On Wednesday, October 23rd and Thursday the 24th, if you're in New York, you can go to church to worship at the altar of Beyoncé and all she represents.

Wednesday's service will happen at the First Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn at 7:00 PM, and Thursday's will be at Harlem's St. James Presbyterian Church at the same time.

The Beyoncé Mass began where most modern religions seem to begin, in California. It started as the project of Rev. Yolanda Nortan, a scholar of Hebrew theology who began her foray into Beyoncé-worship by teaching a class on Beyoncé and the Hebrew Bible at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. The first Mass was held as part of a three-part series at San Francisco's Nob Hill Church called "Speaking Truth: The Power of Story in Community," dedicated to uplifting the voices of people who have been historically marginalized by the church, specifically black women, immigrants, and the LGBTQ+ community.

The first mass drew nearly 1,000 people, and it has continued to gain traction since debuting in 2018. Services feature Bible readings interspersed with Beyoncé songs, and though they're dedicated to and led by Black women, they're open to everyone regardless of race or creed.

Rev. Norton is careful to emphasize that the mass isn't about worshiping Beyoncé at all, but instead about breaking open oppressive traditions. "I believe [Beyoncé] reminds us that you have to do your thing your way, you don't do it on demand, you don't do it for your oppressor, you don't sing when they want you to sing...you sing when God calls you to sing," she said.

Beyoncé - lift every voice and sing www.youtube.com

The service itself is supposed to be a place where "Black women find their voice, represent the image of God, and create spaces for liberation," according to its website. The description adds that the mass is a "womanist worship service that uses the music and personal life of Beyoncé as a tool to foster an empowering conversation about black women." Womanism is a version of feminism dedicated to breaking down the white connotations of the term "feminism," which has historically been used to describe a fight for women's rights that was created by and for white women and that exclusively addresses gender issues and aims for women to achieve equality with white males.

Though the definition of feminism is pliable and different for everyone, many conventional interpretations of feminism have failed to address the unique forces of race and class that inevitably tangle with gender, instead remaining lodged in capitalist systems that rely on the subjugation of certain people.

On the other hand, womanism is a term that was coined by the Black feminist thinker Alice Walker, and it views sexism as inextricable from racism. It also emphasizes the beauty of Black womanhood and promotes solidarity with Black men. Overall, womanism highlights the fact that sexism and racism both rely on the same kind of hierarchical thought that has always benefited off a structure wherein some people thrive because others are kept down.

"The patriarchal/kyriarchal/hegemonic culture seeks to regulate and control the body—especially women's bodies, and especially black women's bodies—because women, especially black women, are constructed as the Other, the site of resistance to the kyriarchy," says writer Yvonne Aburrow in explanation of the term. "Because our existence provokes fear of the Other, fear of wildness, fear of sexuality, fear of letting go—our bodies and our hair (traditionally hair is a source of magical power) must be controlled, groomed, reduced, covered, suppressed."

This fear has long been codified in the Church, which swivels around an age-old terror of female power and its colonialist imperatives. Nowhere is the Church's tendency to suppress the voices of women (and particularly women of color) more apparent than in the evangelical church's "purity movement," which demonizes sexuality, often through a racist lens. Beyoncé, specifically, has been a target of evangelical racism; for example, the evangelical Mike Huckabee recently speculated that Jay-Z was a "pimp," sparking a firestorm of controversy.

She has also been uniquely outspoken in challenging and subverting Christian norms, perhaps most famously in her instantly iconic Virgin Mary-inspired pregnancy photoshoot. According to The Washington Post, Beyoncé's "re-appropriation of Virgin Mary iconography offers a biting critique of this supreme exemplar of feminine whiteness and the ideology that constructs and perpetuates it." She's deconstructed the Virgin Mary image before; in her 2017 Grammys performance, she blended Virgin Mary imagery with references to the Yoruba goddess Oshun, creating a tribute to the African diaspora and the common threads that connect Christianity and diasporic faiths.


