Christianity’s Big Branding Problem

Editor’s Note: This was first published five years ago in the Huffington Post.

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Courtesy David Hayward, The Naked Pastor

Dear Christians,

I’m writing to you today to discuss a very serious matter. Your brand — and especially the realm of Evangelicalism — has been hi-jacked by extremists who are using it to advance political theories that have nothing to do with your beliefs. You may not have had anything to do with it personally, but this thievery has taken place right in front of you. It has been sinister and systematic, and we’ve arrived at a confused place today where the brand is now interchangeable with the extreme political right. I played a role in this maneuvering during the 1980s as the executive producer of Pat Robertson’s flagship TV program The 700 Club. Please bear with me as I attempt to explain.

The 1980s was the era that launched Christianity as a Republican political force. It has grown over the subsequent years and eventually energized the election of Donald Trump. Noted theologian Roger Olsen recalled for a blog commenter the very moment he realized what was happening.

For me the “tipping point” (almost driving me insane) was when television talk show hosts began inviting Jerry Falwell and his ilk onto their programs to speak for all evangelicals. Donahue, King, et al. Why didn’t they have moderate-to-progressive evangelicals on their shows to speak for evangelicalism? Because moderate-to-progressive evangelicals didn’t interest them. We speak with too many syllables and too much ambiguity. They wanted demagoguery, bluster, extremism. The fundamentalists calling themselves evangelicals provided it. Many evangelicals fell into line with this trend as did many fundamentalists. I am one of the few “hold outs” from the older, truer evangelicalism that refused and still refuses to go along with that narrative.

So the initial hijacking of the brand was the work of a powerful few, but it was aided in great part by a news media in search of cultural “sides” to explain conflicts between the right and the left. And this, of course, had to be done in a manner that would produce ratings or enhance readership. Hence, Dr. Olsen’s “tipping point.” Denominational Christianity was shoved aside by those who taught their flocks that political participation was a major tenet of living the Christian life. It didn’t matter that the GOP was the party of the wealthy, their “traditional values” synced so well with the faith that it was easy to convince Christian voters to support them — in fact, “become” them — and in so doing move conservatism even farther to the right through fundamentalist extremes.

They preach what I call the Gospel of Self, a self-betterment, self-improvement theology that can’t help but produce behavior contrary to the faith. Let’s face it: self is the very thing that must be overcome in the Christian tradition, not the building up of ourselves up so that we can run the world around us. That is called “idolatry,” and we all know the warnings about that. The voice reminds me of the voice who said, “tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” We need to restore the brand to its rightful place, or Christian evangelism will become nothing more than a useless attempt to protect our own asses from a future of hellfire and damnation. We will continue to push people away and lose those from our flocks that are weary of what they see as hypocrisy. We need to let God be God, and put a stop to this damnable crusade for power and influence within the culture. I believe there are a great many who see this as contrary to the Great Commission but don’t know what to do about it.

Chris Hedges is a longtime critic of this behavior speaks to it once again in a piece called “Trump and the Christian Fascists:”

“These believers … detest the reality-based world. They condemn it as contaminated, decayed and immoral. This world took their jobs. It destroyed their future. It ruined their communities. It doomed their children. It flooded their lives with alcohol, opioids, pornography, sexual abuse, jail sentences, domestic violence, deprivation and despair. And then, from the depths of suicidal despair, they suddenly discovered that God has a plan for them. God will save them. God will intervene in their lives to promote and protect them. God has called them to carry out his holy mission in the world and to be rich, powerful and happy.”

It is the Gospel of Self. How to create satisfaction for yourself and your family in this life while fighting the battles of God in the political arena. This is the antithesis of what Jesus taught in the gospels.

“The just shall live by faith” is the very foundation of protestantism. God is not mocked, and all who call themselves “Christian” know in their hearts that faith doesn’t include what’s in front of us in our culture. God judges these things and acts upon him as the natural has always done the unnatural, and we need faith in order to let that happen without trying to move things along under our own power. Life’s usual method of dealing with our dissatisfaction is to keep pouring it on until we learn to truly trust Him, not our ability to do battle ourselves in hopes of “winning” a more comfortable living in this life. Don’t think that’s the way it works? Start praying for patience and watch what happens. We simply aren’t promised a peaceful neighborhood, a sinless, well-managed, and questionless society, or any other utopian fantasy that is trouble free for those of us supposedly in the know. What happened to our understanding that the corrupt nature of humankind is a trap for those who believe we have control over anything. We were promised that the poor would always be with us, and it’s by our reaction to and our treatment of those who live under poverty’s harsh taskmaster that we are judged. We cannot earn ourselves a rose garden no matter how badly we want one. That kind of justification would not be of faith anyway, so why do we try so hard to make ourselves feel so very special. Moreover, why do we attempt to force others to embrace that specialness?

