Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Emptiness of Christian Hair Metal

When teaching the 'religion' chapter of Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, I like to show my classes this video, a 700 Club report about popular Christian metal band Stryper, to attempt to drive home the point. The theory is that this will work because there is absolutely no chance that any students today will find this 'cool' in any way, and thus they won't be roped into exactly the mode of thinking that Postman is inveighing against. This exercise meets with mixed results. However, I have to say, I love the SHIT out of it.

Sidenote: What the hell does the bee theme have to do with Christianity or ANYTHING? Maybe there's some explanation for this, but if there is, I don't want to hear it--it's such a surreal, inexplicable touch that I'd hate to see it ruined. Also, while noting that God must have quite a sense of humor is a cliché, hearing Stryper Man earnestly intoning that "the reason why we look the way we do and the way we are is, first of all, God's called us to do this, okay, and when you're called from God you do it" suggests that this sense of humor runs towards the dadaist, and I wouldn't want a rational explanation to ruin that rather charming image.

What's there to love? Where to start...there's the 'reporter' at the beginning (standing in front of some random greenery for no obvious reason) intoning that "the language is called 'rock music' and unfortunately their teachers often have names like 'Twisted Sister,' 'Iron Maiden, or 'Ozzy Osbourne'"--as opposed to THIS band's much-more-fortunate choice of names, which every single person to see it without hearing it will think is pronounced 'Stripper.' There's the way Pat Boone is only barely able to choke back his loathing while talking about how things like this may be necessary to reach Kids Today. And of course, there's the 'wait, what?' moment where we learn that "Instead of urinating on the crowd, popular at other concerts, Stryper throws New Testaments."

That last is worth dwelling on for a moment, because it demonstrates the extent to which fundamentalist Christian culture creates its own version of the big, evil, scary, sinful outside world. You would think that after less than a moment's thought it would have occurred to The 700 Club that people generally don't enjoy being pissed on (and for actual watersports fans, a concert hall surrounded by a bunch of sweaty strangers is not going to be the preferred locale). Being non-Christian doesn't have anything to do with it. And then they would have edited out that silly little clause. But no--because this is one of those situations where the literal truth is irrelevant: instead, they're going for an emotional truth, which is that the secular world is a dark and scary land of sin of inexplicable depravity where everyone revels in unspeakable perversity. The fact that presumably many of these people have if not friends then at least friendly acquaintances who are non-Christian--whom they would honestly never dream had such predilections--is entirely irrelevant. No joke: the entire secular world is a GG Allin show. That can't be a healthy mindset to go around with.

The funniest moment in the video, however, comes when the narrator intones that "instead of the sexual hip movements of other groups, the LA Times describes Stryper's movements as 'energetic in a non-sexual way,'" as the band members do something that looks very much like the Hokey Pokey. Man, with moves like that, it's no wonder the band's albums went gold(!) and platinum(!?!).

Let's also take a minute to appreciate the fact that The 700 Club is still hung up on "sexual hip movements"--dudes, Elvis had been dead for nine years by the time this aired. Time to move on!

That's not the really interesting thing, though. Sure, a lot of the 'movements' that accompany popular music are meant to evoke sex, but it's certainly not a necessity. I wouldn't call Russell Mael jerking around spastically 'sexual,' exactly. It makes sense, though. It fits the material. But what the blue blazes does the Stryper Men's energetic non-sexuality have to do with the music or Christianity or anything? Nothing! It's completely isolated from anything around it! God called you to do this and this is the best you could come up with? Your religion doesn't have a sufficiently rich aesthetic history that you could come up with something that can't be accurately and completely summed up by what it's not? Apparently not! Or, probably more accurately, its alleged practitioners are too far removed from their roots to engage with them in any meaningful way. So instead we get what I can only describe as an empty signifier, and one that seems to me to be quite emblematic of this conception of religion in general. This would also relate to the bee theme--our band is called Stryper, bees have stripes, queue ee dee. Never mind that this has nothing to do with that band's putative message. All in all, this is the worst kind of un-self-aware postmodernism.

And lest you think I'm being too mean to the band, note that they dropped Christianity like a hot coal as soon as they deemed it commercially inexpedient. Well, why not? The God that they and The 700 Club worship is nothing if not responsive to market forces.

POSTSCRIPT: What the hell do you suppose it is that the uploader awkwardly edited out of the video at the 2:05 mark? I am genuinely curious/intrigued.

2 Comments:

Blogger Paul & Kelsey pontificated to the effect that...

This is old I know but do you not find a bit ironic that you are being rather rude and acting the part that the church assigns to people who hold views such as yours. Humor...I think so.

8:15 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX pontificated to the effect that...

Man, if making fun of Stryper is "rude," I don't wanna be polite.

9:17 PM  

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