Entrega Para Usted

17Nov13
I’ve mentioned I come from a religious family.  While almost every member of my closest family members has been active with the church for their entire lives, we do not all attend the same church.  We are scattered through local congregations as well as the several churches my grandfather founded here in southern California.  You can find members of the Diamsay family in Calvary Chapel, El Toro Baptist Church International, Grace Fellowship,  Compass Bible Church, and Saddleback Church.

This video is of a youth service at Saddleback Church.  It’s Gangnam Style. It’s dancing.  That one suited Filipino amongst the mass of Caucasians attempting to sing in Korean?  It’s my cousin.

Saddleback’s Gangam Style dance is a prime example of Christianization, which Jose Sanchez-Perry defines as the “attempt to lure people into worship places by assimilating to culture.”  When I asked my cousin why he was performing Gangnam Style at church, he could have quoted Sanchez-Perry word for word: “We perform secular songs to lure kids into coming to service.”


In this mini-documentary by Vice Magazine‘s new music channel, Noisey, we witness an example of Christianization that, like Saddleback’s Gangnam style, involves music, dancing, and foreign language.

Communidad Pantokrator is a church in Bogota, Columbia.  Since 2003, Communidad Pantokrator has congregated to worship in an unconventional style.  They are a metal church.  Their services include original metal rock worship songs and moshing.  In juxtoposition to the hardcore praise and worship, each service includes a sermon where churchgoers sit in pews listening as quietly as peaceful lambs grazing at pasture.

Communidad

Out of the 7.125 billion people in the world, only around 50 Psy-enthusiasts were present to gallop on invisible horses with my cousin.  Out of the same world population, only a minority of metalheads in the capital of Columbia are privy to the mosh pits of Communidad Pantokrator.  What it must feel like to dance/head bang along with these two very different services in the flesh is an experience that only a select few of the Christian population can attest to.   Although I can rock out with Apostle Psy and Hermano Metelero in spirit (via the Holy Spirit), I’m only able to partake in the fellowship through new media.

In regard to visual media, Jay David Bolter says, “The medium is supposed to function as a window through which the viewer can see the objects represented.”  From paintings to picture books to movies, we are able to observe representations of the real world through visual media without having experience of the original phenomenon at all.

Medios de communicación, media, mediar, mediate: Spanish and English words sharing the same Latin root medi-, which means “middle.”

What connects me to the ostensibly real of a Saddleback or Communidad service is the little YouTube “window” between us.  I am instantly gratified by this “middleman.” Bolter says,  “Hypermediated media give up the attempt to present a world beyond themselves; instead, they offer themselves as immediate experiences.”  So it’s not even that these videos are representations of the unmediated world, they are experiences in themselves.

I assume that the form of worship that is more dignified is clear to you, whoever you are.  Therefore I’ll make no argument for or against either Saddleback or Communidad Pantokrator.  What I can do is analyze the rhetorical effect of the videos themselves.

In our digital age, how information is delivered to us is as important as the content of the information itself.  Cicero said that delivery is critical to rhetorical effect.  In an article titled Recovering Delivery for Digital Rhetoric, James E. Porter makes a case to classify delivery as a form of techne, or rhetorical knowledge.  He presents a theoretical framework that outlines five components of digital delivery.

The first feature is the body or identity of the deliverer.  In ancient times, the very flesh and bone of Greek orators was the vehicle of content delivery.  YouTube as a deliverer of rhetoric has a different body.  The virtual “body” of a YouTube video in rhetorical terms has an ethos that is tricky to explain.  People go to YouTube to be entertained, informed, amazed.  We have an expectation for instant gratification from YouTube, and it almost never fails to deliver unless your Wifi access is compromised.  YouTube’s reputation as a limitless, immediate deliverer of experience is its identity to its audience.

