Project Runway and Clothing as Story

Clothes have always told stories. They indicate social class, signify accomplishment, and mark points in history. People can be defined by the clothes they wear: goth, hippie, punk, hipster. What we wear tells a little bit about who we are, whether we’re creative, edgy, girly, simple, or minimalist. Clothes have also been key in the narratives of Scripture—think of Joseph and his colorful coat.

Fashion designers are also trying to tell a story through their clothes—either a story of innovation, a breaking off of tradition, or of trying to communicate who they are through their designs. This is especially true on Lifetime’s Project Runway, which unveils its 16th season on Thursday. Hosted by supermodel Heidi Klum and fashion consultant Tim Gunn, the show brings in fashion designers to compete for a chance to show a collection at New York Fashion Week. But the designers must make it through a series of intense design challenges first.

Designers are often pulled outside of their comfort zone by making clothes from unconventional items, such as creating an avant-garde look that can withstand the rain or reworking fabric from a tacky men’s suit. They’ve had to draw inspiration from different motifs for these challenges: butterflies, bowties, and even an American Girl doll. On top of this, all of the challenges need to be completed under a time constraint. No matter the challenge, the model should walk down the runway still expressing the designer’s unique vision. The judges should be able to look at the clothes and know which designer they belong to.

This reminds me of the way Scripture uses clothes to tell stories…

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Theories of Life, Death, and Afterlife in The Discovery

Where do we go when we die?” has been a question haunting humanity since our earliest days. This unknown was explored in ancient myths, folklore, and drawings on walls. Life and death was even dictated by specific beliefs about the afterlife. Ancient Egyptians, for example, preserved their bodies and organs when they died. They buried themselves with material objects, pets, and loved ones, in faith it would all come along with them when they passed through death. Some religions believe in reincarnation: after death, people are reborn into another state (human or not), and the quality of their previous life determines the quality of their next one.

What most religions have in common is the belief that this life determines the next; the afterlife is the result of choices made in this life. But not so in the Netflix original film The Discovery. The idea of afterlife presented here is a second chance at this life. It’s a way to fix your deepest regrets and undo all the wrong and the tragedy you’ve endured. The Discovery begins with Thomas, a leading scientist who has proven the existence of an afterlife. He can’t say what it is exactly, but the proof gives a bent sort of hope to the world. It is fodder enough for millions of suicides by those who are looking for a way of escape from this life. No longer is death viewed as meaningless—now it’s life that has some explaining to do. Why bother to face the problems of this world when there is another one? As one videoman says to Thomas before he shoots himself in the head, “Thank you, Doctor, for my fresh start.”

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The Love Connection in The Lego Batman Movie

It’s not only the dark side of Gotham City’s villains that we see in The Lego Batman Movie. We also see the dark side of the dark knight.

While the constant comedy of this family movie keeps the content lighthearted, the character development of Batman himself gives the film a sense of depth. The conflict Batman/Bruce Wayne faces is lurking inside the crevices of his heart; his change involves unmasking himself so he can learn to give and receive love.

Batman lost his parents to the crime-ridden streets of Gotham, which creates in him a passion for fighting crime. The Lego Batman Movie suggests he uses this mission as a way to avoid dealing directly with his traumatic past. In one scene, his butler Alfred catches Batman lost in thought as he gazes at a wall of family photos. Alfred suggests that Batman settle down and give up the mask. But Batman puts on his mask of denial and avoids facing his greatest fear, which, Alfred claims, is having a family again. Batman has kept himself safe from experiencing pain by being a loner, acting independently, being egotistical, and by staying focused on the physical aspects of his life. All of these are mechanisms that help numb himself to feeling any strong emotions.

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The Place of Real Arrival

Good science-fiction consists of more than just alien invasions, body-snatchers, and “Take me to your leader.” Done well, sci-fi tells us deep truths about ourselves and our world. The Oscar-nominated film Arrival most definitely falls into this type of good sci-fi because of the way it takes the viewer deeper into the emotions of human experience. As film critic Anthony Lane wrote in The New Yorker, “What lingers, days after you leave the cinema, is neither the wizardry nor the climax but the zephyr of emotional intensity that blows through the film.”

