Convergence and Conversation: When the main thing is talking about the thing, not the thing itself

Sacha Baron Cohen has a new movie out, and by all accounts it’s incredibly puerile and terrible. I’m not going to see it. Borat was enough for me. I’ve always had a soft spot for Baron Cohen and the way he used outlandish characters to highlight the outlandish traits in normal people, as uncomfortable as that became. But his kind of under the radar shock humour, luring unsuspecting victims into making fools of themselves, always had a limited shelf life as his notoriety increased. I reckon he actually peaked with Ali G. Who is, for mine, the funniest interviewer ever.

It seems though that to create genuinely funny humour of the type he had become accustomed, Baron Cohen had to create a terrible movie that then became the vehicle for catching people unaware and reproducing some of his shock comedy, in character.

So, we have examples like this train wreck on the Today Show. I’ll embed it. But watch it at your own risk, it’s crude and it’s simply here to illustrate a point. It’s some of the most uncomfortable breakfast television you’ll ever see.

Baron Cohen is maintaining his brand – people will still think of him as an edgy, and funny, comedian who puts people in awkward situations, this time journalists, because of the press circus surrounding the movie. The TV opportunities are now the vehicle for his comedy. I’m no more likely to see the movie because of moments like this, but at least it has generated the kind of response I’m sure Baron Cohen enjoys most. It’s where the art is now. I wouldn’t be surprised if his press appearances become the main reason people buy the DVD version of the movie, so it’s a tactic with a bit of a silver lining.

Here’s how a boingboing review (which contains a vivid description of the offensiveness of the movie in the opening para) describes what’s going on:

“This is what The Dictator was made for; to spew, into the world of the living, the fully-formed obscenity that is Aladeen.

Sacha Baron Cohen’s characters come into their own when they are put into contact with real people—and even chat show hosts are people—because, as Ali G taught us, the embarassing reaction and our own cringing is at least half of the humour, innit.”

This is an interesting theory – treating content creation as a launchpad for something more long term.

As a media strategy it’s not bad – particularly in the social media world where engagement and conversation are the big goals that lead to conversion. The idea is that you develop loyal fans of your brand who purchase your products and become advocates who talk about your product to their friends. You do that by producing content they want to share, or content that gets people talking. And the movie and associated interviews have ticked that box.

This has me thinking a bit about how this principle applies to church communication and social media stuff. I’m doing a bit of thinking at the moment about how the church I’m part of can use Facebook better, and get people being ambassadors not just for our church, but for Jesus, when they’re online (incidentally, there’s a great Church Marketing Sucks post/series on this).

This is one thing I reckon Mark Driscoll does really well. He’s phenomenal not just at scouting out opportunities in the press, but creating them. I have started to wonder if that is why he and wife Grace went so far and were so graphic in their marriage book – for the shock factor. It’s pretty much the Christian equivalent of the Dictator. The book flew up the best sellers list, fanned the flames of controversy around the Christian blogosphere earlier this year (seriously, google it), it certainly had people talking, and Mark and Grace Driscoll have been touring the US on the back of the book seemingly ever since – including this amazing stopover on CNN with Piers Morgan, who’s not a massively successful TV superstar, but still gets around 500,000 viewers a night.

This isn’t all of it – you can read a transcript here. It’s pretty much a mix of everything that’s good and bad about Mark Driscoll.

“MORGAN: But why was — why should it be one rule for her and one rule for you?

DRISCOLL: I think I was selfish and I think I was being a hypocrite. And I’m not going to defend things that I’ve done or said or thought that were wrong. No.

But I do believe — and this is where we’re going to get to Jesus — that he died, he rose, he forgives me, he helps me, and I hope to keep changing and doing better.

MORGAN: But for people watching this, you know, especially younger people, for example. They said, well, it’s all right for you. You know, you had all this sex until you were 19, then you get —

DRISCOLL: Well, it wasn’t a lot of —

MORGAN: Then you got born-again so you had sort of sown your wild oats and then — and then you’ve become a born-again virgin. But for them, you’re trying to punish them and they can’t have anything.

