March 29, 2017

February 9, 2014

“How am I gonna be an optimist about this?”

What’s with all the Pompeii stuff all of a sudden?  Here’s the trailer for the new big screen production due out this month:


I confess to less than high hopes.  I’m a big fan of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who was Simon Adebisi on one of my favorite HBO series, Oz. (For trivia nerds, that series also brought us Dean Winters as Ryan O’Reily, but you know him better as Allstate’s “Mayhem.”) Sadly, Akinnuoye-Agbaje seems to be yet another Black gladiator sidekick, following Woody Strode in Spartacus and Djimon Hounsou in Gladiator.

These Ancient Rome melodramas seem to sample one another without shame.  The trailer for the upcoming Pompeii instantly conjured scenes from Spartacus (watch for the trailer’s spear-hurled-from-the-arena-at-the-bad-guy-in-the-luxury-box-seats, then see this) and of course Gladiator.  And there’s always the eye candy couple, with all the dungeons, chains, armor, leather and other hints of S&M, B&D or some other combo from VGR’s alphabet.

I’m afraid that the film looks to be another exercise in marketing to The Young People.  Plot stuff snipped from earlier films, stock characters, hot YA couple trying to find a place to hook up while the messy world interferes, and most of all lots and lots of computer generated stuff.

Still, I have to admit that Pompeii fascinates.  I enjoyed Robert Harris’ 2003 historical fiction, which ran closer to Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People than to Hollywood gladiator drag.  (Yeah, I know, Jaws basically riffed on Ibsen.)  Harris used a fictional manager of Pompeii’s water system to lead readers into the sensuality, corruption and violence of the doomed city, and through its destruction.

That said, what else is there to say about Pompeii?  I mean there’s lots of sex, against a backdrop of Roman decadence, political corruption and lurking doom.  That’s going to be the content of any book or movie about the place.  Well, that and a bunch of CGI in the movies.

Then there’s a hit song called “Pompeii.”  It’s become my “can’t get it out of my head” song of the moment.  Here’s the music video,

This I like.  The video uses my hometown of L.A. as a backdrop, but the lyrics were composed as an imagined conversation between two of old Pompeii’s toasted inhabitants.  (You can read the lyrics at the link).

I think the song, coincidentally on the charts as the Pompeii movie (no relation) looms, suggests why the famous disaster is always interesting and currently in focus.  A modern city provides the visual for words evoking the historic catastrophe.  It can happen again, and that isn’t just a function of natural cycles.  There are moral and even supernatural forces in play.  As the voice-over intones in the Pompeii trailer, the vain and wicked city was “in the shadow of a greater power.”

Historic Pompeii always gets people thinking, “Bad Karma.”  The uptight upright see it as divine wrath for all the sexual license celebrated in the art and graffiti of the excavated ruins.  Others, such as novelist Harris, point up the decadent rich and their exploitation of those beneath them.  The new movie emphasizes the great evil of the mean old guy who wants to take the hot girl away from the hard body gladiator she loves with all her heart.  There’s always a sense that Pompeii had it coming.  It’s like Sodom and Gomorrah for folks who don’t want to admit to that Old Testament God stuff.

The music video up above doesn’t shy from the moral intuition,

...We were caught up and lost in all of our vices
In your pose as the dust settles around us

And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above…

...Oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?
Oh where do we begin?
The rubble or our sins?

I think we all know that we’re in a decadent culture with corrupt institutions.  I think everybody senses it.  Occupy Wall Street emerged from that intuition.  The Tea Party is a reaction to it.  The fact that the counties around the imperial capital in DC are among the nation’s richest bears witness to it.  The Disney conveyer belt of kid stars turned soft porn pros is evidence; so is frenzied political action over sexual identities and fetishes while the growing national police state is ignored.  You can fill in your own examples - you might wonder if there’s a volcano rumbling in the background, too.

Like the song says,

How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

I’m not optimistic about the nation.  I’m old school in believing that representative government depends upon people with shared values and virtues.  Those are in short supply, like propane in this long winter here on the Northern Plains.  But as a follower of Jesus, I am optimistic about a future that transcends the world’s stuff,

“Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:10-13



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I’ve been to Pompeii.  I wouldn’t own real estate there today, with Vesuvius still looming so close.  But you’re right, Fr. Timothy.  We have a Vesuvius lurking, ready to destroy us.  It’s the kind we can’t see.

[1] Posted by Katherine on 2-10-2014 at 01:15 PM · [top]

Love this line, Tim:

There’s always a sense that Pompeii had it coming.  It’s like Sodom and Gomorrah for folks who don’t want to admit to that Old Testament God stuff.

[2] Posted by Sarah on 2-10-2014 at 01:31 PM · [top]

I think it was in Archbishop Anthony Bloom (then again it might have been Hauerwas - bit of a contrast, huh?) that I encountered an aside about the significant difference between optimism and Hope.  Now it just won’t stop coming up.

[3] Posted by Daniel Muth on 2-13-2014 at 04:28 PM · [top]

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