Pop culture and the Canon

Guest reader Sarah’s comment on my blog post about movies referenced in Christian books got me to thinking.

Here’s what Sarah said:

Since I am clueless most of the time about popular culture, I find it unhelpful at best.

Fair enough remark. Not everyone is plugged into pop culture in the same ways. For instance, Sarah’s a very gifted sculptor. That’s a realm of art that I have no real clue or connection to.

Still, I feel compelled to defend the use of pop culture as a valuable barometer of social trends. Even better, peering into the zeitgeists can uncover resonating themes within oneself. Think of it as mass corroboration of an individual theory about what-have-you: theology, politics, sociology. In other words, it can be helpful to me first to ask about a certain idea, “is anyone else out there thinking these same thoughts, and what do they have to say about it?” If so, then you have talking points. If not, then you have a certain eccentricity still worthy of good debate.

Two immediate examples came to mind that have really resonated in my own life.

Exhibit 1

Signs, film, M. Night Shyamalan, 2002

People break down into two groups when they experience something lucky. Group #1 sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them.

Group #2 sees it as… a happy turn of chance… For them, the situation is fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them with fear. But there’s a whole lot of people in group #1… deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope.

See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky?

Exhibit 2

Life After God, novel, Douglas Coupland, 1994

This is a wonderful little novel, written in the style of a journal. At first glance, it’s appears to be a breezy tiny read. But look closer and it reveals painfully authentic passages. I read the book at least once a year. The following is from the second to the last page of the book. So if you’d rather not “know how it ends” (though it’s not that kind of book), skip this:

Now — here is my secret:

I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray that you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God — that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.

These two snippets have staying power with me, which I believe speaks for itself in terms of the value of some pop culture. And of course, these are subjective interests. To each his/her own when it comes to what is popular and what isn’t.

But the point is that there can be derived value in the commonplace media. It’s not all kitsch and it’s not all dull. I suppose it’s popular for a reason.

9 thoughts on “Pop culture and the Canon

  1. You used at least two words that I have no idea what they mean – but that’s ok – I haven’t visited the dictionary for a whole day now so I’m due for a visit!!!! LOL. Kind of like how I can use Star Trek and stuff to share the Gospel….I think.

  2. Hmm, you make some good points, Sarah. The risk of trying to find God in culture is that, yes, we can water down the Gospel in the process.

    Have to think about this some more…

  3. James and I watched “Shall We Dance” the other night. It’s a movie we saw last year on our anniversary and we both enjoyed it.

    In one scene she defines marriage as having someone be a witness to your life. I wish I could remember everything that was said. It was a really beautiful definition of a loving, committed marriage. I think I might netflix it again and write it down.

  4. Julie, this is from IMDb:

    Beverly Clark:
    “We need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion people on the planet… I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.”

  5. Hey, thanks Rob! I didn’t realize it was that easy to find a movie quote. Obviously, pop culture isn’t my strong suit. 😉

    I think I am going to use that quote on my blog. :mrgreen:

  6. I think that pop culture has so permeated our lives as a direct result of the fragmented church. Pop Christianity says that everything is always wonderful for a believer and if it isn’t, God must not like you.

    So, when we are struggling with sin, with anger, with trials, etc. we find better examples from worldly sources than in modern teachings.

    I am not saying that God has failed us or not included these truths in the Bible. I fully believe that the Bible addresses all of the issues we face, but most are not taught as they appeal to a much narrower audience.

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