A Feature Review of
PopCultured: Thinking Christianly about Style, Media and Entertainment
Paperback: IVP Books, 2013.
Buy now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
Reviewed by Matt Miles
You don’t have to watch television or movies or listen to the radio to be exposed to popular culture. If you wear clothes, use social media or ever set foot outside your door you are, like the rest of us, immersed in it. For Christians, there are usually two choices: avoid as much of popular culture as possible since it is worldly and a waste of sacred time, or partake indiscriminately and categorize “good” and “bad” entertainment the same way non Christians do. Steve Turner, a journalist, author, and poet argues that for Christians, neither of these approaches are acceptable. If Christ is Lord of the Christian’s life, He should be Lord of all of it, including recreational time. On the other hand, being unaware of pop culture can deprive the Christian of a common language many people share and the ability to connect with people who don’t share the same belief or background. More than this, as a journalist who had many a discussion on popular culture, he believes Christians can and should create within the culture, because we have something to say. He contends we should consume discerningly, critique faithfully, and create wisely. The author’s insurmountable task in PopCultured: Thinking Christianly about Style, Media and Entertainment is to spark the Christian imagination on what engagement with pop culture could look like. At his best, Steve Turner does exactly that.
Turner doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel when defining pop culture, but offers a history from when culture was decided by the elite to when common people (or “the lower classes”) began choosing and making their own entertainment. He also reviews definitions offered by other experts in the field and identifies it as entertainment that doesn’t require specialized information to enjoy. While it’s possible to find deeper meaning in movies and songs, this is not a requirement for enjoying them. The appeal is its accessibility to all. While he admits there are more categories for pop culture, he explores nine for the purpose of getting the conversation started: movies, journalism, celebrity culture, fashion, thrill-seeking, comedy, advertising, technology, and photography. The penultimate chapter deals with the image of religious figures in television and movies.
PopCultured’s strengths are in the historical backgrounds Turner provides in nearly every chapter. We learn the early connection between print journalism and reality television, the origins of fame and fashion, and the era stand-up comedians became interested in truth. Enriching information like that listed creates a background of relevant understanding for appreciating entertainment in a deeper context and provides good talking points for people of any ideological perspective. Steve Turner has done his research and it shows on the page.
The author also includes questions and suggestions for action. Both are meant to get the reader brainstorming, which I can appreciate. However, some of the suggestions are better than others. For example, I would never recommend heckling a comedian, regardless of how thought out and creative the heckler’s critique. It’s disrespectful and just plain rude. Confronting boredom with contemplation rather than distraction or using technology to download classics are two examples of his better ideas. Regardless of a few swings and misses, the questions and suggestions are a good start.
Also of note are the chapters on movies and photography. These might not be his field of expertise, but his love for beauty in these two areas is contagious and makes for some thrilling reading. Passages in the chapters on celebrity culture (how to use it to help others) and fashion (how Bono is addressing the issue of low-paid factory workers) are no less engaging or beautiful. If these chapters and passages won’t reunite your enthusiasm for potential beauty in pop culture, nothing will.
It doesn’t take long for the author’s intended audience to become apparent. His use of scripture and “Biblical Parameters” in chapter 3, coupled with his distaste for public criticism of Christians suggest he’s writing for evangelical Christians with traditional values. It was difficult for me to read in places because, coming from a conservative background and having shed some of it the arguments seemed too familiar to me. Also, some biblical examples don’t work as well as others. Just because Joseph had a coat of many colors doesn’t mean God endorsed “fine raiment.” The reader will expect to find examples like this sprinkled throughout.
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