Great gifts faux this Christmas!

I just received a religious Christmas catalog in the mail and I need to vent. Perhaps you already know how I cringe at faux products. If not, you can read a few posts here. Fakes, posers, wannabes, simulations - none of these make sense to me, especially when it comes to Christianity and marketing.

My first complaint is about the products themselves and those who consume them, and the second is about the advertisers who promote them.

1. Buy pagan gifts "faux" your family this Christmas!

Item A: "Nemo finds Jesus." (OK, "Kingdom Under the Sea")

My rantings: What's wrong with the movie "Finding Nemo"? And why pick an orange clownfish and not any of the other millions of creatures in the sea? And why is the evil character in this take-off video series called Krakken? Granted, Kraken (with one fewer "k") has been around for several centuries as a giant marine creature who wrecks ships and all, but did someone just happen to watch "Pirates of the Caribbean" the night before and decide to go on a venture by adding a "k"? By the way, my seven year old just walked into my office and asked what I was doing. I told her and she said, "So, it's like somebody erased the words 'Finding Nemo' and wrote 'Kingdom Under the Sea'?" I'd say that's pretty close.

Item B: Bratz (No, wait, I mean God's Girlz. The "z" threw me off.)

My rantings: The package shown here says Sarah's Bible name means "Princess." Does knowing etymology make this toy more righteous? And how about the Christianese saying on her shirt, complete with Scripture reference? (Abigail, the guitar-playing God's Girl, has "Pick Jesus" on her top. Get it? Guitar...Pick Jesus...?) Supposedly, God's Girlz are "designed to encourage thoughtful play." Really? Give a kid any toy - Barbie, Bratz, God's Girlz, or even fashion-decorated wooden spoons - and they're going to play the same.

Item C: GoBible

My rantings: I have no problem with listening to the Bible on headphones, but besides the product design between the GoBible and the iPod being overly similar, you could save $100 by downloading the same content straight to your iPod. AND watch Pirates (or a better Johnny Depp movie like "Chocolat").

Item D: Guitar Praise

My rantings: So you don't want youth group kids singing the handful of questionable tunes on Guitar Hero. Great. But do you have to create completely separate content? Hasn't this been a criticism of CCM over the years? We know there's plenty of beneficial secular music and plenty of theologically shaky religious music out there. What would be wrong with a sacred/secular mix that would benefit and challenge listeners rather than cordon them off from the rest of the world? Besides, if youth leaders have been so willing to bring in the bad already, wouldn't they be even more willing to bring in the thoughtful?

Now you know a few items I won't be buying this Christmas. Please recognize how thoughtless these kitchy knock-offs are. As you do, I hope you'll give the companies your opinion by contacting them or at least by refraining from supporting them with your money.

Now for my second venting point.

2. Frank Lloyd Wright called - he wants his creativity back.

OK, I'm being a tad mean. But marketers, c'mon. If this is all you can do as an employee for the Kingdom, you need to enter another line of work. Creativity is a gift and ought to be used as a reflection of God's own creativity. When you mimic what's already been made, you commit two violations. First, you steal from another's work. That's bad enough. And second, you tell the world that Christians don't have an innovative bone in their bodies. Think about it: This type of activity declares that growth in the faith is best achieved by following whatever secular practices gather fans, and then adopting those practices. That isn't creativity. It's a statement that non-Christians have nothing good regarding content but everything good regarding form.

We need a new approach for sure.


Anonymous,  November 9, 2008 at 12:46 AM  

Boy I'm with you 100% on this! These kinds of toys should make each and every one of our eyeballs roll audibly at the two-fold crimes they commit: copying (pitifully) and showing a profound lack of independent creativity.

You said it great, I have no wiser words to add, but had to have the visible head nod in affirmation for you. Peace!

Marcus Goodyear November 9, 2008 at 8:54 AM  

Your comment about Frank Lloyd Wright will be with me for a long time. If our creativity is always derivative, we're just being lazy.

