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 Wednesday and Friday, we’ll run a two-part podcast in which you can hear exactly how the CAPC25 Council determined the order and make-up of our list.
More Installments: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
25 The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt
“Human Beings Searching out Depths Unknown”
Michael Schmidt wends through hundreds of authors scattered in time across the better part of a millennium to create a vivid history of the novel in English. He nimbly traces the origin and growth of different currents that flow into the mainstream of long-form fiction. With each chapter he groups old and new figures together into asynchronous clubs based on shared emphases or concerns, considering Daniel Defoe alongside Truman Capote, G.K. Chesterton alongside Donald Barthelme, and so on.
Schmidt makes heavy use of his novelists’ own opinions about each other, and it lends the book a sparkling conversational quality. Their quips and snippets, culled from untold numbers of essays, letters, articles, and reviews, are in places as valuable as the analysis they both frame and season. Schmidt himself, of course, is no slouch: his erudition and wit color every page.
I have built The Novel into my daily life. I read between one and sixty pages a day, and I leave scraps of paper to mark the pages where Schmidt reaches saturation levels of insight. His appreciation for The Pilgrim’s Progress and his analysis of Jane Austen’s genius had me ripping strips off an old heating bill; a corner of paper towel marks page 345, where Herman Melville remarks on the “thought-divers … that have been diving & coming up again with bloodshot eyes since the world began.”
I don’t have enough scrap paper. There are near-perfect sentences and remarkable quotations in every section. These pages are alive with thought-divers, human beings searching out depths unknown; there are jokers and mischief-makers, too, and each character contributes his or her piece to the conversation, which Schmidt hosts with generosity, tirelessness, and joy. – Martyn Jones
24 House of Cards
“An Eerily Human Combination”
The second season of Netflix’s House of Cards was simultaneously one of the darkest, most complex, and most engaging shows of 2014. This season follows Frank Underwood’s new position deeper into the Dantean political hell of Washington.
Frank Underwood is one of the most convincing, likeable, despicable anti-heroes ever to come across my TV screen. Frank looks directly into the camera to draw us in on his strategies and mild irritation, and it becomes hard not to root for him, even while he destroys lives for the vanity of “power”. House of Cards will play with your allegiances, challenge your sense of right and wrong, and probably disturb you, all while being terribly entertaining.
The show pulls apart the put-together facade of Washington DC politics and dives into the depths of greed, pride, and ruthless ambition, all swirling within an oddly relatable humanity. It’s an eerily human combination of “I can’t believe someone would ever do that” and “I can totally relate to that impulse”. If you can stomach honest depictions of the brutality of human nature, House of Cards proves to be one of the most intelligent and engaging shows of the last decade. – Nick Rynerson
23French Style Furs – Is Exotic Bait
“Intones the Weight of the Faith’s Creed”
Is Exotic Bait’s lyrical concept comes straight from the poetry of 20th century monk and mystic, Thomas Merton, and that concept swaggers and fights against the music throughout the album. Still, the often-frantic pace propels the heaviness of the lyrics. Tracks like “All The Way Down” intones the weight of the faith’s creed: he descended into hell; The third day he rose again from the dead.
At a brief thirty-six-minute runtime, Is Exotic Bait, packs a punch. The best way to describe the music of French Style Furs is what would have happened had 80s pop compositions been kicked in the teeth by their punk godfathers. FSF are just as comfortable within the company of Tears for Fears and The Cure as they would be with The Clash or Fugazi. The French Style Furs are able to play to the strengths of both: extravagance and attitude.
With a heavy amount of raw soul and a pop lilt, The Cold War Kids’ lead singer Nathan Willett brings a large amount of life to their already quirky indie rock, so when I first heard he and CWK bassist, Matt Maust, teamed up with Biola U. comrade and We Barbarians drummer, Nathan Warkentin, I was both perplexed and excited about the result of such a project.
Merton-inspired themes like corporate corruption and patriarchy still hang in the present day air, giving the album an inherent earthiness and transcendence. – Blake Collier
22The Walking Dead
“Cherish Our Existence and Abstain from Desecration”
There’s a moment in Season Five of The Walking Dead when the camera pans over an abandoned car, momentarily showing the words “pardon our dust” before we rejoin our group of survivors. This season—and this past spring’s season four—asks us to empathize with the growing necessity of murder as a means to survival. We watch Rick Grimes and his group continue to struggle, yet we remain invested in their survival despite the inherent cost to their humanity.
Throughout the series, the characters of The Walking Dead have tried to rationalize the inescapable fallenness of their existence with consideration of the way things once were. This season, they arrive at a very Christian realization: we cannot return to a state of innocence, because that state never existed. The threat of cannibals triggers this realization, yet they provide us with the greatest affirmation of the Imago Dei yet offered within the show. It may sound macabre, but in a physically desecrated world, loving your brother might just mean not eating him.
Season four’s “The Grove” aligns with Chapter One of Ecclesiastes: life will prove fleeting and death’s grasp will overcome us all. In light of that truth, season five repeatedly asks us to pardon the dust, to acclimate ourselves to our inevitable death. As Daryl eloquently states, “we ain’t ashes.”
But that’s not the end of the story, and Ecclesiastes inevitably leads to the promise of God shouldering the burden of our existence. When the line between cannibalism and Rick’s group is realized, we’re offered hope that all burdens will one day be gloriously lifted. In the land of the dead, we’re meant to cherish our existence and abstain from desecration, even if it simply means surviving to live one more day. – Nathan Valle
21 Parks and Recreation
“A More Excellent Way”
We live in a deeply divided age where differences in everything from politics and philosophical worldviews to parenting styles and favorite television shows can lead to vitriolic exchanges, name-calling, straw men, and overall nastiness. As such, I think we could all learn a lesson from Parks and Recreation’s mid-level bureaucrats.
In real life, sadly, folks like the ultra-positive Leslie Knope, who believes in the power of government to improve people’s lives, and the ultra-libertarian Ron Swanson, who believes government is straight from the pits of hell, would have nothing to do with each other. Any interaction between them would be fraught with tension. But Parks and Recreation shows us a more excellent way.
Knope and Swanson, and the rest of the Pawnee, Indiana Parks department, constantly butt heads over political ideas, business goals, and life choices. But they never stop respecting and caring for each other; they never stop giving each other grace — especially this past season, as Leslie struggled between leaving Pawnee for bigger and brighter things and remaining faithful to her beloved community. By staying involved in each other’s lives, they remind us that even in the face of deeply divisive culture wars, we are more alike than we think. Oh, and the fact that their hijinks are consistently hilarious? That’s just the icing on the cake. – Jason Morehead