I’m finally getting around to processing my notes on Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture by Daniel Radosh. One of the most interesting sections deals with the Christian music industry and various opinions over what is and isn’t acceptable in the industry. Radosh interviews Jay Howard co-author of Apostles of Rock: The Splintered World of Contemporary Christian Music. Howard identifies three types of CCM* fans: separational, integrational and transformational.
According to Radosh, “the breakdown [into these three groups] is not along aesthetic style lines, and any of the CCM camps can accommodate pretty much any musical style.” Rather, the three groups are each defined by their views of popular culture and the relationship between their work and the larger culture. I’ll outline the three genres and then provide a bit of analysis in relation to the Mormon market.
Quoting Howard: “Separational contemporary Christian music takes the viewpoint that the surrounding culture is evil. So therefore, what Christians ar ecalled on to do is to come out and be separate, and then to convert other people so they can come out and be separate.”
This is the form of music that has long dominated the Christian market. Because it is aesthetically neutral, the “most effective strategy for accomplishing [its] goals is to create music that mimics whatever styles are most popular in the mainstream.” The idea is to lure non-Christians into the fold and to provide alternatives for Christians. The emphasis is on the message.
According to Howard, integrational artists see themselves as entertainers rather than ministers. “So rather than writing this come out, you must be converted music, you simply present a wholesome alternative to the Madonnas and Marilyn Mansons of the world. You don’t have to be in-your-face religious, and you might even record a whole CD without a reference to Jesus or God. It’s more what’s missing that defines it.”
As Radosh notes, this group “traffics … heavily in God-is-my-girlfriend” songs. That is, songs about love, but that with some slight pronoun/word changes could be about Jesus. These are the artists with the most potential for crossover success. Think Amy Grant or Switchfoot or Reliant K. And although they are looked down on by hard core separationists, they would argue that because of their intergrational appeal they can actually be more effective when it comes to saving people and providing wholesome entertainment that is enjoyed by many.
Howard again: Transformational music is “music stripped of its utilitarian purposes and rendered valuable only through its ability to manifest both truth and quality. Art no longer serves religion but is drawn inextricably into it.” Of course, this is the music that Howard prefers so one should take that in to account when evaluating his critical schema. And I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised (along with Radosh) to discover that this music actually has enough of a fan base that it is featured at the Christian music festival Cornerstone (although even there it is somewhat controversial for some — and Cornerstone is nowhere near the biggest of the CCM festivals).
Howard says, “Transformational is much more about getting people to ask the right questions, rather than trying to provide all the right answers.”
A Brief Analysis
I’m not very well-versed in the LDS music scene, but I don’t think that Mormon market parallels these three genres as cleanly as I had first thought. I think a big part of that is that the Mormon market just isn’t big enough to accommodate the three approaches. I also think that there is much less pressure on artists to directly proselyte (or witness, to use the Christian) term. Mormon inspirational music isn’t super seperational, and much of the popular music leans more towards the integrational, I think.
And also because of the smallness of the market, Mormon music is fairly narrow in terms of aesthetics. For example, other than Mark Hansen, then aren’t a whole lot of rockers going for the Mormon market.
And yet, even though the Mormon market doesn’t line up exactly, I do think that the three tensions about what art should do can absolutely be found in LDS culture. This is why you get the occasional flareups between the LDS fiction readers/writers and the Mormon fiction readers/writers **.
I don’t have any amazingly insightful conclusion to toss out here. But I do think that it might be useful to take these three CCM genres as a starting place for examining and discussing Mormon cultural production. I don’t think that those who are solidly in one camp or another are going to not think that their approach is best. But if we were perhaps more clear on who we were trying to serve and how and why, it might lead to some understanding among those involved in the Mormon market.
*Christian Contemporary Music; all quotes are from pages 164-170.
**I just made that distinction up. It’s not something I really want to push, though. In fact, I think I’ll explore why that is in a future post.