Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How to Become a Media Expert | Conclusion

Thanks for sticking with me so far. I ended Part 5 promising that this post would be the best. It is.

Some nights I stay up thinking about what I’ve seen or heard. Sometimes that’s a good thing. More often than not, it’s a bad thing. As I mentioned in Part 1, there are many things I wish I could un-see or un-hear. And let me just say again, certain parts of media research are not for everyone! I know we’re all adults and are much more discerning that most teenagers, but I can’t say this enough. I would not want my husband to see any of the scantily clad women I’ve seen in music videos and movie trailers. Of course, I can also be affected by these images because it can distort my vision of beauty and sexuality, but that’s nothing compared to what it could do to him. So remember, if you struggle in a certain area or your powers of “un-seeing” or “un-hearing” are a bit weak, please just don’t go there. Let your spouse or a friend who doesn’t struggle in the same areas help you.

The Bible doesn’t warn us to “stay unstained by the world” or command us to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” for no reason. The images we see, the words we hear, and the thoughts we think are very powerful. Therefore, the most important part of becoming a media expert has nothing to do with media.

With the help of other wise adults and the Holy Spirit, you can know which movies and videos don’t need to be seen at all—by you or anyone else in your family. But for the times you do have to see or hear something that leaves a scar, there is a very powerful resource. Jesus Himself.

We all have scars, whether they’re from relationships or media or partying or elsewhere. And they all need to heal. Luckily, God is in the business of restoration (ok, luck has nothing to do with it). Only He can restore our souls, renew our minds, and allow us to live in freedom. So when we find ourselves scarred from the research we’ve done, even in the tiniest of ways, we need to look to Him.

I once heard it said that for every one look we take at ourselves and our depravity, we need to take ten looks at Jesus and His salvation, otherwise we will be bogged down by sadness, frustration, and despair. I believe it’s the same for us media researchers. We will become utterly weighed down by anger, hopelessness, and distress at where our culture is heading and what our children are facing. But let me remind you (and myself): GOD IS SO MUCH BIGGER! And He is in control. Whatever forces are at work in culture and media will not prevail against the Creator of the Universe!

That’s all so encouraging, Melanie, but how do we actually allow God to heal our scars? How do we move past the things we’ve seen and heard?

That’s easy: we spend more time getting to know the Most High than we spend doing anything else. We read about Him in the Bible, study Him by studying the Bible more deeply, talk to Him through prayer, and spend time with others who also want to know Him more. I know, it sounds cliché. But it works. Why? Because God is good and trustworthy and loving and slow to anger and [insert good qualities here]. The more we take the time to compare and contrast the beautiful, life-giving qualities of God with the alluring-but-life-stealing ideas preached by pop culture, the more we will come to appreciate who God is and what He’s done for us.

And as we do that, God miraculously steals away our pain, sorrows, worries, fears, and—you guessed it—scars. No matter where you or your kids are on the media journey, God can always heal you and give you life and joy. 

So to recap: Yes, I encourage you to get to know pop culture as a means of discipling and guiding your children to the Truth. But I also encourage you to get to know our God at least 10 times better than you know pop culture. Not only will that help you in discipling your children and in analyzing media, but it will also bring healing and growth. To the whole family. Isn’t God so beyond-comprehension good?!

So whenever you’re ready, get started!

Quiz Time! Are you already a pop-culture expert?

You may or may not have noticed song lyrics (and one movie reference) embedded throughout this six-part blog, some that are from recent hits and one that harkens back to my high-school days. If you noticed them, I applaud you for doing your homework. But did you find all of them? See if you can go back and find all of them, then comment below with the number you were able to locate. Hint: it’s not 7 or lower!

This series of blogs was written by Melanie, our Associate Director of Research.

