Thursday, September 16, 2010
Losing the Faith/Culture War
I've been a proponent of Calvin College for a few years now. They remain the only Christian institution of higher learning which is dedicated to exposing its student body to all forms of artistic and cultural movements. Their director of student activities, Ken Heffner, is a man without fear. He is also a devoted Christian. Such a man I have never known. He has brought Calvin to the forefront of the "liberal Christian" scene. Who can ever forget the Festival of Faith and Music two years ago when Lupe Fiasco and Cornel West sat down for a discussion? Or bringing in so many other artists that wouldn't think once about playing a show at a Christian school. Ratatat, The Hold Steady, Broken Social Scene, Stars, Yo La Tengo, Sigur Ros, Iron and Wine, Joanna Newsom, The Books and Neko Case have all performed on the campus.
But Heffner lost a painful battle this week. After a flood of complaints from alumni, he canceled an October concert to host The New Pornographers. But the only reason for the cancellation was not due to a blasphemous lyric, but the name of the band itself. Here's Heffner's statement:
"(A)fter weeks of discussion and consideration, the irony of the band's name was impossible to explain to many. The band's name, to some, is mistakenly associated with pornography. Consequently, Calvin, to some, was mistakenly associated with pornography."
News travels fast in the indie rock world, and this is going to do severe damage to the mission of Ken Heffner. Everyone who already believed that Christians are close-minded, ignorant philistines just got a badge of reassurance.
Notice how I mentioned Neko Case up there? She's a member of the New Pornographers. She played a show at Calvin a few years ago. How did she get past the alumni? Didn't they do research on her?
What Ken should have done was promote this New Pornographers show as "a concert featuring Neko Case, Dan Bejar, AC Newman, and others." That way, that scary p-word doesn't have to upset anybody.
It's a shame that after so many years of bringing incredible artists to the Calvin campus, something like this is what causes the college to appear like just another stupid, puritanical Christian group. I once thought that Christians and artists could interact peaceably, but it's looking less likely every day.
I think it has something to do with the nature of each. Art is inherently open. Anything goes in art, hence the nudity and lack of restrictions. But in religion, there must be doctrine. Religion is closed. Agree with it, or leave. That is, go to hell.
"Pornography" is one of those things you just can't mess around with in Christianity. Even uttering the word brings flashes of tits and cocks flashing across the mind's eye, for which Christians must quickly ask forgiveness for imagining. A word that brings to mind lustful possibilities is one that must be kept as far away as possible.
One day my mom called me to express disappointment for having said the word "fuck" on the internet. She told me it was unprofessional and embarrassing. Of course, I used the word in reference to a band. Holy Fuck. She thought I could have at least edited myself. I could have typed out "Holy F***" instead. I think it goes without saying, my mom is an Evangelical Christian.
I tried to explain to her why she should not be offended, that this word is not being used to degrade or upset anyone. But the very word itself was what got to her. She had never heard the band's [instrumental] music. She didn't need to. The "f-word" was all she needed to be offended. I wanted to resurrect George Carlin from the grave and get him on the other line so he could explain just how silly our conversation was, but alas, I argued with her to no avail.
So, Calvin College is proving itself to be just as sheltered and cowardly as any other Christian school. The only way Ken Heffner can recover from this is by standing his ground and booking Holy Fuck next semester. Otherwise, Chicagoans and Michigan residents from across the state will go to the next show at Calvin College with this nagging sense that they're not at a real show. Whatever they're experiencing will have gone through a filter, because if it's at a "Christian" venue, it's not delivered with complete freedom of expression from the artist.
Book Holy Fuck, Ken. And be adamant. Don't let the alumni win this one. Sure it'll be hypocritical, but come on, this is Christianity we're talking about here. Contradict yourself until artists want to play at Calvin before Chicago. Fuck with people's expectations so hard that they want to be a part of this weird new thing that mixes Christianity with heathen art. Fuck it up, brother.