Competing Spectacles by Tony Reinke, Free for CAPC Members
Reinke wants to help readers not be manipulated and enthralled by the spectacles of our media age. Instead, he shows that we see the greatest spectacle of all in the Cross.
What were the most-meaningful cultural influences of 2019? 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 2019 take shape. 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.
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. 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 2019. Part one will be available January 7; part two will be released January 10 so as to not spoil the surprise for the top spots.
The final season of The Good Place is at hand, but the series hasn’t concluded yet. While this show landed at number 25 this year, it has been a mainstay on our year-end lists because it is consistently one of the most popular and talked about television shows in the Christ and Pop Culture community. And we’ve got to hand it to the creators of The Good Place for knowing how they want to end the show and sticking to the plan. It’s not unusual for a show that has garnered so much popularity to continue indefinitely, or in the case of Lost, end with most of its mystery and questions unanswered. Ending something near the height of its popularity is rare, and whether or not the conclusion is as ultimately satisfying as I’d like, I commend the show runners for telling the story they set out to tell from the beginning.
After proving to the Judge that humanity’s final judgment is ultimately flawed and cosmically unjust, The Good Place‘s final season begins with Eleanor Shellstrop and friends attempting to change the eternal fate of all humans by proving that people can change, and in particular, bad people can become good people. After all, if the demon Michael can become good, it’s certainly possible us mere humans can flip our moral compasses, right? The pop ethics of The Good Place has always been an anchor for the series, with each episode and season revealing more of what the creators of the show have to say about humanity. While we’re still waiting for The Good Place‘s final conclusion, it certainly seems to be barreling toward an ultimately humanistic answer about our potential for good when we work hard enough and lean on our neighbors. Christians understand this answer to be only half-true—we are created in the image of a good God and have inherent goodness knit into our being—but it misses the mark on the origin of evil, the stain of sin that covers all humanity, and the necessary grace and mercy through atonement that frees us into goodness. Though we’re only given a half-truth (why would we expect anything more?), The Good Place speaks quite powerfully to our need for community and our inability to be good on our own. Granted, the show hasn’t ended yet, and if I’ve learned anything from watching it to this point, the creators are pretty good at upending everything we think we know. —Tyler Glodjo
Back in 1968, Andy Warhol noted that everyone would be world-famous for 15 minutes. This may have seemed outlandish 50 years ago, but with today’s access to media, fame-for-all is our reality. What Warhol didn’t mention was fame’s intoxicating nature that would drive people to all manner of behavior to secure their 15 minutes—and keep it.
With so many of us caught in the scramble to the spotlight, it’s refreshing (and obvious) when someone refuses to get blinded by fame’s dazzling gleam. Keanu Reeves is was that person in 2019, despite his star power as a lead actor in blockbuster films over the past 35 years. Reeves had four projects release in 2019, including the Netflix rom-com Always Be My Maybe, in which he plays… himself—well, an exaggerated Keanu that is both painfully serious and humorously esoteric. His ability to poke fun at himself and at celebrity is not only endearing but also serves as a wink from Reeves to us, pulling us in on the joke. Because celebrity, despite its attraction, can fool us into thinking we’re something we’re not.
That’s why we’re so enthralled with Keanu Reeves. Instead of adhering to some well-crafted celebrity façade, Reeves is genuine with people and honest about himself. When Stephen Colbert asked Reeves “what happens when we die,” Reeves reflects, then offers this stunningly beautiful reply: “I know that ones who love us will miss us.” When his flight to LA was grounded in Bakersfield due to mechanical issues, Reeves helped arrange van transportation for fellow passengers—then read Bakersfield trivia from his phone along the way.
Such common behaviors—laughing at ourselves, considering our own mortality, helping our neighbors—aren’t typically the sorts of feats that lead to celebrity. But they do make us more human. This is why we’re drawn to someone like Keanu Reeves. He doesn’t seem to care about the spotlight as much as being a real person. And in him we see the sort of person we want to be even as the spotlight of celebrity continues to beckon. —Erin Straza
Captain Marvel was a long-overdue installment in the MCU’s Infinity Saga, coming in just before the release of Avengers: Endgame. After twelve years of superhero films, Marvel had yet to produce a female-led vehicle despite having a multitude of characters to choose from. When Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel was finally announced, excitement ran high amongst fans to see one of the MCU’s most powerful heroes come to life on the screen. But Captain Marvel was bound to succeed—and to be particularly special to women viewers—not because of her binary powers or photon blasters, but because in Carol Danvers, we finally had a hero who was uniquely relatable to the female experience.
