Christian School Cancels New Pornographers Concert September 15, 2010

Christian School Cancels New Pornographers Concert

The New Pornographers are hands down my favorite band. I’ve seen them live in concert twice and it was an incredible experience both times. I have all their albums, the B-sides, the bootlegs I’m not supposed to have, etc.

They play colleges, too, and Calvin College — a Christian school in Grand Rapids, Michigan — invited them to do a show.

But that’s not happening anymore.

Why not? Because — oh no! — their name has the word “pornography” in it and that’s too confusing for everyone!

Regrettably, Calvin College has decided to rescind its invitation to the band, The New Pornographers, slated to perform on Friday, October 15, 2010, in the Fieldhouse Complex on campus. We believe that the decision to invite the band fit our rubric of engaging culture through a Christian lens. The band makes good, thoughtful music, and we invited them here based on their artistic merit. However, after weeks of discussion and consideration, the irony of the band’s name was impossible to explain to many. The band’s name, to some, is mistakenly associated with pornography. Consequently, Calvin, to some, was mistakenly associated with pornography. Neither the college nor the band endorses pornography. The Student Activities Office regrets the way this has happened. We regret the message we have sent to the band and their fans with this cancellation, and any confusion this has caused generally. We have been in contact with the band to explain this regret and the breakdown in our own processes that led us to first invite them and then withdraw that invitation. Calvin College remains committed to the difficult, yet important work at faithfully engaging popular culture.

What the hell…

Somehow, it wasn’t an issue when they sent the band the invitation… but it is now?

Here’s what I gather happened. Some older donors to the school heard about the event and assumed the school was allowing an orgy to take place on stage.

Instead of explaining that the name has nothing to do with actual pornography, the Student Activities Office just caved in and cancelled what would have been an excellent concert.

(Notice the explanation never explains who the “some” are who wrongly associate the band and the school with porn.)

This is a stupid decision made by cowardly administrators.

Not that it was needed, but how hard would it have been to just include a little disclaimer with press releases to indicate that the band’s name is a play on words?

I mean, is it really that hard for a Christian school to tell people not to take things so damn literally?!



Never mind.

(Someone, please tell the Barenaked Ladies not to accept invites from Calvin College anytime soon.)

***Update***: Wait… the Barenaked Ladies have played at Calvin College?! Then why are they cancelling the New Pornographers show?

Incidentally, here’s lead singer Carl Newman‘s explanation of where the name comes from:

“I saw the Japanese movie The Pornographers and I thought it was an interesting word. On the first Destroyer record, Dan has a song “the Pornographers.” I remember wanting to put the word new in front of something like “the new sneakers of the new Christy Minstrels.” I always thought that bands that put new in front of their name was somehow kind of modern in a false way. Like do you really have to call yourself the new? Does it really have to be illustrated by those words.’ So I like the words “the pornographers,” and “The New Pornographers” just fell together. I don’t know, I can’t tell if it’s a bad name or shitty name.”

It’s a fine name and an excellent band. It’s too bad Calvin College wants to deprive their students from hearing them because of “some” anonymous people who don’t have five seconds to Google the band and learn something about them before they complain.

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  • One of my favorite rap groups, the Cunninlynguists, came to University of Oregon and performed on campus last year with no fuss. Sounds like someone at Calvin College has a stick wedged sideways up their proverbial ass.

  • Sully

    Even if they WERE involved in actual pornography, it would probably be really artsy, hipster pornography influenced by other pornography so obscure you’ve never heard of it before.

  • Brice Gilbert

    Grand Rapids Michigan? Really? Why am I not surprised.

    I love that it says

    Neither the college nor the band endorses pornography.

  • Does the bible say anything about pornography? At all?

    You know, apart from the Song of Solomon.

  • VXbinaca

    On the subject: How dumb.

    The band:

    Their genre is dying anyway with a flood of record producer funded bands that start with “The” and sport that haircut that looks like Hitler’s hair but longer.

    I laughed as Emo died and recoiled in horror with the rise of Screamo and Scene and I’ll laugh when this hipster shit dies too.

    Unfortunately it won’t have the spectacular and distinct ending that 70’s disco or the 90’s Alternative* had (Woodstock ’99).

    *Disclaimer: I I grew up with and like a lot of music from the 90’s, but don’t like Nirvana and the consumerist cult around the music, or some of Cobain’s late-in-life snobbishness, specifically towards Perl Jam.

