Why “Collide” AKA Christian Tinder is Really Unnecessary

Source: TwitterLast week, a group of developers released “Collide“, an app that they described as the “Christian version of Tinder”. In case you didn’t know, Tinder is a popular dating app that has evolved into more of a “hookup app”, where users judge an individual on their looks and either approve (by swiping right) or deny (by swiping left) the person the possibility of “hooking up” with them. Most relationships are fairly shallow, and end in either short-term dates or one-night stands (though some individuals said that they found their future spouse on the platform)

So, hearing that someone made a Christian version of a hookup app sounded weird, especially since most Christians in America are not big fans of hookups and one-night stands.

That was just the start. The app itself is a set of peculiar app design functions. First off, profiles only displayed a user’s  favorite Bible Verse alongside a picture of them as well as (if you pay enough money) their denomination. The app also seemed to promote a progressive view of sexuality, where a user can express interest in either men or women (or both) regardless of their chosen gender.  While this may not be a weird design in normal dating apps, it is a bit peculiar in a Christian app, where a traditional view of sexuality (one man-one woman marriage is only legitimate form of marriage) seems to be the majority view. On top of that, the transaction system (where you pay $1 a person to find out their location and/or denomination, or you pay  a one-time $20 fee for the Pro version) seemed a little obnoxious, but that’s more an issue of weird design, not necessarily of religious ideas.

(If you want an in-depth look at the app, read Britton Peele of Dallas News’ play-by-play review of the app)

These app flaws gave off some weird vibes, as though the designers didn’t fully understand the market that a Christian app would appeal to. Laura Turner of RNS later confirmed this when she revealed in a column that the three team members behind the app had no history in the Christian faith:

I asked the founders–Steven Gaan, Nelson Wang, and Steven Rueter–to expand on their religious backgrounds, and they confirmed what I thought. Between the three of them, one is agnostic, one is not religious, and one believes “in God but doesn’t follow a specific religion.” Wang went on to say that “The reason we made the dating app is because we’ve always been focused on one goal – helping people make deep and meaningful relationships with others. And we felt the Christian community didn’t have a good way to do this with mobile apps, so we wanted to solve that problem.”

But how can three men with no history in the church hope to market to a Christian audience? This is where I think the app falters. While I do agree with Turner that “maybe it’s a good thing that some folks who aren’t Christians are taking on the Christian demographic”, I’m not sure these are the right guys. Christian Singles resource Single Matters touches on why this app is, well, terrible:

Remember when we reviewed Christian Mingle and said that it felt more like it was created for the Christian stereotype rather than actual Christians? Yeah, Collide feels the same way.

Most Christians don’t care to see a person’s favorite Bible verse when they’re looking for an online date. We can count on two hands the number of people we’ve ever had that conversation with in our entire lives and those were back in the youth group, so it’s certainly not a qualifier for a night on the town.

I appreciate the entrepreneur’s spirit behind this app,  But in the end, this app is just a poor copy of Tinder that I don’t think will have any chance of attracting a large enough Christian audience to be financially stable. On top of that, I don’t think it was ever necessary. In the end, this app will only further entrench the popular notion that creators interested in making content for Christians can only copy and create inferior Christian-ese products.

ROFLMEOW: Arguments Against the Internet: Intro

A common thread in today’s media world is arguing that technology/the internet is negatively affecting us, both as individuals, as communities and as a species. And frankly, there are some great arguments to make for the internet and against the internet. But just as there are good arguments for, why  say, believing in God is bad, there are also really bad arguments for why the internet is bad. I’d like to take some time to examine some of those arguments and explore why we need to stop perpetuating these ideas.

So, in the next few weeks, I plan on posting a few articles examining some of the ideas and propositions people have about the internet, and examining whether they actually hold water. I hope you’ll join me!

 

Going to TGC 2015

FYI, I’ll be at The Gospel Coalitions 2015 convention from April 13 through April 15.

I’ll be there reporting as a freelancer (hopefully finding a story) as well as visiting with the many friends I’ve made at Christ and Pop Culture. I have a lot of respect for the team behind The Gospel Coalition, as well as a lot of hesitation. They are a group that only reflects the viewpoints of a select demographic, and should be recognized as such. But they’re also a significant voice in conservative Evangelical channels, and certainly worth paying attention to. I’ll be there mostly to act as a reporter, though I hope to use the opportunity to meet with some of the people I’ve connected with online, in hopes of creating a relationship that extends beyond the digital into a physical relationship.

Anyway, if you want to connect while there, ping me on Twitter and we can figure out the details!

Chris

 

Why is LEFT BEHIND 2 a thing?!?!?!

