Consumer: Modern Culture Essay example

Submitted By jobankler
Words: 1530
Pages: 7

Discussion of culture has become a virtual shibboleth in contemporary evangelicalism, left and right. Whether this is itself a biblical imperative or merely a cultural reaction to a time when fundamentalism ruled the roost is a matter for debate. Indeed, one of the perplexing things about the trendy Christian culture vultures is that, generally speaking, when they talk about “culture” they are usually referring to what we might call popular culture, particularly movies, internet, and music, with, more often than not, a youth orientation. “Culture” as the traditions, institutions, and mechanisms by which a society transmits a way of life across the generations is often not what is in view. No, “culture” today means pop culture, and, ironically, that reduces the concept to a function of the marketplace. Music, movies, and the like are not so much reflections of the broader culture under terms of the second definition above; rather, they represent what is and is not marketable in terms of contemporary taste, and, indeed, they do not simply reflect taste but influence it as well.

I would suggest that, if we keep this in mind as we reflect on the issue of culture and the rapidity of change, we will need to reject one of the most common modern clichés: the idea that modern culture is always changing. I am going to suggest that this is not the case. In fact, the culture is not always changing, rapidly or otherwise; rather, rapid change is modern culture. The phenomena of modern culture — the fashions, the music, the celebrities — are changing all the time, but this is a function of the underlying cultural foundation — namely, consumerism. For societies that are built upon consumption, change is an essential component. Intentional obsolescence, the need for markets to be constantly reinventing products, the voracious appetites of us all for the new and the novel — these are the things driving the culture of rapid change. If it were not so, we would all only ever need to buy one television, one dishwasher, one car, have one smart suit, and so on. In fact, however, our dishwashers break down every five to ten years — just as they are designed to do — and while that’s a bit of a pain, it also allows us to replace them with models that, frankly, do the job no better than the old model but which look so much more appropriate for today’s world. Even those transnational aspects of popular culture — youth culture and sport — are subject to the same rapidity of change. After all, what kid wants to wear last year’s fashion? And many sports teams seem to change their shirt designs so often these days that one feels lucky if the shirt you bought at the souvenir shop at the start of the game is still the team’s current design when the full-time whistle blows.

All of this change is, as I have hinted above, a trick of the light. The world may appear to be in a state of permanent flux as an endless parade of dizzying and kaleidoscopic images flashes before our eyes, but this is merely an optical illusion and one that feeds the myth that every generation likes to believe about itself — that this time, here and now, is unique and special, and the rules of yesteryear can no longer be applied with any credibility. Not at all. We may appear to be living in a world of change and flux, but under it all there is a constant culture that changes little, if at all, from year to year — the culture of consumerism that creates the cult of constant change. It is that underlying bedrock with which the church must engage.

How can the church do this? There is only one way so to do: by being counter-cultural. The church, both at the local level and at the level of its denominations, must be the agent of the counter-culture. The “culture wars,” so often considered by the church in terms of cultural phenomena such as political legislation, TV programs, and so on, must be understood at a much deeper level. The church needs to stand against the culture at its