“The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch,” the Bible tells us. There is no reference to denomination, doctrine, or dogma, because the term referred to the way those pioneers lived and taught others to live, their overriding behavior being the piety they displayed. They loved one another. Noah Webster, of the dictionary fame, was certainly a Christian and defined the term thusly in his 1828 dictionary, the one we all use when trying to understand terms used in documents of that era:

CHRISTIAN, noun 1. A believer in the religion of Christ. 2. A professor of his belief in the religion of Christ. 3. A real disciple of Christ; one who believes in the truth of the christian religion, and studies to follow the example, and obey the precepts, of Christ; a believer in Christ who is characterized by real piety. 4. In a general sense, the word Christians includes all who are born in a christian country or of christian parents.

So Noah Webster didn’t even come close to defining the brand by its position within the culture other than to identify piety with the term. And just so we understand number three, let’s also ask Mr. Webster to define “piety:”

PI’ETY, noun [Latin pietas, from pius, or its root, probably a contracted word.] Piety in principle, is a compound of veneration or reverence of the Supreme Being and love of his character, or veneration accompanied with love; and piety in practice, is the exercise of these affections in obedience to his will and devotion to his service.

In all things as Christians, Jesus is our model, our example, our Lord, and the author of grace. If we have questions about any issue or behavior, we can look to Him for ourselves and not be dependent on what the preacher says or any so-called expert. This was the great cultural disruption in the West brought about by Gutenberg’s printing of the Bible with the first printing press. That invention — along with common English translations of the book — decimated the unquestioned power of Rome and spread that power across the land. So began the enlightenment, protestantism, and ultimately colonialism and a modern world governed by logic and reason.

Christians are still a great throng in the world, one represented as a tapestry of different practices and branches with no one granted the authority to proclaim themselves or anyone else the “real” Christians. Various creeds have been written to help better define our specific beliefs, although we cannot escape the truth that these were written by men. Some will insist that these men were guided by the Holy Spirit and therefore sanctified in God’s eyes, but fallen man is fallen man, and if we really believe that, it’s hard to blindly trust any such reasoning. I would argue, in fact, that we’ve used those creeds and such to create neat boxes within which we can place people who disagree with us, and that is not piety, not even close.

The natural inclination of children to love others is relentlessly “cleansed” by “Christian” parents eager to bring them into their separatist, nationalist folds, and the harm done in so doing is incalculable. Even within families, members who refuse to walk according to the beliefs of the patriarch or matriarch are privately and even publicly ostracized. Children grow up and become adults, and in many denominations, that means they leave, and, according to Pew, the “unchurched” population is growing at a pace unexperienced in times past. These young people are deeply turned off, and yet their antagonizers continue to loudly profess the very moral hypocrisy they see as they’re growing up. Lectures and disapproval are often tied to sexual activities and thoughts, thought to be immoral in the profession of many churches.

However, morality doesn’t begin and end with sex. It just doesn’t, yet these extremists argue morality entirely around the sex act. Abortion isn’t about killing babies; it’s about sex. If it were not, then why don’t these vocal Christians support birth control? The churches don’t talk about the statistics. Did you know that the abortion rate in the U.S. is back to where it was before Roe v Wade? It’s not a legal issue, and it never was. It’s about sex and the extremist view that the act is evil unless somehow made clean by the church’s sanctification through marriage. Gay marriage. Homosexuality. Transgenderism. They’re all about sex. We think it makes God angry, and we don’t want to get caught up in that anger, so we rail against any sexual practice outside marriage between a man and a woman. We claim God is judging the world for this, and yet the Bible points out that Sodom wasn’t destroyed for its sexual sins but rather for its failure to take care of the poor and the afflicted. One is free, therefore, to ask that if God is indeed judging today, who exactly is He judging? Perhaps the very church attendees who plead the morality message at every turn.

