Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture Paperback – 1 Feb 2007
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Eyes Wide Open Grounded in Christian principles, this accessible and engaging book offers an informed, fascinating approach to popular culture. Romanowski provides affectionate yet astute analyses of familiar, well-loved movies, television characters, musicians, and actors and actresses. Practical, analytical approaches to content, meaning, and artistic style offer the tools to participate responsibly and imagin Full description
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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.
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.
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.