Monday, March 22, 2010

Movies as Scripture

As some of you know, I've taught a course the last few years called, "The Bible and American Culture." We spend time reading cultural "texts" (movies, plays, songs, novels) to see how scripture functions as both a protagonist (informing culture) and antagonist (how cultural texts interpret scripture). Recently, my wife and I led a marriage retreat for our church where I tried to apply an abbreviated form of this "hermeneutic" to analyze different relationships in television and the movies: marriage, family (including in-laws!), and friendships. This was not your usual marriage retreat--what with all the "fill-in-the-blank" workbooks and nice, easy lessons to learn. Instead, we had open-ended discussions about how cultural texts operate with embedded scripts, teaching us how we're supposed to relate to each other.

One of the most common scripts that we talked about was the "domestication of the male/girl power" text that seems to run through nearly every sitcom and romantic comedy film. The "strong, leading man" model that dominated films a generation ago has been replaced by the "I'm-a-man-but-I-can't-figure-out-my-life-without-a-woman" hero that is ubiquitous. Of course, the presumption is that a "real" man wouldn't choose to marry a woman simply because he wanted to. He must be schmoozed, coaxed, lured by the irresistible wiles of womanhood. What I found fascinating in our discussions was how many women were vociferous in their opposition to the new hollywood stereotype. It wasn't the men in the crowd who rose up and said, "what a bunch of hooey." (And, what does that reveal?) Instead, it was the women who piped up and said, "No thanks!" As a matter of fact, one distraught mother said, "I hope my daughters can learn to respect men in spite of what they see on film or on tv."

It makes one wonder: what is a respectable man?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Modern Religion

My wife tivoed the closing ceremony of the Vancouver Games, wanting me to see the comedic routine accompanying the presentation of the Olympic torch (it was funny). But, what caught my attention was the ritual celebration that officially closes the winter games for 2010. I said offhandedly, "A visitor from the first-century Mediterranean world would see this and ask, 'What god are you worshiping?'"

Indeed, the celebration had all the necessary parts: the fiery altar in the center, the priests serving, the celebrants parading, songs lifted in praise to the Spirit of the Olympics, the stadium filled with joyous revelers. Talk of sacrifice and the offering of much money would convince any first-century visitor that this god was worthy of veneration.

What's fascinating to me is how many of us would never describe these athletic games in religious terms. In fact, it would be downright offensive to most of us to suggest that all of this was nothing more than a modern form of idolatry. Perhaps it would take a visitor from the first-century to point out the obvious.