Pop Culture

On the surveys we sent out last week, we asked a couple of questions about kids and pop culture, namely, how comfortable do parents and teachers feel in addressing pop culture topics with their kids and how do they go about doing it (ie: do they initiate pop culture discussions with their kids, wait until the kids bring it up, or avoid discussing pop culture altogether)?

The overwhelming majority of folks said they felt 100% comfortable in discussing pop culture with their kids, which is great, though most of the parents filling out the survey equated pop culture with “worldliness,” using that word exactly.

So, what do you, the How Kids Think blog focus group, think about that? Does pop culture have to or always equate to worldliness? Do your discussions on pop culture center on what’s wrong with it, or do you also incorporate things we can affirm? What does that look like in your context?



Filed under How Kids Think

11 responses to “Pop Culture

  1. Pop culture reflects the values (or theology, even) of a culture. It’s a culture’s living out of what it values. We talk about it often in our home, but we try to look for the common grace, too, and not just the yuck of it. We can learn a lot about our neighbors and how they think and feel by knowing something about the culture, and we see that sometimes non-believers get it right because God makes it rain on them, too.

    I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that pop culture = worldliness and books, music, and movies sold at the Christian bookstore = good. (I realize that’s not what your point was in the post, but it’s what I “hear” Christians saying sometimes.) I think we have to know what truth is and learn how to identify it wherever it might be. And sometimes it’s in pop music, books, movies, etc.

  2. Rose Bexar

    Anne’s quite right–although I wonder if it’s worth discussing whether trashy stuff is popular because it’s all that the entertainment Powers that Be will provide. And it’s not just “worldliness”; the quality of production has dropped significantly in music and TV, especially.
    Current pop culture has never really been one of my interests. I’m not sure why. But I know I’ve always enjoyed older “pop culture” a lot more–music from the ’30s through the mid-’70s, “classic” movies and TV, vintage fashions. (Is it any wonder that I’m a medievalist? 😀 ) So my suggestion would be to supplement whatever you’re teaching about current pop culture with exposure to and lessons from older pop culture, if only to stave off chronological snobbery.
    I haven’t read many of the “Gospel According To…” books from Westminster John Knox, but judging from the ones I have read, they would be good teaching tools. Focus on the Family also has a “Finding God In…” series, which is pretty good from what I’ve seen. Greg Garrett’s _Holy Superheroes!_ looks good, too.
    There is a lot to be cautious of, but there’s a lot to affirm, too. And I think discussing both the good and the bad can help kids learn discernment.
    Plus, VeggieTales is so full of allusions that you’d almost have to show your kids what’s being spoofed for them to understand why you’re laughing so hard….

  3. I agree with the other two. I think we need to be careful about dismissing everything around us and everything new simply because it is different or new. We have to measure against scripture and not against what we are used to or what we prefer.

  4. Not to get too off topic…but the idea that the quality of pop culture (or culture in general) is on a downturn is a myth. Consider this: the Trinity Hymnal has 742 hymns in it (and some of them are repeats). That’s fewer than 1 for every 2 years of Christian history. So, not quite every two years of the Christian era a song has been produced that has stood the test of time. (And, let’s be honest, a LOT of of the songs in the hymnal aren’t that great.)

    It’s easy to look to the past and just acknowledge the great stuff. And we might even remember the spectacularly bad stuff. But what we don’t think about is that earlier generations had to suffer through just as much mediocre fluff as we do. When Shakespeare was putting on plays at the Globe, he wasn’t the only game in town. But he’s one of the few that we remember because the rest of it wasn’t worth remembering. So, if there are only a few quality cultural productions by our culture today, that is pretty much status quo with history.

    And that leads me to another point. This generation’s pop culture is a later generation’s high culture. Shakespeare was pop culture for his day. I always think it’s funny when we go to Shakespeare in the Park every year and I see so many nice, conservative folks with their families. It’s funny because nearly all of his works are filled with crude humor, sexual innuendo, and double entendre–language and themes those same folks would decry in television. Yet, because the characters speak with “thee’s” and “thou’s” they sounds very genteel to us.

    Along with Bill S., Homer, Dante, Sinatra, Dylan, MASH, and almostany other great cultural productions from the past that you can think of were their generation’s pop culture.

    Now, nothing I’ve said is a defense of pop culture in principle. It’s merely a defense against particular attacks that I have heard.

  5. kim

    As I ponder the definitions (my own) of pop culture and worldliness, the similarities and the differences, Im afraid that any explanation there of will end up like a dog chasing it’s tail, chasing the dog, ya know what I mean? But here goes….

    To me, worldliness are those things, “of the world” and not of Christ. The reflection of societies (or parts there of) that have removed God. Worldliness has been around since the beginning, it is a result of our sinful nature…the worldliness of old is a lot like the worldliness of today…..

    Pop culture is a reflection of societies current values, and while a lot of it is “worldly” not all of it is void of God.

    An example, might be Reality TV, which many point to as worldly trash….but I think it is a study of humanity in-vivo. Some reality shows have worldly partipants, and some have Christians, and many times the spiritual battles or defending the faith has been broadcast for all to see. Is this worldly? Is this pop culture?

    Many God inspired movements are part of our pop culture….such as the promotion of abstinence or purity, seeker friendly churches, and wearing crosses as jewelry (not that Im advocating them as fashion.)

