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Escape into the Future
Cultural Pessimism and its Religious Dimension in Contemporary American Popular Culture
By John M. Stroup and Glenn W. Shuck
Escape into the Future analyzes the power of pessimism, showing links between present-day religious pessimism and the nihilism of popular culture. Stroup and Shuck rummage through interesting and eclectic body of pop culture—from Fight Club to X-Files to the Left Behind series—pointing out the presence of pessimistic themes throughout. This volume identifies and illuminates the religious language used in these works to articulate America’s need to escape from its present cultural path and, ultimately, provide hope that it might do so.
1. Secret Agents: Visions of Escape, Glimpses of Hope
2. Do We Still Want to Believe?: The X-Files and the American Struggle with Progressive Action
3. Perhaps Today: The Dialectic of Despair and Activism in Popular Evangelical Literature
4. God's Unwanted: Fight Club and the Myth of "Total Revolution"
5. Relocating the American Dream: The Challenges and Ambiguities of Contemporary Cultural Pessimism
6. The Quest for a Real-World Correlate Sightings of Cultural Pessimism in the Domains of Scholarship and Journalism
7. The Question of Real-World Correlates to Fantasy Processes of Decline: The Deep Structure of Decay, or, Descent into the Engine Room of the RMS Titanic
Epilogue-Into the Great Wide Open
"This profoundly challenging and richly erudite analysis of American political and cultural pessimism-the sense of despair about our loss of control over the democratic process-is essential reading for anyone involved in interdisciplinary studies, or who wants to understand where we are today, why we got here, and what if anything we can hope for in the future. John Stroup and Glenn Shuck have elevated the dialogue between religion and popular culture, especially film, to new, and enviably accessible, intellectual heights. There's quite simply a bibliographic feast here for any of us who may be behind in recent developments in multidisciplinary cultural studies."
—John R. May, Louisiana State University
"The strength of the volume lies in the popular culture material that the authors cover, much of which still has resonance with undergraduate students... Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through graduate students."
"Moving with ease through the minefields of popular culture, Stroup and Shuck offer a fascinating read of contemporary cultural pessimism. Drawing on a wide range of primary 'texts,' from the wildly popular X-Files of the 1990s to cult-classic underworld imports like The Prisoner, they demonstrate how the American Dream has been dislocated, it's energizing power siphoned off into various forms of fatalism. The book includes a particularly thoughtful critique of the religious elements of this phenomenon -- not only of its expression (in, for example, the Left Behind series) but also of the scholarly and journalistic efforts to identify and analyze it."
—David S. Cunningham, Professor of Religion, Hope College
From X-Files and Left Behind to Fight Club and New Age writing, Stroup and Shuck map out a trajectory of growing cultural cynicism embedded within escape fantasies. Such cultural-political pessimism might still be a minority viewpoint in America, but as a variety of real-world correlatives hint, it could also be “near-term cultural prophecy.” Here is provocative and engaged reading at its best.
—Robert K. Johnston, Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary
Glenn W. Shuck is Assistant Professor of Religion at Williams College.
John M. Stroup is Harry and Hazel Chavanne Professor of Religious Studies at Rice University.