Hollywood's awkward God dance

A few weeks ago, I had what I call a "parenting failure." I realized that my girls, ages 1 and 3, knew all the words to Justin Bieber's "Baby" song. You see, I learned a few months ago that the song had a bizarre calming affect on my, shall we say, temperamental youngest. It got played with more frequency than it should have. And then they knew all the words. I reacted as any sane parent would -- by telling them they had to learn by the end of the day the words and dance moves to Janelle Monae's "Tightrope" song. You should see the little one do her moves.

Anyway, young Bieber has been getting some Godbeat coverage lately. A lot of this has to do with how his new documentary. Religion News Service had a great piece "Justin Bieber: Tween evangelist?" a few weeks ago by Piet Levy:

With a smooth voice, a signature mop of hair and a string of hits, Justin Bieber has accumulated millions of fans and sold 3.7 million albums in the United States last year.

Now Bieber's handlers are showcasing another side of the 16-year-old pop sensation: Christian icon for the tween set.

The story focuses on the marketing issues, noting that the same tools are being used to promote this film as were used to promote "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Blind Side." The story put the elevation of this angle in context:

Bieber has never shied away from faith. He was singing Christian songs on YouTube before he became famous. His born-again Christian mother Pattie Mallette has shared her spiritual conversion on a Christian TV show and openly shares her beliefs and Bible verses with 281,000-plus Twitter followers.

What I liked about the piece was that it even discussed the risks of highlighting one's Christian faith, including being held to a higher standard than other pop artists. Charisma reports, by the way, that the Bieber's have a "travel pastor" and Christian advisor to help with spiritual formation. Interesting.

Other media outlets have written about this, too. Tim Townsend at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a piece that began:

Ever since Mel Gibson's Aramaic flog-fest "The Passion of the Christ" brought in $84 million on its opening weekend in 2004, en route to a $612 million worldwide box office draw, film marketers have sought to emulate Gibson's courtship of the almighty Christian dollar.

Over on Twitter, former Godbeat scribe Eric Gorski (who has returned to the Denver Post on its investigative team!)gave Townsend kudos for getting the phrase "Aramaic flog-fest" into his lede. I'll admit that Townsend's copy is very snappy, but I actually took offense. What do you think?

In another story about marketing films to Christians, The Hollywood Reporter had the perfect lede for describing what it calls studios' "awkward dance with the faith-based community":

Tom Hamilton prayed for the best but expected the worst. He and his family, all devoted Christians, thought they had lost their bid to keep an overt reference to the Bible in the upcoming film Soul Surfer, based on the true story of Hamilton's daughter Bethany, who, at age 13, had her arm chewed off by a tiger shark in Kauai but returned to her board to pursue her dream of becoming a pro surfer.

When religious leaders were shown an early version of the Sony movie, set for release in April, the words "Holy Bible" had been digitally removed from the cover of the book in a scene depicting Hamilton reading in a hospital where his daughter was fighting for her life. Hamilton says producer David Zelon, an executive at Mandalay Pictures, had lobbied to tone down the film's Christianity in an effort to broaden its appeal to non-Christian audiences. But the Hamilton family objected, and when they attended a subsequent screening, they were pleasantly surprised with what they saw.

"I could see the words bright and clear," Hamilton says. "I looked at my wife and whispered, 'Thank you God, they put it back.'"

The digital alterations work both ways, with a neckline raised to cover some cleavage in the upcoming Indie flick "Doonby." My favorite anecdote from the piece was about how country singer Carrie Underwood plays a spiritual mentor to a tight-knit community of Christian surfers. She quotes Scripture, which the producers were fine with, but they didn't want the film to mention where the Scripture verse came from.

It's nice to read the details of how these awkward marketing ploys are shaped.

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