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What were the most-meaningful cultural influences of 2017? 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 2017 take shape.
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 2017. 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.
Jason Isbell finds plenty to lament on his sixth solo album. He’s still equally at home crooning the lonely, dive-bar lyrics of “Tupelo” or fronting the 400 Unit on the rollicking “Hope the High Road.” But it’s his songwriting, his willingness to engage the stereotypes of his own identity, as well as the fearsome world we live in now, that make The Nashville Sound a great record.
From the latent racism that helped make him possible (“White Man’s World”), to the loneliness and longing of the working class (“Cumberland Gap”), to the detritus of love and lust (“Chaos and Clothes”), few songwriters tell a better story than Isbell does, helping us see a way of life as he can, even if he harbors no sympathy for it. The working man of “Cumberland Gap,” for example, has watched his way of life disappear, “swallowed whole” by a new and not entirely intelligible world.
Isbell sees that broken and beautiful world for what it is and still finds reason to hope. “I know you’re tired and you ain’t sleepin’ well, / uninspired and likely mad as hell, / but wherever you are, / I hope the high road leads you home again.” Sure, the world has changed in ways he couldn’t have anticipated, and we might say we need new perspective to navigate the rough waters ahead. Instead, Isbell offers an ages-old answer in his two-song benediction, inviting us to live virtuously into a world worth living in. —James Cain
Pixar’s Coco is the heartwarming story of a young boy named Miguel Rivera who dreams of becoming a famous musician. His family objects, so Miguel sets off on an adventure in the Land of the Dead to find his long-lost grandfather. Coco is an authentic celebration of Mexican culture, from the bright colors in the Land of the Dead to the masked luchadores, the story highlights the importance of matriarchs and the sacredness of memory. Yet, the genius of Coco is the way it celebrates Mexican culture and identity, while also telling a universal story of the struggle to find your place in the world without forgetting where you came from. It is also the perfect antidote to the fear and racism that have swirled around conversations around immigration and the virtues of Mexican immigrants. It is a celebration of family and love and telling the full story—even the parts you would rather forget.
Where American culture is often very individualistic, prioritizing personal fulfillment at the expense of others, Coco cautions us that no part is greater than the whole. It emphasizes our need for each other, a truth stated by Martin Luther King Jr. as, “all men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” Coco celebrates the beauty of Mexican culture at a moment when diversity and difference seem to be under attack and reminds us that we really are better together. —Kathryn Freeman
As the third act of Logan begins, the titular hero (also known as Wolverine of the X-Men franchise) falls asleep while driving. There are many moments in the film that deviate from typical superhero plot lines, but this one captures the feeling of exhaustion that permeates the movie and the struggle with mortality that we assumed a character who could always heal from any wound would never have to face. The plot sets up a world where the bad guys have won and the good guys are frail, providing opportunities to deal with many fascinating themes: the responsibility we take up for others, the question of how to love people who have been deliberately harmed by scientific experiments, and the fraught family relationships created by the same horrors of technology. While these questions and the compelling action sequences are a lot of fun to dig into, in the end Logan is a great movie because of the incredible relationships between its characters and the ways they choose to love and honor one another in a world gone mad. —Matthew Loftus
If you were anywhere near the InterWebs in August, you likely saw some variation of what is now known as the Distracted Boyfriend meme. The photo features a young, hand-holding couple, but their faces tell a story that’s more war than love: The man’s head is cranked to openly gawk at another woman. The girlfriend’s face is contorted in disgust.
Pictures do indeed speak a thousand words, but memes like this one require a bit of definition. Countless memes were created by labeling the trio, providing a vehicle to express wit and sarcasm about the fickle ways of the human heart. The narratives were plentiful and cut through a wide cross-section of society, from highbrow to low, from professional to profane. In a time when solidarity has been scarce, the Distracted Boyfriend united us in common scorn over frustrating situations and insensitive human behavior. We could relate to the situations depicted in the memes because we live them in some way, shape, or form. We need to laugh to break the tension. But humor serves a second purpose. It also catches us off-guard, showing us truths that we may not be willing to accept otherwise. Life is full of scenarios that could fit this meme because life is full of humans who are wayward and duplicitous. As incensed as we may be—and should be—by such behavior, this meme also reveals a truth none of us want to hear: We have all been the Distracted Boyfriend. We are more alike than we care to admit. And that truth should give us great hope for the days to come. —Erin Straza
Silence, based on a book by Shusaku Endo by the same title, is a beautiful and harrowing film. Christians may disagree with the theological ideas presented or fume at the movie’s ambiguous ending, but a major studio releasing a movie about faith and featuring Christians wrestling through some of the most difficult questions about life, death, and faith is still pretty significant. Yet the film’s poor box-office numbers also suggest that many Christians aren’t particularly interested in watching a film that is this challenging to their faith and many non-Christians aren’t interested in a film that is filled to the brim with explicitly religious themes and ideas. (The shoddy marketing and limited release probably also affected the film’s returns.) That’s a shame not only because it will likely discourage people from making more mature Christian films, but also because Silence‘s themes are incredibly relevant at a time when Christians are asking what sort of compromises we ought to make in a hostile culture. If you haven’t seen it yet (or if you have), go buy the DVD and watch it with some friends. Then talk about it. It won’t be easy, but it will be worthwhile. —Matthew Loftus
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