Buffy, Ozzy, Clark, and Anna: Popular Culture and Pre-Evangelism
Copyright 2002 by Gretchen Passantino
"It's not about right, it's not about wrong, it's about power" - Demon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (UPN). "I think L.A. is filled with so many struggling people, striving to find something that most of them will never find, and in the process they're just making themselves miserable" - Kelly Osbourne, daughter of Ozzy, The Osbournes (MTV).
Christians take statements like these to prove the depravity of our contemporary culture of materialism, postmodernism, relativism, individualism, and pluralism. We point to the -isms of today and warn of social bankruptcy and God's certain judgment.
But if we only do this, we miss what may be one of the most exciting periods of Christian missions in recent history. There is a growing interest among the post- Baby-boomers in truth, spiritual absolutes, and objective ethical norms. There is a growing dissatisfaction with the very -isms Christians have spent so much time exposing and denying in the last few decades.
The two quotes from The Osbournes and Buffy represent views rejected by the principal characters. They and others like them are daring to suggest that success might lie in old fashioned virtues like family, love, loyalty, and sacrifice; that power is meaningless and right and wrong really do matter.
Neither these programs nor others mentioned below are Christian. Their messages may be morally compromised and inconsistent. Their creators may not deliberately attempt to influence society away from relativism. Nevertheless, there is a distinct trend in our popular culture away from meaninglessness and toward meaningfulness. Christians cannot afford to ignore this trend; we must recognize that behind it are millions of people who have grown up in the midst of the "vanities of the world" and are no longer impressed. Spiritually starved and personally motivated to find meaning and value in life, without even knowing it, they seek the Lord of Glory in whom alone we find true life, meaning, and value.
Christian philosopher Dallas Willard notes this longing - and its futility if it is not directed toward Christ, saying, "In the shambles of fragmented assurances from the past, our longing for goodness and rightness and acceptance - and orientation - makes us cling to bumper slogans, body graffiti, and gift shop nostrums that in our profound upside-down-ness somehow seem deep but in fact make no sense" [The Divine Conspiracy (Harper San Francisco, 1998), 9]. But when we can offer the gospel, Willard continues, "In the gloom a light glimmers and glows" (11). Journalist Colleen Carroll concurs , "In a culture where young adults are frequently told that no universal moral standards or religious truths exist, many have begun to question that dictum and search for the truth that they believe is knowable"[The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2002), 7).
Beneath the surface glitter of The Osbournes' heavy metal, occult-themed business and Ozzy's "F-"stutter we find an intact nuclear family with a strong mother, a doting father, and teenage kids who obviously love and respect their parents. Ozzy gets excited about dressing up and taking his wife out on a date. He connects with his son, Jack, by actually listening to, recommending, and discussing music with him. Sharon manages Ozzy's career from home she says, so she can do what's most important - raise her children herself. Jack worries about sister Kelly's irresponsibility, and Kelly enjoys being with her mom - even in public. A channel surfer might expect a clamor of "sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll," but viewers leave the series remembering that Ozzy, Sharon, Jack, and Kelly share time-tested love, loyalty, honesty, and respect - values often decried by the very medium that broadcasts them.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is full of demons, vampires, witches, and magic - but, at its core, it's more about enduring personal relationships based on goodness, love, and doing what's right, no matter the cost. The premise of the series, according to creator Joss Whedon is, "Into each generation a slayer is born, one girl in all the world, a Chosen One. One born with the strength and skill to fight the vampires, to stop the spread of their evil and the swell of their numbers." Buffy and her friends (Willow, Xander, Anya, Dawn, and even sympathetic Vampire Spike) - known by fans affectionately as "the Scooby gang" - care about discovering and doing the right thing - even exploring negative consequences to sexual experimentation and other promiscuity, drug and alcohol use, bitterness, envy, cheating, and materialism. Xander saves Willow through self-less love and devotion. Buffy sacrifices her life to save Dawn (and is given new life because of intervention by a fearful - but faithful - Willow). Vampire Spike, given a soul at the end of season six, is now wracked by guilt over the people he's destroyed. Vengeance demon Anya loses her powers, regains them, but now finds there is no satisfaction in revenge, and even tries to make amends by sacrificing herself for others.
It might be the deliberately decided morality of Smallville's (WBN) teenage Clark Kent. Or maybe even the weird and dysfunctional - but intensely loving, loyal, and honest - "family" of Anna Nicole Smith (E! TV). (Her "family" consists of her straight-A teenage son Daniel; her lawyer and best friend Howard K. Stern; and purple-haired, body-pierced personal assistant Kim). Both programs hint of this new hunger among young adults for truth, absolutes, and meaning.
Take advantage of such lights glimmering in the gloom. Link them to the Truth that can bring any searcher into the eternal family of God through the loving and willing sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul used the popular culture of his day, the classic Greek poets, and drew the parallel between their faint groping and Christ's light of eternal life: "God did [created and established humanity] so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'. . . In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day in which he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:27-28, 30-31).