Response to: A more knowable Other

This post is a response to Popular Christianity: Popular Culture?‘s post: “A more knowable Other“.

The concept of negotiating what makes us human through looking at representations of human beings with grotesque tendencies is brilliant.  These characters – like Hannibal Lecter – are certainly monsters in a psychological sense.

To say that they are more powerful than monsters for the purposes of negotiating our humanness, in a narrative, might be taking it too far – I would say they are a powerful example, but that they only fulfil another type of monster in the repertoire of monsters.

The intelligent, alive, and psychologically disturbed human-monster (or inhumane-human) represents the monstrous potential within a person extremely well; the Other is almost as close as it gets to us.  On an intrapersonal level, this type of monster is extremely effective, it indeed resonates deeply.

Outside of this, vampires look pretty human-like, zombies less so, and ghosts aren’t even physical [Aside: I think the black smoke monster (or The Man in Black) from LOST would prove to be an interesting artefact: ghost-like and physical (morphing), immortal and supernatural, immune to death, and longing for freedom (that ultimately leads to an unwanted death)].  But, my point is that though human-monsters are an effective example, the vampire and zombie (ghost and mummy) lead us to question our humanity in different ways.

I am now seriously addicted to this show...

Zombies, more specifically zombie apocalypses (apocali?), like in The Walking Dead, lead us to question our humanity: will we retain our humanity in a fight for survival? how will people relate to one another in dire circumstance? will we retain a sanctity of life? what is the purpose of life? etc.

The inhuman-human, human-monster, or human being with grotesque tendencies, whatever it be called, is a welcome addition to the list of monsters.

Lazarus – the first zombie

The topic of God and Monsters (Vampires and Zombies) for this past week was entertaining – I thoroughly enjoyed watching an episode of The Walking Dead; and thought provoking – what makes us human and the drive for monsters (vampires or Frankenstein) to be human.  But on to what the title suggests.

John 11:38-44:

38 Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” 40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44  The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Duccio, Resurrection of Lazarus, 1308-11

Take that in for a second.  You have just witnessed a guy get up from out of a tomb (that reeks) all wrapped up in linen (though that may imply mummy sooner than zombie – regardless; he’s undead).

Or, you are Lazarus.  You’ve just been dead for the past 4 days (you would beat Jesus in consecutive days dead before resurrection) and now you are up and about, and ready to keep living the rest of your life.  Weird.

Apparently though, if this were to happen to you, you’d be joining the ranks of 25 other people, since 1982, who have experienced Lazarus Syndrome: the spontaneous return of circulation after failed attempts at resuscitation.  (I find this case is particularly interesting.)

It’s rather bizarre.  These people, like Lazarus, were dead.  Unlike “real” zombies who become mindless, flesh-feasting, and soulless creatures, they come alive and can go back to being their normal selves.

I wonder what psychological toll this would have on Lazarus, or anyone else who’s experienced this.  Waking up in a morgue, found breathing by a funeral worker who’s about to pump you full of formaldehyde, or waking up and having been told you were dead is something that would mess with me.  The possibility of dying a second time…  Am I different (monstrous) in any way… Do I live my life any differently… Or is everything just the same.  I suppose there’s a lot to think about.  It is, perhaps, an interesting narrative.

In the same way that a zombie apocalypse story can force people to choose to become better people or become more human, I wonder if Lazarus-esque stories offer the same possibilities and questions.

What do you think?

Response to: Making Good Deeds Public

Click the title or here for The Holy Blogle‘s original post.


The passage from Matthew 6:4 seems mostly contradictory from a chapter earlier in Matthew 5:16:

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.”

Jesus wants the world to see how Christians live their lives: living as “salt and light” and everyway that he outlines (Matt. 5-7 is a good start).  As you said, a good deed may “be considered most genuine when done in privacy”, but I don’t think that Christians are to do all of their good deeds in secret.