Beyoncé live performance at the 2017 Grammys (Love Drought + Sandcastles) www.youtube.com

If Beyoncé's visual and thematic choices subvert oppressive Christian imagery, then the Beyoncé Mass does this for the entire structure of the Church. And it's needed: Black women are particularly active in the church, outnumbering men two to one. Still, in terms of church leadership, this number is reversed. As a service led by women of color and designed to invite people who perhaps wouldn't feel welcome or interested in the Church in the first place, the mass is a step in the right direction, perhaps a vital blueprint for future religious services that could help young people or people who feel excluded by religion find a home in the comforting, communal world of faith and music.

Beyoncé & Kendrick Lamar Freedom Live at MetLife Stadium www.youtube.com

CULTURE

Charles Manson Could Never: Five Cults That Put a Spell On Hollywood

These cults had some of Hollywood's brightest stars in their shadowy grips.

Celebrities are not known for their ordinary lifestyles.

In fact, sometimes it can seem like they're a different species of human, living elite existences of wealth and opulence that none of us average Joes can imagine, let alone attain. Maybe that's why people are so obsessed with the idea that our favorite celebrities are actually members of ancient, mysterious cults.

Actually, it seems that real-life cults are typically comprised of people who want to be in this celebrity culture, or who are otherwise seeking escape or meaning in their lives. On the 50th anniversary of the Manson murders, Once Upon a Time In Hollywood brought a leader of one such cult—Charles Manson—back to the public's consciousness (if he ever left).

Manson was a wannabe folk singer as well as a psychopath, and the specter of Hollywood held power over him in the same way he held power over the women he led.

That said, here are five of the most notorious cults with connections to Hollywood and celebrities. As for the first two, whether they're actually real (or just manifestations of the public's dreams of tapping into whatever mysterious powers celebrities possess) is up to you to decide.

Image via The Wrap

Illuminati

The Illuminati is by far the most famous celebrity cult. Its members apparently include Beyoncé, Madonna, and Katy Perry, as well as a multitude of world leaders and very rich people. Conspiracy theorists believe that the illuminati is seeking world domination and wants to establish a totalitarian "New World Order."

The Illuminati was real at one point. In 18th century Bavaria, Adam Weishaupt created a society called the Order of Illuminati in order to escape the confines of the Christian church. His society was stamped out by a government crackdown on cults, but many believe it still exists today, forming a subterranean, diamond-lined web that controls the motions of our ordinary lives.

The modern-day perception of the Illuminati originated in the 1960s, with the help of LSD, counter-culture, and a book called the Principia Discordia that preached civil disobedience through jokes, hoaxes, and misinformation. In this spirit, a man named Robert Anton Wilson wrote letters to Playboy claiming to be speaking on behalf of a secret society called the Order of the Illuminati, and the idea caught fire, gaining more traction with the rise of the Internet age. Today, everyone from the Founding Fathers to Rihanna has been accused of being a part of this peculiar organization. (Rihanna, for her part, has embraced her Illuminati membership, even calling herself 'Princess of the Illuminati').

Lizard People

The Illuminati theory is closely tied to an even stranger one—the idea that famous people are secretly intelligent lizards from the moon who are masquerading around Earth disguised as humans. If that sounds insane, it's true, and people do believe it—around 12 million Americans, according to some (admittedly questionable) polls.

The lizard people idea originated with New Age philosopher and TV presenter David Icke, who claims that world leaders like George W. Bush and Barack Obama are secretly all scaly aliens. Other purportedly reptilian people include Bob Hope, Angelina Jolie, Katy Perry, and Queen Elizabeth (or, should we say, Elizardbeth?)

Like the Illuminati, lizard people want world domination. According to the theory, these lizard people have been on Earth since ancient times, and they've been breeding with people for centuries—so in all likelihood, you too may have a few drops of lizard blood flowing through your veins.

Image via punkee.com

Scientology

There is nothing that tabloids love more than Tom Cruise and his belief in scientology. Unlike the Illuminati and the lizard people cult, scientology is very real and very present in Hollywood. So what is this strange form of worship?

Scientology was actually founded by science fiction writer Ron L. Hubbard, and among other things, it proposes that man is an immortal being with a divine purpose that can be attained through enlightenment. It's also been called a malicious commercial enterprise and a cult by critics, so there's a bit of a contradiction there. Celebrity scientologists include John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, Juliette Lewis, Elizabeth Moss, Laura Prepon, and more, and the cult is still going strong in the Hollywood hills.