Director Denis Villeneuve is the wizard behind the wizardry of Arrival, while Amy Adams plays the main character: a respected linguist named Dr. Louise Banks. The United States Army seeks out Dr. Banks and her top-notch translation skills so she can help them decipher what a group of mysterious, newly arrived aliens want with the human race.

Arrival doesn’t begin with the aliens, however. The opening sequence of the film shows us intensely emotional scenes from the life of one person, beginning to end. In a matter of minutes, we feel boundless joy, soul-twisting loss, and the agony of sorrow. Villeneuve masterfully crafts this sequence, helping us see and feel the fleeting nature of time from a distance, and all at once. We are voyeurs on the outside of time, looking in.

This isn’t how we normally experience time, of course. We live in time. It’s something happening to us in a specific moment, like a dot on a timeline. In the first few minutes of the film, we are seeing one person’s timeline all at once, which highlights the brevity of life and causes us to feel as Solomon did, that life is a vapor and a vanity.

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Less is More? What Minimalism Can and Can’t Teach Us

must have always been a minimalist at heart. As a teenager I would periodically initiate a purge of unused and well-worn clothing. I would also routinely clean out my closet, throwing out the old to make room for the new. Now as an adult, I still enjoy the art of decluttering. I feel alive when I can throw together bags for donations or toss something in the trash. When I was first married, I impressed my decluttering ways upon my husband, helping him loosen his grip on baggy clothes from the ’90s, which he kept for sentimental reasons. (Interestingly enough, my husband has always had double the number of shoes I’ve had; when he was single, he would buy a pair of shoes a month.) Now my husband always wants to get rid of things too, though I still have fewer shoes and clothing than he does.

I guess I was cool before it was cool to declutter, or, as some like to call it: simplify. Now minimalism could be called a trend or a movement. And though it is about decluttering and simplifying, it is also much more. One of the leaders in the minimalist movement, Joshua Becker, defines it this way: “Minimalism is the intentional promotion of the things we most value and the removal of anything that distracts us from it” (25). For most of us, the term minimalism conjures up images of stark white walls, a solitary chair in the living room, bare countertops, and a cold hard mattress on the floor. It’s an extreme picture, though it could be true for some who call themselves minimalists. What Becker and others like him are trying to do is make minimalism more balanced and fit for everyone, not just bachelors. Minimalism is not just about decluttering, but owning less. It’s about letting go of your possessions before they possess you. It’s about simplifying your life and schedule, not just physical objects around your home. But all of this is done so you can pursue the things that do matter in life, whatever it is you value.

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Duty and Desire in The Crown

There is a complexity of ideas at play beneath the authentic scenery and elegant costumes of the new Netflix series The Crown. This tactful English drama set in post-war Britain centers on the rise and reign of Queen Elizabeth II (Claire Foy). The camerawork and creative writing take us into the hidden realities of relationships between monarchy and family, monarchy and parliament, and monarchy and church. At the heart of it all is the interplay of duty and desire.

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The CAPC Digest: Embracing the Supernatural in Stranger Things

I recently made my podcast debut with Christ and Pop Culture. I’m with Tyler Burns and Drew Dixon discussing my recent article on CAPC. Honestly, this was my first podcast experience and I was nervous, but also excited to share and discuss some important truths, while talking about the Netflix series Stranger Things. Here is the blurb about the podcast episode:

The supernatural side of the Christian faith is often times overlooked in favor of rational thought by conservative evangelical culture. The idea of a unexplainable supernatural occurrence can be scary and it was the reason Drew and Tyler chat with Liz Wann about her recent article “Stranger Things and Our Quest for the Extraordinary in the Ordinary.” The duo return from vacation to discuss what Christians can learn from the new show Stranger Things and the importance of acknowledging the reality of the supernatural around us and in Scripture.

Go here to listen to the podcast >>

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Seeking Revelation in Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown

I recently had my second post over at Think Christian up a few days ago. Here is a short excerpt and a link to the original post:

Anthony Bourdain is more than just a crass, foodie traveler known for eating rotten shark meat and a still-beating cobra heart. In his CNN show Parts Unknown, Bourdain reveals the many layers of faraway cultures. Fast Company’s Rob Brunner writes that “Bourdain is on a mission to illuminate underappreciated and misunderstood cultures, whether it’s Myanmar or Detroit. He regularly takes viewers to the sorts of places—Libya, Gaza, Congo—that most Americans know only from grim headlines about political strife and body counts.”

