Candied Culture

images-2Have you ever seen the commercials for Kidz Bop? I have been unfortunate enough to endure plenty. They’re peppered throughout much of the often just as horrible children’s programing on TV.

Kidz Bop is a CD that you can order that has pre-pubescent children professionally singing the latest hit songs on the pop charts. Apparently they have now released Kidz Bop 24. Every time its advertisement invades my home, I am hit with the strangest contradiction. How do you turn Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” into a kids song? It’s like trying to candy road kill and serve it as an appealing, nutritious meal.

There is controversy on whether “popping tags” in the song is about actually buying the clothes from the thrift store, or swapping their tags for lower prices. Let me tell you that should be the least of our worries compared to the rest of the lyrics. “Thrift Shop” is no more about a shopping experience than Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie,” also featured on this album, is about dressing up. But Kidz Bop does some lyric editing and we are supposed to think it is now good music. Let me share with you just a small sample of substitutions.

Instead of, “Walk up to the club like, ‘What up? I got a big c–k!’”, Kidz Bop substitutes, “Walk up to the club like, ‘What up? I got a hit song!’” Curious. And the ever so glorious line, “Probably shoulda washed this, smells like R. Kelly‘s sheets” is replaced with, “Probably should of washed this, smells like my baseball cleats.” Curiouser. Kidz Bop applied the easy solution for all the “F” words littering the song, mainly by replacing them with the word “awesome.”

The original lyrics to several of the songs selected for this album seem to have a proclivity to sing/rap about their genitals. But maybe unsuspecting parents won’t think they need to investigate since there are some token Taylor Swift songs thrown in the mix. They buy the CD, their kids bop to the beat, and everyone is “happy, happy, happy,” to quote Phil Robertson.

But it makes me say, “cheesy, cheesy, cheesy!” I know that my daughters have heard some of these songs. And the tunes are a little catchy. I’d almost rather my children read the lyrics to the original version so that they can see the man behind the curtain. While there is much that I need to protect their eyes and ears from, I don’t want to candy pop culture and paint it out as a pretty picture. If they want to sing, “Thrift Shop,” maybe they should see it for what it really is.

That’s why I really appreciate Daniel A. Siedell’s article, “Listening to the Scream” in the latest issue of Modern Reformation magazine. While discussing the raw honesty of modern art, particularly Edvard Munch’s The Scream, he observes:

But we like our art as we like our Christianity—visually pleasing. We like it practical, useful, maybe a little therapeutic. We want a Jesus to instruct and encourage us; we want paintings to form virtue in us, elevate us, empower us, even entertain us. We want our Jesus, like our art, to help us succeed. We want tangible, visible results. You and I, if we’re honest with ourselves, gravitate toward a theology that resembles Joel Osteen and art that resembles a Thomas Kinkade painting much more closely than we care to admit. This is not because we’re ignorant about Reformation theology or a creational worldview. It is because we’re human. We’re drawn to what looks like piety, improvement, progress, and talent. We are drawn, like moths to the light, to what Luther called “theologies of glory.” And because it is so powerful visually, a painting is one of those cultural artifacts most susceptible to its seductions.

Siedell explains how although we may want the candied version, modern art paints nature as it really is. Modern artist’s paintings force us to recognize that our culture is complex, even horrifying at times. Their work causes us to be faced with our own struggles and provokes a response.

Perhaps we reject Munch’s paintings and those of other modern artists not because they look strange or express a “worldview” or “values” at odds with our own, but because they confront us with our own mortality, our own weakness, failure, and impending death. Luther said that the theologian of the cross has the courage to call a thing what it actually is (Heidelberg Disputation, 1518). Munch shows us that life is defined by suffering, pain, and death. The controversial German philosopher Martin Heidegger once said that Paul Cézanne’s paintings said one thing: “Life is terrifying.” (6) But Heidegger could also have said as much looking at The Scream.

The Scream is silent, and yet it its message is one that we all can identify with.

We do not interpret The Scream. It interprets and interrogates us. It is not only Munch who, like Melville’s Ahab in Moby-Dick, is “gnawed within and scorched without.” This is your condition—and mine. The Scream forces us to recognize that this is not merely the product of a neurotic avant-garde artist, but a disclosure of the human condition we work feverishly to cover up, often by going to museums to look at art or to church to listen to sermons. This vulnerable little pastel, in its hermetically sealed silence, crowded by tourists in a museum in New York, calls a thing what it actually is.

As believers in God’s promises to his people, let’s not try to sugar-coat the condition that he’s redeeming us from. We need to be undone by the state of our hearts and the world around us so that we cling to Christ alone for our salvation. We can’t transform our culture with a few lyric alterations. We need death, resurrection, and a complete renewal of the cosmos. While I don’t want my kids singing along to the original lyrics of “Thrift Shop,” I’m not simply going to give them the Kidz Bop version. Instead of singing cheesy substitutions, we need to be led to the scream so that we will look to our true Substitution that we so desperately need.

What do you think?

  1. Bravo Aimee, great post! We don’t like when our tidy lives and “innocent” choices get challenged. This post does that. We live our squeaky clean christian lives but still desire the edginess of the world so we allow the radio edited and “kidz bop” versions in but rarely do we see it as all that “bad” when it is in reality sin in its purest form (disguising as an angel of light).

  2. Russ made some great points, and building on them I’d add that even the rough edges in things like The Scream and R. Kelly’s lyrics don’t reveal the true depravity we all are cursed with apart from the redeeming work of Christ and the sanctifying life we have in the Holy Spirit.

    Tim

    P.S. You have a recipe for candied road kill? Wow, West Virginia life really has broadened your horizons, hasn’t it Aimee!

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  4. I really enjoyed this post especially after just finishing “The Children of Hurin” by Tolkien. It is a devastating tragedy with no redemption, yet it has some powerful themes of the human condition. It is works of art and literature and life in general like this that always resonate with me the most. I think it is because, as you say, it reminds me of what God is pulling me from and makes the hope of heaven that much sweeter.

  5. Popped onto your blog right after hearing MofSpin this morning! And I was delighted by your blog, especially this post. I read the article you wrote about in Modern Ref and reread it, having no one to discuss it with, until now. Great post, many of my thoughts were written by you. Thanks!

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