Christ-followers Stealing Mac Creative

kinnon —  December 9, 2006 — 20 Comments

It should go without saying that truly hip, happening and now Christians use Macs. Those that don’t believe in penance – they use PCs because they want to suffer their way into a better place in heaven. (Actually, really really hip Christians use Ubuntu on any dang personal computer they want, but that’s a story for another time.)

MacadtheftWith that out of the way, let me cut to the substance of this post. Some Christians Christ-followers thought it would be kewl to steal Mac Creative to attack Christians. (Actually, Ad Agency creative but let’s not split hairs.)They’ve taken stolen the I’m a Mac, I’m a PC creative, right down to the music to create the I’m a Christ-follower, I’m a Christian “commercials”.

Better theological minds than mine (Michael and Joel) take the ads apart from a theological perspective. I just want to deal with the theft aspect – which is exacerbated by the hip, happening and now church offering their stolen creative for $9.95. (Have your credit cards ready. Operators are standing by.)

Community Christian Church (odd, shouldn’t they be Community Christ-follower Church) refers to the ads as parodies. They aren’t. A parody pokes fun or ridicule at the original. This is a parody. (UPDATE: There is reasonable debate that parody can mean using elements from one work of art to parody something else other than the work of art being used. My argument in this post doesn’t hang on the definition of parody in my not-so-humble opinion. I have removed the heading on this paragraph, however.)

Community Christ-follower Church has taken the Mac creative, lock, stock and two smoking barrels, and used it to proclaim how hip they are in comparison to (other?) Christians. They’ve got the white background, camera cuts, Casio keyboard music and “witty reparté” down almost perfectly. (The lighting and colour correction is better on the Mac ads.)

CCC smugly claims,

You will laugh out loud watching this parody of the popular Apple v PC commercials. Armed with his rule books, morality plays, Christian bumper sticker collection, and a trusty King James Version Bible in a leather case, a holier-than-thou Christian trades questions with unassuming Christ-follower.

Hey guys, just wanted you to know that I didn’t LOL at all. I just thought of how creatively bankrupt you were that you’d steal someone else’s intellectual property to make fun of other Christians.

Oh. Sorry. I forgot. You guys aren’t Christians. You’re Christ-followers. How totally kewl, dudes.

(Please note, when I use the term steal in this post I use it in the theft sense – not the Pablo Picasso sense where “bad artists copy, good artists steal.”)

UPDATE: Read Joel Hunter’s further comments at BHT and follow the links. Some of them elevated my rather sedate blood pressure.

UPDATE 2: Joel has further thoughts @ the BHT.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

20 responses to Christ-followers Stealing Mac Creative

  1. is this column serious? i feel as though someone has put a lot of thought into attacking a series of ‘jokes’ (wouldn’t want to distract anyone by misusing the word parody) that can’t do much worse than encourage conversation.
    i’m very new at ‘church’ so i’ll leave the theology to professionals, but since you freely attempt to illustrate the perpetration of stolen “…intellectual property…”, you should consider the “market share” traditional christianity in north america is losing daily. it just may be time to welcome a new approach….

    peter bloom (uxbridge, ontario)

  2. Just thought I’d throw it out there that when Jesus said he wanted us to be one as he and the father are one (John 17:21), I’m pretty sure he meant don’t make fun of each other. Perhaps instead of trashing Christians who aren’t quite ready to become postmodern, modern, or subscribe to our definition of what “true christianity” is we should be praying for others and praying for ourselves; just in case we’re the ones getting it wrong.

  3. Peter,

    Thanks for dropping by. Rather than donning my curmudgeon cap once again, let me point you at this Alan Hirsch blog post.

