Thursday, March 15, 2007

"The words/IMAGES of the prophets written/PROJECTED on the subway walls"

A man makes a picture/A Moving Picture/Through light projected, he can see himself up close"
-U2, "Lemon" lyrics

Of course, we all long to "feel like we're watching TV"...
. ...especially when we're not watching TV.

When I saw the headline : "Subway Riders 'See' Movie on Tunnel Walls: When trains whiz by a series of posters in a Bay Area subway, an optical illusion makes commuters feel like they're watching TV." (ABC)..

and the companion story from Bay Times:

"Thanks to a high-speed variation of the old "Burma Shave" advertising scheme of successive rhyming highway signs, staring at the walls of one BART tunnel just got a little more interesting. But get your nose out of that book, shut that laptop, pay attention or you'll miss it as you scoot through the eastbound tunnel from Montgomery Street to Embarcadero. If you do see it, you'll see Warhol-esque multiple-screen movies in red, with images of tiny Target department store logos raining onto an attractive young man and woman who appear to be taking showers, kayaking and springing on diving boards." hit me that this is no small development, and so insignificant sign of the times; for church and culture. This invokes implications for good and ill.

For good or ill, I want to focus on the good.

The story caught me on several levels.. I thought of course of Simon and Garfunkle's haunting "the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls" (from "The Sound of Silence.") being "fulfilled in our hearing" (uh, seeing).

Some are calling these ads/projections/prophetic word-pix the new (postmodern, new wineskin version) of the old Burma-Shave ads...

Whether the church grabs hold of this in a cheesy way (a corny evangelistic series of ads)..or in a creative way.. such is a semiotic (and likely erotic) sign of the times: visual technology, new linear thinking, the cathedralness of movies, the marketplace anointing ...

Len Sweet characterizes the current moment in history as that elsewhere on this site....the "I" in that anagram..stands for Images; we have moved from a word-based age to an era that is image-driven.


" the WORDS of the prophets ...WRITTEN on subway walls"

becomes/emerges/morphs into:

" the MOVIES of the prophets ...PROJECTED on subway walls"

You can see videos of the ad's "moving" effects by viewing the version of the news article here.

Please...again...God, deliver us from crassly commercial, cheap and cheesy "ads" for Jesus..

But God, please deliver us unto a radical recognizing of the Word/Image shift in culture and how we can creatively and appropriately...not "cash in" on it, but "cache" it.... and find there a Mars Hill Subway Station Stop for relational communication of the gospel of the Kingdom.


.. as U2 once said...uh, once prophetically and proleptically projected (in both senses of that term). Beth Maynard must be read and wrestled with on this U2 connection .


"America has turned into a pop culture and will not be turning back."

William Zinsser maintained that thesis in his "Pop Goes America" ... 1966!!

Insightful blogger "Crazed Teacups"recalls that "The (Zinseer) book was both stodgy and prophetic" (her great phrase) and "it’s best chapter was about old Burma Shave advertisements that used to be planted along the roadside. ..." Zinseer views the signs as emblematic of, and "part of our American folklore, the collective experience of a nation that invented the Sunday drive... enjoyable because they weren’t force-fed to us and 20 million other TV viewers in one electronic gulp."

Here we are again. Since it's a generation since "we have turned into a pop culture and will not be turning back," it would seem inevitable that in the throes of this turn (see "Christianity and The Postmodern Turn") , signs would be reincarnated in a form that Simon and Grafunkle predicted in...I had to check the year; I had a holy hunch...the same year as Zinseer's book: 1966.

By the way (Hi Beth), I would pay the aforementioned Beth Maynard to pursue a comparison of the text of the Burma Shave Signs, and the U2 projected text; making the case that they are parallelsof the same cultural "pop" and "collective experience" difference being that the U2 images were purposely "force-fed to us and 20 million other TV viewers in
one electronic gulp."

All in order to remind us of the Big Gulp we must swallow:

Jesus is the Word of God (John 1)..and also...Image of God (Col. 1:15)..

