Evangelical tribalism on display (with photos)

Evangelical tribalism on display (with photos) July 5, 2012

Buzzfeed’s Matt Stopera shares “56 Things I Learned at the Biggest Christian Music Festival in the World.”

That would be the 34th annual Creation Festival, right here in Pennsylvania. I’ve been there twice.

Stopera’s piece is similar to the handful of CBA Freak Show articles that will be coming out later this month, after the annual ritual of the Christian Booksellers Association Convention. (This year’s CBA convention — now called the “International Christian Retail Show” runs July 15-18. Look for those articles soon.) Those all follow a similar pattern to the other crop of chuckling articles that will be coming out this month after Comic-Con 2012 in San Diego.

I give Stopera credit for bringing a generous approach to the Creation Festival — he’s not sneering or condescending in the way too many reporters at events like this can be. His criticism is aimed at vendors, organizers and sometimes the overall ethos, but he avoids ridiculing the attendees themselves. And I give him extra credit because, unlike reporters passing through the CBA or Comic-Con, Stopera had to commit to three days of waiting in line for port-a-potties.

“The port-a-potties at Creation were definitely the cleanest I’ve ever been in,” he writes. “It definitely has something/everything to do with there being no drinking allowed.”

Stopera finds a host of anti-abortion, anti-Kony commerce going on in Creation’s vendor booths (causes that strike similar emotional notes in their appeal there, and that perhaps fulfill similar emotional needs). But apart from a “Don’t Mess With Marriage!” bumper-sticker from that one creepy old bumper-sticker guy, Stopera says, “I didn’t see any mention of anything gay the entire time.”

That’s almost encouraging. Almost.

Unfortunately it’s still taking place in a context in which the default setting is exclusion and condemnation. Creation isn’t going to “generate controversy” by including any openly gay artists or speakers — or even any openly non-anti-gay artists or speakers. And its practice of forbidding such artists from playing there doesn’t “generate controversy” for its target audience.

I suspect, mainly, the absence of more explicitly anti-gay material at Creation is a function of the same impulse we saw in Halee Gray Scott’s “I Am Not Charles Worley” article — the desire to be anti-gay and anti-legal-equality while still being perceived as a “nice” person.

But maybe also — maybe — the lack of anti-gay merchandise at Creation also reflects the raw profit-seeking that seems to drive so much else of what those vendors are all about at Christian festivals. Ministry schministry — those vendors are driven by supply and demand and they’ll sell whatever they think this audience would be willing to buy. So maybe they’ve learned that the younger generation that makes up the bulk of Creation’s market just isn’t interested in buying anti-gay T-shirts and that carrying that stuff only takes away valuable selling-space from more profitable T-shirts, bumper-stickers, “scripture tags” and other sorts of tribal totems.

Maybe that’s part of it too. I hope.

* * * * * * * * *

The awkward, uneasy relationship that conservative Christians have with pop culture is also at work in a product Steve Buchheit alerts us to: “Clear Play, you won’t even know what you’ve missed.” The nearly life-like spokesperson in the video says:

Have you ever wished that you could eliminate offensive distractions that keep you and your family from enjoying a movie even more? Well now you can, with the Clear Play DVD Player. Just put in any movie and it will edit out the content you’re uncomfortable with.

It seems this is a real thing.

You can download the “filters” for many movies from Clear Play’s site.

You can, for example, download filters to allow you to watch a raunch-free version of Jonah Hill’s raunch-fest The Sitter. Or filters to allow you to watch a gore-and-violence-free version of Friday the 13th.

Why you would want such versions of those movies is another matter. Clear Play says their technology allows you to watch almost any movie as part a nice, respectable, G-rated “Family Movie Night.” But what kind of person would ever imagine that The Sitter or Friday the 13th ought to be part of their G-rated Family Movie Night? What is someone thinking who says, “I don’t like raunchy humor, but I’d like to watch The Sitter?” Or who says, “It would be fun to watch Friday the 13th with the kids, if only there weren’t so much violence?”

I understand the general idea here, and there are commendable reasons for wanting such a service. Not all of those reasons are necessarily as creepy as that creepy slogan: “You won’t even know what you’ve missed.” But the overall vibe one gets from Clear Play is just exactly that creepy.

And also, frankly, a bit sad. Buchheit writes, “It reminds me of the Friends episode where Phoebe finds out she really didn’t know the end of Ol’ Yeller.” And I can also imagine some poor Ned Flanders type spending 45 minutes one evening to watch both Godfather movies, then wondering why his friends thought they were so great.

“You won’t even know what you’ve missed” is a terrible marketing slogan. But it’s even worse as an epitaph — which is what it could be for those who spend their whole lives inside of this kind of sanitized bubble.

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