That’s a very dangerous practice, because morality is a much, much broader matter. It includes, among other things, obscene CEO salaries, oppression of workers through poor wages and conditions, opposition to welfare, insider trading, tax loopholes, flouting avarice, and removing government programs that protect the poor and the afflicted. How Christian people can side with such immorality is the great mystery of the Twenty-First Century, but it begins with those who have seized the brand and run with it.

I use the words “Christian brand,” because it’s a marketing problem. We need to see it as such, if there’s to be any hope of correcting the extreme shifting of Christianity far to the political right. And if this is to be, then we need to create faith-based arguments about it and spread those far and wide. Political debates today are required to be entertaining, and that means extremes going at each other. Let’s take that debate into the church, for debating in the public square is quite useless. Let’s not be afraid to confront questions of mixing theology and politics from the pulpit, in our Bible studies, and in our homes.

The only thing wrong with error, after all, is the contempt it breeds for those who would disagree, usually without investigation. We’re better than that, aren’t we?

Trouble For The Town That NASA Built?

Northrop Grumman Facebook Ad for Huntsville

As people in North Alabama go about their daily lives, they do so without an active press watching out for their best interests. There’s no real newspaper to speak of, as Huntsville’s a part of the AL.com franchise. Huntsville is a boom town that recently captured the title of Alabama’s biggest city from Birmingham, so it stands to reason that it would support efforts to keep an eye on all that money floating around. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and so residents here tend to whistle along in the hope that their leaders aren’t (just) in it for themselves. That’s what happens absent a press that takes its job seriously.

The emperor of Huntsville is NASA, and nobody here has the courage to call a boondoggle what it is, because it puts so much food in so many mouths that it would be inappropriate to say that NASA is leading the parade completely naked. There’s been a significant disruption to the space industry in the form of reusable boosters, led by Elon Musk and the team at Space‑X. While Huntsville relies on our government to support space efforts, the private sector is advancing by giant leaps and bounds.

NASA is well aware of what’s happening, as well as those in Congress who approve or disapprove the massive funding of NASA and NASA projects. SpaceX is winning NASA contracts with increasing frequency based on a history of innovation, expertise, and outstanding performance. When SpaceX won the $2.9 billion Artemis lunar lander contract over Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, a Marshall Space Flight Center regular, Bezos sued NASA. The suit was tossed in court, and this was a bellwether event in U.S. space program history, although not publicly acknowledged in North Alabama.

NASA and Huntsville have long been the center of activity between the government and the private sector. One drive through Cummings Research Park, and you’ll see the logos of every private company involved in the U.S. space program, although many go back to the heyday of the race to space between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Huntsville is a museum for the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Shuttle programs. The Saturn‑5 that stands along the interstate is a testimony to the gargantuan effort by Werner von Braun’s Nazi rocket team that led up to it and set the U.S. on the path to outer space dominance in a changing world. The problem is that the technology has passed us by. Being married to the archaic means we cannot — dare not — do anything that might conflict with the government. NASA is tied to taxpayers, and therein lies the real problem. U.S. Senators simply cannot continue to fund such a monster forever, and its end is likely to surprise everybody here, because no one’s really reporting about it. The government has watched as NASA has shifted its most precious cargo — astronauts — to SpaceX, which has handled the responsibility with class and perfection. SpaceX has successfully landed over 100 boosters, most of them via landing platforms at sea. Think about that for a minute. Its Falcon9 program has been incredibly successful, especially as it relates to delivering cargo and people to and from the International Space Station.

But what about Huntsville? It’s all hyperbole and golly gee about the Artemis program and its Space Launch System (SLS) approved by Congress and taxpayer-funded. It makes much more sense for NASA to invest in the real future instead of one that’s built on politics and warm, fuzzy memories of days gone by. Cost overruns for SLS and its contractors (here in Huntsville) are enormous and continuous, and the handwriting on the wall is not favorable for a reliable future for the space program in Huntsville. And all of this is taking place without the watchful eyes of even the hint of a questioning press.

