aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Sunday, December 11, 2005
My personal video interest
The part of the Times Rocketboom story that interests me personally is this:
The average video runs no longer than a pop song and, as with blogs, it’s easy to dip in to and back out of any site that fails to hold your interest. In the right hands, vlogs can become microdocumentaries of surprising beauty, wit and intelligence… Rocketboom’s Minneapolis correspondent, Chuck Olsen, profiles other people on his main site, Minnesota Stories, but also maintains a video diary called Secret Vlog Injection. One post there uses video that Mr. Olsen shot without permission during an indie-rock concert at a local club. The result records not only a great performance by the band but also Mr. Olsen’s argument with the club’s manager, who tried to confiscate his camera. The story evolves into a smart, funny discussion of copyright issues and the philosophical difference between the world-views of the vloggers and traditional media companies. “There’s no economic motive,” Mr. Olsen says in titles that appear on the screen like a news crawl, noting that the viewer is not being charged for the video. “The point is to capture, and share, fantastic, fleeting moments.”
I’ve got four mini-projects shot and hope to shoot a fifth over the break. There are fascinating stories here. The way I want to tell them, the idea I want to explore, is a variation on the documentary form. Instead of editing an interview with cutaways and me assembling a narrative, I put the entire interview online, one question at a time. Each is linked to a blog post with more material. As the viewer, you pick and choose what you’re interested in and wind up assembling your own documentary from the materials I collect and point you to.
To date I’ve been fumbling around learning formats and codecs and figuring out how and where to host it. I thought I’d use Google Video - where anyone can stumble upon it then dig in as far as they want to go. I still may. But I also want to get familiar with Our Media and Participatory Culture. (As it stands the few clips I’ve put up are hosted on my blog server, and the video can only be viewed with Quicktime 7. I’m still working on it...)
I’m not real worried about how long it’s taking. Documentaries have a tradition of taking years to complete. The projects I’ve got going now will build over time and may never be called “finished.” That said, I’m fairly certain that I am the past, a product of my background and training, not as quick and agile with the tech, and still bound by some old ways of thinking. Not a bad thing, that will be my voice. But I’m as eager to work with students, see what they do, and watch, encourage, applaud and learn from others.
TiVo & Rocketboom
Tivo isn’t quite there yet, but they’re half a step away from having a system in place such that anyone can put video content directly on your TV set, if you want it to be, over the internet. They’ve added support for audio podcasting, and all they need to do is allow video too (and, to be a bit more practical, allow for some formats other than MPEG-2 to be used). Then, suddenly, anyone will be able to produce video, put it up on a server somewhere, and have people watch it on their TVs. Again, they’re not there yet, but a system could easily be implemented such that all you have to do is click on a link and it’ll get downloaded to your Tivo automatically, soon if not quite immediately, or of course let you subscribe to a regular feed as you can a podcast.
THE rapid expansion in the number of vlogs and Web sites offering video podcasts strongly suggests how bored viewers are getting with standard commercial TV: a growing number of them are willing to seek out alternatives online, or just create one themselves. As recently as a year ago there were fewer than two dozen active vlogs. In mid-October, just after Mr. Jobs name-checked Rocketboom, and Apple added the category of “Video Podcast” to the default menu of the new iPod, the site Vlogmap.org showed 415 vlogs worldwide. A month later Mefeedia.com, a site that allows users to watch and subscribe to vlogs, had 1,100 sites in its directory. Two weeks after that Mefeedia boasted of “2,017 vlogs and counting.” Rocketboom includes reports from vloggers both near (Boston) and far (Prague), with regular contributors based in Los Angeles, Minneapolis and “the German-speaking part of Europe.”
We succesfully started our student podcast this fall, some with video. I’d like to be watching them on my TiVo by summer.
Mr. KEVIN McDONALD (Church Member): You know, it’s funny. When my--I have a five-year-old daughter, and when we first started coming, she was two and a half, I guess. And she said, `Dad, are we going to go to that church again?’ And I said, `Yeah, we are.’ She says, `Oh, good. Can I sit, you know, in the church and watch the movie with you?’ So it took a little bit, but because the message is so good, it really kind of transcends the need for a physical person to be there. Everything else is the band, and the campus minister is there. But, you know, the--John and Dave and Tim are such good--project such a consistent and a wonderful message that the videotape really, for me, doesn’t lose anything. I’m sure some people do--it does, but it doesn’t for me.
