"The only game in town?" Cmon, Dave! You dont really want to give all that away, do ya? Didnt that Palestinian peasant come saying, "A new game is at hand"? Doesnt that mean theres a whole different game now? I guess the question is, "Whose game are we playing?" And do you really think he would have appeared on MTV?
Your "critical reading of the popular culture" isnt critical enough. And you end up giving away the store. You and Bill make a sometimes bristling critique only to resign yourselves to the same old game in the end. We can do better.
First off, what do we mean by "popular culture"? Sounds to me what were really talking about here is the "profit culture" or the "corporate culture." Or lets tell it like it is and just call it the "money culture." Isnt that the real deal? You gotta have a sponsor to get on the "popular culture." Moneys the ticket to this show. And whos got that kind of loot? Who are the sponsors?
Thats right, and we know what their politics are like. Surprising what keeps coming out of the "popular culture," isnt it? Not very popular, as in "populist," "the people," and all that.
What about real popular culture? You know, as in ordinary folks, grassroots, local, neighborhood, community, indigenous, racial, ethnic, regional, and other good stuff. Much more life, vitality, variety, and unpredictability thereharder for the sponsors to control. You could even call it a counterculture; counter to the so-called popular culture thats really the money culture in disguise.
Oh, no! Theres that word"counterculture." You knew that would eventually come up. We will lose any influence! We will be written off to that fate worse than death; we will be marginalized.
Lets talk theology. Remember that Niebuhr guy? No, the other oneH. Richard. He shut down the whole discussion about culture with his famous categories about "Christ and culture." You were either "against," "above," "of," "in paradox with," or a "transformer of" culture.
Well, the worst were the "against" folks. They were to be admired, sort of, but finally dismissed as irrelevant. In one stroke of the Christian realists pen, all the pacifists, radicals, visionaries, prophets, and protesters were gotten rid of. They wont play the game, and, by definition, cant have any influence.
Best were the transformers of culturesurprise!like the author and his friends who ran the big seminaries. Now they had influence.
The truth is that most all of us would like to be transformers of culture; the real question is how. Niebuhrs way was to play the game. The early church had a different idea. They thought a powerful counterculture stood the best chance of changing the culture. One might say they had a pretty fair impact. So much so that 300 years after the Palestinian peasant preached, the Roman emperor Con-stantine decided to join up with them! The problem then became who changed who the most.
Sowhats all this theology got to do with MTV? Is 500 cable channels really salvation for us and our kidsor just the opposite? Has democracy become more "popular" or more impoverished when people get their political information from David Letterman and the "news shows" become more like Entertainment Tonight? Does it really help youthful identity crises to "Be like Mike"? And will we really find community by eating all the time at McDonalds, or will we end up sharing nothing more than high cholesterol?
HERES AN IDEA. What if we raised our kids to tell stories and read books instead of watching TV all day? To make things instead of buying things, to make our own entertainment instead of making Madonna rich, to make community together instead of watching the celebrity culture, to make new political discourse from local town meetings instead of just taking another pollwhy not try to make those things culturally popular?
Maybe something has gone terribly wrong, and maybe the so-called popular, TV, music, video, movie, cable, computer, consumer culture has a lot to do with it. The violence, the greed, the selfishness, the shallowness, the lack of respect, the racism and sexism all seem to be by-products of the popular cultureor maybe theyre main products. It doesnt just "mirror" and "modify" the society; it shapes, controls, and reduces to the worst common denominator.
The media culture has increased violence and crime. Thats a fact. Deal with it. A few get very rich and all the rest of us get poorer, especially in our spirits.
What seems most to get lost in the media shuffle is what we used to call values. Oh, no, theres that other word! Yep, like a hot MTV video, we thought we could just skip them. But there are some things that seem to hold human life and community together and even give it a kind of grace and quiet strength. Things like integrity, truthfulness, simplicity, humility, honesty, and fidelity.
Come crashing right through the screen, dont they? All the time. Tell me, how many Hollywood, rock-and-roll, or NBA stars who rule the popular culture exhibit any of the above? I guess celebrities are exempt from values. It makes them more fun to watch. Not many humble, servant-leader types with lots of integrity who stay faithful to their relationships, are there? I actually know people like that, but none of them are on TV and some of them dont even watch it. Maybe theyre the real creators of popular culture, or the kind we most need.
But the problem may be even deeper. The medium itself seems to rule those values outalmost make them impossible. You quoted McCluhan as if he were right, "The medium is the message." I sure hope hes wrong. Great idea to use parables, familiar images, and stories to get your message across (Im back to the Palestinian peasant here), but wasnt Jesus really saying that "the message is the medium"? That the message has to change all of our mediums?
One last thing. Whats this about "working" the popular culture? "Since were already on the stage we might as well join in"?
No, were not. Were not on the stage. The only people on the stage are rich people or people that get rich people to be their sponsors. Remember, moneys the ticket. Only the carefully chosen few get on the stage (chosen for their commercial value). The rest of us just watch, and endlessly talk about it as if its important. Is that popular culture? Seems more like "passive culture" to me. And how do you "work it" if you havent got the bucks?
Real popular culture is created by people out of their values, history, tradition, and, yes, faith. Thats what Christians ought to be about helping to create. I am thankful there are several soulful artists who bravely struggle against all the compromises and still sometimes get to the stage.
Just shows that some people out there are still hungry for the real stuff. We do need to support those artists and dialogue with them to help keep us all honest. But most of the real stuff may never get anywhere near the stage of the profiteer culture. Thats okay. Maybe we can help get a real popular culture going here. Bills right, its time to find the "bass beat" again.