What You Will

Another Burma Shave billboard on the information superhighway. Random thoughts about arts, faith, culture, music, language, literature, and the shortcomings of the Hegelian dialectic. (OK, just kidding about that last bit.)

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Location: Edmonds, Washington, United States

I wonder what goes in this space?


Ridiculous Web site of the month

I've seen lots of silly stuff in the name of Christianity, but this is right up there with the best of them:

ChristianMusicMakeover.com! It looks like something you'd find on Lark News or the Holy Observer, but it's real.

I'm not the first blogger to comment on this. You can read James Stewart's thoughts about it here, including a couple of episodes where he puts on the gloves and goes head to head with Brian Mayes, the creator of the site in question.

So what can I say about it? A few years ago I bought something from True Tunes and received some freebies with my order, including It's a Mystery, the debut CD by a young band called Daniel's Window. I gave it a listen and didn't care for it, so I sold it on eBay, or traded it to someone (I forget which). Now I'm surprised to find that the band not only is still around but was selected for the honor of a "Christian music makeover": cosmetics and guitar lessons for the female lead singer; weight loss for aforementioned lead singer and her keyboardist/DJ husband; new Bibles, devotional guides, and guitars for the whole band; and a new CD produced by Billy Smiley of longtime CCM band White Bread—excuse me, White Heart.

It was the idea of a "spiritual makeover" that most upset James Stewart—and I agree that it smacks of a cookie-cutter approach to spiritual development which sounds naive at best and dangerous at worst. But I'm also disturbed by the overt commercialism of the Christian Music Makeover site ... it's obviously set up to drive visitors toward the various books, weight-loss plans, magazines, record labels, etc., involved in the makeover. Whatever messages the band might want to get across with their music are buried under all the merchandising. Must one become a huckster for Jenny Craig in order to succeed in the Christian music business?

In particular, though, I'd like to draw your attention to a part of the affair that's every bit as disturbing as the spiritual makeover or Jenny Craig. I'm talking about the guitars, man. Despite having only one female band member, as a part of this promotion Daniel's Window evidently was required to play and endorse...

Daisy Rock Girl Guitars!

I don't know about you, but I'd die of embarrassment and I think most self-respecting male musicians would do the same. You might say I'm being sexist—which is OK as long as you'll admit that I'm no more sexist than people who build and market guitars specifically for girls, especially if they're shaped like butterflies or hot pink flowers.

Artists don't always relish their symbiotic relationship with advertisers. Rod Serling of "The Twilight Zone" said, "It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper." Alfred Hitchcock used to introduce commercial breaks by making derogatory remarks about the sponsors of his TV show. But if the members of Daniel's Window have any qualms about being used as a sales tool, they're keeping those qualms to themselves.

Several of my friends and acquaintances are calling for the "Christian music industry" to dismantle itself. They argue that Christians who perform music should strive to be salt in the mainstream of musical culture, rather than perpetuating a derivative evangelical subculture that never reaches beyond its self-imposed borders.

I don't know that I completely agree with them. I'd rather be a reformer than an iconoclast. I'd like to think that there could be an evangelical subculture (or, perhaps, a counterculture) that actually serves a useful purpose. But it's hard to maintain that point of view in the face of a God-and-mammon merchandise-driven reality-TV ripoff like the Christian Music Makeover. If this is the future of Christian music, can you blame me for living in the past?


The truth about Booth

Just got back a few days ago from a weekend in Washington, D.C. I had little time for sightseeing, but I made it a priority to visit Ford's Theatre, scene of Lincoln's assassination—an event that has fascinated me since I first learned about it in childhood.

The timing couldn't have been better, as I had just finished reading the book American Brutus by Michael W. Kauffman—perhaps the best-researched account of how John Wilkes Booth conducted the assassination conspiracy. Here are a few paragraphs from the introduction:

Misdirection was Booth's secret weapon. It was not only a form of life insurance, but it helped him place attention just where he wanted it. Through lies and false insinuations, he crafted the impression that his conspiracy against Lincoln was larger than it actually was. He did this to boost his credibility, to confuse potential witnesses, to prod his cohorts into action, and to entrap anyone who might potentially betray his trust.

It seems clever in retrospect, but it wasn’t hard to do. He told friends he was heading for New York when he was actually going to Washington. He claimed to have struck it rich in the oil business, though he never made a cent. He implied he was working with Confederate agents, but his only contacts were personal. He stretched the facts at every phase of the plot. On stage or off, he was always an actor.

Kauffman's book goes on to describe Booth's machinations in considerable detail, working from statements his co-conspirators gave during the investigation and trials that followed Lincoln's assassination. According to Kauffman, Booth never gathered his cronies together at once or in the same place; some of them never even met each other. What he said about the nature and purpose of the plot depended on which conspirator he was talking to, so any two of them might have conflicting information. He succeeded at keeping most of them in the dark most of the time, and conducted many of his meetings right under the nose of a War Department clerk, Louis J. Weichmann, who had no idea what was going on.

Disclaimer: Any resemblance between the tactics of John Wilkes Booth as described by Kauffman and the tactics of individuals described in other posts on this blog is purely coincidental.

P.S. I think I'll add Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation to my reading list.