    About four years ago I attended a seminar on missional church where the speaker asked the question “How many Christians do you think there were in the year 100AD?” He then asked “how many Christians do you think there were just before Constantine came on the scene, say 310AD?” Here is the somewhat surprising answer…

    100AD There are as little as 25 000 Christians

    310AD There are as many as 20 000 000 Christians

    He then asked the question, and it has haunted me to this day, “how did they do this?” “How did they grow from being a small movement to the most significant religious force in the Roman Empire in two centuries?” Now that’s a question to initiate a journey! And delving into this question drove me to the discovery of what I will call Apostolic Genius (the inbuilt life force and guiding mechanism of God’s people) and the living components or elements that make it up. These components I have tagged missional DNA or mDNA for short.

    Visit Alan’s rather ugly blog for some great material. (I know, I couldn’t resist a dig.) I think Hirsch answers your question in perhaps a roundabout way – but an important one no less. 


  4. Peter, I think you miss the point here. What the “parody” is doing not making a fine theological point, but rather doing what narcissists love to do. The parody is not pointing to Jesus, but to these people who claim they are Christ-followers. It is totally self-referential, intended to show us who are cool, ur, kewl.

    What would have been better is put all the various styles of being Christian on one side with Jesus on the other. Then we’d have parody with bite, reality and truth. None of us exactly like Jesus, not matter how cool or uncool we are. I’m uncool and proud of it, and ask for forgiveness for my pride? or lack of style?

    The problem is that this is a totally Western middle class perception of Christianity. And since you brought it up, this is the form of Christianity that is in decline. Not Christianity globally. Find Philip Jenkins’ books on Global Christianity. That is the faith that is in ascendency. And it does not fit into the parody.

  5. well – don’t look now, but you are involved in something called “discussion”. i think that is the goal of the little mac rip off. why do people that are engaged in religion feel threatened when they are challenged?

    as for the suggestion that things are just fine in an ever expanding christian world (alan hirsch?), i guess i’m just isolated culturally here in canada. of course, pointing me to countries that aren’t as engaged in pop-culture as the west in order to suggest that christianity is on the rise only proves my point – christianity is losing market share. it seems that there are far more churches closing here rather than opening. my point is that one challenge that faces church communities is that it isn’t clear that faith is relevant. it’s at least possible that there is some benefit to discussing the benefits and shortcomings of both ‘christians’ and ‘christ-followers’ within the context of popular culture…like a computer ad.

    it feels good to me – i don’t feel threatened by questions nearly as much as the suggestion that some shouldn’t be asked. that said, nobody asked me…

    peter bloom

  6. According to the definition you linked to, what they have done is indeed a parody. Did you even read it? Notice the parts I put ** around.

    “A parody is a work that imitates another work in order to ridicule, ironically comment on, or poke some affectionate fun at the work itself, the subject of the work, the author or fictional voice of the parody, **or another subject**. As literary theorist Linda Hutcheon (2000: 7) puts it, “parody…is imitation with a critical difference, **not always at the expense of the parodied text.**”

  7. James,
    Thanks for pointing that out. My mistake for not using the dictionary definition I sourced – and quickly grabbing Wikipedia as a source. I’ve re-referenced the link and put a note in the body of the post regarding the disagreement about what a parody is. I used the definition from the New Oxford American Dictionary as my source (from the Dictionary that lives inside Mac OS X).

    I don’t believe my argument hangs on the definition of parody, however.

  8. Peter,
    I’m unclear as to your point, “you are involved in something called discussion.” And why do you assume I feel threatened and that you are challenging me? And if you checked the About page you’d note I live in Toronto. And who ever suggested that “things are just fine in an ever expanding christian world” – certainly not Hirsch, Ed, Liam or myself.

    Let me suggest you read Leslie Newbiggin’s Foolishness to the Greeks to understand the need for mission to Western Culture. We in the West live in a Post-Christian world whether we realize it or not. Ripping off Apple creative to poke fun at one stream of Christianity is hardly an effective tool in that mission. It just makes the cool Christians feel better about themselves.

  9. I blogged about this same topic earlier today and just stumbled on your post on Technorati.

    Whether this is actually a ‘parody’ or not is probably best left up to the attorneys, because although I see your point, personally I think it is a parody.

