Spider-Man and ...the Church???

     In 2012 “The Amazing Spider-Man,” a relaunch of the original “Spider-Man” of 2002, was presented to the moviegoing public.   At the time, there was much question about the brevity of only ten years between the original and the new version, even more so since it had been only five years since the second remake of the original “Spider-Man,” namely “Spider-Man 3,” in 2007.  However the quote, “Five years is a lifetime in the movie business,” proved to be accurate as “The Amazing Spider-Man” was a smash hit, and, you guessed it, in 2014 we were blessed with “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”  We now have "Spiderman...No Way Home."  The saga will no doubt continue.  After all, James Bond as Agent 007 has been around now for fifty years.

     Before you get the idea that I am a habitual moviegoer, let me say that the opposite is truly the case.  Blame it on religious dogma from my youth or disgust with the quality of present movies, I have no interest in sitting in a noisy theater with kids, adults, and cellphones blaring around me while I’m trying to watch a movie.  It’s a recipe for a confrontation, and I’m an intrinsically nonviolent person.  Not to mention the fact that I grew up in an era when churches (not just Pentecostal) had standards of behavior, dress, and decorum, and preachers actually told you how to live, and the members followed those instructions.  Were church members persecuted?  No, they were happy and enjoyed the fruits of their faithfulness.  It’s hard to break the mold after the clay is set…so movies are not my thing.

    I read an article recently that struck me as more revealing about our world than even the article gave itself credit for.  In the “Los Angeles Times” recently, Neal Gabler wrote an article entitled “Perspective: Millennials Seem to Have Little Use for Old Movies.”  In his article he wrote the following:

     “The new “Spider-Man” betrays something important about young people’s relationship to films.  Young people…so-called millennials or Generation Zs…don’t seem to think of movies as art the way so many boomers…30-50-year-old adults…do.  Millennials think of movies as fashion, and, like fashion, movies have to be new and cool to warrant attention.  Living in a world of here and now, with whatever is current, kids seem no more interested in seeing their parents’ movies than they are in wearing their parents’ clothing.  Indeed, novelty may be the new narcissism.  It obliterates the past in the fascination with the present.  One has to acknowledge that part of this cinematic ageism is the natural cycle of culture.  Every generation not only has its own movies, but it also has its own aesthetics, and the contemporary aesthetics might be labeled “bigger, faster, louder,” because our blockbuster movies are all about sensory overload…quickening the audience’s pulse.  Millennials find old movies hopelessly passé---technically primitive, politically incorrect, narratively dull, and slowly paced.  In short, old fashioned.  Even Tobey Maquire’s Spider-Man (2002) is a Model T (for you millennials, that's a nearly 100 year old Ford car) next to Andrew Garfield’s rocket ship of a movie.”

    The observations presented by Gabler go far beyond just moviegoing and offer a viable explanation for much of what we are experiencing in our world today.  Nowhere is the generation gap more evident than in music.  Every age bracket above the millennial stage reveres and clings desperately to its genre of music and will defend to the death its superiority to every other style.  But, like movies, the newest popular music has become a fickle fashion statement instead of a reflection of art…what is important is pounding the listener/audience with a sensory overload of strobe lights, fireworks, graphics, and deafening sound…all with the intent of quickening the listener’s pulse with a temporary auditory high.  Actual musical skill on the part of the performer is somewhat optional depending on the backup theatrics.  Flipping through the channels a few days ago, I happened upon a presentation of a live concert by one of the most dynamic and famous “divas” on the musical stage today.  As the fireworks were exploding, the lasers were strobing, and the crowd was screaming, I listened and watched as this young lady strutted and writhed seductively and sang with a high pitched, squeaky voice.  I decided that if she had been a high school student trying out for the school choir, she wouldn’t have made the cut.  But she wasn’t selling her voice; she was selling an image.  And the millennials were buying the whole package.

     Which brings me to the point of this little essay.  I mentioned in one of my earlier articles (“The Concert”) about overhearing a pastor describing the outreach of his church by declaring, “Every outreach activity we do is geared to the 17-25 age bracket.”  When I read Gabler’s article, I immediately thought of this pastor’s comment.  Then the full realization dawned on me:  movies and music producers have traded substance for style in order to attract the age group (millennials) which spends by far the most for entertainment.  With characteristic lack of foresight, churches, in their yearning to connect with these millennials, have responded like media producers and are abandoning a tried-and-true modus operandi in order to attract this fickle audience which lacks a spiritual foundation and drifts aimlessly from one excitement to the next.  In short, just as in the movies, the old-style church service and the Christian lifestyle with its standards of behavior, dress, and decorum have been deemed hopelessly passé---technically primitive, politically incorrect, narratively dull, and slow paced.  In other words, old-fashioned.

     The upshot of this change in strategy on the part of many churches has been exactly what the new wave pastor desires…an increase in attendance.  Services are fast-paced, and the music is loud and visceral with video screens, strobe lights, and artificial smoke to complement the audio onslaught…all with the same objective as the blockbuster movies…to get the consumers’ heartbeat racing.  Just as in the movies, not much concentration on the subject is required, primarily because the senses are already being assaulted from every angle.

    But a heavy price is being paid by these "progressive" churches.  The downside of this “sizzle instead of steak” approach is each event or service must be bigger, better, and brasher than the one before it, and, just as moviegoers demand a bigger, better “Spiderman...No Way Home,” churches feel pressure to offer more theatrics, more volume, and more excitement to keep their constituents entertained…and it IS simply entertainment.  At the same time, however, the churchgoer, with the desire for a higher heartbeat and the latest spiritual fashion, will drift to “where the action is,” and any loyalty or allegiance to a single church will vanish…which in turn forces the church leaders to come up with a new pitch to entice the members back to the fold.  It is a vicious circle of competitiveness.

    Even amongst moviegoers, however, there is a cadre of movie enthusiasts which still has a reverential attachment to the works of Hawks, Hitchcock, Ford, Capra, and others.  Film courses have blossomed in colleges, and the message of movie quality over movie bombast is still being broadcast albeit from an ever-shrinking number of boomers and post-boomers.  The same applies to church goers; against the crushing tide of a new church generation which equates the presence of God to auditory and visual stimulation, there are those who still revere and cling to the spirit of the past and remember when God’s spirit could be felt in a church service with only an organ’s melodious notes as a background and the sound of quiet, effective prayer…when church members came to service to be encouraged, taught the Word of God, and feel His quiet, comforting spirit…and not be bludgeoned with spiritual fireworks, laser beams, and earth-shaking acoustics.

    Perhaps this progression (digression?) within the church is inevitable, and it is simply evidence of the cycle of culture.  Within churches, just as in movies, music, and video games, the millennial attendees follow the prevalent style of the day, and those who market the movies, music, video games, and yes, even churches, are constantly striving to catch the next new wave of fashion.  But compared to the madness of the media, could it be possible that the church...the real church... being led by a higher power and with a much more noble purpose than simply entertainment, should be more of a beacon of hope, a haven of sanity in an insane world, and an unshakable rock in a tumultuous sea of worldly chaos.?  I think yes.