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Josh Hurst

Relevant magazine

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Hey folks.

I just finished my undergraduate thesis for my degree in Religion. It's an in-depth study of RELEVANT, interpreted in light of Thomas Frank's theories about liberation marketing and commodified dissent and Heather Hendershot's study of changes in Christian retail culture.

I'm in the process of putting together a less academic, more journalistic version of this project, hopefully for eventual publication in print or on the web.

If you have anything you want to share about your experiences with the magazine, either on or off the record, let me know. I'm especially interested in hearing from anyone with input about how stories are assigned and relationships between advertising and editorial content.

side note: My interest in Relevant began back when The Passion of the Christ was released, and I was working at my college's radio station as News Director. The marketing firm sent us a packet of information about the film, including the issue of Relevant with Mel on the cover, and a CD of radio ads they wanted us to play. Of course this sort of promotion would be illegal at any college radio station; it violates the non-commercial FCC charter and could have resulted in thousands of dollars in fines. I figured they had to be sending these magazines to hundreds of radio stations; I'd never come across this sort of bulk buy of magazines for promotional reasons before. I have since been curious as to whether there is some kind of marketing partnership happening with the studio and Relevant, especially since they featured no less than nine articles about The Passion of the Christ, all of them glowingly positive, and almost offensively dismissive of any critics. My curiosity is deepened by the amount of emphasis they put on ambiguously christian up-and-coming major label bands that no other music publication would even touch, leading me to wonder if there is some sort of marketing partnership at work there.

--Kevin Erickson

charmingtedious@gmail.com

Edited by Holy Moly!

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Not sure about direct ties. I've written for them and have had little to no limitations about what I write. I sent stuff I'd written and they printed it, almost exactly as I wrote it. I did film reviews online for them for some time and never got flack for what I lauded or decried.

However, my eyebrow has raised more than once in looking through the issues. I'll point you toward their "Moive issue" in their first season as well. Of all the films they could've put on the cover they chose the Beyonce Knowles "The Fighting Temptations" and this was also a film promoted by Grace Hill Media (Jonathan Bock). I don't know if the partnership between them is commercial or just ideological, but Grace Hill is somehow involved.

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Hey folks...

Sounds like a great project, look forward to reading it. Please keep us updated. Unfortunately, some of the links no longer seem to point anywhere, but check out this thread for the same sort of "alleged" skullduggery going on in what Ted Baehr does. People seem to think that "christian" magazine publishing is inherently free from the synergy that plagues many major news and pop journalism outlets these days, but that obviously isn't the case. Paste excluded of course, what a great magazine.

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Didn't Paste do a splash feature on "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" before it screened for anyone? That kinda made me wince, especially when the film was so disappointing. But for the most part, Paste is the shining example of integrity, and what I've seen in Relevant is pretty much the opposite (although they do occasionally... OCCASIONALLY... get a good writer in there.)

The one I'll never forget is there list of the all-time best movies, and they had all been released in, oh, the last ten or fifteen years, they were all huge box office hits, and there's was very little chance that their readers hadn't seen all ten or fifteen several times. I think The Shawshank Redemption and Braveheart were the two big winners, IIRC. Sheesh.

Relevant also put Constantine ON THE COVER long before it screened for critics, and that was clearly organized with the help of Grace Hill, where they hyped that movie to Christians like it was The Passion for action movie fans. Don't get me wrong, Grace Hill's job is publicity, and they're good at what they do. Sometimes, Relevant and other publications are just a little too giddy about the goodies they get in working with them, and critical discernment flies out the window.

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Sometimes, Relevant and other publications are just a little too giddy about the goodies they get in working with them, and critical discernment flies out the window.

Yeah, I know what that's like too, having been music director at a radio station, and having been all but bribed by labels with offers of freebie records and CDs and DVDs for airplay and chart positions. Interscope offered a fellow Music Director a microwave if he'd give Weezer the #1 chart position in his airplay reports to CMJ.

It also seems that with RELEVANT, it's an ideology. They seem to be all about "impacting culture", yet often "impacting culture" translates to "convincing the Culture Industry that we're worthy of niche market status." I still have some interviews with current staffers to do so I better not say too much more.

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Hi Kevin, great to see you over here! This is Kate. :-)

I'm excited to hear that your thesis is done--congratulations. Will be emailing you shortly. My final summary statement on this topic is that from what I've read so far, all your instincts about Relevant are correct.

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It also seems that with RELEVANT, it's an ideology. They seem to be all about "impacting culture", yet often "impacting culture" translates to "convincing the Culture Industry that we're worthy of niche market status."

This is very well put. It is such an ironic perpetuation of the of the consumerism and devotional privatization (both "emergent" terms ::blush:: ) of the past generation of Christian cultural engagement Relevant is ostensibly reacting to. Their version is just far more subtle.

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There's also a whole new Christian-ese emerging. It's specific terms designed not to sound too Christiany, but to those in the know they are standard vernacular for the reactionary generation.

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There's also a whole new Christian-ese emerging. It's specific terms designed not to sound too Christiany, but to those in the know they are standard vernacular for the reactionary generation.

For example?

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There's also a whole new Christian-ese emerging. It's specific terms designed not to sound too Christiany, but to those in the know they are standard vernacular for the reactionary generation.