If you didn’t see Paul Lalonde’s remake of LEFT BEHIND, featuring Nicholas Cage in 2014, you’d be in the majority. The reimagined retelling of Jerry B Jenkins’ and Tim Lahaye’s popular drama received a lot of media attention because of Cage’s presence as well as its unconventional ads. The film opened in 1825 theatres, but only made 6.3 million (3452 a screen) in its opening weekend. By the ending of its showing,  the film only made $17 million worldwide and cost more than 16 million to make. A quick crunching of the numbers reveals that this would be considered a box office  failure by a normal studio. Add three Razzies into the mix, and you’d find very few reasons to justify creating another film

For those of us who track box office data, it’s hard to imagine a company justifying a sequel despite the terrible box office. However, Left Behind’s producer and main driving force Paul Lalonde is convinced he can continue the series. Lalonde mentioned on the Left Behind Facebook page that he planned to continue the series. However, it was unclear how such a project would be funded, or if a studio would show interest.

But that’s all been confirmed. Paul Lalonde launched a Indiegogo campaign on April 7 to raise $500,000 for the film.

My first response to this campaign was:

 

Why is this a thing? All the data points to the first film being a box office bomb. . So why try again, especially with such a low budget! (The Indiegogo is trying to raise 1/32 of what Left Behind apparently cost).

Here’s Lalonde’s reasoning:

Left Behind, the first film in the Left Behind Film Project, opened wide in the United States on October 3, 2014. Unlike many Christian films it also was seen by millions of people in over 10 countries around the world, including Canada, the UK, Germany, France and China.

The movie successfully reached out with a Christian message and made an impression on many people who otherwise may not have taken notice. Here are a few of the messages sent to us from people just like you.

The campaign then goes on to list a series of testimonies claiming that the film brought people back to Christ and got them interested in Christianity. Now, I don’t want to doubt these testimonies. If they’re true, that’s great. But there’s also the chance that they’re not. I have no way to validate the testimonies, since their only source is another person’s word.

But are these testimonies enough to validate the creation of another Left Behind film? I’m not convinced. If the testimonies are true, then it’s likely that the people were in an emotional/cultural state that made them receptive to the Gospel. In fact, I’d argue that a variety of things could be a catalyst to get that person interested in Christianity or provide opportunities to evangelize. On top of that, such claims seem so peculiar since the Nick Cage-based LEFT BEHIND didn’t actually present the Gospel!

No, really! The film does everything it can to avoid mentioning “Jesus”, “Rapture” or “Christianity” until the end of the film. On top of that, the characters haven’t even converted to Christianity (unlike the end of the Kirk Cameron one, where all four protagonists are saved) All they do is recognize that it’s the End-times, which opens the doors to a sequel.

So, arguing that a film is justified by the fact that it apparently converted someone to Christianity is pragmatic at best, since the film that did it is, by all standards, technically and aesthetically terrible.

But going back to Lalonde’s campaign, he says that he’s driven to tell end-of-days stories until Jesus comes back:

Ultimately, until my last breath or until the Lord returns, I will be pushing to bring the entire story of the end-time prophecies to the big screen.

In other words, Lalonde will continue to promote a premillennial eschatology until he dies. He won’t take no for an answer. A quick look at his IMDB page makes that clear. It looks like almost every movie Lalonde made in his career has something to do with the End-Times. And most of the films he’s made were pretty bad. (except for the one where Mr. T sued the Devil. But that one is only good because Mr. T is in it)

 

I’m not excited about Lalonde’s attempt to continue his new Left Behind series. Frankly, I don’t think its a good move for Lalonde or for the Independent Christian Filmmaking industry.  I’m also not sure he’ll be able to raise enough funds to make the film he wants. But, if by the grace of God, he somehow raises the funds needed to complete production, I’ll do my best to track the film’s progress and see if he does something interesting with this popular series of novels.

 

What I thought of DO YOU BELIEVE?

If you didn’t know, I have a bit of an obsession with the independent Christian film market. Whether it’s a Kendrick Brother film or a biopic of Polycarp, I tend to track the box office and the cultural interactions with various independent Christian films.

So, when Pure Flix’s spiritual successor to the box-office buster GOD’S NOT DEAD  (better known as DO YOU BELIEVE) hit the box office, I had to take some time out of my schedule and watch it. DO YOU BELIEVE was written by the same team who created GOD’S NOT DEAD, and directed by Jonathan Gunn, a young filmmaker whose most recent credit was THE WEEK, a film about a TV anchor who gets drunk and goes on an adventure to rediscover himself.

