The Influence Of The Media On Culture

Today Justin Taylor over at The Gospel Coalition posted key excerpts of a New York Magazine article by Jonathan Chait addressing the influence of TV on culture.

In the past any number of people denied the (mostly conservative) accusation that the media was exerting influence on viewers. It was a silly denial since of course those creating commercials clearly believed they were able to influence those who watched their short spots. Certainly a regular length show, airing week after week for years would have an even greater impact.

Apparently the denials have come to an end. Research and data have surfaced, but also admission about the intentions of some in the media to move society in a different direction:

A trio of communications professors found that watching Will & Grace made audiences more receptive to gay rights, and especially viewers who had little contact in real life with gays and lesbians. And that one show was merely a component of a concerted effort by Hollywood—dating back to Soap in the late seventies, which featured Billy Crystal’s groundbreaking portrayal of a sympathetic gay character, through Modern Family—to prod audiences to accept homosexuality. (excerpt from Jonathan Chait’s article as quoted by Taylor)

I guess this article was written before NBC unveiled its newest program in that line: The New Normal.

But rather than focusing on one particular social issue, I want to think about the influence of story. This came to mind as I was reading the posts for the recent CSFF Blog Tour. About a particular aspect of the book we featured, one blogger questioned if a Christian novel should contain such a thing. Secular novels, sure, but not Christian.

That comment reminded me of Mike Duran’s suggestion that Christians hold Christian writers to a higher standard when it comes to theology.

And shouldn’t we?

Which is more apt to influence those in the church, an atheist like Richard Dawkins saying no one goes to hell or a professing Christian like Rob Bell saying it? Who’s going to introduce the idea of universal salvation to Christians more effectively, a New Age guru like Eckhart Tolle or Paul Young in The Shack?

But what if an author is writing a story about the realities of the human experience without delving into the greater truth of a person’s interaction with his Creator? Must the fictional world align with Scripture in that case?

In other words, can angels who aren’t really Biblical angels inhabit our fictional world? Or wizards who aren’t anything like the wizards God condemned. Or dragons who aren’t like the Dragon of Revelation. What about priests and prophets? Sacrifices? Demons? Ghosts? Heaven? hell?

Here’s the greater question: Will a fictional portrayal of real supernatural beings begin to undermine the Biblical truth about those? Is Gandolf the Wizard in danger of dulling the senses of Christians to the existence of real wizards who seek to acquire illegitimate power?

I suppose some people think these questions have already been asked and answered, but I wonder if they shouldn’t be asked again in light of this awareness that the media influences culture.

How, then, should a Christian writer influence those who read his work? And I’ll say in advance–shame on any who say our job isn’t to influence, but to tell a good story. Whether we think it’s our job to influence or not, clearly, stories have that affect on people. We can either do it well and intentionally or we can watch from the sidelines as others convince our culture that a sinful lifestyle is a viable option.

One Comment

  1. In answer to your greater question, any portrayal of any being we have not seen is fictional, even though the being is not. In my opinion, there are two issues that are critical in this discussion: how the being(s) are treated, and especially, whether they line up with the true being(s), and whether the fantasy is clearly separated from Reality,( whether it is seen or unseen), and a third thing, occurring to me just now, is whether the being(s) are held up as role models in the material written.

    So, for instance, if you have a fallen angel, it should not be treated as an honored being, unless it is in a spoof, designed to evoke the opposite result (such as the demon in training in Screwtape Letters). If you have an angel of integrity, such as Gabriel, or Michael, there should be some honor and distinction accorded to him, although he is a humble servant (See Jude, the 9th verse), or there should be some form of consequence for not honoring him, because otherwise, the author is offering false promises in life to less aware readers.

    The reason they need to line up with the true being(s) is that, otherwise, unwary readers may be taken advantage of, and painfully, so.

    The third issue is crucial, now, more than ever. We do not have enough good role models. Think of it! Yoda is an example of a deity-like creature–but he is both good and bad! What message does that give children about God? The Wizard in Oz is a type of God, but he is woefully inadequate and wholly disappointing. The whole point the Bible makes, in the 10 Commandments, about swearing, is that you don’t swear by God’s Name and then, default, making Him look bad! Yet, most modern stories of role models are frighteningly faulty! They lie, they steal, they justify both, they often treat intimate relationships with the opposite sex lightly, and they have poor self-control. Spiritually, with friends like that, who needs enemies? It is a case of the blind, leading the blind.

    Honestly, fairy tales and Tall Tales are the winners for the best, most readable, role models, I think, outside the Scriptures, today. Biographies, occasionally, are well-written and stirring. But I am hopeful that more and more Christian fantasy novels will prove themselves worthy of the title, “Christian Classic.” One of the biggest tests we can give them is simply this: Does this teach honor, respect, and responsibility for personal actions? Very possibly, the character will grow into it, but all those elements should be there.

    Having said all that, the question arises, where, then, is the venue for creativity? I think that anywhere but the Divine and the Sacred is a lot of room for creativity!


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