Tuesday, November 16, 2004

California Here We Come

I was recently struck by the abundance of books declaring “The Gospel According to…” Apparently, the gospel has been told by Peanuts, The Simpsons, Disney, Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, Harry Potter, and Tony Soprano, to name a few.

I believe television, film, books, comics, etc. are all high forms of art. I appreciate any attempt to discuss possible themes and/or artistic visions of the creator(s). Somehow I don’t believe that explains this glut of “Gospel According To…” books. Call me a cynic, but I suspect it has more to do with the Christian desire to claim everything for us so we don’t have to feel guilty watching this.

How many people were initially scared to tell their church friends they were fans of The Simpsons, The Sopranos, Sex and the City, or NPR? We are always afraid of being judged as worldly sinners whose minds were being brainwashed by the liberal media intent on stealing our money and killing our children. If we can pull out a book declaring the Simpsons are a Christian family because they pray, then we’re in the clear. No hell for me, baby.

With that in mind, I want someone to write a book called, The Gospel According to the O.C. I know it’s a trashy show that doesn’t even approach the label of art, but it’s so damn addictive. It’s my new guilty pleasure. I’ve even come up with an outline for all you writers out there. I just ask for a cut of the profits.

Chapter 1: The Cultural Church as Represented in Orange County
The characters on the O.C. are a bunch of narcissistic, spoiled rich kids from the suburbs. Sounds like a mega church to me.

Chapter 2: Ryan Atwood and Spiritual Adoption
No matter how screwed up we are, God still invites us into his dysfunctional church family just like the Cohen’s invited troubled youth, Ryan, to join their dysfunctional suburban paradise.

Chapter 3: Seek and You Shall Find – The Give and Take of Our Relationship With God as Represented by the Relationship of Seth and Summer
Seth wants Summer, but he doesn’t know how to get her. He reaches out to her, and she comes. Everyone else in the world knows that Seth will never be loved like he is by Summer. Despite this, he continues to push her away. In the same way, no one will ever love us like God loves us. Despite this, we still constantly push Him away.

Chapter 4: Sandy Cohen – God Does Not Forsake Us
His father-in-law’s a drunken thief; his wife never appreciates him; his kids get in fights with the water polo team; and they all come to Sandy when they need help. In the same way, we often ignore God until our troubles are beyond our control. At this point we reach out to God, who never lets us down.

Chapter 5: Marissa Cooper – Spiritual Warfare or Mental Illness?
She throws furniture in swimming pools, drinks like an unemployed Irishman on St. Patrick’s Day, sleeps with the yard guy, and spends time in a mental hospital. The church has spent years inappropriately labeling mental illness as spiritual warfare. Why stop now?

Chapter 6: Luke Ward – Sin Has Consequences
He slept with his ex-girlfriend’s mother. I hope it was fun while it lasted, because he nearly died in a car accident. In the same way, promiscuous sex and rampant drug use may be fun in youth group, but eventually, God will punish you in a fit of melodramatic rage.

The rest of the book can fill itself in. Someone should really consider writing this thing. I would volunteer, but I’m too busy on my new project: The Spiritual Journey of Clay Aiken.


erika said...

this book sounds like it would appeal to the same audience as that of revolve magazine (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0718003586/103-2819113-5481414?v=glance). i mean, who better to tell girls how to snag guys than Jesus?

conrad said...

"The Gospel According to Peanuts" is an excellent book, actually. Not only were the early Peanuts strips overtly theological, but the book itself is a sharp piece of writing.

Having been to megachurches in "The O.C." for real, I can assure you that they're full of characters from the show. If they haven't already, they should write in a conversion for one of the characters and have them go to Mariners or Calvary Chapel and then have sex with everyone anyhow.

Neville said...

I have "The Gospel According to THE SIMPSONS" even though I haven't read it yet. I just feel as though having it gives me enough exuses to keep watching the show though, doesn't it? I hope it's not a book saying that they are a Christian family though. Oh, and I would by your "The Gospel According to THE OC" in a heartbeat. Then I would drive down to ORANGE COUNTY and burn it in front of Saddleback. I think they would be utterly and blissfully confused, don't you think? Half would be cheering and the other half would be reading 'The Purpose-Driven Life' and probably would've never even heard of the show 'The O.C.' Just a thought.

Bill Arnold said...

I can't speak for all of those books, but I think of them make their claim for a reason (i.e. Simpsons). I realize you're being somewhat facetious, but nonetheless, I have to say:

1. They are not just written as excuses to watch the shows.

2. You're right. You really have no excuse for watching crappy TV like the OC. ;-0

ConradGempf said...