Self-Realization Fellowship

This group is very much still alive and well. It was founded in the 1920s by the guru Paramahansa Yogananda, who eventually gained followers in luminaries such as Elvis Presley and George Harrison. Before joining the Manson family, Leslie van Houten also spent time in Yogananda's Mount Washington ashram.

According to Yogananda, the fellowship's central practice—called Kriya Yoga—was originally given to Manu, the first man on Earth, according to Hindu scripture. Their temple on Sunset Boulevard is the oldest in America, and dozens of others are in operation around the world. While not known as a malicious cult, the Self-Realization Fellowship deifies Yogananada as Christ reincarnated, and its sacred lessons are kept super-secret from the public, so it's hard to know what actually goes on in there.

NXIVM

This very real, very ugly cult was only recently disbanded by law enforcement, after the founder of NXIVM was accused of sex trafficking and child abuse, and members have testified about a culture of lies, deceit, and violence.

The cult was led by Keith Raniere, with Smallville star Allison Mack as his right hand woman. According to reports, members of the cult were branded with Raniere and Mack's initials, referred to as "slaves," and subjected to corporal punishment at the hands of their leaders.

The cult found its footing in the wellness industry, which is very popular in Hollywood (and is arguably a cult in and of itself). It drew members in by promising to help them find more meaning and joy in their lives. Many of its members were very wealthy, and when money failed to satisfy them, they began turning to spirituality and wellness as ways of improving themselves.

The wellness industry and cults go hand in hand, because both often request large sums of money and promise that various levels of suffering are required in order to achieve the promised results. Still, Raniere and Mack's cult obviously spiraled way too far into darkness and corruption to continue masquerading as a healing force—and they'll face the jail time to prove it.


Image via Medium

Clearly, celebrity status and fame do not equal happiness—if they did, celebrities wouldn't be pulled into these cults so easily (and they wouldn't overdose on drugs so often, either). Still, for those of us on the outside, it's so easy to fall for the mystique of Hollywood, with its glorious parties and its brilliant stars, glorified to godlike levels by their fans and the media.

In the surrealistic circus of Los Angeles, ecstasy often blurs into suffering, and so it was, is, or may be with these cults. In this world, power breeds corruption, beauty equals pain, and metamorphoses towards greatness quickly become awful mutations. In the shadow of these truths, it's easy to understand why suspicious minds have crafted illusions like the Illuminati in order to explain why the world's elite are the way they are and to feel some semblance of power over humanity's mysterious actions. Now, is the real cult here a secret conspiracy of the rich and famous—or is it simply advanced capitalism? Well, just remember, comrades: A cult leader has no power without his followers.

Culture Feature

Fandom for the Faithless: How Pop Culture Is Replacing Religion

From Star Wars and Harry Potter to My Little Pony and Supernatural, fan communities develop their own ethos, codes of behavior, and networks of peer-mentoring that turn art appreciation into worship.

New York Post

In January 2019, President Trump's ban on transgender people serving in the military was approved by the Supreme Court, which meant the worst had happened: Albus Dumbledore would be ashamed of us.

It gets worse. In England, Europe's fourth most LGBTQ-friendly nation, there are 175,000 self-professed Jedis who are appalled at America's anti-trans legislation. As "instruments of peace," Jedis believe "in a society that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or circumstances of birth such as gender, ethnicity and national origin."

Temple of the Jedi Order

If you're not moved to action by framing today's socio-political turmoil in terms of fictional characters, then you are not a true Jedi or diehard Potterhead. You may just be a fan of the franchises, which is not what fandom is about anymore. Nowadays, these active communities create full-on belief systems, leading the most dedicated fans to see the real world through the lens of their favorite franchise. When fandoms replace religion, fan communities develop their own ethos, codes of behavior, and a network of peer-mentoring that turns art appreciation into worship.

