Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club #33 – Lois Lowry’s “The Giver”

BLOG #35, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #33
LOIS LOWRY’S THE GIVER
THE BOOK AND THE MOVIE
August 27, 2014

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In the case of this book, I put the cart before the horse. Connie and I were invited to see an exclusive advanced screening of the upcoming movie, The Giver at the Carefree Cinema in Colorado Springs on the evening of July 31, 2014.

Neither of us had read the book. All we knew was that the book was first published in 1993, and became a Newberry Award winner in 1994. The book has been required reading in a host of schools–especially middle schools–across the country for many years now. Colleges too.

We went into the movie blind since it had not yet been released; not even movie reviews were available yet. We did know, however, that the movie had a stellar cast, including Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift, Katie Holmes, Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, and Alexander Skarsgard.

We did know it would be a futuristic movie.

Our hostess was the genial Jane Terry, who explained why each of us had been forbidden to bring any recording devices into the theater. Nor were we to divulge the contents of the film to anyone prior to the movie’s release, or review it before the release date.

Then, the movie rolled. In somber black and white. It took us some time to understand just what it was that we were watching. And what might be significant about the upcoming twelfth birthdays of a group of good friends. At which time, each would be assigned a life profession, hopefully compatible with each individual’s primary interests.

The first jar had to do with the age: they most certainly didn’t look like twelve-year-olds, but rather eighteen-year-old high school graduates! What gives here? But the story-line was so mesmerizing that most of us did willing-suspension-of-disbelief and watched the story-line unroll.

It didn’t take me long to discover we were watching a dystopia, a subject area I was already very familiar with, having written my masters in English thesis at Sacramento State University on utopian and dystopian books. My wife, not having been herself immersed in the genre earlier on, was forced to fly blind into the movie.

Nor did it take me long to realize how eerily prophetic the story line was: too much appeared to either be already reality in contemporary society or be approaching it. Then the story grew darker. But it was still a long time before either the young protagonists or the audience were aware that something awful was happening.

In the movie discussion afterwards, it was noted that the author, back in 1993, had predicted it might become reality in fifty years from then. I declared that it might very well become reality in twenty from now.

But later, I purchased a copy of the book and read it through. I was fascinated. When the movie was released I eagerly read the reviews to see what their take on the movie might be.

REVIEWS

Raymond Flynn (August 15 Wall Street Journal) titled his review “‘The Giver’ and the ‘Totalitarian Instinct.’” Included in his insightful commentary are passages such as this: “As the lights came up after the screening…, my thoughts were on Poland and communism, but soon turned to the broader subject of totalitarian regimes robbing individuals of their God-given rights. So often, one of the first jobs of the totalitarian is to declare that God is dead and that government is the final authority on truth and justice–we see it now in North Korea…. In the movie, we are in a world where all human misery has been eliminated. There is no rage, no war, no wealth and no poverty. But at a cost. There is also no music, no art, no literature, no beauty. And no memory. Just to be safe, all memories are the possession of a lone individual.”

In the August 16-17 Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Wolfe’s review of Jeff Bridges’ role quotes Bridges as saying, “I think it’s an impulse for human beings to want to suffer less, and we’re kind of addicted to comfort at all costs–at least I am. And of course comfort has a price. So the film is asking…what’s the true cost of our comfort, and what are we willing to pay?”

Lisa Kennedy, in the August 15 Denver Post labels the film “a gentle, chilling dystopian primer,” and notes that both recent films Divergent and The Hunger Games owe much to Lois Lowry’s earlier book. The movie “is a class act, the kind of respectable rendering of a literary source we’ve come to expect from Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media, the indie force behind ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ ‘Holes,’ and other engaging family fare.”

MY OWN TAKE

My mind is still at sea with Lois Lowry’s unique approach to the utopian and dystopian genres. George Orwell paints his Stalinist world in bleak gray. Both Freedom and Family are dirty words. Love is an obscenity. Aldous Huxley’s world is closer to ours: Give the world all the sex, sensations, and pleasure it wants–and few will even care that World Controllers make all the really significant decisions, what’s left is meaningless, which is whatever sensation, pleasure, high, or pill one wishes to turn to. Free sex is so ubiquitous it no longer has any meaning, nor do any of the standard building blocks to a great society: God, Love, Marriage, Fidelity, Commitment, Honor, Patriotism, Empathy, Faith, Integrity, Courage, Dependability, Longing, etc.

Lowry’s world is also gray, and is just as totalitarian as Orwell’s and Huxley’s, even though it appears to be benign. All the highs and lows of life have been eliminated. Sex does not even exist, no small thanks to injections and pills. The power of making individual choices is not even an option, not even in careers. Marriage is a travesty, as is “family,” but is instead a mockery of the real thing: catbird egg children (not your own), and celibate “parents” who are not permitted to really love anyone. Puberty is not even permitted to happen. Children happen somewhere off-stage via women who somehow churn out babies from no one is permitted to know where or how. The only learning is standardized meaningless pap. Big Brother–or in Meryl Streep’s case, Big Sister, is omnipresent. Even thought-crime is punishable by death. Unwanted babies disappear. Same with unwanted retirees. All is placid–yet terrifying. All human knowledge is housed in one room, guarded by one person only. No one else must have any access to it–ever.

