culture


To challenge some easily held notions and convictions I like to read ‘Adbusters’. They write very provacative articles about consumerism, materialism, branding and our culture in general and the often unrecognized ill affects they have on us as individuals and as communities. Sometimes some of their messages would seem more at home being preached from pulpits than coming from people with little or no faith background as they are truly seeking to be counter-culture and ‘strangers in the world’ (1 Peter 1:1).

I got an email from them recently asking their readers to post and forward a visual meme. A meme is a unit of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. They contest that the predominant ‘memes’ in our culture are brands that are put forward by corporations and businesses with only their own interests at heart.

This is one of the visual memes they are asking their readers to forward:

Most people will look at this image and think the people at Adbusters are wack jobs. I look at it and notice a number of companies whose logos are shown that I have in the past been loyal to, or are still loyal to in some ways. There are others that I have little or no repect for because of their products, image and business practices. What I can agree with the Adbusters on, is nearly all of the companies whose logos are shown have little or no long term vested interest in anything other than their bottom lines. When you also factor in that by the age of 2, 10% of toddlers vocabulary is composed of brand names (James Twitchell, Branded Nation, p. 2), that the way in which businesses and corporations intentionally advertise to young children, are the people at Adbusters being overzealous in labeling it as ‘Organized Crime’?

Sometimes I’m just not that sure.

I’m still in school and a long way from being finished. As part of my research I’ve spent a little bit of time looking at some of Mastercard’s commercials, particularly the ones from their ‘Priceless’ campaigns. They seem to encapsulate our propencity to think that happiness, satisfaction, joy and pleasure can be bought.

The first one was aired in 1997 during the Major League Baseball World Series and was an instant hit.

It’s a fascinating commercial and if I’m honest a bit heartwarming.

The intended message is obvious: use your Mastercard for everything and real conversations with your son are priceless.

But there are a number of unitended messages in this commercial also:

1) That when you buy just the right combination of items, presumably with your MasterCard, priceless moments will happen. In the case of this commercial: 2 Baseball tickets + 2 hot dogs + 2 popcorns + 2 sodas + 1 autographed baseball = 1 conversation with your 11 year old son. Total cost = $123 for something that is priceless. Does ‘priceless’ mean it can’t be bought? In which case $123 is pretty cheap or does ‘priceless’ mean it has no price? In which case $123 is rather costly.

2) That real conversations with your kids don’t happen naturally, spontaneously, and organically. These days, sadly, this is actually quite true.

3) Real conversations happen at baseball games. Can you imagine the real conversation between an 11 year old and his dad at a baseball game?
Son: Dad, why do they adjust their crotch and scratch so much?
Dad: Baseball pants don’t allow for a lot of airflow son.
Son: Dad, what’s all that brown stuff they’re spitting on the ground?
Dad: It’s chewing tobacco son, and if you chew, when you get to be my age the doctor will have to cut out your tongue.
Son: Why do they keep showing pictures of women in the crowd on the Jumbotron Dad?
Dad: Because baseball is a really slow and boring game to watch and all the men in the audience need something to keep them occupied son.
Ok, fine, I’m not a baseball fan, but it seems to me that this commercial lowers the bar significantly on what real conversation is. I’m doubting the father has a ‘real conversation’ about sex and love, about faith and Jesus, about what he’d like to do when he grows up (other than be a baseball player and make lots of money), or what kind of person he would like to be known for being while at a baseball game.

4) Phillies fans are capable of conversation. I’m pretty sure this commercial shows the father and son at a Phillies game and from the reaction of the father and son when the player hits the ball, they are fans. I wasn’t aware that Phillies fans, known for throwing D batteries at players from other teams and for vomiting intentionally on other team’s fans, were capable of real conversation, especially while at a game. Ok, maybe this last one is a low blow, but it’s common knowledge that Philadelphia fans can be obscene in the name of supporting their teams.

The bottom line is this ad implies that anything can be bought and that real conversation with your kids isn’t a regular thing. These two things sadly are more true than they should be and are core reasons for significant cultural problems.

Found these online and think they are amazing in their simplicity.



On the train on the way home from a meeting in central London, I was reading one of those free papers they give all the train station travelers. I read those mostly for the sports stories…honest.

On the front cover of this paper was a headline that read: ‘D’oh homer_simpsonLevels: How Homer Makes You Brighter’. Now who wouldn’t want to read an article that claims watching The Simpsons can make you smarter, or as the typical Simpsons viewer might say, ‘makes you more smarterer’?

