About DBreitenbeck

David Breitenbeck is a professional freelance writer currently living in Southeast Michigan.

It Came From Rifftrax: ‘The Myths of Shoplifting’

This week’s offering takes us back to the affluent, synthesized world of the 1980s to learn the truth behind common misconceptions of shoplifting. Like most of these shorts, it’s actually makes a pretty good point, though while being melodramatic and heavy-handed, which makes for a good combination for the Rifftrax crew.

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“For instance, did you know that many security guards are actually deadly cyborgs?”

The short depicts a few different characters (only two of them are actually connected, which admittedly makes the short less contrived than it might otherwise have been if they all knew each other) as they experience the myths of shoplifting (“Is that the one where Hercules picks up a 7-11?”). Among these mythes are that no one gets caught, nothing happens if you do, it doesn’t hurt anyone, and so on. It’s actually rather effective despite the melodramatic tone. The bit where the kid’s parents are called to the store to pick him up does a particularly good job of conveying the discomfort of the situation. It’s followed by a nice bit of the boy telling his friend (who was trying to laugh the situation off) that the worst part was “I felt like a thief.” (“Wait, felt like a thief? You were a thief. Hey, come back here!”).

Incidentally, the boy is Black, the son of two obviously middle-class parents who lay into him when they find out he was stealing, taking the store’s side one hundred percent and pointing out that the kid had no excuse to be doing that. Race is a topic I tend to avoid, since I find it incredibly tedious and I think most of the rhetoric surrounding it is painfully stupid, but to dip in for the moment, it seems to me that this is the kind of thing you don’t see very often anymore. The kid is just presented as a kid; not as a representative of a social class bearing the weight of x, y, and z issues. Same thing with the young woman who loses out on a job when they find out she was picked up for shoplifting as a teenager (“Prepare to live a life haunted by scarves and calculators”). Meanwhile, several of the police and security guards on display are also Black, just mixed in with the other characters. And this is in an extremely casual, educational film from the 1980s (this tallies with my experience of other films of the era, which, by modern standards, were incredibly relaxed about race. They didn’t ignore it, but they tended to relegate it to a secondary issue at best, behind, well things like ethics and the storyline at hand. So…good job with that, intervening years).

Anyway, leaving that aside, this is one of those shorts that is interesting in itself, but very funny for the riffing. The guys glean a lot of humor from the unimpressive leads (“We’re going to turn you over to the Nerd Crimes division”) and the subject matter itself (“Tough place; I’d better tell my cellmate I stole a graphing calculator”). They have fun taking the melodrama to the extreme (“Skulls of the shoplifters are displayed as a reminder”) and on the idea that the merchandise is probably not even worth the effort to begin with. Overall, the humor complements the short very well, letting the message play through while turning it to comedy (“Do you offer a five finger discount?”). The short is competently done enough to be engaging (including giving a realistically stupid portrayal of rebellious teenagers, like when one kid is more excited about having been arrested than concerned about the effect it’ll have on his future), while the Riffers inject supporting humor throughout (“Alright; on to my embezzlement hearing!”).

In short, a fun, engaging little flick enlivened by strong riffing making for another solid short from Rifftrax.

It Came From Rifftrax: ‘Flying Stewardess’

This is one of those shorts that’s as fascinating as a window into the past as it is amusing. In this case, a look at air travel in the 1940s. I do not recommend watching this short just before taking a trip, as thinking of the roomy seating, tasty-looking four-course meals, and sleeper berths of the past may make you feel as though you’ve been badly cheated as you wedge yourself onto cramped seats in the packed, germ-ridden, thermostat-challenged tube that will be your world for the next six or seven hours.

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“There’s not a man on the wing of the plane! I just wanted to sound the all-clear on that.”

The short is the documentary of a young stewardess from the classroom to her first solo flight, covering quite a lot of ground (literally and figuratively) in about eleven minutes. Did you know that stewardesses of the era took classes on radio theory? I didn’t. Not to mention that planes of the era flew low enough that you could actually make out key sights on the ground, such as the skylines of major cities and even Niagara Falls (“Oh, my God, you’re taking us to Canada?! Let me off!”). We get a quick cross-country tour of the old America, which is pretty cool, to be honest, including my home-town of Detroit (gets a hilariously underwhelmed “Yay” from Bill).

