Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.

It was almost a decade ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday (because I’m old). All the countless hours I spent online, giggling at the fact that there would soon be a movie called Snakes on a Plane, watching the hundreds of fan videos on this brand-new site called “YouTube,” and being fascinated by the obscenity-laden line that the film would soon incorporate and make famous. Snakes on a Plane was a full-on cultural phenomenon.

And then, y’know, it came out.

I was there opening weekend with a crowd of friends who had all whipped themselves into a frenzy over those mother-loving snakes on that melon-farming plane, and we entered the theater prepared for a riotously fun time.

SnakesWe left, though, feeling awkward, embarrassed, and a little bit cheated. What we had seen projected on the screen had been neither the so-bad-it’s-good sort of B-movie we had been sold a year prior, nor the surprise-classic we all secretly hope for every time we go to the movies; it had been nothing more than a boring, generic flick with a slightly amusing title.

We had been sold a terrible movie, based entirely on its terrible premise—not despite its bad premise, but because of it. It was the cinematic equivalent of a Carl’s Jr. cheeseburger: we bought it only for the WTF factor and then immediately regretted the purchase for the exact same reason.

But somehow, possibly entirely by accident, the producers of Snakes had tapped into a profound reality: Internet culture runs entirely on irony. We lazy, entitled millennials who make up the premiere citizenry of the Web absolutely love getting excited over ideas we know are stupid and pointless, like LOLcats and Rick Astley songs and on-the-nose movie titles. And as yet, no movie that attempted to tap into this phenomenon of ironic love (Sharknado, anyone? Sharknado 2, anyone?) has come out the other end regretting it.

But I wonder if maybe that’s about to change.

It must have been at least a year ago that I first heard of the Left Behind reboot that’s currently showing in theaters. At the time, like Snakes, it was seemingly built from the ground up to inspire nothing other than a general reaction of WTF. A reboot of a terrible Kirk Cameron movie, which in turn was based on a hit book series no one still admits to having read, this time starring Nic Cage, Jordin Sparks, and (at the time) Ashley Tisdale? Seriously? And like Snake‘s website eight years ago, Left Behind’s Facebook page inundated its followers with promotions designed to appeal first to irony-loving millennials and second to their irony-oblivious parents. Examples included an admonition from “Satan” not to see the film and a poster featuring the empty robe of the Statue of Liberty (because, y’know, she had been raptured, get it?).

And it worked. Most of my irony-loving millennial friends on Facebook ate the stuff up, re-sharing every new update and competing to see who could proclaim a deeper love for the then-unseen film.

And then, like Snakes, it was released.

I have yet to see it, but by all accounts, the thing is terrible. Not so-bad-it’s-good-terrible, not meh-it-was-pretty-lame-I-guess terrible, but more like wow-it-makes-the-Kirk-Cameron-version-look-good terrible—and, apparently, not even in an interesting way. Those who have seen it assure me it alternates between lamely offensive and boring. It’s enough to make you wonder if maybe the producers actually knew it would be a stinker—and maybe knew its only hope of turning a profit was to attract the irony-loving hipster crowd.

And maybe that strategy makes sense. It’s been a decade and a half since the first film, and in that short span of time, the winds in mainstream evangelical culture have shifted noticeably. The dispensationalist quasi-Pentecostalism of the Jesus Movement that gave rise to things like megachurches, Christian rock, and Left Behind has been eclipsed almost completely in the evangelical consciousness, as the children of megachurch-attending Baby Boomers have sought out more historically grounded forms of Christianity, leading them into generally amillennial traditions like Calvinism, Lutheranism, and Anglicanism (note that Christian rock’s heir apparent, Christian rap, is known almost as much for its strong Reformed theology as for its booty-shaking beats). The kids who devoured the Left Behind novels, played the board game, and took in the wide-eyed sincerity of the first few movies are now reading John Piper and kneeling to say “Lord, hear our prayer.” Most of the committed dispensationalists I’ve known—many of whom I actually watched the first Left Behind movie with—have swum the Tiber. Go figure, I guess.

With Left Behind’s premillennial dispensationalism no longer en vogue, I guess going after the irony crown is as good a strategy as any.

This attitude—”Go see it ironically! It’ll be fun!”—isn’t unprecedented in the movie world, though. A lot of “classics” are known for being bad ideas executed badly: Plan 9 From Outer Space, The Room, Mommie Dearest. But those movies are only fun because you know that, on some level, there’s a sincerity behind them. The people who made them—at least some of them, anyway—genuinely believed they were making something worthwhile. When the emperor, however, is holding up a sign that says “I KNOW! I’M NAKED! ISN’T IT HILARIOUS???” the joke is suddenly a lot less funny.

Irony-drenched viral marketing is by nature a cynical thing. Well-meaning or not, there’s an underlying attitude of All we have to do is get people in the door. And perhaps not coincidentally, it’s the same philosophy that undergirds the megachurch culture that made the Left Behind franchise a hit in the first place. Get people in the door. Give them free donuts, a fun concert, and an inoffensive sermon, and then get them to pray the Sinner’s Prayer. It may serve its stated purpose, but it’s rarely enough to get people to stick around. If everything is right there, on the surface, why should we stay? If all of Christianity can be summed up in a five-minute sermon, why stick around to be discipled?

In reality, those of us in the Church are in possession of an endlessly rich Sacred Text, an infinitely deep theology, and two millennia of fascinating Church history—there’s more to explore in the Church than is possible in a lifetime. And yet, after step one—Get people in the door—many of us rarely have any idea what to do with them afterwards. It’s an attitude borrowed from the Hollywood method of opening movies: Get butts in seats opening weekend. Who cares what happens after? Get them to buy it before they realize it’s hollow.

If this gritty reboot turns out to be the last gasp of Christians trying to “sell” Jesus by acting like movie stars, so be it, I guess. There are worse things that could happen than all of us turning back into monks—or better, quietly fulfilling our vocations and working to serve our neighbors, while thirsting for the endless wisdom of Christ and his great cloud of witnesses.