Click here to
March 27, 2008
Click Here to Order!
Return to Home Page Return to Old Archive Home Page Doctrine, Scripture, Morality, Vocation, Community Identity, Sexuality, Family, Healing, Work Art, Ideas, Technology, Science, Business Politics, Bioethics, Ecology, Justice, Peace Spirituality, Prayers, Poems, and Witness Archive of top news from around the web Columns, Reviews and Personal Essays What is Godspy?
faith article
The Unbearable Reality of Love: The Passion of The Christ, by John Zmirak
In this film we see with unbearable clarity how Jesus descended into the personal Hell each of us carries around - and purged it clean.

November 5th: Guy Fawkes Day - Go Out with a Bang by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak
Every Nov. 5th the English celebrate the day in 1605 that Catholic conspirator Guy Fawkes and friends—a group we might call Al-Chiesa—tried and failed to blow up Parliament. This year marks the 400th anniversary. There's no reason Catholics can't enjoy it too—albeit giving it a bit of a twist.

The Transfiguration: Trinkets on Mt Tabor, by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak
The Transfiguration reminds us that God left the apostles with no excuse for doubt. The Father spelled things out, as if to ask, “What part of ‘THIS IS MY SON’ don't you understand?”

Top Ten Things for Mediocre Catholics to Give Up for Lent, by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak
Did your Lenten penances get lost in the desert? On April 1st, here are one bad Catholic’s ideas for making Holy Week suitably grim.

Celebrating ‘All Hallow’s Eve’: The Seven Deadly Courses, by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak
This Halloween recall the festival's sacred roots by dressing as your favorite soul in purgatory and serving up these seven deadly courses.

Fathers, Sons, Feuds and Myths: An interview with Alexander Waugh
"Alexander believes that the banana story was true: 'He was a very greedy little boy, and he definitely would have remembered the bananas and he definitely would have resented them. But my point in the book is that you cannot trust the testimony of a very greedy jam tart thief, who would rather have a jam tart than meet his father.'"  [Telegraph]

Interview with Stephen Fry
"'I would, in a sense, not hold my hand up to being a full artist. I think there are artists with a capital 'A.' There are people who are utterly uncompromising. I'm much more of an entertainer. I like to engage and to provoke. I certainly don't want to be formulaic.'" [Onion]

Kinsey and Me, by John Zmirak
'Kinsey' distorts history, and makes a lousy date movie, too. The whole idea of eros as a 'science of pleasure' is cold and calculating—and not very sexy.

Pentecost: Because Fire is Cool, by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak
We like to celebrate the birthday of the Church with fire, fancy, and foreigners…Try these flambé recipes and risky (if not quite risqué) games.

The President and the Pope: Reading the Signs of the Times, by John Zmirak
Ronald Reagan and Pope John  Paul II shared more than a distaste for communism. They shared an ability to read the signs of the times and act accordingly.

Click here to buy the movie...
Click here to see the video!
Click here to buy!
Click to buy at Amazon.com
Click here to buy!

Dark Young Thoughts

For all his cultural libertinism, director Stephen Fry imbues his new film, 'Bright Young Things'— an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s 'Vile Bodies'— with more of a Christian spirit than Waugh’s pre-Catholic novel ever had.

Stephen Fry's 'Bright Young Things'

My name isn't hard to pronounce, but my nephews call me Uncle Niles, from TV's Frazier. The hit series was loved for many reasons, from its actors' sterling performances to the writers' surgical wit, but the most interesting thing about the show was the relationship between the erudite, even effete Crane brothers, and their rough-hewn father—a retired cop. He loved baseball games, pork rinds and bawdy jokes; they sampled gourmet cheeses, bickered about aperitifs, and bought season opera tickets. Poppa Crane must have asked himself the same question my parents did: "Did we bring home the wrong kid from the hospital?"

I'm sure millions of Americans identified with Frazier because they, too, experienced a cultural chasm in their family between working-class parents and overeducated kids. That's certainly what my father, the letter-carrier, thought when he caught me viewing Brideshead Revisited on PBS. As he put it bluntly, "What are you doing watching a bunch of queers?" I explained that he was mistaken—these characters were English, so they all just seemed that way. (I discovered, after re-reading the novel more carefully, and watching the show again with a less ingenuous eye, that dad was on to something....)

