Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Steve Urkel and the Come to Jesus Meeting

I got a couple of e-mails questioning me on whether or not Family Matters was actually a show about born-again Christians or just the vague sort of Protestants that TV usually enjoys. While the show never SPECIFIED for many of its characters, Grandma talked about being "saved" by Christ (which tends to be the delineation between "born-again" and other Christians). Even Urkel did towards the end of the run. Since the family's matriarch followed this religious creed, it's safe to assume she at least tried to get the rest of the Winslows on board.

The odd thing is that I was a member of an evangelical church at the time (and 12) and I don't remember a great excitement in the Christian community about how Family Matters had managed to subvert "liberal Hollywood" with its messages. This is probably because when I was growing up, the approach within the Christian community was to ignore the mass media as much as possible as it would only introduce us to sinful ideas (this, of course, has completely changed).

It's hard to write about evangelical Christians and popular culture because the two sides don't really understand each other at all. I don't want to be all red state/blue state (because that's so reductive. . .in reality, we live in the great purple U.S.), but the two communities (specifically, the Hollywood community which drives most of our mass entertainment and the evangelical Christian community which tends to drive our religious debates) are so very insular that they seem completely incapable of understanding each other.

I think this is why there's so much furor from religious conservatives over the media. Because the best representative they seem of themselves is Ned Flanders, they get angry. But Hollywood doesn't even underSTAND the religious conservatives. So they just make jokes about them. Simultaneously, the religious conservatives assume Hollywood is a land of godless hedonism (I've been there. It's actually pretty boring.).

So this is how we get things like the Parents Television Council, which tends to praise entertainment based on how bland it is.

What Hollywood doesn't understand is that the evangelical community just wants a place at the table. In addition to the gay best friend, it's safe to say they would like to see an evangelical best friend. And the two best friends could debate the destination of the gay best friend's soul. Or something.

And Hollywood just wants a little slack. Because the VAST MAJORITY of us out here in any urban area know gay people we don't feel threatened by, don't really care about intelligent design and see random acts of violence every day. In addition, any artist knows that the strictly religious model of narrative (namely, character is bad, character finds God, character is good) gets really boring after a while.

I'm trying REALLY hard not to patronize either side here because this is a debate that's filled with patronization, and the things we don't say say more than what we do say. I'll return to this topic in the future, but for now, I think it would be useful for everyone to take a deep breath and stop shouting past each other.

And I realize what I'm saying isn't new at all.


tomo said...

I think that you can blame a lot of it on the whole "not of this world"-theology that has been/still is quite popular with many evangelicals. Being one myself, I find it puzzling that church people don't do more to try to understand the culture they are in if they want to communicate their message. What could be more relevant?

It all boils down to - imo - that everybody needs an opposite. Hollywood jokes about evangelicals, so-called liberals see red when evangelicals defend their right to believe this and that, and evangelicals see red when everybody else display their ungodly ethics.

What I find interesting is that the most spiritually challenging films don't come from Hollywood... It is as if religious beliefs aren't welcome in plenty of films and tv-shows. Or as if you can't deal with beliefs without compromising your stance towards all of those 'fundies' out there.

Andy said...

What shows would you nominate for "best portrayal of a Christian" (or most fair portrayal, perhaps?)? Best shows dealing with people of faith in more than a one-dimensional manner?