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Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture [Paperback]

William D. Romanowski
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 Feb 2007
Grounded in Christian principles, this accessible and engaging book offers an informed and fascinating approach to popular culture. William D. Romanowski provides affectionate yet astute analysis of familiar, well loved movies and television characters from Indiana Jones to Homer Simpson, and he speaks with historical depth and expertise on films from Casablanca to Crash and music from Bruce Springsteen to U2. Romanowski's confessional approach affirms a role for popular culture in faithful living. Practical, analytical approaches to content, meaning, and artistic style offer the tools to participate responsibly and imaginatively in popular cultural activities. An engaging read, this new edition introduces students and thoughtful readers to popular culture one of the most influential forces in contemporary society.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Brazos Press; Rev. and Expanded Ed edition (1 Feb 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1587432013
  • ISBN-13: 978-1587432019
  • Product Dimensions: 22.7 x 15.5 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 805,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

William D. Romanowski (Ph.D., Bowling Green State University) is professor of communication arts and sciences at Calvin College and is a widely respected speaker on subjects dealing with American culture and the entertainment industry. He is the author of Pop Culture Wars: Religion and the Role of Entertainment in American Life, coauthor of Risky Business: Rock in Film, and contributor to Dancing in the Dark: Youth, Popular Culture, and the Electronic Media.

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Ok- so i've only got the first edition, but if this version is anywhere near as useful then i strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys films, TV, music, books, art etc etc but has wondered how and if they can connect to faith and spirituality. I'm writing as a Christian, and the author is coming from a Christian worldview too, but the idea of engaging culture with faith isn't limited to just one faith.

its just good- give it a go.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read on God and Pop Culture 21 Dec 2007
By Andrew Gates - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
William Romanowski is Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences at Calvin College. He teaches courses on film, communication and cultural studies, and is a well respected authority on the interaction of Christianity and popular culture. He has written numerous articles and a handful of books on popular culture, with an emphasis on film. The thesis of Eyes Wide Open is that "Christians should help preserve the best features, improve the weakest parts, and eliminate the worst traits of popular art" (21).

Romanowski goes about defending his claim in a very engaging way. He speaks of modern day Christians who propose to shun all `evil' things such as movies, rock music and dancing, yet they are just as immersed in popular culture as the next person, only in the form of a ghettoized Christian subculture. The reality is that very few truly avoid popular culture, only prefer those elements of it which are, or appear to be sterile and safe. It is within this context that Romanowski argues for discernment. He believes strongly that this oversimplification has created Christians who have no idea how to discern good from bad, truth from error. The easiest way for evangelicals to make judgments is to simply count swear words, violent acts and sexual innuendos. Romanowski notes the Biblical mandate to cultivate: to create and tend to culture. Cultural forms, like anything else in creation, are corrupted by sin and in need of transformation, and we do a disservice to everyone when we make rigid divisions between sacred and secular. It is a sign of secularization that we would even think to label activities in God's world as secular.

The popular arts aid us in cultural communication (reflecting cultural ideals), social criticism (challenging or dealing with culturally contentious issues), social unity (when we've all seen the same movie) and collective memory (the way we view history is shaped by pop culture). This is what pop culture should be doing, but Romanowski notes that the primary venue for popular film in western culture is the melodrama, a dramatic genre with oversimplified depictions of good and evil, with prepackaged endings that end in "domestic bliss or harmonious community" (111). These melodramatic categories absolutely dominate the "Christian, family-friendly" genre and Romanowski wants to challenge this. The Biblical narrative conveys no such clear cut pattern, and he argues that this emphasis on sentimentalism indicates assimilation to, rather than a break from mainstream popular culture.

Christians who want to engage popular culture need to keep these things in mind. We are called to discern beyond whether something is "family-friendly" or not. The presence of violence and swearing and even sex is not always anti-Christian, but can very well be a catalyst for a story of redemption. And what we see as a story of redemption is often brazen individualism where someone pulls themselves up by the bootstraps and defeats the odds. This tells more about the autonomous human than redemption that can only come from God.