IMDB summarizes the film up with the following: “A dozen different souls-all moving in different directions, all longing for something more. As their lives unexpectedly intersect, they each are about to discover there is power in the Cross of Christ … even if they don’t yet believe it. When a local pastor is shaken to the core by the visible faith of an old street-corner preacher, he is reminded that true belief always requires action. His response ignites a faith-fueled journey that powerfully impacts everyone it touches in ways that only God could orchestrate.”

Full disclosure: I walked into this film with the assumption that the writers wouldn’t improve on the huge cultural and writing holes that they tended towards in GND. It turns out that I was partially right. In my opinion,  DO YOU BELIEVE is better than GOD’S NOT DEAD on a technical level and on a thematic level.

Corey Atad of Movie Mezzanine notes that

“The leap in quality (in Pure Flix’s film catalog), at least in terms of production, from What If…, to God’s Not Dead, to Do You Believe? has been impressive. The Lifetime movie aesthetic has slowly been replaced with more cinematic storytelling, and the acting has gotten considerably better.”

That description felt fairly accurate. The film looks good and visually worked for me.  Most of the actors gave what I’d consider to be adequate performances, and the camera shots were decent. The writing was weak, but the aesthetics hold up to most standards of theatre-level filmmaking.

What make DO YOU BELIEVE  thematically better than GND was the fact that it wasn’t based on a straw meme. Many bloggers have chronicled how GOD’S NOT DEAD resembles an old chain letter/meme from the early 90s about how a young Christian student disproves an angry atheist professor in his own classroom, then goes on to preach to his classmates. DO YOU BELIEVE doesn’t rely on a such a straw man. While many of the characters are simplified archetypes designed to fulfill certain plotlines so that the filmmakers have a large “web” of characters, many of them seemed to me too be more believable than Professor Raddisson in GND.

But even if this film was a significant improvement when compared to GOD’S NOT DEAD, does that mean it is a good film on its own? I don’t think so. In my viewing, I noticed three problematic areas in the film that really weakened its ability to tell an entrancing story.

Too Many Characters: A constant thread in most reviews I read of GOD’S NOT DEAD and of DO YOU BELIEVE is the comparison to 2004’s Oscar-Award winning film CRASH. All three films followed an assortment of characters, whose lives all intertwined to create the plot of the film to explore a larger thread . While CRASH was commended by many (including Roger Ebert) as one of the best films of the year, LA Weekly critic Scott Foundas notes that:

The characters in Crash don’t feel like three-dimensional, flesh-and-blood human beings so much as calculated “types” plugged by Haggis into a schematic thesis about how we are all, in the course of any given day, the perpetrators and the victims of some racial prejudice. (Nobody in Haggis’ universe is allowed to be merely one or the other.) They have no inner lives. They fail to exist independently of whatever stereotype they’re on hand to embody and/or debunk.”

While GOD’S NOT DEAD and DO YOU BELIEVE don’t deal with the racial themes that CRASH does, they both rely on “calculated types” that are all written specifically to fit into a greater scheme that may seem miraculous and interesting at a first viewing, but is actually just designed to create a variety of situations that are threadbare and uninteresting if left by themselves.

DO YOU BELIEVE has every archetype in it, from the reformed gangster to the cancer patient to the homeless mom with a sweet daughter to a pregnant girl who wants to give away her girl to an adoption agency. Many of these characters had the potential to be really interesting in their own right. For example, I wanted to spend more time with JD and Terry, the two seniors who were struggling with their daughter’s passing. However, the film doesn’t give the couple enough time to flesh themselves out and develop attributes that exist separately from of “mourning elderly adults”.

Telling, Not Showing: A friend once pointed out to me that one of the biggest issue with most attempts at creating Christian films is their tendency to tell their stories over showing them. Film is a visual medium, and if filmmakers aren’t using every chance they have to tell a story visually, then they’re misusing the potential of the medium. This seems fairly consistent. There are a lot of interesting characters with semi-interesting backstories. But the filmmakers decision to emphasize having the characters tell their backstories rather than try and tell them visually or through their actions really weakened the film.

The example that stuck out to me the most was the EMT lawsuit. In DYB, The EMT shared the gospel with a dying man after (according to the film) he’s done everything he can to save the subject. When the dying man’s wife finds out that the EMT shared his faith, she sues him for acting outside of his function. Why? Because she and the man are apparently humanists. But how do we know this? The only mention of it is by the lawyer who’s handling the lawsuit.

