Edited by Robert Johnston, Craig Detweiler and Barry TaylorWestminster John Knox Press
, 2012, 176 pp., $20
Warning: This fun
book exploring 101 theologically significant pop cultural icons from the 1950s through 2009 may cause fistfights. Even if you agree with the editors that Elvis, Walt Disney, the Beatles, Star Wars
, Madonna, Stephen King, The Simpsons
, U2, Oprah, Joss Whedon and South Park
should rank among the 101 icons, disagreements may rage ragarding other choices (such as architects Charles and Ray Eames or Catholic artist Corita Kent).
Edited by Fuller Seminary's Johnston and Taylor with Pepperdine's Craig Detweiler, and written by 35 contributors, the book is a mini-encyclopedia featuring reader-friendly two-page summaries of people, movies, books, video games, art, music, commercials, trends and one computer (the Macintosh).
Some of the icons have been explicit about religion (Johnny Cash, Muhammad Ali), while others have been more ambivalent (Stephen King) or skeptical (Woody Allen, Philip Pullman). The work of other icons reveals the lasting impact of an unpleasant religious upbringing (Alfred Hitchcock).
The book is refreshingly broad, including topics neglected in Christian books on pop culture (Miles Davis, Neil Diamond, Billie Jean King, Damien Hirst and Banksy), but it's not deep. The summaries vary widely in tone, style and theological/critical approach. Some entries include factual details about box office or chart positions, while others omit statistics for a more subjective approach. A simple index of people and works would have made this book much more usable.
Some of the best summaries are by authors who have written extensively about their subjects (Mark Pinsky on The Simpsons
, Jana Reiss on Twilight
and Stephenie Meyer, Steve Turner on the Beatles), but all the entries are stimulating.
One can argue that some theologically significant icons of the past six decades were unjustly overlooked. (My top 10 nominations are Hugh Heffner, the Goldwater daisy ad, "All In the Family," Woodstock, James Dobson, The Late Great Planet Earth
, Willow Creek and the megachurch marketing movement, televangelism, Bruce Springsteen, the religious right).
I'm not going to start a fistfight about who's in or out. I'm too busy reflecting on the cultural impact of the 101 icons that were included. If you or the students you serve are cultural junkies, this book will provide more than a temporary fix.