Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, Free for CAPC Members
Reinke wants to help readers not be manipulated and enthralled by the spectacles of our media age. Instead, he shows that we see the greatest spectacle of all in the Cross.
The Christ and Pop Culture 25 is a list of our favorite people, works of art, or cultural artifacts from the last year that we feel best represent God’s truth and grace in the world. The list is extremely weird, a meandering, whiplash-inducing product of the diverse perspectives of our writers. We wouldn’t have it any other way. The goal of our list is to illuminate and appreciate the good both in and outside of the church, to show the way God uses Christians to shine a light on the world, and the ways God’s common grace spills out into the most surprising places.
Each of our writers submitted their top five choices for the categories of film, television, music, games, internet, and people. We then used our magic algorithm to compile those choices into a tentative list of around thirty items. Finally, a panel of four Christ and Pop Culture writers, each representing various perspectives and expertise, met over the internet for three plus hours to hash out exactly how the list should look.
While our list is in no way meant to be authoritative or objective, it is a serious attempt at appreciating culture, a task that is at the forefront of Christ and Pop Culture’s purpose.
We’ll be publishing five selections every day this week. On Friday, we’ll run part two of our podcast in which you can hear exactly how the CAPC25 Council determined the order and make-up of our list. Listen to part one here.
It might seem impossible that anyone could take a character as popular and iconic as Sherlock Holmes and make him over in a way that displays reverence for the source material and still represents a legitimately fresh take. Yet Mark Gatiss, Stephen Moffat, and company have been doing that for three years now on BBC’s Sherlock, with the help of Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, and a pitch-perfect supporting cast. However, could anything have topped the dazzling cocktail of wit, intrigue, and brinksmanship that constituted the show’s first two seasons? In good Holmesian fashion, I was skeptical.
But season three did not disappoint. The rapid-fire dialogue crackled more sharply than ever before, while the Gatiss/Moffat team burrowed insightfully into the psychology of their particular iteration of the classic team. At every point in all three episodes, the producers managed to eviscerate all the clichés of character vulnerability and still provide us just the right note of oblique, almost grudging, sympathy for our ingenious—and borderline sociopathic—hero.
From the detecting duo’s ignominious reunion in “The Empty Hearse” through Watson’s nuptials with the carefully-introduced Mary in “The Sign of Three” to the agonizing, awkward, and redemptive Christmas at the Holmes-brothers’ parents’ (played delectably by Cumberbatch’s real mother and father), Sherlock Season Three demonstrates that even the most extraordinary and seemingly cold-blooded individuals share in the mundane, universal human need for unconditional love. – Geoffrey Reiter
The iPhone App Store is a not-so-brave new world for the game industry, a place that can redefine or reinforce preconceived notions about the purpose of and problems with the relatively new past-time. While so many other iPhone games stumble over themselves to rope the player into a new and exciting feedback loop, Monument Valley offers little more than beauty and a challenge, though the two are tied artfully and inextricably together.
The game’s challenge serves a greater purpose than providing a hook to draw in the player. In manipulating the surrounding environments around our protagonist princess, we are also learning to appreciate the world’s inherent utility and value. In order to create pathways for Ida, we drag our finger to create aesthetic completeness, and in so doing, we become aware of the ways that aesthetics and form can pave the way for peace and spiritual progress.
The title of Monument Valley refers to the ruins of a once-great land, destroyed by some unknown sin or folly. Our princess is responsible for whatever destroyed their world, but perhaps only insofar as she presided over it when that ruin took place. Either way, the very act of returning restores glory to the world. And we, the players, are introduced to it for the first time, drawn in not by “addictive” gameplay or the promise of the next unlock, but the simple satisfaction of uncovering the next monument, and remembering, for perhaps the first time in an iPhone game, the joy that comes with discovering and cultivating beauty. – Richard Clark
For what is most likely a target demographic of twenty-somethings, Brooklyn Nine Nine captures the comedic potential lying at the edge of adulthood and shows both its promise and peril. Centering on the workplace of Brooklyn’s 99th Precinct, the show follows the exploits of Detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) as he simultaneously clowns around at work while successfully closing the most cases. On the other hand, his colleague, Detective Amy Santiago (Melissa Fumero), takes her job very seriously, desperately wants the Captain (Andre Braugher) to mentor her, yet seems to consistently misstep in her quest to move up the ranks. Over time though, Santiago begins to make headway in her career ambitions, and Peralta begins to more closely resemble an adult as opposed to a frat boy working in a police station.