When Waugh was asked how a Catholic could be so downright mean, he replied sincerely: “Well, imagine how much worse I’d be if I weren’t Catholic.”
I never had a brother like Frazier. I was (and remain) the only member of my family who's "weird" like that. No, I don't mean gay—or even what they now call "metrosexual" (the old, and better word for this was "dandy"). In Queens in the 70s and 80s, you didn't need to be sexually confused, artsy, or even dapper to gain a reputation as a "freak." And you still don't. It's enough that you listen to classical music sometimes, prefer history to soccer, and are seen in public holding a book.

It never helps matters much if that book is by Evelyn Waugh. At my third-tier Catholic high school (think "public school" minus the stabbings and the careful attention to Church doctrine), in a stroke of luck or Providence, some well-meaning nun had, back in the 1960s, stocked up on the complete works of Waugh, probably because she'd heard somewhere that he was a "good Catholic author." I suspect she never read any of his work, or she'd have seen that Waugh was not quite what he seemed. Yes, he did convert in early adulthood, and his newfound faith imbued the fiction and essays he wrote after that. But these books were far from the inspirational, uplifting stories that Sister Redempta might have imagined. Because while grace builds on nature, it doesn't replace it—and Waugh's nature was that of a misanthropic, acid elitist. (Exactly what I needed at the time.)

Waugh detested both the Protestant aristocracy and the Irish-descended Catholic middle class. To do him justice, he never made fun of the poor; in fact, he never gives evidence that he noticed their existence. In private life, he was known to suffer long periods of black depression, interrupted by occasional expeditions into "society," where he'd invariably insult or offend someone important, before retreating to his country home to afflict his wife, tyrannize his children and refuse visitors. His son, Auberon, remembers how during post-war rationing, his family was permitted three bananas a week, one for each child: "They were put on my father's plate, and before the anguished eyes of his children he poured on cream, which was almost unprocurable, and sugar, which was heavily rationed, and ate all three. From that moment, I never treated anything he had to say on faith or morals very seriously."

When asked (by someone he'd offended) how a Catholic could be so downright mean, he replied sincerely: "Well, imagine how much worse I'd be if I weren't Catholic." Now there's a defense of the Faith I can heartily endorse. In his post-conversion books, Waugh harnessed his misanthropic sensibility to the critique of shallow sensualism, political corruption, Puritanism, anti-Catholicism, capitalism, and socialism. And he usually took the time to work in some reflection on the possibility for redemption, however faint, which resides within the soul infused by Grace. Sometimes he seemed to allow for this only with reluctance, so that his books often seem like the stories of Flannery O'Connor, except not quite so upbeat.

Waugh’s books were far from the inspirational, uplifting stories that Sister Redempta might have imagined.
Of course, I ate all this stuff up—reading Brideshead Revisited five times while still in high school, and using my savings from work as a doorman to buy clothes that I'd seen in the TV miniseries. As a socially isolated young snob-in-training, sniffing disdainfully at my peerswho really did resemble the cast members of That 70s Show—I devoured Waugh's books, one after another, like a stoner with the munchies. One of my favorites was Waugh's second novel, and one of his meanest, written just after his first wife abandoned him but before he accepted the Faith: Vile Bodies, which has just been adapted for film under the title Bright Young Thingsreleased by Icon Productions, the production company Mel Gibson started to make The Passion of the Christ.

This novel, one of Waugh's most experimental in form, depicts the "smart set" of 1930s England on their road to self-destruction, through a round of increasingly rampant parties which reflect the soullessness of the world they'd inherited. In it, as in the film, figures of traditional authority such as aristocrats, clergy, intellectuals and opinion-makers are exposed as shallow frauds; the young hedonists who mock them and flout their social codes, while justified in rejecting such fakery, offer no solution, but seek simply to bury themselves in giddy gratification. The hero complains of having to attend

"Masked parties, Savage parties, Victorian parties, Greek parties, Wild West parties, Russian parties, Circus parties, parties where one had to dress as somebody else, almost naked parties in St. John's wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and nightclubs, in windmills and swimming baths, tea parties at school where one ate muffins and meringues and tinned crab, parties at Oxford where one drank brown sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull dances in London and comic dances in Scotland and disgusting dances in Paris-all that succession and repetition of massed humanity...Those vile bodies...."

