Fireproof: Part 1

You guys, my very first Kirk Cameron movie!  Mike Seaver!  Buck FREAKING Williams!  Robin to Ray Comfort’s Batman!  (If Batman was an ignorant blowhard with no understanding of science or research.)

Okay, so we know right away that a movie starring Buck Williams, dealing with Christian marriage, is going to be screwy, right?  Right.  And we get started in the very first scene!

Little Catherine (we never see her, we just hear her voice as the camera pans across the stereotypically little-princess room, complete with “Daddy’s Little Girl” pink placard on the wall):

I want to marry Daddy.

Okay, I get that little kids say weird things, but when Little Catherine’s mommy explains that Daddy is her husband, Little Catherine presses the point, and finally settles on a plan to marry someone “just like daddy.”

Daddy is a fireman.

I think we all know where this is going.

Sure, enough, 25 years later, Catherine is stuck in a joyless, loveless marriage with an abusive jerk.  But hey, at least he’s a firefighter!  So, Mission Accomplished, eh?

Said abusive jerk is one Caleb Holt, fire captain (*snicker*) in Athens, Georgia.  He is introduced with the theme of the movie: he scolds a firefighter under his command that “you never leave your partner.”

Ha, bet Caleb won’t learn that the same principle applies to marriage!!  😀

Catherine, meanwhile, has grown up to become a PR person at the hospital.  She is introduced by expositioning to a friend about the fact that her mother had a stroke a year ago, and needs a new hospital bed and wheelchair, which insurance won’t cover.

I wonder how most conservative Christians feel about the fact that some people can’t afford medical equipment…

On her way out, Catherine literally bumps into cute Dr. Gavin Keller, leading to a knowing look from the two nurses nearby, who theorize that Gavin has a crush on her.

I hesitate to even bring this up, but here goes: the two nurses are black.  And the black women in this movie seem to be written just a tad stereotypically, addressing Catherine as “Cat, girl,” and ending many sentences with “mmmm-hmmmm.”  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate seeing people of color on the screen, given how incredibly white Christian films tend to be.

But still…


Quick scene of Catherine visiting her parents.  Mom hasn’t regained any speech since the stroke.  That’s sad.  Catherine’s dad was a firefighter and also a nice person, and in marrying a guy “just like him,” Catherine only opted for the former characteristic, not the latter.  That is also sad.


Back at Casa Holt, we see that Catherine and Caleb barely even acknowledge each other’s existence.  This is at least partially explained by the fact that Caleb works on a 24-hours-on, 48-hours-off schedule, which basically translates to husband and wife seeing each other for about one hour per week.

They argue about breakfast, with Caleb immediately setting the tone by telling Catherine “Don’t get smart with me” when she suggests that if he wants some groceries, he could always, yanno, go to the store.

Caleb and Catherine are about my age.  “Don’t get smart with me” isn’t even a phrase I associate with my parents’ generation.  I can picture my grandfather saying it.  Maybe.

More exposition reveals that Caleb has managed to squirrel away $24,000 over the years, and is planning on buying a boat.  Catherine argues that they could use the money on the house, but it’s hard for me not to agree with Caleb that the things she suggests (painting a door, putting shelves in a closet) are minor preferences.  Hell, I even agree that if they’re important to her but not to him, why not use her paycheck on them.

(This all made me curious, so I did some very quick and general research.  An experienced firefighter in Georgia could make $50,000-60,000 per year, possibly more since he’s the chief of the station.  And a hospital PR specialist could make roughly the same.  That is a very comfy household income, especially for a childfree couple.)


A pointless scene at the gym (oooo, so manly, Buck!) where Caleb complains that he gets no “respect.”  Again, very…old world complaint for a man.

Or maybe the men in my family are just too progressive, who knows.  😉  They do tend to run to more successful marriages than the Holt marriage, though.

Not that that’s saying a lot.

Hell, it’s not saying much of anything.


