Lessons from pop culture


Do you have bored teenagers at home this summer? Watch a fun movie with them and teach them how to glean Biblical lessons from pop culture. I recommend a PG-rated film written and directed by Tom Hanks, That Thing You Do!

On the surface, That Thing You Do! is a fun movie about a garage band from Erie, Pa. called The Oneders (later renamed The Wonders). The band experiences a meteoric rise to fame and a rapid demise to "one-hit wonder" status in the span of two months in 1964. But there is much more to this movie than a lively tour through 1960s pop culture. Christian youth can learn important lessons from the band members.

The deeper and more important theme of the movie is "change," which viewers witness on two levels: change in the individual lives of the main characters and the cultural change of the 1960s.

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We witness cultural changes in the form of stores staying open on Sundays, the rise of the corporate store (TeleMart) competing with mom-and-pop shops, abundant affordable appliances, transistor radios, portable recording equipment, 50,000-watt radio stations, air travel, the cultural power of the partnership between the television and corporate pop music industries, go-go dancers, hints of the budding sexual revolution, and a cavalier male attitude toward infidelity.

On the individual level, we know that young people grow and change in cultures that change around them. This is certainly true of the characters in That Thing You Do! An obscure bunch of kids from western Pennsylvania playing in a band with a strange name that nobody can pronounce ("The O-need-ers") find themselves touring the nation and playing before large adoring crowds and ultimately jetting off to Los Angeles to celebrate their success, pay respects to the corporate music titan who made them household names, appear in a movie and on live national television . . . and suddenly, they go their separate ways and the band falls apart. That's change.

As with any maturing young---or old---adult, temptations occur. And as the band members experience this period of tumultuous personal change, we discover what is truly important to them. In other words, we learn who or what is god, or God, to the band members as their lives change rapidly in a rapidly changing world. We learn that beauty and material things are important to the drummer's (Guy) girlfriend (who dumped him for a dentist. Jazz and a jazz musician named Del Paxton are Guy's gods before his relationship with the lead singer's (Jimmy) ex-girlfriend (Faye) starts to take off. Faye's god is Jimmy until she "opens her eyes." A beautiful girl---a Playboy Playmate---becomes the lead guitar player's (Lenny) god. Jimmy's god is his music. And we're not sure what the god of the bass player's life is. Is it the Marine Corps? Is God his God? We know for sure that he knew Scripture.

What can Christian youth learn from movie? As with the lives of Faye and The Wonders, we too should recognize that we are growing, changing, and maturing as culture changes around us. We learn from The Wonders that we will face many forms of temptation along the way. Most important, we learn that the First Commandment matters every day. We must ask ourselves daily: "Who or what is my God or god?" If God is our God, He promises we will experience an abundant life through faith in The Wonder---Jesus Christ---rather than a series of one-hit moments of empty worldly excitement. That's a good lesson to learn in the heat of summer.

Lee Wishing
Lee Wishing

Lee is the administrative director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.


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