Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You Can't Teach a Sneetch

The First Church of Evangelicalism, now bearing a list of grievances on it's own front door, now knows what it is to be the establishment, and what it is like to bear the brunt of accusations such as hypocrisy, materialism and superficiality.
And, history being as repetitive as it is, the new Augustinian monks who nailed the updated theses on said door will soon find themselves in the same position.
For some years there has existed a polemic element in the evangelical movement. These at least have the favor of being called original. Eventually they demanded enough attention to be labeled, and post-evangelicalism became the new evangelicalism.
Various elements of the Christian music industry, frustrated pastors and astute seminary graduates began pointing out the emperor's immodesty.
Such independence could not last. The idea took a name, and began to suffer from organizational fatigue.
There is a perfect parallel in the world of rock music. In the early '90's, a rock band from Seattle called Nirvana fronted a new movement in rock music given the euphemism "grunge" rock. This in itself is ironic enough; the frustration with the "establishment" of rock, originally rock n'roll, the ultimate expression of individuality. "Grunge" became synonymous with "alternative" rock, and quickly gained a solid fan base. Sometime after the turn of the century, the worm turned again. The rebel image was fast losing its edge. Alternative accumulated such a raft of artists and such a burgeoning fan base that it was becoming, heaven forbid, commercialized and even successful. What was a rugged individualist rock fan to do? Thankfully, a new upstart birthed in the '90's emerged to become the new alternative. Indie rock, shortened from independent, stormed the college radio stations, and the "outsiders" could breathe easy again.
But there is another storm brewing. More and more and more indie rock bands. Not good, if you are one of those untold billions of music fans who love to refer to their music tastes as "eclectic."
I have heard this word invoked so many times by so many people that I am beginning to suspect fabrication. If everybody's tastes are eclectic, then who is buying all these mainstream pop albums?
At any rate, this should serve to illustrate something terribly absurd and irresistibly recurring.
More people than not like to think of themselves as the "anti-establishment." But, of course, when the percentage of the population who like to think of themselves as such rises above 49%, this becomes a problem.
In 1961, a prescient doctor wrote a parable that sticks in my mind when this concept of new newness arises.
It seems there are these unidentified creatures who live on a beach. Some of these creatures have a green star on their bellies. Some don't. The no-stars want a star. Those with "stars on thars" have more fun, like blondes. Along comes a capitalistic entrepreneur with the unlikely name of McBean. He has a machine which can duplicate the sought after stars quite nicely. The no-stars line up with their money and soon, the original stars are grumping around because they are not so special anymore. McBean, who begins to sound like some forward thinking advertising exec, invents another machine which removes stars, and markets it to the original stars. Soon, no-star becomes the new star, and so on and so forth. This continues until the stars and the no-stars, as if anyone could tell the difference any more, are flat broke and McBean leaves town a wealthy man.
The name of the book, btw, is The Sneetches, and the author went by the pen name, Dr. Seuss.
Post-evangelicals have already placed an undue burden on reform efforts by giving themselves a name.
The instant you form a "movement", your cause begins to stagger under the weight of the human element. After "movement", "organization" is just round the corner, and the wheels of reform grind slower and slower until you become an institution, hopelessly grounded by the trappings of power and politics.


Anonymous said...

Good stuff,but what can I say you have already said it all.

Mom said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your post, although I was able to follow it better after you started talking about the sneetches. Just kidding!

Your loving mother (as in "my loving wife.")

Nathan Carpenter said...

whatever, Mom, no need to pretend you didn't know what indie rock was. you were a grunge rock fan before it was cool.