Sweaty and stinky from the gym, Caleb berates Catherine for not fixing him any dinner (she assumed he was eating with his gym buddy), then starts into a general complaining rant about their marriage.  Naturally, it sets him off when Catherine states that she feels “pressure” from taking care of the house all by herself, plus helping her parents.  Because nobody feels pressure except for firefighters.

Catherine brings up Caleb’s porn addiction.  (The words “porn addiction” are never used, to the best of my memory, but I’ll keep my ears open as we go along.)  Instead, she calls it “looking at that trash” online.

The movie considers this to be Caleb’s Big Problem.  The one worst thing about his behavior as a husband.  But I think they’re overlooking the real Big Problem, which occurs about three seconds later…

Caleb slams a cupboard shut and starts shrieking in Catherine’s face.  Flinging an accusing finger at her face again and again, he bullies her into a corner of the kitchen, still screaming at levels that would cause some neighbors to call the cops.  (They don’t in the movie.  But if I heard a man screaming at a woman like that, I sure as hell would consider it.)


Catherine:  *murmurs*  I’m not self–


Caleb finally takes a breath and turns away, giving Catherine enough time to whimper the magic words:

Catherine:  I want out.

Damn straight.

And that is fine with Caleb.

Oh, excuse me…


With that, Caleb storms out of the house, leaving Catherine sobbing and shaking.  Since actually striking a woman is the one line he hasn’t crossed, he instead takes out his feelings on a poor, innocent trash can that never hurt anybody.

Seriously.  After screaming at and berating his wife and driving her into a corner, he still has unexpressed rage.

Oh.  And this also leads to one of the “running gags” of the movie, which is that every time Caleb storms out of the house to beat up inanimate objects, an elderly neighbor just so happens to be standing there, watching.


Yanno, I want to make jokes here, I really do, but I just find myself coming back to one question: would this movie ever come right out and say that Caleb has abused Catherine?

I’m betting not.  Indeed, if you check out the Fireproof website, it says only that Caleb and Catherine have “regular arguments.”  And that both are ready to “move on.”

But that’s really not what’s going on here.  Caleb is abusing his wife.  Emotionally, verbally, and physically.  Sure, he’s not actually striking her with his fist (which I am willing to bet is the technicality the movie wants us to always bear in mind), but he’s backing her into a corner (literally), shaking a finger in her face, jabbing it at her, and using his greater height and weight against her.

How is that not physical abuse?

Does a worldview that states that the only true grounds for divorce are adultery, abandonment, and abuse…admit that Caleb is abusing Catherine?

I’m betting not.  I’m betting this is all meant to show us not an abusive relationship, but an unbiblical one, where the wife is not sufficiently respecting the husband.  (This is the second time Caleb has brought this up, and though it seems a ridiculous idea to me, in light of his behavior, I don’t think this is what the movie wants me to think.)

For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.  He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.  In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself.  No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.  And we are members of his body.

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”  This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.  So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Ephesians 5:22-33

See?  Caleb only wants what is right and proper in his marriage.  Sure, he doesn’t Know Christ yet, and he’s going about this in the wrong way, but his thoughts are only natural, right?

Phew.  That’s actually a lot of ground covered in the first fifteen minutes of the movie.  No worries, though: once Caleb starts trying to repair the marriage (har), things start to drag.

Like, a lot.


Can this marriage be saved?  Should it be saved?  Discuss!

Posted on July 6, 2014, in Fireproof, Movies. Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. OK wait a second. Catherine’s mother had a stroke, needs a new bed and wheelchair, can’t afford it, and Catherine & Caleb are fighting over whether they should spend the $24k in savings on a boat or house repairs? Seriously movie, these are our protagonists?

    • Yeah, it weirdly never occurs to Catherine to mention these things to Caleb. She mentions things like getting a door painted, but not getting her mom a wheelchair. She also never thinks about the possibility of her parents moving in with them, which would presumably save them enough money to buy the bed and wheelchair themselves.

