Ga ga for Gaga? PCUSA Backs American Capitalism

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It has been some months since I last had a rant about Lady Gaga, so I am grateful to the good old PCUSA for giving me the chance. Yes, the people whose General Assembly a few years back brought you the Carnival of Animals, presided over by some kind of Aztec divinity on steroids, and issued free masks of Mandragora to celebrate Calvin's birth and evangelise Whovians at the same time, have now gone ga ga for Gaga.  It seems her music, along with that of other titans of modern pop culture, featured somewhat significantly at the meeting of the highest court of the church, the General Assembly.  If you want a good laugh -- or perhaps better cry -- you can find a report here.  It reminds me of another service I had to attend a few years ago which inspired me to the profound insight that, if it is rubbish, one might as well call it rubbish.  The whole thing sounds so sophisticated that it would have made the scripts for The Three Stooges look like long lost manuscripts by James Joyce.

One other thing it did remind me of, however, is how bland most Christian approaches (liberal and evangelical) are to pop culture.  To put it bluntly, we take it far too seriously, treating it as an authentic medium rather than what it generally is -- a prepackaged and mass marketed product with little or no real significance beyond the bottom line. Just look at how many reviews of the latest blockbuster movies appear on Christian cultural websites -- and few if any go beyond the plot or the production to the real backstory -- the marketing, the placement, the need to turn a profit.  We seem to assume 'artists' speak with 'authentic voices'  and give us a transparent insight into reality as they see it.  And that is an utterly absurd assumption.

Do not misunderstand me: I enjoy popular culture, especially music.  My ipod is the only thing that makes my long runs bearable; and it is packed with everything from Mott the Hoople (look them up on wikipedia) to Donna Summer (I confess the only disco music I can stand) to Led Zeppelin and The Who.  But I never make the mistake of taking any of it too seriously: it is fun, a bit of amusement, a distraction from the pain and boredom of endlessly pounding the pavements around Philadelphia.  I do not take any of it as a serious commentary on the nature of existence or as offering any profound commentary even on what the artists themselves actually think: it is product, a function of the marketplace; and before it can be serious philosophy, it has to be marketable to us masses.  Remember how marketable to the masses reality TV is?  That might give you a subtle clue as to how authentic and sophisticated we can automatically assume other artefacts of mass culture are.

So the thing that makes the playing of Gaga and company at the PCUSA GA so sad and so significant is not that it is offensive (theologically and, indeed, aesthetically) to play such musically crass and philosophically mindless rubbish at a gathering of the church (though offensive on both counts it most certainly is); it is that otherwise apparently intelligent people think that Gaga's songs are making an important contribution to anything other than Gaga's bank account and the endlessly growing pile of tedious porno-pop culture.  And, sad to say, I am sure there are those out there with theology professedly much more orthodox than the PCUSA who are also intent on taking the ruthlessly marketed and similarly moronic productions of the pop culture industry as authentic contributions to discussions of the meaning of life. 

I am not sure who to blame for this.  Maybe Francis Schaeffer?  But he was at least wrestling with Ingmar Bergman and the art house set.   Gaga is just a cheap Madonna knock off whose modest talent is inversely proportional to the brilliance of the way she is marketed.  Which raises another interesting question: does that mean that by playing her junk the 'emphasise the PC' PCUSA has unwittingly become a mindless dupe of the very instruments of capitalism it spends so much time decrying?  Perish the thought, Trueman.  Say it ain't so!

Posted August 20, 2012 @ 7:40 PM by Carl Trueman
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