The marketing culture of American consumerism and American evangelicals are strange bedfellows, but, make no mistake about it, American evangelicalism is drunk with marketing. Entire ministries are built upon employing the right marketing techniques. Even the most conservative corners demonstrate a penchant toward marketing strategies and tricks. If you do not believe this to be true, it has been too long since you have wandered through your local Bible-cover emporium (a.k.a. Christian bookstore).
But, here’s the rub. Christians stink at marketing. It would be one thing if they were good; then we could begin to formulate reasons to object to the evangelical love affair with marketing techniques. They try to do marketing, but they do it poorly. American evangelicals are the essence of that thirty-something former “hipster” who is now painfully unaware of their “un-coolness.” (Pardon my lack of technical terminology for these kinds of people; I am way too far out of the loop to know the proper words.)
Dan Kennedy, a former marketing guru for Atlantic records, in recounting the days before he took that job, illustrates well the reality of American evangelical marketeers in his book Rock On: An Office Power Ballad:
Before we get to the first big assignment at the new high-profile rock-and-roll job, let me first admit that there is a delusion that I have apparently quietly indulged since, say, age thirty, and it’s this: that I am still as cool as I was when I was seventeen. Inside the heart and head, a sort of suspended animation, a never-quite-acknowledged freezing of time. Unmonitored, this is how the tragedy of uncles who still get high happens. And now, having taken a full-time job working on the marketing and advertising of bands, somehow this delusion is raging in a very bad way. In the days leading up to the job, I’ve spent a lot of time laying on my couch, listening to my Ipod and day-dreaming about how I’m basically going to be paid to be some sort of intense uber-rock-and-roll person who is marketing loud, fierce developing bands who have not yet registering on the radar of the so-called “normal, run-of-the-mill” adults in the mainstream. Those were great, powerful, and beautiful moments of delusion, mostly because I had not yet sat down and faced this first big assignment: to write an inspirational and congratulatory ad campaign that celebrates twenty-five years of heart-warming love songs from Phil Collins.
The point is that Dan Kennedy realized he was no longer cool. That is, in part at least, the point of the joke (sorry that I have to make it so obvious). It would be nice, I think, if emergent/emerging pastors would get a grip on this key concept (ever been to one of their blogs?): you are no longer cool (this said presuming you were, at one point, “cool”). You are very far from hip. And that you are naïve to this, makes your uncoolness uber-uncool. In his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, Terry asks him about realizing he was not cool:
I would imagine for a normal developmental sort of thing that you would go through as a thirty-five year old male, maybe you would gradually start realizing you’re not cool, and you’d start breaking it to yourself gently. But when you’re in the recording studio with an all-female punk rock band who are all twenty-two years old, you realize very quickly, “Oh, I’m kind of like the dad here. I’m kind of like the weird neighbor who doesn’t realize what’s cool who’s using slightly wrong terminology.” I think that was the day it happened, when I was recording PSA’s with the Donnas from San Francisco, this great punk rock, sort of guitar rock all-female band–very cool and very hip. And I’m sort of standing there in leather shoes and a gray sweater and slacks, and, like, trying to convince them I was cool. And I just thought, “Oh, . . . something has happened since 1986 and it’s not good.”
And for you emergent/emerging pastors, I say: Selah.
But Dan Kennedy does not just realize that he is no longer cool, he realizes that marketing is built on falsehoods; marketing is as genuine as a three-dollar bill. He talks about how the record company for which he worked took a song about being genuine and “not selling out” and licensed it to sell razors to women. He quotes an executive at this company as saying, “I don’t tell people I’m in the record business. I tell them I’m in the business of delivering a lifestyle: hooded sweatshirts and other merchandise, merch that features various band logos, licensing soft-drinks, everything. There’s no limit to how this business will change and will become a business of selling a way of living, rather than simply selling music.” He pokes fun at the stereotyped demographic groups that marketing types refer to with the auspices of meaning. The way he speaks about it, marketing is about manipulating image and playing clever packaging games to fool an audience of bumpkins.
So what has Madison Avenue to do with Jerusalem, anyway?