So beyond a "Jesus' per minute" scale and an "f-bomb count," Christians are called and even mandated to discern truth from error in popular culture. We are not to become mere consumers, but people who take seriously the message presented in a piece of popular art. He offers a helpful "matrix" for analyzing popular culture which lists questions to ask, but I feel that so many Christians are so far out of this discussion that more direction is needed. Romanowski presents a full analysis of Titanic through this matrix, also helpful, but I wish he gave further direction on how we can practice this act of discernment as Christians. We are conditioned to think that the acceptable Christian films are G, PG, and occasionally PG-13 (The Passion of the Christ excluded, of course), and we need time to learn to see God's beauty in culture again. In light of these facts, I would recommend this book to individuals and even church small groups. I hope it will help us all keep our eyes open a little wider.
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Solid treatise on Christianity and culture 26 Jun 2001
By Tom Hinkle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Christians are not that much different than non-Christians when it comes to consumption of popular culture. All but the most legalistic watch many of the same movies, listen to the same music, and watch the same TV shows as everyone else. Romanowski realizes this, and with this book (along with others he has written) he analyzes the culture from a Christian perspective and gives the Christian, who is in the world but (hopefully) not of it, valuable tools for being a cultural critic. I would have rated this book higher, but for me it doesn't break a lot of new ground, and the appendices concerning an analysis of the movie "Titanic" could have been better utilized on a movie with more depth and meaning (even though I do admit that, like everyone else, I cried at the end of the movie). On the other hand, you've got to love a book with a chapter entitled "Christians Who Drink Beer" (even though, personally, I don't). Others who haven't read widely in this field like I have would surely give it a higher rating, because it is a very competent, easy to read book on an important subject.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Christianity and Pop Culture 13 Aug 2010
By Julie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Eyes Wide Open is an important read for Christians living the 21st Century. Romanowski dives deep into the heart of music, television, and movies. It is a constant struggle for Christians to remain separate from the world while still remaining in the world. There is a struggle to balance and maintain the sacred and secular in our personal lives. There is a never-ending pull to embrace the culture that surrounds us in order to be effective and relatable.
Christians need to recognize certain things before submersing oneself into pop culture.
The entertainment media is consumed with so much corruption and inappropriate material that it can easily make a believer stray. As Christians we have to discern what is worth partaking in. Are we being a light in this darkened world if we watch/listen to this? Are we being relatable or are we just enjoying this for the wrong reasons? People of faith need to be informed and ready to defend what they believe. It is so important to be well-rounded and knowledgeable about all different areas. The entertainment world may be the most important because it involves almost every person in society in some way. But ultimately as a Christ follower they need to be grounded and know when to draw the line.
Coming from a Christian prospective it is important to recognize the difference between popular art and entertainment because the idea of popular art was meant to be taken as an artists purpose behind work rather than its entertainment value. "Understanding the roles that contemporary popular art plays in our lives, culture, and society is central to the development of a critical approach." The arts were made to "help understand our lives and culture." So as a Christian it is important to recognize the difference before critiquing them under the same standard. Knowing this before analyzing the two is a more fair way to go about ones approach.
This book is important for any Christian living in today's society to gain prospective and insight on how to be well informed and prepared for any apologetics discussion.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eyes Wide Open 6 Mar 2008
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"Eyes Wide Open" is, in my opinion, one of the most important contemporary works on engaging culture available. Romanowski traverses the often complicated landscape of contemporary culture, challenging his reader as he goes to use discernment when approaching the visual arts, film and music. Both accessible and intellectually stimulating, Romanowski's book is a "must read" for any aspiring apologist.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Learning to Live in the World 10 Sep 2006
By tvtv3 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The basic premise of EYES WIDE OPEN is that in the realm of culture, Christians have been too complacent for far too long. Romanowski begins the book with an introduction illustrating why Christians should become involved in culture, specifically pop culture. In the following chapters the author gives a detailed description of what culture is, the "difference" between high culture and low culture (as well as an explanation of why there really isn't a difference), what often is associated with being "faith" friendly in popular art nowadays, what makes up a Christian worldview, the typical Hollywood cultural landscape, the importance of Christian criticism, etc. Towards the end of the book the author makes some very general suggestions about how Christians can become involved in pop culture and the last section of the book (appendix two) is a review of the movie TITANIC from a Christian perspective.

The book raises many salient points that Christians should be aware off. Culture is a part of our lives and as believers in Christ, we are called to be involved in the world. For someone who has never seriously considered these issues, EYES WIDE OPEN might serve as a wake-up call. Also, even though the book is directed towards the lay person, the book is written in such a way it could confuse someone who has never had a beyond-high-school-education. I was able to follow the book's over-arching structure and pattern but there were several times I found myself thinking, "If I hadn't heard any of this before, this would be really confusing." The other criticism I have of the book is that the book is marketed as an "easy-to-read guide for interpreting and evaluating popular culture as a Christian." The author appears to be at least an amateur critic of film and movies. In fact, the book was filled with references to films. However, there is a lack of references to television, music, the Internet, mainstream novels, etc: there is a section where the author talks about Bruce Springsteen and another section where he discusses the television show E.R. However, that's about it. It would have been nice to have another few appendixes at the end of the book where the author reviews a television show, an album, and perhaps a popular website or work of fiction. Also, since the author chose to review TITANIC instead of a more worthwhile film (just because it's the #1 grossing movie of all time is besides the point--just about every movie from 1933-1959 had a higher attendance than any film released since then) or instead of reviewing another movie, too, it dropped a notch in my estimation.

Overall, this is a decent book for a Christian lay person who is interested in becoming engaged in popular culture but has no idea how to go about that. It should provide a good foundation. For a more in depth approach check out Roaring Lambs: A Gentle Plan to Radically Change Your World by Bob Briner or Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts by Francis Schaeffer.
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