Debunking The Great Media Myths
A Lesson For The Church From “The Passion Of The Christ" - Part 4
'Modern media offer us some exciting possibilities: they help us to build the narrative of Christian faith into people's consciousness and worldview. If we're going to engage people's interest in our message, we might start by debunking certain myths associated with media.'
The recent DVD release of Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' serves to remind us again of the impact this movie has made on many of the millions of people who've seen it.
The liner notes for the DVD describe the movie as a 'profound story of courage and sacrifice' and 'a triumphant and uncompromising film-making achievement.'
Some evangelical Christian leaders who previewed the movie before its release encouraged Mel Gibson to add explanatory scripture texts to the end of the film. Thankfully, he resisted.
He said he preferred to leave some sense of mystery. He'd rather people went back to their Bibles and churches, he said, to check for themselves if his story was correct.
Among the many lessons I think the church might learn from the response to Gibson's movie - both positive and negative - is the fact that we need to be utilizing different forms of communication if we're to make any impact on post-modern popular culture.
People of the Baby Boom generation share certain experiences that have helped to define their identity. Gen-Xers share different shaping influences, as do the Millennials who follow them.
Boomers have been called the first babies born to post-modernism. That's true, but we Boomers were educated in a modernist way, because our parents and grandparents lived in a modernist world.
Modernism teaches mainly by use of dogma, of creeds learned and applied. Modernism teaches in logical, analytical fashion: steps 1 to 6 in consecutive order. It says: 'Hear a thing, understand it, then do it.'
Gen-Xers and Millennials, however, have learned in a truly post-modern way. Post-modernism doesn't go through the steps in the same order; it says '1, 3, 5, 4, 2, 6'. It ends with the same overall picture, but builds it in a different way.
Gen-Xers and Millennials, who've learned in a post-modern way, will not going respond to dogma alone.
They need descriptions, not just proscriptions. They need to experience, as well as to hear. They need interaction as well as instruction. They crave revelation as much as education.
Their way of thinking is much more like that used by the God of the Bible: 'Hear a thing, do it, then understand it (maybe…).'
It's a shame that, in many parts of the church, we've reduced the gospel to a series of propositions, a list of 'steps to be saved'. People do need to know what they must do to be saved, but only after we've told them the story.
That's where modern media offer us some exciting possibilities: they help us to build the narrative of Christian faith into people's consciousness and worldview.
If we're going to speak where people listen and engage their interest in our message, we might start by debunking certain myths associated with media.
Sadly, media is one area where as Christians we've sometimes fallen below our potential, because we haven't understood our audience, or the way in which they interact with various media.
Media - Not A Pulpit
The first myth is that media represent another form of pulpit. In fact, most media today represent more a forum style of communication.
The irony of using mass media is that they allow us to hold a seemingly personal dialogue with many individuals, all at the same time.
You're Not in Church
The second myth is that when we appear in people's homes via the electronic media we are on our turf. In fact, we are in the territory of the audience and people are inviting us into their lives. There is no place for arrogance or a 'you'd better listen to what I'm telling you' approach.
Not Everyone's the Same
The third media myth says that everybody in the audience experiences the medium or the message in the same way. Actually, people respond differently to what they see and hear according to their age, economic situation, ethnic background and education. That's why media groups spend so much money on the study of demographics.
Style is Important
We preachers are especially prone to believing myth number four: you don't need to change your style of presentation for the media.
We still have too many Christian voices on TV, for example, who whilst they have a very powerful message are speaking only to a very small constituency because they refuse to adjust their gestures and presentation style to suit their chosen medium.
Large gestures and high volumes are well suited to a large stage and a packed auditorium. Yet they can seem downright distracting, annoying and even threatening when confined to the small screen of a TV in someone's living room.
It's Easy to Switch Off
The fifth myth tells us that media time is the same as real time. Most people will listen to a presentation in a public place, even if they are not enjoying it. They do this out of a sense of courtesy and a desire not to draw attention to themselves.
In the privacy of their own homes, though, they will gladly either argue with you or, more likely, switch off if they see no benefit in what they're seeing or hearing.
People Want to be Entertained
A final media myth suggests that most people go to media for moral and spiritual instruction. Of course, most people go to electronic media for entertainment.
As a result, electronic media, like movies, have pushed the dynamic more in the direction of narrative rather than discourse. Visual metaphors have taken over from speeches, and in media people learn more by 'osmosis', by interacting with a story, than by instruction.
Now, we can be entertaining, interesting and informative all at once - Jesus was, which is why 'the common people heard him gladly'! To do this we must, like the Lord himself, think not only about the truth we want to convey, but how best the audience is equipped to hear.
© Mal Fletcher 2004
Photos by Philippe Antonello. © 2003 Icon Distribution Inc. All Rights Reserved.