  • mthrnite

    With a name like that it’s absolutely no surprise whatsoever that many Christians would balk at having them play at their school. Nice try, hip Christians, but this is the real world. Feigning too much outrage over this looks more than a bit disingenuous. Hitler’s Desklamp is playing over at the American Jewish University, oh wait, no they’re not… but, but, their name was taken from a madlibs book found in a dumpster, it has nothing to do with the band, they play smooth jazz…
    Meh, I’m already belaboring the hell out of my point, so I’ll stop here.

  • VXbinaca

    God isn’t even up this early, Hermant. Why are you? 🙂

    One wonders if they weren’t pressured to cancel the concert.

  • Richard Wade

    I mean, is it really that hard for a Christian school to tell people not to take things so damn literally?!



    Never mind.

    Some people, because of their upbringing, have trouble with symbol, metaphor, simile, analogy, and allegory…

    Matt 13:33 Another parable spake he unto them; “The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”

    13:33 1/4 And they looked at him in wonder and were much amazed. They said unto him, “Verily, Lord, that soundeth gross. Such meal would be all moldy and full of fuzzy stuff. The kingdom of heaven is gross, moldy dough?”

    13:33 1/2 And he rolled his eyes unto heaven and gave a great sigh, muttering “O Lord give me strength”, but they continued, “And why has this woman, who clearly is not to be trusted, hidden a loaf of bread in a sack of meal? Should she not share that loaf with her husband, that he may partake of it? She must be taken to the Elders for judgment and punishment!”

    13:33 3/4 And He brought his palm up quickly to his face, smacking himself, and he said unto them, “Verily, thou art all as dumb as rocks! I was speaking in a parable, thou breach-born spawn of donkeys. A pa-ra-bull. It’s like a…” But he trailed off, for he could see their wondering and much amazed faces, asking each other about how they were rocks and donkeys, and so he spake unto them, “Skip it, be at peace. let us go have lunch at Aaron’s Deli.”

  • Drew M.

    Richard, That made me laugh out loud. Thanks! 🙂

    As far as the school goes… All I can do is facepalm. I guess they openly admitted that their faculty and students aren’t too bright.

  • pennstatejoe

    I had heard Carl give another explanation for the band’s name that may explain the Christian college’s decision to issue the un-vitation. He said that there had been a Jerry Falwell broadcast in which Falwell called music the “new pornography.” The band picked that up and ran with it. I love the New Pornographers; Carl, Dan, and Neko can do no wrong in my eyes.

  • Well if you go by the etymology of the words, you can interpret it to mean something completely innocuous as far as conservative Christianity is concerned… Pornography comes from two Greek words which literally mean ‘prostitution’ and ‘graphic’. Prostitute is frequently used with non-sexual connotations, it’s just too bad that the sexual-repressives we know as Christians are perverts.

  • Another explanation is that although the administrators, faculty, students, and alumni can realize that the band would not do anything indecent on stage and can look past the name, they can’t be sure that God would be so gracious. God, according to the bible, has a history of being petty, thin-skinned, vindictive, and quick to judge. After-all, according to the evangeliests, God condemns people to hell for eternity for the mere “crime” of not believing in the right fairy-tails…

    I could see that they would not want to take a chance with God’s wrath with a band with the name “pornographers” in it.

    The Falwell theory might have credence as well since to some he is a sacred cow.

  • Instead of explaining that the name has nothing to do with actual pornography, the Student Activities Office just caved in and cancelled what would have been an excellent concert.

    Sounds to me they did try to explain. They just found out they were dealing with people who can’t understand irony.

  • geoff

    i am an alumni of cc who is more than a bit disappointed at this sort of thing.

  • Aric

    Ah, it’s nice to see my hometown in the news, especially since I’m on the other side of the world.

    The headquarters of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) is in Grand Rapids. Calvin College is owned/run by the CRC. The CRC comes from a line of churches that were founded by people who left the Netherlands because the Dutch churches were too liberal. In the US they kept splintering into more denominations because they disagreed over some minor point of dogma.

    I wouldn’t mind living in Grand Rapids again, but if you grow up in western Michigan you MUST live somewhere else for a few years, to see what normal people are like.

  • muggle

    Well, now that I see Aric’s explanation…

    I don’t know the subtle differences but I was raised Dutch Reformed (that’s what that fundy nut job of a mother I keep referring to was) and dancing was a mortal sin.

