A few days ago, I caught a few minutes of the “Teen Choice Awards”. You may wonder why in the world I would be watching that show. I confess that my kids weren’t even watching it with me! My desire to know the culture of the people I still feel called to reach sparks my interest in things teen: magazine articles, music, personalities, movies, shows…..I now share a personal investment as well since my own home includes two teenagers. The Teen awards shows bring me back, at times, to my own teen years. Those moments of confusion, fears, impulsiveness, and downright giddiness. As I watched the girls screaming toward the celebrities who appeared on stage, I was reminded of my own “crushes” and objects of my admiration: Shaun Cassidy, Reo Speedwagon, the “Brat Pack” and their movies, Amy Grant, Petra. O.K., I have now aged myself.
We didn’t have awards shows then. And we didn’t have the myriad of venues through which music is shared. In fact, cable showed it’s face on my television when I was in High School. Electronic communications have transported music from purely audio to one that is breathed in through all senses. The videos, the webpages, the limitless access, the personality of the musician as well as their fashion style have a much bigger and broader influence on this generation. In itself, the access isn’t evil. However, anytime technology evolves quickly, the implications follow at a slower speed. Richard Swenson first wrote about this process fifteen years ago in his book, Margin. I highly recommend it.
So as I watched the “Teen Choice Awards”, I observed similarities in teens that remain constant through all ages: the desire for independence (hence, the award winners nominated and voted by teens), the childlike giddiness that results from being in that transition of not being a kid but not yet an adult, and the energy resulting from groups of peers holding things in common. Sharing common interests with other teens isn’t just about finding mutually appreciating friends but also serves as a sign of acceptance. A sense of belonging brings a sense of relief (even if temporary) as you walk that often lonely road of discerning identity. Your new family (peers) has given you the thumbs up.
In the midst of the similarities, protrude some startling contrasts. Teens have always been impressionable but it would seem that the vast influence of electronics and social media have allowed for greater opportunities for exposure. Not just to the audience itself, but, the audience within itself. It’s much easier to find others who share your interests, even if they are taboo, through the internet. Previously, it was much harder for questionable information to bombard you. Finding others who may share your choices in things-even taboo-was more difficult. Finding peer approval now can be found with a simple word typed into “Google.” Suddenly, you can find “friends” that like whatever it is you seek.
The surprise of the night for me came as the nominations for “Summer Song”, were announced. Who doesn’t experience flashbacks or warm fuzzy feelings when certain songs are heard? And there is something about “Summer Songs” that hold memories of the laid-back, off schedule few months that we get ever year. I get that. What I don’t get is why “Blurred Lines” was one of the nominations. Again, these songs were nominated by TEENS (and by teens, it most likely is tweens and young teens). The song, by Robin Thicke, is indeed catchy. When I first heard it, I found it to be a fun song that digressed from the usual pop. And then……I heard the lyrics. I even looked them up because I couldn’t believe what was really being sung. To say that it has sexual overtones is an understatement. It’s also degrading to women. Look it up (and if you are really brave look up info on the video). Yes, I know every generation has its judgements on the younger one. Elvis was once thought to be parading his sexuality by shaking his hips. But this is different….and troubling. What can we learn from 1) a myriad of teens knowing and liking this song and 2) how has technology affected the accountability of choices (or lack thereof)? Do parents know what music is downloaded into their kid’s iphones? My daughter initially liked the song. I listen to the same stations she likes (a combination of personal interests and intentional conversation starters). She liked the melody. So did I. We had a conversation about the lyrics. Now, when it comes on, she turns the station-on her own. Not every teen will do that. But every teen should know their value as God’s creation. (Psalm 139:13-14) That validation affects your choices.
There are so many metaphors for what Jesus calls His followers: salt, light, fragrance. The point is that His followers should show the world that there is an alternative lifepath that is offered to them. The world should be able to see that light, taste the salt and smell the fragrance of our presence. The senses of the world should be able to notice the difference in what Christ offers through us. So what has happened? Has compromise with the world, dimmed the Church’s light? Has a culture on highspeed succumbed to a life of convenience and mediocrity rather than long term goals and higher standards? I am reminded of these words from Dr. Martin Luther King: “If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an
irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority”. Has the Church become a place of “blurred lines“?