Sunday, 24 November 2013

Pop Justice

Neil Postman warned us of an age when 'entertainment' would be our primary mode of discourse. Right on schedule, our moral norms are now transferred through entertainment - especially for those must susceptible (namely, the young). We hand our emotions over to the sounds and images and through it, we are formed into who we are. I do not mean to be a mere prophet of doom of the evils of television and pop music. I love my sitcoms. And I'd consider losing a limb to see U2 in concert. It's a transition of discourse like others that have taken place. There are pros and cons to such a transition. It allows us to think anew about how cultural forms besides words form us - consider how the pre-modern world was largely shaped through liturgy, art, and religious music. But we must at least be cognizant of the fact (and the attendant dangers to this fact) that entertainment profoundly shapes our behaviors and social norms. And vice versa. Look to our entertainment to see what we value and how we live.

The picture is sobering.

Our pop songs feature men speaking the same words as rapists: "you know you want it" (Robin Thicke). Or they feature the manipulative language of a boy talking a girl into a one-night-stand: "I know we only met but let's pretend it's love. . .tonight let's 'get some'" (One Direction). A boy dances on stage acting out the ogling of scantily clad women who are stoic, nameless, impersonal (Justin Bieber). A man announces point blank that he's 'a dog' and that he wants his women 'like Miley Cyrus. . . facedown, booty up' - objectified and faceless. A slave. (Pitbull 'Timber').


Our music worships rape, abuse, and exploitation - why the heck are we so surprised over sexual violence in our society? We worship and glorify it and call it 'entertainment.' We dance to it at our parties, we get drunk on it. We unleash these songs on young people and we wonder why they turn around and exploit and abuse one another. Where are role models telling our young men to treat women with respect? Where are the encouragers telling our young women that they deserve to be treated better? Why are we only openly offended when a woman takes too much of her clothes off? We expend all our energy shaming Miley, while the likes of Robin Thicke and Pitbull get free passes for creating music that celebrates demanding women to be subservient to their monstrous desires. At least Pitbull is honest: the way we found Miley acting at the AMA is exactly how he wants her. She may deserve some criticism, but in a sick way she becomes the victim that allows us to ignore the real problem - and we perpetuate her exploitation by joking and ridiculing her.

We act shocked when teenage rape/sexting cases hit the news, or when a forced prostitution ring is uncovered. What blissful and damnable ignorance. Parents have no clue about the culture of sexual exploitation that exists among young people. So many are ignorant of the sex-slavery industry that is rampant here in the West (it's by no means a 'third world' problem). Don't they realize that those few scapegoat cases are merely the tip of the iceberg?

Why should we be surprised, when the hymns are of rape, and the liturgy on stage is one of assault?

This is not the prudish ramblings of a culture warrior expecting this sinful world to be good, or calling for people to hide from it. It's the indignant fuming of someone looking for justice.

Indeed, merely hiding away from 'the depravity of the world' does little good. The Church must offer an alternative set of symbols and values: Songs, sounds, images, practices, words, of justice, respect, value, and love. Not as an alternative sub-culture that mimics the world's forms (in diminished quality, typically) and gives us an escape from the world - but in dynamic, prophetic, active ways.

And so, it is in this spirit that I say to all women, including Miley: I just want you to know that you are worth so much more than this world tells you that you are. You are golden. You are loved. Pitbull may want you on your hands, 'twerking,' but Jesus wants to look at your face, and behold the beautiful, free, independent, whole person God has made you to be. And I see you that way too. To all men: you can live for so much more than this. For building up and not tearing down. For giving, not for taking. For serving, not for demanding. Come to the table, where you find all that you are looking for in giving yourself for others, and being given to by others. Find your identity in the humility of mutually serving and being served by women - live for their dignity while so much of the rest of the world finds their identity in exploiting and dominating over women.

All Christians, men and women, are called to submit to one another, just as Christ has given all to us; not to exploit and take from one another. We come to the table of Christ where there is reconciliation between the sexes, in stark contrast to a world where we enslave and dominate. We live in a new community in which we sing about, gaze upon, and liturgically mimic the One who came to heal, uplift, and dignify us while we are yet sinners - loving us merely because He chooses to, not because of anything we do. Through these symbols, sounds, and actions, we are reminded that we are set free, we have worth, in Christ. The world, especially our youth, is thirsty for such a community. Let us show the way, and in doing so announce freedom for the captives that are shackled to the violent sex gods that are hiding behind stylized synth tracks.

She must and shall go free.