Wednesday, 12 January 2011

engaging with popular culture: how?

After a long break over a busy Christmas, I thought I'd finally get back to this series to conclude it.

The first part of the series, over 3 posts, looked at the question 'what is popular culture?' (1, 2, 3). I then went on to think a little bit about why I think it is important to engage with popular culture (1, 2, 3, 4). In this last mini-series i'm going to write a little bit about how we go about engaging with popular culture.

I mentioned in my first post that a lot of what I'm saying is based on this talk by Ted Turnau, from I thought i'd flag that up again, as this section probably most heavily draws upon his work, if I remember rightly.

In this section I'm going to give you some thoughts on different questions that we could be asking of popular culture. The 5 stages that are outlined here aren't a formula for engaging with popular culture. It's not about putting the film/article/song/whatever through this and out pops the perfect Christian response. Rather, these questions provided a a framework to help us to get thinking in a Christian way about pop culture. For example, when thinking about a particular film, stage 3 might be most relevant question to be asking and it's in that area that the Christian worldview interacts with the film most... only touching on the other questions. So, stage 1:

1. We figure out 'What is the story here?'. Much of western pop culture has a story behind it – sometimes that's spelt out, sometimes it's more difficult to see. It's like a Bible study really, a basic comprehension question. We're saying 'what exactly is the creator of this trying to say?' It's embarassing but it's really often the case when you get Christians talking about something in popular culture that they haven't really understood what's going on. A song that is meant to be ironic is taking seriously and the point being made is missed so we need to try to get to grips with what exactly is being said.

Take the following example - the song 'Fred Jones Part 2', by Ben Folds:

"Fred sits alone at his desk in the dark
There's an awkward young shadow that waits in the hall
He's cleared all his things and he's put them in boxes
Things that remind him: 'Life has been good'
Twenty-five years
He's worked at the paper
A man's here to take him downstairs
And I'm sorry, Mr. Jones
It's time

There was no party, there were no songs
'Cause today's just a day like the day that he started
Noone has left here that knows his first name
And life barrels on like a runaway train
Where the passengers change
They don't change anything
You get off; someone else can get on
And I'm sorry, Mr. Jones
It's time

Streetlight shines through the shades
Casting lines on the floor, and lines on his face
He reflects on the day

Fred gets his paints out and goes to the basement
Projecting some slides onto a plain white
Canvas and traces it
Fills in the spaces
He turns off the slides, and it doesn't look right
Yeah, and all of these *******
Have taken his place
He's forgotten but not yet gone
And I'm sorry, Mr. Jones
And I'm sorry, Mr. Jones
And I'm sorry, Mr. Jones
It's time"

This is an obvious example, but understanding the story behind the song is key to getting to the heart of the message of the song, and will be key to engaging well with it from a Christian perspective.

No comments: