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Media for a Better World?

2011 February 7

At church recently we have been exploring different world religions during our Sunday school time. It’s been an eye opening experience for many to learn about what others actually believe (as opposed to what Americans assume they believe). Many in the church were drawn to the Buddhist concept of letting go of our expectations of how we wish the world would be so that we can live in the present instead of learning for something else. I understand the impulse and the appeal, but also realize that it is the eschatological vision of a better world that is at the core of why I am a Christian.

But beyond that religious difference, I started pondering if such detachment from visions of different worlds is even possible in our media saturated culture. If the idea is to be fully present in the moment and not be caught up in a vision of a different world, how is that even possible when everything we encounter throughout our day serves to construct for us a different world?

On the most basic level, there are the marketers that try to sell us a vision of the good life (which of course includes their product). Their ploy is easy to see through, but even as we recognize their manipulation the subconscious idea of what constitutes a good life permeates our collective unconscious. Even if we intellectually think otherwise, it’s hard to escape the media images’ view of what success looks like, or what is beautiful, or what sort of people are to be respected and listened to. Whether we like it or not, those very basic concepts are defined for us by our culture presenting to us a vision of a world we are to desire to live in. We are presented with an image of a possible world, told that world is the norm, and then we strive to live into that world and in effect create that very world.

As much as this system upsets me at times – when it leads to women starving themselves to meet the assumed beauty norm or when it teaches children that women exist only to serve men – I know this is the basic way culture has functioned forever. Ideas always influence present reality. Humans have always defined ourselves in relation to others around us. We build expectations and strive to fit in to our culture – it’s just that those cultural influences are more in our face these days. So, I’m wary of saying I want to attempt to escape such influence – it’s going to happen even if I go off the grid. I’d much rather embrace that influence and build a better world. If our culture subtly informs our idea of what is normal – what the world we are suppose to have truly is – then perhaps deliberately presenting a more humane and inclusive world could help us achieve that.

This was brought home to me recently as I watched the Swedish versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo movies. Here were some very dark, political, and violent films about the ways women are abused by men at all levels of society and yet through their subtle portrayal of society presented a beautiful picture of a better world. From showing fathers caring for children and running errands, to having the main lawyer character be heavily pregnant (without once making that a plot point) images of equality suggested that the evils of misogyny can be overcome. The presentation startled me because I would never see such things in an American film. If a career woman is pregnant it is a point of controversy, not the norm we are allowed to see. In our films a guy wearing a Baby Bjorn (The Hangover) became a cultural joke and a popular Halloween costume. Men acting as nurturing fathers are a joke and not the norm in our cultural media. But watching those Swedish films made me wonder about how things could be different.

I’m Christian enough to believe that a better world is possible. I pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. Even when it frustrates me, I know my call is not to detach myself to simply live in the now but to seek that better world however I can. But I am also pragmatic enough to accept that our vision of the world is always being shaped by forces outside of ourselves. I don’t see those forces as evil in and of themselves, but as tools that can be used to either twist reality for selfish ends or to help us step into a more humane and loving reality. To build a better world we have to first believe that it can possibly exist. I just wish that we could start using the tools we have to work for that world.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. February 7, 2011

    It’s so important that the younger people strive constantly to build a better world. Sometimes older people are just plain tired or even scared. Keep hoping. Every Blessing

  2. February 7, 2011

    How do we live in and engage Babylon without becoming a Babylonian? How do we, as Christians, influence our society rather than allowing us to be influenced by it?

  3. February 9, 2011

    great points julie – i thought and thought about the point you brought up during the wrap-up sunday; detachment on the one hand and bringing about a better and more loving world on the other. i’m with you – if this is just to help me float off to something peaceful, i don’t think we’re doing what jesus was passionate about.
    my recent favorite media experience for what the both-and of that question can be, is the Swedish movie As It Is In Heaven. oh my gosh. people find healing … and then it cannot help but break out and bring about healing in community and the world. it is messy and honest and vulnerable and courageous and beautiful. and the women are STRONG.

  4. February 14, 2011

    I have really enjoyed reading your blog. I especially like this post. It seems like we have such wonderful resources with the internet and blogging and such for grassroots movements. It seems like we ought to be able to use these resources to circumvent our political system and rise up to work for our vision and our priorities. I also think it is very important to teach our children creativity, to encourage them to dream and think outside the box. Otherwise we will stay in our current reality, which is rampant with injustice, suffering, and poverty.

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