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Pictures at a Revolution

One pauses before assigning too much significance to the voting patterns of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. After all, this is the estimable organization that deemed Doctor Dolittle worthy of a Best Picture nomination in 1967. Yet sometimes the academys choices reflect the national mood in a unique way. Take 1967, a year in which the academy also nominated The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, Guess Whos Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night, which took home the prize. Watch those filmsthe subject of Mark Harriss recent book, Pictures at a Revolutionand you will get a good sense of the sexual and racial politics of American society at the time.

Now take a look at 2007. The Best Picture nominees included a morality tale about the awakening of conscience of a corporate lawyer (Michael Clayton), an exploration of the American drive to wealth and its devastating consequences (There Will Be Blood) and a parable about the persistence of evil (the eventual winner, No Country for Old Men). Junothe story of a pregnant teenwas decidedly lighter fare, but succeeded in skewering both pro-life and pro-choice sentiment. So what put filmmakers in such a somber, contrarian mood? Perhaps it was demoralization brought on by the lengthy war in Iraq. Or maybe it was the poisonous rhetoric of the culture wars, which has left a younger generation of artists tired of the same old bromides. It is too early to say, of course. Only with time will the tremors that roil us now emerge as cracks and fissures that we can examine clearly.

Erudite and Exuberant

William F. Buckley Jr.s death in late February deprived the nation and American Catholics of an erudite, exuberant and often truculent pontificator on American political and religious life. Obituaries detailed the more famous of his many contretemps over the decades, but one of his lesser-known verbal battles involved this magazine. Criticizing John XXIIIs 1961 encyclical on economic development, Mater et Magistra, Buckley riffed on a popular anti-Castro slogan of the time in the pages of National Review: Going the rounds in Catholic circles: Mater sí, Magistra, no!

To some of us, Americas editors responded, it has always been extremely difficult to tell just what Mr. Buckleys conservatism was trying to conservelines spoken to the Pope just shouldnt sound like lines pitched at the editors of the New York Post, and they reminded Buckley of an old, old conservative adage: Qui mange du pape, en meurt (roughly: He who takes a bite out of the pope dies of it.) Barbs flew back and forth over several months, during which time one subscriber wrote in to America to say: Cancellation, sí! Refund, sí!

In a personal letter to the editor of America, Buckley defended his position but added: I take no objection to your denouncing the flippancy as having been in imperfect taste. I am quite prepared to subject myself to the criticism of my elders on such matters. He also identified the real author of the Latin quip as a Catholic scholar in Virginia. Who was that? A former Jesuit, who had left the order four years earlier: Garry Wills.

Name That Child

What name do you give your child? With this question to the parents, the priest begins the Catholic rite of baptism. Years ago, one expected in response the name of a saint, like Mary or John. Today, the name may well reflect an entertainer or sports hero, like Jayden, Britney, Reagan, Ashley, Angelina and Kyle. The television show Greys Anatomy has helped make the names Addison, Isabelle, Bailey and Callie more popular. There seems to be a new spirit of creativity in giving names and, indeed, in spelling them. One person found 34 ways to spell Callieor is it Kallee?

In 2007 the most popular names given for boys were Jacob, Aidan, Ethan, Matthew, Nicholas and Joshua; for girls, Emily, Emma, Madison, Hannah and Hailey. Johnny Cash once sang of a A Boy Named Sue; now we hear from Tiger Woods of a girl named Samhis daughter, Sam Alexisbecause Tigers dad called him Sam.

True, according to canon law, a baptismal name need not be that of a saint. The only guideline is: Parents, sponsors and the pastor are to take care that a name foreign to Christian sensibililty is not given (No. 855). How different from many African traditions, in which the grandparents, not the parents, give the name. Names in Africa are very religious too, some with meanings like love of God or gift of God. In many African cultures, the day of the week on which you were born becomes part of your name. Elsewhere families choose a babys name from among the names of parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts. Connections with religious, cultural and family traditions definitely are becoming weaker. Different values are clearly at work in the choice of childrens names. If the Latin tag Nomen est omen (A name is an omen) is true, what future awaits?

Comments

Charles H. Helein | 3/7/2008 - 7:19pm
When will a Church that has lost its moral authority, if indeed it ever had any, when will "Catholics" deal with real issues and not with such superstitions as naming a child? Does it not say that there can be no new saints, St. Corey? This is the same as reading the Gospels over and over and the nonsensical letters of St. Paul every Sunday. I'll quit, it would take a thousand pages to begin to address how the heirarchy of the Church for at least the last 1000 years became the "New Parisees." The issue of naming a child being a most minor example of this truth as I see it.

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