If you’ve ventured across a Top 40 radio station lately, you’ve no doubt been lowered to:
“What you going to do with all that breasts . . . all that breasts inside that shirt?
I’m going to make you work; make you work.
What you going to do with all that ass . . . all that ass inside those jeans?
I’m going to make you scream; make you scream.”
Ah yes . . . you’ve now entered the world of the Black Eyed Peas. However, not to be out done, a group of young sexy women in a group called The Pussy Cat Dolls have further enthralled us with their deep, moving lyrics:
“You’ve got real big brains, but I’m staring at your [beep]”
to which the later response comes:
“I don’t give a [beep] keep staring at my [beep] while you’re playing with your [beep]”
I didn’t edit out the “beeps,” the actual name of the song is “beep” and it raced up the Billboard music charts over the past few months (it’s currently at 33). These songs (and others) have really forced me to look at the collision between popular culture and the Christian ethic. Touchdown Jesus (see sidebar), is a book I picked up to read about a week ago. It addresses the intersection between sacred and secular. It is a good historical look at the way churches and demoninations have forged what is now known as popular culture. There are several interesting historical case studies the author points to, but I have found the most helpful discussion in early chapters as he addresses the way the traditional Protestant ethic was so ineffective in shaping the early industry that has forged into what we know today as pop culture.
The author puts forth that it was Catholics and Jews who were the early industry leaders in film and music, and it was organizations from those traditions that raised questions as to moral content that others put out. I don’t have the book in front of me, but there’s a great quote from an early moralist in this area who believed that these outlets (film, television, music, theater, literature, etc.) would indeed forge the ways that people think, and it was therefore imperative to provide some kind of censorship.
Protestants simply stood aside as early popular culture hastened to a culture of sex and drugs. What Protestants have usually done is stand aside and condemn movies, books, etc. with little or no effect on the culture at large. A powerful chapter in the book shows that Protestants answered this early cultural creation from Catholic and Jewish leaders by a long process of creating what now can be described as the Christian sub-culture. I have long been critical of the Christian sub-culture, and will continue to do so because I believe it has been one of the leading factors of making the Gospel largely irrelevant to many ears, but the Black Eyed Peas and Pussy Cat Dolls have brought the tension to my eyes better.
What is the harm in listening to these songs? That’s a question that no doubt gets asked in a million youth group classes and who knows where else. And do we really have an answer? I don’t. I don’t know what the “harm” is, but often we don’t have good answers because we don’t ask good questions. I don’t think I’ve been asking good questions. I love my AC/DC and feel as though Tipper Gore was full of crap trying to get them and all other hard rockers out of the popular circuit. Now, the issue is the same, but the names and faces are different. When I was growing up it was rock music, now it is hip hop. Hip hop is errantly understood by many to be a mostly African American movement in music. However, it has already influenced widely popular music and will continue to be a factor in what comes out of your radio. And, by the way, I am a huge closet Nelly fan. If he didn’t cuss in every song, I wouldn’t even have to be in the closet.
So . . . as you can see, Sunday afternoons is not a good time to blog because I ramble on aimlessly, how many times have you already checked to see how long this dang post is? Anyway, I guess this is the quandry I find myself in. Working with teens tends to exacerbate my wrestling with popular culture. I want my teens to fit in at school. I want them to be cool. I want them to go to prom, run for class offices, all that – but I don’t want them to comprimise: no youth minister does. I guess that cuts to the chase: At what point to we compromise our faith? When is it OK to take a stand and say, “I just don’t listen to music like that.” And when does it do more harm that good to the Cause?
As a youth minister I do my best to be “in the pop culture know.” It suits me best not to be suprised by things that my teens may encounter. Being in the know is not even half the battle. Each teen ultimately has to make the decision on his or her own regarding how different aspects of culture will effect their faith. We Protestants don’t have a good handle on this issue as our history bears that out. Recently we have been so consumed lobbying on a national politcal level, that I’m afraid we pay too little attention to our own.
In the book I’m reading, Laurence Moore goes on to put out some strong words to make Protestants rethink their approach to popular culture. The bottom line is that it’s been ineffective in making any kind of influence. They made a major push to get films rated, but it was ultimately the Catholic groups who saw the need and paved the way what we have today. Whatever the answer is for us, I’m seeing it is not easy for a Christian to faithfully live out thier calling in our world.