Just my imagination, running away with me

Once: Cracked Magazine online.  I clicked on the link because it said “Fonts.”  That’s the only reason.

I’m a font hound.  On the old blog, I once critiqued the various contestants of that year’s American Idol by assigning them fonts.  One of my favorite Internet memories involves a long comment thread (long-lost, alas) where the various participants took turns telling various typefaces to sod off.  It was surreal and brilliant.  “Trebuchet, who the hell do you think you are?”  And people were serious, and then laughing about taking it seriously, so it became the perfect storm of inspired nonsense.

So I went for it on the Cracked Mag thing, and it was mostly funny… save one dig, to the effect that religion kills imagination.

It’s the sort of joke that puts a believer in a “heads I win, tails you lose” position.  Protest, however mild, means you “can’t take a joke.”  Laughter, however mild, means that you’re giving a little ground to the zietgeist.  Ever-so-little, ever-so-well-meaning, ’cause you don’t want to look uptight or straight-laced.

They revisit the topic later with a church flyer.  Was it faith that made the thing so ugly-looking, as the author claims?  I’m more inclined to think that it was because it was the early days of the Internet, and a lot of people knew jack-all about web design.  I’m also inclined to think that a church may not have the funds to get some graphic design advice from someone in the trade, so they just had a member toss it together in-house.  Somewhere below that on the list comes, “We’re more interested in the actual content of the program than the flyer itself,” and that is a thought that is not really faith-specific.  I’ve seen plenty of homemade flyers for college groups that were equally-ugly.  Only if I already believed that “faith ≠ imagination” could I conclude that the beliefs of the group were the direct cause of the flier’s homely appearance.

Now, I did take that particular bit out-of-context, but only to make it clearer.  We’re really being asked to make a huge jump here, and with enough contrary examples throughout history to cast serious doubt on the wisdom of the assumption.

Twice: ESPN.com.  A little puff-piece on an “action sports athlete” named Gretchen Bleiler.

(“Action” sports?  Football and hockey have no action?)

Bleiler, it turns out, loves the camera and for her it was a perfect opportunity to promote the product.  Good for her.  (As for Holga… well, click to get a gander at “Team Holga” there on the sidebar.  They have a “near-fanatical following of professionals, educators and artists,” but they’re only going to show you a certain demographic thereof.  Some imagination, amiright?)

Where things get sketchy for me is the quote from Bleiler in the ESPN piece, and the follow-up from the reporter:

Bleiler helped come up with the camera design. She came up with the color scheme, the font style, the lettering and even put her own handwritten inscription on the bottom: “Every single one of us has the unique opportunity to create awareness and influence change.”

And that’s what’s Bleiler is all about. [sic] In fact, Holga is donating a percentage of all sales to Protect Our Winters, a nonprofit environmental organization.

First off – fonts are cool.  Second off – what exactly does that mean?  “Every single one of us has the unique opportunity to create awareness and influence change.”  It’s like saying, “Every single one of us has the unique opportunity to see sights and say noises.”  Awareness of WHAT?  Change WHAT?  Influence HOW?  It’s so astoundingly vague as to be meaningless.  But it doesn’t stop the author of saying, “that’s what Bleiler is all about.”  Third off – it sounds more like that’s what Holga is about, since they’re the ones donating a cut of the sales to a nonprofit.

So, really – what about imagination again?  Is the best that the poor girl can come up with that gaseous nonsense?  It can’t be, and I suspect this result is not through any failing of raw brain power.  It’s more of a failure of will.  I mean, if I was inspired to use my unique opportunity to create awareness by influencing change – and the result was buying a failing ski resort and logging the trees on the property – would Bleiler or Holga approve?  Extremely unlikely.  But why not then write something like, “Everyone has the opportunity to preserve our natural resources.”  Or better, “Everyone ought to protect the beauty of nature.”  Because by taking a definitive stand, you are automatically saying a few things: that you have a reason, that you are ready to give that reason, that it is well-supported.  Even if other people disagree with you (and even if they have a well-supported reason), this is your position and you believe in it.

In other words, lack of faith is a destroyer of imagination.  It’s the utter absence of conviction that leads someone to concoct such an empty motto that can not possibly be disagreed with.  It’s simply assumed that the belief of the reader coincides with that of the writer, and becomes a way to approve of each other (and thus the unspoken belief) rather than communicate any real knowledge or content – and communication is the very essence of imagination.  What we have above is just a way to avoid using your mind.  Nobody can ask you to defend what you think when they can’t tell what you think.

Which, sadly, brings us to three times: the Bishop’s Annual Appeal.  The theme here in the Diocese of Trenton is “Go Teach,” because the essence of Catholicism is bound up in teaching the faith to others.  And the small presentation made an excellent point of it – starting with an actual schoolteacher, and moving through people in all sorts of other fields, making the point that lived faith is a light to others in every walk of life.  “I teach – through service.”  “I teach – through sports.”  “I teach – through instruction.”  “I teach – through ministry.”  Etc.

But not once did I hear, “I teach – through imagination.”  And that really frustrated me.

Remember that small point that I was unwilling to yield above?  It’s the small landing point from which an entire invasion is launched, and the stakes are the kingdom of the imagination.  Give an inch, and it sooner or later leads to meekly striking our colors in the face of useless claptrap such as in item number two.  One thing we cannot do as believers is to simply quit the field because other people presume that we have no place in that fight.  Some of the mightiest works of imagination in history are testaments to faith: great cathedrals, epic poems, classics of painting and sculpture and literature.  God came to inspire and perfect, and imagination is one of our readiest means of inspiration.  If we fail to do so, it isn’t because we’re believers, but because on some level, we are losing our conviction in that belief and as a result, supplying the world with gaseous nonsense of our own.

Given the choice, a lot of people are going to reject the gaseous nonsense that comes with a lot of rules about sex and drugs and prayers and other people’s stuff, in favor of the gaseous nonsense that merely flatters them.  And a lot of those people are the ones who are nominally in the Church, but have decided to toss aside the difficult teachings along with the lack of conviction.  And why shouldn’t they?  If the conviction that underpins both imagination and rules is gone, then there’s no point to keeping either.  We can be vague self-flatterers without the bother of a church or a god.  It reminds me a lot of Bender’s protest in Futurama, when he’s kicked out of the theme park on the moon: “I’m gonna build my own theme park – with booze! And hookers! In fact, forget about the theme park!”

Perhaps it’s more apt of me to quote someone else, author Rita Mae Brown: “Art is moral passion married to entertainment.”  Not that there’s anything wrong with mere entertainment, or the occasional straight moral lesson.  Constantly hiding The Point behind every fun thing, or watering down every serious moral discussion with non-threatening chim-chim-cheree-ing, is a sure way to ruin both the serious and the fun.  But to neglect one or the other is a sure way to ruin ourselves.

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