Missing from the Media, Part 2: Christians, or Why It’s Okay to Like Us

In my last post, I wrote about the lack of good kids in today’s mainstream media, and just overnight, I have gotten great feedback from other good kids. They agree that TV characters aren’t as responsible or well-balanced as they used to be (oh, ’90s family programming, we miss you!), and we’d like to see characters whose behaviors and life choices resemble our own.

Personally, I have chosen to be a good kid because of my Christian faith. Like most (if not all) of the people who connected with my last post, I try to abstain from certain activities, behaviors, and attitudes in order to live a life that is pleasing to God. The Bible tells us, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). I try to glorify God by reflecting his goodness and holiness in my actions and decisions.

As I wrote yesterday’s post and thought about my reasons for being a good kid, I realized that the media also lacks positive or realistic portrayals of Christians. Whether it’s a fictional character or particular Christian individuals or groups in news coverage, Christians in media rarely provide a positive representation of Jesus-followers. If people are basing their opinions of Christians and Christianity on the media, it’s no wonder why people hate Christians.

Marguerite Perrin, known as “the God Warrior” from Trading Spouses

When people hear the word “Christian,” they might think of the Westboro Baptist Church, who tote “God Hates [fill in the blank]” signs and use tragedy as an opportunity to condemn homosexuality, Judaism, Italy, or Barack Obama. They might think of Harold Camping, who predicts the world will end on May 21, 1988 September 7, 1994 May 21, 2011 October 21, 2011. They might think of Glee‘s Quinn Fabray, the deviously vindictive head cheerleader who balanced teen pregnancy with her responsibilities as president of the Celibacy Club. Or they might think of the sheltered and naive Rod and Todd Flanders from The Simpsons. Christians in media are seen as judgmental hypocrites or just plain crazy and stupid.

Mother Teresa

But what are Christians really like? According to the old song, “they will know we are Christians by our love.” We are not out to hate the world but to love it. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Not only does God love all people, He has commanded Christians to do the same. So when the media shows people who claim to love Jesus but hate everyone else, that’s not an accurate representation of what faith in Jesus is supposed to look like.

In the area of morality, media struggles to find a balance in its characterization of Christians. Fictional Christian characters are either naive or hypocritical. On one end of the spectrum, they are goody two-shoes who have been sheltered from a world of sin. On the other end, they disapprove of others’ actions while they are up to their eyeballs in identical immorality behind a facade of innocence. Most people are somewhere in the middle. We are not perfect, nor do we pretend to be.

If I could create a Christian character, it would be someone known for loving other people – all people. Someone who wouldn’t claim to be perfect but would still strive for moral integrity. Someone who stands by his or her convictions, whether it’s a matter of religious doctrine or moral standards, and respectfully disagrees with those who believe differently. Someone who is compassionate, generous, and kind. Perhaps someone who is passionate about social justice and doing something to change the world.

Apparently, Glee creator Ryan Murphy had plans in 2010 to create a Christian character for the second season. He told TV Guide, “We’ve taken a couple jabs at the right wing this year, so what I want to do with this character is have someone who Christian kids and parents can recognize and say, ‘Oh, look—I’m represented there, too!’ If we’re trying to form a world of inclusiveness, we’ve got to include that point of view as well.” Obviously, that plan didn’t come to fruition as fans prepare for the premier of the show’s third season, but Murphy hasn’t completely canned the idea. Winner of The Glee Project, Samuel Larsen, says that Murphy is considering casting him as an indie rocker that you wouldn’t expect to be a Christian but is.

If Christian characters on TV, like the one that Ryan Murphy might create for Glee, were more like the Christians I know (or what I believe a Christian to be), then people would realize it’s okay to like Christians. And if all Christians were more like the Jesus we claim to follow, then people would realize it’s okay to like Jesus, too.

Missing from the Media, Part 1: The Good Kid, or Why I Miss Chord Overstreet

Glee is known as a show that gives a voice to the outcast and underrepresented. The gay and lesbian community often praises the show for its positive and empowering portrayal and acceptance of homosexuality, especially in a high school setting. Thanks to Glee, I’m seeing more Asians on TV than I have since Margaret Cho’s short-lived All-American Girl was on the air. The Asian community, which is generally excited whenever a fellow Asian appears in mainstream media, is proud to be represented by Jenna Ushkowitz, Harry Shum Jr., Charice, and the Filipino half of Darren Criss.

Though Glee serves as “home” for many minority groups, I identify with one group that still struggles to find a place in mainstream media – even on Glee. The good kids. Nice kids. Teens or young adults who follow the rules and obey the law. People who stand by their personal convictions and principles. Frankly, we just don’t make for good TV, because everything that today’s shows are made of are things we try to avoid. We try not to lie, cheat, or steal. We don’t like gossip or petty fighting. We don’t smoke or do drugs. We don’t have casual sex. If we drink at all, we wait until we are 21 to start and don’t drink to the point of drunkenness.