    • Well, we couldn’t have the wife have too good of a point. As we’ve learned from Soon and Silenced: The unsaved husband can be shown to be in the wrong, just as long as his unsaved wife isn’t shown to be too much in the right. Firstly, because we can’t have their problems get solved without both of them inviting Christ in their lives. And secondly, because if the woman is shown to be too morally superior, uppity women in sensible shoes might question why she should later submit to the proper headship of her husband.

  2. The greatest compliment I can give this movie is that it has sliiiiiiightly better writing than its predecessors from this church-company. That’s not much of a compliment, really.

  3. Soooo… the husband’s problem is that he’s shown to not be attracted to or care for his wife anymore, he’s abusive, and has stated that the only point of the marriage to him is to get more respect, which he feels he deserves.

    And from what I saw in the trailer, the husband’s solution to his marriage problems, as suggested by some LaHaye-ish advice book, is doing some random pseudo-kind shit for his wife every day.

    Not apologizing. Not seeking help for his aggressive outbursts or his pathalogical need for respect. (Which, again according to the trailer, he feels he gets from everyone except his wife. And it’s still not enough for him.) No, just start doing some attentive acts without giving his wife an explanation for any of it.

    Such small tokens of affection might have some use if your marriage is in a bit of a rut and you’re just not feeling the affection or passion for your spouse or haven’t really talked with one another in a while. But in this particular situation, she should view it as a giant red flag that Buck’s moodswings are becomming even more severe, and she should get away ASAP before it swings right back to even more violent aggression when she fails to respond exactly like Buck expected her too.

    I’m seeing some parallels between how I suspect the movie will treat the book’s advice (I give it good odds that it is based on an existing marriage advice book by some big-shot pastor.) and how the Slacktivist said advice on how to convert unbelievers is handled: The RTC in question is handed a script that details how to interact with their spouse/the unbeliever. But when the other party deviates from that script, the RTC has no way to deal with the situation, except to respond aggresively because obviously the wife is being a cruel bitch/the unbeliever has deliberately closed his mind. Why else would they not respond to the RTC’s pastor-approved, good, godly message as they ought to?

    • This, a billion times this.

      I hate this movie with all of my heart. I admit that this is possibly unfair of me, considering that I’ve never watched it, but I don’t care. We hates it, we hates it forever.

      I hate it because I live with a flatmate who thinks it’s the greatest piece of cinematography in the universe. Her parents divorced when she was a child and she has never got over it. (To be honest I kind of think it might be time for her to go get counselling or something – sweetheart, you’re still stuck on something that happened twenty years ago – but she isn’t about to listen to me saying that, especially because I am engaged to someone who has previously been divorced and she has a massive chip on her shoulder about it.)

      Anyway she *lurves* her this movie. When we have had conversations about divorce, she literally has said, “yeah, but what about Fireproof?” As if it was enough to follow ABC formula and bingo! Repaired marriage. Real life isn’t that straightforward sometimes.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        As if it was enough to follow ABC formula and bingo! Repaired marriage. Real life isn’t that straightforward sometimes.


    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      But in this particular situation, she should view it as a giant red flag that Buck’s moodswings are becomming even more severe, and she should get away ASAP before it swings right back to even more violent aggression when she fails to respond exactly like Buck expected her too.

      But this is by Fundagelicals for Fundagelicals. In a lot of Fundy-land, abusive behavior by husbands is NORMAL and Godly. The Man Penetrates, Colonizes, Conquers, Plants; the woman lies back and Accepts.

      I’ve been following spiritual abuse whistleblogs Wartburg Watch and Spiritual Sounding Board for some time; they’ve been tracking the Male Supremacist attitude in Fundy-land for some time. I’m sure Wartburg Watch had something to say re Fireproof when it first came out; something about the movie being propaganda for Male Supremacist MenaGawd.

