About PBA

Dr. Alex Wainer, professor of communication and media studies

If you are in any way tuned in to social media, or other media channels, you know of the fast and furious nature of 21st century communications.  It seems controversy stalks every area of public life.  It’s not just politics, with Tweet storms and news alerts constantly pinging on your smartphone. Controversy extends to the worlds of entertainment with celebrities at awards shows in eveningwear holding golden awards while mouthing political diatribes at televised galas. Not even sports is exempt from the incursion of political statements. And if you go to Facebook to catch up with friends, you just might find out more than you wanted to know about what they think of the latest outrage in the news.

I speak from the same experience as a lot of you.  I like to unwind in the evening with my wife by watching television series we both like, but more often than not, the writers have injected more politically-tinged content that are essentially Public Service Announcements for lifestyles the morality of which I object, with characters modeling unbiblical behavior.  I get the sense that the shows’ producers are telling me, “You’ll take it and like it.”  Even otherwise entertaining programs, some of the best to be found on cable and streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon are peppered with profanity and out-of-nowhere nudity that has me reaching for the fast-forward button on my remote.  The issue for many Christians isn’t so much that any such content is automatically wrong artistically, but that so little of it has what was once sincerely call “redeeming social value.”  It’s that it often feels like a direct attack on any sort of vision of the good, a slow-acting corrosive against beauty and truth.

Well, as Thomas Paine said long ago, the world is too much with us. Finding shows and films that lack those elements often leaves us with bland and flavorless attempts at “safe” entertainment, although if you seek you will find fine work produced with great care.  Where can we find substantial work that offers us such a vision?  I don’t pretend to have a lot to offer but I would like to try to proffer a few ideas that can help us all find sustenance in a parched culture. I frame it as a form of Christian stewardship of God’s gift of time and resources; if all we do is for the glory of God, shouldn’t our choices, including cultural products, derive from this motive?

We need beauty and truth and art used to be understood as the means for accessing these now most elusive qualities.  But just as it’s easier to stop at McDonald’s on the way home from work rather than taking the time and energy to make a nourishing and delicious meal, we—I—tend to take whatever’s easiest to access and consume than trying a little hard for something beautiful to behold.  In my previous blog I discussed how the Christian church was once the source of both beauty and truth for Western society and whose music and pictorial art told the salvation story to itself produced by some of the greatest artists in history. In our secular age, with faith on the decline, we should rediscover the treasures of our heritage and so doing rediscover a beauty that consoles and heals.  And discovering that heritage, those who are artists should seek to instill the beautiful in whatever imagery, music and stories they tell.  Rather than being too easily satisfied with mostly a diet of contemporary entertainment, we should seek out the beautiful art that may not be that far away.  Two examples:

This past summer, the last of the stained glass windows of the church I attend, St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Delray Beach, were installed, replacing clear glass ones.  I was present one day as the window of the Virgin Mary with the Christ child was put up.  Looking up at it I was immediately moved almost to tears at its brilliance. A gifted artist had captured the classic form of this ancient art of stained glass which allowed biblical figures to come alive as the light of the sun passed through them, metaphorically activating the scripture, “In thy light, we see light.”  Amidst all the noisy rancor of our conflicted society, startling beauty had appeared and I was comforted.  This is a contemporary instance of a classic art form.

 The Beauty of Truth

This week, a podcast host ended his show with the music of a Tudor-era British sacred musician, Thomas Tallis whose choral music for the church immediately struck me as yet another legacy of a time when the sacred and the beautiful were one.  

And we all need beauty, more than we know.  Pope Benedict XVI once remarked that “The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb.”  In other words, our lives showing forth the truth of what we proclaim, and the good art we produce to the glory of God.  Christians looking for signs of beauty that point to a divine source should seek out beauty wherever they can find it and seek to embody that beauty and truth in our lives

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that[a] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 5:16

Dr. Alex Wainer is a professor of communication and media studies at Palm Beach Atlantic and has been interested in mass media for his whole life. The interplay and relationships between various media has been a focus of his study and research resulting in two papers presented on the cinematic adaptation of Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings".