Shooting Up: The Religious Zeal of Pop Culture Consumers


A striking phenomenon increasingly on display as the generation raised by Nickelodeon turns 40 is the redirection of man’s natural religious impulse to pop culture artifacts. A while back, I termed those who make idols of action figures, comics, and video games the Pop Cult.


The reason Generation Y is especially susceptible to recruitment by the Pop Cult is their upbringing in materialist consumerist households defined by transactional relationships. They may have gone to parochial schools as kids or to church services on Sunday. But their parents’ self-absorption, all too often manifested in divorce, scandalized them away from the God who made them and who alone can make them happy.


As a result, many Ys are spiritual nomads, left to wander the alien landscape that replaced the world they were raised to survive in. They were never taught the self-mastery or courage needed to fully engage with Clown World, so they cling to scraps of flotsam from the shipwreck of Cultural Ground Zero.


That’s not to mock or belittle Gen Y. Remember that they are the Mugged by Reality generation, raised in gilded pleasure domes only to be cast out of paradise into Purgatory without the tools to adapt.



If you think that’s an exaggeration, consider that more than two close Gen Y friends recently gave me almost identical accounts of their rude coming-of-age. In both cases, their transaction-minded Boomer parents kicked them out of the house at 18. Both lived in vermin-infested flophouses which required them to walk for miles to dead-end fast food jobs to pay rent. They endured that loathsome existence for years.


Today, both are successful, with families of their own. Their parents pat themselves on the back and say, “See? The school of hard knocks did you good!”


Both of my friends disagree. What the school of hard knocks did was nearly destroy their ability to trust anyone–including God. In reality, they credit the friends who banded together to lend them a hand when their own flesh and blood turned their backs.


Not all Ys found their way back to healthy relationships and a place in society. Not all found their way back to God.


If you want a perfect case study in what happens when a member of Gen Y is utterly consumed by the Pop Cult, watch the first three minutes of this video:


Amazing SHOOT EM UPS of the 80s and 90s


For the video-averse, here is a partial transcript:


Shooters weren’t just part of that era; they were that era. Watching Big Trouble in Little China on my living room floor on VHS, then popping in Life Force on the NES and playing it into the night, that was the 80s.


The video starts innocently, if a bit hyperbolically, enough. Only a plain mush-eating stick in the mud would deny that those products made for good fun and better times.


Shooters were part of the culture of the era. The peak of their popularity intertwined with our most cherished memories of a time we’ll never forget. There is no separating Gradius from GhostbustersThunder Force from ThundercatsSoldier Blade from Spawn. It was all one experience.


Yes, those IPs were a lot of fun. Note, however, the gradual onset of wild-eyed snake-handling fervor of the kind Hollywood loves to caricature Christians with.


When Ripley yelled “Get away from her, you [bitch]!” we laughed and cheered. When Optimus Prime gave his life, we cried. Heck, I still do.


If you listen closely, you will hear a young boy crying out from the man he never wanted to become. He pleads for a solid rock to cling to in the tempest of pop ephemera that is his life.



And know that you live in a country where Ellen Ripley and Optimus Prime played foster mother and father to a lost generation. Now you understand everything.


The best wrestling rivalries, the weirdest sitcoms, the greatest cartoons and anime, legendary comic arcs, Dungeons and Dragons in the corner of every schoolyard, and yes, a golden generation of gaming. We were there for the very first Super MarioZelda, and Metroid, the first CastlevaniaContra, and of course, Ninja Gaiden, the first Gradius R-Type and Thunder Force.


Behold the litany of the Pop Cult saints!


Something grasping and desperate lies beneath the religious zeal on display above. It is the thirst of the addict, forever seeking his next fix and forever needing to consume more and more to get it.


An entire video game genre that references shooting up. This poor heathen’s channel couldn’t be more aptly named.


Do not despise him. Instead, take warning from the spiritual void of his life and offer prayers for his–and your–conversion.


Why people need to leave dead franchises


Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier is a best selling science fiction author and a John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer finalist. His second book, Souldancer, won the first ever Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel., and its sequel, The Secret Kings, became a 2017 Dragon Award finalist for Best Science Fiction Novel. He's currently crowdfunding his latest work Combat Frame XSeed: CY 40 Second Coming on Indiegogo. Read more of his work at or pick up his books via Amazon.