Calvin College Disinvites the New Pornographers

Take one glance at the list of artists and bands that have performed at Calvin College over the past five years, and it is clear that the student-activities office there knows well at least one vein of music that thoughtful people are listening to these days. Some of it is overtly Christian (Jars of Clay, Wovenhand), much of it could be called spiritual (Emmylou Harris, Iron and Wine), and some of it is just plain indie (Jenny Lewis, Grizzly Bear, Death Cab for Cutie). 

The New Pornographers, a critically respected Canadian power-pop collective with intelligent lyrics, would seem to fit right into that musical continuum. Indeed, the band was booked to play at Calvin on October 15 in the college’s Fieldhouse Complex.

But on Tuesday morning The Grand Rapids Press reported that the gig had been canceled because of the New Pornographers’ name.

“The band’s name, to some, is mistakenly associated with pornography,” Calvin’s student activities office said in a statement that used the word “regret” three times in three consecutive sentences. “Consequently, Calvin, to some, was mistakenly associated with pornography. Neither the college nor the band endorses pornography.”

The band’s Wikipedia entry says that the New Pornographers’ leader, Carl Newman, got the name from the darkly satirical Japanese film, The Pornographers. An article in Trouser Press has this to say: “No matter that Newman came up with the band name before he learned that Jimmy Swaggart once called music ‘the new pornography’: their music offers an obscene amount of fun.”

Calvin’s student-activities office says in its mission statement that it “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.”

Somewhere behind Calvin’s disinvitation of the New Pornographers lies a backstory, and we’d love to hear it.

Till then, we leave you with this 2007 commercial for the University of Phoenix, which was so undiscerning as to use the band’s “Bleeding Heart Show” as its soundtrack.  —Don Troop

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