Joy as Necessity (Dancing in Iran)

As much as the Puritans had an outsized influence on American culture, I think that one of the primary things they erred in, theologically, is the notion that joy – or maybe intentional happiness – is somehow frivolous, and therefore sinful.

Joy is a necessity of life, and while it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are experiencing “happiness” all the time, it’s a sustaining force that allows us to draw from happiness something greater, something that give us hope and perspective when times are rough. People are not mindless drones, although work is an important part of life, the soul needs more than constant work, constant busyness, to be satisfied.

This is part of what makes this story so disturbing. According to the Center for Human Rights in Iran, the Education minister is cracking down on the school officials who allowed Iranian children to dance around to some music in school. https://www.iranhumanrights.org/2019/05/title-irans-education-minister-cracks-down-on-school-kids-dance-challenge/

From our perspective, it’s a sweet little video. Little kids bopping around, smiling and laughing, the way little kids do. They are experiencing one of the ways in which music touches the soul, that delight. Now, from what I can tell in the English translation, the song is far from profound, it’s meant to be more of a Eurostyle techno earworm to get people moving on the dance floor. “Shake it sexy” isn’t necessarily a phrase little kids ought to be familiar with, but that’s not what kids are doing here. It’s hardly the type of thing, with all the other serious problems Iran is dealing with right now, that needs officials up to the deputy speaker of Parliament considering a crisis worthy of investigation and punishment.

Official video of the song “Gentleman” by US-Iranian artist Sasy

The singer, Sasy, for his part, has not backed down either. It helps that he lives in California, but still, publicly standing up to Iranian officials on this matter is no little thing, and he ought to be commended.

God is Love, and in His love and in loving others, we find real, sustaining joy. Music is part of that expression, whether it be for love, for mourning, for silliness, for dance, and it is no coincidence that music is so often referenced in the Bible.

Hard-line Islam, on the other hand, shuns music. In some sense, like the Puritans, there’s kind of an idea that the soul doesn’t need joy, that one ought to operate, always, in a way that is contra to this. Yes, the Christian life, and in Orthodoxy, in particular, we are taught that we need to live in a manner that curbs the passions, but when we actually do this, it almost always brings to us a more joyful life. It is not a blanket prohibition on fun (which was a common criticism of Christians I heard as a kid).

We need joy. We need the times to be happy and the times to mourn. As the passage in Ecclesiastes says:

1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Chapter 3:1-8 (King James Version)

Even this mentions dancing, because it’s so important to the human condition, an expression of joy. May we all pray that the time for dancing in Iran be near!

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Word and Action, Corporate Edition (No love for Gabby)

Blaze and the Monster Machines is a Nickelodeon show (Nick Jr.) featuring lots of anthropomorphized monster trucks along with a couple of kids who interact with them. The star, of course, is the character Blaze. The children are A.J., a boy, who is Blaze’s driver, and Gabby, a girl, who is the mechanic to the whole group. A.J. appears in every episode, and Gabby appears in most, if not all, of the episodes, though her role is smaller than A.J.’s.

The show hopes to introduce small children to science concepts, in particular those with math, mechanics, and engineering. (I wrote a bit about this at my other blog here: The Fallacy of “Educational Television”.) Regardless of whether I think educational television actually works, my two youngest children have fallen in love with the show. The thing is, one is a boy, the other a girl.

Now, for my son, finding him Blaze stuff was no problem. It’s obvious that probably 97% of kids who name Blaze as their favorite show are boys. There are coloring books, shoes, pajamas, toys, what have you, just as you would expect with any Nickelodeon cartoon.

My daughter very much enjoys that we have these things in the house. I have no problem with her running around with the monster trucks or wearing grey, black, and red Blaze pajamas.

The thing is, though, because she’s a girl, I’m sure she pays more attention to Gabby than the boys do. She pays attention to all of Gabby’s tools and can name them all, even at two years old. However, although Gabby is a “main character”, there is almost no Gabby merchandise. An Amazon search for “Blaze” and “Gabby” shows one car, which has poor ratings due to the fact that it is smaller than the rest of the series. No T-shirts, no pajamas, no dolls, nothing.

Obviously, the show’s fans are primarily little boys. That much is clear. However, if they are going to go through the trouble of putting a female character in the show, how about giving that character a little love? My daughter is very much a “girly-girl”, but there is no reason that she can’t aspire to go into the hard sciences if she wants to. A girl doesn’t have to be a boy to do that. Gabby is kind of a representation of that – a girl who is smart, competent, and feminine in a traditionally male environment. For all the whining there is these days about girls not wanting to go into STEM fields, you’d think that Nickelodeon might throw the minority of girls who love Blaze, like my daughter, a bone by giving them something in the way of merchandise choices. If nothing else, I would even wager to guess, that with her purple hair, Gabby would sell decently well with girls on the cuteness factor alone. I’m not saying that my two-year-old’s future in STEM is dependent on whether I can find some official Gabby merchandise. However, it just seems like this is another case of liberal corporate hypocrisy, where they say they are in favor of one thing, but their actions say something else entirely.