Christian Pop Culture May 5, 2008

Christian Pop Culture

Hanna Rosin, author of God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America, discusses this peculiar and omnipresent phenomenon at Slate.

Here are the best couple paragraphs you’ll read all day:

One night, a couple of years ago, I walked in on a group of evangelical college boys sitting on a bed watching The Daily Show. I felt alarmed, and embarrassed, as if I had caught them reading Playboy or something else they had to be shielded from. Jon Stewart, after all, spends at least one-quarter of his show making fun of people like them. But they eagerly invited me in. I soon learned that they watched the show every night it was on, finals or no finals. So strong was their devotion to Jon Stewart that I was tempted to ask: If Jesus came back on a Tuesday night at 11, would you get off the bed?

Over time, I came to understand this as a symptom of a larger phenomenon: evangelicals’ deeply neurotic relationship with popular culture. Whether or not they were the butt of all of Stewart’s jokes seemed irrelevant to them. The point was that the high priest of political comedy spent a lot of time thinking about them. Once, after I’d met Jon Stewart, they all crowded around and asked the same question: What does he really think of us?

She discusses Daniel Radosh‘s book (Rapture Ready!: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture) and how Christian popular culture is a watered down version of mainstream pop culture.

The problem is that purity boundaries are hard to police in the Internet age. Show a kid a Christian comedian, and soon he’s likely to discover that the guy is a pale imitation of this much funnier guy—Jon Stewart—who’s not a Christian at all, and doesn’t even like Christians. Which might then lead to a whole new set of anxieties, such as: Why are Christians so constitutionally unfunny? And, what is the point of Christian culture, anyway?

At a Christian retail show Radosh attends, there are rip-off trinkets of every kind—a Christian version of My Little Pony and the mood ring and the boardwalk T-shirt (“Friends don’t let friends go to hell”). There is Christian Harlequin and Christian chick lit and Bibleman, hero of spiritual warfare. There are Christian raves and Christian rappers and Christian techno, which is somehow more Christian even though there are no words. There are Christian comedians who put on a Christian version of Punk’d, called Prank 3:16. There are Christian sex-advice sites where you can read the biblical case for a strap-on dildo or bondage (liberation through submission). There’s a Christian planetarium, telling you the true age of the universe, and my personal favorite—Christian professional wrestling, where, by the last round, “Outlaw” Todd Zane sees the beauty of salvation.

The Prank 3:16 video referred to in the article, by the way, can be seen here.

And did anyone else know about the JPM — Jesus-per-minute — counts on Christian music by some watchdog groups?

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Zack

    Wow I had forgotten how awesomely funny Christian culture is. Thanks for the update.

  • When this baby hits 88 JPM, you’re gonna see some serious sh*t.

  • Wait, I want to hear more about the biblical case for strapon dildos. This could get interesting.

  • P.S.

    Can’t seem to find the biblical case for strap-ons, but the cases for bondage and other activities can be found at (possibly NSFW? No pictures, not very graphic descriptions…)

  • JimboB
  • Went to a Christian wrestling show from the WORD promotion a couple years back on the South Side (Hemant, you’re in Chicago, right?). It was actually a blast; the main event was Jesus (played by local wrestler Acid Jaz) versus Satan (as essayed by Dameon Dunn). At one point the Adversary had Our Saviour down after using (the wrestling moves) the Spear and the Crucifix Powerbomb, but of course He came back… I’ll drop you a line the next show like this I hear of, or do a writeup for the blog, if you like!

  • Cathy

    I couldn’t help laugh when you described that Jesse. Has anyone else seen the Jesus/Satan boxing match South Park episode?

  • I was speaking with my son’s 17yo older brother (long story) over the weekend, and the brother told me that he likes Christian rap music. Without prompting, he told us that if you don’t pay any attention to the words, you would think you were listening to “regular” rap music.

    I was intrigued that the music tried to imitate the form of pop culture without actually being as appealing as the real thing for the general population. It seems like the Christian culture has lost its influence as an appealing social construct, so it needs to imitate secular culture in order to appeal to anyone. Even so, the content can put people off. It’s almost as if instead of releasing summer blockbuster movies in theaters in June, the studios released a bunch of “The Making of…” movies to the theaters and released the actual movies on Betamax.

  • Same as it always is. For the church to maintain power it has to co-opt what the people really want. Every time culture pulls people away the church goes through a bunch of double-think to get back on top. They incorporated pagan seasonal rituals into christmas, they held power over music like Bach and art like Michaelangelo, who may have had brilliant secular careers. They denied science and then they made up their own. Religion is a very adaptive virus.

  • ash

    the boardwalk T-shirt (”Friends don’t let friends go to hell”).

    i so want one!

    wait…you can have ‘without joining in’ written on the back, right?

  • David D.G.