Solishu, this is a parody, but it may have a few bits of the new vocabulary. Back when all things "emergent" were getting off the ground, the various online fora were rife with the words "deconstruct," "unpack," and "consumerist."

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There's also a whole new Christian-ese emerging. It's specific terms designed not to sound too Christiany, but to those in the know they are standard vernacular for the reactionary generation.

Solishu, this is a parody, but it may have a few bits of the new vocabulary. Back when all things "emergent" were getting off the ground, the various online fora were rife with the words "deconstruct," "unpack," and "consumerist."

Honestly, I'm not even sure Relevant is at a level that uses that sort of (quasi-)academic language. Maybe "unpack," but never, ever "consumerist." Never. Ever.

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"Unpack" arrived in my church so suddenly, I have often wondered if it wasn't a deliberate and coordinated effort. I remember the first time I heard it in a sermon, I actually chuckled, thinking it had been a humorous reference to software terminology. But suddenly, it was in every sermon, sometimes more than once. And not just in my pastor's sermons, but the assistant pastor's, the guest pastors, and the visiting pastors.

"Let's unpack that verse..."

"Through the course of the message, I'll unpack these key ideas..."

"But let me go back and unpack that idea a little more..."

AAAAUUGGGH!!!! Two or three of us in the congregation would, for a while, look at each other every time it was spoken to make sure we were all keeping score. But now it's to the point where we can't look at each other without laughing, which distracts those around us. So now, we turn slightly red in the face, knowing that we're all struggling not to react.

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Is there a pre-existing thread for a similar critique of Paste? I can't find one, but I've had bad experiences with the A&F search function. I think there are interesting comparisons and contrasts to be made between the two mags, especially now that they're both now a few years old.

Edited by Jeff Kolb

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I understand that using a word such as "unpack" excessively would get tiresome quickly, but I'm confused why this is such a bad word for describing the process of communicating ancient scriptures in today's context. It is just a figure of speech used to guide the listener along. Perhaps, "exegete" would be better. How about, "after filtering the text through a hermeneutical grid..."?

Maybe, I'm a bit uptight because I didn't know it was a trendy word and have only heard it used judiciously, primarily by a very non-emergant, non-Relevant reading, NT scholar.

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Relevant seems to be finding an audience among some populations that have been pretty strait-laced -- I'm shocked sometimes that it has 'found favor', so to speak. And because the writers are attempting to engage popular culture on its own terms (and not merely with a stereotypical, evangelical knee-jerk response), I have seen first hand that it is earning a measure of interest and respect from people who otherwise have no interest in hearing from 'the church.'

In other words, I feel like Relevant is softening hearts and opening minds on both sides of the so-called culture wars. It seems to be helping open up a conversation about culture and art in churches where this has never happened, and helping to open up a conversation about culture and faith in non-church audiences.

Edited by Tim Willson

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I'm all for engaging culture, but unfortunately Relevant tends to elevate very superficial values of pop culture as though they are deep spiritual truth and then leaves the reader there. It's not enough that we point out all culture as having spiritual significance, what do we do about it now?

It seems its become a sub-culture among a subculture. People annoyed at the church meeting people who are intimidated by the church. Forming their own little niche with nothing more to talk about than the religious allusions of The Matrix.

They have certainly found a niche, but there seems to be little interest in moving anyone beyond where they already are. (either discontewnt with the church and glad to find comiserators, or being vaguely introduced to the church by people who listen to better music than most of the Christians they know).

Edited by DanBuck

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It seems its become a sub-culture among a subculture. People annoyed at the church meeting people who are intimidated by the church. Forming their own little niche with nothing more to talk about than the religious allusions of The Matrix.

I hope you're wrong. As I said, the most striking thing about the impact of Relevant is that it seems to be changing (to some degree) the existing church culture, from one that offers blanket condemnation of whole classes of music or movies to one that is intrigued by them and willing to explore them without swallowing them whole. People who have been trained by example to bluster about 'Godless Hollywood' are finding permission to appreciate art (at some level). It's a major shift for many people, and long overdue.

If it's merely a new subculture (maybe we'll know in 10 years or so), I'll be very sad.

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I hope I'm wrong as well, Tim. And you may be right about seeing how time treats the zine. In fact, there's a lot to be said for seeing how it will grow up as the creative forces behind it grow up.

The editor is very young, but recently married. Let's see how kids, nose hair and health insurance change him. :)

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I wonder though if sometimes we give the wider culture too much credit. When we talk about "Forming their own little niche with nothing more to talk about than the religious allusions of The Matrix", perhaps for most people in and outside the church, that is deeper than it is for them normally. Not everyone is a middle class graduate (like me), and perhaps mags like relevant reach a whole swathe of people that are just put off by the approach we favour. Let's face it Relevant has enough people interested in what it has to say to make it a viable non-virtual magazine.

Matt

Edited by MattPage

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I think you may be right. This IS deeper than most college age peripheral faith folks have gone before. But there seems to be no move to bring them deeper.

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Interesting how high the "View Count" is here. I wonder if they're discussing it on the Relevant Message Board. I'm getting a lot of linkbacks at my blog to this thread.

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