when icons are destroyed


If you are a preacher, the culture has flooded your reservoir with illustration upon illustration this week. The death of Ed McMahan, then Farrah Fawcett, then Michael Jackson; the separation and impending divorce of Jon and Kate; the political and personal disintegration of John Ensign and Mark Sanford. The abuse of drugs and alcohol, a presenting issue in the case of each celebrity; the personal journey as continual facial reconstruction; the abandoned angel as heroine, the dutiful sidekick cast aside by a series of wives, and depleted by a mountain of alimony payments.

The accident waiting to happen, a passive/aggressive and immature male meets a hyper-organized and somewhat dominant female---this can work, perhaps with one or two children, but not eight, but the economic benefits hold it together, at least for a time. And the false persona of two politicians who would judge others and find themselves sliced by the same knives they had wielded.

This has been a bad week for American popular and political culture. The struggle with money, sex and power overtakes the advantaged and the venerated. If these are icons, they are windows into the darker reality: the wealthy entertainer who spends the night unsupervised with the children of other families, the sexual goddess who experiences a painful and public death, the entertainer who runs through the assets before the end of his life. A happy and even religious couple separates before our eyes. Two public officials, standing on the front lines of the culture wars, now find themselves asking for the same compassion they have been so unwilling to extend to others.

"Do not be conformed to the world", the scripture teaches, "but be transformed by the renewing of your minds." Christians participate in the popular and political culture, shaping it to some extent (see the excellent recent work of Andy Crouch), and yet at times we have a bit of unease about it all. A week like the one that has just passed brings us face to face with the reality of self-destruction, and with the corresponding need for redemption, or at least sanity.