While this is certainly one way of emphasizing why a character is terrible, I think it’s an ineffective one. It’s about as helpful as the pro-evolution, humanist and vegetarian bumper stickers that were on the back of the attack reporter’s car in GOD’S NOT DEAD. It doesn’t show us anything about the humanist, or if the EMT actually did his best. We’re just told to assume that all statements made about the characters should be all we need.

Overemphasizing conversion: DO YOU BELIEVE is about the Gospel and how it changes the twelve characters in the film. Frankly, I don’t have a problem with that.  Watching the Christian gospel change a person is a fascinating and enlightening experience. But I think the filmmakers tried too hard.

The film gives too many characters a point in the film that could be considered a “conversion point”. Now, this conversion point could be as simple as someone making a decision to help someone, or it could be as cinematicaly “big”  as accepting Christ as their savior. Each of these points could have been important and a solid piece of cinematography. But the filmmaker’s decision to have 7-10 conversion points in the film killed the pacing and made it hard for to invest in a narrative that felt convoluted and threadbare.

Conclusion: DO YOU BELIEVE is Pure Flix’s attempt to move beyond their Lifetime-style filmmaking and create what they think will be a box office hit. The film is a technical improvement, but the writers haven’t moved away from the flaws that their last film, GOD’S NOT DEAD. The film has too many characters, emphasizes telling over showing, and its heavy emphasis on conversion killed any tension or plot consistency that was there. The films doesn’t do much more than confirm things that Conservative Christians already think.The film creates what Ken Morefield describes as an echo chamber.

In his feature “Do You Believe in Confirmation Bias”, Morefield notes that films like DO YOU BELIEVE do very little to break the conservative mindset out of a set bubble. Humanists are still awful, gangsters are terrible and Christians win in the end. While this might be true in a limited extent, it doesn’t help me or the other viewers thoughtfully or lovingly engage our neighbors.

Maybe the more pertinent question to ask in the face of Christian movies like God’s Not Dead and Do You Believe? is not whether they are accurate representations of the world we live in, but whether the way they respond—and invite us to respond—to that broken world will help us to remake it into something healthier, holier, and more reflective of kingdom principles.

If Pure Flix wants to be a film company that changes the culture AND the Church, it should try to make people reconsider what they think, instead of reinforcing concepts that a significant portion of the Conservative Christian culture already accepts

 

Brilliantly Bored: A deeper look at New Tech City’s “Bored And Brilliant” Podcast series

Are you bored enough on a daily basis? This was the strange question that WNYC’s Manoush Zomorodi asked during her podcast’s latest social experiment, titled “Bored and Brilliant”. The project was inspired when Manoush noticed how she tended to use her phone for entertainment/distraction when she was bored. In fact, most people she knew did this. This lack of boredom also meant that people weren’t as creative, which was a problem. So, Manoush wanted to try and provide an alternative.

“Bored and Brilliant” is a series of 6 challenges over a week-long period that were designed to help users develop healthier mobile habits and be more creative. The challenge fitted the show’s theme of “where the technological gets personal”. But would this experiment actually change anything?

As a fan of the show, a tech nerd, and a lover of a good sociological experiment, it was impossible for me to not try the project out myself. After all, most people around me say that I’m “addicted to my phone”. I’ll admit, I do check my phone anywhere between 30-50 times. This interest is partly because of my job as a tech reporter, partly because of how it helps me maintain some relationships over long distances. But regardless of the reasons I used my phone so much, I needed to take some time and consider how I could use my devices in a more thoughtful way.

So, I signed up. I would listen to a mini-episode that provided me with a small challenge, along with interesting anecdotes and research that was relevant to the challenge.

Manoush Zomorodi of New Tech City

Some challenges were simple, such as storing your phone somewhere other than my pocket as I traveled. Others were a lot harder, such as deleting the app I use the most on a daily basis. (For Manoush, it was the game Two Dots. For me, it was Twitter AND Facebook.)

As a podcast and as a journalism project, Each episode was fairly interesting. The emotional relatability of Manoush created a desire to complete the challenge, and the interviews turned the podcast into more than just another self-help project.

Out of the six mini-episodes that NTC released, Challenge 3 (delete your favorite app for the day) was the most interesting. The episode spent its time struggling alongside Manoush, trying to figure out why she was playing so much Two Dots, and whether the extended playtime made her a better person in some way. We followed as Manoush tried to understand why the designer behind Two Dots made his game so addictive, or whether a psychologist would help her find some redeeming factor in her addiction. In the end, we could see how Manoush’s attempts at redeeming her “addiction” fell flat, and how they

At the end of the week, I felt this sense of cleanness, as though I had “cleared my mind”. And records show that many other people who participated in the challenge also received a similar feeling. But did it really change how much people used their phones?

