Raising The Next Generation

    Every singer out there with songs on the radio is raising the next generation – Taylor Swift.

A couple weeks ago 60 Minutes, CBS’s news magazine, aired a broadcast from last November which included a segment about popular singer Taylor Swift. During the conversation with Lesley Stahl, she made the above statement.

The most remarkable thing might have been what she said next: “so make your words count.”

How about that! A 21 year old singer understands what writers twice her age don’t seem to get. Sure, she was talking about music, not books. But I don’t think the difference is so great. Screenplay writers, novelists, lyricists, singers, actors–it seems the arts have arrived, and the influence of the arts on culture. Or perhaps, more accurately, entertainment has arrived.

Any idea that books are being kicked to the curb as an influence should have been erased by Harry Potter. Or Twilight. Or Hunger Games.

Kids dressed up like Harry, chose up teams for Twilight. I shudder to think what is out there in conjunction with Hunger Games.

In spite of all this book attention and the widening influence of those developed into movies, some Christian writers still parrot the party line that Christian fiction should not be about “a message.” Perish the thought that fiction should actually have something to say. The main goal–the highest goal–they claim, is for a writer to entertain.

I think Taylor Swift would think that odd. She gets that the words she sings have impact on those kids absorbing them.

Why wouldn’t characters we live with for seven books, or three? Don’t their values become ours for those hours when we inhabit their world? Aren’t we feeling their fear or love or hope? Aren’t we reasoning and planning the next step, as they are?

And yet they have no impact on us?

I dare say, the majority of the writers who hold this view first decided they wanted to pen a story because of something they read.

But horrors if the writer of that book actually intended to communicate the message that storytelling is a desirable thing. Messages can’t be intentional, only accidental, or so the thinking goes of this group of Christian writers. Anything intentional is nothing short of propaganda.

I doubt that’s what Taylor Swift thinks. I suspect she is responding to the fact that a generation of plugged in kids is vulnerable, easily influenced by the entertainment media, wide open to believe whatever their idols say.

Why is it that Christian writers can’t embrace this fact, too? Why is it that if we say, “so make your words count,” we’re advocating turning fiction into propaganda?

Could it be that a story with something to say actually has more depth, not less? Could it be that the difference between an excellent story and propaganda is in the execution not the existence of a message?

I don’t know, maybe most parents are content to have the current singers who are on the radio raising their kids. Maybe they’re fine with the characters in books like Twilight serving as role models.

But wouldn’t it be cool if the writers of those words–the song lyrics and the stories–paid attention to what Taylor said and made their words count in such a way that young girls learned more than to be obsessed with a bad boy? Or that war is as bad as the soldiers say, and to top it off, everyone involved is corrupt.

Personally, Harry is looking better and better. In his story friends matter, so much that they’re worth dying for, and in the end that kind of sacrificial love is invincible. Those words just might count for something worthwhile.


  1. Becky,

    This is an excellent post.

    I will add this…maybe if try so hard to have our words (whether in music or fiction) have a message that we end up becoming sanctimonious or self-righteous. And that message overrides the story…instead of letting come through the characters and reveal itself.

    For example, I just started reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I read this novel when it was first published in 1993 and I was fascinated by it. Now it almost 20 years later and I decided to re-read it again to see how much have I changed and if the novel still holds up for me.

    The main character, a teenage girl, creates her own religion and rejects her father’s Christianity. I wanted to see what message is Butler saying through this character or does the message overpower the story and the author is just revealing her personal beliefs.

    However, I do think you are on to something about having our words count though.

    Here’s an interesting quote:

    “We are told that novelists must not preach. This is nonsense. All serious artists preach–they are perfectly convinced of the truth as they see it, and they write to communicate that truth…..For a reader must never be left in doubt about the meaning of a story.”
    (Joyce Cary, Art and Reality)



  2. “Could it be that a story with something to say actually has more depth, not less? Could it be that the difference between an excellent story and propaganda is in the execution not the existence of a message?”


    I listened “religiously” to the lyrics of many great (in writing and musical talent) songs of the late 60s and 70s. Some of the best. Laden with messages that sucked me into a lifestyle I didn’t really believe in but too late. Anyway, words will never cease to matter. The Word is in book form, written on the souls of man by the Spirit of Truth. We can’t assume anything we write for public consumption won’t have an effect – good, bad, or indifferent.

    Good post, Becky.


  3. (PS: Loved that Joyce Cary quote, kammbia1.)


  4. Thanks Nicole! I thought that quote was right for this post.



  5. Marion, I agree with Nicole, what an outstanding quote! I love it.

    You’re right in taking the cautious approach. By saying we need to make our words count, I’m not justifying stories that are mere pretense for delivering a message. In my way of thinking, those also aren’t making the words count.

    In essence, good stories do the old writer adage–the show truth rather than telling it.



  6. Nicole, I’m pretty sure your experience epitomizes many others. It’s always made me scratch my head to hear people say that the entertainment we ingest doesn’t affect our behavior, then turn around and made commercials and movie trailers for the express reason to influence behavior. News flash, one is just as powerful as the other!

    Thanks for adding your perspective, Nicole.



  7. Becky,

    I just finished Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler that I mentioned in my earlier post.


    I wanted to go back and re-read this novel from 20 years ago because it has deal with religion, science fiction, and dystopia coming together. Also, I wanted to see how I matured from when I first read it.

    But, I wondered after reading the novel was Butler dealing with her own feelings about Christianity. At first, I thought she was trying to bash Christianity but once I finished I felt she was more conflicted and confused than angry about religion.

    Sometimes I believe an author in their work can reveal more about their state of the mind than what their message intended to be.



    • Marion, I agree that authors reveal their state of mind, but I think that’s what most intend to do. Many, especially in the general market, are exploring a subject more than they are propounding a belief. They want to know what they think.

      I do that a lot in my non-fiction. I’ve even started some of these blog posts with something like, I don’t know what I think about this so that’s why I’m writing. By putting my ideas down, I’m faced with my own attitudes. Writing clarifies.

      But I’d be the last to say I’m writing without purpose or without something to say. In the end, I want to point people to God and His Word. I happen to think all we do should be influenced by Him and His will and way.

      Just yesterday I ran across a couple quotes that I saved for a future post, but I’ll give you a sneak preview:

      Beyond Irving’s dedication, Karp notes, he, like the small percentage of other great writers, has “something to say, and a story to tell.”

      And also this:

      “Obviously, only a few voices are going to stand out and command national attention at any given time, but I’m regularly amazed by how easy it is to be heard when you have something to say.”

      There it is again–artists outside the Christian community understanding that having something to say is actually a good thing.

      I’d say, then, that some writers may stumble along without purpose, expressing their confusion, but the writers that make the greatest impact have something to say.

      Thanks for your thought-provoking comments, Marrion.



      • Good point Becky! Thanks for those sneak preview quotes.



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