Absent a vibrant local press, information becomes public relations or some other form of favorable propaganda. The Huntsville Business Journal, for example, is producing a 3‑part series “Huntsville Takes the Lead to ‘Rock-it’ Back to the Moon” that goes far beyond the make-up of a simple puff piece. It’s hard propaganda that sings the praises of Huntsville’s businesses who are living off the nipple of NASA’s money. Here are just a few quotes from the series:

…Today, a new generation of space explorers is taking over. They are watching and learning and building their own bright futures right here in the Rocket City. They are the Artemis generation, who will once again lead the way as America returns to the moon, this time with the Space Launch Systems (SLS) – the most powerful rocket ever developed…

…“Currently, the SLS program has contributed $2.4 billion to Alabama’s economy; 13,000 jobs across the state; and generated more than $55 million in state and local taxes,” Mayor (Tommy) Battle said. “When you look at how much it is adding to our economy and then look at what it is adding to the world, you realize we are doing something no one else can do, that we’ve done it before, and we are doing it again…

…Home to the propulsion systems associated with the rockets we currently fly, and every successful rocket we have flown in the past, the Rocket City is once again at the heart of world-changing feats and life and death-defying technology.

Rocket scientists here in Huntsville are already working on hardware for five iterations of the Artemis Space Launch Systems (SLS), America’s next generation exploration class rocket, and the only rocket that can fly the manned Orion spacecraft safety to the moon.

Fifteen percent more power than the Saturn V, the SLS is the only exploration class vehicle capable of sending humans into deep space along with large systems that are necessary to live and work in deep space.

And none of these missions can get off earth and escape earth’s gravity field without the SLS, managed and for a large part, built here in Huntsville!…

I hope you can see the denial present in this “news.” The Marshall Space Flight Center needs a rock solid relationship with SpaceX in order to continue with the moniker “Rocket City,” because Musk and others from the private sector (who worry about things like cost instead of just dipping into tax dollars for more) are taking over everything. Likewise, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center needs “used” SpaceX props for its museum. Without those show pieces, the place is, again, a museum about the early days of space.

What does exist of a “press” here in Huntsville seems completely sold on the idea that SLS, Artemis, and the Orion lander are the future of space. Meanwhile, the open nature of SpaceX’s work gives us daily views of what’s taking place in Boca Chica, Texas and the SpaceX Starship program. NASA funds some projects, including a Starship orbit around the moon. Elon Musk, however, has his sights set on Mars and colonizing the red planet. SpaceX has yet to test its genius Starship booster and Starship combination and is waiting for an environmental impact study from the FAA (which certainly has the ears of NASA) before approving a test flight of Booster 4 and Starship 20. This system will destroy the Huntsville claim that SLS is the most powerful rocket ever developed.

Government-generated environmental concerns have kept SpaceX from testing its innovative system, and there’s talk of delays and even moving from Boca Chica to the Florida space coast. Meanwhile, Huntsville holds its breath, for this event is likely to get ALL of the global attention of space industry watchers (including Congress) and firmly place SLS in the junk bin of technological disruption.

Generally speaking, the press outside Huntsville includes skepticism about SLS, but it’s not something you’ll receive here. The bane of local media is always its relationship with local advertisers, and this is no different. Local news departments, for example, stay away from complaints about car dealers, because sales departments would have a cow!

The SpaceX vision includes fuel tankers in space, space stations, and everything else that would be necessary for humans to become an interplanetary species. And Elon Musk’s primary concerns are the outer space aspirations of countries like China, Russia, and other U.S. (business) adversaries. SpaceX gladly embraces these challenges, while NASA and Huntsville are hung up on the costly and time-consuming elements of doing it the old way. The damage to North Alabama’s economy will eventually be devastating.

The Government Accounting Office’s 2021 NASA report will be out this Spring, and it will describe even greater cost-overruns, errors, and delays in the SLS program. There’s talk of another launch delay, possibly to the summer of 2022. In the end, SLS will deliver on its promise to send Americans back to the moon, but as each month passes, Huntsville sinks deeper and deeper into the quagmire of yesterday when it comes to innovation and the future. There simply is no future in outer space without reusability, and that’s not what NASA is doing with SLS.

Behind all the public cheerleading for NASA, leadership here knows of what’s happening, and that may be the biggest story of all. Hush everybody, for as long as the emperor THINKS he’s clothed, what’s the problem?

The Coming War in Outer Space

SpaceX stacks the full Starship launch system for the first time, standing  nearly 400 feet tall | TechCrunch
Courtesy NASASpaceflight.com

One of my retirement hobbies is to stay abreast of events within the space industry. Elon Musk’s Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas is a launch and rocket development facility unlike any other in history, because it’s all out in the open for anybody to give it a look-loo. Test. Fail. Test. Succeed. Thanks to the remarkable space media company, NASASpaceflight.com, I get videos of each day’s activity and live coverage of major events in the construction and development of next generation rockets and space vehicles.

