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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
16 October 2000

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 1, No. 40

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Culture Can Teach or Destroy Moral Values

by Jerome F. Winzig

It is not necessarily the purpose of popular culture -- television, movies, plays, books, magazines, music -- to teach moral values. Some forms of popular culture are relatively indifferent to moral values. Shakespeare's comedies, for example, were popular entertainment in his day and were meant to be enjoyed. The same is true of many comedy series on television today.

Other forms of popular entertainment intentionally address fundamental moral values and struggle with the meaning of human existence. While produced to make money, the ones that are really good become classics, like the Christmas movie, "It's a Wonderful Life" or Charles Dickens' story, "Christmas Carol."

From time to time in human existence, however, popular culture becomes openly hostile toward moral values. Often the justification for such decadence is entertainment or pleasure. Many of the stories about God's relationship with his people in the Jewish Old Testament have to do with instances where popular culture simply turns to rot.

In the Christian New Testament, John the Baptist is executed when King Herod's niece Herodias dances before the company invited to Herod's birthday. Matthew says "she pleased Herod so much that he promised on oath to grant her whatever she might ask." Her mother prompts her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter and Herod, caught up in the party, complies.

Today, many aspects of Western popular culture are becoming increasingly hostile to moral values that have been shared for centuries across many cultures. Three recent television art forms -- the term is used loosely -- are good examples: the new NBC television soap, "Titans," the new ABC series, "The Geena Davis Show," and rap star LL Cool J's new music video, "Imagine That." All three -- in their content and promotion -- casually denigrate commonly-held moral values and promote destructive life styles.

"Titans" is advertised as "this fall's guilty pleasure." One of the lead characters is described as a "deliciously devious stepmother who gets knocked up by her hunky stepson." The promotions for the new series, aired frequently in prime time, feature a beautiful new stepmother seducing her stepson. "The Geena Davis Show" is featured in bus billboards that describe a woman going from being a single girl to a mother of two in six dates. The ad shows the woman's new stepdaughter on one end and the new stepmother in the middle. On the other end are the woman's new husband and teenage stepson (who is just 13 on the show); both are eyeing the attractive stepmother.

The most striking thing about both promotions is the casual way in which they condone incest, using it in a titillating fashion to entice viewers, including young viewers. The web site for "Titans" even features a "Teen Titans" page that states, "'Titans' will be probably the 'in' show this year for teens 15 and older. A lot of this hype from the adolescent girls is due to the fact that Kevin Zegers will be the teen heart-throb of the show, which is exactly what Mr. Aaron Spelling [the producer] is brilliant for, capturing an age group."

LL Cool J's video, "Imagine That," which is frequently being shown on MTV, is even more disturbing. It features a lengthy scene in which the star appears as a teacher in a high school classroom full of girls in short skirts and unbuttoned blouses. One girl is seated provocatively on his desk with her legs crossed. While the "teacher" sings about making it with more than one girl, he fondles the girls as they climb all over him. The MTV web site features a page dedicated to the making of the video, showing a series of still photos of the classroom scene. One, showing the girls cavorting around the teacher, is insidiously labeled, "group project."

What kind of a culture produces a show aimed at 15-year-olds that glamorizes incest, or a music video aimed at young people that glamorizes pedophilia? Perhaps it is a culture not too different from that of ancient Rome, when the apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia that Jesus "gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age."

Today's culture has an important difference, however. Enhanced by technology, it is broadcast into our homes for our children to see. It is a difference that needs to be corrected.

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