Pop Culture, Faith and Kids
by Andrew Root and Rollie Martinson
What is Pop Culture?
Whatever the current culture is
What we are connected to, eat, sleep and breathe
Difference between forcing youth to morph into “adult” culture and adults and youth having different
perspectives on their shared culture. Youth Culture Adult Adult Culture Perspective Cultural Structures: Family Society Government Economy Youth Religion Perspective
We have to engage with these 5 structures of culture in life. How do we do it? Do we cope? Do we relate
in a healthy way? Either way we must interact with these structures.
Youth deal with the same culture adults do, but from their own, different perspective. It may seem foreign
to adults, weird, strange, or wrong. Youth are trying to interact with the culture and make meaning of and
for their lives. They seek to define and discover who they are.
Pop Culture Defined
1. Widely Favored Culture
What the majority of people like
What is most popular
o Ex. Shakespeare is popular, but not pop culture
Problems with this definition: This is s fairly simplistic view. Life and culture are more
complex than just the favored majority.
2. Left-over from High Culture
What is High/Upper Culture?
o Museums, theater, orchestra, etc.
Problems with this definition: Promotes elitism and divides the smart and not smart. Too
narrow of a definition for the variety of life.
o Ex. Most would categorize a Sprite commercial as pop culture, but it is not
3. Mass Culture
Majority culture that is structured, defined and organized by an overarching/ruling group.
This view rose out of the mid 20th century from a group in Frankfurt, Germany who said
that pop culture was dangerous and problematic because people could be manipulated or
deceived to promote another’s goals or to enhance consumerism.
o Ex. Nazi’s use of culture to promote their ideals and aims
The church often jumps in at this view at talks about the dangers of culture by taking an
against culture position. Culture is only out to trick our kids and distract them from having
their true needs met. In response the church either makes new or approves current
culture that is “safe.”
Problems with this definition: People are not just passive consumerists. We interact with
culture and have some say in/about it.
4. Folk Culture
Culture that is of the people and by their creation: grassroots. Flows out of what we do/do
not do. Characteristics and groupings that crop up out of interests, statements, or ideas.
o Ex. blogs, music artists who produce/sell their own recordings
Problems with this definition: We exist in a world that has corporate and governmental
structures that are “above” and apart from people.
Recognition that culture is neither completely corporately given from above nor created in
totality by people. We have some say in the culture that takes shape. We can accept or
reject what comes to us from corporate structures. We can create or remove cultural
structures. We live in a dialectic world of yes and no, now and not yet, both/and.
We can either resist or adapt.
o Ex. Resist: Joey and Studio 60
o Adapt: Friendster (rigidly structured online connecting space)
My Space (open platform to allow users to express themselves and
customize web space)
Bandanas (worn by workers, laborers, grandma
Bandanas worn by gang members—colors that
cleaning the kitchen floor)
people die for and die over.
Tommy Hilfiger (clothes marketed to rich, white men Urban Wear (urban youth start wearing Hilfiger
who do or want to own a yacht)
clothes and making meaning out of it)
Timberland Boots (worn by lumberjacks and forestry Ghetto Wear (urban youth wear boots as a
workers as protective footwear)
statement and reflection of who they are) Corporate Production Pop Culture Society Resist or Adapt
It is easy to judge culture, but hard to engage and discuss it. The freedom we have in culture to express
ourselves and discover our relationships to culture which can be beneficial, but it brings with it a weight and
What do we do with culture and youth?
Song: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
1. Don’t dismiss it. We must take these issues dead seriously. The cross requires us to call and
name things what they are. Who is missing in the cultural dialogue? Go listen to them and “hear
them into voice.”
2. How do you inhabit, listen and create a dialectic? What prevailing narratives shape life—are they
Christian or not? What connection, if any, is there between the Gospel and Pokemon or Harry
3. How do we use this info to do ministry? What do we do with Generation X and their desire for
connection and relationship? We must go and be there with them in light and dark times. Ministry
is costly and takes your life from you, but the rewards are amazing.
4. What now? Can we learn how to tell the story in our time? Are Veggi Tales good or bad? Are we
on the edge of technology much like Luther was on the edge of the printing press? How do we use
what’s around us?
Pop Culture Notes
Children, Youth, and Family Ministry Program, Luther Seminary
Pop Culture is OUR culture! It is not something on the side or separate, but a way of viewing
Five views of pop culture:
1. widely favored culture.
2. left-over from high culture
4. folk culture or culture of the people
5. Hegemony or dialectic between what’s being shaped by the people and what’s imposed
People have agency and use their agency to make meaning and create an identity within culture.
People have choices – to resist, accept, or adapt aspects of culture.
Key questions of young people – Is anyone listening to me? Will anyone be there for me?
Four Impulses for the Christian Church with regard to pop culture:
1. not to dismiss it, but hear into voice all people.
2. how does one inhabit the world of pop culture and create a dialogue?
3. how do we pick up aspects of pop culture and use it in ministry?
4. Can we learn how to tell the God story in this time?