Victor Davis Hanson’s confession that he doesn’t even try to keep up with culture anymore (“Confessions of a Cultural Drop Out”) made for a funny column. It’s full of grumpy, old-guy lines like “I was supposed to listen to Dan Rather because Murrow once worked for CBS?” That’s a nice, long memory.
He’s not looking down on pop culture from above: he’s a farmer-professor who hates the country club even more than he hates the trailer park. He’s not William Buckley, who once boasted, ”“I have never seen a professional baseball game, an episode of Dallas, or of Roseanne, or of Geraldo, or of the black lady who is alternately fat and thin, I forget her name. So? So I waste my time and take my pleasures in other ways.”
The old-guy lament (from Horace’s laudator temporis acti) is a great genre. The best recent example from a Christian is Carl Trueman’s instant classic, Why Are There Never Enough Parking Spaces at the Prostate Clinic?
The big question here is not, “Should Christians strive to stay current with culture?” The big question seems to be, “When is it okay for old Christians to quit keeping up with all the latest schlock?” I’m just a half-plug of Star chewing tobacco bit past twoscore, but I’m already logey and reeling under all the mediocre culture I consumed in the dreadful eighties. It was mostly forgettable, but I didn’t succeed in forgetting it. I can already recite the first eight seasons of the Simpsons (when it was still good); do I need to make room and lower my shock-standards for The Family Guy? I can pontificate on the emceeing styles of three different Family Feud hosts; do I need to make it a priority to see who the stars are dancing with? Don’t get me started on comic books: Having survived the zine revolution, the Secret Wars, and the Crisis on Infinite Earths, what’s a fanboy approaching middle age supposed to read? And where do they even sell comics these days, because I’m sure not going into that spooky store.
I speak not as a Christian, but as an up-and-coming fogey. I rarely meet the young Christian who needs to be exhorted to engage their culture. They seem to consume what everybody consumes, and are in general agreement with the zeitgeist that a steady stream of entertainment is the Fifth Freedom that our forefathers fought for. What I need is a reliable guide to the four good movies that come out every year, so I can see those and ignore the rest.
If there’s some gospel reason why I should scour through this and this and this to find something worth paying attention to, I’m ready to hear and obey. I’m even trying to keep the channel relatively clear so I can get the message when it arrives.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?