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Uncompressed: Essays on Pop Culture
March 21, 2007

In the fall of 2006 a new publication began showing up periodically on the Calvin College campus. Uncompressed, a publication of the Student Activities Office (SAO), is a journal devoted to thoughtful essays about pop culture.

“Uncompressed is unique in that it is just cultural critique,” says senior Denise Mokma, a communication arts and sciences major and editor of the publication. “It doesn’t have fine arts. It doesn’t have current events. It is just that one thing.”

The journal, says Mokma, grew out of discussions between student leaders in the SAO about the need for thoughtful Christian conversation on current television, music, films and other media. Uncompressed (a revival of the publication Undercurrent, which ran for five years out of the same office) is produced by about 15 Cultural Discerners, students who generate the conversation of discernment on campus through a variety of activities. Its mission, as stated in the first issue, is to inspire “Holy Spirited” thinking about these things.

“That’s our niche,” says student activities director Ken Heffner about the SAO, which, among other things, schedules the artists that visit and many of the films that are shown on campus as well as such singular events as the popular Festival of Faith & Music, held every other year on campus.

“This is where we take the mission of the college and the curriculum and apply it to pop culture," says Heffner. "If you’re working from the mission of the school where sin is comprehensive, then it affects everything, including how pop culture is shaped. If you believe Christ is making everything new, then we should be seeing evidence of that in pop culture as well. To take it one level deeper is to have a magazine that talks about pop culture.”

That approach separates Uncompressed from Chimes, the student newspaper and Dialogue, the campus arts journal -- both of which cover more general art criticism, Heffner says.

The first issue of Uncompressed appeared in November 2006, offering, among other things, a review of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, an apologia for Goth culture and an argument for the video game as an art form.

Subsequent issues (in January and March 2007, respectively) have explored the Eastown neighborhood, the reasoning behind the existence of Calvin’s Fashion Advisory Board or FAB and, in the most recent issue, an article titled “Body Piercing Saved My Life, How About Yours?”

The creators of Uncompressed are not only ranging widely in the terrain of pop culture but, ideally, delving deeply into it.

“We not only wanted to do longer articles but to give a topic time,” says Mokma, “rather than say, ‘This happened last week and let’s devote 300 words to it.’ Here is this movie that’s been out now for maybe a year, and there’s been time for some sustained thought and there’s been time for a lot of people to talk about it in depth and for that type of consideration to take place that takes time.”

Mokma is pleased at the response to the new publication.

“I’ve heard that people enjoy it and are excited for such a form,” she says. “That’s the kind of informal feedback I get when I’m talking with friends.”

She’s hoping that Uncompressed, which will release a final issue this semester, will have a life beyond this semester.

“We have to come up with a new editor, because Denise will be graduating,” says Heffner. “We hope someone in our current group will do the job.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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