    (No, she couldn’t keep me from it; as far as I’m concerned, disco never died. Just because some nut jobs declared it dead didn’t mean it was, VX. Rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated. Plenty of us kept on dancing the night away.)

    Honestly, I’m amazed they booked a band with that name to begin with. So give credit where credit is due. They tried to be progressive and open-minded but obviously parents freaked out and they had to cave when explanations of it’s not really pornography didn’t work.

    And damn it, you beat me to it. I was going to mention the Bare Naked Ladies…

    Just for an extra chuckle, I can remember getting pissed at my daughter’s junior high social studies book that fucked up their history of the Dutch Reformed religion (in discussing the religions that settled the area; oldest church in Albany is Dutch Reformed, the Dutch pretty much were the ones to steal it from the natives) and said that music period was taboo, nixing singing along with dancing. Bullshit, text book. I’ve been to a Dutch Reformed church. Singing (of hymns) required.

  • TheNP

    Grand Rapids would be so much better without these nutters. Calvin isn’t even the worst of the schools in the area (somehow I think the donors haven’t met the student body at all either…they don’t quite live up to the christian vow of chastity) but if you want insane look into Cornerstone University which is also, sadly, located in Grand Rapids. Those poor bastards can’t even dance without the threat of expulsion.

  • xiphas

    Neko Case probably was causing too much lust amongst the student population.

    Seriously though, the New Pornographers play completely non threateningly awesome power pop. Gotta be one of my favorite bands of the last decade of so.

  • JD

    I think they tried to explain. It sounded like enough key donors weren’t listening, probably old folks that don’t realize things are different now. These days, no one can really afford to lose major donors either. It’s unfortunate that a relatively liberal religious college gets ragged on about this. It seems most students and alum disagree with the decision. I wonder if any other religious school even dared to book this band.

  • TheNP

    Oh, if you want to see Grand Rapids at its best, instead of its worst, Art Prize starts in a week. Which will put about 1800 pieces of art around the downtown area for a few week competition. Sorry, for the plug but I hate when only the crazies of my hometown get attention. Have to try to balance it out.

  • JulietEcho

    I have a younger sibling who goes to Calvin, and I’m worried he’s only going to become more entrenched in super-conservative Christianity there. They’re no Bob Jones University, but they’re still pretty strict and pretty Christian.

    For instance, the school’s hiring policy “requires faculty members to be church members and proscribes sexual relations outside of marriage as well as homosexual relations of any sort.” (Wikipedia) It has also sent out a memo to its professors telling them that it’s “unacceptable” to advocate for gay marriage or other equal rights issues involving homosexuality. So… yeah. This is exactly the kind of behavior I’d expect from Calvin.

  • stogoe

    I grew up in a Dutch Reformed church that was founded by suburban expats of rural Dutch strongholds and I don’t think they were that much outside of mainline protestantism. I certainly don’t remember any overreaction to dancing, though maybe I just got lucky.

    As an aside, I keep wanting to call the school Calvin Coolidge. I wonder if anyone on campus has that problem.

  • Speaking of Barenaked Ladies, they were banned from a Toronto New Year’s Bash back in 1991, and that got them plenty of exposure over the controversy alone.

  • Chris

    I guess they’re getting their definition of irony from the Alanis Morisette song

  • Aric

    Yes, Calvin College and the Christian Reformed Church are actually fairly liberal given their history. They are also becoming more liberal over time. The church I grew up in changed quite a bit over the course of my childhood.

    Taboo against dancing, playing cards, etc. were all real in the past, but not today. I remember finding an old church publication entitled “The Dance is Wrong!” That was a fun read.

    There are still some uber-conservative denominations and churches around, but they don’t have many followers. Heritage Reformed, Netherlands Heritage Reformed, Protestant Reformed…

  • Kima

    Actually, the school has hosted the Barenaked Ladies before, among many, many other bands:

    Seems like JulietEcho may want to send her younger sibling toward the Student Activities Office at Calvin if she’s concerned…

  • Pither

    I’m a CC alum and spouse of a professor there. CC lately has been trying very hard to straddle the fence, as it were. The faculty are as liberal as Christians get, many bordering on Universalist, theologically. But the administration is very conservative. As are the big donors – like Elsa Prince, who ponies up big for CC but also ponied up big to help pass Proposition 8 in California. Many speculate it was EP’s influence on CC admin that pushed for the memo to faculty informing them they could not advocate for gay marriage. The liberal faculty threw a hissy fit, and the admin quickly backpedaled. That memo is slowly dying in committee.

