This review will sound much like the review I wrote for The Stories We Tell by Mike Cosper. In fact, these are so close in content that I should have waited to read one again about pop culture and theology. The title got me: Burning Bush 2.0: How Pop Culture Replaced the Prophet. Good, isn’t it? I also subscribe to the author’s newsletter, Plugged In, a review of movies and TV from a Christian perspective. I appreciate his work there, and I thought I’d enjoy a larger treatment of these issues. I was wrong. This is by far the worst book I’ve read this year.
Burning Bush 2.0 follows a now-tired format of other Christian books on pop culture: give a genre, discuss a movie plot, talk about how it reflects God. The format is fine, but if an author is unable to do something different, why write another book? There are already too many in the marketplace. Strangely enough, Asay’s strongest chapter is his chapter on reality television, same this I mentioned with The Stories We Tell. I’m not sure what that says about Christians or reality TV or Christian pop culture Christian critics.
The greatest problem with this book is its writing. It feels more like a blog entry or Facebook post than serious writing on an important topic. The only thing missing is a comic sans font. I’m noticing a pattern in writers today where there is lots of parenthetical asides, tongue-in-cheek comments, self-deprecating stories. It’s a “Look-how-ironic-and-hip-I-can-be” parade. This book is no different. And it is annoying.
He talks way too much about zombies, something the 10th graders I teach do. It’s not as annoying from them because they are kids! In this chapter, he twice uses the aside to make a joke:
“In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…We could’ve already (ahem) buried them earlier” (76).
Just a few pages later:
Discussing I am Legend – “Even worse, most of the survivors have turned into zombie/vampire-like creatures who hate the sun and love human flesh (a truly rare delicacy these day). For a good (ahem) chunk of the movie, Robert…) (85).
“Apparently, these zombies aren’t so, um, brainless after all” (87).
This is boring, lazy writing.
Here are a few more annoying writing tics:
- “Animated flicks may spawn a bazillion Happy Meal toys” (95).
- “The Croods…put the cave in caveman” (100).
- (While discussing the movie Up): “It’s as beautiful and painful a sequence as there is in cinema, I think, and if you’re not reaching for a tissue by its end, you should see a doctor immediately and check out that you’ve not been co-opted by a sinister galactic being” (104-105).
- “He chopped off his own partner’s hand. He killed his own boss. (That’ll look bad on the annual job review, I’d imagine.)”(114).
- “But you don’t need a Christian book to tell you that Christian music has Christian messages in it, right? At least I hope not. (Though, if you do, please contact my editor and let her know. She’s always on the hunt for new book possibilities.)” (150).
- “They wanted nothing more than to marry the princess and steal your money and embarrass you in front of your friends. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” (166).
Asay also has an entire chapter on video games. I have a hard time taking any adult seriously who spends hours playing video games. I breezed through that chapter to get it over as soon as possible.
Here is a good lesson on our voice and tone in writing. Asay’s style works well in movie reviews and commentary on Plugged In, but it falls flat in a book. I know that I sound like the old man in Up, grumpy and get-off-my-lawn-y, but this issue of how a Christian thinks about pop culture demands a better analysis than Asay provides. While I know that having coffe with Paul Asay would be great, I would not read another one of his books.
I want to end on a positive note. Burning Bush 2.0 ends with an excellent discussion guide for movies. Asay gives eleven questions to foster discussion on any movie. These are helpful. Here are a few:
- “How do the decisions our characters make impact our story?”
- “What message do you think the filmmaker wants you to take away from the movie?”
- “Can you see God’s fingerprints on this film? When? Where? How?”
Still, the best treatment of this topic is Robert K. Johnston’s Useless Beauty. It was among the first of many books on this subject, and Johnston does it best.