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Dead Tree Alert: Jesus Christ's Superstar

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In the print edition of TIME this week, my column is about how rock-and-holy-roller Mike Huckabee has used, and been used by, pop culture this election cycle:

In the popular and political mind, pop culture and conservative Christianity are separated like church and state. Britney, The Da Vinci Code and MTV are here; homeschooling, Left Behind and praise music are there. What God hath put asunder, let not man attempt to join.

So it’s surprising—yet for reasons we’ll get into, entirely sensible—that the candidate who has made the most effective use of pop culture in campaign 2008 is the former president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. Mike Huckabee, the bass-playing, weight-loss-book-writing, late-night-quipping, Chuck Norris–befriending pastor, has turned an easy facility with pop culture into free media for his underfunded -underdog campaign.

Huckabee’s campaign is like The Chronicles of Narnia or VeggieTales cartoons: a Christian crossover product. For Old Guard evangelical leaders, not getting pop culture used to be a badge of honor; think Jerry Falwell’s outing of Teletubby Tinky Winky or Pat Robertson’s listing immoral TV as one reason for the Sept. 11 attacks. But Huckabee doesn’t just engage with pop culture. He soaks in it.

You might say that nobody should be surprised that a Baby Boomer Evangelical would make jokes and rock out in public. And you would be right: but in the insular world of newsrooms and late-night booking offices, it is surprising. Which has enabled Huckabee to leverage stereotypes against Evangelicals to get flattering attention to his bass playing and comedy rather than, say, his views on the submission of wives to their husbands.

It’ll be interesting to see whether and how that changes if Huckabee wins South Carolina. He could just get taken seriously, whether he likes it or not.

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