Reviewing our most-read articles each year gives us a snapshot of the cultural highs and lows from the past 365 days. Although this year may have over-delivered on the lows, goodness could still be found as we moved forward together. Artists, thinkers, leaders, writers, and creators of all kinds drew our attention to works that challenged our thinking, buoyed our hearts, and inspired us to keep investing in the common good. Our writers did just that, covering a wide array of topics—film, television, literature, media, internet, politics, music, tech, sports, celebrity culture, and more. This most-read article list is a check of our readership’s pulse, so to speak. Here are the top 10 articles that got our readers’ hearts beating in 2020!

Of course, these 10 are just a sampling of the many, many excellent articles published in a year forever marked by a global pandemic and our nation’s racial reckoning. This collection highlights how we at Christ and Pop Culture seek “to edify the Church, glorify God, and witness to the world by encouraging and modeling a biblical presence within culture.” If you are new here, these articles will provide an excellent introduction for our approach to cultural commentary. If you’ve been reading throughout the year, see if your favorite article made the list, and thanks for reading along in 2020. And if you’ve benefited from our work, your gift will sustain our efforts in the year to come.

The Symbolic World#10 It’s a Festival, Not a Machine: Celebrating The Symbolic World

By Alisa Ruddell, August 4, 2020

Jonathan Pageau is a good storyteller; he’s an even better story interpreter. In his YouTube channel The Symbolic World, Pageau unpacks the meanings of symbols to those of us who have lost sight of them—in movies like Gravity and Guardians of the Galaxy, in fairy tales like Rapunzel, in the icons of Holy Week, and in the parable of the sower. He interprets HalloweenSanta ClausTwitter, and Kanye West. From the symbolism of trees to the symbolism of hair, Pageau provides many different points of entry and interest to follow, like trails of breadcrumbs in the forest which all lead to the same place: he wants you to participate in the Story of Stories—in the life of Christ. You might have come for the movies, the myths, the art, or the cultural commentary, but if you stick around long enough, you’ll realize where Pageau’s trail has led you.

binge-watch#9 Pandemic Binge-Watch Survival Kit: 9 Underrated Shows for Sheltering in Place

By Knox McCoy, March 23, 2020

There’s something about bingeing that is a more formalized pursuit of escapism. Candy Crush, refreshing the social feeds, or reading, these are all in service to a more broader impulse to get out of your head for a moment. And the need for escapism has never been more necessary considering the Coronavirus has overtaken the world. As a global community, when we look back after fighting our way through this pandemic, we’ll see one set of footprints in the sand… and those footprints will belong to those shows we binged along the way, helping us maintain our sanity in an insane setting.

John Wayne#8 Exploring America’s Love of a Steely Savior in Jesus and John Wayne

By Aarik Danielsen, July 13, 2020

In a new book, historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez contends that, over the last 100 years, most white evangelicals would cast a John Wayne type. A ten-foot-tall Jesus who swaggers through every scene, speaking softly and carrying hot steel. Showing no interest in turning the other cheek, he leaves a red right-hand print across his enemy’s face. Prospective disciples need not apply—this Jesus is forming a posse.

Tiger King#7 Everybody Loses: Tiger King, Greek Tragedy, and Spectacle as Entertainment

By K. B. Hoyle, April 7, 2020

There are several predators on the Netflix original show Tiger King, and I’m not talking about the tigers. A surprise hit this past month while everyone is sheltering in place, Tiger King is a documentary following the life and work of Joe Maldonado-Passage “Exotic,” a private zoo owner in Oklahoma with a menagerie of big cats. Joe Exotic is much more than a private zoo owner, though, and Tiger King is not a documentary so much as a circus presented to a captive America during a time of crisis while we wait for the government to dole out to us our bread. And like all circuses, it produces a spectacle of real-life “freaks,” captive wild animals, and simmering danger. There is a cost of admission for such entertainment, however—it is never free to profit off the tragic tales of others. 

