Reviews > Culture

A look at the bright side

Culture | 1999 was a year of crossing over, making new allies, and winning some small cultural victories

Issue: "Mid-term, mid-field pileup," Dec. 11, 1999

If you've had your fill of century and millennium lists, try this shorter one: a simple listing of some top cultural products of 1999: 1. Culture books: How Now Shall We Live by Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey set forth the principles of worldview analysis, cultural criticism, and positive Christian alternatives, in a way that can turn every Christian in the pew into a culture warrior. In Angels in the Architecture, Douglas Wilson and Douglas Jones offer a bracing, stimulating vision of what a culture informed by Christianity might look like. Responding to postmodernity by going back to what preceded modernity, they come back with a "Reformed Medievalism." A different but complementary take on the Bible's influence on the culture comes from Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who argues in America's Real War that Jews need to ally themselves with Christians in the culture wars. His analysis of the biblical foundations of Western culture and America's freedoms, his call for moral reforms, and his argument that Jews should abandon political liberalism will resonate strongly with many Christians, who he argues are Jews' natural allies. Another salutary Jewish venture into the cultural combat was Laura Schlessinger, whose book The Ten Commandments: The Significance of God's Laws in Everyday Life put the decalogue on the bestseller list. 2. The return of the G-rating for adults: In the movies, two films by serious, respected, artsy directors, aimed at adults, foreswore bad language, sex, and explosions, to earn a G-rating-and the directors didn't even go back to insert something negative to score a PG. The Winslow Boy, directed by David Mamet (Spanish Prisoner), is about a turn-of-the-century British family, which pulls together to protect the honor of their son, falsely accused of cheating at his tony boarding school. No killings, no affairs, just a remarkably absorbing study of what are, in effect, family values. As if that weren't enough, David Lynch-master of creepily surreal dark dramas like Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet-did The Straight Story, about the true story of an old man who drives across America on a riding lawnmower to reconcile with his brother in a Milwaukee hospital. Quirky, yes, but wholesome and positive all the same. These two films prove that high dramatic art can be rated G-which, of course, anyone who watches American Movie Classics already knows. 3. Crossover music: Sixpence None the Richer-a Christian group respected for its integrity-scored a monster hit on the pop charts with "Kiss Me," which became the No. 1 song in over 10 countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, and Israel. According to Billboard magazine, "Kiss Me" is also the top movie soundtrack single of 1999. The duo explained its name-taken from a line in C. S. Lewis about God's grace-on the Letterman show, offering a Christian witness in the secular scene that many crossover bands only talk about. Crossing over from the other direction, operatic tenor Andrew Bocelli's Sacred Arias-a collection of religious songs from the opera-became a No. 1 bestselling CD for Amazon.com. And soul diva Aretha Franklin returned to her church-singing roots with Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings. And on Clinch Mountain Country, singers from Bob Dylan to Patty Loveless paid tribute to bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley, singing duets with the great man. (Mr. Dylan called the experience the highlight of his career.) As always with Ralph Stanley, a hefty proportion of the numbers on the two-CD set was gospel music. 4. Literary miniseries on TV: Television remained mostly a vast wasteland, with most of its new shows-many trying to push the already pushed envelope of sex and bad language-bombing spectacularly. Some of the best programs were miniseries based on great literature. A movie based on a novel has to pare down events on hundreds of pages into less than two hours, but television can actually be more faithful by devoting as many as 10 or 12 hours to the work, in the form of the miniseries. This worked well with Herman Melville's Moby Dick (TNT), Jane Austen's Emma (A&E), and in 1999 with C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower (A&E).

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Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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