The Culture Translator April 16th
OUR MISSION, SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT | APRIL 16, 2021 Culture Translator Premium
Three Things This Week 1 Vibranium Allies What it is: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has been releasing new episodes weekly on Disney+ as the latest addition to the Avengers franchise, and the six-episode first season is about to wrap up. Why it hasn't been without controversy: The action series was launched to provide backstory for superheroes Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier) and Sam Wilson (the Falcon) as it follows the pair on an adventure to stop a terrorist group and try to put an end to the creation of dangerous “super soldiers.” But it’s 2021, so a few dramatic fights interspersed with character development and exotic, fictional locales wasn’t enough to fill 45 minutes of weekly screen time. Contemporary political elements are woven into each episode. Falcon (who is Black) is harassed by a police officer, right before discovering a Black super soldier who was abused and abandoned by the US government. In the next episode, soliloquies on what America’s heroic symbols actually represent to other countries abound. The show ultimately seeks to ask deep, long-abiding questions about violence, such as whether the ends of bloodshed can ever justify the means of getting there. Unfortunately, an audience hungry for escape from the knots of post-modern living will find no solace (or straight answers) in the series. 2 The Puzzled Piper What it is: Abraham Piper, son of prominent apologist John Piper, has a popular TikTok with 900,000 followers. Mainly, he posts vaguely philosophical videos that break down his gripes with evangelicalism. Why it’s #exvangelical in a nutshell: The younger Piper, who co-owns a jigsaw puzzle company, got a write-up in the New York Times, who refer to him as a “TikTok sensation” for his irreverent takes on what he calls “fundamentalist” culture. But would people be as interested in what Abraham Piper had to say about the evangelical movement if he hadn’t grown up in such a prominent place inside of it? The answer is: maybe! The #exvangelical hashtag is where two cultural narratives meet: you’ve got the internet-at-large (which typically finds orthodox Christian views to be weird at best) cheering on people’s faith “deconstruction,” many of whom are people from prominent evangelical families. Abraham Piper is tapping into a cultural dogma that assumes a move away from evangelical reasoning automatically equals an escape from toxic thinking patterns and perhaps even a freer experience of God. He’s a famous pastor’s son, but he’s also just a man in Minneapolis making TikToks, perhaps grappling with who God is the best way he knows how. We should be aware that messaging like Piper’s is one of the main narratives our teens see online about how Christianity plays out in adulthood. 3 OnlyFans Nation What it is: The New York Post uses a Real Housewife’s Only Fans success as an example of how selling one’s own sexuality online is becoming less and less stigmatized. Why it’s probably true: Prior to the pandemic, Only Fans reported 7.5 million paid users. As of December 2020, they had 85 million. Only Fans pays content creators a whopping $2.7 billion a year. And it’s possible the platform is just getting started. Every week seems to bring yet another OnlyFans “star” into the public conversation as women (especially young women) are making bank for their photos and becoming microcelebrities in their own right. The longing to go viral is deep and abiding, especially in younger teens, as it would seem to bring legitimacy, positive attention, and a flow of cash their way. To many, creating an Only Fans might seem appealing, easy, and fun. Remember that your teen’s desire to be recognized and validated is natural and human, even if it’s riskier than ever to get over-exposed online. Steering conversations toward the importance of self-worth and the holiness of the body/soul connection may be more fruitful than spending a lot of time decrying the OnlyFans industrial complex itself. Slang of the Week salty: feeling angry, agitated, upset, or annoyed. (Ex: “I tried to tell her I had to be home by my curfew and couldn’t drive her home, but she got real salty about it.”) Our Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It Maybe you’ve seen the thinkr.org ads promoting C.S. Lewis’s Present Concerns with an allusion to how he decided to stop reading the newspaper. According to biographer Harry Lee Poe that may not be completely true, but Lewis clearly thought a steady diet of only current events left something lacking. In Surprised by Joy he wrote, “Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be seen before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance.” If this was true about the newspaper, it’s even truer today about the internet. With millions of websites updating 24/7, it’s possible to live our entire lives only paying attention to the newest and most recent developments—which would often mean only paying attention to things that won’t matter after a week. It’s possible to become so entranced and bedazzled by recent events that we lose our sense of the past and the bigger picture. All this begs the question: at Axis, and with The Culture Translator, why do we do what we do? Each week, we scour the depths of pop culture to help you understand the world your teens are growing up in. Our goal is to help you build credibility with them—not because “seeming relevant” should be considered a virtue in and of itself, but because when we seem credible to the next generation, relationships come easier, and they’re usually more willing to hear us out on more complex issues. Our goal is to help create entry points for conversations that start timely but go timeless—opening up on deep topics that will still matter after a week, like purpose, identity, meaning, faith, and love. The Culture Translator is just one of our resources to help caring adults like you swim the full length of the pool with your teens. If you’d like to learn more about our other resources, click here. In the meantime, here are some questions we hope will spark discussion with your teens:
Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the amount of content online?