    What I choose to share with my kids, and how much I discuss, really depends on the situation. I could never say that I discuss worldy issues but avoid pop-culture, or visa versa….it’s all in context, as I am able, at their level, when necessary and profitable.

    Not sure if that makes sense…but it’s what I think NOW.

  6. I often approach interacting with pop culture by talking with the kids about how we all are made in the image of God, and that that image can be found in popular culture, even among obvious non-Christians. The “find the good” approach, I guess.

    I also deliberately minimize the “Us” vs. “Them” mentality just generally in our day-to-day lives, that our faith is a gift, not something innate in ourselves, therefore, our reaction should be to pray for and interact with the culture rather than avoid it.

    That said, based on our kids’ personalities, I do avoid some aspects of pop culture because I know they’re not mature enough to deal with it. For example, my 6-year-old is very susceptible to accepting popular culture’s definition of beauty as opposed to God’s definition of beauty. She thinks the Deal or No Deal ladies are “fashionable” and even talks about them being on “her side” in determining what is beautiful and what is not beautiful. Watching DOND has given us “teachable moments” about modesty, but frankly I’m happy to avoid watching the show altogether.

  7. In theory I think it’s good to have some interaction with pop culture. In practice, it is so often too much trouble to find the stuff that’s even worth bothering with. As Nick pointed out, there was as much drivel long ago, too, but the stuff that has survived is much more often worth our time. So far my children are so small it doesn’t seem to make much difference that our house is devoid of Dora the Explorer and only has the original Winnie-the-Pooh. But at some point we may have to make a more concerted effort to find what is worthy out there now.

    “Worldliness” has less to do with any particular fashion or TV show and more to do with loving possessions, fame, prestige, power, or pleasure instead of loving God. Too much time in our culture can contribute to that, but we can be counter-cultural misfits and still very much in love with our little corner of this world.

  8. graceful

    I think that comparing worldliness and pop culture is somewhat like comparing apples to oranges. Culture comes in several forms: pop, folk, and “high culture.” Each of those forms could reflect worldly values (I liked Queen of Carrot’s definition), biblical values, or something in between. As kim pointed out, there’s just as much Christian pop culture as there is mainstream secular pop culture! And there is plenty of worldly high culture, as nick pointed out, so we shouldn’t be tempted to think that just because something is a classic that it’s morally upright. Pop is a description of the type of culture something is, and worldly is a description of the type of values that culture promotes – apples and oranges! 🙂

    Mark Driscoll defines the three forms of culture this way: High culture is like a gourmet meal – it’s made by professionals and may require an aquired or learned taste to appreciate fully. Folk culture is like a home-cooked meal – it emerges from a particular community and is served with a highly personal touch. Pop culture is like fast food – made for mass audiences, given to fads, requires less engagement, and lacks the sophistication and personal touches of the other two forms. “Pop culture also features someone’s personality over the quality of their work and is becoming more difficult to distinguish from advertising” (The Radical Reformission, p. 99). Those definitions are helpful to me, and I hope they’re helpful for others as well. They help me to understand why I’d rather interact with and “consume” folk and high culture, but I also agree with the Queen of Carrots that some exposure to pop culture is probably a good thing, if for no other reason that it’s part of our world and we should strive have at least a cursory understanding of it. Realistically, if you take Driscoll’s definition of pop culture, exposure is probably inevitable.

    In regards to the question of how to discuss pop culture, I agree with Renae’s approach: find the good, but be on the lookout for developmental inappropriateness and individual sensitivities. With older kids it would be good to discuss the different cultural forms and how every cultural product communicates a worldview. I think it’s a great idea to help them to develop discernment so they can tell the difference between all the different combinations.

  9. Lorri

    I think we are pretty comfortable discussing such issues when they come up and are appropriate – I don’t usually go looking for something to discuss in that realm though.

    At the same time – I don’t like the idea of “scaring” the kids about pop culture or think that just b/c it’s pop culture it’s evil. Kind of the way my mom thought growing up…though she has “mellowed” over the years.

    I met someone recently who before mtg. the kids and I for the first time (kids had met at a public venue previously and the mom and I had talked a few times) at our house – mentioned a couple of times how they don’t watch tv, or play video games or handheld games. It was ok that she mentioned it the first time, but I got the feeling (or maybe she actually said) – she didn’t want my kids mentioning any of that stuff b/c they don’t do that. Or maybe she feared the kids would pull out a handheld game and entice her son.

    I don’t think it’s gonna harm a child to see or try a computer game, or watch tv ONCE (based on “normal” stuff).

    It’s not something in and of itself to be afraid of. I think when parents don’t understand something themselves – they are afraid and think it’s “evil”…

  10. mama2tlc

    I think there are some good examples in pop culture and we see many examples of lost hurting people in pop culture. It’s these very people that Jesus came to the earth to save. We do set ourselves to a higher standard when we commit to living from a Christian worldview- but we needn’t be ‘holier than thou’. We shouldn’t be living for the pop culture, but we can’t ignore it either.

  11. Pop culture is “popular” culture. It’s what is in the mainstream. I would not equate it with “worldliness” so much as keeping up with the times. Worldliness is more like understanding foreign cultures and what not.

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