Sam Van Eman November 9, 2008 at 1:12 PM  

simplejoys123, i'm glad there are others like you who see this. i could've gone on for pages but decided that was enough to make the point.

marcus, sarcasm oozed from me as i wrote, but i cut most of it for gentleness' sake.

Bradley J Moore November 10, 2008 at 6:40 PM  

Wow, you really hit the Christian Crass jackpot here. What kind of people are buying this crapola? When I was younger, my friends and I used to call this kind of material "Jesus-Sh**" Back in the 70's if you just threw a fish on something, you could market it to Christians. It really gives a lame impression of how far (off) the American maintsream Christianity can get.

Thanks for venting, I'm right there with ya!

Kay Martin November 11, 2008 at 5:47 AM  

I avoid many Christian bookstores because I hate this stuff!!! I've been concerned about this merchandizing compulsion for some time.

Back in the nineties I was writing a book and a Christian bookstore owner gave me a ticket to the Christian Booksellers Convention. I had been working in marketing in the secualr market on some gift items for several years.

I felt there would be some vendors with money mainly on their minds, so I prayed for keen discernment to see the real from the phoney.

Oh, my...I still cringe in all I saw and how sick I became. I left after only a few hours. Over half of the vendors showed me no difference from what I had worked in throughout the country in the secular gift market.

I was so turned off I never finished the book. As I come back to writing; I am stronger and I won't let these problems deter me.

The problem is not the is the purchasers. When there are no sales, there will no longer be any of these products on the shelves.

I agree with you wholeheartedly!!!

Sam Van Eman November 11, 2008 at 2:34 PM  

Funny stuff, Brad. I like your edge.

Kay, what a great story. Thanks for sharing it.

M.joshua November 12, 2008 at 9:40 AM  

... But I like playing songs that only have three chords that get played over and over and over again! Why play a game that challenges you when you can sit and play songs that lack any complexity?


(This game is getting a lot of laughs:

Sam Van Eman November 12, 2008 at 2:16 PM  

Josh, I haven't read your link yet, but it's hard not to poke fun, isn't it? I wonder what goes through the minds of the men/women who design and promote these products. And I wonder even more what is the best way to help them.

Anonymous,  November 13, 2008 at 2:35 AM  

You make an ass out of yourself when you make uninformed assumptions.

The first videos in the Kingdom Under the Sea series (Bridgestone Multimedia) were released in 2000, long before Disney released Finding Nemo (2003). Looks like maybe some cultural images and products have clearly been stolen from Christian ones. Check your facts before you slam!

Sam Van Eman November 13, 2008 at 9:04 AM  

Thanks for the challenge. I stand corrected that "Kingdom Under the Sea" was released prior to "Finding Nemo".

Kingdom=2000, Nemo=2003.

I do know that Nemo was in pre-production as early as 1997, so I've sent a few e-mails out in order to provide good information. It could end up that this is an uncanny coincidence.

Regardless, I'll post any corrections when I receive them. Thank you for tuning in and calling me to task.


Prodoceo November 13, 2008 at 12:01 PM  

First, I apologize for posting anonymously. I did something that I try not to let myself to do when stumbling blogs. I took your post personally! I was offended by the sarcastic tone of your post and felt that it was an unfair assessment in several ways. And in my frustration, I did something that I hate...I responded anonymously. Sorry.

Of course, in my comment I called you out on your rant about "Kingdom Under the Sea", because I happen to know that it is NOT a knock off...and so I simply responded to that part of your post.

Interestingly enough, I agree with your views in regards to some Christian marketing practices. As a Christian, I am very put off by the marketing of Christianity, but mainly because it trivializes something that is so important, not because it is a "copycat" of the secular. ALL marketing does that to some degree. Of course, everyone wants to create the "next big thing", but in the meantime, companies continue to flood the market with products that are similar to currently popular products in some way.

My biggest problem with your post is your desire to cast Christians in a negative light for doing something that is common practice across the board. Popular products are "knocked-off" or "recreated" by secular marketers all the time. For example, you ranted about the GoBible and posted a side by side photo of the GoBible and an iPod. While I agree completely that buying the GoBible is a waste of money, why not also post photos of the Sandisk or Sony MP3 players that also bear a very strong resemblance to iPod? It's okay for them to market a "copycat", but not for Christians to do so? I see your position as somewhat inconsistent.

