Cross

Here’s an interesting question to consider: Is there a best way for a professing Christian to interact with or respond to his or her culture?

To go along with the theme of this blog, I’m thinking of culture as the media created in a particular culture at a particular time. Call it what you will: pop culture, contemporary culture, popular media culture, etc.

Whether it’s in H. Richard Niebhur’s Christ and Culture or Andy Crouch’s Culture Making, you can find a lot of information about how Christians respond to culture. Some Christians withdraw from culture, while some openly attack culture. On the other hand, some Christians mindlessly consumer culture and may even model themselves after culture instead of God.

If you hide from the culture or try to run away from it, you’ll probably have a hard time connecting to others. If you openly attack culture, you’re not going to connect with people very well. If you mindlessly consume culture, you’re not doing any reflecting on how those cultural products affect you. To me, those all seem to be pretty bleak outcomes.

There’s another way, though! Christians can engage discerningly with culture to make people think and maybe create something beautiful in the process.

As this TIME Ideas piece by freelance writer Brandon Ambrosino explains, the apostle Paul was familiar with secular cultural artifacts. At Mars Hill, he used his knowledge of Greek idols to connect with people in Athens and open a conversation about God. Ambrosino sums up the lesson well: “The moral of this anecdote is that Christians who wish to engage with non-Christians must actually engage them and the cultural artifacts they value.” You might even find something beautiful in the culture in the process.

You can go one step further and create culture. If you’re feeling creative, go for it! I’ll leave you with something that author and Christian cultural commentator Andy Crouch said:

As I was thinking about cultural transformation I became convinced that culture changes when people actually make more and better culture. If we want to transform culture, what we actually have to do is to get into the midst of the human cultural project and create some new cultural goods that reshape the way people imagine and experience their world.

Google

Google and I

“Just google it.” I have that thought any time I hear someone wondering aloud about something. Last night at dinner, my friends sat there squinting at the back of a guy’s shirt to figure out the location of the cafe advertised on the front of his shirt. On my phone, I googled the cafe and I had an answer in half of a second. “Oh,” my friend said. “You have the answer, and here we are squinting at his shirt.”

I like knowing things. I’m curious. I love seeing connections between subjects and seemingly disparate facts. I also love research. I like to act on my curiosity and satisfy my intellectual itches. I don’t mind working for an answer, either. Books are my friends, and the challenge of understanding something complex invigorates me.

On the other hand, like anyone, I also enjoy instant gratification. Having answers to simple questions at my fingertips is incredibly convenient. So, Google appeals to me. My search history could probably go on for thousands of pages. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s probably not too far off.

The point is this: I’m a fan of Google. But sometimes I wonder about the value of having access to hundreds of thousands of web pages. Wouldn’t a well-written, credible encyclopedia do for most of my inquiries? Probably. It would have to be huge to contain answers to all my questions, but that’s okay. I might remember the answers to my questions better if I had to work for them more. I can recall complex theories and historical facts because I had to work to understand them.

The beauty of Google is its immediacy, but that’s also its downfall. Hmmm. I think it all comes down to how you use the media, including Google. As long as I remember that Google is best for fast answers to easy questions, I’ll be okay. If I want to spend more time online to find long articles and essays, that’s okay, too. And there will always be some answers that are best found in a book.

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Persuaders

I recently watched The Persuaders, a PBS Frontline documentary about the public relations and advertising industries. The piece was made in 2004, so I was originally skeptical of its relevance, but the ideas that it explores are applicable to today. I enjoyed watching the documentary and thinking through what it said about the state of media, public relations, and advertising.

The producer of The Persuaders seemed to be skeptical of advertising and public relations. In the interviews in the documentary, the professionals in those industries came across as manipulative and self-serving. They wanted to make money by selling people things they didn’t need.

However, the industry professionals wouldn’t describe themselves that way. They would describe themselves as anticipating consumers’ needs and giving them things they didn’t even know they wanted yet.

Whether you see them as the producers saw them or as they saw themselves, one thing is clear: they viewed humanity through the lens of a transmission model of communication. The industry professionals seemed to view people as animals that respond to stimuli.

I see communication with the cultural view, so I think that human communication is more complex than that. The professionals in the documentary looked at the world through too much of a reductionist lens.

As for my background, I have taken some marketing and public relations classes, and I interned at a public relations firm. People whom I’ve met in the industry have described themselves as marketing communications professionals. I have never had any experience directly with advertising. I’m still in the process of figuring out where to draw the line between marketing and advertising.

What do you think? Are public relations, marketing, and advertising different?

 

scared

Living in a mean world

There’s no denying that violence and negativity pervade TV, movies, and countless other forms of media. For a long time, I thought that media violence would make people more violent. You might think that, too. However, I encountered a theory that made me think about the effects of media violence in a new way.

After decades of research, University of Pennsylvania communication scholar George Gerbner discovered that media violence makes people more fearful of being the victims of violence instead of making them more likely to commit violent acts.

Gerbner’s theory is called the “mean world syndrome.” People who consume more than four hours of TV a day are more likely to think of the world as more dangerous than it actually it is. I can understand that. If you consume negativity, you’re going to think more negatively about others and the world.

