One of the movie critics in our local newspaper always provides guidance for us in how we approach movies.
If he likes a movie, we know the film will be generally edgy, with some violence and an “anti” kind of message, as in “anti-establishment” or what the critic (and the movie) had determined to be “anti-establishment.” Like Pulp Fiction.
If the movie is about values (family and otherwise) or is life-affirming, we know the critic will usually pan it. Like Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.
In other words, his movie reviews often if not always reveal more about the critic than the movie, and that may be true of most criticism in the arts. It’s not that our local critic is always wrong, but I’ve read enough of his reviews to understand his worldview, and I know how and when it differs from my own.
What’s clear is that, in his writing his reviews and my reading them, we are both engaging in the business of culture.
In my own writing, and people’s reading and responding to it, we are all about the business of culture – making it, consuming it, understanding it, becoming part of it. We Christians, says Brett McCracken in Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty, tend to have one of two responses to culture. We see it as godless, heretical, blasphemous, and abominable. Or we saturate ourselves in it to get as far away from our Christian upbringing as possible.
Few of us, McCracken says, attempt to understand it. Discern what if anything is worthy, and celebrate the beauty of what is good in culture. Man is created in God’s image, and he made us to be creators, and that original impulse can be found across humanity.
What we have largely done is to wall ourselves off from popular culture, even as we embrace (and often unwittingly embrace) many of the forms that popular culture takes – art, rock music, radio, television, movies magazines, novels, self-help books. We have Christian versions of virtually every form of popular culture available.
What we have not done is to ask whether these forms of culture change what we try to say and communicate. The reality is that they do change the message, and often in profound ways; some messages are better suited to certain forms rather than others. And they change what we say in exactly the same way they changed what is said and communicated in the popular culture.
For the next four Mondays in December, TheHigh Calling will be discussing Gray Matters. McCracken examines four manifestations of how popular culture manifests itself – food, music, film, and drinking, and he considers each from the perspective of both creation and consumption. Each Monday the discussion will focus on a different manifestation. Check out The High Calling to see where the discussion is going. It promises to be lively.
Jonathan Merritt at Religion News Service interviewed Brett McCracken earlier this year.
Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.