Though the short itself is pretty interesting, it nevertheless provides lots and lots of good riffing material, from roasting each location in turn (upon arriving in Los Angeles: “The morning vomit has been hosed off the streets and it’s shining like a jewel!”) to the sometimes overblown narration (“No use articles here Chicago”) to just riffing on the passengers and the scenario in general (“I’m Bob Executive; which way is business?”). As usual, there are a few ‘sexist forties’ jokes, but not very many or very notable ones, and the riffing imagines the stewardesses abusing far more than being abused (“try not to snore like a breeder hog, will yah?”).

Air travel in general just lends itself to humor, especially from our perspective given how I don’t think anyone really likes the experience these days (“It’s like eating at ‘Denny’s’, but with a much smaller risk of death”). This short shows us that it, perhaps, wasn’t always like that. I was particularly fascinated by the look at the ‘sleeper’ flight, where face-to-face booths were made up into actual sleeping bunks like on a train car. It’s almost as though the passengers expected a comfortable and convenient flight and the airlines meant to oblige.

Of course, the problem with that is there’s clearly a much lower capacity on each flight, and no doubt they were proportionately much more expensive. It is, I suppose, a trade-off, though I can’t help wondering whether we’ve traded too far in the opposite direction. That’s a whole other issue, of course, but still, looking through this little keyhole into the not-too-distant past, it’s clear to me that we’ve lost something along the way.

Meanwhile, other highlights of the short include a look at the stewardesses on break time, where they keep fit by sailing (amusingly, they really look like they’re about to tip over at one point and there’s an abrupt jump-cut, making me think they had to pause filming for a moment to make sure no one went overboard). The narrator helpfully clarifies that, though most stewardesses marry within a few years, they do not typically marry pilots. Mike gets a great moment with a fussy baby, while Kevin delights in finding synonyms for the solo flight and sniggers when the narrator apparently joins in.

All in all, a very fun short providing a legitimately interesting look into a vanished world amid some solid riffing. Recommended, especially for those who like a little view into the past.

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“The captain thanks you for keeping the plane snake-free.”

Talking Strength at Catholic Match

Here’s one that was percolating in my mind for a while before I was able to put it up; discussing the concept of strength, some reasons men should seek to acquire it, and, as a byproduct, the contemporary tendency to prioritize comfortably ambiguous ideas of ‘inner strength’ over, you know, the kind you can’t fake.

This danger is to emphasize inner strength to the point of devaluing outer strength. We do the same thing with beauty. It seems we can hardly talk about either without tripping over ourselves to add that we mean primarily “inner” strength or “inner” beauty.

The problem with this is that inner strength is indeed a much more valuable quality than outer strength, but it is also a much more ambiguous one. Anyone who likes can claim that he has inner strength, just as anyone can claim that she has inner beauty, and there isn’t much anyone can do to disprove that.

Nothing is so common as to hear cowards talk about how much courage it took to run away, or degenerates wax lyrical about how brave they were to give into their lowest instincts. Like with school essay questions, it’s fatally easy to fudge the issue—particularly in today’s pluralistic culture—and twist anything and everything we do into an example of great virtue.

This is why it’s important to start with blunt facts, with developing ‘outer’ strength.

It may be lower, but it is also more honest. You can fudge on whether you are in fact a coward or a sincere pacifist, but you can’t fudge on whether that weight came off the ground or not.

Which, of course, is part of the point; not just that physical strength is valuable in itself, but that, like learning Latin or mathematics, it is uncompromising. Either the weight moves or it doesn’t. Either you run the whole mile or you don’t. There is no room for ambiguity, excuses, or uncertainty. Physical strength is an objective quality, meaning that it forces us to learn at least a little of the infinitely valuable skill of facing up to reality.

Read the rest here.

It Came From Rifftrax: ‘Courtesy: A Good Eggsample’

So, let’s do one from the ‘completely insane’ school of educational shorts.

This one is well-summed up by Kevin right out of the gate as “Batman villain Egghead’s brief foray into educational films.” That actually would make a lot more sense than the idea that this was seriously intended as an educational film.

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“I mean, we ordered up a thing for kids about courtesy; this is just a bunch of crap about eggs!”

