Mass culture is the cumulative effect of all media that train their audience to assume that only instant gratification, the self, and the consumption of goods are important, while simultaneously isolating them from the living tradition that could ground them in a meta-narrative. When the state of isolation is total, the results is called “anomie.”
While such media are a force in any society (it’s called advertising), Americans in 2018 spend the majority of their lives without exposure to anything else, dissolving our collective memory. If someone spent five minutes cobbling together a religion from entertainment, crass behavior and repetitive pop songs, it could convert millions.
NOTE: The following description doesn’t apply to you personally. It addresses the average experience of the people I grew up around, none of whom were Anglicans of any stripe.
Most suburban, college-educated twentysomethings were born to parents who didn’t settle down until they were in their late thirties, usually with trust issues from past marriages. Our parents had two kids at most because college was going to be the meal ticket one day, and it was expensive. These helicopter parents gave us everything we wanted. It was all about us. No duty to God, country or family. Just self-esteem, excessive supervision and last-place trophies. We were to achieve in school at any cost, so we were excused from learning practical, everyday skills as long as our GPAs stayed high.
Thank you for caring about us. You gave us the highest standard of living that the world has ever known. We appreciate it. We’re sorry for being selfish and having authority issues. But please understand that when we had higher motivations, especially to our communities, you were the ones who reminded us that everyone moves for work nowadays. We should focus on achieving in school, having fun and “being ourselves.”
Here’s the problem: We took your advice!
The average parents of my imagining are at most Sunday Christians, but they take comfort in the vague notion that America is a Christian nation, so their kids just kinda know right from wrong. They believe this no matter how their children behave; they believe this in spite of rampant “secular progressivism.” Then, when their children return home for a holiday after a semester or two of college, they are shocked, shocked to find that their children have tattoos and “shack up” before marriage with their partners.
How the hell did you even get into this stuff? they say. Didn’t we raise you better? Well… no. You gave us unlimited access to cell phones, laptops and video games. Mass media raised us, so we made some mistakes behind your back and lied about it. Just as kids always have, but on steroids. Did you really think John Wayne or Superman was teaching us about truth, justice and the American way? Now, westerns are dark, and Superman is edgy. People my age don’t even know that sex before marriage used to be considered wrong, or that this taboo was religious.
I chose my words carefully, by the way. Used to be considered wrong. If you did not explicitly tell your kids that it was their their duty to be God-fearing Christians who lived honorably and well, they never figured it out.
This coarsening of American culture has been worsened by social media. Most Americans prior to the 1960s would agree that Christian morality, thrift and privacy were virtuous. They have been replaced with expressing yourself, dat Instagram life and making a #statement on Twitter. And nobody uses that word “virtue” anymore. The axiom is, “You do you.” Do what makes you happy as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else. And if it’s impossible to devote yourself to a lifetime of service in a loving, stable community because everybody is too self-absorbed to function and has to move for work, just stop caring! If you’re unhappy, that’s your fault. And if you find a community, gentrification will leave you homeless.
Welcome to my world. I’m sorry.
Back to culture
Mass culture wasn’t always universal. Instant gratification, amorality, conspicuous consumption and narcissism, resulting in or from anomie (depending on your politics), are normally traits of the poor and transient, not the comfortable and homeowners. Now, mass media have produced a culture that profits socially-liberal corporations, and provides weak minds to intellectuals. You didn’t catch them in the act, so they stole your kids and taught them, as it were, a new language. And they made a buck off it.
It wasn’t that hard. After all, John Wayne and Superman don’t matter. Reality TV stars do. And their status doesn’t make them role models. It gives them license to show off and misbehave, so that little kids (that was us) can grow up to imitate them. Here’s a saying those stars may never hear: Nobility obliges. Those with money, influence and power are appointed by God to use their substance for the common good. They are the stewards of mankind. Now that Christianity is old hat, this is rapidly being forgotten. Many people never knew it. Which says a lot about us.
Mass culture is popularizing a destructive, anomic worldview with its own language and customs. In years past, this worldview hurt only some of us. That’s why so many average parents don’t even recognize their kids. We now make choices about drugs, alcohol and finance that, when you really think about it, don’t make sense for educated, middle-class suburbanites. Almost all Americans, regardless of their backgrounds, now hold self-defeating assumptions that normally correlate to ignorance, poverty, and social breakdown. Reducing people to that level was, quite simply, good business.
Back to Millennials
Now, we Millennials are graduating college. The Recession meant that many of us couldn’t really afford it, but both parents and children were indoctrinated to believe that there was no other option for a decent standard of living. We’re up to our ears in student loan debt, and older people are holding on to their jobs longer. Because of that, even Honors students with double majors can’t get a job, and are moving back in with their parents. There’s simply no other choice.
Immigrants (some of them also our seniors) are taking the blue collar jobs that most of us should have gone to trade school for. If we get a job, it’s part-time, menial work with no benefits. I know of a waitresses with a Master’s degree who is giving up on ever having children. When we complain at family gatherings that we’re underpaid and struggling, older people snap at us and say that we’re lazy for wanting a raise so early in our “careers.” So we avoid places full of old people, like church. We don’t feel welcome.
Our lives are already over, and all of us know it.
Let’s put our response in perspective. Lets say there’s a Millennial layman who goes to Mass weekly and says the Offices daily. He spends as much time at prayer per week as he does at work for a day. And none of it teaches him good habits of life and mind. Is debt ever acceptable? How much consumption counts as “conspicuous?” How can I raise my kids so they’ll stay in the Church? Since most churches don’t teach everyday, practical virtue, most Americans who are serious about their faith become amateur theologians instead… as well as amateur worshipers and tithers. They know what to think, but it doesn’t matter because we don’t really teach them how to live well. Mass culture still does it instead.
I’m going to hit that topic very hard in the future.
Back to media
Worst of all, nobody has worked on Anglican witness, so we have few new people of any age. We don’t proof-text the Bible at strangers, but neither have we formulated our own way. Here’s an observation: It’s not about dogma; it’s about our strange tribe dressing up on Sunday, and doing charity work for some mysterious reason other than meritocracy and virtue-signaling. Our customs, when we practice them, segregate us drastically.
In other words, virtue is a witness to the truth, a living prayer that we are forgetting how to say. Thus, we permit the Enemy to dictate the rules of engagement. We must refuse to accept these battle-terms! When we adopt the secular modality, it distorts our message. Pro life rallies are a good example. I respect the good they have done. I don’t respect the degree to which their underlying assumptions degrade us.
Some Christians spend their whole lives participating in such rallies, even though they live in small towns where nobody disagrees with them. They don’t ask what church you go to. They ask what rallies you attend! Their faith is a list of policies to which they can compel the State to assent. They #getthewordout on social media, complete with selfies (just to remind you that they did a good deed). They care more about Law than Grace. It’s Christianity as an accessory of the ego. That sort of religion isn’t going to last.
They still haven’t overturned Rowe v. Wade. And they are as burned out and bitter as any social justice warrior with a high-stress PR job. What kind of witness is that? It’s the secular lifestyle overlaid with #christianculture. In Orwell’s 1984, the issue wasn’t overt oppression. The issue was that government could replace a word like “rebellion” with “doubleplusungood.” That made it impossible to express disagreement, even if someone, somewhere, was still rebelling. We’re letting that happen in 2018. We’re playing their game, on their terms, on a field of battle they have chosen!
Secular media always distort Christian messages. We must develop our own media, then use it to cultivate a culture that does not begin and end with secular habits of life and mind, with Christian language thrown on as an afterthought. We must invite people to join this culture.
We are also, as I will argue, the only religious tradition in this country that can do so successfully.