Luhr, Eileen. Witnessing Suburbia: Conservatives and Christian Youth Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.270 + x pp. hbk $50.00 (USD); pbk $21.95 (USD). ISBN: 978-0520255944 (hbk); ISBN: 978-0520255968 (pbk)
Eileen Luhr's Witnessing Suburbia is a welcome study of evangelical popular culture and its relationship to religious politics in the post-World War II period. Throughout the book, Luhr weaves together evangelical concerns about popular culture and its supposed secularizing power with the historical development of post-war conservative fears about the decline of authority, lack of personal responsibility, and decaying of traditional gender roles to demonstrate how the family became a powerful symbol for counteracting these forces in suburban America. Her historical narrative helps us understand how contemporary evangelicals working through popular culture draw upon the prior efforts of Christians who struggled to legitimate popular culture as a mission field.
Witnessing Suburbia consists of four well-developed chapters, an introduction, and an epilogue with extensive endnotes and a bibliography. That said, Luhr sacrifices the breadth of evangelical popular culture for analytical depth; for example, her main focus--popular music--is limited to heavy metal and punk rock. This focus, however, serves Luhr's intense cultural criticism. Chapter one's extended discussion of different evangelical approaches to rock music is an invaluable map for those looking to do further research in the field, as she lays out the changes, conflicts, and struggles to understand the limits to accepting rock and roll and its culture among evangelicalism's self-appointed leaders. Through these negotiations we also get a glimpse into the cultural labour involved in categorizing rock music as either dangerous or acceptable, especially as it is evaluated according to the aforementioned standards that the family is believed to uphold.
Chapters two and three mainly focus on how evangelicals adopted the rebellious attitudes and imagery of heavy metal and punk music in the 1980s, and subverted the images to reflect their core values. In doing so, Christian music became a missionary tool dedicated to saving souls and showing that Christians could be cultural insiders through adopting the music and fashions of these musical subcultures while espousing Christian values. One of Luhr's major contributions is demonstrating how Christian bands subverted...