Basically, it’s a stop-motion short about sentient eggs who, we are told, learn about courtesy. Mostly it just amounts to the antagonist Benedict being discourteous while protagonist Eggbert (“If your name is Eggbert, you’re pretty much required to wear a bowtie”) models courtesy to a much lesser extent. There’s little through line or thesis to it; Benedict is a jerk for most of the short, then falls off the slide and cracks (“Fry him up so we can feast on his innards!”), so Eggbert takes him to the nurse’s office, which somehow results in them becoming friends because Benedict has learned about courtesy (though very reluctantly, to gauge by his subsequent behavior).

See, the thing is, no one ever actually learns anything, despite Eggbert’s assertion to the contrary; we just see Benedict and a few others being discourteous, Benedict suffers an injury in part because of it, then he reluctantly behaves better. We’re never actually told what courtesy is, or how to show it, except for a since line where the teacher assures Benedict that, “if you show consideration for others, they’ll show consideration for you.” Something that is never demonstrated in the short, since Benedict is more or less just punished into being sort-of courteous, and Eggbert shows him consideration regardless. I’m not even sure how many of Eggbert’s actions are meant to be models of courtesy. Even if you re-filmed the exact same script with human characters, it still wouldn’t make much sense. As the guys point out more than once, it’s basically just a pointless exercise in egg-puns, even though someone evidently spent a lot of time making it (“I’m managing to have the courtesy not to call this short a cheap, annoying waste of time”).

Naturally, this results in a lot of very funny riffing on the sheer insanity of it all, such as commenting on how everything is egg-shaped (“Those green egg trees are missing something…”), or the logic of an egg-based society (“Remembering the dead egg Marines who died in the mess-kits at Normandy”). The extremely basic music gets a lot of good humor as well, not to mention Mike’s Vincent Price imitation. On top of that, just the utter madness and pointlessness of the short itself is good for a laugh; it would be funny even without the riffing just for the sheer weirdness. A definite recommendation if you like utterly bizarre, misfired ideas.

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“Horrible. None of them know they’re headed to the omelette bar.”

New Catholic Match Post

I saw some people discussing this on the Catholic Match forums a while back and gave the question some thought. The results are now up:

The basic version is that men are more physically oriented, women more relationally oriented. A woman typically wants to learn more about a man’s character, personality, and capabilities. Thus, what a man fundamentally looks for is signs that a woman is studying his character, trying to dig out more of his personality, and liking what she sees.

Here are some specific, simple signs you can give to let the man you’re talking to know that you’re interested in him.

  1. Talk about yourself.

Sounds a little counter-intuitive, but there is a method to the myopia.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean talking non-stop about yourself, or making the relationship all about you. It means sharing your personal concerns, your ideas, and what’s going on in your life and (this is important) seeking his input and support. By talking about your own life, you signal that you want him involved in your life; that this isn’t just a means of passing the time for you, but that you want him to take an interest in you, personally.

Read the rest here.

It Came From Rifftrax: ‘Understanding Your Ideals’

One of the hundreds of educational films made by Coronet (not an exaggeration, by the way), this is kind of a special case. Typically, these ’50s educational shorts are centered around basically ordinary, blandly decent kids dealing with a single, common problem (how to ask a girl out, being shy, etc.). Not this one! This one has an actively unpleasant, selfish, and moronic young man at its center.

Meet Jeff; a bow-tie wearing high schooler chasing the ideal of popularity. He does this by paying close attention to his wardrobe (“thank you, unmonitored clothing drive drop-off box!”), pinning up a photo of the football captain (but apparently not actually observing his behavior, to judge by his late-game realization that the guy does none of the things that he’s been trying), and dating a girl he admits he isn’t all that attracted to, but who everyone likes, all while daydreaming about how many people would want to be his friend if only he had a snazzy car and the right clothes. Then, the night of the school dance, his father (who had promised to loan him the family car) tells him that he’ll have to go back on the promise because grandmother had a fall and his mother has to rush out to take care of her for a few days. Jeff spares not a breath of concern for his aged, injured grandmother, but just keeps whining that his dad promised he could have the car, finally concluding “they just don’t want me to be popular” (“Right. They pushed grandma down and broke her hip to hurt you“). So, rather than take the bus to the dance, he calls his girlfriend and cancels with a lie about being sick.

