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Peter T Chattaway

Hipster Christianity

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So depressing.

Brett's most recent blog entry reveals that his day job now is in "advertising and marketing." This is a perfect career path for a shameless huckster.

Hey now! I work in advertising and marketing. It may be true that some of my work is shameless (I really do try to steer clear of anything huckster-ish), but there are moments where the whole thing is meaningful, beneficial even. I hope nobody would think of me as a shameless huckster because of my job title.

One of my proudest accomplishments was working on the PR for the top 100 films list - something I was able to do through my job experience and connections.

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And the folks who run this board are "shameless hucksters" for Image. God bless them, one and all.

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Remember when I started a thread dedicated to discussing the book itself, only for those who'd read it? After a few posts about the mechanics of thread splitting, I posted a video interview about the book, which I haven't read, and then braced myself for the onslaught of commentary from those who've read the book.

So far, crickets.

Should I just delete that thread?

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To clarify: I don't think there's anything inherently immoral about advertising and marketing. Polemical sloppiness on my part, there. Sorry Darryl. There is good stuff in the world that has to find audiences! There are products and services that people need, and communicating these things honestly is a thoroughly decent way to make one's living.

What I am reacting against is the subset of marketing and advertising that is about packaging attractive consumer identities in ways that demean our humanity, displace and commodify our innate need for community, engender monoculture, and neuter our impulses towards social justice.

To put this in context, Brett's post was about Starbucks and "ritual". Starbucks is represented by Portland ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, which specializes in clients whose public images have been tarred by labor, environmental, and/or human rights scandals: Nike, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, etc. They associate their clients with tropes of hip "progressive culture" because it's cheaper to hire a cool band for a commercial than to actually pay people a living wage. It has been a long and deliberate process and they are very savvy in the pursuit of their perverse logic. Equating Starbucks with ritual--especially in light of that company's socially irresponsible practices--is to take something sacred and reduce it to a commercial transaction. I like the annual egg nog latte season as much as the next guy, but "Take comfort in rituals" coming from a brutal corporate entity? Channeling unrest and alienation and innate need for ritual back into the very systems that inflict so much discontent? That's shameless hucksterism.

Yet, Jeffrey is right that to personalize this is likely to come off as mean, and is also a distraction. So, let me reframe my point this way. The categories of "hipster christian" as McCracken defines them are a essentialization of a complex set of phenomena-- theological and social forces boiled down to consumer choices and fashion; not ethnography but market segmentation-- a reductive way of corralling people into target consumer demographics that cannot fathom deeper social critiques animating these impulses. I see a clear line from one to the other--from the kind of thinking that constructs the "hipster christian" in this way to the kind of thinking that responds to Starbucks' instruction to "Take comfort in rituals" with admiration.

My problem is with this kind of thinking, not any individual thinker.

Edited by Holy Moly!

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To clarify: I don't think there's anything inherently immoral about advertising and marketing. Polemical sloppiness on my part, there. Sorry Darryl. There is good stuff in the world that has to find audiences! There are products and services that people need, and communicating these things honestly is a thoroughly decent way to make one's living.

What I am reacting against is the subset of marketing and advertising that is about packaging attractive consumer identities in ways that demean our humanity, displace and commodify our innate need for community, engender monoculture, and neuter our impulses towards social justice.

Understood. Thanks for the clarification.

Yet, Jeffrey is right that to personalize this is likely to come off as mean, and is also a distraction. So, let me reframe my point this way. The categories of "hipster christian" as McCracken defines them are a essentialization of a complex set of phenomena-- theological and social forces boiled down to consumer choices and fashion; not ethnography but market segmentation-- a reductive way of corralling people into target consumer demographics that cannot fathom deeper social critiques animating these impulses. I see a clear line from one to the other--from the kind of thinking that constructs the "hipster christian" in this way to the kind of thinking that responds to Starbucks' instruction to "Take comfort in rituals" with admiration.

I think I understand you better here, and I like this train of thought if I'm understanding you correctly - there are so many elements (historical, personal, philosophical, etc.) involved in shaping a person's "likes," it is almost an injustice to point to a list of, say 10 films, and claim that those who like them are "hipsters."

Although I am curious of how you draw the line between that thought and positive response to Starbucks' campaign to "Take comfort in rituals" - I'm not familiar with any of their recent advertising, to tell the truth.

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It has to do with a real muddiness about the relationship between the signified and the signifier---a tolerance for signifiers that are fundamentally empty, paradoxically concurrent with chest-beating about "questing for authenticity". A mythologized quest for the real--the kind of thing that one associates with white suburban kids who fetishize urban life and culture.

Edited by Holy Moly!

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Interestingly, Smith's book Desiring the Kingdom talks at length about secular liturgies and rituals and how they compete against Christian liturgies for our imaginations. McCracken doesn't seem to get this but Starbucks does. Essentially his argument is that humans are not primarily "thinking beings" but rather "desiring, loving beings." And he claims that it is liturgies, rituals, and practices that shape and form our desires. They teach us "to approach the world in a certain way, to value certain things, to aim for certain goals, to pursue certain dreams, to work together on certain projects." Starbucks new add campaign shows that they understand this (and on this point, Smith does a great job of describing the liturgies and rituals of consumer capitalism).

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mrmando   

Well, McCracken self-identifies as one, so...

So he couldn't possibly be one. :P

Edited by mrmando

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It's in the Washington Post.

[i've corrected my haste-caused error. But an exact replica of my error has been graciously preserved for you in the following post, unless someone is kind enough to delete it.]

Edited by Overstreet

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Mr. McCracken is among the speakers at Calvin's Festival of Faith & Music 2011. I probably have to miss this one, so I trust James Smith et al will step up to level the appropriate critiques. At this point I lack the patience. Although if someone bought me a plane ticket and a spandex luchador jumpsuit, i would wrestle him for charity.

