We’re Excessively Confused About Love: The Grammys 2014 As a Liturgy for Our Time

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On a FB post today, I argued that one can only make sense of the “marriage” of 33 couples and the celebration of “love” by Queen Latifah and Macklemore at the Grammy’s by placing it within the entire 3 ½ hour liturgy that was the Grammys 2014 TV production. It’s from within this whole liturgy that we find what “love” and “marriage” might mean for the Grammys.

Love was celebrated loudly at the Grammys through music, numerous speeches and then 33 marriages. It was all performed before a celebratory audience and millions of viewers. And yet the Grammys didn’t reflect much on the question “what is love?” The songs, the art, the speeches all offered love as a given fact assuming everyone already knows what it means (isn’t that what artists do?). The entire Grammys production however reveals ideologies of love at work like a finely woven liturgy, does it not? It is a liturgy shaping our understandings and feelings of what love is all capped off with a wedding ceremony. How more liturgical can this be?

So I’m viewing this show Sunday night trying to dialogue with it as if a psychotherapist is sitting in the room with the Grammys and me.  Beyonce/Jay Z lead off with the “Drunk in Love” performance. Love and marriage equals sultry, erotic and extremely sexual (and they’re actually married which makes it all very sentimental). Somewhere later steps in Robin Thicke, who after messing with some of the best songs of the classic rock band Chicago, sings “Blurred Lines,” a song criticized for its explicit predatory sex themes. Later comes of course Macklemore and Ryan Lewis with “Same Love” which again, though I appreciate the sentiment, I am not sure anyone knows which “love” is the one that is same for everybody. So I ask (anyone reading this post) “what does love mean for Grammys?”

From the FB post today there was a good conversation going on with this question. I took away three things.

1. Love for the Grammys is an ecstatic self expression.  One of the FB commentators said that the “weddings” were not about “love” but were ecstatic expressions of “love,” much like “sex” is an ecstatic expression of “love.” This commentator is not a conservative fundamentalist. Far from it. But is this what love is for the Grammys? If so, this just proves the mess Christians find themselves in. As a simple test case, the Grammys show what the average person probably understands in affirming love and/or marriage. Yet is this what Christians mean? Is this what we affirm as love and marriage? Not judging just asking. Augustine, at the very least, is turning over in his grave.

2. Love for the Grammys may be unclear and confused but another of the FB commentators pointed out that the church’s example of love is also unclear and confused.  It is so unclear, this commentator asserted, that the casual observer could not make a distinction between love in the church and love at the Grammys. Do you agree? If so, is not then the first task of the church to clarify and discern what love is, what marriage is out of who we are in Christ and how we are shaped into it for the world?

3. Love for the Grammys is a master signifier used by the industry to make money. In reality it really doesn’t mean anything. “Love” sells, it makes us feel good. And as a symbol on the Grammys, it hides the many abusive duplicities within the commercial music industry (sexualizing of love and women) all by making us feel better about ourselves. And so another FB commentator took note that there has been some backlash from the LGBTQ community against the way same sex/cross sex marriages were conducted and put on display to make the music industry feel good about itself while making a huge profit in the mean time.  To me this is the classic way capitalism works and plays on social causes. Do you buy this take on the ideology of love, sex and marriage at work in the Grammys Sunday night?

To me then the Grammys illustrate par excellence why the church has to do a better job of listening and discerning as it lives amidst the world’s various culture industries. It is not enough to affirm “love.” Please can we agree that “affirming love” in our society means little to nothing? And it not enough to NOT affirm certain “marriages.”  The current state of our culture as witnessed to by the Grammy’s reveals to us that no one knows what we mean by doing either?

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18 comments on “We’re Excessively Confused About Love: The Grammys 2014 As a Liturgy for Our Time
  1. Jim says:

    Lorde’s Royals offered the only alternative voice of the entire spectacle & it’s performance within it it’s only irony. All the rest was a pale beige.

  2. Andrew Holt says:

    If the Grammy’s were a liturgy, they were a liturgy in worship of Eros. And I think quite literally so, though never explicit. Christianity offers, not simply an alternative approach to Eros, but an alternative love altogether. The love of the New Testament is Agape, the love that lays down its life, surrenders its rights, forgives sins, and breathes life where there was death. The Christian liturgy has a marriage, too – an eternal marriage of Christ and Church, but not according to the romantic love of Eros, but to the undying self-dying love of Agape. Sadly, the Church has largely forgotten this liturgy. Now we stand at the threshold of Eros’s temple, participating in the worship but confused about just how far we’re allowed to take this, and clueless that there is higher love offered to us and which we, and the world, desperately need.

    • David M Goetz says:

      I recall Jamie Smith saying once, in his Desiring the Kingdom, that Christians ought to refuse the distinction between Agape and Eros. Agape, he maintained, is nothing other than rightly-ordered Eros. I think he cited Charles Williams’s Outlines of Romantic Theology in building his argument for that conclusion.

