Engaging with Popular Culture

I have a passion to reflect and write about films, music videos and popular novels. Most people have not understood it. They don’t appreciate what I do and, worse don’t care to listen to ‘why I do what I do’. For some, it has never been done and therefore  it is “unacceptable”. For some others, it is a dilution of Christian faith – particularly, the one given to us by Western Missionaries.

Most of what we do in Church is the tried-tested and trusted mission approaches (however outdated it may be). We are so preoccupied with “restatements”. We do not engage in “reflections”. The West becomes our touchstone for Christian beliefs. We are comfortable with our jingoism, empty words and a kind of sophisticated hypochris(tianit)y.

Now, why do I write discussion questions for music videos and movies? I see engagement with popular culture as the need of the hour. Engaging with contemporary culture is nothing new for the followers of Jesus. The Apostles engaged with the cultural assumptions at the heart of Greek Hellenistic culture. They brought the light of God’s Word to cultural questions such as homosexuality, marriage, food offered to idols etc. The early church fathers defended the Christian faith employing terms from Greek religious philosophy. The principle of engagement with culture underlies theological reflection through the centuries.

We approach popular culture with unnecessay fear. Isn’t it true that we fear what we don’t understand. Popular culture is the cultural air that we breathe and its influence is pervasive. What is popular culture? Simply put, it is people’s culture. Are cultural products neutral? No! Music is not just Music. Movies are not just movies. Magazines are not just magazines. They present (and promote) a philosophy of life. In fact, popular culture brings philosophical debates into our ‘lifespace’. Increasingly, rock/movie stars are the philosophers of our time. When a movie, song or a television show becomes extremely popular they become the cultural landmark of our times. Young people can never stay insulated to the dictates of popular culture. We must help our young people to engage with it.

I usually ask Sunday school teachers/ parents to list the 10 most popular songs of the week. It is not unusual to hear a resounding “NO”. I also ask them if they are aware of the movies their kids are watching at home and what it is all about. The answer is always a resounding ‘No’. We like to think that our kids are insulated from the influence of the media. But, whether we like it or not, believe it or not, accept it or not Kids are listening to the songs and watching movies. They are talking about it to their friends. They are reading about it in magazines. They are searching for it on the net. They are looking around to get hold of it

Let face it! Music/movies/magazines have a way of finding us and entering our ‘mind-space’. Internet connectivity makes music (and videos) available, accessible and affordable. Today, you don’t have to wait endlessly till it becomes outdated in the West to reach India. You can get it instantly or at least access it on the net.

Do we help our children to engage in faith conversations in the REAL world? Often times, the teaching that young people receive/are given is of no relevance to their lifespace. We don’t help them to make connections between the Word and the world. We do not let the gospel enter their lifespace, encounter the alternate visions presented by music videos/movies etc and engage them in a conversation with these competing voices and make an evaluation for themselves.

We get into a condemnatory mode and demand that they throw everything out of their lifespace. It is as if we have everything to say about their world and almost nothing to say to their world.

We live in a fantasy world that our kids don’t have access to these cultural products. Most of us are naïve about how kids access these things in spite of parental control. I believe that is important to engage with popular culture. This means that we follow the music/videos/movies/computer games and magazines that are at the heart of contemporary culture (and define it).

Shouldn’t we help young people ‘encounter-engage and evaluate’ the cultural products that enters their lifespace. We must help young people understand what it means to be “IN” the world and “NOT OFF” the world. The quicker we do, the easy is the experience of reaching Generation strange ( to borrow the words of Slipknot, a nu metal band)

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