Monday, November 25, 2013

How to Become a Media Expert | Part 5

Since you’ve bookmarked all of those websites I told you about in Part 3 and Part 4 and have them at your fingertips for easy access, you are set! You have everything you need to stay on top of the biggest media trends and one step ahead of your kids. You may not always “get” the trends, like this mom, but the next time they ask if they can watch a certain TV show, instead of saying “I don’t know. Let me think about it,” you can say, “Yes, let’s watch it together and talk about it afterward,” or, “I don’t think that’s a good show to watch because . . .”

That brings up a really good point. I am a firm believer in not just saying “No” or “Yes” or “Because I said so!” Telling your teenage daughter, “No, you can’t go see [insert latest box-office-smash teen movie]. Why? Because I said so! And that’s final!” doesn’t necessarily lend itself to conversation, relationship, or discipleship. It lends itself to slammed doors, angry looks, and sometimes even rebellion. And I know that’s not what you or other parents want.

Kids are able to reason and understand logic at very young ages. As they get older, this ability only strengthens. So don’t sell them short. Treat them like they are capable of seeing why you make the decisions you make. How? By letting them in on your thought process. Once you’ve done your research and made your decision about a piece of media, have a conversation with them about why. Show them all your reasons, including any Scripture that might support your conclusions. Ask them how they feel about it or for any thoughts they have. Listen to them. Keep the dialogue open. They still may not agree with your decision, but they will walk away feeling respected and valued. And in the end, they’ll probably learn a thing or two about discernment, which is the whole point of discipleship.

Another important point: As your kids get older and as the whole family becomes accustomed to your new way of analyzing media, you will eventually want to turn the tables. If your teenage son asks yet again if he can buy the newest Lil’ Wayne album, ask him to look up and print out the lyrics to a few of the songs from the album. Have him read them to you. Then ask him what ideas are within the words, how he thinks those might affect him, and why he would want to listen to that. Every person is different and matures differently, so there is no formula for this. But if you can help your kids see why something is either harmful or helpful, they will probably get to the point where they can make great media choices on their own. 

You might have noticed that I didn’t once tell you to go to your favorite Christian media review website. I didn’t even tell you to check this blog first. That’s because I don’t want anyone else to do the analyzing or critiquing for you. No one else knows your kids, your family history, or your family’s struggles like you do. So how could someone else possibly gauge a situation as well as you can? Don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying to write those websites off completely. They may be a good thing to add to your list of resources as you go along. But for now, learn to do the research and analysis on your own. You won’t regret it.

I know. Sometimes we wake up saying, “Today I don’t feel like doing anything.” And those are the days that it’s hardest to stay up-to-date with culture because it’s not something we want to know about. All the garbage is depressing. And that’s ok. On those days, don’t. Because there will be days that are exactly the opposite: you’re motivated, your kids have asked about different songs or movies, or you can’t sleep and have some time. So those are great days to spend 30 to 45 minutes checking the charts and watching some trailers or reading some lyrics. 

Eventually, you’ll find a schedule that works for you. I tend to check on music on Thursdays when the new Billboard charts are released, as well as one or two other times a week. I tend to check on TV and Movies on Mondays, when the new Nielsen charts are released. And if something particular catches my eye, I’ll take a couple minutes to watch a few trailers or to figure out when a show airs so that I can watch an episode or two. But figure out what works best for you. And don’t stress about it! It really becomes second nature. Once you’ve followed the charts for a few weeks, there will only be a couple new ones each week to get acquainted with.

Any funny stories to share about talking about media with your kids? Any helpful tips? Please comment below. 

And stay tuned for the conclusion of this series, coming Wednesday. I saved the best for last: How to Un-Pollute Your Mind.

This series of blogs was written by Melanie, our Associate Director of Research.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How to Become a Media Expert | Part 4

Now that we’ve covered Movies and TV in Part 3, we can’t stop. We need to press on and talk about music. This is where things get complicated. Why? Because music isn’t just music anymore. It has become a counselor to younger generations. When they’re upset, they listen to music. When they’re happy, they listen to music. When they want to get pumped up, they listen to music. There’s no room for silence anymore.