How much time do you spend online with things you won’t care about a week later?
Given that the internet will never run out of content, what does “time well spent” look like?
8 PREMIUM INSIGHTS A broader look at the world that teens inhabit. Skim our summary or click the links to read more. Engage your teens in conversation about their world. They said it best: “Meditation is the soul of religion… We ought, therefore, both for our own good and for the Lord’s honor to be much occupied with meditation, and that meditation should chiefly dwell upon the Lord Himself: it should be “meditation of Him.” For want of it much communion is lost and much happiness is missed.” — Charles Spurgeon Pop Culture Social Media 1. Are you or someone you love spending a little too much time on TikTok? Rebecca Jennings writes for Vox about the uniquely addictive properties of the social media app. Maybe, she muses, TikTok taps into a desire for nothingness; a desire to stop feeling, and to stop wanting, as much as is possible when we’re still in our own bodies. Teens have taken to telling each other to “go touch the grass” as a solution when screen time seems continuous and all-consuming. Conversation Starter: Is TikTok more addictive than other social media platforms? Do your teens feel like it’s a way of tuning out the rest of the world and calming their anxieties? Are the reasons we open TikTok good, bad, or neutral? 2. FYI: Adam Perkins, a popular Vine and TikTok creator, has died at the age of 24. Adam’s twin brother, who is also a content creator, announced his sibling’s passing this past week. Adam was perhaps best known for a six-second Vine filmed in a bathroom in which he announced, absurdly, “Welcome to Chili’s.” Thousands of young people have expressed their sympathy for the loss of Adam, crediting him with creating their entire sense of humor and bringing laughter into their lives. Even the most viral creators are unlikely to create a lasting cultural moment, which Adam succeeded at doing at a very young age. 3. Instagram will soon allow users to show how many people like their posts, or not. The “like count” has become somewhat of a controversial metric, with some arguing that showing how many likes certain posts get encourages unhealthy social media behaviors. Maybe it’s true that showing like counts underneath posts leads to an attitude where users are “doing it for the ‘gram” and not showing their authentic lives. Instagram has experimented with hiding all like counts and showing all like counts, and it would appear the only option left is letting users choose. Conversation Starter: Is the like count influential for anyone who isn’t an actual influencer? Does not getting a certain amount of likes on a social media post make your teen feel like they should just delete the post, or like their friends are purposely ignoring them? When it comes time for this new feature, will your teen choose to show or hide their own like counts? Trending/Memes 4. FYI: An op-ed in the New York Times suggests that everyone can be “a better person” after the pandemic. The pandemic has been an opportunity for reflection and spiritual growth, but the notion of getting to work on a new personality is a bit ridiculous. And of course, leave it to Gen Z to take this ridiculous idea to a hilarious extreme. While the piece might have been heart-felt, it also sparked a torrent of memes that envisioned people ceasing to be themselves and becoming outrageous characters from movies or television shows. Music 5. FYI: Taylor Swift has started to rerelease her versions of her first six studio albums. The first release, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) includes new songs and guest appearances from Keith Urban. By re-recording her songs, Swift is attempting to wrest control of royalties from her old record label, who refused to let her purchase her own master recordings. But while Swift dukes it out with record execs, it’s fans who are the ultimate winners, with never-before-heard songs and refined vocal performances by Swift on the new releases. Sexuality/Gender 6. FYI: A psychology professor at Wheaton College has given his insights to Christianity Today about why the transgender conversation is changing. Professor Mark Yarhouse notes that “emerging gender identities” are creating a whole new language that Gen Z, in particular, is using to talk with each other about their sexual preferences. It’s interesting to hear Yarhouse’s reflections on the best ways to have conversations with young people who are experiencing gender dysphoria, and strategies that he has found to be effective in receiving transgender youth with hospitality and hope: Media/News 7. FYI: Dogecoin, a cryptocurrency originally named after a meme, has exploded in value over the past week. As Insider explains, Dogecoin was founded as an ironic alternative to other types of bitcoin that claimed they were going to be worth a lot of money and become a global digital currency. But meme lovers who invested with Dogecoin just for laughs are winning big this week as Tesla founder Elon Musk tweeted in support of the currency. Resource 8. Relevant has published a roundup of 8 unexpected conversation starters from pop culture. From rapper DMX’s relationship with God to John Lennon claiming he wanted the Beatles to spread the gospel, these nuanced and unexpected ideas for talks to have with your teen (or with your spouse) might revive a tired dinner-time discussion. While not every conversation will be right for every family, you might want to take a look and see if there’s something worth sharing with your teens. Keep the Faith! The Axis Team Editor’s Note: Axis links to many different sources within this e-newsletter; a link does not equal an endorsement. 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