We all know that Western society has gone secular. But as much as secularism understands itself as religion-neutral, it has its own sacred cows. There are just certain things you don’t touch or critique about secular culture without being at risk of being called a blasphemer.
Media preference is one of those sacred cows.
I have noticed that little riles us up these days more than someone challenging our choices over what to watch, what to listen to, or what media technology to play with. To tread on the precious altar of pop culture and secular media is to blaspheme in this a-religious society.
Talking about the immorality of Hollywood is so 1980’s. Turning our haughty noses up to innuendo on TV is so early 90’s. Nay-saying the Internet and smartphones is so early 2000’s. So give it up already, prophets of gloom, and stop raining on the media parade.
I just wrote an article on negotiating our culture’s mediascape for Relevant Magazine’s website, due to appear early in the week. In the process of writing and thinking through that piece, I was reminded of something I’ve found while working on ‘TheoMedia,’ my upcoming media-theology book. What I have discovered is that we tend to develop an acute defensiveness whenever someone challenges our media preferences. I’m not a wholesale enthusiast of digital technology, but I have found that even I get defensive when reading material on the critical or cautious side of media appropriation. When something I read gouges at one of my media choices, I bristle with the desire to justify myself… even when I totally regret those choices.
So why are our media preferences so precious to us? Why have they become like sacred cows?
It is because media are fundamental to who we are as human beings. It is because sacred cows are themselves media forms. It is because media are so elemental to society that they are instantly integrated into the fabric of our lives.
1) Media are not just flippant, silly decorations suitable for silly ads, frothy commercials, or massive jumbo-trons. The concept of media is primal for who we are as humans. This is because we ourselves are media.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Our most ancient vocation is that of serving as media, divine media. You and I are both media of God, what I call “TheoMedia.”
2) A “sacred cow” is some symbol we divine image bearers have produced and into which we have invested powerful religious meaning. As such, a sacred cow is a media form. Media possess the power to bear and convey our most adored ideas.
3) And since we are so media-oriented and since media are so conducive for bearing such depths of precious meaning, they easily integrate into our lives.
So it just makes sense that we get all worked up if someone pokes at our use or embrace of various media in pop culture. Media are intrinsi to who we are, capable of bearing profound meaning, and easily intertwined into our lives.
Of course, there are other reasons why we bristle when our media preferences are challenged. For one, the church has been annoyingly effective at moralistic and legalistic culture-bashing. Our society is just sick of it. Even those of us in the church are sick of it. My article at Relevant (“The Vice of Innocence”) will address this to some degree.
We also get annoyed at media critiques because many of our media preferences have nothing necessarily wrong with them in the first place.
There is at least one more reason why we get defensive and indignant when our media preferences are challenged. It is because we are convicted.
What do you think? Let’s talk this through…