters of the amendment, those who want to ban gay marriage, should steel themselves for success, because if it passes the coming backlash could get ugly.

It is important to point out that the support for the marriage amendment is really about opposition to gay marriage and this opposition is entirely rooted in religious, and particularly Christian, organizations. Among the amendment’s major financial supporters is the Minnesota Roman Catholic Church which contributed more than $1 million to the campaign; church leaders even wrote letters to the laity soliciting donations. The Minnesota Catholic Conference, dioceses outside of Minnesota, individual churches, and chapters of the Knights of Columbus have also pledged support. Other organizations supporting the amendment include Minnesota Pastors for Marriage, the Minnesota Family Council and Minnesota for Marriage. All of these organizations, either directly or implicitly, frame the case for the amendment in religious terms. If there is a non-religiously-based argument to be made on behalf of the marriage amendment, I have not been able to find it and it certainly has not been part of the popular discourse.

The advocates of this amendment have so thoroughly seized the religious lectern that they have overwhelmed any dissenting religious voices. Even though some religious leaders have opposed the ballot measure (see here, here, and here), religion has been inexorably tied to the amendment’s rationale as though it were decreed by Jesus himself. (Note: It wasn’t. Jesus had nothing to say about gay marriage or homosexuality for that matter.) In short, if the marriage amendment passes, the religious community of Minnesota will have to own it and that means reaping the consequences. When Proposition 8 was passed in California there was a rash of vandalism against Mormon churches. Let me be clear: I do not condone this behavior. Vandalism and activities like it are unconstructive, unfortunate, and stupid but such violent outbursts are also understandable when one’s humanity is denigrated by second class citizenship.

If the marriage amendment passes, the more serious blowback that religious organizations had better prepare themselves for will not manifest itself as vandalism or threats. It won’t manifest itself at all. The reality is that church attendance and religious affiliation are in free fall and the younger generations—Generation X, the Millennials, and generations to come—support gay marriage in droves. This fight over gay marriage, a fight that did not have to be fought but the religious leadership picked anyway, will not improve or preserve heterosexual marriages nor will it strengthen the religious character of the state or the nation. All it will do is drive a wedge in between the church and the younger laity that will cut so deep that religious organizations may never recover from it.

America’s religious leadership hasn’t yet wrapped its head around the idea that the public has figured out that they can live their lives without religion, that they can walk out on their relationship with their church and even their god, especially if they are forced into a choice between supporting their loved ones or supporting an organization that spends its money fighting their loved ones. That failure by those in the hierarchy of American religious life, whatever denomination they might be a part of, has become the defining feature of religious life in America today. And should the Minnesota marriage amendment pass, it may be the decisive insult with which America’s religious leaders finally and permanently drive the youth out of their churches, thereby ensuring their own self destruction.

So go ahead and vote yes. I dare you.