The article states, that a study done on 170 TV viewers from the US, Greece and the Netherlands, that watching TV comedy and dramas like The Simpsons and The Sopranos ‘helped viewers acquire new political insights’. Nearly 1 in 4 viewers said ‘they had a better understanding of political issues after watching the shows’ and even scarier 54% of viewers thought Homer Simpson was similar to real life people, that these fictional TV programmes were nearly as believable as news broadcasts, and that after watching the shows they discussed them with friends and adapted their political and ethical outlooks.

HUH?

So are they actually trying to say that watching these shows can be beneficial to be people from the standpoint of organizing their political and ethical beliefs? Or is this study more of a reflection about how low the comprehension of political and ethical issues in our cultures really is, that The Simpsons and Soprano’s can have a ‘positive’ effect on viewers. What’s next…a study showing that people get relationship and dating advice from Friends, Sex In The City and Desperate Housewives? Oh yeah…that probably does happen.

I like fast food. I like riding my bike really fast. I love a good fast internet connection. I think the movie ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ is hilarious.

But I don’t think everything needs to be fast. There is a new Samsung phone out in the UK called the Jet. samsung-jet The tag-line for this new phone and it’s advertising campaign is ‘Impatience Is A Virtue’. Apparently you can never have a fast enough phone and phones that allow you to do more things faster is best.

At the moment I’m also reading a pretty interesting counter-culture book called In Praise of Slow: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging The Cult Of Speed by Carl Honore. slow I’ve only just started it, but the author is making the point that for the past 150+ years our culture and our way of living has been accelerating in a way that is neither healthy or sustainable. When Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931 he spoke of a world where people complained and moaned about air travels and flights were seconds late…what then must have sounded ludicrous and far-fetched doesn’t seem so distant especially as I sat here this afternoon silently complaining about the lag my computer is experiencing booting up, not responding instantaneously.

I wonder why we settle for living in a culture who says Impatience is not only to be tolerated, but that it is virtuous. Do we really like having to work more, harder and longer to accomplish more in less amount of time to be ‘successful’? Do we like the constant feeling of being in a hurry, rushing from one place to the next, rarely savoring the moment?

I’ll admit I have tech-lust…but do I like that I think I need a cool touch phone? Especially because then I can read the bible on the train on my phone, or even while I walk, get email immediately, respond immediately, or do more things in those rare down moments when I could be…….daydreaming, musing, savoring the moment, or resting? All this to consider and I haven’t even asked what all this hurry, virtuous impatience and busyness does to me spiritually.

Eugene Peterson wrote in one of his books, The Contemplative Pastor, that ‘busyness is laziness’. If there was ever a backwards quote in this world it seems to be this one. But it is a quote that challenges the value system that we build our lives, specifically our spiritual lives, upon. Busyness is a tool that keeps us, willingly, from investing in that which we know to be more important but always seems to take the back seat.

I enjoy being busy sometimes, who doesn’t, it makes us feel important. But do I take joy in it? No. I take joy in the things that really build me up and build up others that I care deeply about.

Is it possible to work harder but to slow some things down like Carl Honore talks about in his book, ‘In Praise of Slow’? I think so…

I think in a world that is consumed with speed and believes efficiency is when something is done as fast as possible I think Christ and the church have an alternative that many would embrace. Have you ever wondered why God took 6 days to create the world (ok, we don’t know if it took 6 24 hour days, but He inspired the human authors to pen it that way) when he could have done it instantly? Have you ever wondered why Jesus only picked 12 disciples to spread the Good News and taught them for three years when he could have done it more quickly and more efficiently?

Emphasizing speed and busyness in so many things can have a serious and unintended impact on our theology and I must take some time to reflect on why I’m always in such a rush, feeling so busy and what it says about my relationship with God and what it communicates to others…and do it slowly.

A few weeks ago the much anticipated release of the follow-up tobruno-one-sheet Borat hit the movie theatres. You’d have to be blind or not exist to miss the adverts that adorn virtually all of the double decker buses in London of Sacha Baron Cohen’s waxed buttocks clad in ridiculous gold shorts. Yuck.

The reviews are mixed on the film and despite opening on three times as many movie screens it only took in slightly more money than Borat did. The reviews are also revealing that SBC is having to work extra hard to dupe unsuspecting americans with his humor and the results are apparently less memorable and lower quality.