Musk’s vision is truly extraordinary, and through his leadership, the private sector is taking over the space program, and it won’t be long before NASA’s role and the government’s oversight is dramatically reduced. Musk sees a day for business-related travel and expeditions to the moon and other planets. When he says he wants us to become an interplanetary species, the guy is the right person to lead the privatization of rockets and rocket travel.

And so, I’ve become enamored with all of this, and my mind is busy putting together the things I see downstream that will impact my progeny in the decades ahead.

Who doesn’t love and appreciate the adventures and sacrifices of those pioneers and explorers who went before us? They share one thing in common and that is that business interests mostly paid for their discoveries in the hopes that what they’d find would produce profit for their governments but especially those deep pocketed business visionaries who could see the possibilities. Since the beginning, whichever institution was responsible for growth in the home country/system, the conquering of foreign lands has been the driving force of that growth.

Outer space is now the realistic new frontier, and it’ll be business interests that spawn the exploration and discoveries that await us in the darkness of space. This is going to produce marvelous accomplishments for humankind in the century ahead. Musk plans to build and launch massive fuel tankers that will allow for refueling in space. Efforts at creating nuclear-powered engines are underway, and you can see it all at the corners of Elon Musk’s vision.

The media is obsessed with billionaire launches to space for show and tell, but there’s a reason these deep-pocketed business icons want to get onboard, and it has nothing to do with personal glory. Space is the future of the human race, and especially from a business perspective.

If we study the impacts of European expansionism of the past, we encounter wars fought by countries seeking to grow their influence. When we pull back the curtain, however, we find these wars were financed and built through the efforts of the business communities who profited from conquered resources, including people. You don’t go to war against those who piss you off; you go to war to grow YOUR ability to call the shots when it comes to profit and loss. This is why in war, the victor gets to write the history.

So, we look at the future of outer space discovery and see these same kinds of influences coming to fruition in Boca Chica and elsewhere. Like intercontinental travel, interplanetary travel will be paid for by private investors seeking a very real return. Given that these same forces have raped our own planet, it’s not a stretch to think they might want to go someplace else. It’s what we know as humans. God help the other planets!

The next major war will be in outer space, and already, the battle lines are being drawn. China is racing to space at a pace that is staggering. They’ve built their own space station and plan to keep growing it. China has a rover on Mars. They’re blasting spy satellites into space almost weekly, and only a fool would think the Pentagon hasn’t noticed. Russia plans its own new space station, and it’s only a matter of time before weapons systems are built into each, not only to threaten earth targets, but also those in space.

This war may be the war to end all wars, for it’ll be over which business community or communities will lead planet Earth into Musk’s interplanetary species.

In my view — which may change — this is inevitable, because our history as a species is not known for its coöperation or getting along. Donald Trump’s Space Force is a step in that direction, because you don’t need a “force” to explore space; that term’s reserved for arms and armies. The United States cannot resist dominating our opponents, and we like to win races, such as the space race. What I’m writing about today is something the U.S. can only tolerate if we’re on top. Think not? Think again.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX is rewriting the development and testing of reusable boosters, and that alone is dramatically impacting cost to the point where outer space is available to so many more companies for research and development. And, this is to say nothing about the potential benefits to humankind in reaching outside the government-controlled space industry box.

Now is the time to begin talking about all of this. It may turn out that space exploration creates a necessity of global coöperation, but that’s likely more wish than logic. And, this is especially true for those who feel that power is the only way to maintain citizen safety and freedoms, like we’re hearing today from the radical right.

The future of space is yours, young people. What will you do with it?

Dear Parents and Grandparents

The Scroggins Family of St. Louis

I want to speak to you here as a person with a peculiar study focus. I don’t know why or how, but I’m able to see what appears obvious to me, the birth and growth of the Postmodern Era in human history. Modernity with its logical systems focus has painted itself into a corner and must give way to the new. As modernity was birthed in the printing press, postmodernity was conceived and delivered from the womb of the web. I do not speak of philosophical postmodernism, but rather the changing of the eras in history. The mantra of modernity is “I think and reason, therefore I understand” but it has changed to “I participate, therefore I understand.”

Are you with me?

We must be able to see what’s coming in terms of the big things as this era develops further. We may not be around for the payoff that our children and grandchildren will experience, but there are ways we can equip ourselves to help them today, beginning with an acknowledgement that life is definitely changing. It’s super important for them to participate, even though we’re making this up as we go along.

