Jesus 2.0: Christian Identity and Community on Godtube

Curator's Note

Founded by Dallas Theological Seminary student and former CBS television producer Chris Wyatt, Christian website Godtube combines user-generated video, live webcasts (many of church services and ministries), and social networking opportunities. Godtube is a for-profit enterprise, earning revenue by accepting secular and religious advertising spots, charging subscription fees to ministries, and selling demographic data to marketers and media producers. The hundreds of videos that are uploaded each day first are approved by site administrators, mostly other seminary students, to ensure that all the content on the site is family-friendly. In these ways, Godtube falls outside of what we often think about when we think of alternative media: it embraces the commercial logics of mainstream media distribution and polices what constitutes acceptable content for its users to see. Godtube—in line with Christian cable networks, genre fiction, music—could be seen as an extension of the Christian media marketplace, one that sees Christians a vibrant consumer demographic. Significantly, this video clip—which has been one of the most viewed and discussed on Godtube, as well as one of the most criticized—is one of four Mac-PC/Christ Follower-Christian parody ads on Godtube, each of which ridicules the notion that to be a follower of Christ is to participate in the ever-expanding Christian marketplace. Ironically, sites like Godtube could fall directly into the very type of media consumption eschewed in this video. Yet many of the comments following this clip reject its message and reinforce the dangers to the Christian community posed by the mainstream media. Importantly, many of the comments responding to the Christ Follower-Christian clip focus much more on the hostility of the mainstream to Christian values than to the virtues of Christian music itself; the outcome of this talk is not really the promotion of Christian music, but the presentation of Christians as the marginalized Other. Indeed, many of the more popular videos and comments on the site reinforce the idea that Christians currently are victims within a secular American culture who are in need of a forum like Godtube and of alternative forms of cultural expression. It is in how users position Godtube—as a site that gives voice to a community that defines itself as often silenced, encourages social change, provides a forum for expression and participation to individuals who see themselves left out of mainstream discourses, and offers a critique of the limitations of the mainstream media—that tempts me to think of Godtube as a form of alternative media. It is the ubiquitous presence of advertising, the narrowness through which community is articulated and defined, and (to my mind) illegitimate expression of victimization that tempts me to reconsider.

Comments

Laura Stein's picture

Teaching an alternative

Teaching an alternative media class at the University of Texas, every semester I have students that write papers or create alternative media projects around religious topics and media. One of the best final projects I’ve had was a zine made by a Mormon student that included the voices of progressives, feminists and people of color within LDS. The zine cover was a drawing of Jesus covered in tattoos. I considered this zine alternative in just about every sense of the word- content, aesthetic, production process, distribution, medium. Alternative media is often produced by or circulated among a narrowly defined, rather than an all inclusive community. Nancy Fraser’s idea of counterpublic spheres in which particular groups engage in identity formation, lateral communication, and community building strikes me as particularly explanatory in this regard. And as Downing recognizes, this communication can be used to further conservative as well as progressive projects. Think the recent Iranian revolution or fundamentalist Muslim movement. I would consider Godtube alternative only in some respects, and with inherent limits on content conditioned by both the predefined community it intends to reach and its commercial imperatives.

Chris Boulton's picture

Allison What an interesting

Allison

What an interesting post! I agree with Laura’s comment about the exclusivity of counterpublics and think that the internal war being waged over the external definition of “Christian” is an important object of study. Especially since the monolith is beginning to crack, prompting public commentators like Krista Tippet to circulate the idea of the coming “post-Religious Right” era. As Evangelicals’ focus shifts from moral values to global poverty, a power struggle (which often seems to play out along generational lines) has emerged over who will speak with the most prophetic voice. Jim Wallis and Rick Warren may be getting the most attention in this regard, but the noise seems to be gurgling up from below.

CB

P.S. By the way, in case you’re interested, I posted on something similar a while back: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/videos/2007/05/09/porn-nation-come-hither-and-repent/

Jonathan Gray's picture

I'm trying to think through

I’m trying to think through the parallel here of Mac = Christ-follower, and PC = Christian, and this sheds further light on why many Christians might feel threatened by it. As you note, the script of victimization is so prevalent, yet within the Mac/PC binary, PC is the pervasive mainstream, Mac the hip minority. Mac’s recent ads too, as does the “Mac” here, boast of being able to do everything the PC can, even better (as with Vista running time), thereby undercutting the notion of PC having *any* identity of its own, other than being old and behind the times. So the metaphor really starts to kick freely, no?

[It also makes me think of a short piece Umberto Eco had on PCs and Macs as being protestant and Catholics respectively (PCs were protestant because of the ability to return to DOS oneself, whereas Eco saw Mac’s OS as Church-like in its all-encompassing nature. Out of date in an era of Power PC’s, but still).]

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