While I’ve heard from a number of people who have seen the movie that while they think the rating on the movie was not restrictive enough (an edited version more suitable for 15 year olds has since been released…wow the movie industry has a bit of a conscience?), most of the people I talked with about the movie still thought it was very funny even if it wasn’t quite as good as it’s predecessor.

What does it say about us as people when we are not just smiling along painfully, amused, or even out right laughing our heads off…sorry LMAOROF…that we get such satisfaction and good times out of humor that is based solely on someone else’s ignorance? People say sarcasm is the lowest form of humor, but could it be that the humor that SBC employs is even lower? Humor that is really only funny when someone is duped, manipulated to look stupid and plays on the emotions and reactions of people who do not know what is going on is the best way to get a laugh these days? The cheapest and easiest I suppose.

I won’t even bother to quote scripture on this one…it’s pretty obvious to even the most consumeristic sunday Christian that this humor and even the appreciation and participation in it isn’t consistent with the teachings of Jesus. I’ll bet that even people who aren’t Christians and even the most blantant atheists can tell you that they see the incosistency of this with what the Bible says.

I don’t want to come off as one of ‘those’ Christians either. You know the type…the kind that sound righteous and holy, but seem to be more motivated by a fear of culture than anything…don’t watch it unless it Christian, don’t read it unless it’s Christian, don’t listen to it unless it’s Christian, and don’t educate our kids in a public school because that’s the den of Satan…no, i’m not that way at all. But where do we draw the line in regards to the kind of humor that we’ll enjoy? Where do we draw the line in regards to what we teach our own kids and in my case, kids in the youth ministry that I lead, about what is good humor, good culture and what is worth paying money to watch? For me the line is somewhere well behind SBC.

I found this really cool piece of artwork online today.

cross

I think the person who created it is trying to be ‘ironic’ and make a critique on Christianity.

Yet I see this image and I am struck by the freedom that comes from ‘submitting’ to someone greater than yourself…and I’m also struck by the incompatibility of this kind of ‘freedom’ with the world’s understanding with ‘freedom’…which isn’t what it seems either.

I’m also left with the question, ‘Am I doing what the empty cross is telling me to do?’

I’m a big fan of Douglas Coupland, the author. His books are crazy funny and deeply insightful in regards to culture, technology, relationships and the difference between generations.

I’m re-reading Micro-Serfs, which came out in 1994…a loooooooooooooooong time ago. It’s about a group of friends who all happen to work at Microsoft and idolize Bill Gates while they sort out their lives, make meaning for themselves and try not to self-destruct.

microserfs
Because it’s written in 1994 and deeply steeped in the culture at the time it’s a bit like a walk down memory lane. One paragraph in particular got me reminiscing….and wondering…

‘Then we digressed into a discussion of how the word ‘dialing’ is itself such an anachronism-a holdover from rotary phones. ‘Inputting’ would be more true. And who came up with the word ‘pound’ for the ‘#’ symbol. Wouldn’t ‘grid’ have been easier and more fun? I mean ‘pound’?
Or think of how dumb it is too say, ‘I’m going to the record store.’
Technology!’

It made me start wondering what things technology has made obselete that are still apart of our daily vocabulary?….technology advances far faster than language, we invent new words to keep up with technology but often don’t delete old, obsolete, archaic words from our vocabulary, as evidenced by the fact that in 2009 I still say ‘Awesome’ too much.
Whats the over/under on when Blockbuster video rental places no longer exist?

It also made me realize that I miss the experience of going to the ‘record store’ and flipping through vinyl or even CDs. Especially when the other day I was walking down Berwick Ave in Soho in London and realized that is the street where the cover art for ‘(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?’ by Oasis is from. Said record shop is the red door on the left by the second street light.

morningglory

There is no doubt that relevatism is alive and well and the entire concept of truth is up for grabs. I don’t think relativism is any stronger here in the UK, where I currently live, than it is in the US. But in the US there is still an ardent belief that ‘right’ beliefs and conservative beliefs are still the rudder for the country (which anyone with a pulse can see is no longer the case).

Lately I’m struck with the number of convenient things that I(we) believe. One that has especially jumped out to me is in regards to what people think about the afterlife. Most people, if gently pressed, will agree there is an afterlife. More and more people are inclined to think though that an ‘afterlife’ is pretty much limited to ‘heaven’ or a ‘better place’ than this. Even when pressed most people can’t tell you what they think ‘heaven’ will be like or even tell with any accuracy at all what the Bible says about ‘heaven’ (here’s a hint, it doesn’t say much and doesn’t say anything about it in the way that we think it does).