Cuties#6 Cuties Isn’t the Problem: Our Cultural Addiction to the Sexualization of Minors

By K. B. Hoyle, September 22, 2020

Cuties struck a raw nerve during a perfect storm. It landed in the #MeToo-era for liberals and progressive (and centrist) Christians concerned about the very real dangers of pedophilia and sexual abuses of minors by those in authority over them. And it came at the height (or at least on the upward trajectory) of an alt-right conspiracy movement called QAnon, that states a cabal of Hollywood and liberal political elites are trafficking in child sex slaves in order to harvest “adrenochrome” from them. QAnon is so broad that is has swept perfectly innocent and otherwise innocuous well-meaning conservative Christians under its wing, and it’s hijacked the efforts of real movements that do protect trafficked children, such as what happened this year during Human Trafficking Awareness Month with the #SaveTheChildren hashtag campaign. In other words, pedophilia and protecting minors is on a lot of people’s minds—in productive and nonproductive ways—in 2020.

Gardeners' World#5 Gardeners’ World and the Object of Attention

By Matt Civico, September 9, 2020

Gardeners’ World’s host, Monty Don, doesn’t offer shortcuts or “life hacks” as he dispenses advice. Instead, he spouts steady and practical wisdom. He’s no guru; he does not offer secret knowledge, an expert circumvention of troublesome means towards desired ends. Gracy Olmstead, a writer and amateur gardener herself, likens Don to poet-farmer Wendell Berry. Writing of Don’s book The Complete Gardener, Olmstead notes he “applies many of the principles Wendell Berry applies to agriculture to the garden itself—suggesting that oak tree, rose bush, and carrot all ought to be treated with the same fidelity, respect, and organic sensibility.” The pandemic presented an opportunity for many, myself included, to see the “organic sensibility” of human lives anew.

#4 How Christians Deal with the Loss of Time

By Matt Poppe, January 15, 2020

Linear time would tell me that today I am less free than I was yesterday. My life to this point is a bell I can never unring. Whether for good or bad, I can never go back from my past, never savor the good times nor absolve myself for my errors and poor choices. Moreover, linear time says that in another 15, 20, 40 years, I’ll be less free still—more deeply shackled with each passing day with no hope of things ever being any different.

What hope for today or tomorrow—heck, what hope for anything—does the sinner have under these circumstances?

#3 Believing What We Want: Conspiracy Theories and the Gospel

By Kaitlyn Schiess, June 19, 2020

This is exactly what makes debunking a conspiracy theory so difficult: if you’ve already decided that “mainstream” sources are suspect and sinister forces are collaborating to deceive the masses, there are few arguments that can convince you otherwise. A pandemic is also a breeding ground for conspiracy theories: we’re scared, uncertain, and desperate for something meaningful in the midst of senseless suffering. We have real psychological desires—the feeling of control, a guiding narrative that brings order out of chaos, the sense of certainty in our beliefs—that such theories provide. When the public health recommendations and scientific consensus on basic facts of the virus seem to be constantly changing, it’s more comforting to believe something immovable than to handle the complexity and contingency inherent in ever-changing human knowledge.

flagpole sitting#2 Alvin Kelly and the Flagpole Sitters of the 1920s: They Weren’t Sick, but They Weren’t Well…

By Luke T. Harrington, June 19, 2020

And while many fads seem to emerge out of nowhere, that isn’t really the case with flagpole sitting—in fact, we know exactly who invented and popularized the practice. Ignoring antecedents like the ancient Christian stylites, who would live at the tops of columns to devote their lives to prayer and solitude, flagpole sitting was the invention of a man who went by Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly, who did it for the only reason anyone ever did anything in the twentieth century: fame and money.

#1 What “Wedding Night” Videos Say about Christian Influencer Culture

By Rachel Seo, July 23, 2020

But underlying these connections runs an awareness that the relationship, to a certain extent, is transactional. After all, when a follower is both someone you can encourage and someone to whom you’re selling something, where does the encouragement end and the selling begin? How do you distinguish between the two, particularly when it comes to your own personal motivations? Furthermore, the more time I spend on “Christian” social media, the more I wonder how influencers, consciously or not, balance the ideas of monetization and money, genuine faith and semblance of it, particularly when they create and market their content.

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