2 girls 1 Cup, C.S. Lewis, and Education

 Today was perhaps the best day I’ve had at the private high school I teach at, and I have “2 Girls and 1Cup” to thank.

Before you google “2 Girls and One Cup” let me explain for your safety.  I first heard about the horrid phenomenal internet video from an interesting Crunchy Con blog – and after reading the Wikipedia entry I knew I didn’t want to watch it.  The concept of the video is so disgusting and vile I regret just hearing about what it depicts, and I will not describe it here.  For your sakes just imagine that it is a video of a maggot infested possum carcas lying on you pillow.

So here is a video that goes light years beyond the pale, and I found out that 99% of the kids at the school I teach have seen this video. More than once. One 14 year old boy proudly told me that he made it the homepage on his other friends computer at home. Funny.

I found this out the same week that my wife walks into her classroom (the same once I teach in) to find one of her students showing the others a video a video of a man castrating himself. No joke.

There’s only one sane response to this: Nausea. The world has gone off its axis and has turned up-side down, and we are sanely nauseas. I know these kids well. I know that they teenagers, and I know they experiment with drugs and sex and danger. Two of them have been busted this month for heroin use, and it doesn’t take a psychology degree to see which girls have been the victims of abuse. Theirs – even more than most teenager’s – is a messed up and confused world with very little apparent sanity. But nothing about consuming this bizzare and hideous crap is sane. You have to be unbalanced to have “2 Girls and 1 Cup” in your head and it not have it be a gigantically disturbing influence in your life. You have to have really acquired a taste for crap to not wretch. This is where these kids are at, and they are not alone. They are in an already tough world, and the more they consume the sicker they get, and the less their world makes sense.

So today I came to school armed with C.S. Lewis and Third Eye Blind.

After a little softening up I showed them the version of Third Eye Blind’s song “Slow Motion” that didn’t appear on the album “Blue”, because the words were to graphic. Oddly enough the graphic words don’t contain a single cuss word. The song is visceral and haunting, with a really interesting message.

The character in the song slows down the scene of his life to focus at the end of each stanza on one isolated element. In this light he finds the scenes gripping and beautiful: the moment of impact as a bullet rips through the body of his English teacher’s son, the ruby-red blood from the nose of a coke-head girl, the arc of his neighbor’s fist before it terminates on his wife’s face.

At the end of each stanza at least one kid would look up at me with a kind of confused shock – why would we be listening to this song? What could he possibly find useful and good about this song?

The last stanza:

Hollywood glamorized my wrath

I’m the young urban psycho-path.

I encite murder for you entertainment,

Because I needed the money.

What’s your excuse?

The jokes on you.”

 “The jokes on you”, I repeated, and everyone was quiet. For once, something had held everyone’s attention for a little more than two minutes.

When we live in the world of “Slow Motion” or “2 Girls” or “Sweeny Todd” (as I am told) we live in Bizarro World. We live in a world where we fail to differentiate food other than by quantity, because the only appetite that we have is the banal one of mass consumption. We live in a world where the most profound moments in life aren’t a trip to Half Dome, getting married, or worshiping a divinity, but defecating.

Good things form us; bad things destroy us slowly. Good things demand from us, or at least they should. “Saving Private Ryan” isn’t what you put on when there’s nothing to do – it’s not entertainment. You can eat lobster like you eat Taco Bell, but you shouldn’t. No one develops a nose for wine without a little work.

C.S. Lewis rightly summarized Aristotle’s view on education as learning to like what we ought and dislike what we oughtn’t. This is education – it “rightens” us. The tragedy that stops education from ever happening is the denial that things are: that flowers are beautiful, and that maggot filled carcases are repulsive and ugly. When this is affirmed we can be formed (in Lewis’s terms we can form our “chest”), and we can develop an ability to appreciate the splendid and sublime.

Without this we lose all sense of the good and the beautiful, and all we care about is not being bored. We just want something to hit us, to make contact of some sort. In our culture shock, and even disgust, is a better response than boredom.

This is the theme that ran through the day at school – bring sanity back to our world. It was a rallying cry, a wake-up call, a call to arms. It was a mandate – for whoever might have ears to hear.

Make no mistake about it, this convicts me too. I know – the kids know – that what I am talking about it true. They also know that the only genuine response from all of us is to change our lives.

Holy Week is days away, and having crossed most of the sea of the Great Fast, have I been the master of my gluttonous stomach? Have I pressed on towards Him who is the Goodness, Truth, Beauty? Have I made the most of the medicine graciously bestowed upon me, or have I found myself in the prodigal’s pig-stye, living like an animal?

I study philosophy, which supposedly means that I search after wisdom. I have, despite sincere efforts, fallen prey to what ails most professional philosophers – I have stopped reading poetry. I have stopped forming my “chest”, opting to ignore my sensibilities and exercise my head. Ostensibly I take no prisoners for the truth, but the truth is that I am a liar and the chief of sinners. The truth is that I do not “commend myself and all the world unto Christ my God”, but rather rummage through the trash in my boredom, looking for something tasty.

Lest we despair; there is a fount that can clear our palate and quench our thirst. “Taste ye of the immortal fountain”.

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