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Violence in Pop Culture – II

September 25, 2008

Editor of Paste, Josh Jackson, calls our attention to the prolific violence of American culture:

Violence in the media is a terrible thing. Except of course, for those great battle scenes in The Lord of the Rings…I am really repulsed by the idea of torture-porn flicks like Saw and Hostel, and don’t understand how anyone could enjoy watching them. And I’m bothered by games like Grand theft Auto that put you in the shoes of a gangster. Yet I gleefully watch Samuel L. Jackson burst onto the scene like the vengeful hand of God and lay waste to pathetic junkies in Pulp Fiction…From the Bible to the work of Cormac McCarthy, the best stories are filled with conflict, and often that takes the form of violent antagonists and heroes who fight for justice…So where’s the line?

Where is the line? For those that claim some kind of moral compass, where do we go when confronted by the onslaught of violence in media? Do we watch Ultimate Fighting or flip the channel? For the West, figures like Ghandi and Jesus seem to call us south of violence, to peace. Jesus commanded his disciples to put away swords, pursue peace, not be agitators, to turn the other cheek, and to set minds on things that are pure, and so on. When considering the Bible, there seems to be a conflicting ethic. War in the Old Testament and peace in the New. Does Jesus stand the OT war ethic on its head? I don’t think so. The descriptive war of the OT is not meant to be prescriptive for post-OT culture. After all the OT prophets longed for a time when “swords would be turned to plowshares.”There is a difference between Scripture using war imagery and actually watching war/fighting as entertainment.  For Christians, one question that needs answersing is: “Where is the ethical line between sport and violence in our imitation of Jesus?” Where do you draw the line in violence in pop culture, in the media? Why?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. ChrisC permalink
    September 25, 2008 2:34 pm

    Interesting topic and a real struggle for me. Oddly, I found that after I became a Christian, ultra violent movies that I used to love seemed distasteful.

    I have the same struggle with comedy which I think, sadly, gets overlooked in the media as being culture changing or reflective.

    I am not sure where the line is? I do know that it is a blurred one.

  2. September 25, 2008 3:32 pm

    I think Andy Crouch is helpful in his book “culture making” when he talks about being able to engage in something cultural (a movie like Fight Club or Pulp Fiction in my mind anyway) and ask ourselves what we learn from that creation that helps us make anything of use in the world for the glory of God. That film may not have such a purpose, but we can. It’s part of discerning culture. It is a heart issue on whether or not we’re actually just passively consuming something cultural and being formed by it, rather than seeking to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

    As far as violence goes, I think UFC is very different than entertainment via things like the gladiators, etc. for a number of reasons. First, no one is trying to actually kill anyone. Second, there is a general respect and sportsmanship in it, bound by particular rules.

    These are at least my initial thoughts. Of course, I could be wrong on all counts.

  3. September 26, 2008 3:34 pm

    It’s a fuzzy issue, isn’t it?!

    I have made similar statements to Crouch in my article v.Culture (how to engage culture)—Christians should critically, theologically, and redemptively engage culture. This matter of violence, requires special redemptive attention…on what grounds do we reject the violence in media as a display of the gospel of redemption?

    On the UFC note, what about when we are watching it and we find ourselves rooting for one guy to beat the crap out of another guy, when we get excited about someone’s face being smashed to pieces? That seems awfully far from Christlike…

  4. April 5, 2009 1:55 am

    You made some good points there. I think most people will agree with you, but I’m curous to see if anybody has any dissenting opinions too.

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  1. Violence in Pop Culture - III « Creation Project

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