You missed one of the earliest and one of my favourites. In the 60s a guy from Princeton Seminary published The Gospel According to Superman. The main point was different than these others, though. He said that Superman, a creation of the American middle-class 20th century, showed what we human beings, left to our own devices, think a Messiah should be like. The author then compared and contrasted that with the kind of Messiah that God (who knows what we need better than we do) actually sent.

Will said...

Brilliant. My mind is now filled with all kinds of "Gospel According to..." adaptations. I won't elaborate on the thoughts I had about "The Gospel According to American Idol".

Kevin Rector said...

I've never seen the OC, but I've been able to surmise from various sources what it's about. That's why I found it incredibly funny that as I was watching television the other night an advertisement came on for the OC, and the background music was Switchfoot. Imagine the irony when I contrasted the images of "a bunch of narcissistic, spoiled rich kids from the suburbs" to the sounds of "we were meant to live for so much more" from a Christian perspective.

James said...

I have The Gospel According To The Simpsons. I even read it. I was left seriously underwhelmed. It felt like an attempt to just document every reference to religion in the show and I didn't feel like the analysis went beyond "they're not anti-religion". Um, well, yeah...

There will soon be another book to add to that string of titles. "The Gospel According To America" by David Dark (the man who brought us Everyday Apocalypse). I'm not sure of the exact publication date, but it's worth checking. I read about a third of it last night and it's simply excellent. Analysing distinctively American expressions of gospel and using those as a cultural critique, it's a powerful piece of work.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that sometimes people try and put the gospel into very odd places. The way I see it - God is truth - most shows try and portray what they call "truth" - therefore they try and sell it to the Christian consumer as having strains of the Gospel. I admit my guilty pleasure is Buffy the Vampire Slayer (was...I guess...it's not on anymore...) and I can't really find a Gospel in there. Although I'd like to see how they get the Gospel into Sex in the City. It might make quite a humorous read!

The Popular Stranger said...

Have you seen the Sufjan quote for his song that was played last week?
"A very important announcement from Sufjan Stevens:

"My song "To Be Alone With You," from Seven Swans, will be featured on this week's episode of The O.C. on Fox (Thursday Nov. 11 @ 8/7c). Wow! While I haven't actually seen this show on TV, I've been told it's about the courageous work of AIDS relief volunteers in South Africa. So I'm really excited that my song can be part of this philanthropic project. Tune in!" -Sufjan"

Funny, funny guy.

Anonymous said...

My darling husband used to work at a Christian radio station. Once I was bold enough to argue - well, I wasn't particularly argumentitive, perhaps I mean "engage" - with a person who was repeating the party line about the Simpsons (that is, another especially egregious nail in the coffin of traditional Judeo-Christian family values.)

As the discussion went on - my point being that good social satire could lead people to question their cultural "defaults", to test everything and hold on to what is actually good - it became clear that the person had never watched one red-hot second of an episode. Goodness no!


"The Philosophy of the Simpson" is actually not bad, if a little padded to make it book-legnth.

I also think that "The Gospel According to..." books, properly done and widely read, MIGHT lead to more critical/discerning consumers of media - people who don't just stop at watching a Disney film or a TV episode, but look past the plot/characters/jokes to the themes and underlying assumptions. (Christianity (at least my end of the pool) could certainly use more deep, clear thinking.

Sally said...

I surfed over here from Bookslut, and I may be the first person to comment who isn't coming from a Christian perspective, FWIW. But it seems to me that if the O.C. has a religious sensibility, it's probably a Jewish rather than a Christian one. I mean, this is one of the most overtly Jewish shows ever on T.V., as far as I can remember. It's mostly a cultural rather than religious take on Judaism, but how many T.V. shows have you seen that had a Passover episode?

Ben said...


You probably have a point about the Jewish worldview, although Sandy Cohen is Jewish and Kirsten is not. If anything, there is an undercurrent of religious tension. Where does Seth place himself religiously? The issue of mixed faith families is becoming more prominent in our culture, and this could be an interesting topic for dramatic exploration within the series.

You can see the issue in Episode 1.13 “The Best Chrismukkah Ever.” Because of this religious duality in the household, they created a “bi-religious” holiday that is basically a Frankenstein-esque combination of Christmas and Hanukkah.

Do you think the cultural Judaism impacts the teen love triangles?