Leave it to an academic to point out the loss:
LUDDEN: Michael Horton is a professor at Westminster Seminary in California.
Prof. HORTON: The church isn’t just a country club. The church has a specific mission, and that is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, and where the sacraments are administered, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. At a bare minimum, those are what we’ve considered down through the ages the so-called marks of a church. You know, a lot of churches today, those marks are sort of being erased in favor of a more consumer-driven approach. It says, `Have we got a God for you. And if you’re not completely satisfied, return the unused portion for a full refund.’ There is a decidedly consumer cast to the way religion is done in America today.
The pastor’s not watching
With their giant scale, today’s megachurches lack the kind of personal interaction once found in religous practice. Fareed Zakaria writing in The Future of Freedom sees these larger and more anonymous communities as a shift from:
[p.210] [The] High Episcopal style of religious authority, in which the local priest is your moral guide to the new, evangelical model where moral guidance is provided through a television show. It is difficult to flout moral codes while you are a member of a local parish. But if all you do is watch a preacher on television, no one is watching you.
The churches know this. From the the August 7th All Things Considered report by Jennifer Ludden, Big Churches Use Technology to Branch Out:
Dr. BOULER: We were so large that the people would go to--they would go to the chapel service, but there was no sense of responsibility for their local church or their local community because they were related to the overall plan of Highland Park Baptist Church and our vision and scheme of things. And as we evaluated it, we noticed if we gave them responsibility along with owning the church and the property and accountability for it, there was a greater vigor and interest in evangelizing that local community in which that chapel is located.
Their response is to franchise; cover up the stained glass windows and install video screens in satellite churches. Community Christian, one of the churches that cancelled the Christmas service - First Baptist in Atlanta is another - is featured in the NPR story:
LUDDEN: ...Back at the Community Christian service, behind the last row of chairs, a camcorder is set up on a tripod, its red light beaming. Community Christian is recording tonight’s sermon and will use it to, in essence, franchise itself. It’s called multisite ministry. Church officials will make DVD copies, then hand-deliver them to a number of smaller satellite churches in time for tomorrow’s Sunday service. In this way sister churches across suburban Chicago are preaching the very same message each weekend.
More and more churches are doing this. And while Willow Creek’s Jim Tomberlin says everyone expected it to be confusing, even off-putting to worshipers, it just hasn’t been. [Ã¢â‚¬Â¦]
Pastor DAVE FERGUSON (Community Christian Church): I think what it does is it does a couple things--is it allows you to both be what I call the genius to the and, both large and small at the same time. So like this weekend we may have up to, you know, 4,000 people that’ll attend our services, at any of our six locations, but what you experience is something that’s a lot smaller. And so hopefully the experience for people is kind of a quality experience that maybe a larger church could bring you, which hopefully will really accelerate and facilitate spiritual growth, but at the same time it’s in their neighborhood and smaller and closer proximity. So it’s a more--a greater experience of community.
Huh? Is he kidding?
You can wear shorts and there are no crosses!
Mr. McDONALD: We were actually part of Hope Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, and I was an elder there and moved out here about five years ago and then was looking for kind of a church that was a little bit more, I guess, youthful in nature and had some more appeal to people around my age.
LUDDEN: You didn’t look around at other Presbyterian churches?
Mr. McDONALD: You know, we have looked on a couple of times--there’s one in Oswego, and it was just kind of this same--more hymn-oriented, more structured. And this, as you can see--people wearing shorts; the music, the band, just the energy of the people around here, and that’s something we didn’t find at other churches.
LUDDEN: Many mega churches target those who are tired of the traditional church experience or who may have never gone to church before; thus the absence in many of a cross, baptismal font or anything that looks religious and the rise of on-site coffee parlors, basketball courts, 12-step programs and everything from marriage counseling to financial planning, plus a message--at Community Christian they don’t use the word `sermon’--that’s finely attuned to popular culture.
Ms. LORI McGOVERN(ph) (Church Member): My name is Lori McGovern. I’ve been coming since August of 2000.
LUDDEN: And why did you start coming here?