Porter’s second component of delivery is distribution or circulation.  I imagine printing presses and paper stacks and delivery boys hurling newspapers from bicycles when I consider the word “distribution.”  I imagine ladies exchanging tabloids in a nail salon when I consider the word “circulation.”  In similar ways YouTube distributes and circulates Saddleback’s Gangnam Style or Communidad’s Trono Blanco to its audience.  From the moment the videos were published, people were able to view and share their content.  As easily as a delivery boy throws the OC Register into my rose bush, as easily as People Magazine passes from one manicured hand to another, my cousin’s hip thrusts and the pig squeals of Pastor Christian González reach me and anyone I share it with.

The next aspect of delivery is access or accessibility.  Anyone connected to the Internet has access to these videos.   Accessibility refers “to the level of connectedness of one particular group of persons.”  The greatest “disability” I have when it comes to accessing the unmediated reality of Saddleback and Communidad is that I’m simply not there.  These experiences I miss out on take place either thousands of miles away or in places I have absolutely no intent of ever setting foot in.  And yet, through YouTube, I access the services and connect to them as if I was part of the direct audience.

Interaction or interactivity, the fourth component, refers to “how users engage interfaces and each other in digital environments.”  Besides the emotional reaction I have to witnessing the two services, I am further engaged in the content because I can interact with content originators and viewers through YouTube’s comment section.  “This is sooo much fun!” says the little blurb on the Gangnam Style video.  If I wanted to tell the 14-year-old who posted the video how her “fun” seems like blasphemy, I could.  If (I would have to be someone like Shirley Phelps-Roper ) I wanted to tell Noisey that Communidad Pantokrator was Hell on earth, I could.

If I wanted to tell the 14-year-old who posted the video how her “fun” seems like blasphemy, I could.  If  I wanted to tell Noisey that Communidad Pantokrator was Hell on earth, I could.

Lastly, Porter says that economics is an important component of delivery.  Originators considered “value, exchange, and capital” in creating these videos.  That 14-year-old probably valued her experience at Saddleback so much that she wanted to exchange it with others, probably for social capital (likes and favorites) or probably just to extend Saddleback’s attempt to lure people into attending.  Vice and Noisey saw something of worth in Communidad Pantokrator and wanted to barter it to its audience to provoke a reaction that would bear capital in the form of raised eyebrows, shares, and discussion.  Delivering rhetoric is an economic transaction between rhetor and audience.  Not only do I pay for mediated experience with time spent watching, but memory, emotion, and whatever deposit or withdrawal the content makes to my worldview.

While a well-established international magazine may have more mastery of the art of rhetoric than our darling 14-year-old, there is no doubt both videos have strong rhetorical effect on their audiences.  Audiences for each video are quite specific.  I read Vice Magazine because it appeals to what teenage angst I have left over from the glory days, as well as my liberal perspective.  Other readers who may not even have the interest in religion or Christian background that I do are the only other audience members Vice targeted.  Their video would not have resonated with most of America’s Christian community.  That Christian community also would have few members who’d approve of the Gangnam Style video.  Although as widespread as Christianization has become, and as popular and ever-present it is in places like Saddleback Church, the de-secularized youth performance’s audience might have more girth.  It’s debatable.

The intended effect of the Gangnam dance as determined by its delivery was  motivated by someone who was clearly charmed by Saddleback’s integration of pop culture into religion.  Saddleback had a rhetorical effect on that person to begin with.  To a non-believing teenager who has since worshiped Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, finding this video within her “Gangnam Style” search might make her consider worshiping Jesus instead, so long as she gets to have “fun” doing it.  The video, delivered from an enthusiastic Saddleback churchgoer, aims to promote Saddleback.  For some like me, it’s counterproductive.

The mini-documentary on Communidad Pantokrator had an effect on me that I did not expect.  I imagine the effect was similar for other viewers, believers and non-believers alike.  “Metal church?” I asked myself when I read the heading.  It’s a paradox, said the conservative Christian in me.  When I watched the video, all prejudice and judgment was broken to pieces.  The pastor, the members, the praise and worship seemed more genuine than most Christianity I have seen in my lifetime.  The video was an honest, unadorned presentation that didn’t press faith in my face; it was like Vice was just saying, “Look what we found.  This exists.”

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