Shake, Rattle & Roll: Production and Consumption of Fundamentalist Youth Culture

By Hendershot, Heather | Afterimage, February-March 1995 | Go to article overview

Shake, Rattle & Roll: Production and Consumption of Fundamentalist Youth Culture


Hendershot, Heather, Afterimage


The theme of this summer's Teen Missionaries International (TMI) program is "Shake the World for Jesus," a phrase based on Ezekiel 38:20: ". . . All the men that are upon the face of the earth shall shake at my presence." To reinforce this message of the global fear of god, teen missionaries will make a 500 gallon milkshake, mixed by an electric motorboat motor, and accompanied by a 1/4 mile long taco. Giant versions of fast foods may seem a far cry from the strictly biblical fare of manna, loaves, fishes, and Christ's blood and body, but they are emblematic of the attitudes held by many contemporary American Christian fundamentalists concerning religion, consumerism, and nationalism. The feast represents a kind of excess that is particular to the United States consumption ethic where for both fundamentalists and secular shoppers bigger is unequivocally better. The larger than life feast is meant to provide spiritual and physical sustenance for the white teens readying themselves in a Merritt Island, Florida training camp for worldwide missions of salvation. The oversized taco and shake are sacred because every aspect of fundamentalist life is sacred to those involved in it. Unlike mere "Sunday Christians," Fundamentalists serve God incessantly: being on time to class, playing ball with your son, and picking up your husband's dirty socks can all serve Jesus. Likewise, everyday cultural products such as Christian music and magazines can both trigger conversion and help to maintain a converted state. For example, wearing a pendant inscribed with "True Love Waits" and displaying psychedelic "Virtuous Reality" posters help maintain chastity among Christian youth. Fundamentalist youth products mirror secular styles and genres, thereby producing a normalized image of fundamentalist culture. The reassuring message directed at fundamentalist youth is that their religion does not marginalize them from the cultural mainstream. Although there is no doubt that religious youth products constitute a lucrative market (the contemporary Christian music industry takes in about $750 million a year), it is difficult to prove for whom the message of this industry is most potent. Christian youth products may appeal to worried parents even more than they appeal to their pubescent children.

Focus on the Family, a Colorado Springs organization that produces and distributes Christian goods such as pro-chastity products, has reacted to trends in mainstream media by advocating specific reading strategies for Christians. Rather than merely attacking secular culture indiscriminately, Focus on the Family's former "youth culture specialist" Bob DeMoss advocates the acquisition of Christian "close-reading" skills. In his 1992 Learn to Discern book and home video, and "Generation at Risk" multi-media traveling show (1992-1994), DeMoss teaches the principles of Christian critical viewership. Sounding much like an introductory film studies textbook, DeMoss argues: when we watch a film, we voluntarily give our eyes to the producer of what we're watching. We only see what he or she desires us to see. His values, priorities, and point of view take center stage . . . What we don't see can be as important - or more important - as what we do see.(1)

In contrast to the harsh self-denial of old-fashioned fundamentalism, Focus promotes what is apparently a kinder, gentler activism - one which depends upon enhancing the critical reading skills of an individual and his or her family unit. Nonetheless, while arguing for a close-reading approach to media that is new to fundamentalism, Focus nonetheless maintains a belief in absolute truths. The fundamentalist approach to the Bible is a literal one: interpretation is not permitted. Applying this biblical strategy to popular film and music, through Christian close-reading both adults and children can discover the true anti-Christian messages nefariously hidden in popular culture. Through the fostering of Christian close-reading, Focus strives to forge a collective Christian youth identity around opposition to secular AIDS education, feminism, and the rights of lesbians and gays. …

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