The real America

In his 1994 introduction to his 1981 novel Hello, America, J. G. Ballard writes: “The United States has given birth to most of our century’s dreams, and to a good many of its nightmares. No other country has created such a potent vision of itself, and exported that vision so successfully to the rest of the world…. Whenever I visit the United States I often feel that the real ‘America’ lies not in the streets of Manhattan or Chicago, or the farm towns of the mid-west, but in the imaginary America created by Hollywood and the media landscape.”

The real America is the imaginary America which is presented in pop culture; this makes sense to me. And this raises a question for me: should religion accommodate to this imaginary America, as for example Rick Warren and his version of the prosperity gospel do? — or should religion take pains to point out that the “real America” is really an imaginary America? — or should religion ignore altogether the problems caused by the imaginary America being the real America? Or put more starkly: should religion resist pop culture, or embrace it?

5 thoughts on “The real America”

  1. Jean took the words from my mouth. There is room for, and need for, both embracing and rejecting pop culture. It’s counterintuitive to cut oneself off from the culture that surrounds us and hope to make an impression on society. Not everything in pop culture is inherently bad. The good parts enrich our lives and provide us with common ground. That’s a starting point for deeper connection and interaction. Simply stated, take the good and leave the rest.

  2. Knee-jerk resisting and embracing do tend to polarize us. We don’t need to take sides. Be open, absorb, reflect and choose. And choose for yourself, while acknowledging that others have a right to feel differently. Then reach out, stay connected and keep the discussion going. This approach might benefit our culture at large, including Congress and even church music committees ;).

  3. Of course I agree with all three of you: of course we want to balance between embracing and resisting pop culture.

    But Ballard raises the question in a very interesting way: if the real America is actually imaginary, then where is reality and where is the imaginary?

    Since liberal religion is often committed to engaging with reality (addressing social issues, etc.) instead of retreating into the imaginary (belief in a ridiculous God, belief in the prosperity Gospel, etc.) — where then does that leave us in our encounter with American popular culture?

  4. OK, after rereading the question, I think liberal religion has an obligation to point out the difference between imaginary America and the real America when it’s appropriate. I don’t advocate bursting other folk’s bubbles just to hear them pop, but liberal religion has an obligation to serve as a moral compass and speak out on issues that really matter. This can be a risky proposition since it often goes against popular perceptions and will ultimately make some people uncomfortable, but I’ve never been a fan of “going along to get along”. As Jim Hightower said, “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos”. Sometimes you have to make a stand.

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