Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture, by William D. Romanowski, 2007.
I have read quite a few books on pop culture and Christianity and, in most cases, I have found their argumentation to be too simplistic in one area or another. This, however, is not the case with Romanowski’s book. He sets out to seriously handle the complexities of pop culture and the complexities of the Christian’s interaction with pop culture. The first part of the book is an introduction to the landscape how pop culture works and Christianity’s often complicated relationship with it throughout history. The second part of the book deals with the defense of pop culture at art, distinctions on how critics have approached the subject and showing the false dichotomy between low and high art. The final section of the book deals with the development of a purely Christian critique and appreciation for pop culture. In this section, Romanowski presents various elements of pop culture in America and how the Christian, oftentimes unknowingly,assimilates their views with non-biblical American views. Some of these include the simplicity and flawed nature of the melodramatic in American pop culture, issues of sex and sexuality, gender and the issue of violence, which Christians tend to overlook as non-important.
I think the most effectual chapters in this book began with his argument that the distinction between high and low art is largely a cultural construction and that those who look down on low art, or pop culture, and embrace only “high art” are using it merely as a means of social status and a way to show the modernist program of human progress. That somehow there is a path through high art that will lead man to a perfection in expression. His point is not to downgrade the greatness of “high art” but to strip away the pretense that finds itself in those who reject pop culture as art. I agree with this point. I think human creations regardless of their populist or specific bent can point to the beauty of God’s creative spark in all humanity. They all show something of God, whether the artists believe or not. For all men know their Creator, but some deny him, but not even they can totally divest themselves of those things that God gave them. That would be the program of great futility to attempt that.
I found all of his chapters where he dissects American pop culture to be greatly helpful, especially the chapter on melodrama and violence. For once I found, in words, what I have been on the edge of in my mind. These overly simplistic and simple depictions of good and evil, happy endings, simple problems with simple solutions, all of which only give a hopeful idea of what the world should look like. This would be alright if it was based on God’s action as the Redeemer, but in American pop culture, the way the world should be is attained by recognizing our own abilities and some inner greatness with maybe just a little bit of magical help from the outside. This is not the Christian conception. Things are not that easy and simple in this world and our hope is not in ourselves but in our God. To be honest in portrayals of the world, showing that we can’t solve or fix everything ourselves and that, in the big picture, we have very little control over the actions and events of our lives. This dependence on God and the ability to portray that sincerity and transparency in works of art in pop culture is truly rare these days. At the same time, Romanowski’s criticism of the Christian’s view of violence come to the culmination in a story from a friend of his who worked at a video store. A Christian mother came in and asked about a recent teen slasher flick, whether or not it had any sex or nudity in it. The friend told her that it didn’t have much of that but that there was graphic depictions of murder, slitting throats, stabbings, etc. The mother’s reply was “That’s fine, as long as it doesn’t have sex in it.” Romanowski’s point is that Christians, in American society at least, pick and choose elements that they was to criticize when, in fact, every aspect of art should be under the lens of a Biblical understanding of man, God and the world.
This was an extremely well-written book and one that I think I will be going back to as I think more on this subject from time to time. He never once gave in to cliche Christian responses or answers to criticism or overly-generalized understandings of pop culture. He knew and loved the subject and the reader can tell. One of the blurbs on the back said this book was in the same vein as Lewis and Schaeffer, however, I would be comfortable with the Lewis suggestion, it is plain to see that this books is levels above Schaeffer and his approach, which, over the years, I have found to be rather in-comprehensive and spotty at best.