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What were the most-meaningful cultural influences of 2018? 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 2018 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. Final deliberations were recorded and produced into a two-part podcast. Listen to the process here: part one and part two.
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.
This year, the British royal family added American actress and humanitarian Meghan Markle to their ranks through her marriage to Prince Harry. Their fairy tale–like romance, American girl gets set up on a blind date with a real life prince, has captured hearts and minds on both sides of the pond—29 million Americans tuned in to watch their wedding, compared to the only 22 million who watched the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Their union is a powerful symbol made all the more powerful by what the royal family signifies in the British cultural imagination. This royal wedding was a testament to the power of love to cross boundaries and bring people of different ethnicities and cultures together as one. Therefore, it was not your typical royal wedding. There was a gospel choir that performed “Stand by Me” and “Amen/This Little Light of Mine,” and the first black musician of the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year Prize performed a collection of classical standards. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle not only embraced difference in their union, but in front of millions they elevated African American culture in their wedding as of equal import to royal tradition.
The love spoken about during the wedding address of the Reverend Michael Curry was not impotent or superficial. He reminded us love can “help and heal when nothing else can… lift up and liberate when nothing else will.” The church, as Reverend Curry, Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Curry stressed the church must rediscover “the power of love, the redemptive power of love, and when do we will make of this old world a new world.”
This is the love that sent Jesus Christ to the cross, the love of 1 Corinthians 13, the love that casts out fear. This is the love that tore down “the dividing wall of hostility” and brought all who were far off near. It is this love that will envelop us as people“ from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” stand before the throne proclaiming, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” The royal wedding reminded us that love is not all Hallmark movies and valentine hearts; it is the only force powerful enough to truly bring together disparate groups on earth, and one day in heaven. —Kathryn Freeman
In Celeste, players take on the role of protagonist Madeline as she embarks on a journey to summit the titular mountain—a difficult feat both narratively and through gameplay. For reasons not fully disclosed, the player quickly understands Madeline’s stubborn determination to climb Celeste is a way of proving she is more valuable and more capable in life than the lies she hears in her head. It’s not long into the journey when Madeline begins to doubt her ability, and during a phone call with her mother, we quickly see that Madeline does not always act and speak like the character to whom we were first introduced. While we don’t learn any specifics, Madeline suffers from mental illness, and Celeste is just as much about wrestling through that experience as it is climbing the mountain. Madeline builds a community of friends and acquaintances on her journey up Celeste, but she is also confronted by a dark reflection of herself—a manifestation of her illness that both verbally and forcefully tries to prevent her climb.
Developed by Matt Thorson, Celeste is a puzzle platformer that builds upon its genre in novel ways rather than duplicating previous formulas. The game mechanics—how Madeline moves, the obstacles she faces, the speed with which screens reset upon failure, etc.—all serve the story just as much the play. Inhabiting Madeline’s character, the player experiences the sting of depression and anxiety in their climb up Celeste. Celeste’s central drama of mental illness and its excellent integration through both narrative and gameplay make this game a memorable masterpiece. And Celeste has been recognized as such, being nominated for Game of the Year at The Game Awards and winning the Best Independent Game and Games for Impact categories. If you want to walk a mile in the shoes of someone wrestling with mental illness, try to climb Celeste. You’ll learn, as Madeline does, that it can’t be a solo feat. —Tyler Glodjo
In early 2018, former USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar received maximum sentences after being convicted on hundreds of counts of child abuse and sexual assault. Key to this resounding, if not rare, conviction was a petite young woman named Rachael Denhollander.
Now a lawyer, mother, and wife, Denhollander was the first to publicly accuse Nassar and has become something of a figurehead, representing not only her fellow survivors, but the larger #MeToo movement as well. But beyond courage and determination, Denhollander contributes a distinctively Christian perspective and stands as an Esther—her faith and resulting moral clarity exactly the kind of leadership we need in “such a time as this.”
To Christians, Denhollander reminds us of our moral imperative to pursue justice and resist the temptation to cover up abuse when it occurs in our own communities. Or as she put it in her victim impact statement, “How much was a little girl worth? How much were these young women worth?… They are real women and children, real women and little girls who have names and faces and souls.”
But Denhollander is also the faithful witness that broader society needs. As we sort through the implications of the #MeToo movement, we must determine what to do with perpetrators. With justice as a baseline, what would repentance look like? And perhaps more controversial, what would redemption look like?
Addresssing Nassar, Denhollander reminds us that perpetrators face a justice far more demanding than any we could hope to mete out. Stripped of the earthly power, money, and nepotism that once enabled and protected them, perpetrators stand helpless before God and must own their guilt. “And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet” Denhollander testifies, “Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found.” —Hannah Anderson
In 2018 we crossed our arms and shouted WAKANDA FOREVER. Black Panther was more than a movie, it was a cultural moment. In the 10 years of Marvel films, Black Panther easily sits in the top 5. From the epic chase scene in Korea to the gripping story of Killmonger trying to find a home to the poignant social commentary, Black Panther hit all of the right notes.
It was especially important considering the times we are living in. For many black children, this was the first time they got to see people who look like themselves on the big screen. They got to see themselves as the hero. They got to see themselves fully accepted. You know what else? It’s the first time many white people saw a movie with a majority black cast. It was the first time they saw black people portrayed in a positive light. This movie crossed cultures like nothing before it.
Black Panther painted a picture of beauty. The costumes, the lighting, the intricacy of the story, all of it came together to give us this great cultural moment. There aren’t many movies about people who run around in tights that have created the euphoric feeling that many have experienced because of this movie—and that is beautiful. —CJ Quartlbaum
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