According to census surveys from England, Australia, and Czech Republic, over 250,000 Jedis currently roam the earth, which is definitively too many followers for a brand of fictionalized metaphysics solely designed to earn Lucasfilm $4 billion. But the Temple of the Jedi Order (a.k.a the Church of Jediism) touts on its website, "Jediism is not based in fiction, but we accept myth as a sometimes more practical mean of conveying philosophies applicable to real life."

John Henry Phelan is a Jedi through the Temple of the Jedi Order, which means he helps run the most trafficked website on Jediism in the U.S. He told Details magazine in 2013, "I think we're heading to a point where we're going to see a physical Jedi temple sometime in the next 10 years...probably something like a monastery, where Jedi monks will live and where other Jedi can visit. I'd be surprised if that didn't happen." To date, it sadly hasn't (but there are a good four years left for this runaway train called reality to fly completely off the tracks, resulting in a Jedi monastery next to your local mosque and synagogue).

To be fair, the distinctions between a fandom and a religion are surprisingly blurry as far as sociologists are concerned. With social media building bridges between like-minded individuals, fandoms aren't just online subcultures; they're "participatory cultures." If we're looking at patterns of human behavior, so are religions. Henry Jenkins, Professor of Communications at University of Southern California and professional super nerd, breaks down the facets of participatory culture:

1. Relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement.

2. Strong support for creating and sharing one's creations with others.

3. Some type of informal mentorship in which the most experienced members pass along their knowledge to novices.

4. Members who believe their contributions matter.

5. Members who feel some degree of social connection with one another and care about other members' opinions about their contributions.

Among Jediism's official 16 teachings and 21 maxims is dedication to civic engagement ("each Jedi improves the world with each deed they perform") and support of their community ("have faith in your Jedi brothers and sisters" and "defend the way of Jediism"). When the Pacific Standard's Ben Rowen interviewed self-professed Jedis, he acknowledged the easy ridicule of the "faith" but sought to understand its appeal: "Beneath the surface—once the lightsabers are stowed away in their protective cases and the business of spiritual belief begins—Jediism is quite paradigmatic of trends in modern religious practice. Jedis have a strong argument that their fictional, pop-culture-inspired canon, with its aliens and futuristic technology, has given rise to a religion worthy of recognition here in reality."

Berlin Church Holds Star Wars Service Getty Images

Of course the Jedi order is not the first or even the loudest fandom community waving its flag on the Internet (no one's ranking fandoms here; please don't @ us). In 1997, J.K. Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and proceeded to print herself $650 million over the next 20 years. Global readers of all ages have turned the Potter fandom into a life philosophy originally dictated by an elderly homosexual wizard who mentored an orphan boy by giving him cryptic advice that read like slam poetry.

At its worst, well-meaning Potterheads discuss the most fraught and divisive issues of our time in terms of Harry Potter references in an attempt to enlighten others. Aside from presupposing that the Harry Potter series is an unproblematic, universal touchstone (which it definitely isn't), doing this is annoying. So much so that the phrase "read another book" has entered online lexicon as shorthand for, "Please take the Harry Potter series 75% less seriously than you currently do."

UrbanDictionary

For example, some inappropriate uses of Harry Potter references include: protesting those who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the LGBTQ community by comparing it to the imaginary community of muggles...

...leading the fight for gun control with illiteracy...

...and incisive political commentary on the persecution of journalists.

As Patton Oswalt points out, books featuring elaborate fantasy worlds are excellent for escapism and even light-handed allegories, but they're not conducive to interpreting world politics: "It's a cool book with some wonderful passages but it also has ghost sex & giants & super babies & demons. It's why we don't make laws based on Game of Thrones, My Little Pony or Legend of Zelda."


So why are some treating fandom like a faith? One twentieth century sociologist whose knowledge about people was as voluminous as his facial hair was Émile Durkheim. He defined religion as "a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden–beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them."

In the same way, sacred objects are the pillars of fandom. In Star Wars, the lightsabers and hooded robes are just symbols of the civic duty, compassion, and self-awareness promoted by Jedi creed (which, to its credit, is said to be adapted from the actual Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi). Harry Potter merchandise is rife with the Deathly Hallow symbols and the house crests of Hogwarts because they represent the hero's journey – with the poignant twist that unassuming heroes are everywhere (Hufflepuffs are just as strong as Gryffindors, we get it).

