Saturday, April 20, 2019

Guest post: Easter – a Christian festival that feels pagan


Jane Stevenson, University of Oxford

There’s a lot of confusion about Easter – not least because this most important of all Christian festivals moves around so much from year to year, decided by a complex set of calculations based on the vernal equinox and the phase of the moon. Easter symbols – eggs, bunnies, lambs and the rest – give the festivities an air of pre-Christian paganism.

happy easter chocolate candy crossSo where do the origins of Easter and the rituals observed by so many – whether Christian or not – really lie?

The first mention of Eostre is in the eighth century, in The Venerable Bede’s frustratingly cryptic account of the native Anglo-Saxon calendar in De Temporum Ratione (On the Reckoning of Time). The Anglo-Saxon equivalent of April called Eostremonath is named for the goddess Eostre – but we only know about Eostre via Bede’s writings and the only thing he tells us about her is that “feasts were celebrated” in her honour. So, if modern Easter is frequently a festival of overeating, this has tradition on its side.

But Eostre was evidently significant enough for the Anglo-Saxons to later transfer her name to the Christian festival of the resurrection rather than adopting the Latin name “Pascha”.

Similarly, Easter is “Ostern” in German – which implies she must have been known outside England. Confusingly, the great 19th-century folklorist and philologist, Jacob Grimm, invented a German goddess called Ostara – “the divinity of the radiant dawn, upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing” – on purely etymological grounds: the name is derived from a proto-Indo-European root meaning “to shine”. But Grimm didn’t present a shred of supporting evidence that such a deity had ever been worshipped in Germany, leaving us with just Bede to go on.

Easter roughly coincides with the spring equinox – so there is a good deal of lore attached to the season which is not actually Christian. Easter is preceded by Lent – a period of fasting in memory of Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness. But it is also a season when, in pre-modern Europe, food would have been running low. Winter supplies would have been coming to an end and there was not enough sun and spring growth yet for hens to start laying and cows to give milk. In a sense, therefore, Easter is a natural feast – to celebrate passing out of that hardship.

Easter and Passover


The association of lamb with Easter is something we have borrowed from Jewish tradition and Passover – which was also the festival that Jesus and his disciples celebrated with their Last Supper.

At least as far back as the 15th century, Easter was also marked in England by eating “tansies” – a kind of custardy pudding made with the bitter (and poisonous) herb tansy and sometimes with other bitter greens such as nettles. The 17th-century antiquarian John Aubrey adds a further detail:

Our tansies at Easter have reference to the bitter Herbs [eaten at Passover by Jews] though at the same time ’twas always the Fashion for a man to have a gammon of Bacon, to shew himself to be no Jew.



Eggs are an ancient and natural symbol of returning life in many parts of Europe, but the Easter egg may also derive from Passover – which includes, among various symbolic foods, a roasted egg: the beitzah. Until at least the mid-20th century, more people marked Easter with decorated, hard-boiled hen’s eggs than chocolate ones.

The earliest documented mention in England of decorated eggs comes in 1290, from the household accounts of King Edward I for 1290, which records the purchase and decoration of 450 eggs , some gilded, some dyed. These eggs were presented to the royal household at Easter, and cost 18 pence.

In many parts of Britain the custom was for people, children especially, to play with their “pace-eggs” by rolling them down a chosen slope before eating them. In Iona and Peter Opie’s 1959 study The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren, a child reports that: “In Cumberland we take more notice of the pace eggs than chocolate eggs.” Easter eggs as also rolled on the lawn of the US White House, a custom going back to 1878.

Bunny business


The association of hares with Easter also considerably predates foil-wrapped chocolate bunnies. As early as 1682, Georg Franck von Franckenau’s essay De ovis paschalibus (About Easter Eggs) speaks of a German tradition of an Easter hare bringing coloured Easter eggs for the children.

In southern Germany, children used to be told that a hare laid the pace-eggs and they would make a nest for the creature to lay them in. The Easter hare was also known in parts of the British Isles and was particularly associated with having to hunt out eggs hidden in the garden, where the hare was supposed to have put them.

A curious entry in the Calendar of State Papers for April 2 1620, suggests that hares were also often eaten at Easter:

Thos. Fulnety solicits the permission of Lord Zouch, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, to kill a hare on Good Friday, as huntsmen say that those who have not a hare against Easter must eat a red herring.