We are all connected now. That means I can connect directly and sideways with everybody else or just a select few. This is something completely new, and we can’t even image how much life on earth is being and will be changed as a result.

First, a warning. You either do this for them, or somebody else — with less concern for their individuality — will do it for them, and this is not a best practice for tomorrow.

Even to the young man, let’s say, who’s only interested in working in the trades, either for somebody or as an independent contractor, even he will sink or swim on his ability to use the network effectively. It’s the way of future competition, and nobody will be exempt.

Our digital identities will actually be more important than what we know under the sun, and this is where we can help our progeny.

  • Equip them before they are even able to help themselves. Buy domains. Secure usernames. Sit with them and help them develop their online IDs. If they don’t control their own brands, someone else will do it for them.
  • Show them the dangers, but don’t dwell on it, for it’s their creativity that needs tapping more than their security needs protecting.
  • Teach them about links and how everything is linked together. Links are the currency of the web, and you need to teach them why. These links teach a practical lesson in deconstructionism, something that is of enormous value in helping our children shape their lives. It must be taught early and often.
  • Do not discourage their involvement in video games, because they teach mental and manual dexterity and mind-to-finger channeling, skills they will likely need downstream.
  • Teach them to avoid being herded into traps by the lust of their own eyes.
  • Buy a generator for your home, so you can teach the value of being prepared for anything.
  • Show them that their attention is the only real scarcity in the commerce that’s being brought into existence, and as Kevin Kelly says, “We should be paid for it.” This means that postmodern advertising will seek out customers and pay them to watch their ads. The logic of this is solid, but feathers will be ruffled in the process of its development.
  • Teach them to back-up their work before they go to bed at night. Use a form of a server in your home that can serve as storage and back-up for everything.
  • Put searchable books in your digital library, including everything they’ll need for school and the interests that they display.
  • Get them private lessons in Google/YouTube, coding, Photoshop, WordPress, and social media. There are people in your community who will do this on any level you wish.
  • Teach them to think of school as a place where they can practice their branding, to not be swayed by eyes that are being exposed to cultural fads and stereotypes. Just keep them pressing forwards.
  • Show them that the more dependent we become on electricity, the more vulnerable are EMP weapons. Personal protection against such will be a thriving business downstream. Think “shielding” or similar responses.
  • Teach them all you can about human nature, and how it doesn’t change in the digital world. Teach them to study the whys of human nature, which will open the door to better understanding motive. A certain degree of cynicism is healthy, because they will certainly be exposed to propaganda in their search for truth. Teach them discernment.
  • Personal branding belongs to each and every person on the block, and it’s perhaps the most important subject to learn while growing up.
  • Do not forsake teaching them grammar and good English, for technology is still learning nuance.
  • Teach them the true nature of God, for God is most certainly One who participates with us in our everyday lives and provides an internal governor for our behavior.

No matter how much modernist people insist that IRL is better than URL, we’re learning in the 21st-Century that the efficiencies of URL render much of life to be wasteful. Take the current kerfuffle over the Post Office and mail-in ballots. Do you honestly think we can’t eventually create a secure voting system online? The web may lose some of its anonymity, but would that really be all that bad?

I see the day when the opportunities of the web vastly outweigh concerns from our old ways of doing things. We will listen to the naysayers and thank them for their concern, but we must never put them in charge.

Modernity is done; long live the Age of Participation.

Are You (and your kids) TV Ready?

The seminal marketing (see Doc’s comment below) book for the digital age was The Cluetrain Manifesto, first published in 1999. The first thesis was “Markets are conversations,” and I immediately sensed that this line of thinking would become my own, for I couldn’t argue with the book’s wisdom. It is still highly relevant today, especially if you’re lacking some foundational thinking about the web. It’s available for free here.

Dan Gillmor’s “We the Media” in 2004 and J.D. Lasica’s “Darknet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation” in 2005 were the first two books to generally describe the disruption of personal media. J.D., in fact, coined the phrase “personal media revolution” to tag what was about to descend upon our culture. And, oh boy, has it ever! I was so convinced of its certainty, that I dedicated many years to study it and report back to television clients about the enormity of it all.

Nobody cared. They were making too much money doing things the old way, and that was professional media’s great downfall. These executives could only see as far as their business model could carry them. They were married to one-to-many marketing and too blind to even see the disruption of targeting individual browsers. Online, I would tell them, afforded two-way advertising wherein the ad was served to eyeballs, but the server received information back from the ad. It was obvious to some of us that the pros were doomed.