Nevertheless, I personally predict that society is drifting into Lowry’s orbit: In America, spiritual faith–unless it is of the East or mystical–is routinely ridiculed and disparaged. Marriage (commitment for life) is being reduced to live-in relationships, one-night stands, and meaningless “hook-ups.” Children all too often are merely frisbees tossed between one household to another, with no real home to call their own. Porn of all kind (a la Huxley) is so addictive that real marital commitment cannot even compete. Virtual reality is replacing real reality. The very concept of faithfulness is mocked. The gay lifestyle is all too often replacing the heterosexual; result: androgynous individuals without clearly defined sexual differences. Why spend years studying and learning when you can escape into substance abuse and virtual reality? Boys especially, lacking traditional fatherhood role-models, are bailing out of education at an ever earlier age. College and university degrees are becoming worthless: substituting amorphous masses of meaningless observations for the traditional building blocks of western culture: history, biography, geography; great art, great music, great literature. More and more, one can earn doctorates in areas such as history without taking any history classes. Patriotism is continually ridiculed and downgraded, and is no longer taught in most of our schools. Our democratic way of life is being rapidly subverted by corporations and big money determining election results rather than people-driven elections. Since people are discouraged from reading, elections are now being decided by vicious below-the-belt attack ads that result in more and more cynicism, most terrifying–even in children and teenagers. Big Government is taking over more and more of the decisions parents used to make. Big Governments the world over are discouraging all rural life in favor of megacities that can be more easily manipulated and coerced.

When you add all this up, who is to stop totalitarian systems such as Lowry’s from obliterating what is left of freedom in our world?

That is why everyone–young or old–ought to read Lowry’s book and see the movie…so that course-corrections can be implemented before it is too late. Especially should tweens and teens read the book and see the movie.

The book can be found everywhere. The movie version was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2014; the original (1993) was published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. Find a copy and read it.

DR. BEN CARSON, A LIFE OF SELFLESS SERVICE

BLOG #9, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. BEN CARSON
A LIFE OF SELFLESS SERVICE
February 27, 2013

I am bridging from Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods to a refreshing example of a man who represents, to untold thousands, a prototype we can all admire, look up to: Dr. Ben Carson, famed Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon and humanitarian.

I referenced him at the conclusion of last week’s blog, for he had just wowed the media by his insightful keynote at the National Prayer Breakfast. And not just the media, but the nation as a whole.

I’ve been an admirer of his for over a quarter of a century. During those years, Dr. Carson has written several very insightful books—such as his Gifted Hands. I’ve listened to a number of in-depth radio and TV interviews and have yet to find anything creating daylight between his talk and his walk.

During a recent hour-long interview on Fox News, Dr. Carson was asked if he was interested in running for president. He answered that he had no plans to do so—he only wanted to serve.

I’ve been privileged to speak one-on-one at length with him only once. Some years ago, traveling to a speaking engagement with my wife Connie, we were stranded by a blizzard in an airport; Dr. Carson, it turned out, was returning to Baltimore, with his wife, from a speaking engagement, and happened to be stranded in the same airport. So, with nothing else to do, we talked. And talked.

Dr. Carson is very understated in his speech (soft-spoken, another way to describe him). He is also refreshingly humble—and deeply spiritual. And caring. His patients have known that for decades, long before the country at large did.

As for his possibly running for the presidency, I’m not at all sure it would be good for him and his family: just the thought of this principled man having to face unsubstantiated attack ads, each geared to finding something in his past they could twist, distort, ridicule, disparage—sends chills up my spine. On the other hand, we’ve never needed a voice like his more than we do now.

It is enough for me to say, Thank God America is still producing men like him!

PAC MONEY AND ATTACK ADS

BLOG #47, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
PAC MONEY AND ATTACK ADS
November 21, 2012

In all my life, I’ve never seen or heard anywhere near this level of post-election disillusion and borderline despair, the general feeling that America—that hope of the world—has reached the tipping point, and that the next steps may prove unreversible.

The catalyst, of course, was the entire unbelievably vicious and below-the-belt attack ads, paid for mostly with PAC funds conveniently hiding the identity of the attackers in walls of anonymity. Neither party came out of the fray with clean hands, but in retrospect, what is likely to leave the longest and bitterest legacy has to do with the early-in-the-campaign poisoning of the well, when Romney, who had exhausted his funding during the hotly contested primaries, found himself up the proverbial creek without a paddle, unable to fund a counterattack to the blizzard of attack ads geared not only to discredit his achievements but to utterly destroy his character. They worked: Romney was never able to fully recover.

The Supreme Court ruling that opened the door to the scorched-earth-leave-no-survivors blitzkrieg of unsubstantiated anonymous attack ads might very well be perceived by future historians as the beginning of the decline of the world’s greatest democracy. In Colorado (one of the so-called Nine Swing States), for month after month, we have had to endure such a blizzard of attack ads, from both sides, that, at the end we were left numb and nauseous. It was a veritable nightmare!

The logical result of all this would be to scare off, in the future, America’s best and brightest from even considering a career in politics. Why would any sane person subject his/her family to such vicious character assassination? Children and young people had to emerge from this mud bath with feelings of revulsion: If all politicians are unethical, unprincipled, unpatriotic, unempathetic, and uncaring, then why even vote at all? For the first time since I can remember, what a politician actually stood for or believed in, or had either achieved or hoped to achieve, was buried in layer after layer of sizzling hot verbal lava that left no reputation untarred.

Nor is the entire swing-state scenario a pleasant one to consider. Have we indeed reached the level where only nine states really matter? And the other 41 do not?

One thing I wish to make clear: I am not claiming one party can justifiably lay claim to the higher ground here. What I am hoping to accomplish by this blog is to add my frail voice to what needs to become a national movement to restore civility, not just to elections but to the periods in-between, when no one reaches across the aisle to the other side, and polarization and the annihilation of the moderates who once served as agents of synapse, has all but brought government to a standstill.

It is terrifying people I’ve interacted with, on all sides, to be reduced to near hopelessness in terms of their perception of America’s future.

But, as one near despondent Kiwanian said last week, “In all this, friends, please don’t despair: God is still in His Heaven.”