When the project was first announced three weeks ago, Manoush asked listeners to install one of two phone apps that would track their phone usage. That data would be collected and sent to the App team, who would gather the data. In the latest episode, the team revealed that while most users who called in said they felt like they had just made a big change in their phone usage, the data showed the users only used their phone six minutes less on a than the established baseline of two hours a day on average. They also picked up the phone one less time than the basis. In other words, there wasn’t a huge decrease in how people use their phone; just in how they used. On the bright side, there was a big change in other ways. Users who deleted games during Challenge 3 saved more time than someone who deleted a social media or business app. Over 50% of those who answered NTC’s survey said that they planned to continue Challenge 3 (delete favorite app), and 32% of users reported that deleting the app was the most difficult of the challenges.

So, did this experiment change lives and help listeners to use their phones less and be more creative? Definitely. But how much? This isn’t the first project to get people to disconnect their media.  How is this difference from Arianna Huffington promoting a “digital detox” or filmmaker Tiffany Shlain arguing for technology shabbats?

I think “Bored and Brilliant” was more effective because it asks for less and offers less, which makes it more likely to leave an impact on a person. While Manoush does promise certain results (more creativity, less reliance on smartphones for distraction/entertainment), she never made a claim that was too large to fulfill (such as completely breaking one’s addiction to their smartphone). On top of that, the challenges are just enough to challenge convention and to get people to realize what they’re doing so they can be more conscious about it.

It’s highly unlikely that this set of podcast episodes was going to change lives. But I do think that Manoush and “Bored and Brilliant” helped me and many others to be more thoughtful about how they use their mobile devices.

Hank Green, Interviewing the President and the Shifting of the Media

One of my obsessions from last week was the post #stateoftheunion interview between three notable Youtube creators and President Obama. In one sense, my fascination with “Youtube Culture” (in the sense of the collection of creators and makers that are intrinsically popular on Youtube) made the event seem bigger than it actually was. But in another, I do think that this interview pointed to some interesting shifts in our media ecosystem.

I originally thought that the interviews were helpful for political discourse and that, as this Mediaite column noted, “now we know that even people who give makeup tips to teenagers and eat cereal out of a bathtub are also capable of conducting insightful interviews with the president.”

However, Hank Green, one of the creators who was honored enough to interview Obama, thinks it meant more than that. In his Medium article “Holy ___, I Interviewed The President”, (warning: NSFW language) Green expresses some interesting insights regarding old media, the new direction, and what the experience is like. I also read this fantastic column on how Google’s biases may have played into the experience. It’s well worth a read. But for now, I’d like to engage with Green’s ideas about the relationship between new media and “legacy media”.

My thoughts:

First off, I’m a full fledged activist for new media. Data shows that the age of Cable News’ median audience member is growing, and that people are looking for alternative sources. Sometimes that means new tools and mediums (like Youtube vloggers, podcasters, etc), and sometimes that means turning to new nonpartisan and partisan outlets. But people recognize that some methods no longer work and must be replaced

However, what is the relationship between new media and legacy media? Green argues that it is one of fear;

Legacy media isn’t mocking [Youtubers] because we aren’t a legitimate source of information; they’re mocking us because they’re terrified. Their legitimacy came from the fact that they have access to distribution channels and that they get to be in the White House press pool because of some long-ago established procedures that assumed they would use that power in the public interest. In reality, those things are becoming less and less important and less and less true. Distribution is free to anyone with a cell phone and the legitimacy of cable news sounds to me like an oxymoron.

In many senses, Green is onto something. Citizen journalism is a real and valid thing. Most people can perform the same functions as other reporter in many situations. And in some situations, the citizen journalists can do their job better than the professional legacy journalist.

But that’s an old point. Most media professors agree with that.

What I find interesting is that Hank Green thinks his work is better than legacy media. In his piece, Hank argues that his ability to communicate with the “Millennials” comes from years of building a relationship with them. His authenticity is what keeps people coming back.

Now, I’m a fan of Hank Green’s vlog, and I watch many other Youtube creators on a normal basisI think they’re the bee’s knees. But they aren’t my news source.

Hank and John’s ability to take complex topics and explain them in interesting and accessible ways is an amazing gift; a similar gift to creators like John Oliver and Sourcefed. But that’s not news. that’s “explainer journalism” We need that kind of reporting and content creation. But they’re not replacements for the mainstream media . They never could be. Guys like Hank rely on the work and research of some on-the-ground analyzing data reporters in order to make their points. These guys are a part of the media ecosystem, just as explainer journalism, editorialized reporting, columns, video interviews, and more.

