As I sit this evening at my computer I am amazed. For five days every newscast and commentator has responded the visit of Pope Francis to America with such joy and positive energy. From every perspective, including the most non-religious journalists and broadcasters, people have talked about the pope but in doing so they have talked a great deal about Jesus, the Bible and the joy of the gospel. I have never heard so much public talk about matters of profound truth and faith in my lifetime, except perhaps at the funerals of President Kennedy (1963) and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968). We have seen pictures of Pope Francis with prisoners, in a seminary speaking to bishops and students about the two greatest works of a shepherd (prayer and the preaching the gospel), praying at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York with representatives of world religions, speaking before the United Nations, speaking before Congress, meeting with the Speaker of the House, meeting with the President and then this evening leaving our shores after being with
Brett Martin identifies a first burst of literary energy in 1950s television (when the medium was young) and a second that came in the 1980s (when the forward-thinking television executive Grant Tinker’s MGM Enterprises begat the groundbreaking Hill Street Blues). These are followed by the “Third Golden Age,” beginning with The Sopranos. This story is at least half the content of his book. He uses it to set the stage for understanding what followed in shows that may be even better than The Sopranos. The Emmy Awards, given for the best programming in television, are now routinely given only to cable shows such as these, all of which have garned an incredible number of such awards. The New York Times book review of Martin’s books says that he “writes with a psychological insight that enhances his nimble reporting.” Again, I have to agree completely.
Martin takes the reader (listener) behind the scenes of this cultural shift and provides extensive reporting based on interviews and good research. He gives you “never-before-heard” stories and reveals how cable television has distinguished itself
As a true fan of what Brett Martin calls “The Third Golden Age” of television I devoured his new book, Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Man Men and Breaking Bad. I devoured the book by listening to Martin’s work as an audio book. Listening to a book in its entirety is a first for me. This one was very easy to listen to since I used long driving stretches to work thorugh it in only a few days. The essential core of Martin’s story was easy to grasp. The actual reader, Keith Szarabajka, was also fantastic, making the aural experience deeply satisfying. (I am told my own book, Your Church Is Too Small, is poorly read in its audio version since the reader apparently does not understand important words and thus mispronounces a number of them. O bother!)
In the late 1990s, and early 2000s, the landscape of television began a transformation with a wave of new shows, all featured on cable channels. The reality is that
ABC television, Channel 7, in Chicago broadcast a special twenty-eight minute program called “Sanctuary,” that was devoted to the ACT3 story and to my life and work for missional-ecumenism. This program aired yesterday, March 22. Today you can see the entire program on our home page as well as here on my blog and Facebook page. I hope that you will be moved to pray for unity and the work that I do for ACT3 Network. We need many friends who will: (1) Pray for me and this mission, and; (2) Support us financially as we bring the word of Jesus from his John 17 prayer for unity to a wider circle of churches and leaders around the world.
One great way to help us is to subscribe to the ACT3 Weekly via our website. Each Monday you will get a short article as well as news and prayer requests. Go to www.act3network.com and sign up.
You cannot escape it even if you try. The Ebola outbreak dominates the news cycle day-after-day right now. So long as this virus impacts even one American millions of Americans will keep on watching this endless reporting. Once it dies down, at least in terms of being a threat to the US, then we will soon forget about it. Meanwhile West Africans will die by the thousands. I am not cynical about this at all. I simply think that this is the way news goes on day-by-day inside the bubble of life here in the US.
If you’ve ever traveled abroad you will soon realize just how America-centric we are in terms of what interests us. News of the world fills one page in most daily newspapers in the US. It only makes the TV news if it impacts Americans directly. (The one exception happens when a great tragedy strikes some part of the globe and then it will be mentioned once or twice and forgotten.) In Europe the news reporting covers a bit of local interest, the world at large and then America. We have this
TIME magazine’s November 25 (2013) cover story says it as well as any single storyline I’ve read the last two weeks: “The Moment That Changed America.” That moment, the assassination of our 35th president, John F. Kennedy, occurred fifty years ago today at 12:30 p.m. CST in Dallas, Texas.
If you were alive at the time, and old enough to have a memory of that incredible day, you will never, never forget it. It seemed impossible to comprehend at the time. In many ways it still seems impossible to comprehend, now fifty years later. I think, for example, that we comprehend 9/11 far better. We can fairly easily picture how and why radical terrorists would strike us. We also know who did this, or at least we are fairly certain that we know since someone claimed it and defended it.
Fifty years after the Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories are still contentiously debated and the national psyche seems permanently impacted by the tragedy that unfolded in Dealey Plaza on that sunny day.
The death of our young president was captured on
Any serious thinking about popular culture must take into account the amount of time we have to spend in the sphere of modern culture. Steve Turner rightly concludes: “It’s hard to argue that the Bible is a source of guidance when dealing with such areas of life as money, marriage, family, relationships, work, worship and prayer but has nothing useful to say when it comes to culture” (Popcultured, 19).
In reality what we now call popular culture is the result of the increase of leisure time we have in Western society. We can decry this all we want but it is reality for all but the extremely poor and in the West most poor people consume television, and music, to some degree, if not to large degrees as never before in human society. Great Britain’s Office for National Statistics reported in 2010 that Britons were spending nine times as much on recreation and culture as they had only forty years earlier in 1970. There has been a huge shift from material goods to experience, as another survey revealed.
Last week I asked a much-debated question raised by the patristic theologian Tertullian: “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” I observed that Tertullian was primarily concerned about what role philosophy had in dealing with the Christian faith. The same question, as I showed previously, can be applied to popular culture. What place does Hollywood, Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue have with Christ?
I am persuaded that far too few Christians have a serious view of culture, especially of popular culture. From TV shows to modern fiction we range from the extreme of “total separation” all the way to “uncritical acceptance.” Without a carefully developed theology of culture it seems to me that wide pendulum swings will inevitably characterize the Christian’s engagement with popular culture. Reconciling one’s faith with art, for example, has troubled more than a few Christians that I have known over the years. In my early Christian experience I personally ranged from general confusion, into a brief period of separation and then toward a wide-scale (uncritical) acceptance. Because I did not dig into the content
You can gain wisdom from a lot of sources. Now and then a script writer for a television show actually speaks truth more powerfully than many of the children of the light. (I have no idea about the faith of the script writer so do not assume I am making a specific statement about someone else here!) Let me explain what I mean.
I watch very little television these days. I watch some national news, which amounts now and then to the CBS Evening News. I watch a bit of the local Chicago news, preferring to watch my favorite anchor Alan Krashesky, a friend who is a solid Christian and a fair journalist. I also watch PBS news and enjoy a lot of the Frontline episodes. I get most of my news on the web.
When I do watch television I watch less and less drama. I have tried several of the popular new series in early 2013 and have already quit on them. The new drama series featuring Kevin Bacon – The Following – is just too
I sometimes share reviews of popular movies, both dramas and action films. I am not a serious film critic but do have an “eye” for credible films, or so I think. I have also done a review or two about a television series, e.g. MI-5 and Foyle’s War both come to mind (Both are BBC productions.). In the spirit of sharing my viewing interests, and perhaps prompting a few friends to enjoy a television series with me, I confess that I am “hooked” on the current series, The Mentalist, which stars Simon Baker as California Bureau of Investigation (CBI) consultant Patrick Jane. My brother got me into this series and now I have finished, earlier this week, the last episode of Season Four. Season Five is airing currently on CBS so I am now in the rhythm of using my DVD to watch each week’s episode. It is rare that I do this with a TV series and the only other one that I currently watch in real time (DVR) is “Justified.” (It is a haunting and gripping series that features a number of religious