      Checked Wartburg Watch. Searching on “Fireproof” brought up these four entries, centering around another movie in the series, “Courageous”:

      and how the Slacktivist said advice on how to convert unbelievers is handled: The RTC in question is handed a script that details how to interact with their spouse/the unbeliever.

      Just like when you try to call tech support and get Apu in Calcutta reading his English word-for-word off a script. And when you tell him the script doesn’t work, he just starts reciting the script again.

  4. So I found the first 10 minutes online, and watched it. It’s hard to say who I like less right now. Caleb is a pretty classic entitled male douchebag with strong expectations of traditional gender norms, and his clue-meter is stuck on zero. In two scenes, Catherine says in effect “I am upset because you don’t communicate with me”, and in both scenes, the very next thing Caleb says seems to ignore that she has told him why she’s upset, and how easy it would be to fix it. Seriously:

    “You never tell me when you’ll be around.”
    “What did I do to make you so angry with me?”

    “If you would just tell me when you’ll be around for dinner, I’ll make some for you.”
    “Why do you have to make everything so difficult?”

    Catherine’s behavior seems like the classic sort of passive-aggressive attempts at behavior-modification you might try on a bad roommate. He doesn’t go grocery shopping, she asks him to, and he still doesn’t do it, so when she shops, it’s only enough for herself. He doesn’t call and tell her when he’ll be around for dinner or breakfast, so she only cooks enough for herself. Anyone who has had roommate troubles knows those tactics just don’t work. Piling dirty dishes in the sink/shower/wherever doesn’t ever actually make someone change their behavior. It just makes them angry and resentful.

    So, on the one hand, Caleb is an entitled douchebag who doesn’t listen when his wife explicitly tells him what she wants. And on the other hand, Catherine is using classic passive-aggressive tactics to try and change her husband’s behavior. So right now, I’m rooting for bears to wander onto the set and maul and eat them both.

    • Maybe she’s not being passive-aggressive so much as she’s decided to stop taking him into consideration when she makes her decisions.

      And regardless of how annoying her behaviour may or may not be, it doesn’t merit the death penalty — the way that, say, making fun of one of the Lord’s prophets’ baldness does. It also doesn’t merit being physically threatened and yelled at by someone much stronger and more dangerous than her. Caleb’s physical/verbal/emotional abuse is Not Okay Ever.

    • inquisitiveraven

      The thing is, passive aggressive behavior is what you get when someone a) doesn’t get the desired results from the direct approach, or b) is afraid to be direct due to the anticipated reaction. Given Caleb’s displayed douchiness, and I’d say that Catherine is justified to fear his reactions if she’s direct, and being direct doesn’t work for her. Add the fact that women are often socialized to be “nice” instead of assertive and this is, per Ruby’s comment at 4:56, taking place in the Deep South which is heavily steeped in what was named “guess culture” on Metafilter, but I think is better termed “Hint Culture” and Catherine’s passive aggressiveness is completely understandable.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        And as a guy who’s been on the receiving end of passive-aggressive and has a hard time trusting women in general, all I can say is that Catherine’s behavior would make me even more distrustful of women as well as bringing in payback baggage for all the times I’ve been victimized that way.

  5. Here in the UK, we have the offence of assault: “the act of creating apprehension of an imminent harmful or offensive contact with a person”. It is not the actual contact; that’s battery. (In the USA it seems to vary quite a lot. Do we know which state this is meant to be happening in?)

  6. That’s actually much worse than I expected. Do conservatives really not know the difference between an abusive relationship and a “troubled” relationship? I guess pretending that actions like that are not abuse serves the dual purpose of keeping women from thinking they deserve real respect and convincing men and women that the abusive things God does in the Bible are just examples of God’s love.

