As the title proudly blares, William Romanowskis book is an informative look at pop culture and how it relates to American society. The book begins with a passionate story about a towns love for their statue of the popular character Rocky, a down & out boxer who makes it big. The town became enraged and crying freedom of speech rights when officials attempt to move the statue to a local sports arena from the museum where it rests.. However, because the statue was in the image of a low-class movie hero, the museum insisted that the statue was not art, but rather an icon of sports and entertainment and should be moved.
This upset the people of the city, who then petitioned until the statue was replaced on the museum steps. This is a great example to start off this book, because it reflects the cultural struggles between the hi-class and the low-class entertainment worlds in America throughout recent history. Entertainment. The book approaches the subject from a mostly worldly point of view at first. It talks about ratings and labels for entertainment, but I must question if that is the way a Christian should look at it. If a rating is placed on it, that will not make the problem go away.
As a Christian community, we should take up the fight to abolish the problem. This is also tricky because what do we determine is good or bad? If we use previous examples from American history, as learned in the first few chapters of the book, more problems will be created than solved. In the first few chapters of the book, Romanowski gives a wonderfully repetitive history of theater, vaudeville, and other forms of then questionable entertainment such as opera houses and beer gardens. The conflict begins with the rise of low culture entertainment that appeals to the working class, the immigrants, and the un-sophisticated populace.
This made the distinction between high and low cultures, high (symphonies, fine art, sculpture, etc.. ) being for the elite and well-educated, while low was associated with the lower, working class that included immigrants. Through the chapters, Romanowski illustrates the inflation of this division, as well as the conflict between the people and the Church regarding entertainment. Chapter three discusses how the people of America were searching for a unifying principle or common faith that would hold the nations people together. What they found instead was an uprise in immorality and a decrease in the high culture.
This could mean only one thing: low culture was bad. Theater, Opera Houses, Vaudeville, and Nickelodeons all got their bad connotations from this era because of their appeal to the lower, less moral people of society. Therefore, the Church had to place a moral stance against this apostasy of the holiness of American culture, and place a ban on all low forms of entertainment. The churchs prohibition of amusements could not suppress peoples desire for it. (p 84) As hard as the Church tried, their suppression of the amusements didnt stunt their growth in any way, in fact it only made it worse.
Eventually, the high forms of entertainment (theater, etc) were losing money and patronization began. More money was given to the amusements than to the Church. The entertainment of these theaters then had to stoop to the lowest moral level to appeal to the broadest array of audience. Eventually, the Church gave up its fight again the theater and began to use it as a tool for the Church, as they later do with all forms of media that they have protested, such as television, radio, music, and even comics.
Eventually, with all the good entertainment in the industry, other producers began to clean-up too, and eventually the industry was decent (even though it was still full of innuendos, double entendres, and suggestions of immorality), however it did not last long and was over looked when the television and the radio emerged on the scene. Romanowski gives a great illustration of the Churchs struggle to stay inside the cultural movements of the day while still committed to Christian values that, more often than not, opposed society.
The Church, after forfeiting the uphill-battle against American culture, attempts to use popular entertainment as a tool for ministry by scrubbing it morally and spiritually clean by their standards. This refers to comics being used in salvation tracts, Christian or Biblical-themed motion pictures, contemporary Christian gospel music, and even radio broadcasts of sermons. Televangelists and Church On TV programs are included in this as well, even though television was a horrible trouble-causing empire out to get American childrens morals.
Romanowskis overall view is that throughout history, we only focus on what is bad at the time until we get used to the shock value or attention is diverted to another evil form of entertainment. However, if we ignore it, will it go away? Romanowski gives me the impression that he feels we should just really ignore what is going on around us because history has shown that we, the Church/people upset about the lack of moral content in entertainment, cannot change the path of society.
I beg to differ that we should ignore the ills of society, however I do agree that the path of society is most likely not going to be altered by what the Church says, especially in todays American culture where the Church does not govern like it used to. The second half of the book talks about the uprise of MTV, the change from records, movies, and radio to television, virtual reality, and video games, and cable TV. Also, Romanowski discusses some major movie titles that have made an impact on American culture in recent years.
His position is that we should take all of the media in, analyze it with a Christian perspective, and filter out all the bad stuff. This is easier said than done. Labels have been placed on music and movies, even books and concerts, to help the American consumer decide the content value of the entertainment, but these labels only go so far. One could argue that it is a label on freedom of speech for the lower class of entertainment. Citizens that protested the moving of the Rocky statue referred to it as a ban on free speech and discrimination of the cinematic arts because it was not elite.
Even today, popular culture entertainment such as movies, music, radio, and television are looked down upon by the elite as mindless forms of degenerative babble, devoid of creative intelligence or art application. With this, I disagree. I feel that all culture is art, but I believe that some of it, because of its popularity (i. e. -pop music & movies) should be viewed in a different light as it is reaching a broader audience with its message. Thats not to say that the symphony shouldnt be looked at with discrimination, but should teen pop stars be able to anything they want on stage in the name of art and freedom of speech?
At this point, society as a whole must decide whether or not popular entertainment is a valid form of art and expression that should be exempt from all moral codes in the name of art. The entire film industry was created for the sole purpose of making money, not as an artistic venture, so should Americans place a different set of discernment standards on movies since they have no freedom of artistic liberties? Perhaps not. This is a difficult question to answer because everyone has different morals and values for discernment. Romanowskis method is an interesting approach to this situation.
He believes that we should embrace all art and pop culture with the same preconceptions and learn to filter out that which is harmful to us and grow artistically and spiritually from the good stuff we have filtered out. He also gives me the impression that we should just ignore some of the things that we disagree with because its art, its freedom of speech, its just a piece of entertainment. However if we ignore it, will it go away? Probably not. However, the problem of pop culture and society versus the modern Christian will not solve itself, and will not go away in any short time.