[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B00AY50XA8″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61gmIgAM7VL.jpg” width=”250″ alt=”Jonathan Fitzgerald” ]How then Should We Navigate?
A Review of
Not Your Mother’s Morals: How the New Sincerity is Changing Pop Culture for the Better
Ebook: Bondfire Books, 2012.
Buy now: [ [easyazon-link asin=”B00AY50XA8″ locale=”us”]Kindle[/easyazon-link] ]
Reviewed by C. Christopher Smith
Jonathan Fitzgerald, editor of Patrol Magazine, has offered in his new ebook Not Your Mother’s Morals: How the New Sincerity is Changing Pop Culture for the Better, an excellent introduction to the ethos of the New Sincerity. A 21st Century movement in pop culture, the New Sincerity is characterized by its willingness to convey morality through the stories it tells, and to foster a “cool to care” mentality. It is perhaps best understood in contrast to the “detached irony and cynicism” of previous generations (especially Generation X). “The New Sincerity asks nothing more of us than that we act authentically and out of sincere motivations, considering what is right not just for us but for those around us;” says Fitzgerald, “It asks only that, but then, that is really all there is.”
The bulk of the book is spent expositing the New Sincerity, and simultaneously offering an apology for this new movement. Fitzgerald’s exposition is very helpful, and indeed well worth the price of the book. He explores this movement through the traditional lenses of God, Family and Country, emphasizing how these virtues are being reinterpreted by the New Sincerity in the new millennium. To these traditional values, Fitzgerald adds a fourth, the Environment. In regard to God, Fitzgerald observes how faith was an important driving force in the early indie music scene, among artists like Sufjan Stevens, David Bazan, Arcade Fire, Neutral Milk Hotel and others. He also explores new attitudes toward God that are being expressed more recently in the world of comic books. To explore the New Sincerity’s posture toward the Family, Fitzgerald turns to the television show Modern Family and Freaks and Geeks. Fitzgerald observes how the New Sincerity has paved the way for a new sort of civic engagement, and similarly how more recent pop culture has not been afraid to take a moral stand with regard to the environment.
As much as I appreciated Fitzgerald’s exposition of the New Sincerity, I found his defense of this movement in contrast to the cynicism of previous generations to be less than convincing. Yes, I agree that there are parts of the New Sincerity that are undoubtedly refreshing: the openness to taking a moral stand, for instance, and the sort of engagement it fosters in political and environmental concerns. However, as a thorough-going Generation X-er, I’m not quite ready to abandon cynicism altogether. For me, moral ambiguity stems from the complexity of creation and the limits of our human knowledge. Similarly, cynicism stems from the scriptural reality that there are powers at work in the world that we cannot control and that seek to control us. Ultimately, for all its benefits, the New Sincerity seems to tend toward over-simplification, especially in tempting us to misplace our hope – in politics, human goodness, etc. At our best, we navigate life on our tiptoes, treading a tightrope between the authenticity and vulnerability of the New Sincerity and the cynicism that stems from living in a broken world that yet awaits its consummation in Christ.
Several years ago, a conference in Chicago explored the twin themes of cynicism and hope (Many papers from this conference have been collected in the recent volume [easyazon-link asin=”1606082140″ locale=”us”]Cynicism and Hope: Reclaiming Discipleship in a Postdemocratic Society[/easyazon-link] by Meg E. Cox). The papers from this conference remind us – and especially those of us who find the New Sincerity alluring – how easy it is to misplace our hope. A tempered cynicism about our own human condition as individuals and as society serves as a reminder, as one conference speaker put it, of “the log in our own eye” and of Christ, the One through whom all creation is redeemed.
I recommend Jonathan Fitzgerald’s ebook as a fine work of cultural exegesis, with the caveat that although the New Sincerity is a timely corrective to the hopelessness of previous movements, the Way forward toward the reconciliation of all things will be much more complex than the morality put forth through the New Sincerity; it will require of us cynicism as well as hope; abandoning family, country, and indeed everything that we might inherit the all-encompassing Kingdom of God.
C. Christopher Smith is editor of The Englewood Review of Books, and author of several books including most recently The Virtue of Dialogue: Conversation as a Hopeful Practice of Church Communities (Patheos Press 2012). He is currently co-writing a book with John Pattison entitled Slow Church (IVP Books 2013).