DRISCOLL: Well, I think, ultimately, sex is best reserved for marriage. And I think if you look at the statistics of sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, there’s a lot of people that are suffering, too.

I mean you’re not your average pastor, are you?

DRISCOLL: I don’t know.

MORGAN: Saying stuff like that.

DRISCOLL: I have fun. Sometimes I get it wrong.

MORGAN: Do too many people in the world of religion take it too seriously?

Is that part of the problem?

DRISCOLL: I think we should take Jesus seriously. We should take the Bible seriously. We probably shouldn’t take ourselves nearly as seriously. And that’s how I approach it.

MORGAN: Do you think you’re a tolerant kind of guy?

DRISCOLL: I love people very much and it’s — it’s —

MORGAN: That’s not the same thing.

DRISCOLL: Well, it’s — how do you disagree, sometimes, with people that you love?

That’s a very difficult issue for everybody, but for a pastor in particular, because —

MORGAN: But do you preach tolerance?

DRISCOLL: I’ve preached that we should love our neighbor, that we should accept —

MORGAN: But tolerance — tolerance in particular.

DRISCOLL: Why — you keep hammering it. What — what do you mean by tolerance?

MORGAN: Tolerating people who may have a lifestyle or a belief that you don’t agree with.

DRISCOLL: Yes, we have to. And that’s — when Jesus says love your neighbor, you know, he knows you’re not going to agree with all your neighbors, but he wants you to love them, to seek good for them, to care for them.

However, like everything in life, shouldn’t it be dragged kicking and screaming into each modern era, and be adapted, like the American Constitution.


MORGAN: Because, you know, my — my view about this is — is not that I don’t respect Christians or Catholics or whoever who — who absolutely swear by every word in here. It’s just that it’s — I just don’t believe anyone who is genuinely Christian should be spouting bigoted opinions about sections of the community for their sexuality.

DRISCOLL: Well, I think when it comes to the Bible, you’ve got three options. Take it, I believe what it says. Leave it, I don’t believe what it says. Or change it —

MORGAN: Or adapt — or adapt the wording —

DRISCOLL: Which would be the changing it.

MORGAN: If it was in — the majority of Americans believed in it, would you then go along with it?

DRISCOLL: Would I officiate same-sex weddings and things of that nature?


DRISCOLL: I couldn’t, according to conscience, no.

I think the big issue for families in America is really men who walk out on their families. I mean, right now, the average child born to a woman under 30 is born out of wedlock —

MORGAN: Yes, but that’s why —

DRISCOLL: — with no father.

MORGAN: — see, that’s my whole point about this. There are so many feckless guys out there —

DRISCOLL: That’s really —

MORGAN: — right?”

I’ve gone a bit nuts with the quotes – but I reckon this is a great example of public engagement that is both Christ focused, and engages with social issues. Which is what Driscoll does best. This interview almost makes the (by all accounts justifiable) controversy around the book worthwhile. And like Baron Cohen’s work one wonders if Driscoll produced the book with half an eye on how things would play out past its release.

The third little example takes the form of a book review, a public discourse between critic and author, the book is Ross Douhat’s Bad Religion (which I’m reading on my bus ride at the moment), the discussion happened on (starting here). It’s an incredibly gracious discussion which I think is probably more valuable than the book – and it was why I purchased it.

None of these cases simply involve the content producer reproducing their content – in each case there’s a development of the core concept before a wider audience, that adds value. It’s good stuff. And now I’m wondering how this works at the level of the local church – how we turn the content we produce regularly (sermons etc), into sharable chunks, or leverage the work on new mediums.

Anyway. That’s a long post about some stuff I noticed in some stuff I read.


[…] There’s something meta about that that I appreciate, the commentary becomes the content. The conversation is about the conversation. By this point I’d been reminded about a million times that the Bible didn’t explicitly command […]