What were the most-meaningful cultural influences of 2016? The Christ and Pop Culture 25 is a list of our favorite people, works of art, or cultural artifacts from the past 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. We’re counting down the list each day this week; stop back to see The 25 of 2016 take shape.
Throughout the year, our podcast The 25 provided a place for Christ and Pop Culture writers and friends to nominate powerful cultural artifacts and happenings from 2016. Nominations covered a wide array of potentials from film, television, music, games, Internet, and people. We then used our magic algorithm to compile those choices into a tentative list of around 30 items. Finally, a panel of six (aka, the CAPC 25 Council), 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.
Our final deliberations were recorded and produced into a two-part podcast in which you can hear exactly how the CAPC 25 Council determined the order and make-up of the 25 of 2016. Part one is available today; part two will be released later in the week so as to not spoil the surprise for the top spots.
More Installments: #20-#16, #15-#11, #10-#6, #5-#1, The 25 of 2016
The Art of Organized Noize by Quincy Jones III
“It is the unflinching glance into hood stardom that hip hop requires.”
Hip hop is the soul of street life, and Atlanta’s streets never produced a more important musical team than Organized Noize. The production collective gifted the South’s most skillful hip hop artists with beautiful canvases to paint their masterpieces. Through the documentary The Art of Organized Noize, the virtuoso trio of Rico Wade, Ray Murray, and Sleepy Brown finally tell their story on their own terms, while giving viewers a nostalgic treat.
Organized Noize is responsible for some of the South’s most distinctly authentic music, having laid tracks for legendary groups like Outkast, TLC, and Goodie Mob. The film brilliantly documents the collective’s dramatic, complicated relationship with success. We see the origin of “The Dungeon,” the basement hub artists used to discover their southern sound, as well as the story of how the team crafted TLC’s smash hit, “Waterfalls.” The film’s whirlwind tour is reminiscent of the group’s rise and fall.
To say the documentary is sincere would be an understatement. It is the unflinching glance into hood stardom that hip hop requires. The documentary refuses to merely idolize Noize’s exploits. Rather, it confronts the team’s struggle with drug abuse and their difficulty navigating the music business with friends. Yet, this drama is not exhaustive because the heart of Organized Noize is all about family and sacrifice. Organized Noize famously left a $17 million record deal from Interscope at the peak of their career. While some view this decision as foolish, we cannot help but appreciate their authenticity. This team doesn’t belong to mainstream record labels and never made music for their approval. Organized Noize belongs to Southern hip hop, to the streets, to Atlanta, and to everyone who refuses to let their priceless sound be forgotten. — Tyler Burns
“We are on the precipice of exciting opportunities.”
Twenty-sixteen is the year of virtual reality. Angry and anxious about our recent presidential election? Experience a world controlled by you! News of the latest celebrity death causing existential dread? Give digital immortality a shot! Do you want to run away and pretend 2016 didn’t happen? Welcome to virtual reality. With this year’s release of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR, your escape is more possible than ever — right from the comfort of your living room. PlayStation VR (PSVR) made this year’s list because of its broad reach and accessibility in bringing this new tech into our homes.
Virtual reality as a form of entertainment is an experience in reconciling contradictions. With VR, I’m a grown man sitting alone on a couch while my visual surroundings tell me I’m a diver in a deep ocean descent — and the palpable emotions of excitement and fear support the latter. It’s a surreal experience to cognitively know you’re safe while your body viscerally reacts to a virtual shark as if your life depends on rescue.
Only time will tell whether or not virtual reality is here to stay, though it’s undeniable 2016 has been marked by the introduction of VR entertainment for the masses. We are on the precipice of exciting opportunities, but as with any new technology, we need to be cautious of the new forms in which sin may manifest through it. (VR has already been embraced and commercialized in the porn industry.) While primarily a form of entertainment at present, the future applications for VR in all types of contexts are thrilling — and PSVR brings that potential into our homes. — Tyler Glodjo
Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family by Daniel Bergner
“[R]aises the crucial question of how more young artists from difficult backgrounds can be seen, heard, and helped.”
New York Times journalist Daniel Bergner chronicles the improbable and grueling journey of Ryan Speedo Green, who went from an abusive broken home, to solitary confinement in a juvenile detention center, to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. This is not your typical poverty-to-stardom tale, and it’s no light feel-good read, either. Against all odds, an esoteric, highly demanding form of music spoke to a disadvantaged African-American teenager, and he put every ounce of strength, will, talent, and energy that he had into following its call, aided at every turn by mentors and helpers who heard something special in his voice.
Bergner spent extensive amounts of time with Green and various family members, friends, teachers, and more, and his gripping story covers a wide range of the factors that affected Green and his career prospects, from the legacy of eugenics in the United States to the troubled history of opera and race. In prose both gritty and inspiring, Bergner recounts how one determined young man “sang to restore order to the world” — and in the process, he raises the crucial question of how more young artists from difficult backgrounds like Ryan Speedo Green’s can be seen, heard, and helped. — Gina Dalfonzo
“[E]mploys all the typical trappings of a family sitcom but features a decidedly atypical family.”
ABC’s Speechless is a situational comedy that features JJ DiMeo, a 16-year-old boy rendered speechless by cerebral palsy. The trailer quickly captured the show’s essence: JJ giving someone the middle finger, a gesture indiscernible without his mother’s apt translation: “That’s the finger. Work in progress.”
The sitcom employs an irreverence atypical of most shows about kids with special needs, and I worried it would seek cheap humor at the expense of a vulnerable community. What makes the show brilliant, however, is that it never does this. The humor of Speechless is largely derived from the juxtaposition of speechlessness and voicelessness; that JJ is one but clearly not the other creates a charming irony that Speechless does not allow the viewer to overlook. This paradox is further drawn out when JJ selects his own aid: Kenneth, the school’s gardener who is self-described as “the black person in Newport.” Kenneth is not speechless but, the viewer gathers, likely voiceless until JJ gives him cause to be listened to.
Speechless employs all the typical trappings of a family sitcom but features a decidedly atypical family. It uses a man rendered voiceless by white privilege to bring JJ speech, and JJ’s speechlessness to give Kenneth voice. It accomplishes all of this not in spite of the fact that it is a sitcom, but precisely because it is one — an unconventional recipe certainly worth this year’s 22nd spot. — Val Dunham
Better Call Saul
“Consequences follow hard after moral transgression.”
How many of us, when we heard that Vince Gilligan would be creating a spinoff show of his masterful Breaking Bad for AMC, expected it to be anything other than a mediocre cash-in? Of those who did entertain high hopes, how many expected the spinoff to become one of the best television shows currently airing? Very few indeed, and yet here we are, with Better Call Saul only two seasons into its run and already considered by some to be on par with Breaking Bad or even superior to it. Like its predecessor, Better Call Saul creates unforgettable characters and then allows them to entangle themselves in webs they’ve woven out of their own ambitions and character flaws.
This moral seriousness is what gives Gilligan’s series their narrative urgency. Better Call Saul isn’t as bleak or as white-knuckle tense as Breaking Bad — it is, after all, an origin story for Breaking Bad‘s comic-relief character, a slippery lawyer formerly known as Jimmy McGill — but the stakes still feel high because everything matters. In Gilligan’s world, consequences follow hard after moral transgression, even if that transgression is as seemingly minor as a strategic elision of the truth in order to avoid confrontation. Your sins will find you out; and when they’re hot on the heels of characters as funny, complex, and likable as Jimmy McGill, Kim Wexler, and Mike Ehrmantraut, it makes for riveting viewing. — Kevin McLenithan