Playground Arguments and Cultural Conversations (Part 2): Influential Voices

Photo by copley321

In my last post I introduced the metaphor of playground arguments as representative of cultural conversations over moral and ethical boundaries in our pluralistic American society.  People holding diverse value systems do not always agree over playground rules and boundaries.

One group insists, Fair!  Another cries, Foul! 

I posed the question: Who makes the rules on a pluralistic playground?

Cultures with one common religious or belief system have an unspoken understanding and agreement of what is “fair” and what is “foul.”  Since that is not the case in twenty-first century America, we must somehow decide where moral boundaries should be drawn.

The variety of views and voices in the US defies easy categorization.   Two or more interests may align over one particular issue and then vigorously oppose each other in a different discussion.  The permutations are endless.  With that caveat, let’s consider two of the most prominent sources of influence in our culture today.

Entertainers and journalists externalize their visions of cultural norms on television, in movie theaters, on the radio and in news broadcasts.

The not-so-subtle agendas of actors, producers and journalists (the other entertainment industry) regularly define and re-define our ethical standards.  And we listen to them.

Entertainers are like the popular, fun-loving or creative people on a playground who gain influence with their parties and personalities.   They do not necessarily tell others what to do or think, but people tend to follow and imitate them because, well, because they’re cool.

According to a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation news release,

“Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).”

Compare the hours spent in media consumption with hours spent in school, church, or even in family conversation, and it is no contest.  Many Americans, whether they know it or not, set their moral compasses to the behavioral norms of sitcoms, talk shows and movies.

Does a movie set, a stage or a microphone grant the speaker moral authority? 

Politicians write laws establishing legal boundaries.

These are the playground leaders, the team captains who choose players, organize teams and make the rules.  Team captains can lead well, or they can behave like bullies. (Vote wisely.)

Politicians have the muscle to write and enforce laws, and they increasingly use their clout to resolve playground arguments legislatively.  James Davidson Hunter observes in his book To Change the World that because of our growing lack of cultural consensus we are experiencing the politicization of nearly everything.”

“Politicization is most visibly manifested in the role that ideology has come to play in public life; the well-established predisposition to interpret all of public life through the filter of partisan beliefs, values, ideas, and attachments…in response to a thinning consensus of substantive beliefs and dispositions in the larger culture.”  To Change the World, p. 103

Should moral and ethical norms be legislated in the political sphere? 

There are other voices in our lives, of course.  Academia,  literature, art, families, ethnic communities, and religion also speak up with force, but they tend to reach smaller subsets of people.  Entertainers and politicians reach us all.  In fact, it is almost impossible to avoid their influence.

Who or what really influences your moral and ethical decisions?  How do you think the value systems of average Americans are formed?

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge…The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.”  Psalm 19: 1-2, 7

Next post (or two):  How should Christians speak into this cultural conversation?

15 thoughts on “Playground Arguments and Cultural Conversations (Part 2): Influential Voices

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  1. Some great questions here Judy, more and more it seems that we put less conscious thought into the values and rules we accept to live by, people just say “everyone else is doing it’, ‘it’s the norm’, ‘well. what can we do?’ and other such places. You are right to ask ‘who says so? And why should we accept it? I like your thinking girl, keep up the good work 🙂

    1. “Less conscious thought into the values and rules we accept to live by.” That is so well said. I notice Chrisitans, myself included, living by the values implicitly put forth by the culture even while explicitly espousing Biblical values. Big disconnect! Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. This is a lot to chew on, Judy–and I love it. I grew up “escaping” to the world of TV and movies–and read entertainment magazines instead of the Bible (I was not raised in a praying home). Not surprisingly, I was clueless about how people in the “real” world would/could/should relate. These days, I have difficulty mustering up any interest in celebs’ lives–this will sound so judgmental, but I don’t have much sympathy for the scrapes they get themselves into, with one exception: I think it’s tragic that so many young stars apparently have no guidance whatsoever–and end up in the revolving door of rehabs, jail, or dead. Success? I don’t think so. And frankly it drives me crazy when the big-names take to the platform and pontificate–but claim they don’t want the responsibility of being “role models”, when they get caught in a jam. God bless you, Judy–love, the always opinionated sis Caddo

    1. I always appreciate your wise opinions, Caddo:). And I agree with you. For years I was influenced by the values I watched and read and listened to (which did not then include the Bible) and I didn’t even realize it. I had no solid truth against which to evaluate anything. Thankfully, God got my attention and i started to listen to Him. Let’s just say that, now, Hollywood’s idea of success is very different from mine. And I too think it’s a crime to exploit young actors and actresses. Lessons to you, Caddo!

      1. I just came back to say that I didn’t understand the “Lessons to you, Caddo”–I must be rather slow-witted!

        1. You are not slow-witted – I am fumble-findered! I think I meant to write “Blessings to you.” Oops. Thanks for giving me a chance to correct myself:) Now, for real, BLESSINGS to you, Caddo!

          1. And to you, dear Sister!! (I kinda thought you meant blessings–but in case I was missing a “lesson”, I was willing to check with you. So eager to be a good student!)

  3. I am always reassured when I can look to the bible for guidance and reflection. Even in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were constantly trying to trap Jesus by asking Him unanswerable questions. And even the Christ himself chose to plead the fifth on some occasions. Other times — many times — He made His motive and intentions clear. I think there is a time to stand up and say “this is what I believe” and other times to say nothing. The trick is discerning between the two, a job only the Holy Spirit is capable of.
    Thanks, Judy. Love your posts.
    ~ Cara

    1. Hi Cara, I too am fascinated by Jesus’ interactions with the cultural influences of his day, the Pharisees being a major voice in first century Jewish culture. Jesus was perfectly tuned into his Father, and pretty much ignored anyone else’s expectations – even those of the Pharisees. You are so right that we depend on the Holy Spirit to know when to speak and when to stay silent. It occurs to me, as I think about your comment, that Jesus did not speak to defend himself or to win arguments, motives I too often indulge, but to open the blind eyes of others, to save, to teach, to heal, to set free. Thanks so much for your comment, Cara.

      1. That is such a relevant point, Judy. Jesus’ motives had everything to do with God’s will. Never, not once did he speak magniloquently or act haughtily when He could have mopped the floor with the sententious Pharisees, using His wisdom and might.

        Oh, Jesus . . . what an incredible Savior and King we have!

        Blessings to you,
        ~ Cara

  4. Remember the Chick-Fil-A controversy? My son posted on facebook that he went and ordered food on the restaurant’s support day and, boy, did that ever create a controversy amongst his facebook friends. He had no idea his statement would create that strong degree of emotional reactions. I’m looking forward to seeing what you and your readers have to say on how Christians should speak up on cultural events!

    1. Yep – the Chick-fil-A issue is what got me thinking about all this in the first place. I guess facebook is one forum for our cultural conversations. I too am amazed sometimes by the strength of reactions to certain issues. Thanks for commenting Amy!

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