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Culture War Roundup for the week of February 14, 2024

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“He Gets Us” doesn’t get it

[repost because server wipe, if that’s cool with everyone. Same post as yesterday, but probably some uncorrected mistakes from my note app]

The Christian advertising campaign “He Gets Us” aired two ads during the Super Bowl. The first ad asks “who is my neighbor?” interspersed with shots of mostly unsavory characters. The one you don’t value or welcome, the ad answers, to the drums of glitch-y hip hop. The second ad is titled “Foot Washing” and proved quite controversial. Among the scenes of foot washing depicted in the ad, the following have generated the most discussion: a Mexican police officer washing the feet of a black man wearing gold chains in an alley; a “preppy” normie-coded girl washing the feet of an alt girl; a cowboy washing the feet of aNative American; a woman washing the feet of a girl seeking an abortion (with pro-life activists sidelined, their signs upside down); an oil worker washing the feet of an environmental activist; a woman washing the feet of an illegal migrant; a Christian woman washing the feet of a Muslim; and a priest washing the feet of a sassy gay man. This last ad has tenfold the views on YouTube, in large part due to the negative response by Christians and conservatives, for example Matt Walsh and Babylon Bee editor Joel Berry. Joel writes,

There’s a reason the “He Gets Us” commercial didn’t show a liberal washing the feet of someone in a MAGA hat, or a BLM protestor washing an officer’s feet. That would’ve been actually subversive. Because they were strictly following oppressed v oppressor intersectionality guidelines.

I mostly agree with Joel. I think that this ad campaign is a failure.

The campaign fails to understand what brings people to a religion, or any social movement for that matter, or even any product, and as such it will not lead viewers to join their evangelical church or behave in the intended Christian manner. The audience of the Super Bowl is jointly comprised of people who care about what’s popular and cool, and people who care about remarkable feats of strength and dominance. These people are not going to be compelled to “love” their crack addict neighbor because you tell them to, because why would they listen to you? — there is no deeper motivation substantiated as for why they should do this. In the Gospel, Jesus doesn’t say “love your neighbor because it’s nice to do that and I am guilting you”, he says “love your neighbor so as to be a son of God whom created you, and obtain His reward, or else risk judgment from the eternal judge.” This is reward-driven and status-seeking behavior, the reward being administered by God and the status being administered by the church body. In its context, it requires a belief that the person saying it is the ultimate judge of both life and afterlife. (To behave Christlike, the required motivation is the totalizing significance of Christ... hence the name of the religion.) The starting point of the faith is the most dominant and powerful person telling you to care for the poor, not some cheeky “you should care about the poor because you should.”

Again, the Super Bowl viewer cares about what is popular and what is dominant. That’s normal, I’m not criticizing it. So could you not pull anything out of the religious tradition to depict the popularity and dominance of God? What, you feel bad playing off of FOMO to get people to your church? Jesus did just that on many occasions. 1, 2, 3, 4. Do you somehow feel guilty describing Jesus as glorious and powerful? What about the 72,000 angels he commands? You don’t want to tell the viewer that their prayers will be answered, when every 10 minutes there’s an ad for betting and gambling? Viva Las Vegas, non Vita Christi. So it has to be asked, what exactly is the purpose of the campaign? How is this getting people to your church, or even just getting people to behave better? “Jesus gets me” because… biker smoker and crack addict?

If the object of the ad is the instill a sense of pity to compel the viewer to behave morally, then there’s clearly more relevant subjects. Why not the focal point of the religion, the “innocent beautiful sacrificial lamb slain for our freedom” motif? The religion already comes with a built-in way to empower pity. You could say, “he gets us because he dealt with all our pain and temptation”, and that would make much more sense, while incentivizing the intended result of the ad. As is, I get the idea that the ad campaigners are afraid of any depiction of the life of Christ. I don’t get the sense that these people believe he is an essential ingredient of the moral life. And it’s fine if they don’t, that’s their business, but then dont make multimillion dollars ads that about it. If Christ is indeed essential, then your multimillion dollar ad campaign ought to be directed toward producing an image of Christ that is alluring, whether this be through scenes of pity or scenes of power. In an attempt to make Christianity subversive you should not be subverting Christianity.