Will Youtube and new media  replace mainstream media? Nope. But as more and more independent creators gain more legitimacy in the eyes of the general user, we should expect to see them become an integral and helpful addition to our modern media ecosystem.

Black Mirror Revealed: The National Anthem and the “Power of the People”

Outlet after outlet has praised the recent series BLACK MIRROR. The show is an anthology of tech-related satires that attempt to explore the consequences of the tech and trends that we’ve developed. The show’s production is top-notch, and worth taking the time to watch.  The show started in 2011, but hit Netflix in 2014, and has received a lot of attention from Americans.

In light of my recent viewing, I’m gonna do a episode-by-episode analysis of the show, just looking at the themes and ideas. This post will look at the first episode titled “The National Anthem”.
Prime Minister Michael Callow must handle a hostage crisis when one of the Royal Family is abducted. However, the kidnapper’s request is not for money or influence; but for something much more sinister; having Callow have sex with a pig on live TV.

Frankly; the story isn’t about just Callow, the UK or just the press. It’s a study in media ecology.

Callow vs Media Ecosystem

The term “Media ecology” was coined by Neil Postman in 1968. The Media Ecology Institute defines media ecology as “the study of media environments, the idea that technology and techniques, modes of information and codes of communication play a leading role in human affairs. ” (Postman and his compatriot Marshall Mcluhan are considered the fathers of media ecology)

From the start, Callow isn’t fighting some political force, but the movements of the internet. The original demand video was posted on Youtube for the public to see. It quickly went viral and exploded. Neither the media or the government agencies could control the video or the public response.

The moral weight of Callow’s actions is clear from minute one; Either commit an act of bestiality or watch an innocent woman die. What adds more weight is how the public knew about this moral decision before he does. But what made the decision even worse is how the result would be known everyone, regardless of your intent. Either you would commit one of the most heinous sexual crimes in history, or watch a loved woman die.

As I watched Callow try and fight against the kidnapper and do everything possible to avoid killing the princess, the 2014 ISIS beheading videos kept coming to mind. However, the comparison became clearly evident when footage was released showing the kidnapper slicing off a finger. Before this footage, a poll showed that the majority of UK citizens  supported Callow not performing the act, as well as not watching the footage. But once the finger footage was released, everything shifted. Within an hour of that footage, everyone said that A) they supported Callow doing the act so he could save the princess, as well as B) watching the footage. Frankly, it was upsetting. But as I watched it, I couldn’t eliminate the mental comparison between the response to Callow and the recent focus on ISIS’s beheading videos.

ISIS has been at large for a significant amount of time. Before August, we had received a constant stream of reports showing this party’s terrible actions in the Middle East. However, it wasn’t until ISIS released video footage of them beheading James Foley and Stephen Sotloff in September that Americans turned their attention. Suddenly everyone had an opinion about ISIS and how America should respond. Editorials appeared everywhere, arguing whether America should take affirmative action and try to take ISIS out.

On top of that, the footage was viewed millions of times by Americans (just like the original demand video in “The National Anthem”). However, unlike the ISIS beheadings, people actually found joy in Callow having sex with pigs; using it as a chance to mock a man who had no choice and found no joy in the act. (note: there are sites that present Foley’s beheading as a form of entertainment, but they are the minority. Most sites that hosted the Foley footage did so with a tone of grimness and brevity)

Now, why do these things happen? Why are we attracted to the grotesque? Why does it take a graphic image to convince us of action where 1000 testimonies cannot? That’s a question that should be answered by other psychologists and writers. But what is clear is how an established media ecosystem that relied on Twitter, Youtube and email gave our kidnapper the tools to destroy a man’s life and create chaos in the UK.

A core question that always pops into my mind as I watch technologically timely films is how things might have changed if the story occurred at a later/earlier time (my favorite example is how a cell phone and better computer system might have saved lives in JURRASSIC PARK). “The National Anthem” relies on a set of modern social media technologies to work; specifically tools that allow information to exponentially spread over a short period If the events had occurred 5, 10 or even 15  years ago, then the kidnapping would have received less buzz in the media, and most people would probably not know about the footage until after Callow had performed his act.

In the end, “The National Anthem” is a deep look at our media economy and how such an ecosystem may hinder our ability to seek justice and do the right thing

Why Christian Filmmakers Should Accept Their Critics

I have a bit of an obsession with Christian film. Whenever a new one premieres, I obsessively track their social media and news, in order to see if anything interesting happens or to determine if it is worth watching/hate-watching. Most of the films tend to receive extremely low critic scores (and the majority of cases, deserve it). However, there’s been a recent trend where  many Christian filmmakersblame a film’s low score on external forces (Liberals, Satan, Big Hollywood) instead on their film’s technical failures.

