By Dr. Charlie W. Starr
1. It doesn’t really do much good in terms of affecting culture.
2. Most of the work of passing judgment belongs in God’s hands.
I, especially, need to be careful because I am about to judge some things that I share some guilt in. Maybe I’ve just got an urge to gripe, but I’m going to go ahead and do it; I need to get it out.
Gripe one: I’m writing this essay early in October of 2013. The government is in the middle of a shutdown, and maybe I should be mad about that. But this morning I heard that the new Miley Cyrus album was opening in the number one spot on the charts. And that hacked me. You probably heard about, if you didn’t see, her controversial performance on the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. Her outfit was way less than modest, and her dancing (one move in particular referred to as twerking) was basically just sex movements on stage. Then she did a music video (“Wrecking Ball”) in which she appeared naked.
I am not passing judgment on Miley Cyrus right now. I’m passing it on us, the American audience. People were outraged by Cyrus’s displays. News and social media went nuts! She was called names which can’t be printed here. And then we rewarded her: first Saturday Night Live made her the guest host and musical artist on the second show of the season (allowing her to say she refused to apologize for what she’d done). But then America bought her album, making it number one.
What is up with us? We have the nerve to be shocked when musicians act the way Cyrus did, but they know perfectly well that if they are shocking, we will turn around and buy their music. We’ve got no one else to blame but ourselves.
Gripe two: I don’t watch documentaries very often, but I do from time to time, and I enjoy them very much. I’m a history fan and used to love watching the programming on the History Channel. This good programming lasted a few years until the History Channel realized it could get more viewers (and make more money) by running shows about ghosts and aliens. (Are we ever going to give the actual Egyptians credit for building the pyramids?) Who’s to blame? The people who watch.
Gripe three: October saw the most anticipated ending to a TV show since the last episode of Lost. In this case it was Breaking Bad. What ticks me off about this? America has fallen in love with anti-heroes—which is a nice way of saying we love villains, not heroes. It started years ago with The Godfather (and maybe before that), and we saw it with Hannibal Lecter, various mob shows, and a serial killer show which ended in November called Dexter. What kind of culture can last which hates heroes and loves villains? We are our own worst enemies.
Gripe four: Reality TV is hit and miss in its quality, but I really hate the kind that exploits children or naïve people for the sake of our entertainment. A show that celebrates the obnoxious behavior of a child (ex: Here Comes Honey Boo Boo) is setting that child up for future misery. Shows featuring Amish teens and 20-somethings are doing the same thing to those confused kids. In that case, they make entertainment out of young people’s faith struggles.
Gripe five: This an old one—gratuitous nudity just to get ratings. The main networks constantly complain because the cable networks can use nudity, extreme violence, and foul language in their shows, and they say that’s what people want to watch. What’s really sad is that these shows are often very well written.
Passing judgment doesn’t affect our culture very much. There are better ways to influence the arts and media for change (and I’ve written about them before). But every so often, it seems appropriate for us to speak up, like John the Baptist before Herod (Mark 6:18)—even if it means chopping off our own heads.
Dr. Charlie W. Starr teaches English, humanities, and film at Kentucky Christian University in Grayson, Kentucky.