Monday, September 9, 2013

Case Study Proposal: The Buddy Christ

Now we all know how the majority and the media in this country view the Catholic church. They think of us as a passe, archaic institution. People find the Bible obtuse... even hokey. Now, in an effort to disprove all that, the church has appointed this year as a time of renewal, both of faith and of style. For example, the crucifix. While it has been a time honored symbol of our faith, Holy Mother Church has decided to retire this highly recognizable, yet wholly depressing image of our Lord crucified. Christ didn't come to Earth to give us the willies... He came to help us out. He was a booster. And it is with that take on our Lord in mind that we've come up with a new, more inspiring sigil. So it is with great pleasure that I present you with the first of many revamps the "Catholicism WOW" campaign will unveil over the next year. I give you... The Buddy Christ.
                                                - Cardinal Glick (George Carlin), Dogma
Since his image first graced movie screens in the 1999 film “Dogma” starring Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, the Buddy Christ has taken on something like a cult following.  From clothing to action figures to bobble-headed car accessories, Buddy Christ is present in multiple social spheres.  Perhaps the most widely known representation of Buddy Christ is his user-generated form as a religious meme online. An example Buddy Christ meme is pictured above; the common features of the Buddy Christ image are a winking eye, wide smile, pointing finger, and “thumbs up” hand symbol.  According to the meme creation website, the Buddy Christ meme has undergone 901 separate iterations since the establishment of the site; a similar website,, stores 456 original user-created Buddy Christ memes within its database.  After a quick search on Twitter, I located multiple user tweets incorporating the Buddy Christ meme on each day over the past month.  Furthermore, using the Google Trends tool to map interest in the Buddy Christ meme over time reveals consistent internet usage of the meme since it peaked in online interest in 2004.  Due to the steady popularity and prominence of the Buddy Christ meme, I believe it makes for an excellent case study subject when considering the ways users generate meme content to express or perform religious practice online.

The Buddy Christ meme itself is a parodic representation (or intentional misrepresentation) of Jesus of Nazareth, a central figure in traditional Christian religious practice.  While the meme has been used in a variety of ways, Buddy Christ is most commonly used to sarcastically comment on traditional Christian practices and beliefs that are derived directly from the narrative and teachings of Jesus Christ.  As an organizational scholar, I would like to study the how the meme is used to caricaturize institutional religious practice and thereby indirectly question the authority of Christian institutions.  I argue that while on the surface users of the Buddy Christ meme appear to be mocking Jesus of Nazareth and his teachings, their underlying objective is to reject the claimed spiritual authority of organized Christian churches.  By generating content that derides traditional perspectives of Jesus of Nazareth as a spiritual authority, meme users also attempt to undermine the authority of the organized church due to the centrality of Jesus to the authority of traditional Christian practice.  This case study is of particular interest to me as it coincides with my previous research on the ways in which Christian churches are managing and modifying organizational identities by transferring traditional religious meanings to new symbols.

I will conduct this case study by first examining the presence of the Buddy Christ meme across multiple social media platforms, with a particular interest in the strong presence of the meme on the microblog hosting sites Tumblr and Twitter.  After collecting various examples of the meme over several weeks, I will analyze their content and context for messages regarding Christian institutional practice and discuss possible influence on and meanings for the corporate church.

The following are links to the Buddy Christ content collections at MemeGenerator and QuickMeme.



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