“Giving in secret” is a call against self-righteousness – The Message, an idiomatic translation, reads Matt. 6:1 as, “…don’t make a performance out of it.”

What a q t pie...

Therefore, Christians – like Bieber – can and should give publicly; yet, (t)he(y) should only do so in a way that isn’t making a performance out of it.

But, “Is there any act of charity that Justin Bieber can do without making it a performance?”  Certainly: Justin Bieber could go to a hospital and visit sick kids as part of a contribution to the “Make a Wish Foundation”.  (As seen in the “Pray” video.)

The line begins to blur when he is seen doing charity work in his music videos.

You can choose to see Bieber as promoting ‘caring for the sick’, raising awareness for ‘social issues’, and a promoter of doing good things – being a good Christian.  Bringing camera’s wherever he goes is a way for spreading his ‘light to the world’.

Oppositely, you can choose to see him as a self-promoting, image-making superstar, combining messages of inequality and his acts of charity to conger up people’s emotions and ‘fall in love’ with him.  Bringing camera’s wherever he goes is a way of making a performance out of it.

Public act of charity? or just a poster boy?


Is a public act of charity insincere?

Or, for the Biebester (or any famous person), is it the fact that he’s making (possibly more) money off (the footage of) his acts of charity that makes him insincere?

Sportianity: Sports instead of Jesus

Sports as religion?

Sports like religion?

Though I would mostly disagree with the claim that sports are literally a form of religion, as some scholars would attest, I certainly believe that sports – specifically professional sports – have characteristics of and fulfil some religious functions.

Myths, legends, ritual and tradition, sacrifice, sacred sites, ineffability, and community. These words conjure up thoughts of experiencing religion just as much as they do of sports.

I’m curious if Christians are aware of and if they should participate in the “religion of sports”.


Following a team: the stats, scores, and players (and their twitters’), being glued to the TV, Internet, or a smartphone (yes, there’s an app for that) for the latest information on trades, rumours, news, prospects (reading the paper and sports magazines works too), wearing a jersey (or something more extravagant), regularly attending games (often with a rather high ticket price),

making an event or a whole day out of a game and the traditions/rituals that come a long with it, having a sense of belonging, ownership, friendships and community built around a team, and an emotional connection.  All these things, and more, are the ways that people invest their time, money, and energy into sports or a specific team.

None of these things seem inherently bad.

But, as a Christian, I question whether professional sports are taking too much our time and if it is a god – how much do these things mean to us?

I question whether we should be proud of, cheering for, and supporting organisations that: spend (tens or hundreds of) millions of dollars on players salaries, commodify people (athletes), promote violence or suffering of self for ‘winning’ (though making money is actually the goal of the organisation), as well as promote the sexualisation of women, the achievement of stardom, and the ethic of winning above all else.

What do you think?


To note: I’m very much in favour of sports on a local and/or amateur level.  Fitness is important and there is plenty of fun to be had!  I love playing intramural hockey and ultimate frisbee.

Time to become a Bielieber?

Justin Bieber.

Wow.

I never thought I’d see the day where I’d be writing a blog post about him.

I would say there are very few North Americans who haven’t heard his name.  The kid (he just turned 18 on March 1st) has made some rather big strides since making Youtube videos at home with his mom in Stratford in 2007.

Regardless of your thoughts on him, he’s big, and he’s got hoards of folks listening to him: screaming 12 year olds, obsessed 20 year olds, and anyone listening to any hit radio station.  The Observer reported that he’s more influential in the social networking sphere than Barack Obama or The Dalai Lama.

After watching his video for the song “Pray” (released December 11, 2010 on Facebook), our class had quite the discussion.

The video features shots of: Port-au-Prince and other various disaster shots of Haiti after the earthquake; homeless people, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, refugees, soldiers, various animals in poor situations, hospitals (positive dancing and despairing situations), workers on strike, all around and amongst shots of Justin Bieber playing at concerts, and giving hugs to patients at hospitals as part of the “make a wish” foundation.

