Content vs. Message

This is part of series on Christian Media, so if you haven’t read the previous ones it might be a bit confusing.

From the last article I presented the idea that the Christian narrative is not about all about Jesus, but instead the theme of redemption. So how am I allowed to show redemption?

We’ve talked about how the draw has to be familiar and realistic enough to pull us in despite the unfamiliar setting. So what examples are allowed for it to still be acceptable as “Christian”.

But how about something that cannot even be considered remotely Christian. South Park is an animated show about an extremely immoral town that comically deals with current issues. It’s often considered obscene, vulgar, and incredibly irreverent. However, because it finds nothing out of bounds or taboo, South Park is allowed to teach moral lessons in immoral manners.

Take one of their recent episodes from season 19, titled “Safe Space“. In this episode, a young boy named Cartman lodges a complaint with his school, stating that people are harassing him on the internet. The school then forces another student, named Butters, to filter out all the negative comments and print out sheets of good comments for Cartman to read. At the same time, a man named Randy feels ashamed to go to Whole Foods because they always ask him for money to help starving children and Randy obviously doesn’t want to.

As you can imagine, antics escalate, and in the end, the mysterious and nefarious personification of Reality shows up. In a golden moment, he confronts everyone about how they are just deceiving themselves with justification for giving and not giving money, telling them that they just did it to make themselves feel good, or didn’t because they were selfish. Reality ties the two stories together by showing everyone that because of their aversion to receiving any kind of negative criticism, they neglected the reality of how things actually are: Cartman simply didn’t want criticism, and Randy didn’t like feeling guilty and ashamed. In the end, the town gets together and solves all their problems by publicly executing Reality, because he was clearly the source of all their woes.

This is a lesson I have seen told again and again, through sermons and books, but never in the subtle combination that South Park was able to. It was allegorical enough to settle in, but overt enough with its conclusion that you couldn’t ignore it. At the end of it, I had to ask myself, “Am I that ridiculous sometimes? Is that me? Am I that person?”.

If you look in the Bible, God commands some pretty crazy things in order to teach a lesson. Example: All of the minor prophets. Hosea marries a prostitute and has to keep going after her despite her attempts at whoring. Ezekiel preaches loudly in the streets comparing Israel to two whoring sisters, going in to great details as to their sexual desires. The desire is to create something so shocking that you can’t look away, and are forced to confront it. Upon confrontation, you find yourself having to come face-to-face with the same thing the source of your shock is trying to address. Why did the prophets play with toy soldiers, live in the nude, and cook over their own dung? Because God was trying to get Israel’s attention and demonstrate what they were acting like, and what might become of them.

So while you may not be a fan of South Park, and I certainly understand why you may not want to watch it, it is hard to deny its power to address modern issues. It’s content may not be you cup of tea, but I think its message is superb. Everything doesn’t need to be morally good to have a good story.

There have been plenty of Christian authors who use this same power of content to reinforce the power of the message.

Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoevsky is about a man who spends his time think about how to kill a particular woman and justify it. Spoiler alert: He ends up murdering people. Not only that but he begins a relationship with a Christian prostitute, who not only gets him to confess to the murder (not snitching out in the meantime), but moves with him to Siberia where he is sentenced to for eight years. Under her loving care, his morality slowly returns and he is redeemed. The Genre for this book: Psychological/ Philosophical thriller. Not Christian, despite the fact that it has a singular Christian character and a redemptive story. Just a thought.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is about a large cast of characters with progressing issues of doubting faith, infidelity, constant suicide attempts, and drug addiction. And although the ending isn’t a perfectly wrapped present of happiness and resolution, it is still considered by many to be the greatest book of all time. Genre: Literary Realism/ Romance. Not Christian, despite the author being a devout Believer.

So despite content and possibly even because of the content, the message can still be conveyed in any context. It simply requires someone to examine the separation between the two (More on that here).

At the end of this article, I had to sit and think: tying this together is a mess. But where does it end. So let’s go super-meta for a second. If the story of God and the universe is one of Redeeming Creation and mankind, think about all the horror and tragedies that have gone on. People are committing atrocities left and right. Natural disaster destroy cities full of human lives. All of this is part of some big story right? So what’s your moral lesson that you’re pulling from it all? What’s the narrative and redemption? Can you get the moral message through all of this immoral content?

P.S.- On to the next one.

 

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