    Wow. Evidently they do their darnedest to create an alternate parallel universe that reflects their own version of reality. Man, there’s got to be a few good psychology articles and thesis projects waiting to be tapped here!

    ~David D.G..

  • You have no idea. I went to the International Christian Retail Show last year (which used to be the International Christian Book Show), and some of the stuff was absolutely ridiculous. Imagine having some of the things you actually believe encapsulated in some of this crap.

    Seriously, though, I had to chuckle some at Sean’s comment. Bach and Michaelangelo “may have had brilliant secular careers”? They were each among the most famous people in the world at the time of their deaths, and we’re still talking about them. Their careers were plenty brilliant. You may not like that they were Christians, but it’s not like the man was holding them down in obscurity.

  • Kori

    Yeah; I’ve always thought (or, for a while at least…) that the whole Christian dumbed-down version of stuff was kind of awful. Not even because of what it’s saying, but because what it’s saying is so contradictory in nature to what the art and culture of the movement it apes probably represented. The same goes for watering things down for mainstream consumption, though, too… either way, it kind of disgusts me.

  • Jake:

    Seriously, though, I had to chuckle some at Sean’s comment. Bach and Michaelangelo “may have had brilliant secular careers”? They were each among the most famous people in the world at the time of their deaths, and we’re still talking about them. Their careers were plenty brilliant. You may not like that they were Christians, but it’s not like the man was holding them down in obscurity.

    Oh no, I’m not saying that. Just lamenting the fact that in order so survive and work at all, some great artists of the past had to subjugate their creativity to either the church or some rich person’s patronage. And its different for every artist. To use my examples, from what I’ve read Bach l loved the church but Michaelangelo chafed under the pressure to paint the Sistine chapel ceiling and would have rather worked on something else. I mean, if I could only work as a musician (as I do) if I did work for the glory of the church or only at the whim of the rich I’d go nuts. Yes, Bach and Michaelangelo are brilliant and their work will likely amaze people for hundreds of years more. I enjoy both very much and could care less if they are christians. For me an artist’s work comes before their belief. But what would they do today, unshackled from those pressures? Maybe the same thing, maybe not. It should be for the artist to decide though and not the church. And for the record, Bach was almost lost to history, partly due to so much of his work being kept in the church and partly due to changes in musical styles. He was rediscovered years after his death thanks largely to Mozart.

    Just meant as more examples of how those in power want to control everything.

  • I want to see Bibleman and Battle Pope have an ecumenical team-up. Maybe they can join forces to take on Eastern Orthodoxy or something. That would be so awesome!

  • I’m just so glad that people are starting to draw attention to the Christian bastardization of pop culture. I used to think it was kind of funny, nothing more, but now it’s starting to irritate me—it’s like watching a crappy cover band ruin your favorite song. There’s even a Christian version of the Pokemon Trading Card Game; I have a link to the site somewhere.

  • Sean– sorry I misunderstood you. I do see your point and don’t think the church should dictate what artists are doing either.

    I think part of the problem with the Christian subculture is that a lot of Christian artists are 1) only paying attention to other Christian artists and 2) assuming that because they are Christians and artists everything they do has to be directly (and blatantly) related to Christianity. I think Christians, and I am one, should be broader in our approach.

    As an example, some of my college roommates were in a band that played a fair number of shows around town. They were all Christians, but weren’t a “Christian band”– some of their lyrics dealt more directly with faith, some didn’t, but they weren’t only hanging out with Christians or only marketing themselves to Christians. I think their approach was better than Christians retreating and making our own little subculture– which is usually more expensive and less quality than what we’re imitating.

  • Kori

    Jake – you make a good point. There are plenty of artists who consider themselves “Christian” or who, at the very least, have a song or two dealing with their faith, etc., and this doesn’t require that they label themselves “Christian Rock”. It doesn’t necessarily contradict to be Christian and belong to some of those groups – but being a “Christian” variation of any of those groups _does_.

  • Gotta love it! Apparently making innovative forms of expression more bland and derivative, and tossing in a few Christian phrases, they’ve come up with a “I can’t believe it’s not going to burn in Hell” substitute for any occasion! They have decided to take good brands and products, and trying to make them better for our souls, which, apparently, necessitates it being “almost as good” as the original. It is like the cultural equivalent of Splenda: not as bad for you as sugar, serving the same purpose as sugar, and still relatively sweet, but it inevitably leaves a horrible after-taste, and just isn’t quite the same…

  • janelle

    Umm…Jon Stewart is a Christian…in fact he teaches Sunday School. I somewhat agree with the watered down mainstream point but do ur research

  • siamang

    Is this a joke? Jon Stewart is a Jew. Do some research yourself.

  • Jennifer

    Janelle, you might be thinking of Stephen Colbert. He teaches Sunday School. Jon Stewart is a born Jew, but I believe (but cannot confirm it) that he is now either an atheist or agnostic. He is DEFINITELY not a Christian, though.

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