    • I haven’t seen enough of this movie to be certain how it will play out, but the impression I got from Soon and Silenced was that the wife’s suffering in a failing, abusive marriage isn’t considered all that important. Jenkins clearly disapproved of how Paul acted during the first half of Soon, but he didn’t seem to think of Jae as the primary victim of Paul’s actions, but rather the marriage itself.

      It’s as if their marriage didn’t involve two entities (husband and wife) but three: husband, wife and the concept of marriage. And since marriage is obviously divinely ordained, it is actually the most important entity. If you don’t care enough about marriage, you clearly don’t care enough about god.

      This would explain the second half of Soon, where Paul is busy making amends to his marriage, while Jae is foolishly attacking their marriage. Jenkins is aware that Jae’s actions might have something to do with Paul’s earlier actions, but both Jae, Paul and Jenkins still portray it as wrong. (“Forcing him out now would be unforgivable, the final blow in their marriage. Jae wasn’t ready to take that step. “) Because she isn’t simply hurting (to use that term loosely) the man who hurt (to use that term not loosely at all) her, she’s hurting their poor, innocent marriage and insulting god by not caring enough about her marriage.

      And it explains why Paul thinks about the “chore” it will be to rebuild things with Jae, but he does it anyway. He isn’t even looking forward to the moment when his relationship with Jae has been fixed, just to the moment that his relationship with his marriage, which is a part of his relationship with god, is fixed. That this relationship with his marriage involves Jae is an unfortunate necessity. In fact, the second person involved in the marriage is just a detail.

      And so we get to carovee’s question, about knowing the difference between a troubled and an abusive marriage: If my theory is correct, then it’s more a matter of not caring about the difference. The latter may cause more suffering for the spouse, but either cause suffering to the all-important marriage. The solution is therefore to try and make amends to your marriage. Once you’ve done that, it’s your spouse’s responsibility to ignore whatever you may have done previously, and start working on the marriage too.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        I haven’t seen enough of this movie to be certain how it will play out, but the impression I got from Soon and Silenced was that the wife’s suffering in a failing, abusive marriage isn’t considered all that important.

        AKA “She’s just a WOMAN.”

      • Thanks. I never thought of it but I think you are right. Certain evangelicals see “marriage” as separate from the two people in the relationship the way some conservatives see “the economy” as somehow separate from all the individuals whose activities and interactions make up the economy.

        • inquisitiveraven

          Interesting. I wonder if reifying important abstractions (or abstractions in general) is characteristic of the authoritarian mindset. As far as I can tell, Any Rand did it with money. In addition to marriage, the Religious Reich does it with “family.” It’s been noted on Pharyngula or Dispatches from the Culture Wars (not sure which, maybe both) many times that they’re awfully interested in protecting “the family,” but not so much actual families.

          • See also: People who identify themselves as ‘Pro-life’. There are some who actually do act, or support others, to preserve human life in any moment. But a disturbing number stops caring about the precious fetus baby the second it leave the womb. Once that happens, this group feels its more important to worry about undeserving wellfare queens mooching of their hard-earned tax dollars then about whether or not the mother can support the child.

            In the Netherlands, our local RTC political party is of course opposed to our liberal abortion and euthanesia laws, as life is super-duper precious. But they are also the only party (though our local Tea-party analogue might have joined them in that stance, not sure) who want to re-introduce the death penalty.

            I disagree with either position, but I’m willing to hear you out if you support one of those positions. But I don’t take anyone who holds both those positions seriously.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Not “conservatives” per se, Carovee.

      More like a Male Supremacist control freak faction that’s throwing their weight around in Fundyland. All tied up with cult compounds, Christian(TM) Homeschooling, and going for Political Power.

  7. My opinion is that this marriage is unsaveable, at least without a looooooooooot of marital counseling and for Our Hero, a boatload of anger management counseling. But frankly, I think it’d be a lot better if they did split ways.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Remember, this is a CHRISTIAN(TM) movie.
      So an Altar Call Ending and Sinner’s Prayer (after the break-the-fourth-wall Four Spiritual Laws presentation) in the last five minutes fixes EVERYTHING.