A comment in class that described the video as – it’s like a grade 8 student hashed together a bunch of video clips of world problems – couldn’t be more accurate.

We can thank Bieber for bringing plenty of world issues to the thoughts of prepubescent girls minds.

But, can we also thank him for using charity to promote and sell himself?  Can we assume that he is sincere?  Surely, Bieber is a constructed popular image, and him being his Christian self requires some form of charity?

How about the Christianity we see portrayed?  Bieber’s “close my eyes and pray”, “and I can see a better day” compel the listener to (other than prayer) see the problems of the world and know there’s “sunshine behind that rain”.  This is hardly what Jesus calls his disciples to.

What do you think?

A Response to “Lady Gaga vs. Religion?” (From: Jesus- meetpopculture)

For the original post from “Jesus-meetpopculture“, click this link.


Gaga has certainly amassed an immense fan base, and has, as you say, a ‘religion’ (I’d say she certainly preaches a gospel) based on inclusivity, tolerance, peace, and love.

There are certainly positive associations with Gaga’s ‘religion’ (e.g. inclusivity), along with other that aren’t too terribly positive.  But the negative ones (e.g. sexualization) aren’t articulated too often in popular circles, which I would say is a commentary on society/popular culture as a whole.

I find it interesting that you ask the question whether or not Gaga has created a ‘religion’ or a ‘non-religion’.  I’m not sure whether you addressed if her ‘religion’ was actually non-religion in your post, but I would say that it is certainly not non-religion.  Her persona/message – a gospel if you will – is full of religious qualities: outlining a belief system, including narratives/symbols (her own or stolen), and promoting a certain lifestyle.

Peaceful Future T-shirt graphic

She, as you say, envisions a future with a more peaceful religion for the younger generation.

Jesus too, includes poor people, women, Samaritans, lepers, children, prostitutes and tax collectors – outcasts – not only to listen to him, but he invites them into the Kingdom of Heaven.  This can easily be seen as a gospel of inclusion.

I would also say, strangely, that Gaga, when envisioning a more peaceful religion, echoes Jesus’ message in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).  Specifically when he teaches his: “You have heard that it was said…  but I tell you…” message.  He contrasts the ‘old’ ways and teachings: “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy”, with “Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.” (Matt. 5:43-44)

In these two ways, Gaga shares similarities with Jesus.  And if Christianity is the by-product of followers Jesus, I’ll be fascinated to see what ends up with followers of Gaga…

Of course, there is that whole thing with Jesus dying, resurrecting, and being the Son of God… that helps with establishing a lasting following.

—-

Many Christians, myself included, struggle with the problems of religion, in the same way that Lady Gaga does. (I like the interview a lot, I also like how she separates the church from religion, but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation)

Lady Gaga: a good Christian? Or a great Christian?

After viewing Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” music video (dir. Francis Lawrence) for the first time, I’m not sure of how to precisely describe the experience.  It was artistic, full of imagery, and sexually explicit.

Beyond Gaga’s characteristic “†” and a brief crossing of herself while dancing, my curiosity of how this video was directly related to the “Christianity” part of “Christianity and Popular Culture” was only satisfied when professor Harris informed us that Gaga is a self-proclaimed Christian.

But seriously.  Gaga.  A Christian?  

This Gaga?

 

 

 

Or This Gaga?

When seeing images like these and scantly clad in her music videos, I question how “Christian” she actually is.  American Christian values promote modesty and censorship of sexual content, especially in movies and on television.  I struggle with labelling Gaga a Christian because much of what she produces could be considered soft-core pornography.

