Friday, December 16, 2005

The Decline of Pop Culture and the Shining Light of Christian Dialogue

I wrote the following (developed a little further for posting here) as part of discussion thread in a community forum on Paul McCartney's website:

There has been an unfortunate overall decline in quality and creativity in big selling pop music, which statistically is being bought by a younger age group (teens-early 20's). The significant question is: why?

Pop music is really a reflection of the culture. In the 60's and 70's, artists that were born in the 40's and 50's were coming into their own. As adults, those artists may have rejected some of the previous generation's attitudes, becoming looser about sex and other lifestyle choices, but they were still products of an older generation that valued family, tradition, marriage, loyalty much more than the succeeding generations would (I think that background is why Paul too has been such a curious blend-- a "pot-smoking, influential rock star" who nevertheless was a faithful family man).

My theory is that as Western society has become more cynical and materialistic, pop culture and especially pop music has become progressively about exploiting our most base instincts of greed and lust, with messages that amount to the following: "look at me, I'm bad"; "I'm the stud with the most money, chicks and gangster credo"; "I'm so sexy-- you can't help drooling over me"--shut up and buy my albums!; or "I may be a gangster and an ex-con, but hey, now I'm a entrepreneur".

Raised in the age of MTV, Howard Stern, exploding Internet pornography, cynicism about the trustworthiness of our leaders; a time when the values of civility, courteousness, honor, and integrity have been increasingly superseded by a selfish, me-first mentality, it is not surprising that many young people today buy into these messages of pop music uncritically-- it's reflecting what they know. Taste and discernment and value judgments are not only missing, but many young people don't recognize that they're missing. There's a common idea that everything is of equal value and no one's opinion about something is better than another's, especially when it comes to taste in music, for example.

Fortunately there are exceptions, young people who somehow manage to rise above the culture's addiction to mediocrity. I think that those of us who can see the decline ought to try to point it out to them somehow. Yet elevation of the pop culture will only come about through deep changes in the souls of people, in what they value and think is important.

I would recommend reading Francis Schaeffer (my Christian readers are probably already familiar with his name and writings) as a thinker and a kind of modern-day prophet who saw the decline in our society happening and predicted that it would get worse. He understood history and saw how ideas have consequences that trickle down into popular culture after first being developed at the universities and from society's thinkers/influencers. In his analysis, the truths of the Judeo-Christian heritage had provided a foundation for the greatest progress in science, law, government, in Western European culture, and also for our own amazing development of a democratic system that was unprecedented in producing economic growth and increasing freedoms. But he saw an attitude and philosophy developing among the intellectual elite that was not seeing this, that was instead portraying Christianity as an outmoded relic of more superstitious, irrational age. He knew that this was a deadly mistake and sounded the alarm through his books and teaching. Unfortunately today we are seeing the negative fruit that Schaeffer accyrately predicted, particularly in popular culture.

Schaeffer did not see the work of artists, even today's popular artists, as insignificant. He saw that artists are among those whose products and creations enter the competitive marketplace of ideas, with great potential for influence not only people's minds, but also touching their hearts.

Bloggers too, will exert their influence, as many differing sectors of society-- media, musicians, politicians, artists, home-schoolers, liberals, conservatives, scientists, etc.-- are beginning to see.

But Christians are to go beyond mere talking. It's not our job to shout the loudest and make the most noise, but rather to humbly demonstrate, through lives that demonstrate gospel values, that we are for real and that our God is real. Retreating into a Christian sub-culture that avoids interaction with the world for fear of contamination, but too often mimics its values anyway, is not an option. We are to be in the world, but not of the world.

Let us seek to first meet with our God deeply and then boldly go forth to speak forth His message; to participate in the dialogue that isn't primarily about getting noticed, but seeks to redeem and transform with the light that the gospel shines.

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