The storytellers of a culture shape the values of the culture.
A magazine advertisement featured a photo of two beautiful children, a boy and a girl, not more than ten or eleven years old. My kids are grown now and I tend to linger on such shots, remembering how cool it was to be a dad with little kids in the house. My eyes eventually wandered down the page to the ad-copy and my heart sank as the message dawned: Boys need to be vaccinated for human papilloma virus (HPV) as well as girls.
It’s hard to convey the sadness I felt about that ad. I don’t have anything against vaccines, or preventing sexually transmitted diseases. But these were children, beautiful, innocent, children. The creators of the ad had done their job well. They wanted parents like me to know that, yes, your children too are “doing it,” or soon will be, and if you want them to be protected you need to get them vaccinated.
I’m not afraid for my children, at least not about STD’s. No, the arrow that pierced my heart had this message attached: So this is where we’ve come to in America of the 21st Century. Promiscuity has so penetrated the fabric of our lives, debauchery runs so deep, that we now need to vaccinate children against diseases once known only to those who worked in, or frequented, whore houses.
How did we get here? How did we get here when so many of us have so long preached, prayed for and politicked against such things? I have been a culture warrior for thirty-two years. In those three decades I’ve witnessed my country, and far too many church members, embrace values completely contrary to the Biblical virtues that once guided us as a civilization. How did that happen?
The storytellers of a culture shape the values of a culture. The storytellers have this power because we humans love story. We identify with the characters, the heroes and heroines, the underdogs and the overcomers. We feel their pain, their challenges, their comic as well as their cosmic conflicts. We also identify, oh so unconsciously, with the solutions they find and the world-views behind those solutions. We laugh at their jokes, and rejoice in their victories, and ever so gradually adopt the point of view written into the script, visualized by the director, and brought to life by the actors. It is an extreme example, but does it surprise anyone that just before the Columbine massacre the young men responsible repeatedly watched the film, Natural Born Killers?
The primary storyteller in our culture is television. Movies and music are a close second and third. Those of us who have limited our efforts at changing public morality to the public square, to political action and rhetoric alone, have been in the right war but ignoring the most powerful battlefield. Culture, as someone has said, is upstream from politics. That is to say, our political values flow from our cultural values. The stories we embrace as our own shape our politics and thus the laws by which we live. Political involvement is mandatory. We can’t ignore that field. But we need to be creating culture, not just berating it. We need to tell better stories.
That’s why presentations like the Prizery’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, and Little Theater’s Tom Sawyer are so important. Stories like that are saturated with Biblical values as are older TV shows like Andy Griffith; The Rifleman; Little House on the Prairie and others. Films like Amazing Grace; The Chronicles of Narnia; The Lord of the Rings; The End of the Spear; Courageous; 7 Days in Utopia and others provide characters and situations that unconsciously instill the virtues that harmonize with a Biblically informed value system. We need nothing less than a generation of Christian writers, directors, producers, musicians, actors and all manner of people who will answer the call to the newest storytelling apparatus of our day, internet television. We need a new generation of culture warriors who will turn the power of story to the purpose of virtue. Will you answer the call?
Not a storyteller? Don’t feel like a creative type? You still have weapons to wield on this battlefield: the power of the purse and the click of the mouse. Money talks; movies that make a profit stimulate the creation of similar films. TV sitcoms and dramas with large audiences stay on the air. Videos that go viral spawn more of the same. If you hear of a virtuous film or production, buying a ticket is the most powerful thing you can do to generate similar shows. If you see a sitcom, no matter how much it may make you laugh, that undermines Biblical virtue, turn it off, refuse to watch it. And tell all your facebook friends why it is no longer on your watch list. If you see a video that elevates everyone’s values, forward it to your friends.
And go see The Prizery's production of Amahl this weekend; because a crippled kid with a crutch for the King is a greater culture warrior than you might think.