Back to Joel’s critique of the ad: yes, the foot washing ad is problematic. Beside the fact that it is misinterpreted (explained below), it only works to further demean the image of Christianity to an irreligious America. “If I become a Christian, I’ll have to wash an old man’s feet?” The only viewers that will be compelled here are the foot fetish enthusiasts piqued by the alt girl. You are not going to convince anyone to join your social movement by promising them the opportunity to wash a man’s feet in an alley.

As was mentioned, the ad elevates the status of people who are not exactly Christ-coded, and those whose status is already elevated. During a Super Bowl, it’s not subversive to elevate the status of a vaguely athletic black man wearing gold chains. The half time show was Usher! Neither is it subversive to show an oil rig worker subservient to an environmental activist. In whose world is an environmental activist not more privileged than a dust-coated oil worker? And a wholesome girl washing an alt girl’s feet is not subversive in an event inaugurated by Post Malone’s national anthem. No, no; show me a wealthy and attractive CEO washing the feet of his fat ugly employee, if you must. But don’t just reinstitute the high/low status dynamic already in place by the world.

My last criticism I’ll try to keep short: the theological ground of these ads is spurious. There is indeed a scene where Jesus washes the feet of his disciples, but the writer goes out of his way to clarify the meaning behind it. It begins by mentioning that Jesus “loved his own who were in the world”, namely his followers present and future. The students are shocked when their superior attempts to perform this subservient act, until it is explained to be necessary. “If your Lord washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you. I am not speaking of all of you [not Judas]; I know whom I have chosen.” So, rather than being an act that a Christian is compelled to do to anyone, we have an act that Christians do to one another, to cultivate humility spirit and esteem for their brethren. They are told not to do it to merely self-labeled Christians, like Judas, let alone those of other faiths, as the ad suggests they do.

Foot washing was a culture-specific action that reflected the status hierarchy in a way that has no direct American parallel. An approximate American parallel would be for a boss to allow his employer to use his office, or for a boss to cook his employee’s family a dinner, or to clean his employee’s keyboard. The difficulty in understanding the event without careful study is the reason why it’s a mistake depict it as a means of propagating your worldview. Nothing is accomplished.

You know, it’s important to acknowledge how much of a minority the ‘dissident right’ position (not just, like, Moldbug and BAP, but the tradcaths and the paganlarpers and the HBDers and Fuentes and so on) is. Even Tucker, obviously he’s popular, but to a lot of his viewers he’s popular in a shock jock way, they don’t necessarily agree with his WASPish affect, ultrarealist Buchananite foreign policy and with all his other stances all the time.

There are a lot of flyover state Republicans who will vote for Donald Trump this November but who - largely - agree with social justice theology within a Christian framework. They may not like Critical Race Theory™️ and take a skeptical view of Black Lives Matter®️, but they’re not reactionaries. They largely agree with the New York Times worldview with minor disagreements about gay marriage and abortion.

There are a lot of flyover state Republicans who will vote for Donald Trump this November but who - largely - agree with social justice theology within a Christian framework.

...with the exceptions, as you note, of CRT, BLM, Gays and Abortion, which between them comprise the majority of Social Justice's most visible ideological commitments. As my father was fond of saying, if we had ham we could have ham and eggs, if we had eggs.

Christianity is, to put it gently, an awkward fit for actual racism and misogyny, though humans are certainly capable of the contortions necessary. Opposition to such things does not imply a yearning or even an acceptance of progressive "social justice". What Christians are is civil. They are not, generally speaking, revolutionaries, and they try to fit in and live in peace with others to the extent that doing so does not require disobeying their understanding of God's commands.

It is probably true that many Christians consider themselves to largely be in agreement with the New York Times. This is because the New York Times, like most media organs, is a purpose-built propaganda machine designed explicitly to manufacture consent and to present itself as the voice of reasonable civil society, and that it has a long history of routine deceit about where we as a society were, are, and are going. That does not change the fact that a very large chunk of serious Christians are fundamentally opposed to the Times' actual aims and goals, and that a wildly disproportionate percentage of the opposition the Times faces in those goals comes from Christians.

...with the exceptions, as you note, of CRT, BLM, Gays and Abortion

And trans.