    I do think it’s funny for ‘Christians’ to ridicule other ‘Christians’ in an attempt to bring more ‘Christians’ into the fold.

  10. bill…
    maybe it’s just clear to me because i don’t assume that the people that made these ‘jokes’ are attacking anyone. the christians (christ followers?) i hang with are pretty friendly and generally non-judgemental, so watching those clips just made me laugh at “us”. both characters are pretty funny (and neither of them seems very “cool”) if you ask me, as is the notion that any “stream of christianity” adequately represents the personality of christ. the bible i’m reading doesn’t instill the same urgency in me to belong to a particular group as it does for me to get to know jesus.

    since i am a particularly ‘low bottom case’ and needed to endure alchoholism and jail (among other discomfort) in order to be sure of my helplessness outside of faith, it could be that just haven’t got enough pride left to feel attacked by something like this. life can be hard – i try to take every opportunity to laugh that comes along.

    thanks for suggesting the books, i’m always interested in new perspectives.


  11. Peter,

    Your perspective is refreshing. Too often we ARE more concerned with what a faithful Jesus-follower looks like than acts like. That is certainly one angle that the videos invite us to think about.

    There are two considerations to this claim of yours: “it could be that just haven’t got enough pride left to feel attacked by something like this.”

    The first is that some people WILL react for just this reason, and your words speak directly and honestly to such people. Some people have formed their personal identities around christian kitsch and legalistic tendencies, and are quite likely to react defensively rather than take it as an opportunity to do some needed self-examination. Too bad for them.

    The second point, however, has little if anything to do with personal pride. My own criticism of these videos is not because I identify with anyone depicted. I got my undies in a bunch on behalf of the uptight character, not because I’m like him. I’ve known and continue to know people a lot like him. And I think it IS important to gently nudge them away from their subculture, isolationist mentality. The problem with the videos is that they aren’t gentle. A skillful pastor might be able to use them gently among such folk, but without a very carefully created context, picking up the videos on Youtube or by some other viral path is far more likely to entrench the attitudes of the uptight guy, because he will (understandably, imo) feel persecuted.

    The net effect, then, depends on the audience and the means that these videos are delivered to them. The deeper problems are: (a) they are probably most well-received in a setting where most people identify with the laid-back guy; this then serves as a disciplining tool for the few who might be or feel like the uptight guy to conform to the status quo (mocking as such judges and punishes; w/o offering grace or mercy, it exerts external control rather than offering the inward work of the Spirit) (b) where they are well-received, they encourage folks to turn their backs on the uptight guy and be self-satisfied with their own expressions of spirituality. But this is exactly what the laid-back person complains about in the uptight guy. This is why I called these two guys a mirror image of one another.

    Our deepest compromises with our culture are the things we most desperately need to confront in ourselves. Until we do, we won’t be offering anything new to others, nor exhibiting “a better way,” nor working for the unity and love among all who claim the name of Christ.

  12. …one more thought, or two. Ed’s comments above are spot on. On the one hand, there is an obvious self-consciousness of the videos’ producers on view through them. Ed called them “self-referential” and narcissistic, which is exactly correct. And that is precisely the dominant cultural ethos that constantly assaults us through every medium, including…video parodies. The ethics of that regime is driven by cynicism, futile attempts at resisting the numbing effect of our technological society, its vain attempts to escape boredom, and our detached, god’s-eye perspective afforded by channel-surfing consciousness. It is this zombie-like cultural enslavement that we should resist and fight with all of our artistic, moral and intellectual resources. Following Jesus is about, in part, developing this alternative, minority culture.

