Culture Wars . . . and Art

I was watching a news program on TV the other night. There was a debate:  is the media in the U.S. dominated by the liberal  left or the conservative right?  The discussion was heated on both sides.  Agreement was not reached, of course.  But long before these arguments are made, long before courts decide and pundits comment and politicians orate, the seeds of ideas have already been planted within the culture.  The  place where such seeds are planted is within the arts.  There, they grow, often unnoticed and unremarked, for in our culture,  art is regarded as extraneous and impractical.

Ignorance of the arts works in favor of those who have agendas and goals of power.

It is the arts that touch the soul and speak to the spirit, consciously or subconsciously, whether it be “Art” or “art” through fads and trends.  It is in the arts that the spark of an idea is first found.  I note, with concern, that the arts and humanities are, these days, generally flavored with an anti-Christian slant in our world.

It is in “Film”–and also in box office movies.

It is in Literature–and popular novels and children’s books.

It is in Painting and Sculpture–and in illustrations, and toy figurines.

It’s in Theatre–and on TV entertainment programming.

The anti-faith/religion message is usually not even the thrust or stated purpose of the art piece. It is often hidden in the details–the remark made “aside”,  the underlying background of a piece.  It is implied–implied as something that is normal.  It is often deliberately done.  After subtly implanting the idea in the mind of of the viewer, the plot moves on.  Because in our culture art is largely considered just for entertainment, or perceived as frivolous, that implanted spark goes unchallenged and unreviewed.

As example, I will use a book that I picked up recently: just light reading, a police crime detective novel.  The author, Louise Penney, is a popular, best-selling writer.  The book is called The Beautiful Mystery.  Briefly, the story is about a famous detective and his assistant being called to a cloistered monastery, where a monk has been murdered.  Presumably this is, for most casual readers, an exotic, unknown and mysterious setting.  This backdrop for solving a mystery will give them impressions and clues about the life of monks, and Catholicism, even though the actual story is about the solving of a fictional crime.  Matter-of-fact paragraphs are thrown in, not necessarily to further the plot, but to give background impressions.

Here is an excerpt from the book, page 101, as the chief detective mulls over an interview he has concluded with one of the monks: “When they’d been in the garden that morning and Gamache had taken the abbot aside for a talk, he’d had the impression that the abbot and the prior were very close. Closer, perhaps, than the Church would officially condone. Gamache had no problem with that. Indeed, he completely understood and would find it surprising if some of these men didn’t find comfort in each other.  It seemed perfectly natural to him.”

Another example was a couple of pages earlier, on page 99, as the assistant detective analyzes his workday: “Like many Quebecois of his generation, he had no use for the Church.  It just wasn’t part of his life. Unlike previous generations.  The Catholic Church wasn’t just a part of his parents’ lives, and his grandparents’, it ruled their lives.  The priests told them what to eat, what to do, who to vote for, what to think.  What to believe.  Told them to have more and more babies. Kept them pregnant and poor and ignorant.  They’d been beaten in school, scolded in church, abused in the back rooms.  And when, after generations of this, they’d finally walked away, the Chruch had accused them of being unfaithful.  And threatened them with eternal damnation.  No, Beauvoir was not surprised that monks, when scratched, bled hypocrisy.”

In much of modern media, statements like these are a given,  accepted as “of course”.  It is put forth as common knowledge.  The detectives, with their biases are the heroes in this novel.  It is the monks who are seen as deviant, suspicious, and of questionable character. Again, this is not the plot, not the storyline, it is the subtle background information for the tale.  It is the part that sticks in the mind, long after the reader forgets “who-done-it”.

To be fair, I am only 1/3 of the way through the book, but this is just one example of how this occurs in modern entertainment media, and really typical.  It is widespread in children and teen-oriented arts as well as for adults.  Sometimes it is poor research into something the artist/author/filmmaker doesn’t fully understand, or an unconscious reflection of their own prejudices.  Sometimes it is a deliberate attempt to influence people’s thoughts  and promote an agenda.

The manipulation–which is propaganda– can be for a good cause.  For example, movies, in support of civil rights, began decades ago to portray African-Americans in a positive light. Interracial couples began to appear, not always as featured stars, but quietly, as a matter-of-fact, accepted part of the background story.  Children’s books actively promote environmental care, awareness, and stewardship.  These subtle additions to artworks actively and effectively change societal opinions.  It will inevitably affect how people vote, which issues gain public support.  Please note that I am not interested in this post in valuing or judging any of any of these examples, I am just putting them forth as evidence of an effort to use art/entertainment to form and affect cultural attitudes, and how it is being done.  Even when you agree with the message, it is still a good thing to see it clearly for what it is.

I am also not suggesting censorship, but awareness.

Notice it.  See it.  Challenge it if need be, refute it in your book groups, bring it up in movie discussions, point it out in general conversation.  Read what your kids are reading, watch TV with them, talk about it, share your observations.

Be willing to support and recommend media that is true, positive, and in alignment with your values. Surround yourself with beauty and truth.  To all those who themselves  write, act, paint, perform–create beautiful works that praise and admire virtue.  It is art that moves the heart and soul, much more than intellectual discourse, preaching, legal pronouncements, political speeches.  Art, absorbed mainly through the things that we choose to gratify and entertain ourselves with, will be far more influential. Don’t let it be “under the radar” in your life, or imagine that it is insignificant.

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About reinkat

I am an iconographer, and have been studying Russian/Greek icons since 1995. I'm married with 3 children. I love hiking, camping, animals, my family and church--and icons.
This entry was posted in art, Catholicism. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Culture Wars . . . and Art

  1. This post has expressed exactly what I have ruminated about many times! The arts and cultural pursuits are such an important part of life. It’s pervasive and simply cannot be ignored; it ‘s what binds the modern culture and mindset. An awareness of ‘dissent’ and surreptitious criticism is so important. Now when I come across examples such as these that you point out above, I don’t continue reading simply because I lose interest, and am put off the author, director screen writer, programme etc. I made the decision to do this because it’s so ‘in your face’, around every corner.
    Great post.

    • reinkat says:

      Yes, it is everywhere. I am discouraged. I usually keep on reading, or watching (movies, that is–I gave up on TV almost a dozen years ago) because if I stopped, I would read/see/hear almost nothing current. It is a sad commentary on our world. I remember hearing an NPR interview with the author Anne LaMott, who was told by her publisher that it would be good to get those Christian references out of her stories, because that sort of thing reduces sales. To her credit, the author refused, because that is who she is and what she believes. How many other hungry authors/screenwriters/etc have succumbed to that pressure, or simply put the anti-Christian stuff in to please an editor or publishing company.

  2. Biltrix says:

    Hi, Reinkat!

    Sorry I have not been around in a while (holidays, travel, trying to stay healthy). I just wanted to let you know that I nominated you for the Blog of the year award.

    Now, I know that you decided not to pick up any new awards, and I understand that, but I could not at least give you the honorable mention as one of my favorite blogs. So please don’t feel like you need to post anything on the award. This is just my way of saying thank you. But if you are interested, you can pick up the details at http://biltrix.com/2013/01/18/5-stars-thank-you/ ).

    God bless!

    • reinkat says:

      Thank you. I will tell you that I am deeply honored that you think well of my blogging efforts. I probably won’t pick up this awards, but your mention of me did not go unnoticed and unappreciated. I thank you from my heart.

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