Mass Media In Society

“Pop Culture Wars”
Pop Culture Wars
Religion & The Role of Entertainment In American Life
As the title proudly blares, William Romanowski’s book is an
informative look at pop culture and how it relates to American society.

The book begins with a passionate story about a town’s love for their
statue of the popular character “Rocky”, a down & out boxer who makes it
big. The town became enraged and crying freedom of speech rights when
officials attempt to move the statue to a local sports arena from the
museum where it rests.. However, because the statue was in the image of a
low-class movie hero, the museum insisted that the statue was not art, but
rather an icon of sports and entertainment and should be moved. This upset
the people of the city, who then petitioned until the statue was replaced
on the museum steps. This is a great example to start off this book,
because it reflects the cultural struggles between the “hi-class” and the
“low-class” entertainment worlds in America throughout recent history.

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Entertainment. The book approaches the subject from a mostly worldly
point of view at first. It talks about ratings and labels for
entertainment, but I must question if that is the way a Christian should
look at it.If a rating is placed on it, that will not make the problem
go away. As a Christian community, we should take up the fight to abolish
the problem. This is also tricky because what do we determine is “good” or
“bad”? If we use previous examples from American history, as learned in
the first few chapters of the book, more problems will be created than
solved. In the first few chapters of the book, Romanowski gives a
wonderfully repetitive history of theater, vaudeville, and other forms of
then “questionable” entertainment such as opera houses and beer gardens.

The conflict begins with the rise of “low culture” entertainment that
appeals to the working class, the immigrants, and the un-sophisticated
populace. This made the distinction between “high” and “low” cultures,
“high” (symphonies, fine art, sculpture, etc..) being for the elite and
well-educated, while “low” was associated with the lower, working class
that included immigrants. Through the chapters, Romanowski illustrates the
inflation of this division, as well as the conflict between the people and
the Church regarding entertainment. Chapter three discusses how the people
of America were searching for a unifying principle or common faith that
would hold the nation’s people together. What they found instead was an
uprise in “immorality” and a decrease in the “high culture”. This could
mean only one thing: “low culture was bad”. Theater, Opera Houses,
Vaudeville, and Nickelodeons all got their “bad” connotations from this era
because of their appeal to the “lower”, less moral people of society.

Therefore, the Church had to place a moral stance against this apostasy of
the holiness of American culture, and place a ban on all “low” forms of
entertainment. “The church’s prohibition of amusements could not suppress
people’s desire for it.” (p 84) As hard as the Church tried, their
suppression of the amusements didn’t stunt their growth in any way, in fact
it only made it worse. Eventually, the “high” forms of entertainment
(theater, etc) were losing money and patronization began. More money was
given to the amusements than to the Church. The entertainment of these
theaters then had to stoop to the lowest moral level to appeal to the
broadest array of audience. Eventually, the Church gave up it’s fight
again the theater and began to use it as a tool for the Church, as they
later do with all forms of media that they have protested, such as
television, radio, music, and even comics. Eventually, with all the “good”
entertainment in the industry, other producers began to “clean-up” too, and
eventually the industry was “decent” (even though it was still full of
innuendos, double entendres, and suggestions of immorality), however it did
not last long and was over looked when the television and the radio emerged
on the scene.

Romanowski gives a great illustration of the Church’s struggle to stay
inside the cultural movements of the day while still committed to Christian
values that, more often than not, opposed society. The Church, after
forfeiting the uphill-battle against American culture, attempts to use
popular entertainment as a tool for ministry by “scrubbing it morally and
spiritually clean by their standards.” This refers to comics being used in
salvation tracts, Christian or Biblical-themed motion pictures,
contemporary Christian gospel music, and even radio broadcasts of sermons.

Televangelists and “Church On TV” programs are included in this as well,
even though television was a horrible trouble-causing empire out to get
American children’s morals. Romanowski’s overall view is that throughout
history, we only focus on what is “bad” at the time until we get used to
the shock value or attention is diverted to another “evil” form of
entertainment. However, if we ignore it, will it go away?
Romanowski gives me the impression that he feels we should just really
ignore what is going on around us because history has shown that we, the
Church/people upset about the lack of moral content in entertainment,
cannot change the path of society. I beg to differ that we should ignore
the ills of society, however I do agree that the path of society is most
likely not going to be altered by what the Church says, especially in
today’s American culture where the Church does not govern like it used to.

The second half of the book talks about the uprise of MTV, the change
from records, movies, and radio to television, virtual reality, and video
games, and cable TV.Also, Romanowski discusses some major movie titles
that have made an impact on American culture in recent years. His position
is that we should take all of the media in, analyze it with a Christian
perspective, and filter out all the “bad stuff.” This is easier said than
done. Labels have been placed on music and movies, even books and
concerts, to help the American consumer decide the content value of the
entertainment, but these labels only go so far. One could argue that it is
a label on freedom of speech for the “lower” class of entertainment.

Citizens that protested the moving of the “Rocky” statue referred to it as
a ban on free speech and discrimination of the cinematic arts because it
was not “elite.” Even today, popular culture entertainment such as movies,
music, radio, and television are looked down upon by the “elite” as
mindless forms of degenerative babble, devoid of creative intelligence or
art application.

With this, I disagree. I feel that all culture is art, but I believe
that some of it, because of its popularity (i.e.-pop music ; movies) should
be viewed in a different light as it is reaching a broader audience with
it’s message. That’s not to say that the symphony shouldn’t be looked at
with discrimination, but should teen pop stars be able to anything they
want on stage in the name of “art” and “freedom of speech”? At this point,
society as a whole must decide whether or not popular entertainment is a
valid form of art and expression that should be exempt from all moral codes
in the name of art. The entire film industry was created for the sole
purpose of making money, not as an artistic venture, so should Americans
place a different set of discernment standards on movies since they have no
“freedom of artistic liberties”? Perhaps not. This is a difficult
question to answer because everyone has different morals and values for
discernment. Romanowski’s method is an interesting approach to this
situation. He believes that we should embrace all art and pop culture with
the same preconceptions and learn to filter out that which is “harmful” to
us and grow artistically and spiritually from the “good stuff” we have
filtered out. He also gives me the impression that we should just ignore
some of the things that we disagree with because it’s art, it’s freedom of
speech, it’s just a piece of entertainment. However if we ignore it, will
it go away? Probably not. However, the problem of pop culture and society
versus the modern Christian will not solve itself, and will not go away in
any short time.


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