In my search of a quote to confirm her Christian-ness, I found Gaga’s thoughts on religion in an interview with Larry King.  (Interview clip)

“I’m very religious, I was raised Catholic, I believe in Jesus, I believe in God, I’m very spiritual, I pray very much. … At the same time, there is no one religion that doesn’t hate or speak against or be prejudice against another racial group or religious group or sexual group.  And for that I think religion is also bogus.  So I suppose you could say I’m a quite religious woman who’s confused about religion.” – Lady Gaga

Never once does she say she’s a Christian.  Her struggle with being religious and hating the bad things religions do, is something that resonates with many people – myself included.  I wonder though, if she’s playing a part.

In the same way, Johnny Cash was a musical legend (which Gaga is in the making), and he embodied being a: rock star, country boy, folk hero, preacher, poet, drug addict, rebel, sinner, and saint?  I thoroughly appreciate what he has to say for himself:

“I’m still a Christian, as I have been all my life,” … “Beyond that I get complicated.”

and,

“I am not a Christian artist, I am an artist who is a Christian.”

In the “Bad Romance” video we see Gaga wanting the love of the world (the music industry and/or fame), struggling when taken, offering herself up, her ‘baptism’ into that world (drinking the vodka), and forced to dance in slavery.  We see her overcome “the man” and literally burn him.

But we also see images of her weeping – a terribly sad and repentant Gaga?

In “Judas” we hear:

Jesus is my virtue/And Judas is the Demon that I cling to

Therefore: Gaga is both fond of and despises religion.  She preaches a gospel of extreme inclusivity.  She, “Dream[s] of and envision[s] a future where we have a more peaceful religion, or a more peaceful world.”

If Gaga purported herself as a Christian – already believing in Jesus and God, promoting peace, and loving others – would she be a good christian? or great?

Response to: Hanging out with Jesus Christ’s post on “Feelings of Discomfort and Strictly North American”

[See “Hanging out with Jesus Christ’s” original post here]

The Family Guy episode, “Dream of Jesus” most certainly displays the ‘Jesus is my friend’ tenor of American Christianity, and I too find the dinner table scene quite hilarious.

 

I think the “feeling of discomfort” which you describe, imbued by your Catholic aunt, when seeing Jesus portrayed without sanctity or holiness and so casually is felt by many.  Her conceptualisation of a sacred and holy Jesus, deeply rooted in her faith, has certainly stayed with you.  Many in our generation may not have ‘Christian’ parents, but the chances of our grandparents having this conceptualisation are much greater.  Their thoughts, I’m sure, have an impact on our thinking – especially as youngins’.  And so, though we often laugh at Jesus’s behaviour on screen – especially with lines like, “Peter, I think you may be my saviour” – there is certainly an underlying feeling of, at the very least, discomfort at the derision of the sanctity and holiness of Jesus.  I certainly feel it.

 

Your last point on the idea of the friendly, “local neighbourhood Jesus”, figure that appears in American Christianity is strictly limited to appearing in North America is something I completely disagree with.  Saint Young Men (聖☆おにいさん Seinto Oniisan), is a Japanese manga series that tells the story of Jesus Christ and Gautama Buddha as roommates in Tokyo taking a vacation on Earth.  The four volumes of the series have sold over 2.6 million copies and it was the tenth best-selling manga series in Japan for 2009.  In it:

“Jesus is portrayed as a care-free, generous, and humorous “sei-jin” (holy man or adult in Japanese) … Jesus is very friendly to his apostles. But because Jesus is even nice to Judas, this makes Buddha worry.  Whenever Jesus’ emotions are at a high or low peak (due to finding something funny or being scared), miracles may happen unexpectedly.  Jesus is a devout follower of drama shows, and reviews them on his online blog.”

(Read more at the Wikipedia article to enjoy the hilarity).


This is one extremely fantasic(ally hilarious) example of Jesus being portrayed in a similar fashion of the “friendly Jesus” or even more liberally than found in American Christianity — outside of North America.


Not about Harry Potter

In reading, “Harry Potter and the Functions of Popular Culture,” none of the thoughts I came away with were about Harry Potter.

I was more absorbed in the primary reason for popular culture that Kidd isolated — capitalism.

