Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Cultural turning point. Man of Steel soared at the box office over the weekend — pulling in an astounding (and record-breaking) $125 million in North America. The super feat was at least partially as a result of a deliberate marketing decision to highlight the film’s pro-faith and traditional-values content.  This as a new study finds that the facial expressions of Lego characters have, since the early 90’s, become increasingly angry — causing researchers to wonder how “an increasing number of negative faces impacts how children play.”

It’s interesting, I think, how the rise of dour and frowning and Legos have pretty much coincided with the general shift toward and angrier edgier culture. On TV, the shift could be seen as the networks gradually began phasing out shows built around kind and caring characters in favor of those featuring amoral and/or angry ones. By attrition, shows like Everybody Loves Raymond, JAG, NYPD Blue, Quantum Leap, Frasier, Touched by an Angel , 7th Heaven  and Lois & Clark; The New Adventures of Superman (all of which featured essentially likable, if sometimes flawed, characters who genuinely strove to do what was right) gave way to a flood of the likes of Seinfeld, House, The Sopranos and Dexter (in which traditional notions of human caring were mocked, ignored or twisted). The darkness only accelerated over the last decade — as angry and depressing programming became the norm and not the exception. Pop culture became increasingly edgy, morally ambiguous and, like those Legos figures, increasingly joyless.

And, like the innocent little kids playing with their Legos, you have to wonder how all that negativity impacts how we all view the world. It can’t be good. Even adults need positive examples. It’s just common sense that a steady diet of negative entertainment is not going to help us be positive people as we go about our real lives. The very purpose of storytelling has traditionally been to shine a light that leads us to a better, happier path.  Life is edgy enough.

But the good news is that the tide is turning again. Man of Steel, with its decidedly unsnarky celebration of virtue, builds on last year’s number-one film The Avengers to unequivocally prove that people are yearning for entertainment in which heroes unabashedly stand up against evil.  Now, the most anticipated news show of the fall is ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., an Avengers spinoff that offers the  promise of carrying the film’s ethos to the small screen. This past season, the big success of shows like History Channel’s The Bible and even Duck Dynasty on A&E demonstrate the public’s desire for programming about traditional values and people who believe in them. Secular songs are even getting happier, more positive and, yes, less edgy as they top the charts (listen to Philip Philips’ Home or Fun’s Carry On).  And, of course, besides Man of Steel and The Avengers, faith and family-friendly films continue to outperform at the box office. Ditto for books.

It’s been a mystery to me why the cultural gatekeepers have been singing the mantra of dark, edgy and angry entertainment. It’s a phenomenon that has even spilled over into Legos. But, you know what, despite the gatekeepers, our side is now clearly winning the culture war. The good guys are back!  Be patient. We’ve got Superman, The Avengers and, of course, The Bible on our side. The forces of darkness don’t stand a chance. Happier days are ahead for Legos — and all of us too!

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. – Philippians 4:8

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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