Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Emotional consequences

A phenomena termed "waning of affect" or emotional "depthlessness" (notably in the arts) has been described by authors such as the philosopher Frederick Jameson. This is one of those areas of cultural criticism by postmodernists where one can find a combination of intriguing concepts and impenetrable terminology. My interpretation is that this refers to an apparent superficiality of emotional expression or affect, coupled with an attraction to intense experiences of sensation or emotion. The types of deeper emotional expression that a century ago would have been routine in literature, or for that matter religion, are difficult to find today. We have a preference for the cool or ironic in expression, while at the same time, having a taste for forms of entertainment such as increasingly graphic horror movies and intense video games. A wide array of traditional religious literature simply will not communicate adequately in this environment, and attempts to follow current trends will have interesting but unpredictable consequences - consider Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which had tremendous sales and apparent social impact. As it turns out, that impact was rather limited, based on the research of several different organizations. Consider this report from the Barna group, which was very sympathetic to the religious goals of the movie:

Among the most startling outcomes drawn from the research is the apparent absence of a direct evangelistic impact by the movie. Despite marketing campaigns labeling the movie the “greatest evangelistic tool” of our era, less than one-tenth of one percent of those who saw the film stated that they made a profession of faith or accepted Jesus Christ as their savior in reaction to the film’s content.

Equally surprising was the lack of impact on people’s determination to engage in evangelism. Less than one-half of one percent of the audience said they were motivated to be more active in sharing their faith in Christ with others as a result of having seen the movie.
The anaysis of the shallowness of the consequences of this film refer to the same new world of communications cited before in examining social consequences:
George Barna, the director of the research, commented that many people would probably be surprised that there was not a more lasting and intense impact from the movie. "Immediate reaction to the movie seemed to be quite intense," he noted, "but people’s memories are short and are easily redirected in a media-saturated, fast-paced culture like ours. The typical adult had already watched another six movies at the time of the survey interview, not including dozens of hours of television programs they had also watched."
You can't counteract the emotional consequences of postmodernity simply by being more ironic, or cooler, or more intense. Just going further and faster does not help you when you are having problems with finding directions -- the proper treatment of ADHD may not include a new Gameboy.

These intellectual, social and emotional consequences of postmodernity have spiritual consequences as well.

No comments: