Pop Culture WarsReligion & The Role of Entertainment In American Life
Mass Media In Society

“Pop Culture Wars”

As the title proudly blares, William Romanowski’s book is an informative look at pop culture and how it relates to American society. The book begins with a passionate story about a town’s love for their statue of the popular character “Rocky”, a down & out boxer who makes it big. The town became enraged and crying freedom of speech rights when officials attempt to move the statue to a local sports arena from the museum where it rests.. However, because the statue was in the image of a low-class movie hero, the museum insisted that the statue was not art, but rather an icon of sports and entertainment and should be moved. This upset the people of the city, who then petitioned until the statue was replaced on the museum steps. This is a great example to start off this book, because it reflects the cultural struggles between the “hi-class” and the “low-class” entertainment worlds in America throughout recent history.

Entertainment. The book approaches the subject from a mostly worldly point of view at first. It talks about ratings and labels for entertainment, but I must question if that is the way a Christian should look at it. If a rating is placed on it, that will not make the problem go away. As a Christian community, we should take up the fight to abolish the problem. This is also tricky because what do we determine is “good” or “bad”? If we use previous examples from American history, as learned in the first few chapters of the book, more problems will be created than solved. In the first few chapters of the book, Romanowski gives a wonderfully repetitive history of theater, vaudeville, and other forms of then “questionable” entertainment such as opera houses and beer gardens. The conflict begins with the rise of “low culture” entertainment that appeals to the working class, the immigrants, and the un-sophisticated populace. This made the distinction between “high” and “low” cultures, “high” (symphonies, fine art, sculpture, etc..) being for the elite and well-educated, while “low” was associated with the lower, working class that included immigrants. Through the chapters, Romanowski illustrates the inflation of this division, as well as the conflict between the people and the Church regarding entertainment. Chapter three discusses how the people of America were searching for a unifying principle or common faith that would hold the nation’s people together. What they found instead was an uprise in “immorality” and a decrease in the “high culture”. This could mean only one thing: “low culture was bad”. Theater, Opera Houses, Vaudeville, and Nickelodeons all got their “bad” connotations from this era because of their appeal to the “lower”, less moral people of society. Therefore, the Church had to place a moral stance against this apostasy of the holiness of American culture, and place a ban on all “low” forms of entertainment. “The church’s prohibition of amusements could not suppress people’s desire for it.” (p 84) As hard as the Church tried, their suppression of the amusements didn’t stunt their growth in any way, in fact it only made it worse. Eventually, the “high” forms of entertainment (theater, etc) were losing money and patronization began. More money was given to the amusements than to the Church. The entertainment of these theaters then had to stoop to the lowest moral level to appeal to the broadest array of audience. Eventually, the Church gave up it’s fight again the theater and began to use it as a tool for the Church, as they later do with all forms of media that they have protested, such as television, radio, music, and even comics. Eventually, with all the “good” entertainment in the industry, other producers began to “clean-up” too, and eventually the industry was “decent” (even though it was still full of innuendos, double entendres, and suggestions of immorality), however it did not last long and was over looked when the television and the radio emerged on the scene.

Romanowski gives a great illustration of the Church’s struggle to stay inside the cultural movements of the day while still committed to Christian values that, more often than not, opposed society.