With these contrasting main characters in place, we see young adults gradually mature in the context of a workplace comedy. As viewers find out more about the quirks and insecurities that drive each of the main characters, they inevitably find themselves identifying with those characters.
The diversity of the cast—the Sergeant (Terry Crews), the secretary (Chelsea Peretti), and the Captain—makes the show relatable, which enlivens the mundane life situations that constitute subplots for nearly every episode. In that sense, we are not just entertained, but are getting to know people who seem real. As they learn how to work through and address the circumstances of everyday life, we may just learn how to navigate our own lives as well.
Without coming across as “preachy,” Brooklyn Nine Nine superbly blends comedy, action, and insight to make a show I hope stays around for several more seasons to come. – Nate Claiborne
ClickHole is not one of those websites. Clickhole is The Onion’s ornery little brother—a ruthless satire of Buzzfeed, Upworthy, The Huffington Post, and all of those other sites that mercilessly kill our time by showing us inanity like “12 Charts That Perfectly Illustrate Your Life During the Holidays.”
While The Onion exists to mock current events, politics, and the state of the world, ClickHole exists to mock us. ClickHole takes aim at the viral distractions––the cat videos, the listicles, the quizzes––that give us a break from the depressing cycle of news stories, critical think-pieces, and mundane computer tasks. While The Onion pokes fun at the world we live in, ClickHole pokes fun at us. And amazingly, in ClickHole’s debut year it put out better content than just about any “real” website around.
With articles like “7 Nihilistic Quotes That Only Brilliant, Misunderstood Young Males On The Internet Will Appreciate” and “The Time I Spent On A Commercial Whaling Ship Totally Changed My Perspective On The World” and quizzes like “Is Your Dad Proud Of You?” and “Which Mad Men Character Are You?” (reminding you that you’ll never be Don Draper. . . or even Joan), ClickHole understands the plight of the privileged, bored, insecure, and middle to upper-middle class spiritual nomads, and they incessantly mock said plight.
Nothing has exposed the utter absurdity of the internet and the human condition this year quite like ClickHole. Good satire always has a sense of the times, but rarely is satire as ahead of its time as ClickHole. So thanks, ClickHole, for making fun of us in the best way imaginable. – Nick Rynerson
Early last year, Thabiti Anyabwile interacted at length with Doug Wilson‘s writing, patiently and graciously countering a revisionist history that downplayed the plight of American slaves. He also dealt with the white, revisionist historian in Wilson, publicly extending grace and even confession in front of the twitching eyes of Christian comments-section frequenters.
That exchange turned out to be small beans compared to the discussion of race in 2014. With the dubious legal proceedings surrounding the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner (and many others) at the hands of police, attitudes within the church about authority, crime, and people of color came to the surface when protests and social media erupted on a national scale. Thabiti continued to have the guts to suggest, as he did earlier this year on our reparations podcast, that America hasn’t truly reckoned with its history of racial violence, and that there are significant lingering effects of racial inequality in our current climate.
Writing along these lines at an outlet as conservative as The Gospel Coalition—and interacting with the anticipated dissent—demonstrates both the bravery and optimism that the gospel gives (and that the church needs more of). While it may seem an impossible task to build love and empathy between believers of starkly different backgrounds, experiences, and persuasions, to concede such work to the red/blue polarization of our world would be to deny the gospel its power.
Beyond demonstrating fruit of the spirit in answering concerns, misunderstandings, and, frankly, ignorance, Thabiti’s work exhibits most strongly a distinct characteristic: hope. For him to carry this banner, he must truly believe that the church can break down some of the tallest and densest walls between brothers. I’m inspired to hope for the same. – Cray Allred
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