I’ve been incredibly critical of some of the reading assignments for Surge, and I honestly have tried to calm myself down, but I keep coming across items that absolutely blow my mind.
I read the wrong assignment for this coming week, which is fine because I’ll eventually have to read this thing anyway.
The quick summary of the reading is that culture is slow to change and Christians shouldn’t jump on all of the culture-changing fads because fads don’t change culture.
Now, okay, that overall isn’t a bad idea for something to discuss, but the way it’s approached is woefully obnoxious and arrogant.
Thing 1: Andy Crouch, our writer uses fashion as an example of something that changes quickly, but doesn’t impact culture.
Problem: If that’s true, and, as Crouch claims, “…my life is not at all affected by the fashions for men’s wigs in 1787,” then Christian men are no longer allowed to lament, discuss, examine, or complain about immodesty and how the visual nature of men’s biology requires that women get more careful about covering the flesh.
Forget the fact that he’s committed a logical fallacy there – by referring to men’s wigs in 1787, he’s selected what he believes to be an absurd example that somehow proves that zero elements of fashion could possibly impact culture because his absurd example represents fashion as a whole. While I’m not sure that his example is as absurd as he’d like it to seem, even if it is, that doesn’t mean fashion as a whole cannot impact culture.
Let’s back up a second – I’m not even interested in fashion, and yet, I found it offensive that Crouch thinks fashion does nothing to change culture or affect his life, especially when Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci taught us otherwise:
Don’t you know that you are working at the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century? Halston, Lagerfeld, de la Renta. And what they did, what they created was greater than art because you live your life in it. Well, not you, obviously, but some people. You think this is just a magazine, hmm? This is not just a magazine. This is a shining beacon of hope for… oh, I don’t know… let’s say a young boy growing up in Rhode Island with six brothers pretending to go to soccer practice when he was really going to sewing class and reading Runway under the covers at night with a flashlight. You have no idea how many legends have walked these halls. And what’s worse, you don’t care. Because this place, where so many people would die to work you only deign to work
Now, admittedly, my knowledge of fashion is limited to exactly one 2006 film that featured a main character who eventually forsakes the world of fashion. And yet, I really wish Andy Crouch would admit his own ignorance. Fashion may not be his cup of tea, but it seems idiotic to me to claim that it has no lasting impact on culture, and, while I don’t have enough knowledge to go into how the damn wigs from centuries ago impact his current life, I suspect they do, and I know he alienates readers with such snobbery.
Thing 2: He continues on to discuss September 11th, and claims that it too, and terrorism in general, hasn’t impacted culture in a lasting and significant manner.
Yet again, I turn to film as one of the most obvious and accessible barometers of culture… in college, I was blessed to be able to take a few Lit. and Film classes as part of my English requirements. One such class I took was on Horror Lit. and Film, and one of the first things we studied was the immediate impact of September 11th on the way we represented fear in film. Take, for example, the 2004 re-make of Dawn of the Dead or…
SIDE NOTE: you really can take your pick of any of the multitude of zombie apocalypse stories since 2001 in the U.S. including Shawn of the Dead from 2004, 28 Days Later 2007… also, the more recent World War Z – book published in 2006 and film released in 2013 and the video game that’s won more awards than ANY other video game in history The Last of Us 2013. There are certainly a plethora of other examples that will work for my argument here, because the market was absolutely flooded with this stuff, and I’m about to give you a plausible reason for why we got obsessed with the walking dead…
You’ll probably get my point if you just watch the beginning of the movie, but on the off-chance that you’re not going to go to the trouble, I’ll also write you some commentary on it.
Dawn of the Dead is a film that opens with a nurse finishing up a long day at work. There is a national health crisis, that the audience knows about from some news reports prior to seeing the nurse. She walks right past two paramedics trying to subdue a zombie that’s trying to bite them. She doesn’t think it’s that weird for patients to be hostile, and she’s tired, so she walks on by. On her drive home, the radio is either dead, or playing news, and since she can’t listen to music, she turns it off. She goes home and gets into bed with her boyfriend, and she wakes up to find that the world has gone to hell overnight.
Here’s a terrifying clip of her waking up:
Point: After September 11th, Americans felt like their peace, safety, innocence, etc… could all be robbed overnight, and they’d have to wake up one morning, and deal with it. Also, we felt like there may have been clues all along that we dismissed as insignificant or normal. Additionally, we’re so terrified of that scenario, that our art plunged into something like a decade of apocalyptic and dystopian stories, most set in a futuristic or fantastic world (zombies in modern society is categorized as urban fantasy)… possibly because the unreality of it allows us to address our fears without taking them too seriously… without admitting that we’re afraid.
One more example to add to that point, and then I’ll move on… at ComiCon two years ago, someone pulled the fire alarm. Wil Wheaton commented later that the whole thing was really sad because he, being a bit older than the average attendee, assumed it was some silly kid. However, the folks around him were genuinely worried about safety. They thought there might actually be a bomb in the building. I suspect that has something to do with those people having lived their entire lives inside a culture of terror.
Thing 3: Direct quote: “And yet the cultural implications of Jesus’ resurrection, one day or one week after the event, were exactly nil.”
I hope you read that and thought, What the Hell?!
In support of this claim, Andy Crouch cites the fact that the disciples feared for their lives during this time.
Problem: Why would they fear for their lives if there wasn’t any cultural implication of Jesus’ resurrection? Wouldn’t the Romans have let everyone alone if that was the case?
Additionally, Crouch cites the silence of Roman historians and leaders in writing at the time. However, it seems fairly obvious to me that
what society chooses to censor and repress is at least as culturally significant as, IF NOT MORE THAN what it chooses to display for its citizens and future cultures to see!
Not only were Romans not writing about Jesus – they were killing those who spoke of Him publicly.
Final Thing: Crouch lists some elements of mass media, including everyone humming the number 1 song, then proceeds to claim that popular band, television, etc… are fads from which, “the long-term effects are negligible.”
As an high school teacher, I’d like to point out that the best way to subdue a people is to brainwash them from a young age… raise them up to become non-thinking, submissive, and controllable. Anytime Taylor Swift manages to get kids to sing one of her songs without them actually knowing what it’s about, she’s become a shockingly-powerful agent for cultural change. I’d actually be more willing to examine a claim that the greatest agent for cultural change is the media, and Crouch dismissed it so easily.
Why is Surge choosing such irreverent and arrogant writing for our study? We should never try to train up leaders on content that says Jesus’ resurrection had no immediate and lasting impact on the world. Crouch’s point may have been to get Christians to stop chasing fads to enact lasting cultural change, but he threw the baby out with the bath water.