  3. Kevin says:

    Great thoughts Andrew…

  4. Suzanne says:

    Don’t go throwing eros out with the Christian bathwater. The wisest man in the bible wrote The Song of Songs, after all. The relationship of God and the church has always been marital. Eros is no insignificant piece.

  5. David,

    If Love for the Grammy’s is a master signifier, is it possible that marriage for Christian culture warriors is/may be the same?

    • David Fitch says:

      Todd,
      To the greater extent that we really don’t know what we mean by marriage,the greater the possibilities are that marriage is just a great master signifier … a cause we rally around … that really doesn’t amount to anything :)

  6. Tim Hoekstra says:

    “To me then the Grammys illustrate par excellence why the church has to do a better job of listening and discerning as it lives amidst the world’s various culture industries.”

    David, I think this thought is the hard work of the Christian community and leadership. So many Christians quickly dismiss the Grammys because once again they saw it and “them” as the enemy of the church… and themselves and maybe the enemy of God. I wish that many of us could have been right in the midst of this “church service and gathering” so that we could be in dialogue with those gathered. Too many times we immediately react and remove ourselves from the culture’s gatherings and then have no ability to dialogue…and live toward a Spirit filled and led and empowered love. I love how Jesus went with Levi to his house for the big party and “church gathering” and so did many tax collectors and sinners who likely had comments and questions about many things. Maybe “the table” will help change the world.

    • David Fitch says:

      Tim, yep!! … but this is hard work ..like you say. So the defensive reaction is bad and too easy .. yet so is the accomodative reaction … this is love … this must be Christian … Frankly, I’m equally discomforted by both reactions. To get beyond these simplistic knee jerk easy approaches to culture we instead must recognize the liturgies, ideologies… stay within them long enough, listen to them long enough to discern what the words might even mean .. and what’s driving them.

      • Tim Hoekstra says:

        Agree that we must be in the midst for the long haul and for long enough times for relationships of trust in the midst of disagreements…and, as you say, to discern what the words mean. That’s why the parties and the meals can be good means to do so. Obviously, most of us face doing this at a very local level and typically not at the Grammys…again, hard work with much risk and vulnerability but needed with a sense of place and presence.

  7. Phil Vischer says:

    Hey Dave! Phil here! Skye Jethani and I produce a weekly podcast about culture and Christiany stuff. (www.PhilVischer.com) How’d you like to come on this Friday to talk about the Grammys??

    Doesn’t that sound FUN???

    • David Fitch says:

      Phil,
      I’d like to sometime. But this week is all booked up … we’re moving into a house, and I’m backed up on some interviews I promised etc etc… Let’s hope there’s a next time!@!!E@#@!

      DF

  8. Zach Oaster says:

    David Finch wrote: “Please can we agree that “affirming love” in our society means little to nothing”

    Sorry, no, I think that affirming love in our society means almost everything. If anything, we need to be affirming love when we witness it, and also demonstrate love in ways that are more generous than the contrived, money/power/attention seeking ways that a show like the Grammys and the wealthy exploiters behind it would dare show.

    See, the church has spent the last few decades being the most visible baseball bat wielder in the “culture wars” — driving home moral superiority and judgement upon those who dare offer a different perspective. Often the judgement is driven home with a few extra cruel blows from the bat of social or political power that the church had/has. We get all uppity when a normal committed couple dares act sexual toward one another in public, yet we get all offended when the exploiters exploit that as a countercultural display in an awards show. We continue to support (or be silent) as our society — politicians, corporations, and fellow churches — subjugate women and seek to take away their rights, but we call “foul” when musicians sing rape-y songs. Churches constantly proclaim moralistic superiority to the point of social irrelevance, yet wonder why that lack of a reasoned voice tacitly (if not implicitly) supports the rise of a culture influenced by other more relevant voices (even when those voices are unhealthy and driven by greed).

    The church has utterly failed at demonstrating or affirming love for so long that the profit seeking exploiters were able to redefine it for the culture *because* there wasn’t a better example. The church has no right to complain because they were so busy pulling the splinter out of someone else’s’ eye that they couldn’t see the log in their own.

    Also, I think that the premise of your argument is flawed in that the creators or participants of the Grammys would likely not agree with you that the whole thing was designed as a testament to their social notions of love. It is designed as an awards show, and it is a testament to that, if anything. The fact that love and other emotions are at the heart of most pop music is not necessarily a “liturgy” in that a liturgy requires intent. If our liturgy is to come together to celebrate God, then most of the celebrants must also agree that the meeting is for that purpose. I don’t think it is fair to say that they were in any way trying to posit a holistic picture of cultural love through the Grammy production. Therefore, if a distorted or haphazard depiction of love was the result when you artificially amalgamate a number of disparate artists work, I don’t think that can be contorted to say that “this is what society says holistically about love… this is representative of our culture.”