Not that I want churches to preach on this more. If churches teach drag_me_to_hellon the afterlife, it’s almost exclusively about ‘eternal life’ in ‘heaven’ and ‘receiving our reward’ (thanks Joel Osteen) where what is mostly said is regard to the kingdom of heaven coming on earth. But most churches won’t even talk, preach, discuss the concept of hell anymore…in some ways this is a great move because we can’t be selling fire insurance, can we? I think one of the significant reasons why the concept and reality of ‘hell’ as a place and eternal destination is not in our thinking, conversations, preaching, and churches is because there is a recognition that people in the 21st century don’t respond to such messages (I know I wouldn’t if I was not a Christian). NT Wright says that hell as a concept and belief started to dissapate shortly after the first World War because believers saw so much ‘hell on earth’ during the war that it begun difficult to believe in a place like that in the afterlife.

According to one website (I need to research this more effectively) 93% of the American population believes in heaven, but the only 39% of people believe in hell and even then ‘hell’ is more of a conceptual idea that represents separation from God not an actual place. This doesn’t honestly sound that far off from what I know to be true based on personal experience and interaction with people I know.

So hell is not something people, even Christians, generally believe in anymore. Unless it makes for a great horror movies. In the last month, a movie called Drag Me To Hell has been released in the US and the UK.
The movie is about a woman named Christine who has a great job as a loan officer, she has a boyfriend, life is good. Until a ‘gypsy’ comes in and Christine denies her a loan. As the ‘gypsy’ leaves the appointment she curses Christine with ‘Lamia’ a spirit who is intent on draggin her to hell.

Aside from the theological issues with the idea of a spirit being able to drag someone to hell and that that is how ‘Christine’ is deemed ‘hell-worthy’…it is very interesting to me that the theological concept and belief of hell is largely disavowed by non-Christians and Christians a like, but it is still embraced by Hollywood when it makes for a good movie. And apparently horror meister Sam Raimi embraced his vision of hell well enough to make for a great horror movie as it is receiving great reviews from critics and viewers alike.

I sincerely hope that churches around the world aren’t taking the release of this new movie to do a ‘Drag Me To Hell’ night like all the lame ‘Da Vinci Code’ sermon series. The church and Christians have already done enough bad movies ourselves with ‘Thief in the Night’ and the ‘Left Behind’ movies to have lost our rights on this one.

But it doesn provide Christians with some interesting insight about people in our community doesn’t it. People generally don’t believe in hell anymore, but are willing to believe in it just enough to have a movie ‘scare the hell out of them’? Viewers conveniently check any beliefs about the afterlife and, specifically, hell at the door just long enough to have a good scream.

I follow quite a few blogs on a regular basis. Many of the ones I do follow have been listed on the Top 60 Church Blogs listing (some of the most influential thinkers in the west in terms of protestant evangelical movement) Peep the list here.

I’m no ‘celebrate every obscure rubbish historical Christian holiday or historical date’ kind of person…but Ascension Day hardly qualifies as an obscure Christian historical landmark. We mark the beginning of Lent in a big way…why not Ascension Day?ascension

The reason I even raise this, of all the blogs I read/follow/scan on a regular basis…not a single one even bothered to mention Ascension Day. Without sounding dispensational, because I’m not…it is the beginning of the age of the church…it marks the time in history where our Savior left us, left us to carry on his work with the help of the Holy Spirit, where we long for his imminent return…AND NONE OF THE PROMINENT THINKERS AND WRITERS I FOLLOW EVEN BOTHERED TO FREAKING MENTION IT!!!

The vicar or lead pastor, if that’s what you prefer, at the church where I currently serve simply stated…No one cares about Ascension Day anymore. Does no one really care?

How do we understand the commision Christ gave us without constantly remembering and commemorating the time and day that he left us physically? His departure is a poingnant reminder that we are to be his hands and his feet during his physical absence. Not constantly remembering that his commission to the disciples, to us, was immediately followed by his departure and promise of his return, leaves us in the position to think we are more than his hands and his feet (Jesus temptation to turn stones into bread…our temptation to be relevant).

How do we understand the commision Christ gave us without constantly remembering and commorating the time and day he left us physically? Not completely…and that makes me nervous.

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