Making It Normal

shutterstock_128741456Do you ever wonder why culture takes a turn for the worse? What’s the inciting moment, the turning point, the thing that makes culture embrace an evil that only a handful of years earlier was almost unthinkable?

Much smarter people than I have done years of research and study to find the answer. And truthfully, they come up with a lot of answers – the state of our culture can’t be boiled down to any single cause. Religion, politics, philosophy, art, entertainment, history, economy, family life – these are all things that impact our culture because they shape the way we see the world. And each one tends toward a different means of changing the culture.

The question that interests me most is how entertainment does it.

We all know intuitively that the entertainment our culture consumes holds great sway over the direction in which our culture moves. People will always argue that entertainment only reflects what’s already there in the culture, but those people are probably just trying to justify why they consume what they consume – or why they make what they make. In reality, entertainment takes a seed from culture and magnifies it, makes it grow… makes it normal. And that’s how it causes change.

An example to illustrate my point:

In the last few years, our battle with culture has been over same-sex marriage. The culture increasingly pushes against the whole history and tradition of the world to make same-sex marriage a reality (theologically speaking, though, even if same-sex “marriage” becomes legal in all 50 states, its proponents will still have failed – same-sex marriage can never be areality just like an apple falling off a table and hovering in midair can never be a reality). So if it’s a reality that can never be actualized, how did it become such a prevalent hope in our culture?

I argue that it began with the 90s TV show Friends. Now, I’m well aware that homosexual characters appeared on television and in movies long before Ross’ lesbian ex-wife entered our living rooms, but Friends used a different approach that changed everything. It wasn’t just that the character was a lesbian; it’s that the other characters treated her sexual behavior as normal. Almost always before, we saw homosexual characters as strangers, outsiders, eccentrics, even monsters, and their orientation was the butt of a joke, a taboo to be feared, or a tragedy to pity. But Friends changed that. We felt bad for Ross when his wife left him for a woman – but it was because she left him, not because it was for a woman. We laughed when we realized she was a lesbian – but the joke was in the irony, not in the sexual preference. The show’s real stroke of genius, though, was that Ross’ wife was not a main character. As a side character who didn’t show up often, she didn’t draw too much attention, and so her sexuality was not a big, political statement. Somehow, the unobtrusiveness of her sexuality made it acceptable.

And that was enough to pave the way for a show like Will and Grace, where one of the title characters is gay. And that’s normal.

That opened the culture to movies like Brokeback Mountain, where homosexuality moved from being widely acceptable in comedy to becoming the subject matter of a prestigious romantic drama.

Now, six different states and Washington, D.C. have legalized same-sex marriage. Speaking out against same-sex marriage in any way, shape, or form makes you a homophobe and a bigot (check out the combox on this great article by Marc Barnes if you don’t believe me). Because it’s normal now. Thanks, Friends.

The point of this post, though, is not to say that we need to ban shows like Friends or boycott movies like Brokeback Mountain. As fun as that sounds, it’s neither realistic nor effective. We’re not going to move culture in the right direction by banning and boycotting things the culture already accepts. The point is that we need to make movies and shows that are written, directed, and acted better than Friends and Brokeback Mountain. And we need to think long and hard about what we want to make “normal.”


This article was originally published at Impacting Culture

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Tara Stone works at Yellow Line Productions and attends John Paul the Great Catholic University.

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