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy

    Robin to Ray Comfort’s Batman!

    With or without the Magic Banana?

    P.S. Ruby, keep a close eye on how they stage/choreograph any embrace or kissing scenes. The Greatest CHRISTIAN Actor of All Time (GCAAT) insists on his RL wife being stand-in for ALL kissing scenes so he doesn’t commit adultery. (Guy is highly OCD neurotic even by movie industry standards; Slacktivist theorizes he was an adult convert (bringing in baggage real and OCD imagined) who was catechized entirely in terms of “Thou Shalt Not”.)

  9. Stopping in to say the book in question is called “The Love Dare” and many copies of it have a sticker saying “as seen in the movie Fireproof!” or some such on the cover. We pretty much always have a copy of it at the (fairly large) thrift store where I work, so many people have purchased and then discarded it.

    • Aww, here I was hoping it was one of LaHaye’s marriage books.

      Hmm, dumping the marriage help books at the thrift store… that could mean the previous owner managed to fix hir marriage and would rather spread this great gift to others than not get rid of the amazing book that brough hir happiness back. Or that the advice was shit.

      I’m leaning towards the latter. I just feel that there is a very narrow band in which the book’s list of things to do for your spouse would help*: You marriage must not be in such deep shit that, as in Fireproof, the nice acts are inadequate and just make you look like you’re suffering from mood swings. But the marriage must be sufficiently in the crapper that you’re honestly better off having a generic list of nice things to do from a book, instead of, y’know, relying on your own knowledge of your spouse’s specific likes and dislikes.

      *Based on the trailer, that seemed to be all that the book had to offer.

    • From the book’s store page:

      In the movie FIREPROOF, a couple dares to rescue their choking marriage from the flames of divorce and temptation using The Love Dare book as a guide. Now you can take the experience of the film one step further with your own copy of The Love Dare book. This daily devotional steers you through the fiery challenge of developing a strong, committed marriage in a world that threatens to burn it to the ground.

      The Love Dare personally leads you through daily devotionals, records your thoughts and experiences, and ends each day daring you to perform a simple act of love for your spouse. This 40-Day journey equips you to melt hardened, separated hearts into an enduring love that can withstand the flames of fear, pride and temptation. The Love Dare book will help you reinforce and enrich your marriage, earn back a love you thought was lost, and hear more about the One who not only designed unconditional, sacrificial love—He illustrated it.

      In a world that attacks, devalues, and redefines relationships every day, learn how to rescue and protect your marriage from the firestorm. Take The Love Dare and FIREPROOF your relationship.

      Oh yeah, that’s the RTC stuff. God will fix your marriage. Your spouse is a robot who will need exactly 40 nice inputs to be permanently locked into devotion mode, no exceptions. And the evil outside world is attacking and redefining your marriage out of existence, but you can be a brave culture warrior and beat it back.

      “No honey, it isn’t my fault that I haven’t shown you any affection in three years. It’s all because of that legalized gay marriage. It made me so confused about what marriage is supposed to entail, I could no longer tell that I shouldn’t have made my secretary pregnant. Twice. But together, we can get through this, just be grateful for me doing nice things for a month and a half just because a book told me, pray with me, and then join me in fighting the homosexual agenda so our marriage will be safe forever.

      • This daily devotional steers you through the fiery challenge of developing a strong, committed marriage in a world that threatens to burn it to the ground.

        Hot dang! I never realized that rebuilding a failing marriage could sound so exciting! I wonder what happens in the next chapter? Do we climb the forbidding Cliffs of Apathy and slay the fearsome Ogre of Miscommunication with the mighty Sword of Blessed Matrimony?

        and ends each day daring you to perform a simple act of love for your spouse. This 40-Day journey equips you to melt hardened, separated hearts into an enduring love that can withstand the flames of fear, pride and temptation.

