I recently left a review for The Popcast because I love the hosts, Knox and Jamie. In keeping with their humor and mild sarcasm, I mentioned in my review that I used to think I was too high brow to concern myself with pop culture, and thanked Knox and Jamie for helping me get honest with myself.
The review sparked a conversation between Knox and Jamie about why people think all of pop culture is worthless fluff, the camp of people who feel superior and self righteous because they don’t own a TV, and whether they’re missing out.
We’ve gone through long stretches without cable and even without a TV. It was never a moral issue for me, and certainly not one I’d hold over anyone’s head, but I definitely prided myself in ignoring the “distraction and mindlessness” of TV in favor of more valuable pursuits.
At some point, I started to think of entertainment as an indulgence, an enemy of personal growth, a distraction from my spiritual walk.
Entertainment certainly can be all of those things, but as with so many aspects of life, I’ve learned to see the shades of grey between the black and white.
What distinguishes the literature I read during college and called education from a recent bestseller? What makes a symphony more sophisticated than the poignant performance of a multimillionaire actor?
Does commercial success diminish the quality of the art? Do artists have to be unknown, poor or dead to be considered true artists? Are art and entertainment mutually exclusive?
I would argue no.
Some entertainment has a cotton candy effect: we consume it mindlessly, it’s delicious, but we may feel slightly ill afterwards. It’s not enriching, but it’s fun occasionally. People magazine, shows like The Bachelor, and the cheesier romantic comedies fall into this category for me.
Then there are movies, shows, music and books so entertaining that we give them our rapt attention, so meaningful that we digest and talk about them for days afterward. We experience them, they take our breath away, and we aren’t quite the same afterwards.
Some of my most deeply ingrained childhood memories and life shaping moments happened in the pages of a book or through a screen. I experienced loss, pain and joy through characters.
I learned about World War II Germany, the Dust Bowl, and the Gold Rush era in California. The only reason any of it stuck with me is because I experienced it through the eyes of a character that I connected with and loved.
Modern, commercially successful, and entertaining art is still art.
Just because I’m entertained doesn’t make it a waste of time.
Through the work of artists, we experience worlds we’d never know, some we’d never want to, in real life. We understand a deeper and broader range of the human experience, which makes us more compassionate to people who are not like us. We learn about people who think and believe differently than we do, but we can somehow relate to them because it’s not us versus them.
When it comes to TV, movies, fiction, and music, I believe in balance and intention.
I read the Bible, and I read fiction. I watch TV, but only when I specifically choose to watch something. It’s not just on in the background. I avoid topics that I know will disturb me emotionally. I listen to Christian music and I listen to secular music.
There’s a place for all of it. While I may have been afraid to consume “too much” secular entertainment before, I now think it makes me a stronger believer to know the cultural moment I’m living in and to understand what people are paying attention to outside the church.
What is your approach to entertainment, and do you think some entertainment is art?