Catholic Pop Culture 2014

As I did last year, I shall recall any good things from the popular culture that are harmonious or helpful to Catholic culture.

And as I wrote last year, it is not necessary to indulge a fascination with pop culture (e.g. you don’t have to care about who Kim Kardashian is marrying this week), but we should have some awareness of it and maybe (if it is our charism) to engage with it to make it more Christlike.

So, as I did last year, I would like to focus on the most Catholic moments in pop culture from the past year.  As a teacher, I have found that using the language of modern television, movies, and the like can be very effective at illustrating all manner of theological truths.

It should be noted that any mention of positive examples from movies or television shows below is not an endorsement of the entire of the entire project.  Some stories have mixed messages.  Or some may be too explicit or violent.  This is merely a touchstone to highlight any good moments that came out of pop culture in 2014.  And feel free to disagree.  But here are some points that I intend to use in the classroom.

Beware, in order to discuss the Catholicity of the movies and television shows below, SPOILERS may be introduced.

Explicitly Religious

There were three major Biblical films that were released this year.  Unfortunately, two of them were very loose with the source material.  Noah was an allegory for environmentalism to the point where Noah was determined to murder babies for the good of the planet.  And Exodus: Gods and Kings portrayed God as a petulant child engaging in a temper tantrum against Egypt.

But the third movie was made by believers for believers: Son of God.  The movie was considered acceptable to the point where the U.S. Catholic Bishops wrote to Catholic schools and said that we should encourage students to go see (I offered my students extra credit).  The budget for this movie was modest, since it was mostly made up of scenes from the hit mini-series The Bible.  This was a movie that wanted to inspire people with the experience of Jesus Christ.

Another smaller independent movie, God’s Not Dead, had a strong word-of-mouth campaign made this movie a successful profit.  It was about how the modern academic system can be very hostile towards people of faith and how the hero stands up for Christ.

But my personal favorite movie of this group was Heaven is For Real.  There are many who doubt the central story, that a young boy had a vision of heaven while in the hospital.  But it was a strong story that was powerfully acted by Greg Kinnear and directed with such grace by Randal Wallace.  There was a particularly wonderful moment when the main character raises the fact that the name of Jesus makes so many people uncomfortable today.  We would rather talk about general religiosity, but this movie talks about the particular man Jesus.

The Christ Figure

Ever since the dawn of Christianity, Jesus has been the ideal archetype for the hero.  He defines what a hero is, particularly His willingness to lay down His life for the greater good.

In 2014 there were plenty of examples of this in movies.  We are particularly fortunate that we have a lot of superhero movies.  I know there are some who do not like the genre.  I happen to love it, as a confessed comic book geek.  But, as movie critic John Nolte points out, in order for a superhero film to be truly successful, the hero must embrace traditional values of sacrifice.

In the most successful movie of the year, Guardians of the Galaxy, we see rough and vulgar mercenaries find redemption in giving of themeselves.  When Star Lord, the main character, asks his friends to fight against an evil foe simply because its right, Rocket Racoon responds by saying, “You’re asking us to die.” Star Lord replies, “Yes, I am.”  This is the essence of the kind of heroism found in Christ on the cross.

You see this sacrificial heroic nature in Tom Cruise’s character in Edge of Tomorrow, who also overcomes his self-centeredness to self-sacrifice.  

And there is the explicit Christian imagery and themes in Unbroken, the story of a WWII POW who endures so much suffering with Christ like parallels,who embraces the message of love and forgiveness.

Christian Culture

This was the first year I watched the entire season of Dancing with the Stars with my wife.  And while there were some rather provocative displays, I was very impressed with Sadie Robertson from Duck Dynasty.   She was not shy about sharing her Christian faith and there was a good deal of discussion about modesty and dancing.  Not only did she make it to the finals, she showed young women that they do not need to debase their sexuality in order to be beautiful dancers.  

Over on the Italian version of the TV show The Voice, a nun named Sister Cristina Scuccia not only participated, but won the entire competition.  And as of this writing, she is still using the opportunities and success of that show to bring glory and honor to God.  It was a beautiful witness of the religious life that she came to the show not to repudiated devotion to God, but to show that you can do it with great talent and joy.

There are many more things to be said about the popular culture of 2014.  But for now, here are some moments that we can use to help illustrate the truth of the Gospel.

Copyright 2014, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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