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Get ready for the next big thing. Hardcore Christianity. It's like Hipster Christianity. But different.

From a quick skim, this is sadly more about self-consciousness and positioning than mere living christianly. Again.

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Get ready for the next big thing. Hardcore Christianity. It's like Hipster Christianity. But different.

From a quick skim, this is sadly more about self-consciousness and positioning than mere living christianly. Again.

This is just an academic paper someone wrote for a college class. Unfortunately, it looks like he hasn't been reading the best historical analysis that engages this stuff from a media/culture perspective (Laurence Moore, Heather Hendershot, etc.), and is repeating Brett's errors (like saying "Christian" when he means "evangelical".)

Hardcore, incidentally, is a crucially important step in the development of the aesthetics and business practices of the modern independent music movement. A lot of people don't find the music particularly rewarding (I like it most in small doses, like 7-inch singles!) but you can't really understand "indie rock" in any of its myriad of modern forms without understanding its cultural roots in hardcore---particularly its emphasis on low overhead, personal sincerity, and its commitment that artists have certain moral responsibilities to their audiences.

If anyone's looking for a primer: the documentary American Hardcore is ok. The relevant chapters of "Our Band Could Be Your Life" are pretty good too.

It's also true that hardcore and Christianity have influenced each other throughout hardcore's entire history. And it's a really interesting example in historical differences between mainline and evangelical approaches to cultural engagement. Mainline protestantism influenced hardcore through stuff like the social ethics of St Stephens episcopal in DC, where evangelicalism was more likely to create its own insular copycat world.

What hardcore taught us: subversive and wholesome aren't opposites.

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What hardcore taught us: subversive and wholesome aren't opposites.

Well, heck. I learned that in Sunday School when I was a kid.

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Stephen Hull, who attends one of the churches McCracken visited and highlighted in the book:

The claim is that this book is “a critical analysis… about the contradictions inherent in the phenomenon of Christian cool and the questions Christians should be asking of themselves if they find themselves within this milieu” but the majority of his analysis amounts to itemizing a subculture. The first 2/3rds of Hipster Christianity gleefully parses out a largely superficial culture, tries to find a synthesis between the church and a shallow and ephemeral concept, and then goes on to talk about the incongruities between “cool” and real Christianity. The end produced is diffused and contradictory.

What criticism there is comes in the form of a background of a knowing smile while he’s doing this itemizing, as if liking this set of stuff works out to being somehow silly. If you listen to Sufjan and read N.T. Wright, anyone can fill in the blanks about you. But very little of it is criticized. In fact, much of it is lauded. What he will criticize, however, are things like “wannabe hip churches.” He won’t call anyone out by name, but paints a picture of youth pastors cramming cultural references into their messages and creating a space to “just hang out”, familiar to anyone that grew up in Evangelical Christian culture. Later he draws some contrasts between legitimate Christian life and the negative, shallow aspects of “cool” (if, in fact, there’s anything else to it). Because there’s so little space devoted to it, the discussion is cursory.

At the end of the chapter entitled “Authentic Christian Cool,” McCracken concludes that “to say that there is such a thing as ‘authentic Christian cool’ is largely an exercise in rehabilitating the term. It requires an understanding that cool is actually a marker of distinction that connotes something profoundly unique, respectable, and against the grain… we are going to be oddballs, outsiders, humble prophets speaking truth to a world that isn’t sure what it needs… we should not be surprised when some people find the whole thing pretty dang cool. But whether they do or not shouldn’t matter.” Then why bother at all? The question is rendered meaningless, if it really meant anything to begin with.

Edited by Overstreet

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Get ready for the next big thing. Hardcore Christianity. It's like Hipster Christianity. But different.

Actually, Hardcore Christianity is probably the previous big thing. Several of my church friends in high school flirted with or joined that scene, back in the early aughts. The song from which that essay gets its title, "Memphis Will Be Laid to Waste," came out in 2002. (Incidentally, that song features a blistering John Donne-inspired rant by Aaron Weiss, whose band mewithoutYou, which has earned some affection on this board, began its career in that very scene -- before going in a very different direction.)

Many of those same friends grew up to resemble "hipsters," some Christian, some not, and some just went on to be endearingly strange. While I still find serious hardcore music baffling, I will say that "Christian hardcore" seems like an reasonable adolescent reaction for church kids raised on the gloss and platitudes of CCM.

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Get ready for the next big thing. Hardcore Christianity. It's like Hipster Christianity. But different.

Actually, Hardcore Christianity is probably the previous big thing. Several of my church friends in high school flirted with or joined that scene, back in the early aughts. The song from which that essay gets its title, "Memphis Will Be Laid to Waste," came out in 2002. (Incidentally, that song features a blistering John Donne-inspired rant by Aaron Weiss, whose band mewithoutYou, which has earned some affection on this board, began its career in that very scene -- before going in a very different direction.)

Many of those same friends grew up to resemble "hipsters," some Christian, some not, and some just went on to be endearingly strange. While I still find serious hardcore music baffling, I will say that "Christian hardcore" seems like an reasonable adolescent reaction for church kids raised on the gloss and platitudes of CCM.

So much of this reminds me of the tribal approach to Christianity that is enacted every year at the Cornerstone Music Festival in Illinois. There are punks, neo-hippies, goths, real hippies (the aging Jesus Freak kind), skaters, and perhaps a few more sub-groups I've forgotten. My wife and I did our lonely part to uphold suburbia with our Dockers and shirts with collars. My guess is that most of these kids will turn into hipsters in their mid-to-late twenties, and then eventually get jobs and start families.

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