Hares were also ritually hunted at Easter in England – there is a note in the Chamberlains’ Accounts for the year 1574 that twelvepence was “given to the hare-finders at Whetston Court”.

An Easter hare hunt survived as part of Leicester’s ritual year as late as the 18th century, though by then a dead cat was substituted for an actual hare. Jacob Grimm, looking at this evidence for an association of ritual activity involving hares with the Easter season, conjectured that the hare was sacred to the goddess Ostara, piling one conjecture on top of another.

So the truth is that Easter rituals as we know them today represent an untidy collection of customs connected with celebrating spring growth and the end of austerity – a time for new clothes and rich food. Any connection with pre-Christian paganism is entirely coincidental.The Conversation

Jane Stevenson, Senior Research Fellow at Campion Hall, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

Guest Post: 2019 Oscars may be more remembered for the crises than the ceremony


Julie Lobalzo Wright, University of Warwick

Comedian Kevin Hart lasted just three days as the host of the 2019 Academy Awards. Almost immediately after his name was announced on December 4, a backlash began on social media about homophobic jokes Hart had made on Twitter between 2009 and 2011. After refusing to apologise, even when the Academy demanded it, Hart stepped down as host on December 7, leaving the ceremony without a host.

The last time that happened was in 1989, an occasion the Academy would prefer to forget as, instead of a host, producer Allan Carr had arranged a bizarre revue involving Snow White and Rob Lowe singing Proud Mary. Disney sued for breach of copyright.

This year’s ceremony is shaping up to be just as controversial. Ratings for the awards show have been declining for some years, perhaps because people have grown tired of the overt political messaging. (It’s interesting to note here that there’s also a strong correlation between the box office performance of the film that wins multiple Oscars and the ratings for the awards show. So, in 1998, when Titanic won 11 Oscars and took US$2.1 billion worldwide, more than 57m people watched the show. Last year, when The Shape of Water won best picture – having earned less than US$200m at the box office – less than half that number of people tuned in: 26.5m.)

With the thought of boosting ratings this year, in August the Academy proposed the introduction of a new category: best popular film. This was widely thought to be a Really Bad Idea.


People involved in fims such as Black Panther, which took more than $US1 billion within 26 days of release, asked whether the film’s global popularity meant it would be pigeonholed as “popular” rather than “excellent”. “What,” asked the New York Times,, “if it received a nomination for the populist Oscar but not for best overall picture? Would that mean Black Panther and films like it were second-class citizens?” The idea was swiftly shelved.

At least it will be diverse


In the end, when the nominations were announced in February, box office behemoths, such as Black Panther (the first best picture award for a superhero movie), were nominated alongside critical successes, such as The Favourite and Roma.

Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody (which has also done very brisk box office at US$850m and counting) is also nominated for best picture, despite mixed critical reviews – the film has the lowest average scores of any of the best picture nominees on Rotten Tomatoes. The Guardian reviewer, Steve Rose took particular exception to the film’s handling of Freddie Mercury’s private life, casting “Mercury’s wilderness years as a symptom of his gayness”. And, shortly after the Queen biopic won best picture at the Golden Globes, The Atlantic published a long list of allegations of sexual misconduct against director Bryan Singer, who had been fired by 20th Century Fox in December 2017, with three weeks of filming left – reportedly over differences with the cast and crew. His name was removed from nominations at the Baftas. Singer has denied the allegations, telling the BBC that the story “rehashes claims from bogus lawsuits filed by a disreputable cast of individuals willing to lie for money or attention”.


One accusation this year’s Oscars is hoping to avoid is the unwelcome tag of #oscarssowhite, which has dogged the awards in recent years, exposing the lack of diversity in Hollywood cinema and in the voting branch of the Academy. Nominations for Black Panther and Blackkklansman, in addition to the Mexican film Roma and the queer female ensemble film The Favourite, should ensure the ceremony has at least the impression of diversity it has so craved previously.

Bad timing


But, ever conscious of ratings, the show’s planners set about designing a shorter ceremony, hoping to encourage viewers who have previously been put off by a running time of three and a half hours (four hours and 23 minutes in 2002). But when it was announced that only two of the five songs nominated in the best original song category would be performed, there was a widespread backlash – and musicians reportedly showed solidarity: either all the songs would be performed, or none. Once again the Academy relented.