When I was teaching college students, they’d ask, for example, what’s the best way to get to be a sportscaster? My response was always, “Just BE a sportscaster. Establish your brand. Blossom where you’re planted. You don’t need the institution to ‘do’ sports, not when you can do it on your own.”

The web loathes filters and their roadblocks, which it views as inefficient annoyances that serve no useful purpose. The web’s basic function is to connect people in a 3‑dimensional media form. It can be one-to-many, many-to-one, and most importantly, many to many, thus turning every browser into a form of media company itself, including the people formerly known as the advertisers.

The personal media revolution has advanced so far today (and it’s got a long, long way to go yet) that everyday people have been able to exploit the free time granted them through the coronavirus to explore beyond surfing or connecting via social media. No institution has been more impacted that adult entertainment. Yup, that’s right; good old porn. For the uneducated, Only Fans and many other similar sites offer software that enables anybody to become a porn star and get paid directly by the audiences they “serve.” This same concept is giving new light to each of the arts, and this is a good thing for our culture.

While this is highly chaotic to many other institutions of the West (and I could go on), but the aspect of this that needs the most discussion is how TV itself is being reinvented. The very definition of the TV is changing. In the beginning, it was reserved for broadcasters only. As each new form of video delivery appeared on the scene, they, too, were tagged (by the disruptors) as “TV.”

And today, YouTube is exploding with fresh content posted by this personal media revolution, and they are called “TV.” In the world of Reality TV, the vast majority of contestants are seasoned TV performers before they set foot on the set. In truth, those who apply to be on reality shows see the experience as a way to dramatically increase their individual influence on social media as experienced TV performers.

On the show Married at First Sight (MAFS), this same thinking applies, although this show can involve some very unusual contestants. Take Henry, of Henry and Christina, one of the couples married at first sight in the current season. Henry is, well, a little quirky with quite an awful set of parents who doubtless contributed to his lack of social skills. Reddit, that online gathering of talkative people with opinions who enjoy the company of others of a similar ilk, has a whole section on MAFS.

One Redditor (as they’re called) who goes by NoWayJeFe, had this to say about Henry: “Decent guy just not TV ready.” It would seem being “TV ready” is a prerequisite for appearing on these sorts of shows, but it speaks volumes about where we are as a society. It would seem that from the earliest years, kids are now learning how to be “TV ready” from the time they face their first cameras and microphones, even if it’s just an iPad.

There’s the Barbie TV News Team dolls, where little girls can pretend to be the real thing. Take a quick look at YouTube’s kids channels, and you’ll be overwhelmed by the sheer number of kids playing TV. It’s almost a rite of passage these days, and in so doing, these kids and teens are learning what we all have known for a long time in the world of television news: it’s just not all that hard to do. Sorry if I’m toe-stepping here, but it’s just much, much easier than all the “broadcast” schools would have us believe. I mean, where’s the money for an industry that can be easily duplicated with an iPhone?

Think TV has shot its wad in 2020? Think again, because there are no rules to these youngsters as they invent their own uses for the video medium. They start by copying but soon move to innovating. Those who pretend its rocket science are slowly going to fade into the setting sun.

To parents and grandparents, are your kids TV ready? If not, that would be a great investment for their future. Get them what they need to make media. Buy usernames or obtain them for free on the various sites that require them. They will fight their own media wars downstream, and those who’ve been properly prepared will have a head start.

But what do I know, right? We’ll see. Maybe I won’t see how far it goes, but you certainly may. And, those kids of yours will be the ones who’ll need these skills the most.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey local TV. This remains a viable business opportunity. You balked at it all those years ago, but it’s still there. Who better to teach local people to be TV ready than local TV?)

Shock & Awe with Kavanaugh

EDITOR’S NOTE: We apologize for the headline. We couldn’t stop ourselves.

Now that Justice Kavanaugh is seated, let’s review and prognosticate.

We have learned without a shred of doubt that the U.S. Supreme Court is a political institution. This is astonishing to me, for one of the pronounced qualifications for Christian conservative Judges is that they be “strict constitutionalists” when it comes to interpreting law. That means the Supreme Court ought never make decisions based on anything other than the Constitution, and yet, here we have our “majority conservative” justices, which means that we ought to be able to predict with certainty how they will vote. In my experience, this is a very slippery slope, but we shall see.

