Click here to listen to this week's issue of The Culture Translator on Spotify!
Three Things This Week
1. No Place Like AC:NH For the Holidays
What it is: Nintendo Switch’s pandemic-hit Animal Crossing: New Horizons released a winter update on November 19 complete with events like Toy Day and Turkey Day.
Why it’s not exactly Advent: An Oxford study showed that playing Animal Crossing for up to four hours a day might actually have psychological benefits. While a single study isn’t a reason to throw all screen time limits out the window, it is interesting to consider that not all screen-based activities are equally risky for teens’ mental health. Animal Crossing has been a magnet for quarantined teens looking for a forum that resembles normal activities sans the COVID-19 risk. Spending time on Animal Crossing might feel for your teen like hanging out in their best friend’s basement. But the game can become a consumerist paradise of sorts, where acquiring objects to curate your inventory becomes a quest that never ends. Still, these limited-time features could be a means to keep gamers in festive spirits, even through a socially distanced holiday season.
2. Bait and Dress
What it is: Recording artist and sometimes actor Harry Styles posed for the cover of Vogue wearing feminine attire, and people had a lot to say about it.
Why it’s a trap: The argument that men have been wearing kilts, togas, robes, and other suspiciously skirt-like attire since the beginning of time doesn’t really stack up here, since Styles donned the Gucci gown to purposely subvert the expectations of his gender. Styles and the Vogue editorial board meant to cause a stir with this cover shoot, and they did. Vlogger Logan Paul defended Styles’ decision to go frilly on the cover of the world’s most famous fashion periodical. Podcaster Ben Shapiro slammed the look as an erosion of masculinity. Actress Olivia Wilde applauded the photograph. Conservative commentator Candace Owens tweeted, “Bring back manly men.” And on, and predictably on. Take this opportunity to ask your teen what they think it means to be a man, and whether they see that reflected in culture. And keep in mind that one of the biggest cultural toxicities at work here is the news cycle of outrage (and outrage at the outrage) that stunts like this willfully manufacture.
3. Parler Games
What it is: Parler, a social media platform launched in 2018, claims to be a “free-speech alternative” to Twitter and Facebook. After the 2020 election, the app has experienced a surge (paywall) in use from conservatives disenchanted with Big Tech’s censorship of certain topics.
Why it’s trending: Parler has been the top-downloaded app (language) in the Google and Apple stores for the last week or so. But its critics say that the app is just a copycat of the same tech problems that it seeks to escape: it prioritizes conservative speech instead of truly “liberating” speech. Just like Twitter and Facebook, Parler promotes influencer accounts and shows you what it thinks you want to see based on your engagement habits. (Could it be that partisanship is a feature, not a flaw, of algorithm echo chambers? We wonder.) Politically active teens of the conservative persuasion and their equally censorship-fatigued parents may find Parler to temporarily soothe their frustrations, but it may not provide the respite from bias that they hope for.
Spotlight: Are you desperately parenting in desperate times? Join hundreds of other parents for Parenting Pivot LIVE! Learn how to look at teen culture, and start having amazing conversations that lead the next generation to a lifelong relationship with Christ. Click here to learn more!
Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Advent in a Pandemic
For many Americans, Thanksgiving’s origins don’t matter as much as having an excuse to eat sweet potato casserole. In a normal year, political conversations might get tense; now, even the decision to meet is politicized. Depending on who you read, getting together is either a triumphant expression of American freedom, or a reckless endangerment of human lives during the worst part of the pandemic. The gap between these viewpoints continues to widen—so it’s a good thing Axis doesn’t believe anything important ever happens in conversation.
For those who ask, “How do we move past the strife and heal our disunity?” Black Friday answers, “How about $600 off a new TV at Best Buy?” Before we’re even done giving thanks, in walks this zenith of American consumerism. But Black Friday is just one part of our yearly pop culture calendar, which shapes and forms us into people who only have eyes for what’s new and hot. Unfortunately, many Christians are just as shaped by this calendar as anyone else. As Walter Brueggeman puts it in A Way Other Than Our Own, “…the crisis in the U.S. church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence.” So if these words are true, then what’s the alternative?
Sunday, November 29 marks the beginning of Advent—a time of yearning, longing, and anticipation, when Christians of all stripes turn their eyes to Heaven and remember that their hope isn’t in anything around us, but only in the return of our Blessed Savior. We remember and long for the day when everything will be unified again under Christ, and we begin to retell the alternative story of what’s really going on in this sad, broken world.
All this happens in the eyes of our teens, who are watching what we prioritize, and where our zeal is directed. So this holiday season, which version of reality will we model as preeminent? Let’s let the chaos of this year encourage us to return to our first love, and to make room in our hearts again for the only One who can truly save.