O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


Calvin College Expels (New) Pornographers

posted by Jason Boyett

Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of those Christian universities that has an admirable focus on art and culture. It has a beautiful campus, and I really like the faculty there (at least the ones I met back in April at the Festival of Faith and Writing). But the recent flap over the school’s cancellation of a concert by The New Pornographers is, well, pretty hilarious. And sad. And frustrating. But mostly hilarious.

To recap:

One of the goals of Calvin College is to engage culture “through a Christian lens.” In pursuit of that goal, the school invited the band, The New Pornographers, to perform a concert on campus on October 15, 2010. “The band makes good, thoughtful music, and we invited them here based on their artistic merit,” the Student Activities Office explained in this press release. Many, many artists have played at Calvin over the years, including David Bazan, Bruce Cockburn, Howie Day, the Decemberists, Death Cab for Cutie, Lupe Fiasco, The Hold Steady, Liz Phair, and Sigur Ros.

Those are some legitimately high-profile (but not exactly Christian-identifying) acts, which is impressive for a conservative Christian university.

But, oh, was there a problem with The New Pornographers hitting the campus for next month’s concert. So much so that the concert has now officially been canceled. It’s off.

You can guess why: because of the band’s name. Not their music. Their name.

The Student Activities Office at Calvin College explains:

…after weeks of discussion and consideration, the irony of the band’s name was impossible to explain to many. The band’s name, to some, is mistakenly associated with pornography. Consequently, Calvin, to some, was mistakenly associated with pornography. Neither the college nor the band endorses pornography. The Student Activities Office regrets the way this has happened. We regret the message we have sent to the band and their fans with this cancellation, and any confusion this has caused generally. We have been in contact with the band to explain this regret and the breakdown in our own processes that led us to first invite them and then withdraw that invitation. Calvin College remains committed to the difficult, yet important work at faithfully engaging popular culture.

Yes, it’s true that “faithfully engaging popular culture” can be difficult, especially when you’re (apparently) dealing with alumni or other faculty members who get upset because a band uses the word “pornographer” in its name. With an ironic wink.

Two questions:

1. If it’s so important to engage popular culture, why back down because a few ignorant people are upset about what is essentially a big misunderstanding of a word?

2. This misunderstanding apparently has to do with the complainers worrying that the concert will literally involve “pornographers” — they are extrapolating that the band’s name is a literal description of what will happen on-stage. If that’s the case, then why weren’t they equally concerned when Lovedrug did a show at Calvin? Or when the Barenaked Ladies performed there? Or Explosions in the Sky? Or Pedro the Lion? Or Jimmy Eat World?

All of those artists have performed at Calvin in the past. If a crazy person was afraid Jimmy would, in fact, eat world during a concert, would Calvin College have canceled it? Why were there no press releases making it clear that Calvin College did not, in fact, endorse the consumption of worlds?

Sigh.

Dear Calvin College:

Good job for your history of bringing influential and thought-provoking bands to your campus. I am impressed.

Bad job for rescinding an invitation because of dumb people. I am less impressed.

[H/T: Hemant Mehta]

—————

UPDATE: Please read my follow-up post about this issue from 9/21/10. I’m wrong. I take it back.
   



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Arleen Spenceley

posted September 20, 2010 at 3:15 pm


Re: “If a crazy person was afraid Jimmy would, in fact, eat world during a concert, would Calvin College have canceled it?”, I laughed so loud that I think I scared my dog.



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@LaureeAshcom

posted September 20, 2010 at 3:20 pm


my cynical soul says that the person most upset was a big contributor or the head of the board…
sad but was it unexpected?



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Jason Boyett

posted September 20, 2010 at 3:24 pm


Was it unexpected? You’d have to think so. Otherwise, why go through the trouble of inviting them?



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Felicity

posted September 20, 2010 at 3:26 pm


I see your point. I also know that most private universities are in danger of folding without the money provided to them from their constituencies. My guess is that the “few ignorant people” were big donors. Everyone knows art doesn’t pay the bills. : ) It is a philosophical jam, so to speak. Would it be worth losing those potentially school-saving dollars to have one night of good music? I don’t know. (I work at a Christian college – these decisions are very complicated.)