I suppose the sequel to the first book could be a discussion of Judaism. Especially interesting could be Jewish ideas of social justice and their impact on Sandy Cohen. He obviously feels torn between his old life helping kids like Ryan and his desire to have a good life for his family. I bet there’s some religious motivation there. Somehow I doubt the show’s creators will explore this, unless they can work in a car accident and/or promiscuous sex.

As a Protestant, I probably shouldn’t write the sequel, even though Christians have spent generations claiming to have a better understanding of the Jewish religion and culture than Jews themselves. In the end, if a Reformed Jew (Mark I. Pinsky) can write The Gospel According to the Simpsons, why can’t a confused Evangelical write Chrismukkah: Growing Up Jewish in a Post-Christian World. (Does anyone else think that sounds like some pretentious Ph.D. dissertation in American Studies?)

Sally said...

A lot of Jews (and probably a lot of Christians, although I'm less in touch with that) were really angry about the Christmukkah episode, because it was totally devoid of theological content and basically implied that both holidays were about getting presents. There was that whole thing about Jesus and Moses teaming up, which doesn't make theological sense from either religion's point of view, and which also kind of ignores the fact that Hannukah isn't about Moses. It may be an accurate depiction of how a lot of secular, intermarried families celebrate the winter holidays, though. Hanukkah has itself become kind of a weird Franken-holiday: it's a pretty minor holiday that has been vastly elevated in importance because Jewish kids felt left out at Christmas. And I think it's pretty realistic that the Cohens celebrate Passover in a more traditional and reverant way than Christmas or Hanukkah. Particularly for left-leaning Jews like Sandy and his mother, Passover retains a lot of significance.

"Do you think the cultural Judaism impacts the teen love triangles?"

Well, nobody ever explicitly says that Anna is Jewish, but I always assumed she was. (Her last name is Stern, and I think every Stern I've known has been. And we're beaten over the head with the fact that she's just like Seth.) And in that sense, I think the Anna/Seth/Summer triangle is part of the show's celebration of intermarriage. The problem with Anna and Seth is that they're too much alike, and therefore their relationship is boring. Sandy and Kirsten's marriage is so successful, the show suggests, because of, not despite their differences. The show depicts intermarriage and inter-religious relationships as productive, healthy, good things. That's a pretty controversial stance to take, considering that intermarriage is one of the more divisive issues facing contemporary Jews.

Incidentally, I think there's a lot of evidence that Seth basically considers himself Jewish, culturally speaking. Most recently, last week he referrred to Zach as "the WASP me," which only makes sense if he associates himself with his father's and not his mother's ethnicity. He said something last season about not being a good athlete because of Sandy's Jewishness, which suggests that Sandy's non-athletic Jewishness trumps Kirsten's presumably-jocky WASPiness. Didn't he use his Bar Mitzvah money to pay off the hookers in Las Vegas at his grandfather's batchelor party?

Oh, dear. I have put far too much thought into a show about which you could write that last sentence!

Anonymous said...

I don't think these "Gospel According to..." books are anything more than marketing and a way to make money. Pretending they're anything else is just silly. If you're gonna watch the Simpsons, you'll do it whether they have a gospel book out or not.

Such Christian merchandising is merely using the "Christian" brand recognition to sell books. It's the unfortunate side-effect of the marriage of Christianity and capitalism that provides such an easy target to people who, maybe in some cases rightfully so, view Christianity in the US as a shallow belief in fairy tales. Maybe for some people that's all it really is.

Rouver said...

I heard that Nikki was taking dancing lessons. I figured a song should be dedicated to her:

I knew a girl named Nikki
I guess u could say she was a pork fiend
I met her in a hotel lobby
Self lovin' with a magazine
She said how’d u like 2 waste some time
And I could not resist when I saw little nikki grind

She took me 2 her castle
And I just couldn’t believe my eyes
She had so many devices
Everything that money could buy
She said sign your name on the dotted line
The lights went out
And nikki started 2 grind


The castle started spinning
Or maybe it was my brain
I can’t tell u what she did 2 me
But my body will never be the same
Her lovin’ will kick your behind
Oh, she’ll show u no mercy
But she’ll sho’nuff sho’nuff show u how 2 grind

Darlin’ nikki

Woke up the next morning
Nikki wasn’t there
I looked all over and all I found
Was a phone unmber on the stairs
It said thank u 4 a funky time
Call me up whenever u want 2 grind

Oh, nikki, ohhhh

Come back nikki, come back
Your dirty little prince
Wanna grind grind grind grind grind grind grind grind grind

artist: Prince

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