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September 14, 2010

Calvin College: No P***ographers Allowed!

Christian school cancels New Pornographers concert because of the band's name

Saying that "the irony of the band's name was impossible to explain to many," Calvin College officials have canceled an upcoming concert by The New Pornographers.

A school statement released Monday noted that "the band makes good, thoughtful music, and we invited them here based on their artistic merit. However, after weeks of discussion and consideration, the irony of the band's name was impossible to explain to many. The band's name, to some, is mistakenly associated with pornography. Consequently, Calvin, to some, was mistakenly associated with pornography. Neither the college nor the band endorses pornography."

On the surface, the decision seems to go against the grain of the mission of Calvin's Student Activities Office, which schedules concerts. The SAO aims to "change the conversation about popular culture" and "seeks to help students engage with popular culture and to discern the positive and negative messages contained within. We attempt to perform this critical Christian service by equipping our students with the tools and experiences necessary to begin discerning culture." That includes bringing in guest lecturers and musicians of all stripes -- Christian and non-Christian.

Ken Heffner, Calvin's director of student activities, said the decision to cancel The New Pornographers was solely over the band's name, and not its spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof) or the message of its music. Heffner wouldn't comment on who made the final decision to cancel the show. When asked if alumni pressure had anything to do with the decision, he wouldn't comment.

Heffner told CT that the decision was made last week, but wasn't announced until Monday so the school could relay the news to the band before going public with the announcement. Heffner said the band "didn't agree" with the decision, but there was "no anger" and "they were pretty understanding." He also said that the band agreed not to "say anything disparaging" about Calvin as a result of this situation.

Heffner said that he didn't believe that the SAO's mission has been compromised, and that school officials reiterated their support of the SAO. "The college is committed to this work," he told CT. "Their message is to continue on with what we do. I don't feel that our hands have been tied at all."

Indeed, the SAO has 16 shows planned for this fall, including Over the Rhine, Blitzen Trapper, Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken, The Weepies, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Colour Revolt, and Van Dyke Parks.

On its website, the SAO noted that "we will continue to do our best to feature artists who will challenge, delight and inspire our audiences, artists whom we discern, from our Reformed perspective, are getting something right. At Calvin, students and the general public experience the work of international touring artists in the context of Christian examination and evaluation. Concerts are, and will continue to be, part of a carefully crafted context that encourages serious critical engagement of popular culture."


This reminds me of 1991 when the band Barenaked Ladies was banned from performing at Toronto City Hall due to its name. The publicity surrounding the ban was a major factor in the band's subsequent success. I wish the New Pornographers the best in their music.

And to make it even more ironic, The New Pornographers are one of the cleanest bands out there. I own two albums and I don't recall a single cuss word (there may be a few, but not glaring enough to jar my memory). Sadly, because of their name, I have to be cautious when I mention that I'm a fan in front of other believers lest they assume the worst.

Calvin College has had over 500 concerts in the last 17 years (including the bear naked ladies), and this is the first to be cancelled. What this issue comes down to seems to be purely money, complaints from donors and/or alumni force the Administration's hand out of fear. This does not seem to fit what Calvin aims to do and how Christians are to engage in the world. I am a student at Calvin and can say first hand that Ken Heffner work in the SAO has kept me there and helped me understand how to engage in popular culture. I hope this incident does not discourage him from all the work that he has been doing

This is very disappointing. Particularly because Calvin has demonstrated a very progressive attitude in regards to the arts over the years. Bart is baffled as to why they would cave to pressure over a word in a band's name when they have had much more 'controversial' artists in the past. Furthermore, the media has jumped all over this, suggesting it as yet another example of how lame and disconnected from culture Christians are, ignoring how connected Calvin (in particular) has been over the years.

The most interesting thing for me here is not the unsurprising news that many people think The New Pornographers are associated with pornography, but rather that judging from the school's statement on the cancellation, the people who pressured Calvin into cancelling TNP did so because they don't trust the school. It's perfectly understandable that someone would assume TNP is an objectionable band based on the name, but it is a bit disturbing that people with enough influence to pressure a cancellation don't seem to trust the school to not book a dirty act.

The Barenaked Ladies played there a number of years ago. But they DIDN'T get cancelled. Maybe they have a problem with the name. OK. I can somewhat understand that... But they're not consistent. Barenaked Ladies are OK, but New Pornographers are not OK. Whats the difference here?