I’ve been looking at popculture for my elective study the past few months and thinking through it’s impact on us. It really is fascinating! We can’t live in the world without being exposed to and influenced by popculture in some way or another. Even if you shut yourself in a room with blank walls and never left, there is still a designer out there somewhere that designed that room…
In being more aware as to the place that popculture has in people’s lives and thinking how I approach and consume it in my own, thinking about how I can reflect on certain films and articles and stories and fashion etc, I’ve been trying to expand my range of what I watch and read. Trying to watch different films that I wouldn’t ordinarily pick up off the shelf.
But then I’ve been left thinking, how far do I go with this? What is ok to let myself be exposed to? And where do I draw the line and let myself walk away from a film when I am finding it actually not that nice to watch? We are so drawn in by stories and characters and get tied up in emotions and the lives of the people we are watching. I don’t know whether this applies more to females than males, but I regularly get shivers through my whole body when something amazing happens to someone in a film or tv programme, when they acheve something or reach for a dream or when someone’s life is transformed by a certain act. And on the other end of the spectrum I am sensitive to crime and murder and affairs and things that mess up people’s lives.
When watching new things, I’ve not always been able to watch them all the way through. For instance, the new series Fargo, I couldn’t even get through the first episode. Here was a story where one guy had practically made it seem to someone else that it was ok to kill someone, that they deserved it and he seemed to show no feelings from that murder at all. Three quarters of the way through, 3 murders later, I turned it off knowing I just couldn’t watch it anymore. I didn’t want to know what would happen next because I just couldn’t see it getting any better and I was distressed enough!
Also watching the film Arbitrage the other week, I had to fight the urge to not just walk out from it. I found it really difficult to watch and if I had been on my own would have turned it off. Certain issues I find really hard to continue watching. Yet it was great to discuss these with others afterwards and see how we felt differently towards what outcome we desired when watching the film and give our reasons for each.
I’ve been learning how to step back from something I have watched and think it through. What is the storyline? How does it bring people in? What themes in it did I struggle with? Did I get drawn in by characters that I don’t actually share moral ground with? Why? How? What felt right and what didn’t? And where does the gospel fit in this? How does a gospel perspective fit on this story? Film writers write films as they have something to say. They’re not to be approached as if they have no power or moral content, but approached knowing that there are many people and views and ideas behind the writing and making of the film.
However, even with being able to step back and think through these things, I think there’s still a line to be drawn between what you watch and don’t watch. And that line will be different for everyone.
Ted Turnau in his book Popologetics,talks about this and gives 3 very useful outlines for engaging with popular culture ‘without undermining spiritual purity and wounding our own consciences’.
1. Know your limits.
We each know our own heart and where we fall down. So don’t put temptation in your way, don’t watch the things that aren’t hepful to you, that hit you where you’re weak and could lead you astray.
2. Know what offends and degrades.
If something is just down right degrading then just walk away from it. As Ted Ternau puts it ‘It’s hard to be a child of the light if you allow yourself to get dragged into the dark.’
And we all have different standards of dark and light so we need to respect that, let’s not drag other people into darkness who don’t have as high a tolerance level.
3. Know the emotional price tag.
I found this the most interesting to think about. Even if something isn’t degrading in itself or doesn’t appear to be dark at first glance, if you watch many series of one thing, how much are you getting drawn into life through the eyes of a certain character that you have become attached to? It might not tempt or degrade but ‘it still carries an emotional core that can have a powerful impact.’
I’m sure it’s not just me that has become so absorbed in a character that their life on screen or in a book effects how you feel in your own life? I remember clearly when Dobby died in Harry Potter, I cried for hours. I couldn’t leave my room to face anyone as I felt genuine grief. I had to continue reading and finish the book, as at that time it felt like the only thing I could hold onto as part of Dobby’s life. And this was a house elf, not even a real person!
Ted Ternau again puts this really well ‘Living vicariously in someone else’s head and seeing through their eyes can be a profoundly moving experience, especially if it continues for hours.’
These 3 points have really helped me further think about engaging with popular culture. I’m still happy exposing myself to new things and have got better at letting myself be immersed but then stepping back afterwards. Yet, these 3 points have helped me one step further in knowing that it’s ok to not watch something at all or to turn something off part way through if I just can’t deal with it. I think I’d got to the point of thinking I should be able to look at anything when then stepping back and putting a gospel perspective on it, but actually I know the importance of still guarding my heart and my mind and not being worried to actually stick to my boundaries.
(I would really recomment Ted Ternau’s book Popologetics which you can get here!)