I gave a New Year’s Eve lecture looking back at 2007, touching on the sheer inability for anyone to be a true cinema and television expert with the number of films and channels at play; this cinemagluttony isn’t really producing more creative content, just creating more work sifting through the detritus (I confess to liking Nicolas Cage, but having him appear in three action flicks in the same year – Ghost Rider, Next, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets – helped highlight the fact that they were all half-baked). Moreover, this glut – coupled with the plethora of games and online distractions – makes water-cooler conversations and relationship-building with neighbors more difficult as shared experiences are becoming fragmented. The entertainment economy is inhibiting close friendships, save for affinity-based conversations with friends who share our niche interests. Whereas shared experiences used to be ice-breakers for real conversation, they have become the conversation, and most of us are just skating on the ice.
Wait, you say, that blog title sounded funny… what’s wrong with you? Sorry, I almost got too deep there; I’ll save it for later. Skating along now…
My point was, as a pastor hoping to connect with more than just a singular demographic or affinity group, maintaining an overview of pop culture is nigh-impossible. Despite what a few of my friends believe, I don’t get paid to watch TV and movies all day. Thus entered “The Soup“… my rapid-fire, scattershot, parody portal into all things idol, chat, celeb, soap, sci-fi, pseudo-hip and “reality”… packaged and presented in 30 minutes or less with a snarky, Seacrest-sniping commentator who almost makes it palatable.
For those of you who already rely on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for your window into what’s “really happening” in the world (or for those of you who actually read the news and have even less time to keep up with popular culture) The Soup has been a great way to keep a finger on the pulse of pop. I would not have known anything about the tirades of Tyra, the virulence of The View, the latest on Lohan, or the backsliding of Britney without this tiny gem that repeats just about every day of the week on the E! Channel. Within a few minutes I can have one eye on Sanjaya, keep up with the Kardashians, and find out what giant snake movie the geeks are watching this week on the Sci-fi Channel. Without The Soup, I might not have known about the challenges facing USAmericans when it comes to maps that everyone else was talking about. With this caustic clip show, spoofing even the overindulgent celebrity-chasing shows featured on their own network, host Joel McHale smirks his way through the weeks highlights, mocking just about every slice of contemporary culture that would probably make me drill a hole in my head (That would have worked if you hadn’t stopped me…” – Egon Spengler, on drilling a hole in his head, from Ghostbusters).
Pointless movie-quote tangents notwithstanding, after watching The Soup I can always poke around and get more details on any pop item if I think it might provide relevant commentary for teaching on culture, or even for use as a preaching illustration. The great thing about Joel McHale is that, as the show boasts, “hewatches this stuff so you don’t have to”. It’s a community service! Much of what they cover are the cultural bits I really don’t enjoy watching. This show is similar to the invention of the cod liver oil pill – you no longer need to taste the giant spoonful, because they’ve wrapped it in a digestible capsule.
The shows most consistent features are “Chat Stew” (the highlights of talk shows), “Reality Show Clip Time”, “Chicks, Man” (female celebrity gossip) and “Let’s Take Some E!” (which mocks the channel itself, and frequently Ryan Seacrest). McHale looks a bit like Seacrest only (as he points out in numerous ways) quite taller. We’re also frequently treated to “Tales from Home Shopping” and “What the Kids are watching” and there is always a Clip of the Week. It saves me countless hours each week, and even gives me a few pointers for what to follow up on. What could you ask for from a laconic host, a trembling dog, and an intern in a mankini?
Some of the humor on The Soup is crass and it’s likely not palatable for everyone. However, compared to what I’d have to slog through to keep up with everything from the deadly daytime soaps to the horrors of Hip-Hop Harry, I think the offense is relatively minor. If you’re an evangelist, pastor, critic, commentator, orator, or just someone who likes to keep up with what their friends and co-workers are into, there are plenty of worse ways to do it and few quicker. Just think, you might otherwise have never known about Yo Gabba Gabba. Thanks to The Soup, more people like to dance.
So… why do I want to kill Joel McHale? Well to be honest, most pastors have their “fantasy job” (i.e. the gig they think would make them happy on the days when ministry is really taxing, physically challenging, and emotionally exhausting). These jobs wouldn’t really satisfy, but look attractive on those really difficult days. For one of my fellow pastors, it’s a bread truck – wake up, smell warm fresh bread, deliver the bread, go home. Life is simple. For me, I think it goes without saying what sounds like a lot of fun… but obviously, I’d have to get Joel out of the way first. After all, he doesn’t REALLY watch all those shows… that’s what interns or for. He gets to stand in front of a camera and snidely point out all the flaws in the ludicrous entertainment our crazy nation finds so captivating, a punning one-liner critic of everything from The Real World to Dr. Phil. Heck, the guy is a Seattle native like myself. The wet upbringing might explain the dry humor. He even got his start on the popular local comedy show, Almost Live!
But don’t worry Joel, you can visit the hometown without fear of any assassination attempts. Just keep making your Soup. It’s a lot better than trying to choke down all those main courses. The apostle Paul might have saved a lot of time poking around the Athenian marketplace if The Soup had been around. I’ll wager you never thought your show could be a benefit to pastors.