As a result, the artists who make music have become students’ best friends. And students will defend these artists and their work vehemently. So trying to get your children to stop listening to a certain artist could become a battle. But never fear! In Part 5, I will talk about how to approach students in a way that gets them to think, instead of alienating or enraging them. Anyway, back to staying up-to-date with music trends.

Step 1: Ask Your Kids/Grandkids* (Middle School/Junior High and Older)
Again, this is intimidating, but worth doing. Without any pressure or expectations, just ask your kids what artists and/or songs they and their friends like. If they say they only listen to Christian music, that’s ok. Just ask them which songs other people their age are listening to. This removes the pressure of them seeming like the bad guys and allows you to get some answers. Of course, these will be the first artists/songs you will want to get acquainted with.

Total time: No more than 10 minutes
*If you really don’t like the idea of asking your kids, no problem. Just proceed to Step 2!

Step 2: Check All the Charts
Again, charts are amazing! And because music is such a big deal in American culture, there are many that track the popularity of songs, albums, and artists.
  1. Billboard—Billboard has been tracking music sales and popularity for over 70 years, so their Hot 100 chart (updated every Thursday) is the place to start. This chart tells you which songs are the most popular, regardless of genre. If you’d like to dig a little deeper, they also have charts for different genres, as well as for album sales.
  2. YouTube Channels & Artists’ Channels—As with movies, there is also a YouTube-generated channel that shows the top music videos, as well as which videos are trending and top videos for a few specific genres. Just click the icon that has headphones on it, then click “subscribe.” If you’d like to keep up-to-date on a particular artist, just type his/her name in the search bar, find his/her “official” channel (many are simply called “Vevo” channels), and subscribe. Any time you’re on the main YouTube page, the feed will inform you if any of these artists have posted new videos.
  3. iTunes Store—Again, get iTunes! Since their charts are updated daily, you can really get a pulse on what’s trending from day to day. The music charts are the first charts on the right side of the store. You can see which songs, music videos, and albums are trending.
  4. Top 40 Charts— offers a USA Top 40 chart and a USA Top Albums chart, as well as charts for other countries. In addition, America’s Top 40 offers a weekly updated list of the Top 40 songs on the radio. These charts will keep you updated on songs you are likely to hear, whether you want to or not, anywhere the radio is played.
Total time: No more than 10 minutes

Step 3: Read Lyrics, Listen to Songs, Watch Music Videos**
Ok, here’s the part where I start to get a wee bit frustrated. My coworkers may or may not be getting tired of hearing me from across the office: “. . . so I cross my heart, and I hope to die—these songs are going to be the death of America!!” Ok, I’m never that extreme. But you get the point: lyrics to pop songs can be frustrating, depressing, and disheartening. So you will probably find yourself reacting similarly once you realize the huge number of songs that are shamelessly promoting bad ideas. But carry on. Your frustration is what will remind you how important it is to teach your kids about the dangerous messages embedded within catchy tunes, “sick beats,” and glamorous music videos. Here are some resources to utilize:
  1.—There are many other lyrics websites, but I only recommend this one because they don’t have any advertisements or links to music videos. (Many other sites basically advertise for the artists, putting up images that only add to the noise and filth.) Simply type in the name of the song and artist you want to look up, then click on the song. NOTE: Always start with reading the lyrics first! You’ll avoid getting songs with horrible lyrics stuck in your head, yet still be able to analyze the content.
  2. iTunes—iTunes allows you to listen to part of a song very easily. If you mouse over the songs in the iTunes charts, a little play button appears. This is convenient for those of us who are in a hurry and don’t have time to listen to the whole song. It also lets you watch 30 seconds of a music video. But beware of things marked “explicit”! (I stumbled upon the unedited version of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” this summer in this way. I assumed that “explicit” just meant bad words. Boy was I wrong!)
  3. YouTube—Nowadays, many pop artists are releasing “lyric videos” before they release their music videos. This is a great way to listen to an entire song with the words on the screen. In addition, this is the place to find music videos. As much as I hate encouraging you to watch them, there are many songs that are decent enough . . . until you watch the music video (most recent example: Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen). I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not put my stamp of approval OR disapproval on something until I know as much as possible about it.
**A WORD TO THE WISE!! Music videos are dangerous business. Many artists’ videos are no longer art—they are simply highly sexualized images attached to a song (some are even devolving into soft-core porn). And how do they warn us? They’re simply marked as “explicit,” which could mean any number of things. This is why I HIGHLY DISCOURAGE anyone who has struggled with sexual sin, especially addiction to pornography, from watching music videos. Just don’t go there. Have your spouse or another trusted adult watch them for you. They can easily inform you of a video’s contents without you having the images forever engrained on your mind. (Does this help convince you of how important it is to talk about music videos with your kids?!)