Is there danger in conflating fandoms with religion? To society as a whole, no – aside from causing mass annoyance on Twitter, consumers aren't generally at risk from neurotic people taking fandoms too seriously. In fact, as far as public sentiment goes, the people who pose the most danger are those who don't believe in anything.

In Casey Cep's article in the New Yorker, "Why Are Americans Still Uncomfortable with Atheism," she recounts how identifying as "faithless" has been a source of social shame throughout history and still remains so, to some degree, today. So much so that stigma against atheists can overshadow stigmas against other religious beliefs. According to 2018 surveys, "Americans, in large numbers, still do not want atheists teaching their children, or marrying them." She continues, "They would...prefer a female, gay, Mormon, or Muslim President to having an atheist in the White House, and some of them do not object to attempts to keep nonbelievers from holding other offices, even when the office is that of notary public."

Cep adds, "Such is the slippery label of 'atheist' in the American context: slapped on those who explicitly reject it, eschewed by unbelievers who wish to avoid its stigma. Both atheists and their critics often make a hopeless muddle of the category, sometimes because it is genuinely complicated to assess belief, but often for other reasons."

Fans play real-life version of Quidditch in London Evening Express

In Britain (where Jediism was the seventh-largest religion in 2015), "atheism" was on the decline in 2018. However, the number of self-reported Christians hasn't risen; rather, more people are reporting to believe in "some sort of spiritual greater power." In fact, according to a 2017 poll by WIN/Gallup International, the U.K. and Czech Republic (with 15,000 self-identified Jedis) are among the ten least religious countries. As Cep describes, Americans' reluctance to identify as "atheist" has always resulted in dubious polls, but recent surveys note an upward trend in U.S. atheism overall.

And as psychologists like to remind us, "higher levels of religious belief and practice (known in social science as 'religiosity') is associated with better mental health." But what it actually comes down to are the basic benefits of any "participatory culture," be it religion or a fandom subculture, from Star Wars and Harry Potter to My Little Pony and Supernatural. The social benefits that Jenkins describes include the simple but crucial element of social validation: "Members who feel some degree of social connection with one another and care about other members' opinions about their contributions." But as Cep points out, "Atheism, however, is not a single identity, ideology, or set of practices." It's just nonbelief.

So according to the data collected by nerds who specialize in the the random, chaotic patterns of human behavior, we're living in increasingly faithless times. But when that outlook is still stigmatized–not to mention statistically correlated with higher rates of depression and anxiety–it almost seems natural to look for an alternative belief system. For some, that's the Force. For others, it's WWDD ("What Would Dumbledore Do?"). And because reality is so much odder than fiction, they're both technically good for you.

Medium


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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The Cult of Hillsong Church: Ellen Page Questions, Chris Pratt Denies

This Hollywood church has a large celebrity outreach and some very problematic beliefs—but it's not Scientology.

Black Christian News

If you haven't heard of Hillsong Church, it's one of the most publicized places of worship for celebrities, second to Scientology and the MET gala, of course.

Hillsong has drawn the likes of Selena Gomez, Hailee Steinfeld, Kourtney Kardashian, Kendall Jenner, and Hailey and Justin Bieber. Recently, Chris Pratt appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to describe the 21-day fast inspired by the Bible's Book of Daniel that his Hillsong pastor recommended to him. In response to the Hollywood Reporter's recap of Pratt's interview, Ellen Page brought to light criticism of the church and its leadership for being outspoken against the LGBTQ community.

"Oh. K. Um," Page said on Twitter. "But his church is infamously anti lgbtq so maybe address that too?"

The actress was referring to New York Hillsong pastor, Carl Lentz, who called homosexuality a sin in 2015. Lentz also reportedly said that a gay member of the congregation could never become a church leader. When two male choir members of the church were married soon after, Hillsong's global senior pastor, Brian Houston, released a condemnatory statement of same-sex marriage. Other accusations against the church allege they promote conversion therapy and maintain a "don't ask, don't tell" policy among the congregation.

