Confronting the Culture Doesn\’t Mean Embracing It

Paul Zummo - Embracing the Culture


Kurt Schlicter wrote a post on Breitbart\’s Big Hollywood blog where he challenges conservatives to suck it up and watch Lena Dunham\’s HBO program, Girls.

So, why should conservatives want any part of this?

Great question.

The answer, if the fact that the show can be pretty amusing isn’t reason enough for you, is that conservatives need to be a part of big cultural events if they want to be a part of culture at large. But that begs the questions of why we conservatives would even want to be part of the culture at large. It’s a cesspool. And there’s an answer for that too – so we can participate in changing it.

Look, if you were as surprised as I was that Mitt Romney lost in November, then you were likely also making the mistake of staying within your comfort zone, within a world purely of the friendly media. It’s comfortable within the conservative media – it speaks to us and it doesn’t insult us. It’s nice. It’s also, like every other human endeavor, subject to developing into a closed loop echo chamber. We all need to figuratively follow the example of Breitbart News\’ Ben Shapiro and figuratively face down the figurative Piers Morgans in our lives and figuratively kick their butts.

You can watch nothing but ABC Family (assuming that’s still a thing – is it still a thing?) and you may never again see anything that will offend or annoy or bother you. But by not participating, you miss the larger discussions that pop cultural events outside your safety sphere spawn. You cede the culture to the liberals, and we’ve seen how that’s played out.

If you\’re uncomfortable with the use of political labels, I\’m fairly confident that you can replace \”conservatives\” with \”Catholics\” and the admonishment would be equally as applicable.

There are aspects of Kurt\’s argument that I agree with. It is very tempting to wrap you and your family in a bubble and refuse to interact with the wider culture. My wife and I have joked about raising our children as Amish, and watching the Super Bowl halftime show and a fair number of the commercials spurs a drive to cocoon the children. Aside from the fact that such an idea is impracticable unless you do actually want to pull up stakes and move the Lancaster County – and even then, juvenile Amish are supposed to leave the nest for a year in order to discern whether or not they shall continue living the lifestyle – it is also unwise.

Kurt mentions Andrew Breitbart. Breitbart recognized that electoral politics weren\’t everything. The crucial battleground is the culture, and social conservatives must confront the enemy head-on on this battlefield. If Catholics abandon the culture wars – and make no mistake, there is a culture war being waged – then we essentially cede the culture to militant secularists. Therefore cocooning ourselves is not even an option.

That being said, I do not think it necessarily follows that we must consume morally offensive entertainment in an effort to combat it. In a way it\’s like saying that we can only fight drug abuse by ourselves taking up the crack-pipe and getting high. Aside from the potentially sinful implications of watching a show like Girls that features nudity and frank portrayals of sexual acts, there\’s also the simple fact that it\’s not a very good show. Granted I\’ve only seen bits and pieces, but the bits and pieces I have seen are enough to convince me that I don\’t need to come back for more.

Leaving aside the artistic issues with the show, the trouble remains that watching a show like Girls is damaging to one\’s soul. To be blunt, I may be Catholic and I may be socially conservative, but I\’m not a prude. I\’ve watched – and still watch – some shows that some of you may find tasteless and crude. So I am no shrinking violet when it comes to entertainment. Yet there should be limits to how far we\’re willing to bend our moral sensibilities in order to engage the culture.

It seems that there should be a middle ground between cocooning your family and embracing the wider culture, which is what Kurt is in effect asking us to do. For example, my family has recently ditched cable. Some of the reasons are financial, and some of it has to do with not wanting to pay for a bunch of channels that we frankly don\’t watch. (Besides, with Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and other options, who really needs cable?) But a part of me doesn\’t want to indirectly contribute to shows that I find morally repugnant. Now, am I really cocooning myself by finding programs that I enjoy and find acceptable? Hardly.

Another problem with Kurt\’s proposal is that it sounds like a lot of wasted effort for minimal gain. I don\’t know what water coolers people are drinking at in the modern office, but social interactions are – for are better or worse – fairly insular. People watching Girls are probably not talking about the latest episodes with their co-workers. Rather, they\’re on facebook, twitter, and various entertainment blogs talking about the show with like-minded individuals. If there is anything cocooning about modern society, it\’s the fact that we all tend to isolate ourselves in insular groups of like-minded folks – you know, like Catholic webzines that are read by people with similar sensibilities. Ahem.

To the degree that we do interact with others either in the workplace or even at family functions, and the subject of Girls or some similar piece of programming comes up, is it really necessary to have watched the shows to be able to discuss the moral implications of it? While I do hate it when people review works they clearly haven\’t read or seen, that doesn\’t mean we can\’t discuss the broader subject matter raised by whatever piece of entertainment is under discussion. Kurt mentions some of issues that Girls tackles. Do I personally have to have seen every episode in order to intelligently rebut some of the premises?