Yes, conservatives have achieved their vaunted “conservative court,” although we’ve not really asked ourselves what that means to the judges. The old saying is waiting, “Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.” One has to wonder, too, how the savvy press will respond. Are they moving forward with expectations about how the court will behave, or are they willing to take a wait-and-see approach? It’s all about the narrative with these reporters, and my guess is that there’s a quiet competition underway to see who can first spot evidence of this “conservative court.”

Let me emphasize here that the Christian Right in this country has been fighting the Roe v Wade straw man for so long that few remember what it was like before that law was enacted. Abortion is among the top, most-consistent fundraising keys for big ministries, because the “evil” of abortion has always made it easy for a certain group to open up their wallets. Electing this “conservative court” has been part and parcel of the fight against abortion. It is so foundational to the fundraising success of said ministries that one is left to wonder how they will deal with this. That’s what I would be watching, if I was active with the press today.

Predicting what comes next is actually pretty easy, if you’re familiar with the inner-workings of these ministries. There are two likely paths of action for these zealous believers, the first using the same screed that the “pro-lifers” used.

    PREMISE:
  • Abortion is sin
  • God hates sin (but He LOVES the sinner)
  • The cause of this scourge has been the sexual sin that is rampant in our culture
  • God expects us to wage war against sin
  • We’re willing, but we need your help to fight on your behalf

One might even say that a whole social movement has grown up alongside this premise, and now that the scent of victory is in the air due to the Kavanaugh confirmation, the energy behind it is likely to wane. Nothing kills social movements like the believed approach of the finish line. The movement will disappear unless those behind it can find a way to institutionalize the anger and its subsequent attachment to revenue giving.

Meanwhile, the church needs another straw man with which to stir things up and motivate giving, so it’s pretty easy to predict what comes next, and that will be an all-out effort on capping sexual deviance and “the liberal sex practices” foisted upon us and our children (and especially, our grandchildren) by the pornographers, the escorts, the adult entertainers, Hollywood, the media, and those damned evil liberals. After all, wasn’t it this that led to the unwanted babies that abortion has slaughtered?

The irony of this particular President leading the charge is even more pronounced, but it won’t make a difference.

The second logical effort on the part of these evangelicals is Israel.

    PREMISE
  • God loves Israel
  • God’s plan for the salvation of man includes the end times described and exegeted by the church
  • This plan includes the return of Jesus Christ TO JERUSALEM.
  • It’s the duty of believers to unilaterally support all efforts of Zionists, including driving Palestinians out of their homeland and the designation of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
  • The Bible warns those who would oppose Israel in any way, so Israel can do no wrong.
  • 1948 was a true miracle demonstrative of God’s restorative grace
  • We need to do what we can to support Israel, and that includes you through supporting us, because we’re a part of the plan.

And so, these Christians will go hard after support for Netanyahu and his cronies who force illegal methods into maintaining their narrative that Jews are a persecuted people and that God miraculously gave “the promised land” back to the Jews in 1948. At this point, it doesn’t matter whether this is true or not; it is the perceived truth made known to the world through the political propaganda of the hard right. Atrocities, like forcing apartheid on Palestinians, are dismissed as collateral damage in God’s plan to put Israel back into the Middle East. Look at what’s happened in just two years under Mr. Trump’s leadership:

  1. We’ve moved our embassy to Jerusalem, to land given to the Palestinians during the original regional conflict. The Israeli’s don’t care.
  2. Settlements have expanded at a rate far above previous administrations. During the Obama Presidency, the State Department regularly criticized expansion but no more.
  3. The U.S. has cut off all aid to Palestinian groups who used it to care for the sick, injured, and starving Palestinians. By doing this, President Trump has declared to the world that his form of peace negotiations is through the subjugation of the Palestinian people. This is going to get worse, the farther downstream we drift on the path to setting up Israel as dictatorial rulers of the entire region.

Mark my words, the Middle East is going to boil as a result. In Biblical prophecy, these right-wing fanatics believe, Iran, Turkey and Russia will come against Israel, which will jump-start Armageddon. The Christians see nothing wrong in doing whatever they can to urge this forward. After all, maybe WE are supposed to be the agents that God uses to usher in the 1,000-year reign of Christ. Could be, right?

So get ready for a really HOT summer in 2019, for people who believe they’re doing God’s will are an immovable force, and the world is a much more dangerous place today than it was just a week ago. Personally, I’m shocked and awed.

May God have mercy on us.