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“Grandma’s last act was to write you out of her will.”

Does he then do the sensible thing and stay home? Maybe reflect upon his life choices and what a selfish little brat he has become? No! He goes out to the local malt shop, where he tries to show off to a bunch of Freshmen, who proceed to mock him mercilessly (no, seriously; that’s what happens). Then, predictably, his girlfriend walks in (you will be amazed at how sick you get of the word ‘popular’ before this film is over).

The short proceeds to have his father explain the concept of ‘ideals’ to him, though the short doesn’t have a particularly clear view of the subject. ‘Ideals’ end up meaning ‘vision’ or ‘drive’ or just about anything positive.

Needless to say, between the spineless, self-centered protagonist and the vague moralizing, the Rifftrax crew have a field day with this one. “Don’t you see, Dad? I’m the center of the universe!” Things get going right out of the gate when Mike speculates that the overly bombastic title music must be from the sword fight halfway through (prompting Bill to ask, “An educational film with a sword fight?”). The odd framing device of a point-of-view shot from a car driving at night (because ideals are like headlights: “They’re a bit dim”) also prompts some good jokes, as does Jeff’s dog, Stew, who serves as the recipient for his solipsistic musings (“You mean nothing to me”). Meanwhile, the father’s rambling speech on ideals gets a fair number of good jokes (“Aw, now you’re just being socratic and stuff”), though the short’s at its best when Jeff is front and center in his stupendous stupidity (“I’ve got to have ideals like honesty and sincerity…” “A spine and a pair…”).

I have to say, in my experience ’50s educational shorts generally don’t misfire very often. Oh, they can be stupid and ham-fisted, but the basic morals and storylines tend to be solid. This is one of the exceptions; the protagonist is an unlikable idiot whose redemption is far too little, too late, and the thesis is too vague; like they were rushed on this one. The result is a confused, basically pointless short and a very memorable Rifftrax entry.

 

‘Skillet’ Frontman Preaches Truth

You know, Skillet is already one of my favorite bands, and I don’t have many favorite bands (my taste in music generally boils down to “I like this song and that song, and I don’t like that one.” I don’t usually get attached to bands). They’ve gone up even further in my esteem with frontman John Cooper’s now-famous post wondering what’s happening to Christianity (words his, emphasis mine):

Ok I’m saying it. Because it’s too important not to. What is happening in Christianity? More and more of our outspoken leaders or influencers who were once “faces” of the faith are falling away. And at the same time they are being very vocal and bold about it. Shockingly they still want to influence others (for what purpose?)as they announce that they are leaving the faith. I’ll state my conclusion, then I’ll state some rebuttals to statements I’ve read by some of them. Firstly, I never judge people outside of my faith. Even if they hate religion or Christianity. That is not my place and I have many friends who disagree with my religion and that is 100% fine with me. However, when it comes to people within my faith, there must be a measure of loyalty and friendship and accountability to each other and the Word of God.

My conclusion for the church(all of us Christians): We must STOP making worship leaders and thought leaders or influencers or cool people or “relevant” people the most influential people in Christendom. (And yes that includes people like me!) I’ve been saying for 20 years(and seemed probably quite judgmental to some of my peers) that we are in a dangerous place when the church is looking to 20 year old worship singers as our source of truth. We now have a church culture that learns who God is from singing modern praise songs rather than from the teachings of the Word. I’m not being rude to my worship leader friends (many who would agree with me) in saying that singers and musicians are good at communicating emotion and feeling. We create a moment and a vehicle for God to speak. However, singers are not always the best people to write solid bible truth and doctrine. Sometimes we are too young, too ignorant of scripture, too unaware, or too unconcerned about the purity of scripture and the holiness of the God we are singing to. Have you ever considered the disrespect of singing songs to God that are untrue of His character?

I have a few specific thoughts and rebuttals to statements made by recently disavowed church influencers…first of all, I am stunned that the seemingly most important thing for these leaders who have lost their faith is to make such a bold new stance. Basically saying, “I’ve been living and preaching boldly something for 20 years and led generations of people with my teachings and now I no longer believe it..therefore I’m going to boldly and loudly tell people it was all wrong while I boldly and loudly lead people in to my next truth.” I’m perplexed why they aren’t embarrassed? Humbled? Ashamed, fearful, confused? Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?