The issue really has NOTHING to do with Christians. It is a marketing issue. Period. The products you chose to highlight, all just happen to be Christian ones.

There IS an issue to be dealt with by Christians....and that is the trivializing of something that is sacred. And THAT should be discussed!

Thanks for taking the time to look into the "Kingdom Under the Sea". I appreciate your willingness to correct your error if there is one.


Sam Van Eman November 13, 2008 at 1:05 PM  

Prodoceo, no hard feelings. Thank you for introducing yourself. It's always nice to have a real person on the other line.

If you are new to this blog, I hope you'll check out my April posts. There are four or five there on my issues with faux across the board.

I also wrote a book a few years back called On Earth as It is in Advertising? Moving from Commercial hype to Gospel Hope. I wasn't using the word faux at that time, but the premise is that popular advertising succeeds most when it uses the SimGospel (a concept I stole from The Sims!) to simulate or borrow from the Good News of the Bible.

So I'm sorry if my picking on Christians came out of the blue. After perusing the catalog and talking with friends and colleagues who also steer clear of this type of Christian Bookstore gift-line, I was so fueled that I wanted to direct my rantings toward this singular group.

I hope you keep reading. I always need folks who will help raise up a new breed of advertisers and consumers.

P.S. Stay tuned about Kingdom/Nemo.

Linda November 18, 2008 at 11:46 PM  

I've stayed updates?

Maybe this will help...

Sam Van Eman November 19, 2008 at 11:08 AM  

Sorry, Linda. I did update, but it was in the subsequent post dated 11/16. I thought it would be better not to hide my correction in the comments but to designate an entire post to it. It's called Chicken or the Egg? or you can go directly to it here.

Yvonne December 1, 2008 at 1:30 PM  

A little piece of me dies every time I see things like this, only because it seems to give off the sense that the Christian version of something is better than what already exists. This isn't necessarily true...

I feel like your post could be a tribute to examples of what Andy Crouch is talking about in his book, Culture Making. I'm only half way through it but I appreciate his well-rounded assessment so far.

Sam Van Eman December 1, 2008 at 2:52 PM  

thanks for the comment, yvonne. i have a copy of crouch's book and read a lengthy review of it, but i haven't been able to read it yet.

i'm interested to see what he has to say about cultural examples like these.

Yvonne December 3, 2008 at 11:32 PM  

If you check out Guitar Praise's 'What Others Are Saying' part of their webpage, I'm not sure what to make of comments like this: "I waited so long because I refused to let the secular guitar hero in my house and it was worth the wait."

I want to ask questions that revolve around whether other items in their house were made by Christians or "secular" companies.
How would you approach this kind of comment?

Sam Van Eman December 5, 2008 at 1:53 PM  

great question, yvonne. i, personally, and perhaps unfortunately, tend to put secularly-made products in different categories, and my guess is that they are doing the same.

one category is the stuff that proclaims a message out loud, e.g. the content of tv, internet, radio....

the other is the stuff whose makers and designs proclaim a message, e.g. the couch, my toyota pick-up, levi's jeans....

in the first category, the message is clear and can be turned on/off. in the second, the message is subtle, even initially absent. but you and i know that everyone has a worldview and a business ethic, which may or may not line up with my own. the couch maker could be a guy i wouldn't trust and certainly wouldn't ask to lead our sunday school class. yet the couch looks safe so we assume we're free of guilt. yet our purchase and the marketing we do to visitors who want the same couch might be fueling any evil plans said couch maker may have.

my guess is that folks who make comments like that about guitar praise and guitar hero aren't considering the deeper layers of implications on our support of any and all purchases.

let's say the couch maker and guitar hero were equally harmful. i'd still prefer that my four year old sit on the couch than listen to guitar hero.

p.s. what a moving painting you have featured over at comment.

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