The three genres of Christian music

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. Continue reading “The three genres of Christian music”

A Survey of Mormon Comix by Theric Jepson

When I asked Theric Jepson to write a bit about Mormon graphic novels, I didn’t expect that he would launch a full on bibliographic project. But he did — and even though the results make for a very long post, it’s very much worth a read. Indeed, it’s quite the amazing project and must have taken quite some time to put together. Thanks, Theric. ~Wm Morris

I’m also going to make you click through for the full post because the “more” tag seems to be causing some problems with the special formatting for the post.

Continue reading “A Survey of Mormon Comix by Theric Jepson”

xBox Mormonism

In a departure from my usual critical film studies, I decided to make a foray into the realm of starting a discussion. It’s a new experience for me so be gentle.

As with movies, books, and music, I enjoy a good video game. Note that I said, “good.” I’ve known a few developers in my time and, having worked in the Disney animation studios, I have a deep respect for the commitment those long projects require. To them, it is an art form. Much of the attention paid to video games concerns the violence involved (and there’s no doubt that there’s plenty of it), but like the aforementioned arts, I believe there is good mixed in with the bad. In fact, my wife (not a big fan of gaming) noted that I only really play games that have a good story. She’s right. To me, video games can represent a sort of interactive story experience.

Whether one likes games or gaming isn’t really the point. The point is two-fold. First, that with billions of dollars in revenue yearly, video games are here to stay. Secondly, as technology increases and games develop, they become much more complex. Just as movies have evolved from the kinetoscope fare of the early twentieth century, so too have games moved on from progenitors such as Space Invaders and Pac-Man. I had the opportunity a few years ago to meet the lead developer of Assassin’s Creed for a demonstration of the game two years before its release. At the time, he took us through a virtual tour of the Dark Age, Middle Eastern city of Acre. His programmers, artists, and developers had done-painstaking research to recreate “brick for brick” the city as it had existed at that time (they did the same for Damascus and Jerusalem). The recent release Mass Effect has an AI system that is so complex that every single interaction with every single character impacts the outcome. Continue reading “xBox Mormonism”

The Mormon market and the passion/pop gulf

Last month, Seth Godin wrote a post that both illuminates and complicates the realities for Mormon arts and culture. He outlines what he calls the passion/pop curve (make sure you click on the figure in the post to make it bigger so you can actually read it). The curves live on two axes — the first is the number of users/customers/fans. The second relates to content and brand. One one end you have edgy/obsessed and on the other you have vapid/trite. As Godin explains:

That bell curve to the left represents acceptance by the focused/excited/tastemaking community. Those are the people who love microbeers and haute couture and Civil War memorabilia. Like all market curves, there’s a sweet spot. Go too nutsy on us ($90,000 turntables, for example) and even the committed will flee. Go too pop, though, and we’ll avoid you as well.

And…

The bell curve on the right, you’ll notice, is bigger. This is a second market, a bigger market, the market of pop. These are the folks who go to the Olive Garden for a nice Italian meal instead of the authentic place down the street. They too want something that’s not too edgy and not too (in their opinion) trite.

And here’s the kicker

The reason you need to care is that gap in the middle. Every day, millions of businesses get stuck in that gap. They either move to the right in search of the masses or move to the left in search of authenticity, but they compromise. And they get stuck with neither.

One of the issues for the Mormon market is that we layer on a limiter to the graph — that is, not only do you have to deal with the passion/pop curve, but that the number of users is limited to those who buy into the Mormonism of a product (or of the product’s creator) as a viable category. Or in other words, the numbers on the y-axis go down. You have the same edgy/vapid issues that come with the x-axis, but it’s harder to hit the target because the y-axis has shrunk. This is less of an issue for those hitting for the pop curve because it’s always bigger, and this is definitely true of the Mormon market, e.g. Deseret Book. But even there, you still have to make the case to the consumer: you need this particular product because it appeals to your tastes AND it’s Mormon.  You have to sell them (and reassure them) on both aspects of the product. Continue reading “The Mormon market and the passion/pop gulf”

The illusory allure of clean culture

The online magazine Slate recently posted Hanna Rosin’s review of Daniel Radosh’s new book Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture. Her (and Radosh’s) descriptions of Christian attempts to create safe knock-offs of popular forms of culture and entertainment will sound strikingly familiar to anyone with the slightest bit of knowledge of the Mormon market.

For example, Rosin writes:

A Christian can now buy books, movies, music–and anything else lowbrow to middlebrow–tailor-made for his or her sensibilities. Worried that American popular culture leads people–and especially teenagers–astray, the Christian version is designed to satisfy all the same needs in a cleaner form.

The review is a must-read for Mormons. And it sounds like the book is too. I have already ordered it from my local library (I’m not alone in my interest in it though — I probably won’t get my hands on a copy until June). I’m going to get to some of the more choice bits of the review in a moment, but first a reminder: Although it’s tempting to write off the Mormon cultural project as a weak imitation of the Christian one (and in some areas it is just that), there are important differences. I’m not going to go into a lengthy treatment of them — but AMV has been exploring them throughout its’ whole history. Not so much in contrast to the Christian market (although we have done that from time-to-time), but more in the more positive vein of pointing out examples and exploring possibilities of a unique, yet not disconnected form of Mormon culture that both celebrates and critiques our own history and practice and beliefs as well as those of the broader American (and other) culture(s). Continue reading “The illusory allure of clean culture”

Mormons mourning Postum: a consumer culture post

My youngest sister recently shared the distressing news that the toasted wheat drink Postum has been discontinued. Created by Seventh-day Adventist health foods icon C.W. Post, the drink would appear to be a victim of the continued caffeinization of America. From what I can tell from Internet searches and anecdotal evidence, it would seem that the only people that drank it are Mormons, health food nuts (although Postum was hurt in this market by alternative toasted grain drinks that aren’t quite so American and mass-produced), and coffee lovers that were forced to go with a non-caffeine and/or gentler-on-the-stomach hot drink because of health issues. Continue reading “Mormons mourning Postum: a consumer culture post”

Why we need Mormon Culture

A week ago the Washington Post took the unusual step of writing about the LDS Church in Nigeria, and in the process made a very interesting characterization of the Church there:

Many scholars say the Mormons’ decision not to adopt more local customs — such as incorporating African drumming or dancing into Sunday services — is one reason the church has not experienced the same remarkable growth as other denominations. Pentecostals, a lively evangelical Christian movement, can draw half a million worshipers to their all-night services here.

Like many LDS Church members, I’m not bothered by the lack of dancing and drumming in Sunday services — quite to the contrary, I suspect I would roll my eyes at such affectations, or feel uncomfortable somehow. It doesn’t seem worshipful to me, but then its not my culture.

But I am curious about what the decision means about our doctrine and culture. Continue reading “Why we need Mormon Culture”