    So the admin has the unenviable job of trying to appease the liberal faculty without offending the donors. These days, enrollment is not where they’d like it. It seems the liberal Christian kids go to more liberal colleges like Hope, and the fundy types go to Wheaton et al. That leaves Calvin straddling the fence, pleasing nobody, and always maneuvering to keep the money flowing.

    The New Pornographers episode fits this pattern perfectly. A more liberal college would invite them and stick to it. A more conservative college would never invite them in the first place. Calvin does the classic waffle and gets bad press for it.

    It’s the same pattern that happened when GW Bush was the commencement speaker a few years ago. A more liberal college would never have invited him. A more conservative college would have invited him without any dissent. But at Calvin, the donors and admin did the inviting/fawning, while the faculty complained loudly and publicly. Once again, bad press for straddling.

  • Every year here in Salt Lake City, we have an free concert series put on by the city itself that brings in a fantastic selection of bands.

    This year, The New Pornographers were on the roster. While thousands of people enjoyed the free (awesome) show, the Salt Lake Tribune did print this hilarious letter from a woman very upset that her tax dollars were being used to support pornography.

    … Considering [SLC Mayor] Becker’s agenda of “fairness,” to whom is even the name “New Pornographers” being fair to? Is it fair to the victims of the 6,500 registered sex offenders in Utah? Why does Becker want to promote thoughts about pornography, which contributes to crimes against women and children? Whose side is he on?…

    Ah, that’s good stuff.

  • kat

    when i was in college, a bf of mine made a mix cd for me with “neko case and her boys” because the bf was ashamed to write “the new pornographers” on the CD case.
    i love the band and sometimes i get a kick out of telling people i love them, just because of the reaction. it’s like when you’re reading “the vagina monologues” for the first time — initially, you’re kind of afraid people are going to see what you’re reading, but halfway through the book you hold it up high for everyone to see.
    long live the new pornographers.
    and boo to literalists. BOOOO

  • @Patrick – being a SLC resident, I’m glad to see that quote from the silly lady’s Od-Ed letter published in the Trib. Made me laugh, but then it made me sad to think someone is that naive.

    I went to a couple of the Twilight shows this year (Modest Mouse and She & Him). A great venue put on by the city.

    Sounds like the admins of this school are just as delusional as the lady who wrote the letter.

  • Sam

    I also live in Grand Rapids and I’m very disappointed to hear this, I was looking forward to seeing them live.

  • Kaydon

    I graduated from Calvin and I am rather glad I left just as the conservative and hysteria-prone doners and administrators decided to try and exert more influence. I do believe they want my alma mater (that taught me to think and read outside the Christian bubble, I became an atheist there) to slide in Bob Jones territory. Its a pity. I know a great many students like myself enjoyed and learned a lot in a place where the professors weren’t scared of challenging church doctrine, where movies like “Sweeney Todd” were screened in the auditorium and students were invited to discuss the moral universe therein afterwards and many there found a safe place to explore their religious and sexual identities (amongst other things).

  • Jeremy

    I graduated from Calvin in 1992, and I was a professor there until last year. @Pither has a fantastic analysis above; I agree with it completely.

    Canceling the New Pornographers seems to be a change in policy for Calvin, not just based on the Barenaked Ladies. The Indigo Girls performed on campus at least once, and this was after they came out. They came out after being invited but before they played their concert.

  • Jim

    What would be so objectionable about an onstage orgy anyway? Sounds like a victimless crime to me…

  • muggle

    Wow, I feel old. Seems I should have mentioned I left that church 34 years ago and never looked back and, no, I haven’t kept up on them and any changes hence made. That news that they now allow dancing is quite shocking to me. lol! Kind of heartening in a weird way, though.

    The actual Dutch Reform church (which now also seems to be renamed to just Reformed Church according to a quick google) was in this little one-horse town that you could throw a rock from end to end and I recently looked up the census stats on it because an on-line discussion with someone else regarding the hyper religious atmosphere of small towns we came from made me curious and was surprised to find an extremely high level of irreligiousity (only 38.85% of the population associate with a religious congregation!) for America.

    Seems a lot of hippy dippy types have retired there but I’m not tempted even so due to there being a large radon problem and ensuing cases of lung cancer, which my devout, nonsmoking mother died of before anyone says gawd’s punishing them! Plus the total population is still less than 600! It’s still too freaking rural for me.

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