Total time: Depends on the number of songs you’re looking up. Anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes.

Step 4: Determine the Value
This is not an exact science. It will be tough to decide what your kids are ready for, what should be used for teaching, and what should be avoided altogether. But seek wisdom, spend time in prayer, and follow biblical principles. Remember, your parental discernment invaluable. Don’t let your kids convince you otherwise, even when they’re kicking and screaming because of a decision you made. If you have good, biblical reasons for your decision, then stick to it. They will understand (and appreciate) it one day. Here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Look for dangerous ideas and imagery, not just “bad words.” Yes, bad words are dangerous, too, but there are way too many songs that are considered “clean” that are also full of innuendos, slang, and un-biblical ideas. It’s always good to talk to your kids about why we shouldn’t use foul language, but it’s the not-so-obvious content that can be the most damaging. Keep your eyes/ears on the lookout for that, too. (One recent example: “Some Nights” by Fun.)
  • Does this help us to love what God loves and hate what He hates? If the answer to this is no, say no to it. Let’s not celebrate the things that break God’s heart or degrade His Holy Name. God loves humor, but not at the expense of one of His beloved people and not if it includes things He hates.
  • Can we learn something from this? There are still many artists who create beautiful songs and music videos. Sometimes their work talks about real-world problems that need to be addressed. The problems are not beautiful or safe, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we should avoid them. When your children are ready, use these types of songs as a springboard into talking about bigger issues. For example, a 5-year-old may not be ready to talk about the existence of evil in the world as it’s presented in Flo Rida’s “I Cry” music video, but a 10-year-old might be. And if you don’t talk to your 10-year-old about it, someone else will (and most likely tell them things you don’t agree with).
  • Have my kids already heard about this topic from another source? If your kids have already been exposed to pornography (or music videos that are very close to it), then you need to start talking to them about it yesterday. Don’t wait until they’ve already seen it. Talk to them about it first. Yes, we don’t want to bring it up before they’re ready, but the reality is that they’re exposed to it much earlier than when they’re “ready” for it. Let’s give them God’s perspective on pornography and other important topics before they’re hooked.
  • Are my kids ready to be exposed to these ideas or topics? Only you can best judge what your kids are ready for. Again, our culture doesn’t always wait until kids are ready. This is where your ability to monitor their activities can help avoid having your six-year-old come home from school and ask what “S&M” is. You can’t control everything, so you still need to be ready to talk about anything and everything. But one nine-year-old girl may not care one iota about boys, make-up, and clothes, while the next can’t wait until she gets her first pair of heels. These girls will need their parents to disciple them in the area of relationships and sex starting at different times in their lives.
Total time: Depends on you. Take some time to think about it, but don’t dwell on it. Talk to your spouse and other adults you trust if you’re unsure. Ask God for wisdom and discernment.

What are some principles you follow when analyzing music? Do you have any helpful stories to share with other parents? Please comment below!

