19.3.09

Phil Vischer on Why Christians Struggle to Produce Good Media

I'm at a conference at Willowcreek this week. Yesterday, Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales presented on how culture disciples our children. He quoted the 2006 Kaiser Report that notes the average child between the ages of 8 and 18 consumes six hours of media (tv, computer, DVD, video games, music, etc) a day. If you account for media-multi tasking, the number goes up to 8 hours a day.

The only thing the average child does more than entertain himself is to sleep.

Phil went on to discuss various strategies to engage our children. One strategy would be to create media that advanced a Christian world view. Phil noted an interesting problem: "Christians just aren't funny. We're genetically bred to boring but productive people." Phil noted that our religious heritage can be traced to the Swedes and the Germans, who were wonderfully productive people, but not known for their stand up comedy at the pot lucks. So here's the dilemma: Protestants genetically bred to be productive and we live in an age of entertainment.

Christians also tend to use TV and radio as amplification units for their pulpits. We don't tend to tell stories or entertain well. When we try, we tend to produce schlock like Left Behind (okay, that one is on me, not Phil).

I left the talk with some questions. Obviously, since we are immersed in our entertainment culture and Christians watch as much media, and often the same media, as our unchurched counter parts, we will eventually "get it." We will start producing more and more witty story tellers. We'll become capable of injecting the Christian story back into the canon of media. This is a good thing. But I wonder if we'll lose our prophetic voice. Will we lose our ability to tell people to unplug and live?

19 comments:

  1. Christians are lame primarily because we fear God will not love us if we are truly ourselves.

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  2. I'm giving props to my church here. My pastor is an EXCELLENT story teller.

    Superb, even. And he's hilarious.

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  3. I blog about this often because Christian Media can drive me crazy.

    Christian artists too often feel the need to save the world with their art. Whether it's over-preachy content or issue-oriented (such as Bella, one of the more recent, not as bad but not as good Christian film efforts), Christians sacrifice their stories at the altar of good intentions.

    In response to Phil Vischer, many Protestants are very British, and the British can be funny :-)

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  4. Steve Turner has written quite possibly the best book on this matter: "Imagine:A vision for Christians in the arts."
    I agree with Aaron, if we had the courage, lived out of the space that we truly are then this whole subject would be moot.

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  5. The more I look over your post, the more annoyed I become.
    Call me super sensitive, but I don't think it's a good idea to stand up in front of people, at a conference for education, and say, "Germans are bred to be productive; therefore, they are not funny."
    I'm serious. How can phrases like this get said so easily in church?

    It seems to me that making a generalization like that is just as foolish as creating shoddy art.

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  6. It may be a stereotype to claim Germans are more serious, but it's based on truth. I recommend reading Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" for a fascinating look at how heritage affects our behavior. Specifically, Gladwell talks about Scotch-Irish culture, and how it has affected life in the South and the Appalachians.

    Does that mean all Germans are unfunny? Of course not. German heritage is known for certain aspects, and as long as we understand not every person of German descent is going to fit that generalization, there's nothing wrong with making those generalizations.

    (Of course, I realize I'm white, which is why I recommend Gladwell's argument...he has acknowledged his minority status is what allows him to talk about generalizations so openly.)

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  7. Hillary,

    Phil mentioned the British but noted that our religious heritage more directly came from the Swedes and German. We did get the Puritans. However, in spite of the contributions they gave us, they weren't exactly the life of the party. For example, during the 10 years they controlled Boston it will illegal to celebrate Christmas.


    Betsy,

    I agree with Jordon. Outliers does touch on this theme. "Genetically bred" is probably hyperbole. Culturally imprinted might be a safer term.

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  8. So, the more we immerse ourselves in secular media, the better chance we have at learning how to be funny?

    I don't know. I understand the argument, and the point it is making.
    But I just feel like it's a cop out to say Christian are lame at media, and it's because of our ethnicity. As if all Christians who produce media are Swedish, German Americans.

    I just think it's weak, you know? I think there are more noble, more challenging ways to refine creativity than citing genetics...

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  9. I'd like to think more of a perspective like Aaron's. That perhaps creative shortcomings have something to do with the individual or perspective and belief.

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  10. And dang it- since when do we have to be funny in order to be talk about Jesus well?

    I'm gonna beat this dead horse.

    Maybe this all just goes back to my resentment of Veggie Tales...

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  11. Betsy,

    I think it's valuable to see our heritage and to admit how it influences us collectively. But it's also important to admit that were dealing with aggregates and not individuals.

    And I'm not advocating that we immerse ourselves in countless hours of media. I'm just saying that, statistically, it's happening.

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  12. I know we feel a need to be relevant and to have some voice among the din of media and other distractions vying for the attention the believer and non-believer alike. But I think most would agree that it was an individual experience that led us to Christ and that it is community and fellowship that keeps us rooted in the same. I don't disagree at all with the points that were made about the lame-ness of Christian media and I do believe it serves at as an extension of the instrument we are to be as individuals but I do think we can get caught up in packaging and translating faith to be our version of whatever is cool 'out there.' Or being frustrated that only the smaltzy or exploitative messages really take off and enjoy popularity and patronage. When people find Christ, they find something authentic, classic, timeless. Part of why I liked this site when I found it was that it was that one thing we all have in common (Christ) expressed through the prism of each contributor's personality. People actually had personalities, questions, and senses of humor. Don't discount how powerful that is, you don't have to be huge to have impact.

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  13. As Christians we are called to be in the world, but not of it.

    It's very obvious to see within the next 10 years, the world economy will basically be very entertainment based via the internet.

    As Christians it is important to be heavily involved in this new sort of Revolution.

    I believe we are called to make secular creations with Christian undertones as well as blatent Christian works of art.

    It is our job to make Christ relevant to what's going on around us, and I believe God is calling a lot of young people who realize this.

    Fact of the matter is currently Christians do suck at media.

    All I know is TBN or the christian channel which most Americans hate.

    But if you notice a new trend with how we use media and interact with people it's awesome.

    Mars Hill Church a budding new church in Seattle Washington is utilizing Media on it's website streaming it's awesome sermons to millions of people and letting people text message questions during particular sermons.

    Not many people know but the man who created the Exercism of Emily Rose, and the Day the Earth Stood Still was a Christian.

    This is the types of things we need to be doing. Working hard making beautiful God honoring things and being an example in a very dark age.

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  14. three words: jews for Jesus.

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  15. Aaron,

    Being German I am unable to top your post.

    You win.

    Larry

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  16. This got me thinking so much that I just posted my own couple of blogs about it, rather than post overly-long comments here. Thanks for bringing up a great topic!

    http://caridadthompson.blogspot.com/

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  17. If I hear one more Christian gushing about Fireproof, I'm either going to scream or force them to watch four hours of Monty Python. Good grief. The trailer for Fireproof had me cracking up at the cheesiness and the actors who couldn't act. I also wondered if there was any room for a story between all that preaching.

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  18. I was interrupted...I meant to say that if Fireproof is an accurate representative of Christian media today, there's a problem.

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  19. I once heard Bob Kilpatrick say something in a music class in college that changed my view of Christian media forever. He said,

    "Don't let the Christianity of your music [or any media] be that it says 'Jesus.' Let the Christianity of your [media] be that you do whatever you do from the perspective of a christian, which, if you are a Christian, should be natural."

    So if you write love songs, write about love from a Godly perspective. If you write sad songs, write great sad songs like those in Lamentations and Psalms. Whatever you do well, do it to the best of your ability as unto God and not man.

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