It was also announced that four awards would be given out during the ad breaks – cinematography, film editing, live action short, and makeup and hairstyling. None of these categories, it was quickly noticed, involved nominees representing films made by Disney (the parent company of ABC, the network broadcasting the ceremony). And surely cinematography and editing are two of the most fundamental crafts to the art of cinema. Movie makers certainly thought so.


After protests from, notably, the American Society of Cinematographers as well as a host of big names such as Martin Scorsese, Alfonso Cuarón, Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino, within the week the Academy announced that all 24 awards would be presented live on TV.







What else could go wrong? It is possible the awards will still feature spontaneous moments, surprise wins, and sensational stars to supplant the months of negative publicity leading up to the event. Only two years ago when an otherwise fairly unremarkable evening became one of the most talked-about Oscars in years when Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty read out the wrong name for best picture. This year it’s going to take something pretty sensational or outrageous on the night to save the Oscars from being remembered as a fiasco from planning to broadcast.The Conversation

Julie Lobalzo Wright, Teaching Fellow in Film Studies, University of Warwick

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Guest Post: Oscars 2019: Roma, Yalitza Aparicio and the fascinating history of non-professional actors

Catherine O'Rawe, University of Bristol

The surprise nomination of non-professional indigenous woman Yalitza Aparicio for this year’s best actress Oscar for her role as a domestic servant in Alfonso Cuarón’s critically acclaimed Roma has been greeted as a “fairytale”.

Aparicio was training to be a teacher when she reluctantly went to an audition where Cuarón was immediately struck by her. Her presence and her similarity to his own childhood maid – on whom the film is based – secured her the role.







Propelled into the spotlight by her role, she has become the first indigenous woman to grace the cover of Mexican Vogue. She also endeared herself to her growing social media following by uploading to Twitter a video of her sobbing reaction to news of her nomination.


If Aparicio wins, she will be the first indigenous Latina Oscar winner and will join the small number of non-professional actors to win an Oscar in recent times. This number includes Anna Paquin for her role in The Piano (1993) and Haing S Ngor, a former doctor from Cambodia, who won the 1985 best supporting actor Oscar for his role in Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields, in which his own traumatic experiences informed his outstanding performance as a local journalist.

In the same year as acclaimed indie hits such as Chloé Zhao’s The Rider, in which Brady Jandreau played a version of himself as an injured rodeo rider, and Crystal Moselle’s Skate Kitchen, featured an all-girl skate collective from New York, it seems that authenticity in casting and performance is all the rage.

But Aparicio also stands out as being typical of the non-professional’s experience throughout cinema history. Her “journey” from naïve provincial girl to the red carpet hits many familiar notes. Interviews emphasise how little she understood of cinema, and how she had never heard of Cuarón and feared the job offer might be a trafficking scam.

Authenticity


Aparicio’s unpolished and untrained authenticity is sharply juxtaposed with the glamorous world in which she now finds herself. Part of the non-professional’s effect is to throw into relief the extraordinariness of stars, as well as their proficiency, understood as a product of years of training and dedication to their craft. Aparicio’s novelty, spontaneity, and natural appearance are all singled out as antithetical to the professionalism of her co-star, experienced stage actress Marina De Tavira, who has also been nominated for an Oscar.

Her story mirrors the “discovery” of Barkhad Abdi, the untrained Somali-American who played a memorable co-lead to Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips. It also recalls the children recruited by Danny Boyle from the Mumbai slums for global hit Slumdog Millionaire.







In the latter case, ethical concerns around the effects of sudden fame on vulnerable children were recognised by Boyle. He set up a trust fund for them, though this didn’t prevent allegations that the father of one of the girls tried to sell her to capitalise on her fame.

Power imbalance


The non-professional child actor came to prominence in post-WWII Italian neorealism, which specialised in taking performers from the streets. Vittorio De Sica’s Oscar-winning 1948 classic Bicycle Thieves was particularly celebrated for its non-actors, chosen for their faces and bodies rather than any acting talent.







Lamberto Maggiorani, who played the tragic father, lost his factory job after the film and struggled to find work as an actor; he repeatedly begged De Sica to help him out. Meanwhile, nine-year-old Enzo Staiola made several further films and retired at the age of 15. However, accounts of his treatment on set , which included De Sica publicly humiliating him to make him cry, match other testimonies of neorealist directors extracting performances from non-professionals by insulting and even beating them.