    • David Fitch says:

      Hey Zach … it’s Fitch .. not Funch .. er I mean Finch … but seriously I doubt the producers of the Grammys would know what the idea of “liturgy” is I was using or for that matter maybe you don’t even get what I mean by it (which is probably my fault). But that doesn’t mean the argument is flawed (just poorly delivered). I think we must respect the artist enough to dwell within their language (and cultural liturgies) to discern what they mean by “love” instead of presuming to know what they mean or even presuming to know they know what they mean (this is why psychoanalysis or ideological critique is so important here).
      Anyways, I pretty much agree with your first couple paragraphs. Sorry the argument made no sense to you. peace my bro.

    • Kathy says:

      Zach-
      Very insightful observations and brave assertions. You call it like you see it. Thank you.

  9. I appreciate your work, but I think you missed it on this one. You said: “The songs, the art, the speeches all offered love as a given fact assuming everyone already knows what it means (isn’t that what artists do?).” – No, that is not what artists do. That statement suggests a lack of ability/willingness to interact with art qua art. Art is, first and foremost, about exploring/interrogating/re-presenting the full range of the soul (vegetative, affective and intellective), of which love is the highest expression as the form of all the virtues. Art is always an exploration of love.
    2. Asking what love is for the Grammys assumes a monolithic perspective that does not exist. “The Grammys” can’t have an understanding of love that is parseable or can even be engaged with in dialogue. If anything, the Grammys exists as a temporary liminal space where different perspectives on love get expressed. Beyonce and P!nk both sang about love and meant significantly different things. Even within the Chicago/Thicke mashup, the Chicago songs had a different vision of love than Blurred Lines did. Treating all this disparateness as one thing is the sort of gross generalizing that scholars need to avoid.
    This also makes it unlikely to discern a liturgy from all this. If several pastors in a town got together for a joint service/prayer meeting for some reason, interrogating the liturgy from that service would be kind of silly.
    3. You said: “Please can we agree that “affirming love” in our society means little to nothing?” – No, we can’t agree on that at all. Affirmation is the prerequisite to any meaningful dialogue. If I make it clear up front that I have no respect for you or who you love, why in the world would you ever listen to another word I say?

    And what’s weird is that you have a lot to say about Zizek and the parallax, the in-between space, which I think is the same or close to the liminal space concept I have been working with (which I got from Turner and Douglas), but you miss that the Grammys are closer to this than to a singularity. Yes, the show has producers, but those folks are managers with limited say about what goes on. They are more of a meeting place/pressure point between artists, record labels, advertisers, CBS execs, logistical/operations people, etc. The artists themselves are performing outside their normal ‘liturgy’ – one song instead of a concert, and not in front of their audience. There are so many competing agendas, anxieties, issues, and ideas that this really represents more of a meeting of ideas, and with less than mainstream expressions like hip-hop and metal, a breakdown of the unified, privileged narrative, revealing the very different understandings of love that exist in our ‘culture’ – exposing the myth that we have a singular culture outside the will to power.
    I would enjoy reading it if you have another go at this and apply deeper thought to it.
    Mike

  10. David Fitch says:

    Mike .. I think that’s a fair critique. Thanks for writing it. I think you delivered these ideas well… and I’m glad I had a chance to read them.
    On your first point, that definition of love and art is hard for me to swallow. In your take, it seems then that art can never be formational. It necessarily is always purely expressive. That may be true for modern Americans but it does necessarily mean that’s true for Christians, or other parts of the world. Images, music, art shapes imagination as well as expresses it. The fact there were marriages in the midst of this show suggests the Grammy’s were more than self-expression, they were ‘ethical’… championing “doing something that means something for the future. It was championing “love” that means doing something moral for the future. The Grammys then are shaping imagination for what it means to love and act in concert with that. It seems intentional.
    2.) I think you have a point here too. I just see the Grammys moving within a Symbolic Order whether the actors/actresses are aware of it or not. Its Corporate money and power and those forces guide ultimately the decisions… and they orchestrate and architect based on what sells the most (to oversimplify). I could argue this more maybe, but for now I think there’s reasons to believe and see this is more monolithic and more liturgical than you are willing to assent to.
    3.) Well… I think I was trying to make a point by going to the extreme … Maybe I should have said “love means so many things it means nothing” …
    I’m mystified on the Zizek commenst … I know you’re going off my recent piece on Zizek… but within the whole of Zizek’s political cultural work … I think he’d be closer to my take than yours when it comes to the Grammys… He’d see the symbolization (and selling) of love ..as put forth by the monster corporations, culture industries, in cynical terms like myself. I’m not saying he’d agree with me on everything … just the mode of analysis would be similar.
    peace bro … and thanks for the pushback. Hope to meet along the way.
    David Fitch

  11. Clayton R. says:

    I’m not sure how popular this comment will be here, but I’ll throw it out there. If the 2014 Grammy awards ceremony was a liturgy for our time (I agree with this – I think awards ceremonies are basically rituals formulated to send certain messages to the viewers), then Katie Perry’s performance tells us who is truly behind it all.

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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