Their drunken, sex and drug-addled spree ends predictably in destruction—on the battlefields of another, more terrible war than the "Great" one they were trying to forget.

In the film (but not the book) suffering and deprivation appear as potentially redemptive.
Stephen Fry, an accomplished actor (he played Jeeves in BBC's Wodehouse adaptations) and comic novelist, took on Waugh's work as his first directing project, and he's done a masterful job. He tells the story of Adam Symes (Stephen Campbell Moore), who treasures a sincere if unexamined love for Nina Blount (Emily Mortimer)one of the brightest stars to ornament London's postwar party scene. But from the beginning it's clear that the two can't be married unless he comes into money. A seemingly capricious Providence regularly dangles before him the money he'd need, only to snatch it out of his hands in a serious of hilarious reversals of fortune that provide the spine of the film's spare plot. Indeed, the figure in the film who seems to embody God—since he holds the key to Adam's earthly salvationis the "Drunken Major" (Jim Broadbent), who comes and goes at regular intervals, makes promises he never quite fulfills, and frequently forgets Adam's name.

This is God as He might appear to an embittered young man recently deserted by his wife. After he came to faith Waugh's dour outlook helped him adopt an other-worldly view of things; he was well-equipped to see futility in terrestrial attempts at human happiness, and looked deep within the suffering he found everywhere for a redemptive meaningthe Cross.

The great delight of the film is in the dialogue and the performances, which are uniformly entertaining—or as the Brits would say, "spot on." We learn to like, even care for these callow, thoughtless youths, trying hard to breath in a moral vacuum. The most hilarious scene in the film comes when Mrs. Ape, a huckster evangelist backed by a choir of busty "angels," delivers a hellfire sermon at a madcap party to which she was inexplicably invited, and leads her angels in a hymn that's pants-wettingly funny, including lines such as "Jesus, he's our man/he don't take no crap." To numb himself to this theological horror, we see an old aristocrat purloin cocaine from one of the bright young thingsthis is simply more than he can take.

I won't give the ending away, but I'd point out that for all his cultural libertinism (he's openly gay), Stephen Fry imbues the film with more of a Christian spirit than Waugh's novel ever had. We witness hospital nuns tending the sick, performing the only altruistic acts which appear on screen. In the film (but not the book) suffering and deprivation appear as potentially redemptivewhile suicides and nervous breakdowns are depicted as genuinely tragic, not grimly amusing. Even the shallowest characters are presented as more human and forgivable than the pre-Catholic Waugh portrayed them—as if Fry were reading back into this early work the faith which eventually would give its author a glimmer of hope for this fallen world, shining through from the next.  

September 25, 2004

John Zmirak is editor of Choosing the Right College and author of the upcoming "A Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living" (Crossroad, 2005).

All rights reserved.

Email A Friend
09.26.04   alexander caughey says:
That snobs are still indicative of all that society can produce to reveal its vulgar and unattractive form of expressing human behaviour at its most unappealing, must also suggest that there is an attraction for all who would view Evelyn Waugh's characters as all that we care not to be and yet find ourselves drawn to their decadent and selfish expression of the worst in human relationships. That today we are surrounded by the reincarnation of these paragons of virtue-less and self destructive creatures of self delight, as expressed in those of us who would see the worst in all whose only crime was to fail to find love in those whose own lack of love for others was matched by their indifference to the needs of all human beings in need of love. Exchange those frightfully irritating English upper class accents for any other accent and there will be found the epitome of all that discourages us from doing more than feel disgust at their behaviour of all that is them being at their worst. Familiar, or are the decadent only to be found speaking with English accents, in-habiting the grand houses of Evelyn Waugh's novels?

09.26.04   Godspy says:
For all his cultural libertinism, director Stephen Fry imbues his new film, 'Bright Young Things'— an adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel 'Vile Bodies'— with more of a Christian spirit than Waugh’s novel ever had.

Click to buy at Amazon.com!
Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Advertise | About Us