Gospel Herald

Originally founded in Australia in 1983, Lentz, the "hipster pastor," helped expand the church's popularity to over 100,000 New York attendees every week. In fact, Lentz is a perfect fit with Hillsong's self-styling as a modern, youth-oriented church. One attendee described him as "cool and relatable...and you want to be his friend...and then Justin and Hailey and Selena and Vanessa start going and it makes it more attractive to even more people…." Indeed, over 700,000 Instagram posts are currently tagged with #Hillsong, and nearly 40,000 people are reported to have attended the Hillsong Conference in Sydney. Lentz also maintains an active presence on social media that highlights the celebrity members of his congregation.

Instagram: Carl Lentz

With Hillsong's promotional materials befitting a music festival more than a church, it's this mix of religious and celebrity fervor that Ellen Page calls especially dangerous. The actress persevered in speaking out against organizations promoting anti-LGBTQ polices, particularly ones with celebrity influence. She tweeted over the weekend, "If you are a famous actor and you belong to an organization that hates a certain group of people, don't be surprised if someone simply wonders why it's not addressed," she added "Being anti LGBTQ is wrong, there aren't two sides. The damage it causes is severe. Full stop. Sending love to all."

On Monday, Chris Pratt penned a diplomatic response to the criticism with an Instagram story featuring the "award-winning sheep" raised on his farm. "It has recently been suggested that I belong to a church which 'hates a certain group of people' and is 'infamously anti-LGBTQ,'" he wrote. "Nothing could be further from the truth. I go to a church that opens their doors to absolutely everyone. Despite what the Bible says about divorce my church community was there for me every step of the way, never judging, just gracefully accompanying me on my walk. They helped me tremendously offering love and support. It is what I have seen them do for others on countless occasions regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender."

Instagram: Chris Pratt

Despite the actor's penchant for quoting bible verses, he made sure to state he is not officially affiliated with the church as a spokesperson. He wrote, "My values define who I am. I am a man who believes that everyone is entitled to love who they want free from the judgment of their fellow man."

With Hillsong's celebrity members including Justin and Hailey Bieber (who recently publicized their choice of celibacy prior to their wedding, under the guidance of Hillsong's pre-marriage course), Hillsong is developing a cult-like following in Hollywood. Isn't that how Scientology started?


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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TV Reviews

Killer Mike Hits and Misses in 'Trigger Warning'

The rapper delivers a brash, uncompromising look at political and racial issues in both America and the black community in his Netflix series, but leaves something to be desired.

If you saw a soft drink at the grocery store called "Crip-a-Cola" that was produced in a Crip trap house, would you buy it?

That's just the question rapper and Run the Jewels MC Michael "Killer Mike" Render asks in an episode of his new Netflix series Trigger Warning. In the episode, Killer Mike examines the privilege of white street gangs like the Hell's Angels compared to black street gangs like the Bloods and Crips; the privilege being that the Hells Angels can make money off their brand whilst black street gangs can't and don't. This leads Mike to approach an Atlanta Crips crew with a plan to sell their own soda.

In Trigger Warning, Killer Mike delivers a brash, brutally honest and righteous take on the political and social tension in America and the black community — much like the rhymes his fans are familiar with him dropping. Throughout, Mike takes on sacred cows like societal attitudes toward the black church and black capitalism. Much of it speaks to the broader point Mike hammers home: "Kill Your Masters," an ethic of individualism and community that rejects authority.

In the first episode of the series, Mike challenges himself to consume products sold only at black-run businesses for 36 hours. This turns out to be more difficult than expected even in a Mecca of black culture like Atlanta. He can't even eat at a local barbecue joint because the pork didn't come from a black-owned farm and he can't buy weed since it was presumably grown by white people in California. It's an experience that leaves him longing for the heyday of black commerce that his parents and grandparents enjoyed. It's part of the show's objective to honestly discuss the issues facing the black community. It's also strongly connected to Killer Mike's desire to educate white audiences on real black history, especially those in his own fanbase.

So much of what makes it a worthwhile watch are the authentic conversations Mike has with folks. He discusses, for example, how the black church has too often failed the community and the need to create a new black spirituality that recognizes the beauty and excellence of black people. It's valuable to see these sort of topics talked about when such issues are rarely analyzed honestly in the mainstream media.