On Monday in Part 5, I will talk about how to approach your kids about pop culture in ways that don’t alienate or frustrate them.

This series of blogs was written by Melanie, our Associate Director of Research.

Monday, November 18, 2013

How to Become a Media Expert | Part 3

Now that I (hopefully) made the case in Part 2 for the importance of being informed and up-to-date about pop culture, time for the practical stuff! 

Let’s face it: We’re all ridiculously busy. The last thing any of us want to add to our already crazy days is “Fill my mind with filth.” I get it. As I said before, I don’t enjoy being well-informed about this . . . well . . . junk. But no matter where we live or what sub-cultures we’re part of, we must be informed, for the sake of those who can’t (or won’t or don’t) yet translate a well-made, flashy music video into the dangerous ideas it espouses.

So where in the world do we start?! Luckily for us, the same technologies and platforms that make it easy for students to keep up-to-date with the latest trends are also available to us. Work = done. Someone’s already done it for us! Even for those who aren’t very technologically savvy, it’s a piece of cake. If you know how to use a web browser and iTunes, you’re set. (If you don’t, that’s ok, too. They’re easy to use. I will help. Anyone born after the year 1980 can help as well.)

Also, I believe that to get started, you only need to get acquainted with two categories: Movies/TV and Music. Yep, I said only two categories. Sure, pop culture has many more parts besides just those two, but in my experience, movies/TV and music are the most influential. (If you have a gamer in the family, then you’ll need to check three categories.) So let’s start with Movies/TV.

I grouped the two together because they are experienced through screens, story-based, and lengthy. Watching an entire season of a TV show requires way more time than listening to a three-minute song. Even though they’re longer, it doesn’t take as much time as you’d think to know what ideas are in a show or a movie. Here’s what to do:

Step 1: Ask Your Kids/Grandkids* (Middle School/Junior High and Older)
This step is so obvious, yet intimidating. “Ask my kids about pop culture?! Are you nuts?!!” Maybe, but that’s neither here nor there. Don’t worry, this is just for research, so no teaching or “lecturing” involved (yet). Just ask what movies and TV shows they watch, want to watch, or have heard all their friends talk about. Make sure to write them down so you don’t forget. If your kids do mention specific shows/movies they wish they could see, those will be the first ones to research.

Total time: No more than 10 minutes
*If you really don’t like the idea of asking your kids, no problem. Just proceed to Step 2!

Step 2: Check All the Charts
I love charts! They make my job—and yours—super easy. Once or twice a week, take some time to check them and get a pulse on what’s trending. Here’s a list of the best websites to check: 
  1. Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (CPYU)—The CPYU is all about helping parents understand youth culture. I highly recommend CPYU. Their page of Top 10 Lists covers everything from TV shows and movies to video games and Google searches. Easy peasy. You can also sign up for their e-Updates so you don’t even have to remember to check the lists; they remind you! Lists are updated once a week or so.
  2. Nielson—These are the people best known for their “Nielson Ratings.” They’ve been doing market research for over 60 years, so you know their weekly Top 10 Lists are gold. (They research more than just TV, too.) And if you’ve got an Android or iPhone, there’s an app for checking on the go or while waiting for the orthodontist to tighten your kids’ braces.
  3. Fandango—Yep, the place where you check movie times is also the place to check which movies are the most popular in theaters. Just go to their Top Box Office page to see the top 50 highest grossing movies of the week. Results are updated every Monday.
  4. iTunes Store—If you don’t have iTunes on your computer, get it! Their store has handy dandy lists on the right side. Just scroll down until you find Top Movies and Top TV Shows. Keep in mind: these lists only account for sales on iTunes, which is why it’s a good supplement to other charts.
  5. YouTube Channels—Since YouTube has started offering movies for sale, they have a channel that reports the top selling movies. Just move your mouse over the icon that looks like a movie reel and click “Subscribe.” Now, anytime time you go to your YouTube Homepage, it will be in the column on the left side for easy access.
Total time: No more than 10 minutes, especially if you bookmark these websites for quick access

