Sunday, March 30, 2008

Little Kwik-E-Mart on the Prairie

As I mentioned last week, some Christians take the view that the proper approach to pop culture is to abstain from it altogether. Whether it be television shows like Lost, films like Juno, or music by bands like Death Cab For Cutie, if the subject matter is not wholesome and family-oriented, then it must be the (only other) alternative: destructive.

Some thoughts....

First of all, for those with tender consciences (the modern-day equivalent of those in Paul's day who abstained from eating meat sacrificed to idols) it would seem that the best approach to pop media is to not participate at all. "Happy is the one," says the apostle, "who does not condemn himself in what he allows."

Still, some questions need to be answered. For example, is the purpose of art to edify us in Christ? If so, then Lost or Juno don't exactly do the trick. But if not, then the degree of sanctification a program or film produces is incidental to whether or not it is worth watching. And while we're at it, can something like "sanctification" happen by the medium of film in the first place, or does it happen through the media gratiae, the means of grace? What I'm asking is, is there a tertium quid (third way) besides edification or destruction where pop art may find its purpose?

Further, is "wholesome family values" a proper ruler by which to measure the appropriateness (or lack thereof) of pop art? Have we conflated having nice, wholesome families with God's design for us in Christ, thereby insinuating that Christ died in vain? And if the answer is that art is appropriate when it points us to God's overarching telos for his creation, then does that only happen by citing positive examples, or can it happen negatively by means of counter-examples? In other words, can we "grow" equally by watching The Simpsons as we can from watching Little House on the Prairie? And just because a story is set in a context a hundred years ago, does that means its admittedly more repressed expressions of sin are any less sinful?

Will the Christian Family Bookstores in a century from now be looking back wistfully at such wholesome tokens of Americana as the Griffin family's Quahog, the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, and Colonel Kwik-E-Mart's Kentucky Bourbon?