        “I dare you to make a sandwich for your spouse! I dare you!”

        “But I was just about to go out and do battle with the Three-Headed Dragon of Fear, Pride and Temptation.”

        “I dare you!”

        “I already put on my diamond-studded Armour of Well-Deserved Humility, and… *sigh* Fine, I’ll make a sandwich. But I better be getting some decent XP for this quest.”

        The Love Dare book will help you reinforce and enrich your marriage, earn back a love you thought was lost, and hear more about the One who not only designed unconditional, sacrificial love—He illustrated it.

        The pictures in this book were drawn by God Himself?! How did they manage that? …Oh, they meant “illustrated” in the sense of providing an example.

        “Honey, why are you poking that tiger with a stick?”

        “I’m trying to save out marriage.”

        “How is annoying a man-eating beast supposed to accomplish that?”

        “I read this marriage guidance book, and it said that getting myself killed is the greatest act of love imaginable.”

        In a world that attacks, devalues, and redefines relationships every day, learn how to rescue and protect your marriage from the firestorm.

        “Hi, Bob! How are things with Alice?”

        “Oh, we are not seeing each other anymore.”

        “I’m sad to hear that. Why did you break up?”

        “Well, we didn’t break up exactly. You know how we live in a world that attacks, devalues, and redefines relationships every day? Turns out that last week our relationship was redefined into an airline loyalty program. So instead of having a girlfriend, I now had enough frequent-flyer miles to visit Bolivia.”

        “Oh. Well… At least you can go to Bolivia.”

        “Actually, no. That was immediately devalued into a complimentary pack of peanuts.”

        “Wait a moment! That doesn’t make any sense! The world devalues relationships, not frequent-flyer miles!”

        “Yeah, I called customer support about that. Turns out the devaluing actually occurred before the redefining, but apparently there was a computer glitch and they were applied in the wrong order.”

      • “In a world that attacks, devalues, and redefines relationships every day, …”

        Did anyone else start singing, oone of theeese is not like the ooothers. Oh wait, redefined relationships are totally an attack on your normal run of the mill marriage, what with their existing and all.

    • Okay, one more post for the road:

      “In a world that attacks, devalues, and redefines relationships every day, learn how to rescue and protect your marriage from the firestorm.”

      Those first three words explain a lot about the rest of that sentence: “In a world”. What’s the first thing that springs to mind when you hear that phrase? Move trailers, right? “In a world where [Insert bad thing here], one man has the courage to [Insert good thing that opposes bad thing here].”

      The phrase got popular because it was a good, quick way to promote your bombastic movie, explaining the setting and the central conflict. And, if you followed it up with that “one man”-template, it propped up your protagonist as the brave hero fighting for justice.

      It’s such a cliche that I haven’t seen it used seriously for a while now. But here we see it not only get used with a straight face, but describing the real world, not a fictional one. And look at the sentence that follows it. Even if it doesn’t use the exact “one man” phrase, the message is exactly the same, and for almost exactly the same reason: Wish fullfillment. It wants to quickly paint a portrait of a terrible world so you can experience the thrill of bravely opposing it.

      Except that instead of merely identifying yourself with the protagonists’ heroic actions, it wants to convince you that you are the brave hero opposing tyranny. And, more frightingly, instead of imagining a world where such terrible tyrrany takes palce, they want to convince you that you are living in that world. It is the real world, and the people who are satisfied living in it, that this phrase urges you to oppose.

      That means that in this context, using “In a world” isn’t just bad because the phrase is trite and hackneyed. No, it’s bad because it is a cynical marketing ploy that feels it’s worth it to pit their customers against their real life neighbours if it means selling a few more books.

      Okay, actually there’s a second interpetation: If that phrase was written by dedicated culture warriors, it could be that “pitting their customers against their real life neighbours” is actually as much the product they want to push as the books themselves. That’s not actually better.

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