Step 3: Watch Trailers, Episodes, Clips
Now that you’re armed with the knowledge of which shows and movies are popular, it’s time to find out what’s in them. Nope, you don’t have to watch an entire TV series or go see a movie to know what it’s all about (case in point: this trailer for a movie called Rapturepalooza tells you everything you need to know). One or two episodes will usually give you the gist, although with some of them, you might only need to watch for a few minutes to discover what lies beneath. Here are the best places to find clips and trailers:
  1. YouTube—Every trailer of every movie made within in the past 5 years (at least) is on YouTube. Just type in the name of the movie, hit “enter,” and click on the trailer. Note: If a movie has a “red band trailer,” that means it’s too vulgar to show on TV or in theaters. Take that as a hint.
  2. Hulu—Hulu is a site that allows you to watch many TV shows for free. In addition, they post lots of clips. Check Hulu to see if the show is available.
  3. The Website of the Show/Movie—Clips, trailers, and full episodes are often available. Just type in the name of the show/movie on Google, and the website is usually one of the first results.
  4. Television—If you have TV at home, many times the best thing to do is watch an episode when it airs.
Total time: Depends on the number of movies/shows you’re looking up. Anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes.

Step 4: Determine the Value
This is where your discernment as a parent becomes irreplaceable. Only you can know what your children are ready for. And only you have the ability to disciple them in the area of media. So once you’ve collected all the data you need, it’s time to analyze. Using these categories may be helpful:
Total time: Depends on you. Take some time to think about it, but don’t dwell on it. Talk to your spouse and other adults you trust if you’re unsure. Ask God for wisdom and discernment.

Whew! Long post. I’m sorry. But I hope you find it all useful. If you’re already a media expert, let us know in the comments the sources you use to stay up-to-date or the criteria you use to determine whether your kids should watch something or not.

In Part 4, coming Wednesday, I will give you practical, easy ways to stay up-to-date with music.

This series of blogs was written by Melanie, our Associate Director of Research.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How to Become a Media Expert | Part 2

We ended the last post with you (understandably) questioning my sanity since I’m willing to claim that the Bible says we should watch music videos and go to movies.

But I still think a case can be made. I’ll look at one example in particular, as well as add a caveat.

In Acts 17, we see Paul going to different cities and towns to “reason” with the people there. Usually, he goes straight to the synagogue--the place where Jews gathered--but when he arrives in Athens, he also goes to the marketplace--the place where both Jews and non-Jews gathered. Instead of just debating the finer points of Jewish theology with those who already subscribed to his same beliefs, he would be confronted by many other ideologies from people who held differing beliefs. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that it’s really difficult to have intelligent debates and discussions when I have no idea what the other person is talking about.

But Paul doesn’t miss a beat. The Bible tells us he had debates with them and was later invited to the Areopagus, the New Testament equivalent to a public debate or a university classroom. Tons of brilliant minds would meet there and debate about philosophies and worldviews. In fact, the author of Acts even tells us that most of the Athenians did nothing but sit around and listen to or talk about the latest ideas. So they were well-versed.

Yet not only is Paul able to hold debates with them, he is also able to quote their philosophers and poets (from memory, no less). In the end, he convinces many of the people there that following Jesus is logically superior to all of the other ideas being lobbied about. 

Hold up!

Yes, I realize that stories, information, and ideas were largely passed on by memory and oral repetition—not through writing—during Paul’s time. But it’s still a big deal that he could quote from other philosophers. Sure, he was more used to remembering things after hearing them once than we are today, but to be able to remember a specific thought verbatim and who wrote it is not easy, no matter what culture you’re from.