    Second, one can’t help but note the youth of those involved in producing these videos. Let no one despise you your youth, Timothy…but, it is youth’s natural narcissistic tendency that may be one major reason that the NT picture of “leaders” includes elders, those who have some spiritual maturity to help challenge and channel passions and ideas that might result in losing focus on Christ and the cross, the gospel, or otherwise be self-destructive. So my hope for the church that produced these videos is that they will mature and deepen in their understanding of church life and practice. I would invite those who can’t understand why someone (like me) who is just as critical of the “traditions” of evangelical subculture, nevertheless reacts to these videos with an eye roll and a heavy sigh, maybe even some anger, to investigate why that might be and what we’re trying to point out.

  13. Bill,
    Not to be a pain (really), but I *do* think your argument centers around whether or not this is a parody. If it is indeed a parody, then they are not stealing. I just feel like you’re making a very strong accusation. If it’s not based on the definition of a parody, then what is it based on?

    I think of Weird Al. He does parodies. For example, (the only one that comes to mind) Amish Paradise is a parody of Gansta Paradise. He is not making fun of the ganstas, but the Amish. And even if he IS making fun of the original song, he makes fun of the format but not the content. Yes, some people don’t like him because he is ‘ruining the art’ of the original. But he is not stealing. In copyright law, it’s not the idea that is copyrightable but the particular expression of that idea.

    I think the same is true with these videos. They are using a pre-existing culturally recognizable platform to compare two things. Yes, they are making fun of the stereotypes of Christians. And in a sense they are making fun of the mechanism itself as if to say, “Hey, this Mac/PC format can be used to compare any two things…” So in that light, I think it is indeed a parody and therefore not stealing.

    Not trying to comment at all on whether or not these videos are good, accurate, effective, or offensive. I don’t know enough about the context and intent of the church to assume the answers to those issues.

  14. Weird Al had to pay to use both Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise” as well as the lyrics to the “Gilligan’s Island” theme song in “Amish Paradise”. Just check the liner notes (Yes, I did own this album). It wouldn’t make sense for Weird Al to be ripping off other people’s work without having to pay for the rights to use the material. So yes, he may be parodying the song, but he’s also giving royalties to the artists he is parodying for their material. Makes sense to me.

    The question I ask is whether or not these “Christ-followers” actually paid to use both the song playing in the background and the format in general. They are selling this, aren’t they? Now, I’m not an expert, but if these people are marketing these videos at 10$ bucks a pop, shouldn’t they have to pay royalties? I would hope so.

    I would agree with James’s assertion that they are a parody if they weren’t being sold for a profit. But they are being sold, so I don’t think they can be considered as such.

  15. joel – thanks for those comments, that way of looking at this just sits right with me. thank you for taking the time to gently guide me to a new line of thought.


  16. James,

    Let me explain my understanding of copyright use in terms of television production.


    I’ve been in the television production industry since 1978 after graduating from Ryerson University with a degree in Radio and Television Arts. I co-owned a medium-sized post production company in the third largest production market in North America for twenty years (until 2004). We were faced with copyright issues constantly – clients who wanted to use music, creative, images or other intellectual property in their own work without the permission of the rights holders. We couldn’t and wouldn’t allow them to – for both ethical and liability reasons.

    I’ve also written and directed literally hundreds of corporate marketing videos, commercials, on-air promos, interstials and music videos (in agregate). (And that number would move to quadruple digits if you included my editing work.) Some of that work was influenced by other creative (Terry Gilliam‘s animation style, as an example, influenced some of the Network Branding I creative directed for Global TV’s KTV) but I never knowingly copied the IP of anyone else. (As well, our company ended up in a copyright battle with a large multinational production company who refused to pay us – but wanted to use the produced works anyway. We asserted our copyright in those works as the editors, they sued us to be able to freely use the material and they lost. It set precedent in Canada.)

    The principal in law regarding the use of copyright material is known as “fair use’ and has some pretty significant restrictions. CCC has chosen to use the Apple commercial creative to “sell” their own ideas. They have a problem with a particular “brand” of Christians. They’ve copied the Mac creative to make their negative point about that particular brand. And as Jarrett said before I had the opportunity (I was standing in line at the passport office), they are then selling their work as if they own the rights to it.

