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Lady Gaga killed the Video Star

Lady Gaga is changing pop music and culture.

When she appeared in the mainstream with The Fame back in 2008, I thought she was just another weirdo who got all flashy for the camera, hot on the heels of every other neo-glam 80’s excess kickback artist that was (and is to some extent) dominating the charts. Her songs were catchy, somewhat crude, but ultimately forgettable. Her music videos were also somewhat weird, but understandable and fairly common fare.

Paparazzi changed that.

Paparazzi was a video that was raw, disturbing, and full of a fairly subversive narrative. Gaga then took this narrative to the stage at the MTV Music Awards where copious amounts of fake blood were on stage at its finale. It was gross and provocative, and Gaga had found an empty niche left by Manson and the Shock Rock of the late 90s.

Then The Fame Monster came out.

Bad Romance, followed by Telephone and now Alejandro, are showing a progression into the various themes of abuse, power, prostitution, and taboos that are now really getting people’s attention. Everyone’s locked in to what is being shown in these videos (734,586,919 views on Youtube as of writing).

Looking back, it’s hard not to see a master plan here. With The Fame, her first videos seem like forays into pop star tropes that saturate the industry. These are capped by what is almost surely the most disturbing paparazzi trope video/song ever created. A song that made everyone turn their heads. It is at this point that things get subversive. Gaga’s latest over-sexed, violent, profane, and nearly unintelligible music videos seem to be revealing a dark and twisted world under the pristine guise of pop music. She’s changing and reforming the industry by pushing it to its limits. And to some extent, this is a good thing.

Lady Gaga a good thing? Let’s set a little straight first. The music itself isn’t really different from anyone else. Her music videos are not appropriate for children, but neither has anything anyone else has done in the past 10 years very appropriate either. The difference is that Gaga is not pulling any punches on any level, making everyone uncomfortable. Because we were sucked into The Fame, The Fame Monster has got us. That monster is feeding on us, dragging us into a world where Madonna and Marilyn Manson had a kid named Gaga. Too much sex, too much violence – something has got to give, and soon.

When will that be? Where is rock-bottom? I don’t know. I’m looking forward to it, though, because when you hit the bottom, the only thing to do is go back up.

I want to see some light in a pop music video again.Go go gadget gaga!

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This entry was written by Will, posted on June 24, 2010 at 10:57 pm, filed under Culture, Music and tagged , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.

Advent #5 – Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, The Christmas Song.

This is one of the most emotive Christmas (-y) Songs out there.

She was his girl; he was her boyfriend
She be his wife; take him as her husband
A surprise on the way, any day, any day
One healthy little giggling dribbling baby boy
The wise men came three made their way
To shower him with love
While he lay in the hay
Shower him with love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around
Not very much of his childhood was known
Kept his mother Mary worried
Always out on his own
He met another Mary for a reasonable fee, less than
Reputable as known to be

His heart was full of love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around
When Jesus Christ was nailed to the his tree
Said “oh, Daddy-o I can see how it all soon will be
I came to she’d a little light on this darkening scene
Instead I fear I spill the blood of my children all around”

The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around
So the story goes, so I’m told
The people he knew were
Less than golden hearted
Gamblers and robbers
Drinkers and jokers, all soul searchers
Like you and me

Rumors insisited he soon would be
For his deviations
Taken into custody by the authorities
Less informed than he.
Drinkers and jokers. all soul searchers
Searching for love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around

Preparations were made
For his celebration day
He said “eat this bread and think of it as me
Drink this wine and dream it will be
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around”
The blood of our children all around

Father up above, why in all this anger do you fill
Me up with love
Fill me love love love
Love love love
Love love
And the blood of our children all around


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This entry was written by Will, posted on December 15, 2009 at 9:01 pm, filed under Christianity, Culture, Music and tagged , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.

Where the Wild Things Are

I saw “Where the Wild Things Are” tonight with Christine.

First off, let me say that I’ve been waiting for this movie for a long time. Ever since I saw the poster some 10 months ago, I knew that I was going to see this movie. I was getting so pumped about it that I started getting scared that I was hyping myself up for it too much. Boy, was I wrong on that one.

The heart of this story, like Maurice Sendak’s original picture book, is all about the feelings of an angry, wild kid who just wants to be loved. These feelings scare him, and he recoils once he sees them come out of him. While the book is (obviously) more subdued and subtle, the movie fleshes these childhood realities out in a fantastic way.

While I can’t talk for anyone else, I saw myself in Max. I remember those childhood emotions of fear, anger, and loneliness. I was still dealing with these memories when I decided to face down my own monsters in counselling years later. It’s hard being a kid who feels like an outcast. Luckily, like Max, I did (and do) have family who loved me very much.

Go see this movie. I don’t often try to feed the machine like this, but this is culture-making at its finest. This movie doesn’t talk down to kids, it talks to them face to face and let’s them know about the consequences of your actions, as well as the redemptive power of hope and love.

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This entry was written by Will, posted on October 25, 2009 at 11:02 pm, filed under Culture, Life, Uncategorized and tagged , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.


