Culturally impaired

Culture | In a year of decline, Christians displayed a little clout

Issue: "Year in Review 1997," Dec. 27, 1997

Even though the culture kept slouching towards Gomorrah, Christians actually exerted some influence on the culture (and vice versa). Here are some cultural milestones of 1997:

Information technology is now the nation's largest industry. Computer and media-related businesses passed construction, the food industry, and automobile manufacturing, according to a study of Commerce Department data sponsored by the NASDAQ stock market and the American Electronics Association.

In trying to come to terms with this new mega-industry-which did not even exist a few years ago-the courts reined in Microsoft but struck down efforts to protect children from Internet predators.

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TV networks finally succumbed to pressure to adopt movie-style ratings. Then, except for NBC, they succumbed again to pressure to make them more informative by including symbols for the various kinds of objectionable content. But whether the ratings have made much of a difference in the nation's viewing habits remains to be seen.

Homosexuality is now totally OK, according to the pop culture. With Ellen out of the closet, television, movies, and the cultural establishment fostered "gay chic" designed to win broad public acceptance of homosexuality-though there is evidence that the general public is not quite buying it, at least not yet.

For the first time since the outbreak of the culture wars, a television show that favorably depicts Christianity and "family values" has become a hit. Touched by an Angel has hovered near the number one spot in the ratings and so is spawning imitators. Though the program's theology lite has its critics among Christians, its success has proven the demand for wholesome TV.

Despite the drop in viewership of the major television networks and the promise of the new technology to bring true diversity of viewpoints to the public square, the story of 1997 in the entertainment and publishing industry has been corporate consolidation. Cable television, for all its channels, is now dominated by only three players: Time Warner, newly merged with Ted Turner (CNN, HBO, TNT, TBS, Comedy Central, the Cartoon network); Disney/ABC (ESPN, Lifetime, A&E, the History Channel, the Disney Channel, ABC); Viacom/MTV (Nickelodeon, MTV, VH1, Showtime, USA, Sci-Fi Channel). Something similar is happening in the publishing industry, including the dominance of the huge chains of megastores.

Tabloid journalism reached both its high point and its low point in the death of Princess Diana. The cult of celebrity news hounded her to death and also made the whole world care that she died. The conjunction of her death with that of Mother Teresa forced some serious reflection. Media hype over the Jon Benet Ramsey murder raised the issue of the sexual exploitation of children, while the case of the au pair baby killer raised some salutary guilt among parents who outsource the task of child-raising.

When the sheep named Dolly was cloned, scientists insisted that the process would never be used on human beings. But within the year, a team was assembled in Chicago to pursue that very goal. Appropriately named biologist Richard Seed has brought together eight experts-including lawyers, psychologists, and social workers-to start the research. They are seeking funding to clone human beings as a for-profit venture to help infertile couples. Genetic engineering may prove to be the next Tower of Babel.

Education keeps slipping into the pit. A recent study, conducted by the Educational Testing Service, found that 46 percent of Americans were below the level of functional literacy in reading prose; 49 percent could not understand documents such as charts, graphs, and schedules; and 46 percent could not handle survival arithmetic. In the meantime, the educational establishment is pushing for federally mandated "standards" that would actually lower the mastery of content. The only meaningful educational reform seems to be coming from Christian schools that are pioneering the recovery of classical education.

The Southern Baptist boycott of the Walt Disney corporation-for championing the homosexual agenda, undercutting Christian values, and general cultural pollution-was a catalyst for other churches, ministries, and individual Christians to just say no to the entertainment leviathan. In doing so, American Christians-who have had a habit of uncritically embracing the entertainment mentality-began taking a second look at their consumption of pop culture. The Southern Baptists repeat as culture warriors of the year.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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