Though I went to Bible college, I can say without hesitation that the Shakespeare class I took during my junior year is in my top 5 classes of my undergrad career. A couple factors made the class so good. First, it was the prof, Dr. Joan Tompkins, who presented Shakespeare to us in an infectious and intelligent way. Second, she crafted a class that was filled with variety and practical interaction. We read and discussed at least 5 of Shakespeare’s greatest works. We watched film versions of others. The Strand Theater in York was giving a performance of Othello, so our class went to see it. Finally, Dr. Tompkins divided us into groups which were responsible for reading, researching and dramatizing another one of Shakespeare’s works. My group did Henry the 5th, and had a blast. It was such a great class.
What surprised me, though, was that something really interesting happened in my life during that class. Little by little through the semester, things in my life started to relate to Shakespeare plays. Whether it was in a conversation with a friend, an event on campus, or something going on in the world, I found myself thinking, “that was just like sneaky Iago in Othello” or I would say, “No way, in Macbeth, that was just like the witches…”. Shakespeare even started infecting my friends. One day as my roommate (who was not in the Shakespeare class) and I were walking to the academic building, we bumped into another friend. My roommate, Dan, ever quick on the uptake, greeted our friend by saying, “How art thou?”
I will also admit to being impacted like this by the movie Dumb & Dumber featuring Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels, who play two bumbling friends that get into many ridiculous situations. There was a period of about six months in the late 90s when I watched the movie over and over, thinking it was the most hilarious thing ever. I rewatched Dumb & Dumber a couple years ago, and somehow it had grown…well…dumber. But back then, just like Shakespeare class, so many things in life started relating to Dumb & Dumber.
What is going on in these kinds of media associations? Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever been so into a book or TV series, or some other media, that it seemed to pop up everywhere in your life?
We are surrounded by media in our culture. Images, sounds, messages, and videos are pumped into our lives incessantly. Right now as I type, I am listening to music on Pandora, and with a couple clicks on my internet browser, I can be reading the news, watching music videos, or I can turn on my Netflix app and continue the episode of Sherlock that I started the other day. These excursions into media are by my own choice. There are also plenty of times in our world where media comes to us whether we like it or not. Billboards, advertisements that interrupt a game of Two Dots on our phones or tablets, and commercials on TV, are a few examples. Media is all around us. How is it affecting us?
I remember when I was a teenager exploring the wide world of contemporary music, and my mom would suggest that this music would affect me negatively. I thought my mom’s concern was unnecessary; to me it was just great-sounding music. Made me feel good listening to it. But influence me? Nah.
Now as I consider my Shakespeare class and Dumb & Dumber, I realize my seminary professor Dave Dorsey was wise when he said, “I know less now than I did then.” I thought I had this media thing all figured out when I was a teen. I was confident that there was no way it was affecting me. But now? I’m not so sure. I have personally experienced media shaping my life.
We hear a lot, actually, from people decrying the evils of media, about a conspiracy by the media to run our lives by sending electromagnetic waves into our brains. The tinfoil hat people, we call them, using images of covering our heads with foil to block the incoming waves.
How influential is media, really? And what should Christians do about it? Avoid it? Engage it? Parents these days, and I am one of them, can tell you the frustrations they have with kids spending too much time on screens, on social media, or watching TV and listening to music. It seems addictive, but is it? What should parents do about media and their kids? “Throw that iPad out the window”? (A phrase that may or may not have been uttered in my house.)
At Faith Church, for our sermons the last few months, we have been looking at Life in These United States, and we’re talking about what everyone is talking about. This coming Sunday, our focus is on media. What is media? How influential is it? And what is a distinctly Christian approach to media?