Each year, the Christ and Pop Culture team develops a list of the Top 25 cultural artifacts of the past 12 months. The list covers everything from film and TV to internet memes to notable events and people to music and games. But the past 12 months have been unusual, as you already know. The entertainment industry has slowed to a crawl. Gatherings are impossible. News has revolved around a certain global monster.
Because nothing is the same, our team decided to forego our usual ranked list of 25 artifacts for this past year. Instead, each writer submitted items from 2020 that managed to break through the dark days and deliver a bit of goodness. Stop by each day this week to see the roundup for the pop culture categories of film, TV, music & podcasts, books & games, and happenings & people. We hope these provide a bit of hope and a few new artifacts to enjoy.
Early in the pandemic I remember hearing someone joke that the main goal of every pastor’s first at-home, online sermon was filming their message in such a way that it didn’t look like a hostage tape. That stuck with me because it perfectly encapsulated that feeling we all felt, especially from those early days: How do we do this?
It seems no two churches addressed the question the same way. I saw some services move exclusively to private facebook groups. Others held church services on Zoom, with all the shenanigans of trying to make sure everyone was muted while Becky, bless her heart, led us in her pitch-adjacent rendition of “Reckless Love.” Some of us watched live on YouTube while others recorded our songs and messages and posted them for later consumption.
We argued about communion. Are the elements to be consumed at home? Should we forego the sacrament altogether? And heaven help us, what about baptism? How do we dunk or sprinkle people from six feet away?
I have many friends in ministry. I don’t know a single one who wouldn’t say this wasn’t one of the hardest, most difficult seasons of ministry they’ve ever encountered. And in a weird way, there’s a sad beauty to it all, knowing that as we’re struggling to figure out how to do this thing that we know we need to do, at least we take comfort knowing we’re all struggling together.
And so here we are, ending 2020 and starting 2021, still a Church with broken wings, trying to figure out how we keep the faith, how we gather when gathering can’t happen, doing our absolute darndest to hold God to His promise that He’s the one building His Church, not us.
Among the many things we couldn’t do this year due to the pandemic was go to barbershops and salons to keep our hair care and beauty regiments up to date. Unless, of course, your name was Shelley Luther and you defied all local mandates which launched a failed political career. But that’s a completely different set of circumstances. For the rest of us, however, we were left roughing it, and growing it out (it, being our hair of course). Just check out these photos of NBA star Jimmy Butler, the poster child of unkempt hair in “the bubble” during the final stretch of the league’s 2020 season. For African Americans in particular, the many months we went without a haircut was an even more socially depressing feat.
For the Black community, barbershops are usually more than just places of grooming. Barbershops are safe spaces where we can find encouragement, places where we can freely debate everything from economic and political happenings to sports, and can receive free advice on everything from car and home buying to relationship building. During the height of the pandemic, all of that was lost for a time, and it was surely missed during a season of heightened social unrest due to the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd.
When we were finally able to get back to the barbershop and share our stories and experiences with one another, it was but another reminder of the gift of community found in the barbershop. I think this video of Christian Hip Hop artist KB finally returning to the barbershop pretty much sums up those sentiments.
Long before the cascade of tragedy that was 2020 struck, the notion that all news is bad news held true. People have never tuned in to the news to find out what good things are happening in the world, but rather to discover what is bad enough to make the daily headlines. Stories of hope, perseverance, or triumph might make the news under the headline of a “special interest story” at the end of a broadcast, but wherever or however you get your news, it has never existed to encourage you to feel good about the world.
Nothing about the nature of the ordinary news changed in 2020—in fact, the news only got worse as events unfolded in America and around the globe that brought families, cities, and countries to their knees. But there were lots of people who rallied to the hardships of the year in a variety of inspiring ways, and because we live in the age of the internet (and the smartphone), many of the things people did this past year to help the helpless, uplift the weary, and bring light to the darkness were recorded and posted online. Actor John Krasinski took notice, and he decided to use the early weeks of the shutdown to gather these stories of goodness to showcase on a YouTube news show that he created and hosted from his house. He called the show Some Good News.
Krasinski said that he’d always wanted to create a show dedicated solely to good news, and when he ended up sheltered in place like the rest of America in March, it seemed like the best time to make it happen. Calling on people across Twitter to send in their stories of good things happening during the Coronavirus shutdowns, Krasinki curated the submissions into weekly episodes. He showcased and lauded the best stories he could find—big and small—uplifting everyday people, bringing ordinary heroes into people’s living rooms (via YouTube), and giving back in meaningful and practical ways. He used his privilege as a celebrity well. Some Good News didn’t run for as long as a lot of people would have liked it to, in the end, but it was an early, important, beacon of hope in 2020. Hope is what a lot of people needed last year, and hope is what Some Good News provided.
—K. B. Hoyle