I don’t know if Gerbner’s concepts of the mean world apply to my experience with the media. When I was growing up, my family watched the news to know what was going on, but we didn’t watch it regularly or for hours at a shot. The way my family uses media hasn’t really changed over time. My dad enjoys sports programs, and my mom and I love British murder mysteries. There are a few shows, such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, that we all watch together when I’m home from college.

When I’m at college, I watch less TV because I don’t have cable. I keep up with This is Us and a few British shows online, but that’s about it. My friends and I watch a lot of movies together. They range from Captain America: Civil War and Hacksaw Ridge to 10 Things I Hate About You. As you can see, our collective taste is all over the place.

There’s more violence in the media I consume at college than in the media I consume at home, but I don’t really think about it or notice it. Perhaps the violence in the media I consume could make me think negatively about the world, but I don’t think I consume enough of it to notice any real effects on my behavior.

How about you? Do Gerbner’s ideas about the mean world resonate with your media experiences?

book

The cultural view of communication

For my Principles of Media class, I read Communicating for Life by Quentin Schultze, a Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College. Here, I’ll reflect on a key idea that I uncovered in Schultze’s work.

In chapter 3 of Communicating for Life, Schultze explains that there are two views of communication: the transmission view and the cultural view. The transmission view involves a scientific/objectivist approach to communication.

Schultze writes, “According to the transmission perspective, the purpose of communication research is to predict what factors will determine the effect of a given message on particular persons in specific situations” (p. 50). Schultze argues that the transmission view is too simplistic: it tends to paint a picture of people as machines that automatically respond to their surroundings.

I agree with Schultze. There are times for quantitative research, but I don’t think communication can always be measured.

Schultze prefers to approach the study of communication from the cultural view, which some might describe as constructivist or subjective. “According to the cultural view,” Schultze writes, “the study of communication is the art of subjectively interpreting the meaning and significance of people’s shared cultural activities” (p. 54-55). This is the worldview through which I have studied communication, and it tends to be the view with which I agree.

I started to embrace that view under the influence of the Communication professors at my college. My own experiences with traveling and studying world cultures have led me to agree with the cultural view of communication.

I need to heed Schultze’s warning that the cultural view can slide into cultural relativism. I believe in objective truth, but I also think that, as he writes, “human beings do create versions of reality” (p. 56). With discernment and a critical mind, I can gain a more holistic understanding of how humans communicate.

Do you agree about the cultural view of communication? Do you prefer the transmission view?

headphones

24 hours without media (sort of)

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you tried to function as normal without interacting with any form of media? I tried it. It was impossible.

I participated in a 24-hour media fast last week as part of an experiment for my Principles of Media class. Here were the rules:

For 24 hours… do not engage with the media. No newspapers, books, television, radio, movies, magazines, computers. You can complete course assignments using essential media tools. Otherwise, fast!

I broke the media fast in relation to schoolwork and my on-campus jobs. I wouldn’t be able to do my jobs or complete my class assignments without email or the Internet. That showed me how dependent on media the first-world realms of education and work are.

I’m fine without social media. Sure, I scroll through Facebook and Instagram, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything important by abstaining from social media all day.

However, I realized that I don’t normally go a day at college without using messaging apps to keep in touch with my friends and family. I was out of the loop with the people about whom I care the most. I missed out on the pictures and little messages that my family sends throughout the day. I wasn’t able to find out where my friends were unless I saw them. As part of a circle of friends with an active group chat, that was strange. I was glad that that lasted only for a day.

The media fast showed me that I use media mostly when I’m by myself. I put on music to fill the air while I’m working. I keep in touch with friends when we’re apart. I answer emails and read articles when no one else is around. I wonder how I’d be if I were to fast for more than 24 hours.

How do you think you’d do with a media fast?

What is the media?

I think of media and the media as different phenomena. To me, adding that definite article changes the meaning of “media.” I wanted to see what others thought, so I asked 15 of my friends and family, “What is the media?” You might agree with how they think of the media.

Entertainment and the media are different

Most people with whom I spoke saw the media as something separate from entertainment. They emphasized sharing news as the main purpose of the media. A friend of mine said, “I don’t think of the media as books and music. When I think of the media, I think of news and events.”

On the other hand

For some people the media and entertainment may be the same thing. One person initially mentioned the media as a source of news, but he also included social media and entertainment in his view of the media. Another person brought up social media as a new form of media, but not part of the media.

Tendency of the media to be manipulative

The majority of the people with whom I spoke emphasized the manipulative capabilities of the media. Some people were particularly vocal about the one-sided nature of large news organizations with political agendas.

Some friends said that people can use the media in good ways, such as sharing the stories of traditionally underrepresented people. However, people should be aware of biases. One friend said, “Use discernment about who’s producing your sources and pay attention to what their sources are.”

My parents spoke about how the media used to be versus how it is now. My mom said, “When I grew up, everybody took the media to be the authority on the truth. Nowadays, it’s not like I feel like the media has lost all credibility, but I think it can be manipulative when it wants to be.” My dad called the modern media “an avalanche of TV, radio, newspapers, and blogs.”

How I view the media

I think of media as anything that people use to communicate with each other. However, I think of the media as sources of news, usually with a negative connotation. Do you differentiate between media and the media?