Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Popular Culture • General Superficiality

In the first chapter of his book, The Culturally Savvy Christian, Dick Staub describes the popular culture in which we live as having four dynamics: General Superficiality, Soullessness, Powerful Influence, and Spiritual Delusions. In this post I'll discuss what he says about General Superficiality, and will deal with the other dynamics in future posts.

General Superficiality

Staub describes popular culture as divisionary entertainment and mindless amusement. Too much of our time is spent in front of the computer or television, minds turned off, absorbing media that is free of useful knowledge or edifying messages—free, in fact, of anything that is good, beautiful, or true. More and more, we exist to be entertained. With every passing moment of this divisionary entertainment and mindless amusement, our real lives are disappearing into a bottomless pit of entertainment.

Reality television has, in fact, managed to marry divisionary entertainment with real life. “As we increasingly morph real life into entertainment and vice versa, entertainment is becoming our central reality, and real life is becoming subsumed in our entertainments.” (7) There is no longer a line between real life and entertainment, reality and fantasy. In a recent seminar at USC, Bill Nye the Science Guy collapsed while approaching the podium. Rather than rushing to his aid, every student in the room pulled out their cell phones, tweeting and updating their facebook statuses about the events unfolding before them. Although a man’s life was in danger in their physical presence, these students were so disassociated from physical presence that they could not distinguish between reality and entertainment.

The superficiality of popular culture is most clearly expressed in our obsession with celebrity. These days, you don’t need to do anything great to become famous; people are known for being known. One young woman described our celebrity-centered culture this way: “Those of us who are fans, we use these celebrity lives in ways that transform our own. I sometimes think that these are our gods and goddesses, these are our icons, and their stories become kind of parables for how to lead our lives.” (10) The pervasiveness of our superficial, celebrity-driven culture demands that we consider it thoughtfully. “What are the implications of knowing more about what’s going on in the personal lives of celebrities than we do about our neighbors, coworkers, or, worse yet, our own family members?” (10)

The superficiality of popular culture, coupled with its gluttonous consumption by the masses, is retarding the moral, spiritual, intellectual, and creative development of the majority of individuals within our society. We do not know how to think. We do not know how to behave. Our art is shallow and derivative. We believe in only ourselves. Popular culture has convinced us that our lives are not part of a Greater Story, but that we are the masters of our destiny, if only we would believe in ourselves and follow our hearts. It has removed robust theology and philosophy from the public discourse, replacing them with the paper thin platitudes of self-absorbed emotionalism. Reason has been abandoned for waffling, relativistic pragmatism. We are drowning in kiddy pools.


Breena Holt said...

Yikes! Challenging!

Corey said...

I work in Christian television. There is hardly anything in Christian media greater than mock-worthy.

Kelly said...

Convicting much? Whoa.