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Jennifer

posted September 20, 2010 at 3:49 pm


“Would it be worth losing those potentially school-saving dollars to have one night of good music?”
i mean seriously… have you SEEN the new pornographers live? they sound so good that they could all strip down to their skivvies in the middle of the show and you wouldn’t notice because you were caught up in the sound!
this incident is completely outrageous, ridiculous and embarrassing for any christian out there who likes good, “secular” music. afraid that such a band with a name like NPs is inviting resident evil onto campus? take a poll of the students who spend hours thinking of ways to skip chapel, who smoke pot and who are just there because their parents wanted them to be to see what they think.



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John

posted September 20, 2010 at 5:30 pm


I have a cousin who shaved his head, in order to be a skinhead. But he joined a group called SKAR (or something) that was Skinheads Against Racism or something like that – my apologies if there really is such an org. I asked him what they stood for – he stated that he thought it was shallow people who associated skin heads with racism and he wanted to change their perception. I said – “why don’t you just grow your hair?”
Point being – the name of the band was meant to be controversial. That is why they chose it. This result, whatever your feelings about Calvin, will create coverage that the band didn’t have before.
If they want to highlight their music AND be less controversial – change the name of the band.



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Austin P

posted September 20, 2010 at 6:31 pm


I actually thought they handled this pretty well, a lot of peacemaking…and I read about it because I heard second hand and was out to find out what an embarrassment this would be.
There’s a lot of clash going on between the Church and society, this isn’t very noteworthy to write about.



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Ben

posted September 20, 2010 at 11:21 pm


It’s a tough situation, but honestly, didn’t the school know what they were getting into when they scheduled the band? It’s not like they just recently found out what the band’s name was. They’ve known that all along, and if they didn’t foresee the problems they were going to have, then there’s a big problem going on with the administration there.
So if they decided months ago to go with The New Pornographers, then they should have stuck to their guns. I guess all those voices just got too loud.



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Felicity

posted September 21, 2010 at 9:32 am


No, Jennifer, I haven’t seen the New Pornographers live. I was trying to make a larger point about choices that have to be made by large organizations serving a wide range of perspectives. I’m sure that live show is wonderful and worth every penny. My husband is a musician, so I’m not against music. : )



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JP

posted September 21, 2010 at 11:12 am


Pretentious band. Stupid name. If your mission is evangelism, then stop being so ambiguous.



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Patrick

posted September 23, 2010 at 7:29 pm


Having been in a much more conservative Christian college environment and dealt with this kind of hassle, I have to commend them on how they handled it.
The fact of the matter is, Jason, is that those stupid people can destroy that college for something like this. It’s one thing to stand on principle or for what is genuinely right, like Ray Charles refusing to play to segregated audiences in Georgia, which lead to the state outright banning the audiences. Calvin College certainly does work to rightfully engage culture and stand on good principles. However, this isn’t one of those pivotal principles. I like the New Pornographers, and I understand the meaning of their name, but risking donors pulling out their financial and public support to a college over a band’s name isn’t worth the loss. The college had to think about things important to them. You can’t change ignorant people with shock value.



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Dave

posted December 3, 2010 at 12:36 pm


Hah, some things never change. I graduated from Calvin College about 2 decades ago, and I’m not at all surprised by the terror that “somebody might misinterpret something, so let’s not do it.” Such is the legacy of the Dutchie cowards who founded the college way back in the dark ages.
The fear-driven manipulation was amazing. We couldn’t have “dances” in the dorms because “some alumni might be offended because dancing could lead to premarital sex.” (Great, so without anything to do on Saturday nights, what did we do? Went to our rooms and had premarital sex, of course.) At one point, more modern translations of the Bible were even forbidden from nightly Bible studies, because “somebody might be confused that this is really the Word of God, and might not understand that only the traditional translations are correct translations.” The editor of the college newsletter was suspended for publishing an article titled “Misconceptions about Abortion.” Faculty had a cow, because “somebody might be confused that Calvin college promotes the murder of innocent babies.” They didn’t get the pun. So oh well, I’m glad to have been out of such silliness for decades, though I’m not surprised some are still debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, while the world is burning down all around them.
BTW how many angels CAN dance on the head of a pin? None, obviously, because dancing is offensive in the sight of Almighty God.
Sheesh…



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