Often in action movies, women are played as the love (or sex) interest, the side-kick, the prize for the male, or the damsel in distress. In female-led action movies, such women usually have to transform themselves into virtual men in order to succeed—become tough enough, crass enough, casual with sex, emotionless, and otherwise prove themselves “worthy” to act on equal grounds with the men. In Captain Marvel, this is the sort of transformation the (ultimate) villain of the story is constantly pushing Carol into. He wants her to suppress her emotions. To fight him. To prove herself to him.
But Captain Marvel is a superhero whose power comes from a distinct place of femininity. As the story progresses and she learns who she is, she resists the transformation. She doesn’t need to become like a man to be powerful. Freedom from bondage and release into her purpose as a hero comes hand-in-hand with this realization. Between the layers of superhero fantasy in the story of Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel, the MCU gave us a story in which the primary message is that there is a distinct and unique strength in being a woman, with all our emotions, complications, and fears. It champions a truth that gets too often forgotten: We don’t have to prove ourselves equal to men; we were created that way. —K. B. Hoyle
Season three of The Crown, in many ways, is starkly different than the previous two seasons; succeeding the magnificent Clare Foy is the equally brilliant Olivia Coleman, who plays a seasoned, perhaps even jaded version of the show’s titular character. If the audience could not deduce a jump in time on their own, the opening scenes of episode one, during which Queen Elizabeth ponders her more mature portrait on a stamp, certainly hammer the point home. Season three explores the monarchy in the 1960s, a tenuous moment in which the crown is stretched between the kingdom’s social progress and the inherent immobility of the office.
In many ways, the crown is an archaic tradition, and the royal family’s attempts to prove otherwise only exacerbate the problem. As the crown becomes more and more obsolete, the audience’s gaze is drawn toward the human beings charged with the crown’s upkeep. This tension serves to draw out the dichotomy between humanity and function, which has informed every season of The Crown thus far. Ironically enough, however, for the first time, season three of The Crown casts Elizabeth as more of a background character, instead focusing on Philip, Charles, and Anne. As Elizabeth finds her footing as queen, her personhood seems to dissolve into the crown itself. While perhaps disappointing, this underlines the point that this show has never been about the queen; it is about the crown, which will eventually pass to her son—and which will never be worn by Philip, a fact that has long been a source of tension in The Crown. This, in addition to the exploration of faith and ambition, humanity and duty, make season three of The Crown undeniably worthwhile. —Val Dunham
For many, the “30–50 feral hogs” meme seemed like something that had landed from another dimension. In many ways, it had.
The whole thing started when singer-songwriter Jason Isbell posted an anti-gun tweet. Along with the standard “nuh-uh”s and “yuh-huh”s such posts tend to garner, one reply stood out: “Legit question for rural Americans—”tweeted one William McNabb—“How do I kill the 30–50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3–5 mins while my small kids play?”
To most, everything about McNabb’s tweet seemed absurd: Hogs? Kids? What? Why were the numbers vague enough to require a range, and yet still so weirdly exact? Twitter, as Twitter does, had a field day. Within thirty to fifty minutes, tweets like “30–50 feral hogs in your area want to chat” and “my milkshake brings 30–50 feral hogs to the yard” had reached all corners of the site.
The twist, of course, is that the feral hog problem actually is a real one. Anyone who lives in rural America—particularly the central south and inland northwest—is familiar with the roving bands of feral pigs that have been a problem since early colonists introduced them, and whose numbers have skyrocketed in recent years. They’re tough as nails, and they take what they want—everything from crops to, yes, kids. Certain states have made it legal to hunt them with explosives and helicopters, which hasn’t helped anything, but might be the most American solution to a problem ever.
Ultimately, for anyone who paid attention to the feral hogs meme for more than three to five minutes, it proved a profound metaphor for just how deep the divide in America is right now. Those of us in urban ivory towers found the whole thing absurd, but for anyone in a red county, the hogs are a serious problem—and, like most of the problems the country is facing, one that no one has any real solutions for. —Luke T. Harrington
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