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.
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.
25 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 2
“An appropriate heroine for our time”
Although Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the imperfect yet empowering female protagonist heroized by middle school girls nationwide, is as weary of war as we are of The Hunger Games series, box office numbers have soared in this final installment. In The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (PG-13, Nov. 2015), good finally defeats evil and love conquers all.
The second installment of the “trilogy” rounds up heart-throbbers Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and Finnick (Sam Claflin) with Katniss to unify the 13 districts of Panem to destroy the Capitol and the power-hungry President Snow.
The film’s fairy tale clichés are balanced out by a welcomed realism. No one actually wins during war, and the real injustice occurs when brother turns against brother while a larger, evil enemy lurks close by. Heroes are not flawless and often must suffer the consequences of their mistakes—or even their admirable sacrifices.
Katniss embodies an appropriate heroine for our time: a warrior for justice who must face her own demons in order to rescue her nation. —Kara Bettis
“A Christian game that’s different”
If a Christian creates a videogame, shouldn’t it be different?
The degree to and sense in which the answer to that question is yes is up for debate, but the answer is, probably, yes nonetheless.
That’s an uncomfortable idea, because an over-emphasis on Christian “difference” has ruined all sorts of artistic attempts, videogames included. A “Christian message” has been shoehorned in a sort of heavy-handed way into games where it simply doesn’t belong. Or mere artistic flourishes supposedly transform an otherwise rote and unimaginative match-three game into something supposedly divine. It’s been a painful journey for Christians looking to play something that reflects their specific beliefs in a convincing way.
But with Jay Tholen’s Dropsy, there are signs of hope. Many will be turned off by the jagged pixel art and off-kilter sound and animation. But that reflects the game’s central premise: Dropsy is despised and misunderstood, a gentle sojourner determined to love a world that hates him. Guys, that’s just like Jesus!
But this interpretation is not a stretch. Jesus’ sacrificial approach to humanity is the core conceit behind Dropsy and to experience the game on its own terms is to realize how unfortunate it is that we have learned to roll our eyes at the concept of the Christ figure in narrative art.
Dropsy turns that old trope into a powerful series of mundane moments and heartfelt conversations. We can’t exactly make out what people are saying to Dropsy, nor can we tell what Dropsy would like to say to them. Still, the player’s part in figuring out what each individual truly wants or needs and then going out of our way to give it to them, reorients our frame of mind. This videogame isn’t about saving the world, nor is it about giving ourselves a good time.
This game is different. —Richard Clark
23 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
“A timely ode to indestructible joy”
Netflix’s new original series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a celebration of the power of cheer. The sitcom kicks off when police rescue 29-year-old Kimmy (played by The Office’s Ellie Kemper) from the underground bunker of a doomsday cult led by the charismatic Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne. In the wake of her deliverance, she moves to New York City, where she meets a colorful cast of eccentrics who support her in her quixotic quest to reclaim her life.
Nearly everything in Kimmy Schmidt—from its bright palette to its infectious theme song to its spunky, indomitable, effervescent heroine—is designed to conjure the sheerest of delights. There is darkness here, to be sure; Kimmy is beset and besieged by both the theft of her past and the dangerous strangeness of her present. Against this sea of troubles, however, she bears mighty arms—namely, her own wide-eyed, sincere, indestructible delight. Faced with trials of every conceivable kind, she considers all pure joy, even as she exhibits the perseverance of a saint.
Twenty-fifteen was a year when a spiritual darkness seemed to envelop so much of our world. Under such a grim cloud, Kimmy Schmidt sung a timely ode to the joyful music that leads us sunward. —Adam Marshall
22 The Leftovers
“A world stripped of our current belief systems”
“Let the mystery be,” insists the opening theme of The Leftover’s second season. But how?
That’s the operative question for each of these characters, whether they live inside or outside of a small town called Miracle, the one place that was, from what the world can tell, spared from The Sudden Departure.
This Departure, by the way, may be one of the most terrifying events ever conjured up by a creator. It’s not particularly violent or physically disruptive, but the metaphysics of it inflicts the kind of terror that must have gripped Job (heavily referenced throughout The Leftovers, by the way) when his life was struck so severely and acutely that it must have come from the hand of God.
Ultimately, the characters in The Leftovers are struggling with what it means to live in a universe that seems ultimately disinterested in them. If it’s interested in order at all, it’s a kind of order that is utterly inconceivable.
It’s a world in which existing religions are inconceivable; all of them. From Christianity to secular humanism, the slate of possible truths have been wiped clean and replaced with nothing more than a blank white space. As a result, The Leftovers provides us with a world where characters scramble to devise belief systems that align with the current reality. It turns out few, if any, are interested in letting the mystery be. —Richard Clark
21 Josh Ritter, Sermon on the Rocks
“Bar-side prophecies and parables”
The end is nigh, and Josh Ritter is ushering it in with a “messianic oracular honkytonk.” Sermon on the Rocks is Ritter at his best, with this album of bar-side prophecies and parables wrestling with Christianity’s legacy in the United States. Saturated with biblical language and imagery, some of Ritter’s songs seem like caricatures at first, but upon further listening they paint a picture all too familiar.
This is exemplified most prominently in “Getting Ready to Get Down,” in which a young girl is sent off to Bible college due to her parents’ and pastor’s fear of her increasing carnality. Ritter sings, “The men of the country club / The ladies of the ‘xilliary / Talkin ’bout love / Like it’s apple pie and liberty / To really be a saint / You gotta really be a virgin / Dry as a page of the / King James Version.” (Spoiler: She learns all about sex at Bible school.)
Sermon on the Rocks taps into folk’s darker roots as well, juxtaposing celebrations of creation’s natural beauty with stories of alcoholism, revenge, and the sins of the father being visited upon his sons. Ritter said that the drive behind this album is the way in which religious persons use the language of the Bible in a two-faced manner. CaPC’s Blaine Grimes described Sermon of the Rocks as “convict[ing] in a manner reminiscent of the biblical Nathan’s confrontation of David. It tells stories that are about us even as we wish they weren’t.” Ritter’s sermon doesn’t teach about life that leads to the Kingdom, but it certainly confronts us with the lies and hurt we’ve left along the path. —Tyler Glodjo
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