I would suggest that this means Paul studied them. He didn’t just know their names; he knew their philosophies and their works in detail, as well as what the “fad” ideas were at the time. (What a hip guy!) Athens didn’t have the Internet, smartphones, apps, or any of the other things that constitute popular culture in 21st-century America, but it still had its own pop culture nonetheless. And Paul knew it well enough to hold intelligent discussions and speak in such a way that would appeal to the Athenians. 

And, as we all know, Paul was still considered an expert in Jewish theology, as well as one of only a few experts in Christian theology, all while spending most of his time and energy discipling churches, church leaders, and close friends. Whew!

Luckily, we’re not Paul. We’re not called to nurture the infant Christian church or solidify Christian theology. But we are called to disciple. And discipling means giving those we’re discipling the tools and skills they need to have deeper, richer relationships with Jesus Christ and then go out and disciple others in return. But if we’re unaware of what ideas they’ll be facing, temptations they’ll be combating, or culture they’ll be surrounded by, we won’t be able to equip them at all. And their imaginations will be hijacked by lies that only bring destruction and death.

If we’re not addressing relevant issues and hot topics as soon as they go “viral,” then our children will be discipled by whatever culture is teaching them about those issues. And our efforts to help them un-learn what has already been entrenched in their minds may be too late, especially if there’s no desire on their part.

So what’s the caveat? I don’t believe the Bible gives us a precedent for watching, listening, and reading for the fun of it. Paul studied the culture around him in order to engage and challenge it, not to become part of it or to be “entertained.” So we must never stop analyzing and critiquing as we study our culture. (And believe me, once you get going, you’ll never be able to just watch a TV show or just listen to a song again!) But more on this and how to UN-pollute your mind later.

So how can we know all about pop culture quickly and without spending too much time on it? And what about the parts of the Bible that admonish us to stay “unstained by the world” or to “meditate on things that are noble and pure” or to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”? Stick with me in the next few posts as I work through it all.

Stay tuned for Part 3, coming Monday, in which I highlight the fastest and easiest ways to stay up-to-date on Movies and TV.

This series of blogs was written by Melanie, our Associate Director of Research.

Monday, November 11, 2013

How to Become a Media Expert | Part 1

Honestly, I don’t like being a “media expert.” 

When I first started working for Axis three years ago, I was asked during training to listen to an excerpt from a then-popular Katy Perry song, then give a one- to two-minute oral critique of the lyrics. Since that was my first time hearing the song and since I couldn’t have even told you that Katy Perry became famous for “I Kissed a Girl,” I stuttered and stumbled my way through it. Had it been a pop-quiz (get it? I’m so punny!), I would’ve gotten zero points. Not even one half of a point.

Sadly, that was the beginning of the end of my self-imposed “media naiveté.” In middle- and high-school, I was like my fellow classmates: I knew all the biggest songs and artists and movies. I wanted to fit in. But after I hit the proverbial “rock bottom” in my downward spiral throughout college, the Holy Spirit opened my mind to finally understand what it meant to “follow Jesus,” and I slowly learned how intensely media affected my worldview, my thoughts, and, consequently, my actions. So I decided to forget about pop culture. And for two years, I did, which is why I barely even knew the names Katy Perry or Lady Gaga in 2010.

But now I know more than I care to know. I listen to interviews, watch music videos, read lyrics, watch live performances, read articles and blogs, follow Twitter accounts, watch TV shows, have discussions, see movies, make slides, and write blogs about pop culture. When it comes to the Internet, I’ve been (almost) everywhere, man. At times, it is maddening. And saddening. There are many things I wish I could un-watch, un-read, or un-hear—or, as my boss once said to me in an email in which he asked me to listen to some Lil’ Wayne lyrics: “Step 3: Remove your brain from your skull and wash it with bleach. Repeat a million times.”

So why do I do it? And why would I encourage you to do it?

Because what we don’t know can hurt us and the ones we love. Because our not knowing keeps us from having the tools and knowledge we need to disciple and protect those who do not yet have the discernment necessary to know what is harmful and what brings life. And because it’s biblical.

