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.
“How does [one] move on from a life-changing artistic accomplishment?”
How does a writer, performer, son of Puerto Rican immigrants, dropped in the middle of a tumultuous political year by providence enthralled by a Founding Father, move on from a life-changing artistic accomplishment?
When Lin-Manuel Miranda took his final bow as Alexander Hamilton in July, speculation abounded about his and the show’s futures — it was impossible to picture one without the other. For its part, Hamilton has remained the highest-grossing Broadway show two years in a row, and Miranda proved he’s just getting warmed up. He shined as the quiet second subject of the PBS documentary Hamilton’s America, and both Moana’s soundtrack and The Hamilton Mixtape finished the year as chart-toppers.
Miranda has moved on from Hamilton with a singular artistic integrity that strikes a balance between embracing his past success and leaving room for others to inherit the work. He’s continued to be a vocal political and social advocate (he called on Congress to take action on behalf of Puerto Rico’s debt crisis) and a gracious and encouraging role model for fans (he tweets heartfelt wishes to his Twitter followers every morning). Miranda’s work this year has demonstrated how artists can and should be tough on injustice without losing kindness, enthusiasm, and humility. There’s a million things he hasn’t done, but just you wait… — Jessica Gibson
“Overwatch has reminded me of how deeply I need people in my life who are different than me.”
Overwatch constantly reminds us that we are not OK on our own. The game tells the story of a group of heroes who are philosophically and physically opposite (there is literally a character called Reaper who looks like Death and a character called Mercy who looks like an angel) who nonetheless set aside their philosophical differences for the common good. This take on unity and diversity might sound cheap on its face, but they are inescapable from the experience of playing the game itself.
One of the quickest ways to fail is by trying to prove your own skill. Whereas most multiplayer shooters value individual skill, Overwatch requires players to sacrifice for the sake of the team. Success requires recognizing your team’s weaknesses and submitting yourself to the task of filling in the gaps.
Playing with friends trains us to cooperate, communicate, and support one another. Playing with strangers challenges us to humble ourselves by meeting the needs of the team. In a year where I have struggled to be patient with those who think differently than me, Overwatch has reminded me of how deeply I need people in my life who are different than me. I need their skills, perspective, and insight.
The best videogames present us with well ordered worlds with absolute rules that train us to improve. Too often, however, games merely train us to improve at skills that lack clear intrinsic value. In Overwatch, however, humbly embracing diversity is absolute. — Drew Dixon
“A cultural force for commerce, community, and cell phone critique.”
When Pokémon Go released onto mobile phones, public parks were filled with hundreds of people at all hours, public monument attendance skyrocketed, church buildings saw random cars drive into their lots, and homeowners would find little kids at their door asking to be allowed into the backyard to catch a rare Pokémon. To this day, large groups of people still meet up and walk the park path to find that rare Pokémon (and hopefully hatch that 10k egg).
Beyond the mass crowds that would pop up whenever a Snorlax would appear in hopes of catching one to put in their Team Mystic gym, the quiet discussion of “What is a sacred space?” was given a more prominent soap box. Visitors to the Holocaust Museum were asked to not play the game at all out of respect to the history contained within. Other museums and public spaces cracked down, while churches and school were forced to deal with defining proper boundaries.
Pokémon Go is still a cultural force for commerce, community, and cell phone critique—perhaps more than any mobile game or app to date—therefore earning its place on The CaPC 25 for 2016. — Jonathan Clauson
“There are no easy resolutions here.”
In 1945 Poland, Mathilde—a young doctor working to rebuild the country after the twin depredations of the Nazi and the Russian armies—receives a knock on her door in the dead of night. The war is still a very near, very raw memory, so Mathilde is on her guard as she answers the knock, but the door opens only on a nun. The nun implores Mathilde to come to her convent but won’t say why. She says only that the matter is urgent and that Mathilde will understand why upon her arrival.
To say more about the plot would almost give away too much. The Innocents has at its center an image that is simultaneously grotesque, tragic, and beautiful, recalling the fiction of Flannery O’Connor. There are no easy resolutions here. And in fact, the central conflict is resolved in a way that seems distinctly Christian, even if director Anne Fontaine did not intend it to be read as such. The film seeks not to undo, minimize, or avenge the tragedy that has befallen the women at its center. Rather, the tragedy is transmuted, its evil turned to good in a way that is recognizable to anyone familiar with the Genesis story of Joseph and his brothers. Fontaine manages to depict this shift without hitting a false note or cheapening the suffering of her characters, which strikes me as nigh-miraculous. See this film. — Kevin McLenithan
The People vs. O. J. Simpson
“[M]any aspects of our current cultural moment can be found in fledgling form in those tragic events.”
It’s no accident that 2016 was the year America rekindled its fascination with the now 20-year-old O. J. Simpson case. Indeed, The People v. O. J. Simpson, FX’s 10-episode dramatic miniseries documenting the infamous murder trial, suggested that many aspects of our current cultural moment can be found in fledgling form in those tragic events. News packaged as entertainment. Our compromised justice system. The role of celebrity and identity politics in our society. And, most of all, the fact that black people and white people can look at the same events and come away with drastically different understandings of what happened.
Full of wonderful, layered performances from actors like Cuba Gooding, Jr. (in the title role), Sarah Paulson, and John Travolta, and written with the ticking relentlessness of our 24-hour news cycle, The People v. O. J. Simpson is the kind of television you tear through in just a few sittings. Revisiting the O. J. case allows the show’s creators to apply the recent true-crime craze (think Making a Murderer and Serial) to the topsy-turvy politics of celebrity and America’s race conversation. The result is not just a fascinating drama—there’s no lack of dramatic tension here, despite the fact that the trial’s result is well-known, and most of us actually remember the events of the trial to some degree. It’s also a deep dive into the contemporary American zeitgeist. — Ethan McCarthy