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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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?


Blogger James said...

Hi Martin! Interesting thoughts on this (spotted your post as the link to me showed up in technorati). When I started writing the entries on CMM, the commercialism wasn't as apparent as it has become, but I agree with you that it's rather disturbing.

Some reports I read used the commercial sponsorship as some sort of 'certificate of value' which was a very sad sight. Has the 'christian' media really reached the point where we measure the value of phenomena by their potential for corporate sponsorship?

I take hope from the number of fantastic artists who are Christians and are operating outside of the 'CCM' boundaries, but do retain some concern that the unquestioning approach presented within CCM is part of the paradigm that leads to ideas such as that christian engagement with politics should be a uniform thing.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Michael Crowley said...

This is why I'm still a Who fan; I get more spiritual relief from another go through "Quadrophenia" than any CCM artist has ever given me. Period.

I long ago abandoned the CCM scene for being just as you and James describe, Martin: I find it hopelessly derivative and filled with a "sacred 'Me-Too'" spirit: what it seems to want is to provide its audience with nothing more challenging than an alternative to the popular culture they still cling to in their heart of hearts.

It's like methadone; you don't have to withdraw completely from the world, no; now, young Christian, you can ease your way out of it by taking our substitutes. Dig Van Halen or Nirvana, but can't stand the outright lust or despair they talk about? Well, why not try Petra, or this band over here? (I confess here and now that I will not only date myself by mentioning Petra, but have also left myself open for a whole boatload of grief by mentioning Petra and Van Halen in the same sentence).

I agree with you, Martin. Not only does the whole idea of a "spiritual makeover" sound like it's nothing more than a cookie-cutter approach to Christianity, there is a huge red flag in that there is also a mandatory weight-loss program for the women, guitar lessons from so and so. It simply endorses a uniform approach to Christianity and music that is antithetical to both the Christ that inspired the apostle to say, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling", but also to genuine artistic expression. Whatever happened to paying your dues? If the band in question hasn't really gotten better in 120 dates over seven years, (I checked the Makeover webpage) what's to say that they're going to get any better just by having Billy Smiley behind the mixing console? Stevie Ray Vaughan more than payed his dues; he was jamming with Albert King at 14, holding his own and more. Does anyone in Daniel's Window have the kind of dedication in them to work on their playing long enough to get them to that level?

I'm grateful to find Christian artists who can operate outside of the CCM structure; someone who can honestly write about being a human who professes Christ trying to live in this world is a gem. Me, though, I rebelled against CCM pretty firmly in college with bands like the Who and Living Colour and the reflex to turn to those bands is still much stronger than seeking out someone like Bruce Cockburn when I'm standing in the record store with my green in my sweaty little paws. I tried listening to The Blind Boys of Alabama's newest, "Atom Bomb" last night, and ended the audience early grateful that the antidepressants had kicked in and that no sharp implements were handy. Maybe that's laziness on my part. I need to push harder to seek out things that will help me carry on my Christian life with integrity and courage. No one in CCM seems to give a f**k about pushing any harder than they have to to get by. They've not only drunk the Kool-Aid, they're busy mixing up a new batch.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Michael Crowley said...

As long as we're talking about CCM and originality, have you noticed that the typeface on the Christian Makeover Website is a warmed over version of the title font from the old "Battlestar Galactica" series?

Everything old is ripe fodder for a Christian makeover.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Martin said...

120 dates in seven years? Heck, I've played that many and never quit my day job. I could stand to lose a little weight, too. Can I be the next Christian Music Makeover artist? Can I, please, please?

Since Daisy Rock doesn't make mandolins, we'll need a new sponsor. Been jonesing for a Rigel mandolin of my very own...

10:48 AM  
Blogger Cabbages and Kings said...

Hay! Thanks for dropping by Thursdays are for Crackheads. And thanks for addressing the absurdity of CMM with a little more clarity than I did.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Martin said...

For shocking behind-the-scenes insights about what REALLY went on during the Christian Music Makeover, check out Heather King's commentary at Christianity Today.

Seems her weight loss and guitar lessons weren't as hunky-dory as the CMM site might want us to believe. And the number-one thing Heather learned: "Change is a process, not an event."

Elemetary as it mights sound, that's a good lesson for evangelical Christians. I grew up in a "holiness" denomination where you were supposed to get "sanctified" in some slam-bam spiritual moment AFTER you got "saved" in a PREVIOUS slam-bam spiritual moment. Many failed attempts to be "sanctified" finally led me to conclude that sanctification is ...

a process ...




To Heather: I still think the whole thing was not only silly but disturbing. However, I'm glad you learned a valuable lesson. And it's OK that you can't play that stupid-looking guitar. You don't need it. You go, girl!

12:20 PM  

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