This power differential, always implicit in the actor-director relationship, is obviously exacerbated when the actor is inexperienced and has no manager to guide them through the film industry. While Aparicio and Cuarón’s on-set relationship seems to have been affectionate, one anecdote about the film’s shooting is somewhat disturbing. In a central, traumatic scene for her character Cleo, Cuarón admitted that he deliberately withheld from Aparicio what would happen. Her anguished reaction is genuine – and presumably she could not be trusted to generate that response otherwise.

Aparicio has declared that she would like to continue to act, though she admits that Roma may be a one-off. French film critic André Bazin wrote of neorealist actors that the non-professional can be used only once because their effect can never be replicated. But non-professionals have gone on to career success – Paquin, obviously, as well as Sasha Lane, discovered by Andrea Arnold for her film American Honey, is continuing to work. So is Abdi, though in low-profile parts. Others, like the kids of Slumdog Millionaire, have returned to their old lives.

In all the press talk and interviews with Cuarón and Aparicio, one thing is never mentioned: pay. While one presumes that she received a fair salary for the part, non-professionals generally come cheap because it’s often assumed that part of the reward is the experience itself, the fairytale story. But when the magic finishes and the closing credits roll, they all too often find themselves alone.The Conversation

Catherine O'Rawe, Professor of Italian Film and Culture, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Friday, February 08, 2019

From the Archives: Glenn Beck's substitute host Doc Thompson talks about libertarian values and hot issues of the day

Glenn Beck's substitute host Doc Thompson talks about libertarian values and hot issues of the day
August 19, 2010
11:40 PM MST

Radio talk-show host Doc Thompson, whose regular gig is afternoons from 3 to 6 o’clock on WRVA (1140 AM) in Richmond but who sometimes substitutes for Glenn Beck on his nationally syndicated program, spoke with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner on August 10 about his political philosophy, the hot issues of the day, and this year’s election prospects.

“Personally, I live my life with fairly conservative leanings,” Thompson explained, but “I take a little bit of a step toward libertarian when it comes to government, in that I want to be left alone. Yes, I’m a conservative, and I have conservative values, but I don’t want the government necessarily supporting conservatism or liberalism. I want them to just leave everyone alone.”

Listeners are ‘ticked’

radio host Doc Thompson Richmond Virginia
Doc Thompson
Thompson said that his listeners are angered by the growth and intrusiveness of the federal government.

Most of what concerns them, he said, “is the simple, ‘I can’t believe government is doing this’ issues, the no-brainer issues.”

He listed their top issues: “They’re ticked about health care, they’re ticked about the spending, and they’re ticked about immigration. Those are probably the big three things right now.”

The listeners’ irritation is easy to understand, he added.

These all are “really simple issues to them. You know: don’t spend what you don’t have; I can’t spend that much. Let me pick for myself whether I want health care and what [kind of] health care. And immigration – there’s a border; you’re breaking the law.”

‘Speaking from their hearts’
These concerns are not limited to people in the Richmond area, either. When Thompson wears Glenn Beck’s headphones, he hears the same complaints.

“It’s very similar when I fill in for him,” he pointed out.

“I’m not sure if that’s because that’s the general attitude of anybody [who is] leaning conservative, or if it’s that Glenn and I are similar. Our approaches are pretty similar to things but the topics, the discussion, the things people are saying are virtually the same.”

Thompson has noticed a similar phenomenon with regard to the Tea Party movement.

Glenn Beck Examiner.com radio
“It’s the same, too, tea party to tea party. I go around and meet with people all over the region, from Williamsburg to the Shenandoah Valley. I was up in Pittsburgh in the spring, speaking at a tea party. All of them, it’s the same. It’s like you’ve taken the same people and just put them in a different place. The same quotes – [but] it’s not talking points. These people are speaking from their hearts and saying the same things: ‘Enough is enough, leave me alone!’”

While this year’s election looks to be good for Republicans, Thompson said, he predicts it might turn out to be more of a mixed bag, with no “clear-cut winner.”

“It’s just going to be election by election, district by district. I think you’ll see a conservative movement somewhat this election, and probably a bigger one the next election,” when President Obama faces re-election in 2012.

For those outside the Richmond area who want to hear him, Doc Thompson will be filling in for Glenn Beck on Labor Day and again on the following Friday.

Editor's note: Doc Thompson passed away on February 5, 2019. To hear the audio version of this interview, visit the February 9, 2019, episode of The Score from Bearing Drift.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com on August 19, 2010. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.