Today, my roommate (a composer and fellow musician), asked me for my opinion on an introduction for something he was working on.  I knew he had been working on the soundtrack for a video game, so I was guessing it was for a specific map or level.  The synth had the slightest distortion, the timpani sounded awesome, the strings came in perfectly — I really liked it.

In finding out that this particular introduction was for a ‘CD-only promotion’, I had to let him know what was wrong.

The synths took too long to build, the timpani didn’t come in soon enough, the stings weren’t catchy enough.  I told him, “If you’re trying to sell me something, you’ve got 8 seconds, and you really only sold me two notes.”

A couple minutes later, I said to him from my room, “It’s too bad we have to write music to sell it.”  He agreed.

Popular music, as a manifestation of pop culture, has certainly generated norms, established boundaries, created rituals, produced innovation, and even led the way for social change — all components of social cohesion, a “necessary and healthy element[s] [of] modern society.”  Right?

For arguments’ sake:

Pop culture — ‘the man’ in his desire for prosperity, in this case, has set a standard for music: we won’t listen to something if it doesn’t catch our attention in 8 seconds.  It limits us…

Things that have the potential to be art, like most ‘things’ pop culture, aren’t necessary or healthy for a role in social cohesion.  Social cohesion in art is conformity.  Art flourishes in non-conformity: diversity.

Diversity is also healthy and necessary for social health, is it not?


An aside:

The music of heavy metal music is not a threat to children, nor rap music as a threat to society, nor even the medium of the music video as a framework that justifies rape and other forms of sexual violence.  It is the content.

Is it even logical to compare Durkheim’s argument for crime as a necessary and healthy element of society because of its function of social cohesion with popular culture?  I think crime threatens society in a much different way than popular culture.


Article: Harry Potter and the Functions of Popular Culture, Dustin Kidd, The Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 40, No. 1, 2007

Toward a Definition of Popular Culture

I never thought that to define “popular culture” would be such a struggle.  Defining pop culture as “commercial culture based on popular taste” seems adequate.  Yet, Parker argues, quite correctly, that common definitions, “suffer from a presentist bias and cannot be applied to pre-industrial and pre-capitalist societies.”

Parker starts his article in referencing Jacobellis v. Ohio, 1964, saying that popular culture is similar to pornography: we may not be able to define it, but we know it when we see it. Soon after, he references what Tony Bennett wrote in Popular Culture: a Teaching Object,

“The concept of popular culture is virtually useless, a melting pot of confused and contradictory meanings capable of misdirecting inquiry up any number of theoretical blind alleys.”

 

Here’s my (wonderfully grotesque layman’s) version of the compiled definitions of Pop Culture:

  • there’s lots of it(?)
  • it’s good(?) (but not too classy)
  • it’s massed out by the man and his devices(?)
  • ‘we the people’ made it(?)
  • it’s made to ‘stick it to the man'(?)
  • there is no pop culture, Bennett is right(?)

an image from the google search "pop music artist"

But I ask, “Do we know it when we see it?” Sure, that last hit song by (insert pop artist here) that came out on the radio is it.  We can look at how well it does on the pop charts.  It’s measurable – it’s popular.

But is it good? And who decides, or does that matter?  Does ‘the man’ produce music? or do ‘the people’? Is the music part of resistance to culture?  (maybe if it’s grunge or punk).  All of these questions make us question what pop culture really is.  I can think of plenty of things that fit the bill for: “I know it [as pop culture] when I see it”, but too often they, like our pop song example, only qualify for one or two of the definitions.

We’re left with Bennett though.  How can pop culture be both: something we know when we see and yet confused and contradictory in meaning?  It can’t, right?

I’ll say that it can.  Though the differentiations are potentially confusing, there is a difference between culture and pop culture.  How distinct and clear that difference is though – remains to be defined.

Virtually useless is infinitely better then actually useless, because if it weren’t, professor Harris would be in some serious trouble.