A Review of
Culture Rebel: Because the World Has Enough Desperate Housewives
Paperback: Westbow, 2012
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Reviewed by Meghan Florian
In the opening pages of Culture Rebel: Because the World Has Enough Desperate Housewives, Connie Jakab describes herself as a “brave, gutsy, ADD type of gal who can’t sit still.” She is overflowing with ideas and enthusiasm that she wishes to share with her readers in order to challenge and inspire them. Jakab frames her book as a response to a way of being in the world that is specifically marketed to women – a way of life that is based on consumption, particularly of fashion and cosmetics. The “Desperate Housewives” phenomenon needs a response, and I can appreciate Jakab’s attempt at one.
However, while she makes some helpful points throughout the book, Culture Rebel lacks a clear definition of what we mean when we talk about “culture,” and in attempting to respond to such a nebulous concept Jakab is bound to come up short. It is difficult to enact a rebellion without a clear sense of what one is rebelling against, and for what reasons, and to what end. Every mention of “culture, “our culture,” and “today’s culture” simply left me wondering what we are actually talking about, much less whether “rebellion” is the sum total of what a Christian’s relationship to said “culture” ought to be. These are contestable statements and need definition and development.
In many ways, the book struggles because it attempts to be too broad. It isn’t until halfway through the book that Jakab starts to speak explicitly about her faith. “Put away the notion that I’m talking about Christianity or religion,” she writes, “I’m not. I want us to discover the person of Jesus and what made Him the most radical, revolutionary person who has ever changed history.” Yet doesn’t taking the religious element out miss the whole point of the person and work of Jesus Christ? Jakab is frank about her own beliefs elsewhere in the book, and I found myself wanting her to ground her arguments in the same faith that clearly grounds her life. Culture Rebel discusses Jesus as an example of cultural rebellion, yet it doesn’t dwell on scriptural accounts of his life long enough to show me why.
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Jakab is asking some good questions, and it is clear from the extensive list of fellow “culture rebels” in the back of the book that she is out in the world living into some answers. In that sense, her story is inspiring. One who is dissatisfied with the world of “Desperate Housewives” and is searching for an alternative might do well to engage with Jakab as a starting point. If one is seeking a thorough engagement with the problems of, say, capitalism, and the specific ways women are targeted and shaped by distorted conceptions of beauty, and how those issues affect women’s sense of self worth and hinder their ability to live out their God-given gifts – well, unfortunately this book may disappoint you.
Still, Culture Rebel shines some light on these questions when Jakab moves to a narrative voice. The point she seems to want to make is that she was living one way, found it lacking, and rebelled against that former lifestyle, thus finding a more meaningful life than what the society she moves in was offering. When she describes the decision, for example, to cut back on her own and her children’s activities in order to slow down, to make space in her life for unexpected opportunities to love her neighbors, I begin to see the contrast that her previous descriptions allude to.
Jakab’s conversational voice, which is likely a gift to her career as a speaker and performer, is disjointed in this context. The narrative interludes – one of the strengths of the book – lose their thunder, sandwiched between stream of consciousness descriptions of her writing process. The book never comes to rest on any one topic for too long, and the result is that the ideas are underdeveloped at best. She draws on the work of others, such as Andy Crouch, yet never articulates exactly what it is about Crouch’s project that grounds her own. The topics named in the titles of each chapter – “From Success to Surrender,” “From Desperate to Dangerous,” “From Consumer to Steward” – are significant concepts, and the sort of lifestyle shift Jakab is calling for is not a small matter. Perhaps this is the frustrating thing about Culture Rebel: Connie Jakab calls the reader to pursue a different way of life, without clearly articulating why. A true rebellion would require a more substantive basis than we find here, though, and a stronger sense of both what we’re working for, as well as what we’re against.
Meghan Florian is a writer, scholar, and nonprofit communications guru. She blogs at http://www.femmonite.com/