Popcultured: Thinking Christianly About Style, Media, and Entertainment

July 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

9780830837687_p0_v1_s260x420Steve Turner is a journalist, writer and poet living in London, England. He has written numerous articles and books 1 that have appeared in places like Rolling Stone and The London Times. He is a perceptive thinker when it comes to the arts, something I was introduced to by one of my theology profs at Dallas who recommend I check out Imagine: A Vision For Christians In The Arts. In his most recent work, Popcultured: Thinking Christianly About Style, Media, and Entertainment, Turner applies that same insight to the broader field of media ecology, specifically when it comes to pop culture.

While there are plenty of books out there on evaluating pop culture from a Christian perspective, I think this book is probably one of the best places to start. I’m partial to Baker’s Engaging Culture and Cultural Exegesis series, but those tend to be more focused on one aspect of pop culture and more academic in tone and focus. Turner’s work here is more broad and accessible to an entry level audience.

The first three chapters following the introduction lay some ground work for thinking about pop culture in general. Chapter 1 explains why we should care, chapter 2 explains what exactly Turner means by “pop culture,” and chapter 3 gives biblical parameters for his analysis. As Turner notes late in chapter 3, “The Christian doesn’t have the option of being passively educated by culture” (54). In other words, if you’re not thinking biblically about the pop culture you consume daily, you’ll be thinking nonetheless. As he concludes, “God entrusts culture to us – the ability to create it, enjoy it, and critique it. The faithful servant does all three” (56).

In that vein, the remaining chapters (until the concluding 14th) each take a slice of pop culture and give a general sketch of how to interact with it. The accent is on enjoying and critiquing it, though Turner does have words of wisdom for practitioners in each field he covers. The first category Turner touches on is “Cinematic Art.” He devotes a later chapter to TV and movies, so this one is focused more on the power of stories told through a visual medium. He rightly notes the redemptive arc pretty much all storytelling embodies and how to read stories well both from a biblical perspective and within the particular avenue of pop culture he is strolling. While I was quite at home in this chapter, the next three were more or less uncharted territory for me personally. Starting in chapter 5, Turner explores journalism, celebrity culture, and fashion in successive chapters. I found his take interesting and informative, other readers will likewise find much food for thought.

Chapter 8 isn’t on a field of pop culture per se, but it is a well needed chapter on the culture of “thrill seeking.” Chapter 9 then turns the eye to comedy and will be particularly eye-opening to anyone not aware that many comedians are making you laugh so its easier to get ideas across and wield influence. This is followed by chapters on advertising, technology, photography, and finally the aforementioned chapter on TV and movies. Turned then wraps up his thoughts in chapter 14 explaining how we can consume discerningly, critique faithfully, and create wisely in whatever pockets of pop culture we find ourselves within.

As I said earlier, this book is probably one of the best, if not the best, starting points for engaging pop culture from a Christian perspective. Turner writes clearly for a general audience but thinks with the wisdom of a scholar. At the end of each chapter is a section of questions for reflection and discussion which would make this a great small group or book club resource. Additionally, Turner offers lists of books from a Christian perspective on that particular topic, as well as general works that are relevant. If that were not enough, he gives a list of “Action Items.” Often these are aimed at practitioners, but sometimes they are just ways general readers could have their eyes opened to the particular things Turner has spent the chapter discussing.

In the end, this is an easy but enjoyable read for anyone who wants to think more critically and Christianly about pop culture. Turner provides a great entry point for further reading in specific topics (technology, movies, journalism, etc.) and will give general readers a good grounding in sound cultural analysis that simultaneously is equipped to commend and critique. One thing missing that I think would have improved the book is a chapter on music. Its absence is somewhat curious considering Turner’s other works. However the overall thrust of this book is on visual culture, so perhaps that is why he doesn’t touch on music, pop or otherwise. Still, this is a valuable read and I would highly recommend it to you.

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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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