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Ok, Ok… so this is a shameless plug. Guilty. You’ll have to cut me some slack – I’ve been planning a conference that will be held at Dordt College this November on the topic of Christianity and Popular Culture. Last spring, with the help of my friends in the Philosophy department (Mark Tazelaar and Neal De Roo), we schemed a conference exploring the variety of practices that constitute popular culture. So much of what’s written about popular culture ends up being either moralistic or adoptionistic – we want to explore the threads, the practices, by which individuals and communities negotiate the various cultural and institutional patterns. We’ve been working through Steve Johnson’s Everything that was Bad for You is Good For You in which he argues that various forms of media – like video games and television – are much more complex than we want to admit. He makes the case that they involve an intelligence that is either overlooked or quickly dismissed. The adult world is quick to spout off about how “in our day…” or about how horrible it is that young people play video games and “tweet” without stopping to ask HOW young people engage these activities. Johnson’s not trying to equate facebook or blogging with Shakespeare – but he is asking us to stop and think about the practices of popular culture before we pass judgment.
Last spring I wrote a piece in the print version of Perspectives suggesting that the tendency of the Christian community to co-opt the cultural artifacts of popular culture for our own agendas might not be such a good idea. I didn’t expect the response it received – emails, blog posts… hate mail! Much of the response focused upon the message of popular culture, which is fine and good. I’m wondering about the practices associated with popular culture – the symbolic function of metal, the marking of our bodies with tattoos, etc. What is the significance of these practices in the larger scope of the social and cultural paradigm in which we live?
The residue of an imperialistic approach to Christianity is still easy to find. We talk of the Kingdom of God as if we are getting ready to storm the gates and take the treasure – bringing Christianity to the world whether they want it or not. Maybe the practices of popular culture provide some people – people on the margins… those who don’t fit into our nice neat “Christian” boxes – a safe refuge. How quick we are in the Christian community to make popular culture either the enemy or the saviour – depending upon how “with it” we are. Not realizing that either way we “evade” it – never taking the time to explore the practices themselves.
Now, I do realize that, in the end, there is no evasion of popular culture. Popular culture has become the air we breathe… we are the proverbial fish that doesn’t know its wet. I get it. So… maybe our conference is an attempt to jump up on land and flop around for a while… so we might better appreciate the water in which we swim.
Peter Rollins is coming to Dordt. So is Tony Jones, Elaine Storkey, and the band kindlewood. Oh… and I get to give a presentation as well. Gee… what will I talk about?
Spread the word – and hopefully we’ll see a few of you this November.