“Wait. Did she just . . . I can’t . . . I just . . .” is probably what most of you are thinking right now. I don’t blame you, and this is crazy. How could I possibly claim that watching music videos is biblical?! Clearly, iTunes, YouTube, DirecTV, XBox, and Pixar come after the Bible was written. But allow me to explain. . . .

In Part 2, coming Wednesday, I will explain why I believe it’s biblical to know pop culture.

This series of blogs was written by Melanie, our Associate Director of Research.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Hunger Games Revisited

This blog was originally posted when the first Hunger Games movie was released. Since the second Hunger Games movie comes out in 2 weeks, we thought we'd repost it for those who missed it or for those whose students are asking again if they can be allowed to see/read the series.

To watch or not to watch The Hunger Games? That is the question many parents, reviews, websites, blogs, and Christians have raised since the release of the film. But maybe it’s the wrong question to be asking. . . .

Based on the book by Suzanne Collins (first in a set of 3), the movie is set in future North America, where the citizens of Panem are forced by the Capitol to live in Districts in third-world conditions and to work backbreaking labor jobs that keep the Capitol and its citizens wealthy and well fed. Each year, these Districts must participate in the “The Hunger Games,” a ritual imposed by the Capitol as a reminder of the deadly consequences of trying to rebel. Each District is required to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to the Capitol, where they are put into an arena to fight to the death.

Reminiscent of works like George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, The Hunger Games books raise many questions about governmental control, morality, sacrifice, reality TV, and entertainment, to name just a few. Admittedly, Collins wrote these books for young adults between the ages of 10 and 20, so one should not expect such literary genius as can be found in these classics, but even the older readers will find the books compelling and hard to put down.

Interestingly enough, the emergence of the books seems a bit serendipitous in timing. There are many who believe that the US could already be in the early stages of a country similar to Panem. Even if one finds that idea a bit too far fetched, we must all recognize that such conditions currently do exist in North Korea, parts of China, and elsewhere. But even more difficult to swallow is the reality that the idea of people killing other people for sport and entertainment has existed for centuries, with the Roman Coliseum being most prominent. But how did the Romans get to the point where the masses had no qualms about watching others kill each other for fun? And is it possible that it could happen again? What needs to be done to prevent it?

Questions like these and many more should arise in one’s mind after reading the books. And since the movies are such close adaptations of the books, they have the potential, indeed the power, to ask questions and question assumptions in much more poignant ways. But the question remains: will they? And even if they do, will our youth notice these questions? Or will they be too “entertained” to notice?

Understandably, some students are not yet ready to tackle certain concepts and abstract ideas; only you, as the parent, can know exactly what your student is capable of handling. But if he/she is ready to handle them, then you are doing him/her a disservice either by not allowing him/her to watch it OR by allowing him/her to watch it with no questions asked. Both of these reactions are polarizing and extreme in the case of The Hunger Games. There is a middle ground, which is to engage the subject matter with your student. Rather than imposing more boundaries and rules, see this as an opportunity to allow your children to grow, mature, and live up to the responsibilities God has given them.

If you happen to have students who are begging you to see the film or read the books, use it as an opportunity to not only oblige them but give them some homework. That probably means you’ll have to read the books and watch the movies, as well as have meaningful, intentional discussions with your students about the content. But isn’t all the work worth it? Isn’t it much better to raise students who actively engage and think about culture, who could one day drastically change culture for the better or prevent a world like in The Hunger Games from becoming a reality? (A quick suggestion: tell your students that if they want to read the books, they must also read some or all of the classics that deal with the same subject matter.)

All in all, approaching the books and movies in this way means more work for viewers, especially parents. But since when were we, as followers of Christ, supposed to passively become part of (or disengage from) the world around us? To learn or not to learn from The Hunger Games? Maybe that is the question.

*poster from