This year was a key example of this. In 2014, over 10 different Christian films hit the big screens. Some were box office hits, like GOD’S NOT DEAD and HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, while others were total economic flops, such as KIRK CAMERON’S SAVING CHRISTMAS. 90% of these films received extremely low critic scores and were considered terrible. However, that didn’t stop the creators. They used various tactics to try and dismiss critics and prove that their films were far better than “some” people said.

Let’s look at a list of these tactics:

Rigging the system: Rotten Tomatoes is a review-collection system that algorithmically determines the average review score of a film. RT records two different scores; the critic scores and the general audience score. The separation of this score makes it hard for studios to game the score by giving viewers an incentive to review and kick a film to a higher level.

When LEFT BEHIND hit theatres, it only got a 2% score from critics and a 70% audience score. The Blaze reported that this clearly showed how A) there is an anti-Christian bias among critics (even though many of them have positively reviewed Christian films) and B) the critics are “out of touch” (even though most of them are normal Americans from across the country). However, the author missed one point; that the Left Behind Facebook Page explicitly asked its viewers to write Rotten Tomatoes reviews in order to increase the audience score.

While asking for reviews is a normal practice in many businesses, this practice is problematic when performed on a average-based system like RT. The audience score is designed to record the average opinion. So, what happens when a number of avid fans review it? They end up unrealistically skewing the score.

This wasn’t the only time Christian films has done this. This week, Kirk Cameron did the same thing. Cameron asked his audience to review his film SAVING CHRISTMAS  on Rotten Tomatoes in order to increase the audience score. At one point, the score hit 94% positive feedback, but eventually returned to less than 60% within an hour of the review, in part thanks to his “haters”.

Turn to an alternate rating system: One of my pet peeves is when a film tries to make itself look awesome when it actually isn’t. A classic tactic for doing this is taking a quote from someone’s review out of context and using it to prove that “This person said we were awesome”. It’s a cheap tactic

Some Christian and conservative films have done the same. When a film gets a negative rating on a mainstream site like Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes, the marketers can turn to a different rating system to prove their awesomeness. Oh, HEAVEN IS FOR REAL got mixed scores on RT? Well, at least the Dove Foundation and Movieguide loved it! (even though they have ideological investments in the film)

One particularly aggravating occurrence of this was how pundit/filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza flaunted the fact that his film AMERICA  received an A+ Cinemascore. While an A+ Cinemascore is rare, it’s less impressive than you think. The Cinemascore system works like this; a series of surveyers interview an audience after they attend a showing, then they amass the ratings into an average. While this might work in certain circumstances, it’s a terrible way to judge a general consensus regarding a film. The data fails to note A) who the audience that attended the showing was, B) how big the audience was or other factors. I’d imagine that in the case of AMERICA, most attendees were politically-interested types who go out of their way to support Christian/conservative films. This particular demographic tends to give Christian/conservative films positive reviews on account of their ideas.

Why Do Christian filmmakers do this?

These tactics sound rather odd, but as a friend noted, they are pretty normal for PR companies to do. It’s a fair point, but those PR companies aren’t overpromoting their products in order to make a political/cultural point.

Also, if this is normal in our economy, then why don’t other film industries do the same?

One reason might be  that most filmmakers aren’t as ideologically driven. When a Steven Spielberg film gets negative reviews, Spielberg doesn’t go out of his way to discredit his critics (though Roland Emmerich and Uwe Boll might). However, the Christian film has an underlying ideological drive. The Christian films exist in order to promote Christian ideals in what the creators see as a unChristian world. That means that if the film fails, the creators have an ideological excuse to explain away all criticism.

A key example of this was this year’s box office surprise GOD’S NOT DEAD. The film was a huge success in America, and had a dedicated following. At the same time, The script has been extensively critiqued by Christians, and atheists alike. When the filmmakers were asked about the criticisms, they simply shrugged it off:

Konzelman and Solomon mostly tried to shrug off criticism of their last script–God’s Not Dead–saying that “if they [love] you in the world, you’ve done something wrong.” They did concede that criticism from Christian critics and viewers was a little bit harder to take. “We’re the only army that bayonets their own wounded,” one of the writers opined. When they hear hyperbolic criticism claiming that they wrote the screenplay for the worst movie ever, they ask rhetorically if even their critics really think that God’s Not Dead was “worse than Hostel and Saw.