How do you see culture?

Do you see it as the zeitgeist of a community? How about a worldview, outside of a local community? or is culture merely collective civilization?

How do you make culture?

Is it based on ideas? Thoughts (there is a difference)? Images?

As Gideon Strauss says, culture is probably the most liminal and confusing word after nature. I’ve found, like Strauss, someone who has given a rather unique and hopeful view of culture. And, even better, he put it in a fairly easy-to-read book.  Andy Crouch’s book, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling, is simply stunning. I think, in the interest of space, I’m going to chop this talk into several posts, each dwelling on something different about Crouch’s work, but for now I’d like to define culture to you the way I’ll be defining culture from now until someone better comes along (not likely).

Crouch defines culture not as a set of ideas, a worldview, or anything so ethereal; culture is the amalgamation of stuff.  Everything made by human hands are cultural artifacts, the building blocks of culture.  Now, held within those products are ideas about worldviews, how the world should work, etc., but what’s most important is that culture is made not through pushing ideas and thoughts through to form, but by making the stuff I see on my table: iPods, candles, phones, and wallets.

Here’s a great exercise to get you thinking in this mindset. Crouch says that cultural artifacts answer 5 important questions:

  1. What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world is?
  2. What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world should be?
  3. What does this cultural artifact make possible?
  4. What does this cultural artifact make impossible, or at least very difficult?
  5. What new forms of culture are created in response to this artifact?

In his book, Crouch answers these questions using omelets and highways, but I encourage you to start thinking about household items in this way, to get your head around the ideas Crouch presents in his book.

Next time, we’ll talk responses to culture.


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This entry was written by Will, posted on January 13, 2009 at 11:19 pm, filed under Culture and tagged , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.

Dungeons and Dragons

I am going to start by just throwing this out there: I am the Dungeon Master for the game Dungeons and Dragons, 4th Edition. I’m also an orthodox, quasi-evangelical (to substitute for the weighty title postmodern orthodox, which has postmodern in the title, so it must be bad.).  Because of this apparent dichotomy, my players and I get judged on occasion for playing, one of which asks that we not speak about it on his facebook for fear of him losing his job.  This seems tired and ridiculous to me, and here’s why:

Many evangelical Christians have been conditioned to understand Dungeons and Dragons as a demonic, occultic tool of the devil, used to trick nerdy teenagers into becoming witches and wizards, being possessed by devils for using real spells.  THIS.DOES.NOT.HAPPEN. Well, let me qualify that: This doesn’t happen anymore than it would for any fictional work.  In my own research on the topic, I’ve come across what I believe is the root cause of this misconception:

The majority of the hype concerning Dungeons and Dragons comes from Patricia Pulling and William ‘Bill’ Schnoebelen’s work, mostly in the early-to mid-eighties, about the occultic nature of Dungeons and Dragons, and that it leads to suicide, schizophrenia and a tendency towards satanic and occultic worship. In 1979, tragically, Pulling’s son, Irwin – an avid D&D player – committed suicide. Pulling believed this was because her son’s principal cast a ‘Dungeons and Dragons Curse’ on Irwin, so she sued him, as well as TSR, who owned D&D at the time. After this, she started ‘Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD),’ which spread the ‘truth’ about the evils and suicide risks involved with Dungeons and Dragons.  Schnoebelen got on board later (1984ish) and wrote an essay called “Straight Talk about Dungeons and Dragons,” published by Chick Publications, a bastion of fantastic theology and level-headedness. He claimed that real occultic practices were in D&D and therefore was evil.  Now for the otherside:

  • Pulling went through a tragedy and needed a scapegoat. Until her death in 1997, she did a lot of research into a link between RPG’s like D&D and Suicide. Her research is highly questionable at best, and The American Association of Suicidology, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Health & Welfare Canada have all found no link between the two.
  • Schnoebelen, frankly is hard to believe. His own biography is at odds with his printed work and the sheer scope of his links to various ‘occultic’ societies is staggering. Also, and this has always been the case in D&D, when you cast a spell, you say “I cast magic missile.” Nothing else. No occultic influence.

I will concede this point, however. Dungeons and Dragons does pull the majority of its source material from all myths and legends of the world. In that respect, Dungeons and Dragons is fundamentally ‘pagan,’ (it should be noted, however, that Narnia and Lord of the Rings were just as much so).

Frankly, D&D is playing imagination like you did when you were a kid, except now there is a framework that capably functions through a series of dice rolling and statistics, to simulate random events.  As Dungeon Master, I narrate a story (ours, particularly, is one of renewal and redemption) and everyone plays out the story. That’s it. No evil, no raping and pillaging, just 5 guys that sit around, eat chips and travel through time. With swords. And sidekicks.  It’s nerdy, but not evil.

For more information on our game, see our Wiki,


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This entry was written by Will, posted on December 19, 2008 at 4:11 pm, filed under Culture, Life and tagged , , , , . Leave a comment or view the discussion at the permalink.

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