Ms. McGOVERN: I started coming here on Tuesday nights for Celebrate The Journey, which is our support and recovery ministry. And I’ve been coming ever since, and I am now actually a coach and a leader in divorce care, which is why I started here. It’s something I personally can relate to, and it’s as though my church is trying to meet me where I’m at, meet my needs.
Ms. TYLER BANK(ph) (Church Member): My name is Tyler Bank. I’ve been coming for about--almost two years. Now what I like about CCC is that they really reach people where they’re at. Like, if someone is--doesn’t know anything about Jesus, like, they really have something for everyone. They’ve got support groups for whatever--you know, AA. I just started going to, like, a women’s small group because I’m getting married in September.
SEE ALSO: My post, Christmas day worship in your living room via DVD.
Coddle your flock
In The Future of Freedom, Fareed Zakaria traces the decline of religious authority in America. He notes that the evolution of Billy Graham from a “fiery preacher of perdition to a benign father figure” coincides with his rising popularity and move to radio and television evangelizing.
The development of Jerry Falwell’s megachurches modeled on shopping centers to “attract the massed to the gospel,” and Bill and Tammy Fay Bakker’s “Christianity should be fun” hedonism, further illustrate the populist democratization and rising politicization of evangelicalism.
From the August 7th All Things Considered report by Jennifer Ludden, Big Churches Use Technology to Branch Out:
Unidentified Man #4: Anyways, we’re starting a series called What Do You TiVo?, which is subtitled Living A Life Worth Recording. And what we did is we looked at some of the top shows, and we tried to build some service themes around people’s most pressing-felt needs. The first week, which will be the week that follows this weekend, we’re doing a service called Desperate Households. Hard to tell what that could take off on. Actually it’ll be kind of leveraging, springboarding off of the popularity of “Desperate Housewives,” which, of course, has got tremendous appeal, top of the charts.
LUDDEN: Clips from popular TV shows will be wrapped into a slickly produced video. There’s also a discussion about using a song from the band Green Day’s recent hit album, “American Idiot.”
It’s working. John Vaughn, Publisher of Church Growth Today (his “350 page powerpoint seminar CD” is available here for only $195) says that in 1970, there were only 10 known non-Catholic churches with an attendance of 2,000. There were 50 in 1980 and 100 in 1985. Today there are more than a thousand and a new one is added every two days.
Christmas day worship in your living room via DVD
The megachurch goal of an “innovative” and “family friendly” approach is achieved this Christmas by canceling the Christmas Day service and distributing a DVD instead.
This, says Willow Creek Community Church Communications Director Cally Parkinson (a “community” church needs a communications director???) will facilitate a “more personal and maybe more intimate Christmas message.”
God, she says, “is with us wherever we are.” How convenient.
For me it confirms Fareed Zakaria’s observation in The Future of Freedom that there’s a decline of religious authority in American life. In a compelling and well argued chapter entitled “The Death of Authority” he suggests that the notion of evangelicalism thriving because of its strictness is flat-out wrong.
Rather, he explains, today’s fundamentalism has undergone a profound populist transformation; the focus is on attracting the masses. Today we have faith as therapy; a populist evangelicalism that coddles its flock. “People are praised, comforted, consoled, but never condemned,” he writes:
[p.214] What remains of the old Protestant fundamentalism is politics: abortion, gays, evolution. These issues are what binds the vast congregation together. But even here things have changed as Americans have become more tolerant of many of these social taboos. Today many fundamentalist churches take nominally tough positions on, say, homosexuality but increasingly do little else for fear of offending the average believer, whom one scholar calls “the unwashed Harry.” All it really takes to be a fundamentalist these days is to watch the TV shows, go to the theme parks, buy Christian rock, and vote Republican.
So are the fundamentalist upset about canceling the Christmas service? Some. But the big deal even for them is not that they’re canceling the Christmas service. It turns out that’s the trend among evangelical churches; they make Christmas Eve the big draw instead. But because Christmas falls on a Sunday they’ll be canceling a Sunday service. That’s the upset.
The cancelation won’t upset my worship routine. Bedside Baptist is the church for me. And it looks like this Christmas, even here in the red, red, heart of the South, I won’t be alone in that.
SEE ALSO: Slate’s photo essay on the anatomy of megachurches.