My second thought is, why do people act like “being real” covers a multitude of sins? As if someone is courageous simply for sharing virally every thought or dark place. That’s not courageous. It’s cavalier. Have they considered the ramifications? As if they are the harbingers of truth, saying “I used to think one way and practice it and preach it, but now I’ve learned all the new truth and will start practicing and preaching it.” So the influencers become the voice for truth in whatever stage of life and whatever evolution takes place in their thinking.

Thirdly, there is a common thread running through these leaders/influencers that basically says that “no one else is talking about the REAL stuff.” This is just flatly false. I just read today in a renown worship leader’s statement, “How could a God of love send people to hell? No one talks about it.” As if he is the first person to ask this? Brother, you are not that unique. The church has wrestled with this for 1500 years. Literally. Everybody talks about it. Children talk about it in Sunday school. There’s like a billion books written on the topic. Just because you don’t get the answer you want doesn’t mean that we are unwilling to wrestle with it. We wrestle with scripture until we are transformed by the renewing of our minds.

And lastly, and most shocking imo, as these influencers disavow their faith, they always end their statements with their “new insight/new truth” that is basically a regurgitation of Jesus’s words?! It’s truly bizarre and ironic. They’ll say “I’m disavowing my faith but remember, love people, be generous, forgive others”. Ummm, why? That is actually not human nature. No child is ever born and says “I just want to love others before loving myself. I want to turn the other cheek. I want to give my money away to others in need”. Those are bible principles taught by a prophet/Priest/king of kings who wants us to live by a higher standard which is not an earthly standard, but rather the ‘Kingdom of God’ standard. Therefore if Jesus is not the truth and if the Word of God is not absolute, then by preaching Jesus’s teachings you are endorsing the words of a madman. A lunatic who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” He also said that he was alive before Abraham, and to see him was to see God because he was one with God. So why then would a disavowed christian leader promote that “generosity is good”? How would you know “what is good” without Jesus’s teachings? And will your ideas of what is “good” be different from year to year based on your experience, culture trends, poplular opinion etc and furthermore will you continue year by year to lead others into your idea of goodness even though it is not absolute? I’m amazed that so many Christians want the benefits of the kingdom of God, but with the caveat that they themselves will be the King.

It is time for the church to rediscover the preeminence of the Word. And to value the teaching of the Word. We need to value truth over feeling. Truth over emotion. And what we are seeing now is the result of the church raising up influencers who did not supremely value truth who have led a generation who also do not believe in the supremacy of truth. And now those disavowed leaders are proudly still leading and influencing boldly AWAY from the truth.

Is it any wonder that some of our disavowed Christian leaders are letting go of the absolute truth of the Bible and subsequently their lives are falling apart? Further and further they are sinking in the sea all the while shouting “now I’ve found the truth! Follow me!!” Brothers and sisters in the faith all around the world, pastors, teachers, worship leaders, influencers...I implore you, please please in your search for relevancy for the gospel, let us NOT find creative ways to shape Gods word into the image of our culture by stifling inconvenient truths. But rather let us hold on even tighter to the anchor of the living Word of God. For He changes NOT. “The grass withers and the flowers fade away, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8)

 

You know, I was going to add my own comments, but after re-reading this, I realize that’s superfluous: Mr. Cooper says it all. Would that more of our Bishops, priests, and, yes, lay people had half this level of clarity.

I’ll leave you with a few appropriate songs:

Post note: One of the reasons I like Skillet as a band so much is that they seem to me to hit exactly the right balance in that, while Christianity clearly informs all their songs to a greater or lesser extent, and they do make overtly Christian songs, they don’t only do religious songs, and their first priority is clearly making cool, energetic rock numbers. That is, they seem to put the demands and tenets of their particular art form first and only direct it to religious matters as the song itself demands. That is the proper way to make ‘Christian’ art: to make the best art you can, allowing your faith to influence it to the form and degree suitable to that particular medium and work. Basically anyone who likes this kind of music (I assume) can enjoy Skillet, yet their Christianity informs the whole thing. I’d point to them as one example of what Christian artists of any medium should aim to achieve.

Oh, and here’s an interview with him talking more about his post. Man, this guy gets it!