Category Archives: Pop Culture

Not a California Gurl

I admit it: I love to listen to CHR—Contemporary Hit Radio, i.e. the Top 40 station. One of the best things about living in California (after the weather) is the fact that rather than normal Top 40 stations, we have “Rhythmic Contemporary” stations. This means, basically, that you get all the great pop, R&B songs, and hip-hop songs of a normal CHR station, still skipping some of the hip-hop that would play on an “urban only” station (which generally tends to be the hip-hop I enjoy less), and skipping most of the rock and country songs that other CHR stations would play.

This last part is key. I do certain rock (e.g., U2), but I don’t do other rock (e.g., Nickelback). I appreciate a radio station that doesn’t make me listen to any more rock than I have to, since I tend to dislike more than I like. Unfortunately, however, even my beloved AMP radio is making me listen to other disgusting excuses for art. Indeed, Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” does not even perform well against other dumb and potentially offensive songs. Yes, even “Carry Out” by Timbaland and Justin Timberlake ranks far, far above “California Gurls” in my mind.

I dislike “California Gurls” for many reasons. First, its spelling. Secondly, it’s labeling women as girls. (Thanks, Jennifer Hagin, for ruining my ability to mindlessly accept colloquialisms.) Thirdly, Katy Perry’s barely cloud-obscured nudity in the video. Fourthly, Katy Perry’s costumes because they are just sexist and disgusting. Fifthly, the song’s insinuation that men should pick their women based on geographic location and that women are valuable as members of a group rather than as individuals. “Carolina Girls” may be a much more innocent song, but I’ve always hated it, too—along with the thousands of “Carolina Girls” t-shirts sold at UNC Student Stores every year.

One of the most frustrating things about “California Gurls,” however, is the aspect of it that is true. Of course most women here don’t walk around in bikinis, drive Jeeps, or have sex on the beach on a regular basis. However, there is something different about women (and many men) in California: an increased concern with appearance. In California it’s easy to walk around in what you think are normal-people clothes and feel like a total bum. As my friend Kate noticed on a visit here, people seem to dress up even just to visit the mall. After traffic, this is probably my least favorite part of living in Los Angeles county. There are plenty of kind-hearted and intelligent people out here, but the stereotype that L.A. residents are shallow, materialistic, and always sporting the latest styles sometimes feels very true.

Back in college, the dominant culture was that of the over-achiever. It was this culture that our InterVarsity staff encouraged us to struggle against—that we might find our value in God’s love for us rather than our achievements. Here, I wish we had a few more prophetic voices encouraging us to not buy into the SoCal mentality. I wish this partly for selfish reasons—so that I wouldn’t feel as out of place just because I don’t wear make-up and could stand to lose a few pounds—but I also want it because I hate seeing the damage that comes from misplaced priorities. Unfortunately, L.A. sometimes seems to specialize in cultural flaws (though, of course, it also has its share of cultural beauty), and it can be difficult to know how to adequately address a culture’s influence in our own lives, much less help anyone else with this task. Still, I think this is a task we are called to, as we try to better love God, ourselves, and our neighbors.

With no further brilliance to share, I will conclude by recommending two recent books that I have not yet read: Unsqueezed, an entertaining book about culture and body image by Margot Starbuck (author of The Girl in the Orange Dress, a fantastic memoir on adoption, divorce, and God as Father) and Under the Influence, a look at the culture of California and its influence on broader American culture.

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“And now for something completely different!”

Soon after my first post, I sat mesmerized in front of a television screen—a rare sight if you know my viewing habits, or lack thereof.  The Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics blew me away, and I had a rush of thoughts about this super-cool gathering of people from around the world.  It may not explicitly worship Jesus, but I think it’s strikingly in line with many Christian priorities like peace, cultural diversity, and rejoicing in the bodies God has given us.  My first “real” post, I decided would be about the Olympics.  I was quite excited!

But then…

*Duhn! Duhn! Duhn!*  I checked my Google Reader the next day, only to see that Al Hsu hadn’t just written a blog post on this very topic, but a whole article—yes, a whole freakin’ article for both online and print readers—for Christianity Today.  (And, yes, I am bitter.  The column is definitely worth reading, though.)  I decided I didn’t have anything new or intelligent to add to his discussion of the connection of the Olympics with God’s reign, so I have sat for several days wondering what I might write.

I’ve decided to begin with A Task:

Name two songs.

Both should mean something to you that is very different from what you think they mean to a significant number of listeners.

Preferably, choose one from “inside” a group that you’re a part of (religious, cultural, geographic, political, etc.).  (For example, maybe you’re a feminist, but you find a “feminist”-leaning song that actually seems completely anti-feminist to you.)  Then choose another song from “outside” a group you’re a part of (maybe the same group?) that seems oddly in line with how you see the world.  Perhaps one of the most “misogynistic” rappers around has just released a single that speaks to you about women’s dignity.  Post snippets of lyrics if you want and try not to completely bash anyone’s choices just yet.  Chatter expressing dis/agreement is ok, though.

Go!

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