Culture Notes


Issue: "Social Security," Jan. 11, 1997

I don't want my MTV

Plagued by four years of flat ratings, MTV is planning to cut back the rap, grunge, alternative, and non-music programming, in favor of a broader, more eclectic blend of musical styles. Since 1992, MTV's ratings have shown that, on average, only about 313,000 households-of the 62.6 million homes that receive the channel-are tuned in, about half the number watching sports on ESPN. Despite the low ratings, MTV, with its condom ads and beer commercials targeting teenagers, has been making money thanks largely to the international market. But the president of the network, Judy McGrath, wants higher ratings. "We have to make MTV surprising and intriguing again," she says. To do so, the network plans to downplay the fringe music, emphasizing instead dance tunes, electronic music, and pop sounds to get a broader audience. Nothing was mentioned about Christian music. The music industry, which has invested heavily in alternative bands and rap groups, is worried about the changes. In the meantime, TCI Cablevision of Western Colorado has announced that it is dropping MTV from its cable offerings altogether. In yet another example of corporate leadership in the culture wars, the cable company is planning to gear its programming toward more family-friendly shows.

Computer Armageddon

With the new year and the clock ticking ever closer to the year 2000, many Christians are wondering if there is a connection between the new millennium, the return of Christ, and the Last Judgment. Computer experts are expecting another kind of Armageddon in the year 2000. On January 1 of that year, at 12:00:01 a.m., when the digital clocks in all the world's computers roll over from the year "99" to "00," operating systems and software will react as if it were literally the End of Time. Short-sighted computer programmers and designers have for years saved disk space by leaving out the "19-" century prefix for the computers' internal clocks. Recently, they realized that as the sequence of years builds up to the next century, computers will interpret the double zeros not as 2000 A.D. but as 0 A.D. This will affect more than the clock feature on individual computers, since computer programming languages also are tied to time-functions. All time-based calculations and software will be thrown into chaos. The computers that track social security, interest rates, insurance, home mortgages, and business operations will be thrown into chaos. (For example, a credit union calculating interest payments between 1988 and 2000 will use the figure of minus 88 years.) Experts think they can solve the problem by arduously re-writing thousands of lines of code, but the cost to the economy may be as much as $600 billion.

Playing vampire

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If you see pale, black-cloaked creatures lurking along dark city streets, they are probably not real vampires, just wannabes who have gotten a weird Christmas present. The next development from the role-playing board game Dungeons and Dragons is Vampire: The Masquerade. This game dispenses with the board, the dice, and the table. Players actually dress up like vampires and roam their communities. The game has sold more than 500,000 copies since it was introduced in 1991. Players form clans, women submit to sires, and the language and fantasies are explicitly demonic. Some players drink blood. Some let the occult masquerade take over their whole lives. The game, with its vampire subculture, has been connected in Florida to the arrest of a teenage girl and four friends for murdering her parents (see the December 14/21, 1996 WORLD).

Culture-friendly worship

Churches whose leaders believe that worship should change to fit the demands of the culture should brace themselves for the next step, which is already taking place in England. In an article in the English newspaper The Guardian, David Tomlinson, author of a book titled The Post-Evangelical, complains about how traditional evangelicals are too conservative in doctrine and morality. He then describes the approach to worship in his congregation. They hold their services on Tuesday nights in a pub. "These are invariably conducted in a relaxed atmosphere with people sitting around tables rather than in rows," he reports. "Smoking and drinking are permitted, there are no preachers, sermons or hymns, and the group decides what subjects it would like to discuss." To be sure, in our culture people like to sleep in on Sundays; few people sing anymore; and most folks are not used to sitting still through a speech. With this logic, why not eliminate the sabbath, hymns, and sermons? Mr. Tomlinson's culture-friendly liturgy is what people have always done in bars. Churches have usually offered something different, such as holiness, salvation, and the Word of God.


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