We do need to confront the culture and especially engage younger people whenever possible; however, we need to be providing alternatives, not consuming the drek that is already out there under the guise of talking more smartly about it.

© Paul Zummo. All Rights Reserved.

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13 thoughts on “Confronting the Culture Doesn\’t Mean Embracing It”

  1. “AMISH”: I think that 15 – fifteen – years in prison, the verdict of Bergholz, is a long time; and I am not convinced that this verdict “is a triumph for … the … freedom of religion” , . Also: the “ZEIT” is saying on “08.02.13” that “Bishop Mullet” was accused of having had “sex” with “young women” ( ) ; on “21.09.12” the “ZEIT” speaks of “married women” ( ), this lacks precision. – I’m afraid, a new generation of judges risks to be rather emotional.

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  3. PenguinsFan,

    Of all the blatantly immoral, disgusting, and depraved “pop artists” out there, you choose to disparage Adele? Pray tell, what song of her’s was so “awful.”

  4. Thanks everyone for the feedback, and I agree with the points raised. It’s a very fine line, and I do think that Schlicter isn’t completely off base. Unfortunately his approach goes a bit too far.

    Jake’s too humble to link directly to his own blog, but he’s written an excellent post that follows from this piece.

  5. Popular culture nauseates me. I do not engage it. I did not watch one minute of the Super Bowl, which is amazing considering how much of a football fan I used to be. In fact, I have skipped watching them for the past several years, except when the Steelers made it there, and I care not one bit for the commercials or the halftime show. I change the channel.

    My family does not live in a cocoon. I hears that awful Adele song a year ago every 15 minutes at work. It is just that I find modern entertainment so disgusting that I refuse to engage it. There are decent channels on TV so that we can avoid Hollywierd’s garbage. Since ice hockey is ignored by most Americans, that makes me enjoy it even more.

  6. And we must remember that the purpose of engaging culture is to shape it. Thus, if we are to view something like “Girls” in order to become cognizant of it and be able to dialog about it, remember that the end goal is to get people to stop watching it and to get the producers to stop producing it. The Church encounters culture so that she can change culture not so that she can be changed by culture. And above all, if the viewing of shows like this is not conducive to our personal holiness, then we will find our efforts to influence culture to be greatly impeded.

  7. I’d kinda like to know what world he’s living in that it’s possible to cocoon oneself in Catholic-friendly media! Trying to think of a show where having high moral standards doesn’t pretty reliably identify you as either the badguy or the “good guy” it’s OK to hate… coming up blank.

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  9. “Another problem with Kurt’s proposal is that it sounds like a lot of wasted effort for minimal gain.”

    Where’s the gain at all? I’m not an artist or a cultural critic. I don’t need to keep up on the latest thing. There’s a benefit in being able to enumerate the lousy things going on out there, I suppose. There’s the benefit of looking hipper in conversation, but that’s an illusion that won’t last too far into the conversation. And I’m single, so I don’t need the benefit of keeping tabs on the culture in order to steer any kids away from the bad.

    I sympathize with the Breitbart way of thinking, if your interaction with the culture is going to affect others. Mine won’t.

  10. “there’s also the simple fact that it’s not a very good show”

    Quite right. I have no problem about looking at a work of art that I find intriguing even if the intent behind it is morally repugnant. The Stalinist Socialist Realism school of painting for example. I followed Battlestar Galactica even though much of it was of dubious morality. However, it is simply too much to ask of people that they watch morally dubious programming that is also swill. Of course often the best argument to make against such works of “Art” are that are bad Art as well as morally corrupt.

  11. Pingback: Confronting the Culture Without Embracing It | The American Catholic

  12. Very thought provoking Paul. Regarding the middle ground between cocooning your family and embracing the wider culture, I tend to think that the middle ground for adults is knowing enough about something in order to defend it. So I think there’s a difference between consuming morally offensive entertainment and educating ourselves on the realities of the world. As to whether or not to watch particular TV shows, etc., I think we first need to ask ourselves – “Is this going to give me the knowledge I need to witness to a dying world.” And the answer may be different from person to person, depending on their maturity as a Christian. In my case, I’m not a football fan. But since I live in a state (AL) where football is worshipped by the masses, I try to keep up with the big games and know enough if a stranger came up to me on the street and said “what did you think about that game last night.” Discussing the broader subject matter is certainly the preferred route I would take. But from what I’ve seen, it usually takes a newsworthy cultural event, a common denominator, to start a conversation.

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