Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, June 29, 2009

Beat the front page

I tried to watch the news a little bit this weekend, but it was challenging to find any real news. Though cities in Iraq are seeing upticks in violence, and North Korea is making rumblings about the launching test rockets in the direction of Hawaii, all I could find on the airwaves were speculations about Michael Jackson's death, and intrigue over the notion that a plain spoken governor from South Caroline could score with an Argentinian lover. It's as if, starving for vegetables and protein, we're offered nothing but the intellectual equivalent of cotton candy.

This is the diet, of course, because the reality is that most people want cotton candy for supper, and that's the real problem. That we idolize sports stars is bad enough, though they at least have their very own stations and commentators obsessing over their drug charges, affairs, contract disputes, whinings, and even occasionally, their on field performance. But musicians and movie stars, especially those few whose talents or quirks put them in the rarified stratosphere of global fame, these few become the centerpiece of our national attention whenever their life takes a turn or comes to a close.

That we are so intrigued with the lives of high profile people says something about our culture; I'm just not sure what it is. Why might we know more about the drugs in MJ's body than the implications of a potentially seismic shift in how health care is run in our country? Why is hard for high school seniors from either coast to find Chicago on a map, yet easy to name all the Jonas brothers and what they like to eat for breakfast?

I have a few theories about the trivialization of culture:

1. Our lives are too boring, and thus we're drawn to excitment beyond ourselves. The industrial age has created hoards of people who hate their jobs. To the extent that my own life lacks thrill, perhaps the extraordinary lives of others become a form a sustenance. Michael Jackson was certainly "extra-ordinary" in the truest sense of the word.

2. Vicarious living is easier.

3. Voyeurism is fun.

4. Entertainment figures provide comfortable diversion from challenging realities, and since comfort is more pleasant than challenge, the news of entertainers is preferrable to the news of economic and political challenges.

5. Being culturally literate is important.

These elements, in combination, seem to be the soil in which is fascinations and obsessions with pop icons grows, even as our engagement with more important matters diminishes. What needs to happen to shift the paradigm? Can it be shifted? Should it?

Please don't misread me. Michael Jackson, like Mozart, was a brilliant, creative, tortured artist, who shifted the culture of his day dramatically. The world should mourn his loss. But to elevate his death, and obsession with the details of his death to the level of front page and first story for days on end seems, in a world where 30 thousand children die each day of treatable diseases, misguided.


At 29/6/09 20:54, Anonymous jeff said...

I was reflecting how much the stories of our "stars" resemble the tales of Greek, Roman, and other Pagan Gods-- Larger than life exploits mostly around sex and violence... I even find myself wondering if the name for them-- "stars" is telling. In those old myths, some people were given a sort of eternal life as consellations.

We are, of course, built with a God-shaped hole in our hearts. I wonder if we try to plug this hole with Michael Jackson and his ilk.

At 30/6/09 07:43, Anonymous Ken said...

Let's not overlook the reality that journalism is nearly extinct. We have a media that spends its time worshiping whatever popular figure they believe will get them the audience they seek or even worse, whatever cause they wish to promote. Perhaps our judgment should be first of the information we are bombarded with daily. How can the general population have other obsessions? An individual has do some serious swimming against the current to find what is true and important around them. Most simply won't work that hard.

At 30/6/09 17:22, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll admit that the first thing I thought is, "Richard, the gifted preacher and teacher is aware that this stuff is on about Michael Jackson? Why would he even surf these channels?" But to the question. Our culture developed from a land of opportunity, including the opportunity to become very rich and famous. As long as we are ALSO the most giving and charitable, I think it's the best on earth, despite some of the perverse side effects such as what you describe.

At 1/7/09 07:54, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

my point wasn't that this stuff occupied the airwaves of "E" and MTV and VH1. I assume it did, but don't know that. My complaint was that NBC nightly news, offering about 20 minutes of 'news' each evening, seemed to be devoted 5-10 minutes to this subject.

At 5/7/09 21:28, Anonymous Lauren said...

i appreciate this post. i, too, while agreeing that michael jackson was a gifted and influential artist in our time, have been frustrated and kind of sickened by the amount of "news" coverage his death is getting - and like you, i'm not talking about mtv. i'm talking cnn (which i check daily to stay informed on things) and the rest of the best. we are truly a people who seek heroes and idols. michael jackson was obviously one of those for many. we, as a culture and as a people, though, have many others. and many of mine are more subtle. oh, that we (that i) would truly get that only Jesus brings LIFE and life ABUNDANTLY. ANY other gods, idols, things/people we put on a pedestal, will ultimately come crashing down for us.


Post a Comment

<< Home