Season 7 of Parts Unknown concluded in the streets of Buenos Aires this past June. The episode hinged on extended therapy sessions, as Bourdain invited us into the “dark crannies of my skull” in honor of the psychology-obsessed Argentinians. He can also be found engaging in the local pastime of lawn chair-lounging and beer sipping while watching airplanes land.

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Stranger Things and Our Quest for the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

My husband and I enjoyed the first season of this new show on Netflix. Here is a review of the show with a theological angle. 


***This article contains spoilers for the first season of the Netflix series Stranger Things.***

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “strange” as “different from what is usual, normal, or expected.” The relatively new filmmakers the Duffer Brothers pulled off the unexpected by casting four middle-school-age boys as the central characters in an adult-targeted TV show. Television networks told the brothers it wouldn’t work unless they targeted the show at kids or made the two leading adult actors the main characters. They were rejected fifteen to twenty times, with one TV exec telling them, “You either gotta make it into a kids show or make it about this Hopper [detective] character investigating paranormal activity around town.” But the brothers were loyal to their own creative instincts. Matt Duffer responded by saying that if they were to follow this advice, “[t]hen we lose everything interesting about the show,” and they sought out instant streaming networks instead. The loyalty to the script for their horror/science fiction series, Stranger Things, paid off. According to Parrot Analytics, the Duffer Brothers’ Netflix summer hit was the most popular digital original series in the U.S. for the week of July 17 to 23. What TV execs perceived as strange in the Duffer Brothers choice of main characters became normal as the new Netflix series spread through Facebook and Twitter feeds.

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Chuck Norris vs. Communism and the Transformative Power of Film

Animals speak, conspire, and plot to overthrow a farmer in George Orwell’s fable Animal Farm. And in his nearly prophetic novel 1984, Orwell presents a world filled with thought police, revised history books, and surveillance from an entity called Big Brother. The concepts in these constructed literary worlds are bizarre and unrealistic, but the alternate realities hide real truths. These are the worlds buried beneath some of our past, present, and possibly future cultural and political ideologies.

Orwell poses the “What ifs?” of our time in his prophecies of doom. He sheds light on the world around us, picturing for us a completely censored and controlled culture, a world in which people are told: “You must read this and not that, you must watch this and not that, and you must think this and not that.” These made up worlds are in reality representations of our world and its history. For many countries, this was the world in which they lived; it was not made up. People felt this reality in their own lives: the reality of being watched, interrogated, reported, and being told what to think, the thick fog of paranoia blocking their vision, while their very words were censored. This was (and in some countries still is) the world of communism.

The western world (particularly the United States) has directly interacted with the leaders/dictators who promote this ideology. We were involved in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and we played major roles in the Cold War. But in 1989 the downfall of communism in Romania was planted by a small seed from the west. The United States played an indirect role this time and unknowingly sparked a revolution in Romanian hearts. The revolution didn’t involve weapons, armies, missiles, invasions, or financial aid—it came on reels of film from the Hollywood hills.

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“I Done It Already”: Why ‘The Revenant’ Doesn’t Fear Death

The fear of death grips us all. It can feel like a large gaping hole in our field of knowledge and experience. We are born with the instinct to self-preserve, and fear can be one of our biggest motivators. In the award-winning film The Revenant, the fear of death is a central theme, especially as displayed through the antagonist, John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), whose methods and motives of self-preservation contrast those of the protagonist Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio).What is the biggest indicator of fear in Fitzgerald’s life? It’s his hoarding.The word “revenant” originates from the French verb revenir, which means “to come back” or “to return.”

Leonardo DiCaprio is a haunting apparition in his Oscar-winning role as Hugh Glass. He primarily haunts Fitzgerald, but in a way he also haunts all of us. Glass is living proof of a battle with death. He fights death in the form of a bear and continues the battle for life as he seeks revenge for the death of his son. Glass haunts us all because he has faced one of the biggest fears of mankind—death. Yet by the end of the film, Glass is able to say, “I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I done it already.”

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