Some further reflections on popular culture. Those of my readers who are working on the same project, if you use this blog, then cite it.
Today we will look at the book Religion and Popular Culture : Rescripting the Sacred by Richard W Santana and Gregory Erickson 2008. The major claim of the book is that we understand religion through its contemporary pop culture and laity driven versions. A Feldheim book or a blog or an experience from Israel determines what a text means.
The United States is the world’s primary creator and exporter of popular mass culture and arguably one of the most religious countries in modern history. As a result, the coexistence of American religion with popular culture has created a fertile yet caustic environment for new religious belief structures, new texts, and new worldviews that are uniquely American. This work considers ways in which American television, advertising, music, and video games have played a significant role in creating, representing, and influencing contradictory religious identities. The authors examine three distinct segments of popular culture that “rescript the sacred.”
What they mean is that people understand their religion though the popular culture interpretation. TV, movies, novels and blogs now serve as the official narrated version for the religion means. They serves as a new scripture.
This creates a huge gap between the official interpretation and the popular interpretation. Popular religion gives its order and meaning and shows the tension between the religion of the ordinary person and the theologians priests and other religious professionals. There are learned presentations of the doctrines and practices, yet for many believers the most important parts of religion are those offering emotional security and personal relationship. American religion is bi-directional between popular and established religion. Lay people interpret the faith in its unique ways and influence the clergy.
M Lawrence Moore has suggested that our post-secular era is an era of the commoditization of religion. (see Oliver Roy in prior post)
According to the authors, America as a religious or Biblical culture that does not actually read the bible- they understand it through the Da Vinci code, Purpose Driven Life, Left Behind, Joel Osteen, TV, and famous preachers. Even when people go to ear famous preachers they actually spend most of their time with the side shows like the children’s show where Biblical figure as superheros defeat evil villains of secular culture with priestly magical garments. The Bible becomes objects and forces of power mightier than a sword. There is action and heroic virtue but not textual significance. They don’t get their power from reading the Bible but from its power. If you have faith or commitment then you vanquish your spiritual enemies.
The authors stress that popular religion is the religion of the laypeople By definition, they treat popular religion as having an extra institutional status, non-elite practitioners, immediacy and informality. It draws on behaviors both participant and observer recognize as religious even if not condoned by the religious elite. (p. 18) Focus on what people do and not what they think- blurring of sacred and profane- it surrounds us in everyday life.
The lines in America between religion and popular culture blur in ways “that leave scholars dizzy.” Paradoxes resolve themselves in ways that are not ordinarily obvious. (Think of the person who works in a corporate cubicle and defines work as cognitive, so religion is his emotional redemption. So hearing a rock star in shul is emotional and therefore Rav Nachman and Roger Daltry both say the same religious message to oppose his workplace rationalism.)
You cannot say they don’t understand the text correctly, famous case of experts saying that Waco Branch Davidians did not understand the Book of Revelations. You cannot tell pop culture Orthodox that they misunderstand the halakhic world. They have already reached a point where there were rabbis and authority figures who supported their opinion.
They think Biblical history is the most important event in world history but they interpret it through pop culture. Modern version of story is more real than the original.
Popular culture rescues religion from the bonds of the institutions that one grew up with. The bonds of the pulpit rabbi and HS rebbe and places it in the free floating experience of the year in Israel as one’s emotional retreat.
Any thoughts on applying this to Orthodoxy?