    The use of the music alone would put them in breach of copyright. In my opinion, an attempt to have the CCC commercials seen as parodies would not stand up in law. Here’s a quote from the US Government copyright page:

    The distinction between fair use and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission.

    The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author’s observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported. (emphasis added)

    CCC has done a lot more than use “some of the content”. From Wikipedia (and yes I’ve read it this time – more than once actually)

    Producers or creators of parodies of a copyrighted work have been sued for infringement by the targets of their ridicule, even though such use may be protected as fair use. The fair use cases addressing parodies distinguish between parodiesusing a work in order to poke fun at or comment on the work itselfand satiresusing a work to poke fun at or comment on something else. Courts have been more willing to grant fair use protections to parodies than to satires, but the ultimate outcome in either circumstance will turn on the application of the four fair use factors.

    In Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.[17] the Supreme Court recognized parody as a fair use, even when done for profit. Roy Orbison‘s publisher, Acuff-Rose Music Inc., had sued 2 Live Crew in 1989 for their use of Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” in a mocking rap version with altered lyrics. The Supreme Court viewed 2 Live Crew’s version as a ridiculing commentary on the earlier work, and ruled that when the parody was itself the product rather than used for mere advertising, commercial sale did not bar the defense. The Campbell court also distinguished parodies from satire, which they described as a broader social critique not intrinsically tied to ridicule of a specific work, and so not deserving of the same use exceptions as parody because the satirist’s ideas are capable of expression without the use of the other particular work. (emphasis added)

    You might also find this page enlightening, from the University of Texas regarding Rules of Thumb for Fair Use.

    I happen to be a Weird Al fan and would not bother to debate that what he has produced might be considered parodies. However, Al doesn’t avail himself of the “Fair Use” section of the copyright law – as, in law, it is debatable whether they are parodies or not. Al has the permission of the copyright holders to produce his comedic works and those copyright holders recieve royalties on the sales of Al’s productions.

    Are you aware, James, whether CCC has obtained permission to use the copyrighted work of Apple, it’s Ad Agency and any other copyright holders (including the music publishers) or are they selling material they have no rights to?

    Thanks again for stopping by, James.



  17. I like the disinction between a parody and a satire. That draws a much clearer picture of the issue.

    I guess I’m trying to understand why you think it’s stealing. So if they were not selling them, would it be different? Or do you insist they get permission either way? What if they sell 10, but that doesn’t give them a profit? Are all the other Mac/PC parodies or satires on YouTube stealing too?

    And I don’t intend to continue this discussion much longer… I’m tiring of it. But it’s fun while it lasts.

  18. Sorry, James. I’m beginning to feel like I’m dealing with Bill Clinton. “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” I’m done. But you’re always welcome to come back and poke holes in other arguments of mine.

  19. Ok Bill. That seems like an abrupt ending…

    I really am interested to know your anwsers to those questions. You never told me what your argument was based on (if it’s not based on parody), but then you used an exhaustive definition of a parody to answer me. So now I just wanted to be clear. Oh well.

    And frankly, it doesn’t look good that you’ve just abandoned the discussion without explanation. Not sure why you have a blog, then… if just to throw out baseless debate that you don’t intend defend. And I don’t mean that in the way it sounds… I’m just suprised you aren’t able to answer those questions.

    But thanks anyway. I doubt I’ll pick apart any of your other arguments… they aren’t nearly as interesting to me. Good luck with your business…

  20. The ads are wrong because they are smug and uncharitable. But the expression “stealing” in relation to “intellectual property” is rarely helpful.

    If the ads infringe Apple’s copyright then that is a *civil law* matter for Apple to pick up should they choose to do so. It is not a *criminal offence* (“stealing”). It is highly unlikely that Apple have been deprived of anything or lost anything by these ads being made, so where’s the theft?


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