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Volume 7, Issue 5: Cultura

Stale Roles

Roy Atwood

The image of men in American culture isn't pretty. In the media world of stereotypes and caricatures, men often appear as bizarre creatures, from wimpy nincompoops to supermacho beefcakes to almost everything in between. In the mirror of American pop culture, men are faithless husbands, weak fathers, and moral mutants. When not mocking men for groveling at the feet of superior women and children ( a la Homer Simpson), television and film fantasize about men being self-made tough guys who blow away their enemies and possess irresistible sexual prowess with "the babes" ( a la Arnold Swartzenegger). As grotesque, pathetic, and extreme as these media images may be, they are remarkably accurate representations of the contemporary state of unregenerate man. They are not, of course, a prescription for what men should be, but an accurate description of what sinful men have become.

Every sphere of popular culture reveals the depravity of man described in Romans 1. Advertising, the most pervasive and creative mode of expression in today's culture (scary thought isn't it?), hawks goods and services by glorifying rebellious punks and identifying with violent brutes. Andre Agassi appropriately hypes "The Rebel" camera, chirping, "Image is everything". Dennis Rodman and Charles Barkley, two pro basketball stars who have helped turn a gentleman's game into a human demolition derby, sport high-profile, big-buck ad contracts. Businesses and ad agencies know their audiences well, and they know what sells; they depend on the "bad boys" of pro sports for a reason: evil, not good, resonates with the American male consumer. Evil men appeal to evil hearts. American males and their commercial spokesmen are filled with every kind of wickedness and greed; they are full of envy, strife, deceit, and malice; they are insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; and they are brutish, faithless, merciless, and ruthless (Rom. 1:29-31). And we're supposed to buy their products?
Cartoons, situation comedies, and talk shows trade in humor, but their warped sense of humor revels in the misfortunes and miseries of others. The Simpsons are a cruel, stupid (and typical?) American family. Top-rated Home Improvement (loosely based on the true life stories of some of my brothers-in- law) stars a bumbling pseudo-handyman-expert. David Letterman's Late Night drips with sarcasm and cynicism, burning all it touches, and the audience eats it up. Garfield's hapless owner, John, is a model nitwit, insecure and weak. Okay, so some of these shows and cartoons can be truly funny. But the humor usually stands on the backs of weak men. The men, as men, are the jokes. Their thinking is crude and foolish (Rom. 1:21-22); claiming to be wise, they are fools (1:23); and they not only continue to do and say evil things, but they also approve of those who do them (1:32). And we're supposed to laugh?
Millions of rabid fans faithfully watch soap operas and dramas where the men become celebrities for their immorality. Daytime soaps, whose plots range from one unfaithful husband sleeping with another man's unfaithful wife to one unfaithful husband murdering another man for his unfaithful wife, moved to prime time (8 p.m.-11 p.m.when most children are watching) and to respectability (very loosely defined) with Dallas and Hill Street Blues a few years ago. Now the new soaps and dramas like NYPD Blue compete to push the public threshold for sleaze and promiscuity. They devote themselves to their sexual sins and perversions (Rom. 1:24); they delight in their shameful lusts, even exchanging natural relations for unnatural ones (1:26); and they pride themselves in their depraved minds, doing what should not be done (1:28). And we're supposed to tune in to the next "exciting" episode?
The image of men the media present is a sick one, but it is not inaccurate. The tragedy is not that the culture reveals the sickness of fallen men, but that so many viewers look to these images as role models for young men. Despite his protestations to the contrary, Sir Charles is still a role model for thousands of aspiring young athletes. Despite the "just kidding" caveat to contemporary humor, it still denigrates men as men, husbands, fathers, and heads of households, and its baseness is a maker of manly manners. And despite their appeals to dramatic license, producers of soaps and dramas offer fornicators and adulterers as models for the "real men" of the future.
These images of men in popular culture should repulse us, but they are images well deserved. The roles they present are stale and dead. They should remind us that, prescriptively, a man's role models must transcend the sin-riddled cultural sphere. The image of man we should encourage is the one provided in the Holy Scriptures. We should look to the Bible's hall of famers in Hebrews 11, as they follow the man Christ Jesus. He alone is the creator-redeemer of sinful men, and the very image of true manhood. He is our role model.

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