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The Amazon Book Review
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Shirley R. Steinberg is an associate professor at McGill University in Montreal and the director of the Paulo and Nita Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy. She is the founding editor of Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education, and her numerous books include Media Literacy (with Donaldo Macedo); the award-winning Encyclopedia of Contemporary Youth Culture (with Priya Parmar and Birgit Richard); and Kinderculture and TheMiseducation of the West (with Joe L. Kincheloe).
The late Joe L. Kincheloe was the Canada Research Chair of Critical Pedagogy at McGill University in Montreal and the founder of the Paulo and Nita Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy. His books include Teachers as Researchers, City Kids, Kinderculture, and the Gustavus Myers Human Rights award–winning Measured Lies.
Christotainment is lively, fascinating, clearly-presented, and well-researched account of the history, scope, and implications of the current proliferation of Christian books, Christian music, Christian movies, Christian festivals etc.. The book "unpacks" examples of each of these and helps the reader place them in the context of the surrounding culture. As a fan of popular culture, I appreciated reading and learning more about this sprawling, powerful but (until now) largely overlooked segment of the entertainment industry. As a citizen who observes and worries about the impact of "culture wars" on our national life, Christotainment provided real food for thought. As a practicing Christian, Christotainment (1) helped me think through the implications of what it may mean to "brand" and "commodify" Jesus, and (2) gave me a clearer understanding of the thought and theology behind an aspect of Christianity that I've seen grow by leaps and bounds. Finally, as a scholar of spirituality and culture, I was delighted to find that Christotainment turns attention to and competently addresses what has been a crying void in cultural, religious, and spirituality studies.
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The book purports to be an analysis of how Christianity and Christ have become part of popular culture in the US. I guess, in a sense, it is, but only in the sense that it's a book that mentions Christ and popular culture, not because the arguments are coherent or even provocative.
What is so problematic about the book? Well, it's not scientific. It seems to suggest that it is, but only because most of the authors are academics (mostly education and communications professors) and they use references. When you check the references you see that the authors cite "publications" that range from (1) their own books, (2) some journal articles from education and communications journals (scary!), to (3) blogs (including the Daily Kos). So, first off, the book is not really an academic book. It's, well, a pseudo-academic book.
Second, it's biased and inaccurate (that's coming from a nonreligious individual to boot). Here's a quote illustrating the bias, "This book wants to understand this merging of popular culture and Christian fundamentalism. In this context, we use a bricolage of methods to understand religious marketing, what such theotainment looks like, and its theological, cultural, social, and political effects. Our assertion is that such dynamics are changing the world in a dangerous and frightening manner." Well, they admit that they are critical theorists (meaning they reveal their biases). Okay, fine with me. But what's their evidence that it is dangerous and frightening? They don't mention the shooting of doctors who perform abortions. They don't mention Timothy McVeigh (even though his actions were mostly political, just inspired by Christianity). They don't mention any of the real threats of fundamentalist Christianity, just that it is around - on TV, in music, and sports. Ohh, the 700 Club is on - run for your lives!!!!
I could go on, but let me be succinct - don't bother.
Based on the title I thought this book would have been about how Jesus is still popular and perhaps his message has been distorted. Instead it's about some conspiracy with the Republican Party, WASPS, and Catholics to smother the USA with fundamentalism.
Christotainment is simply a compilation of left wing "pseudo-academic" and "pseudo-scholarly" essay tracts that accuse American Christians of being anti-Semitic, anti-women, anti-immigrant, racist, and of being ignorant and close-minded. Christotainment is your typical "Progressive" propaganda piece written from the ivory tower and suffers from the same double standards made by many intellectual liberals. For example, apparently freedom of religion should apply to Jews and Muslims but not WASPs; since hating women is wrong, being pro-masculinity is also wrong; since hating homosexuals is wrong, being pro-heterosexuality is also wrong.
It's like these writers are stuck in the 1960s as they continue to rally against "The Man".
The book features a chapter on Mel Gibson; he is mocked for being paranoid because he claims he's being persecuted and unfairly attacked by the media. And then the essay goes and rips The Passion and his motives behind it- apparently he created the movie to spread his Jew-hating beliefs, or at least he is projecting his personal vision of Jesus as an action hero. Don't all directors project their visions? Jesus is never the same in any movie. Anyway, can't the writers see the irony in claiming Gibson's just paranoid for being persecuted when all the essay did was attack him?Read more ›
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Shirley R. Steinberg is Research Professor of Youth Studies U of Calgary. She is the author and editor of many books in urban and youth culture, youth leadership, cultural studies, critical pedagogy, LGBTQ issues, anti-racism education, media literacy, and social justice. She is an international speaker and TV columnist and involved in community activism and empowerment.