Tuesday, February 10, 2004

good news gals

If you’ve ever hankered to find out just what the Messiah thinks of fragrance-free facial cleanser, fresh breath and Britney’s choice in footwear, help is finally at hand. Answers to these and assorted other contemporary spiritual questions, like “If God made pot, why can't I smoke it?” are now available online for a very reasonable $US14.99.
Revolve might look like an uptight life-style mag aimed at Teen girls too young to know the difference between cut-price fashion stock photography and legitimate street style. What this unlikely US best seller actually contains, apart from frequently perplexing advice columns and wholesome beauty guidance, is the complete New Testament.
Parcelled in the candy pink imagery and language endemic to magazines such as Seventeen or Tigerbeat, Revolve aims to bolster the faith of young Christian women and allow for ease of access to The Word. It also encourages a habit of good posture and advises against speaking with food in one’s mouth.
Thomas Nelson, the world's largest English language publisher of the bible, has craftily recognised that adolescent readers do judge the Good Book by its cover.
“Our research with teens showed that they found the bible too big or too freaky … to carry around” says the bible’s spokesperson and Brand Manager Laurie Whaley. She’s a member of the team responsible for making faith a more portable, and stylish, possibility.
In an effort to trade God to a teen-aged demographic, the company has added items such as a New King James Version with Compact Shoulder Strap and the thrill-seeking Extreme Teen Bible to its colossal product range in recent years. It was not, however, until the August 2003 publication of Revolve that the house effectively penetrated its challenging teen target.
Revolve is a marketing success story that was born of internet-based research. Maidens of the primarily Christian focus group complained that when confronted by the big, freaky bible they were simply at a loss to pick it up.
“When we asked teen girls ‘what do you read?’ we had the response ‘we read magazines’,” explains Whaley, a fantastically perky 29 year old Tennessee native, from her home in Nashville.
“Revolve was the number one selling bible of 2003” says Whaley. Current published estimates indicate that it retains its number one position to date. Although exact sales figures are unavailable, industry reports indicate that this new New Testament was a surprise hit nationwide and that a second six-figure print run has all but sold out.
Revolve has been so successful that a version for teenaged males, Refuel, is planned for release next month. “We’ve had some awesome emails from teen guys saying I’ve seen Revolve at my girlfriend’s house I would really like to get something for guys” says Whaley.
Whaley is thrilled by the success of a title that is sure to enjoy republication. She envisages, “an 18 month cycle for getting new editions. When we talk about content changes, obviously we’re not talking about the bible!”
Purist elders need not fret. This sassy New Testament will not revise the Last Supper to include a sponsored appearance by uber-teens, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. The New Century Version bible is unchanged; it’s just had a teeny makeover to draw out its inner beauty.
While the Greatest Story Ever Marketed will itself remain intact, there will be amendments to Revolve’s images and celebrity references in future editions.
The publication’s quizzes and reader advice sections that have proved such a hit with a young Christian audience will also be updated. It will be intriguing to see if Revolve’s editors can uphold the bravura standard set in the current issue.
In questionnaires that ask “Are you Crushing too Hard?” and “Are you Dating a Godly Guy?” (I checked, and I’m not) readers are marked for their chastity.
As instructive as are the quizzes, the genuine highlight for many readers of Revolve is the sidebar “Dear Abby” style column. “We have a feature called Blab Q and A. We answer questions from real teens on topics on everything from cloning and tattoos to oral sex to suicide to homosexuality and a variety of different things.” Says Whaley.
What, asks one question from a Real Teen, do you think about boyfriends tickling their girlfriends? “Tickling equals foreplay” counsels the anonymous Christian den-mother, whose knowledge of the Scriptures is so thorough that it extends to tickle-fight protocol. Tickling, needless to impart, must be rebuffed at all costs.
Similarly, thoughts of sex, an act described as “ a beautiful gift that God has given to married people”, in anything other than an educational way are sinful.
As for homosexuality: to employ the faux-hip parlance of Revolve, get outta here, girl!
Blab Q and A makes it clear “ that homosexuality is not the teaching of the scripture.” says Whaley
“God is going to love you regardless of your sexual orientation. But if you struggle with liking the same gender you might want to seek some help.”
There is much within Revolve that a progressive Christian might find repugnant. Reportedly, the first print run contained the axiom “God made guys to be the leaders. That means that they lead in relationships". Another questionable inclusion was this statistic “African-American teens are 40 percent more likely to have had sex than Caucasian teens." This may very well be the case. However, in a document so open in it scorn for promiscuity, the insertion of the fact is, at best, in poor taste.
The ugly conservatism of Revolve can be partially forgiven when one considers the needs of its target market. There are young women who, when confronted with the choice, would prefer tuition in virtue to the wanton, mid riff baring wriggling of Britney. Not every adolescent female is comfortable with the idea of life lived as a temptress in stretch denim. There are many gradations to choose, of course, between Vestal and Vixen. Kids, however, seem to be fond of extremes. It is the extreme temperament of Revolve that ensures it gels like teen spirit to some.
In a country equally adept at producing Christians and Target Markets en masse, Revolve just had to appear. Whether it is God’s handiwork or the greedy evildoing of Mammon is anybody’s guess.

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