The series has an unmistakable resemblance to Comedy Central's Nathan For You — just a more politically-charged version of. It's filled with the same reality TV, mockumentary vibe, with cringey situations, and absurd social experiments that criticize cultural norms. In one episode, Mike invites an eclectic group consisting of a white nationalist, a Juggalo, a Black Lives Matter activist, a Jewish Renaissance fair aficionado, and a Native American Moor to perform a song before an RTJ show. During the recording session, the white nationalist refers to himself as a "white N-word" leading to a heated discussion about the use of the word. Later on, the white nationalist says it before an audience of hundreds, quickly silencing the crowd. The on-screen awkwardness is palpable.

These moments just add to the show's absurd nature.

Still, Trigger Warning leaves something to be desired. It's often provocative just for the sake of being provocative. The scene of the white nationalist blurting out the N-word is one case of this. It's done to shock viewers and contains no bigger lesson than "people on political extremes will say offensive things sometimes."

Sometimes the point he's attempting to make falls flat either because it's confusing or it lacks the political power typical of the rapper and political activist. Often, it comes off as reality TV, but it's not clear if it's done so to satirize the medium. In the final episode, Mike creates a fake new country called New Africa to protest the political divisions in America. It's an ambitious idea to discuss the legacy of black nationalism in the black community, but ends up as an uninspiring call for unity. One can't help but find these calls for unity coming off empty in the current political environment. His criticisms of the education system goes no further than: schools don't prioritize vocational skills enough. There's nothing about the inequities in school funding or public school privatization.

Killer Mike knocks it out of the park in some episodes with a frank look at hard-hitting issues in black America with his usual swaggering and uncompromising attitude. Other times, the show lacks a clear direction with muddled political and social commentary, but has a few provocative scenes to keep the audience entertained for 25 minutes. It's certainly something fans of Run The Jewels would enjoy checking out, and overall it's a unique entry into the Netflix original nonfiction canon.


Dan is a writer and occasional optimist. You can follow on Twitter @danescalona77.


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Trending

Sinead O'Connor Converts to Islam

She now goes by the name "Shuhada' Davitt"

Well-known for hits like "Nothing Compares 2 U" as well as public displays of criticism against the Catholic Church, Irish singer Sinead O' Connor, 51, is always one to make her voice heard.

This time, it's her announcement that she has converted to Islam and changed her name to Shuhada' Davitt.


Along with her announcement, Twitter followers can see a new profile photo – the Nike logo with a message: "Wear a hijab just do it." And People notes, "Additionally, her Twitter bio now reads in all caps, "Please be aware that if you post racist or anti muslim rhetoric on this page you will be blocked."

According to CNN, "Last year, O'Connor changed her name to Magda Davitt, a name she took to be 'free of parental curses.'" Since her conversion to Islam, she has changed her first name again to Shuhada', which means "martyrs" in Arabic.

Davitt is documenting her journey on social media, recently posting her rendition of the Azan – the Islamic call to prayer and worship. She has stated that she's joyful, and yesterday tweeted, "Thank you so much to all my Muslim brothers and sisters who have been so kind as to welcome me to Ummah (the Muslim community) today on this page. You can't begin to imagine how much your tenderness means to me."


Since her announcement, Davitt has received both criticism and support for her decision to convert to Islam. It was only a few years ago that the singer was struggling with mental health issues. As per USA Today, "In November 2015, she made a suicide threat on Facebook over child-custody issues. The following May, she went missing for a day before turning up in a Chicago suburb. In 2017, she sat down for an interview with Dr. Phil on his daytime talk show, where she revealed that her emotional troubles had been triggered by the hormonal effects of a radical hysterectomy."

Follow Davitt's journey on Twitter as she continues to update her feed and post photos. Just don't expect to see her in her very first hijab.


Melissa A. Kay is a New York-based writer, editor, and content strategist. Follow her work on Popdust as well as sites including TopDust, Chase Bank, P&G, Understood.org, The Richest, GearBrain, The Journiest, Bella, TrueSelf, Better Homes & Gardens, AMC Daycare, and more.



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