(...and thus, so are we.....if we are indeed made-imaged in the image of the One who is Word and Image).

On the possibilties and perils of "projected images," let's start with the perils.
As they often do (2112, "The Spirit of Radio", the band RUSH cautions against the commercialization/communization of the music (read:church) system, especially as images domiate and mammon motivates. On a CD tellingly titles "Moving Pictures," they upgrade (in 1980) the Simon/Garfunkle lyric: "The words of the prophets written on the studio walls...echo with the sound of.. (the sarcastic punchline)...salemen!"
We need more more salesmen in the Body; especially those hawking images, eccelsiaporngraphy, and a imagined Jesus.
And catch the important article by John Tschetter, using the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue (and Aphrodite, of course) as conversation starter:

Our culture is deeply committed to images, and is blatantly idolatrous in doing so. The 2001 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue had written on the cover, "The Goddesses of the Mediterranean". This goddess can be none other that the Greek goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, sensuality, and sexual love. Considering that normal speed movie film contains 24 frames per second, try to imagine how many times per hour the image of Aphrodite is presented to be seen and worshiped through the projected world in our culture. Suddenly 1 Corinthians 10:14 and 1 John 5:21 take on great significance for us today! In a similar way, the more deeply we attempt to engage our culture through the projected world, the more vulnerable we are ourselves to idolatry, because the essence of the projected world is made images. Both roots of idolatry are at work in the formation of images for the projected world. Our making of images to present our work in ministry is not invulnerable to idolatry. -John Tschetter, "The Three Worlds"

I just hope Sports Illustrated doesn't use the new subway ads to create a moving "Swimsuit Issue" movie..

They probably will.

And it too will be a sign (literally) of the times, and a wake-up/shake-up call to the church: both (as Tschetter has cautioned) that "making of not invulnerable to idolatry," and (as I am emphasizing here, and in a prior post here) that we as church are not yet "positively exploiting" the postmodern primacy of images over words. In this current hangover from, and hiccup of, modernity (and the Reformation's) word-basedness, our default idolatry might still be word-worship or bibliolatry.
For I need to remember, that as tricky as images are to imagine; and thus make..

Words can be graven (literally graven) images as well.

To suggest that it is a grave sin to not create healthy images , is not "evil postmodernism" , but an embedded-in-culture God-watermark that can work in our favor:

In "The Rise of Image and the Fall of the Word," Mitchell Stevens proffers that we are living in a "communications transformation as fundamental as the introduction of writing 3,500 years ago." Thus, the mileu of the future will increasingly be hallmarked by "the communication of meaning through moving images."

Hmmm, "meaning through moving images."

It is precisely here that the battle to be biblically faithful...engaged to Jesus, while engaging culture...must and can be won.

A quote from a Coca-Cola spokesman about the new videowall technology captures it (Of course!). Just be careful how we apply the word "revenue" here (and substitute "church" for "subway"), and the quote articulately adumbarates the message to the church:

"Every major city in the world has a subway system, every subway system needs more revenue, and every subway rider has a boring commute. The potential is go all around the world."

----------- And two quotes to bring us full circle:

'"Above 20 images a second, the mind blends that into constant motion,' the advertising exec said. 'A lot of people think they're TVs.' -"Inside Bay Area" article on the new videowall technology

"But you haven't come all the way out here to watch TV now, have you?"
- Bono of U2 as he threw down the channel surfer to the huge TV screens of their 1990s "Zoo TV" tour; and segued into a song accompanied by prophetic words and image-overload
We can't not watch TV . We all want to feel like we're watching TV, even when we're not.

That's where the culture is inevitably and inexorably at. The potential for idolatrous, commercialized, " Aphroditic" images in these days is risky indeed. But I dare to proffer that the risk of not engaging culture where it is, in an appropriately "sneaky as snakes and as docile as doves" (Matt 10:16) mindset, is riskier.

Imagine that.

P.S. St. Sponge Bob and St. Patrick seemed to have figured out the sectret: Imagination (Image-ination) is even better than the real thing (TV) this, theologians..

1 comment:



Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!