Andrew Spitznas of Patheos noted that this mindset is far from helpful:

Am I the only one who finds Konzelman and Solomon’s defensive responses entirely too convenient?  Please allow me to break it down.  Worldly critiques signify that you’re doing right in God’s eyes, so you’re a winner!  Harsh words from fellow Christians mean you’re a maligned victim.  Guess what?  You’re still a winner in Heaven!

In light of this mindset, it’s safe to assume that for these two writers, GND‘s sizeable profit margin and the applause within the Christian fundamentalist subculture are simply earthly manifestations of divine approval.  Hooray, winner again!

Filmmakers should be willing to listen to their critics, as well as stand by their vision. But don’t let your vision blind you to the potential that your art sucks. This is especially true in an ideologically driven field like Christian film. While there is nothing wrong with making a film that’s ideologically driven, your ideology shouldn’t stop you from considering that the critiques of your film have some substance

To close out this article, I’ll leave any Christian filmmaker who read this with the (edited) words of Doctor Zoidberg:

Sacred Texts, Emoji Bibles and the Nature of Language

prayer-emojiEarlier this morning, someone posted a link in the Christ and Pop Culture Facebook group (a community I would recommend that you join) to something I never could have guessed at; an Emoji Bible.

Los Angeles-based photographer and USC graduate Kamran Kastle posted a Kickstarter asking for $25,000 so he can translate the Christian Bible using emojisVice recently picked up the story and interviewed Kastle about the project.

Why is Kastle hosting such a project? While he never states his reason in the Vice interview, it’s implied that that Kastle wants to create a more “visual Bible” that young people will be more  interested in. Now,  this isn’t the first time a complex text has been translated into an emoji-only medium. (A translation of Moby Dick titled Emoji Dick is a thing.). But this will be the first time it has been done with something as culturally relevant as the

As an internet nerd and lover of the weird and innovative, this project sounded fascinating. After all, Emojis are a slowly developing form of communication that permeates most of our short-form text communication. It originally started out as a trick to help people communicate emotions over distances. Eventually, it became so complex, that we now have over 800 symbols representing everything from prayer to high-fives to ghosts to poop. These symbols can be used quite well to communicate anything from emotion to action. But does that make it a language? TED educator John McWhorter argues in a recent video that what makes a language is a mixture of vocabulary, phrases and grammatical phrases. Emojis have all of the above; linguistic rules for using emojis, a continually developing collection of symbols and patterns, and emoji dialects.

However, recent attempts at using emojis as a language fell flat. New York City-centric tech podcast New Tech City recently did an episode testing the communication capabilities of emojis. In the episode, NTC host Manoosh Zomorodi asked one of her producers and his girlfriend to only emojis in their text messages for a month. While the two were able to communicate certain things (such as expressions of love and gratitude) they had a hard time communicating details about their schedule, their needs and other practical effects. These messages were also extremely hard to understand.
If a 21st century couple (who the emojis were designed for) can’t use emojis effectively to communicate their needs, then how can someone hope to use them to communicate stories, parables and prophecies from 2000+ years ago?

This was mainly a problem of having a limited vocabulary. The emoji library looks more like the Mandarin Chinese language than the English alphabet. However, the only reason Mandarin works is because they have 100,000 symbols that they can use to communicate its various points. Each symbol is based on a grammatical structure that is consistent with their writing. The emoji system doesn’t have this grammatical structure. It relies on one-to-one image correspondence. That’s why they have an image of a poop and a girl waving instead of abstract characters that mean poop and waving girl. Kastle recognizes this limit and plans on creating 5000 additional emojis for his purposes. But this won’t be enough.

Consider two of the example verses that Kastle provided users with:

Emojis

Out of context, the pattern of symbols don’t obviously mean what Kastle thinks they mean. In order for the Emoji bible to work, Kastle requires users to have a direct reference to the english text in order to understand it. While it is possible that readers will figure out Kastle’s patterns over time, the book’s biggest problem is its inability to correspond with a spoken language.

In the end, the Emoji Bible is an extremely impractical idea. As of 2014, Emojis cannot communicate the intellectual, factual and emotional complexities that the Christian Scriptures require. Kastle claims that this will get young people reading the Scripture, but all this will do is confuse and annoy the readers. This seems more like a gimmick to him than a legitimately helpful project.

Now, could someone make an Emoji bible in the future? I won’t say its impossible. But it will require the right amount of emojis with the right set of definitions if someone takes the time to create enough of them with the right definitions. But even then, I’m not sure if they’ll have enough information to create the complex impressions required to reflect the historical and emotional elements of Scripture. Only time will tell.

For now, if you want a 21st century version of the Bible, I’d recommend Jana Riess’ Twible.