Understanding the Times: A one-sitting perusal of the periodicals. January 2005. Part I.

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To influence culture we need to understand the spirit of the age. Yesterday I skimmed through a backlog of magazines and here are some themes that emerged,

1) Trivialization: A cartoon features one guy who explains the new book he’s written to another. “Its an epic novel about a guy who’s trying to sell his car.”

2) Superficial nature of popular culture. An interview with Pamela Anderson with these quotes: “My breasts have a career. I’m just tagging along.” “Baywatch was a great show. It was completely mindless. You could turn it on in any language and still be entertained. You could turn it on halfway through an episode and still enjoy it. Now that’s entertainment.”

3) Gender confusion. A full-page ad picturing twins with the heading. “Which twin is the second-0class citizen?” Answer? Tim and Brain are virtually indistinguishable but for one fundamental difference. Brain is gay. Because of that Brain could be fined from his job in 35 states. He could be denied the opportunity to adopt his partner’s children. If his partner dies, Brain could lose their home, unless the pair spends thousands of dollars on legal documents. Is this fair? We don’t think so.”

4) Blurring of lines between high and lowbrow culture. An article about Michael Chabon’s new book The Final Solution (TIME) with the quote,” When authors as highbrow as Michael Chabon write pulp fiction, what defines a good read?”

5) Relativism runs rampant even among evangelical youth. An article by Chuck Colson titled, “Worldview Boot Camp” in which he reports that today’s Christian students do not understand or believe in absolute truth. (CT 12/2004), A New Yorker cartoon shows a guy reading “Moral VALUES FOR DUMMIES.”

6) Art as change agent. A New Yorker (1/03/05) piece about writer Tony Kushner whose “Angels in America” was the first major play to put homosexual life at the center of America’s moral debate. He says he is a “purveyor of what he calls “brave art”–the best sense we can make of our times.

7) Dehumanization as a byproduct of technology (12/30/04). A NYT article about the search for a human in today’s “customer service.” An Esquire article in which Tom Junod argues the inevitable victory of technology over humans. Speaking of the culture war he says, “whether the issue is Internet porn or stem-cell research, what conservatives are up against is not Blue-State America, or liberal America, or secular America, or enlightened America. It’s not even, as some have suggested, the Enlightenment itself. It’s technology, and it’s time.

8) De-churching of young Christians in America covered in an article “The church: why bother?” (CT 1/2005) and another, “what is the emergent church?” (Christian Century)

9) Evolutionary reductionism. A cartoon with two New Yorkers discussing the Midwest “sure we have common ground with Middle America we’re all carbon based life forms.”

Tomorrow more trends from a snapshot of America via a one-sitting perusal of the periodicals.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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