Standing in an Unknown Space

The Christian community hasn't always responded intelligently to popular culture, particularly those entertainments directed at teens. We have ignored them and, at times, dismissed them out of hand as too trivial for our attention.

At other times, we've broadly condemned the movie and music industries for not promoting conventional morality. More often than not, the Christian critique of popular culture boils down to a legalism defined in terms of accepted sexual practices.

Rarely have we interacted with the popular culture of youth in any meaningful way. Dancing in the Dark, then, is something of a departure. The six Calvin College professors who collaborated on this work not only treat their subject with a great deal of respect, they also offer a more sophisticated and compelling exploration and critique of young people and youth culture than the Christian community is usually known for.

After tracing the emergence of the American teen as a sociological category, the authors focus on the movies, music, and videos that are marketed for, and digested by, teens. They argue that the electronic media now serve as "maps of reality" for youth, teaching them everything from what tennis shoes are in style to what lifestyle to assume.

Popular culture, say the authors, interprets reality and experience for youth, meeting their "primary psychological needs for identity, intimacy, and meaning." In return for such guidance, youth, in what the authors describe as a "symbiotic relationship," provide an audience and loyal clientele for both the decidedly shallow worldview and the products that popular culture peddles.

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Sojourners Magazine July 1992
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