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Dancing in the Dark: Youth, Popular Culture, and the Electronic Media Paperback – November 19, 1990
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About the Author
Lambert Zuidervaart is Professor of Philosophy at the Institute for Christian Studies, where he holds the Herman Dooyeweerd Chair in Social and Political Philosophy, and an Associate member of the Graduate Faculty in Philosophy at the University of Toronto. He is the former President of the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His most recent books with Cambridge University Press - Artistic Truth: Aesthetics, Discourse, and Imaginative Disclosure and Social Philosophy after Adorno - received Symposium Book Awards from the Canadian Society for Continental Philosophy in 2006 and 2008, respectively. His book Adorno's Aesthetic Theory (1991) was the first major study in English on Adorno's aesthetics.
Worst is a teacher of music as well as a composer, collector, and critic of music. As Professor of Music at Calvin College, he has developed innovative approaches to the study of traditional and contemporary American music, from jazz to rock. Worst contributes musical reviews and essays to periodicals, and also collects African music and instruments.
Quentin J. Schultze (PhD, University of Illinois) is professor emeritus of communication at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and CEO of Edenridge Communications. Schultze has been quoted in major media including the "Wall Street Journal", "Newsweek", "US News & World Report", the "New York Times", "Fortune", the "Chicago Tribune", and "USA Today". He has been interviewed by CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC, and NPR and is the author of many books, including "An Essential Guide to Public Speaking". He blogs at www.quentinschultze.com.
William D. Romanowski is professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His previous works include Reforming Hollywood and Eyes Wide Open.
James D. Bratt is professor of history at Calvin College and the author of"Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat"
Top Customer Reviews
This book was written by five professors from Calvin College who teach in the following disciplines: communication arts and sciences, English, history, music, and philosophy. I picked it up after listening to a tape by Howard Hendricks from Dallas Theological Seminary, who gave it a fabulous recommendation. After reading it, I would have to do the same. This book gives it's own statement of purpose better than I would be able to - "In short, our thesis is that youth and the electronic media today are dependent upon each other. The media need the youth market, as it is called, for their own economic survival. Youth, in turn, need the media for guidance and nurture in a society where other social institutions, such as the family and the school, do not shape the youth culture as powerfully as they once did" (11,12). This book is now ten years old and it is outdated by some standards, but it's only ignorant in naming the newest forms of the influence it speaks so perceptively about.
The focus of this book is on the critical evaluation of the music industry, the music television industry (MTV), the film industry and the impact they have on the teen population. It's chapters plod much deeper into these issues than I'm able to do here without opening a can of worms, but their insight is invaluable. Being twenty-five years old, I learned as much about myself and the influence of the media on my own life as I did about the media itself.
This book suggests that we have today is a "generation gap" that has been created by the media. Youth have been isolated from the more traditional worlds of previous generations, their parents included. The promise of the media is that of intimacy, identity, meaning and guidance, but the teens pay a price. Today's youth have a greater feeling of disillusionment, boredom, fatigue, addiction, abuse, narcissism and suicide than ever before. Cultural distinctions have been blurred and distant images have taken the place of intimate relationships. The youth today have a culture all their own. The media tells them what music rocks, what clothes look good, what to say to their girlfriend/boyfriend and what are good goals to shoot for in life. However, the media must evolve at a breakneck pace to keep up with teenagers because teens are fickle. The media must constantly reflect the youth culture in order to continue upholding it. It is a reciprocal relationship that pours gasoline on the fire of our consumer driven culture. Teens buy more music and watch more movies than the rest of the population combined even though they only comprise about one-fifth of the population. Why? Largely because their emotions are unstable on the journey from childhood to adulthood and our consumerist society has thought it good to capitalize on the opportunity to make a buck.
I found this book to be a great level-headed approach toward the media from a Christian perspective. Obviously film, music and other forms of electronic media have value if used correctly and intelligently. We must make the effort to separate the wheat from the chaff using discernment and analyze the content, form and function of popular art so we can truly benefit from it in it's rightful context. Instead of bashing what teens place great value in, this book suggests asking the question, "What is it in the media that tries to meet the legitimate needs in teens?". Kids have real needs, and the better we understand them and the better we understand how the media tries to meet those needs, the better we will be able to reach and serve the teens.
Initially, they remind us that "youth have been a 'problem' for hundreds, probably thousands, of years. Every adult reading this book was very likely part of a generation that criticized and was criticized by its elders" (p.3). In many ways, today's youth simply reveals, in distinctively adolescent ways, the broader American culture, which as a consumer society clearly believes happiness can be bought.
Having acknowledged this, having surveyed the various forces of "modernization" which have shaped youth culture throughout this nation's history, the authors then focus on the primary force in modern young peoples' lives: the electronic media. "Indeed, it is hard to underestimate the dramatic extent to which radio, television, cable, satellites, and the VCR have changed the ways that youth relate to each other and to other generations" (47). Attuned to the media, today's youths have a shared network which radically severs them from traditional social ties with family and church. Thus they find irrelevant those "traditional institutions" which revere "history, maturity, or wisdom" (58).
Consequently, what "maps of reality" youngsters obtain come from music and films rather than parents and teachers. With ever increasing amounts of money and leisure time, America's youth indulge in walkmans and concerts, TV and videocassettes and compact discs. Add to this the mobility and privacy of the automobile (owned by increasing numbers of teenagers), and you find a sub-culture effectively insulated against the broader world. With enormous profits accrued courting young people, the entertainment industry has deliberately exploited "ad nauseum the emotional, social, and physical tensions of their adolescent market" (98).
Dancing in the Dark effectively establishes the bond binding youth culture and the consumer society--and this uniquely distinguishes its presentation. We cannot separate the two! Often those who most condemn youth culture promote the very consumerism which underlies it. "For all its seeming divergence, the world of youth is largely shaped, sustained, and strained by the broad and aggressive consumer culture that envelops North America" (112). On the surface it may seem different, but at its heart "the 'wisdom' that the entertainment industry gives youth is consumerism" (112).
TV shows, especially MTV (which is "one nearly continuous advertisement"), records and films are produced by profit-hungry corporations; for all their counter-culture posturing, rock stars and media celebrities demand rich dividends for their "artistic" presentations. They celebrate, by their lifestyles, if not their lyrics, the "goods and services" a consumer society substitutes for "meaning, intimacy, and identity" (p. 139).
Individual chapters focus on rock music, MTV, and teenage films, giving thoughtful treatment to each. The authors refuse to "bash" all forms of contemporary entertainment; they insist that rock music certainly meets some deep needs of teenagers, though often in inadequate if not perverted forms. Of MTV they have little positive to say, and today's films, so saturated with casual sexuality and violence, have little to recommend them. Yet the kids are watching--and they are influenced by all three media.
So adults must study, and discuss, and help youngsters sort out what it all means. Like it or not, youths seem addicted to the electronic media; it's the milieu in which they live and move and have their being! "Teens swim in an electronic sea, mesmerized by the ever-changing spectacle of strange and colorful shapes and sounds. Enrapt, they readily forget about the dangers of drowning" (251). Unless their elders, parents and teachers and pastors, help them, they may well drown!
Dancing in the Dark should be read by all who work with Christian young people. It insists we take seriously what deeply shapes today's youth. It insists we not mindlessly brush aside all that's new or challenging to our aging prejudices. Yet it argues, with persuasive data, that the main ingredients of today's youth culture threaten the very health of the young people ingesting it.
It's time for Eerdmans to update and print a second edition of this book reflecting more recent trends.
This is must-reading for everyone involved in ministering to and educating adolescents.