Unless they are the subject of comedic ridicule or portrayed as religious fanatics, characters like this generally don’t exist. I can’t think of a character (on any show) who successfully resisted peer pressure (and wasn’t ashamed to do so) or whose decisions were shaped by principle instead of lessons learned “the hard way.” On Glee, characters either aren’t virgins or lie about their “v-card” status because they are ashamed of their virginity. Students and teacher alike pledge not to drink (until after their big competition, of course) only after humiliating incidents taught them the social consequences of alcohol and drunkenness. Chord Overstreet’s character of Sam Evans, whose v-card status is unknown, was probably the closest to a “good kid” I’ve seen on Glee, but with Overstreet’s departure from the show, good kids may have lost their champion.

I was a good kid in high school, and I maintain the same behavior as a young adult. I know I wasn’t the only high schooler who didn’t attend weekend house parties and raid parents’ liquor cabinets; I’m not the only young adult who chooses not to drink. And I’m not the only person with my v-card in tact. So if I’m not the only one out there, why are good kids hard to find in media?

Movies and TV have this great ability to let people know they’re not alone. Shows like Glee have shown people that being different is okay, whether it’s their sexuality, size, or skin color that distinguishes them from others. So why can’t Glee let the good kids know that their lifestyle is acceptable?

In real life, people try to make me feel like an oddity or try to make me feel bad about my life choices. They tease me about drinking and make me feel obligated to consume alcohol. They insist my standards are too high. They tell me I am not normal because of the way I live my life, but maybe if the media started to portray good kids more positively and more frequently, people would realize that this behavior is more normal than they realize.

P.S. I focused a lot on Glee in this post, because that show has developed such cultural significance for minority groups, but in doing so neglected one super awesome good kid on TV. Alexis Castle (Molly Quinn) on ABC’s Castle is so perfectly good (but not in an annoying, goody-two-shoes way) that viewers and characters wonder how she turned out the way she did with a father like Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion). She is responsible, mature, intelligent, and funny. She balances out the childishness of her father with a sensibility and maturity beyond her years. She is good, though not perfect (she once jumped a subway turnstile and tearfully confessed this offense to her dad). For good kids, Alexis Castle and Molly Quinn are like breaths of fresh air in the midst of a polluted Hollywood. I’m excited to have characters like Alexis Castle on TV and to have actors like Molly Quinn, who is also mature beyond her years, making a positive impact in the entertainment industry.

Next post: Missing from the Media, Part 2

A Message to Our Youth

Dear Children,

Please restore my hope in the future of our society. Make good decisions and life choices. Respect yourselves and respect others. Tell the truth. To those who have already chosen to lead lives of honor and integrity, thank you. May society follow your example.
Sincerely,
Cindy

Boston Impressions, so far

I’ve been in Boston for 3 weeks now (halfway through the summer) and really haven’t had much time to blog. It feels like I haven’t had much time to write lately, whether in Pennsylvania or in Boston, but compared to last year, free time seems to be lacking. Maybe it’s the scorching heat that keeps me indoors? For whatever reason, I’ve been exploring less, reading less, reflecting less.

Last year, I would go outside, maybe read by the river for a while, and then walk with no set destination. I would eventually make it back to the dorm about 3 miles later. I have yet to do that this summer. I am slowly making my way through C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Last year I finished 3 or 4 books and short stories. I have 3 other books on my dorm room shelf that might return to Pennsylvania unopened. I also brought my journal along with me and threw a blank journal into my luggage just in case. I haven’t written in either one yet. At the end of the day, I just get too tired to think about, let alone write about, my day. I don’t know if I will have the motivation to catch up on journaling until after this summer.

I haven’t hung out in the boys’ dorm nearly as much this year. By this time last year, I pretty much knew all of the boys’ full names and probably life stories. Right now, I’m doing dinner check-ins for the 14 to 17 year olds, and I’m still asking for their names (granted, there are twice as many boys this year as last year). The boys’ dorm is no longer next door to the girls’ dorm, so it is more difficult to stop by for a few minutes just to hang out. Also, the TV room is on the opposite side of the building from the office. Last year it was all in the same room, and the boys would watch movies or play games while we sat at the computer. We got to participate in some interesting, sometimes profound, conversations and discussions. This year, however, I have gone deeper than surface level with only a select few.

The staff feels different this year, too. Not better, not worse – just different. We are still too overqualified for the work that we do. We still have an eclectic mix of personalities, backgrounds, and interests. And we still have some internal issues. Communication seems to be a little more difficult this year. “Dropping the ball” is a phrase that has been used on more than one occasion this summer. However, there have been changes in procedure around here. We are all getting used to new systems and new methods of communication. Until we all have an understanding of how everything works, things are bound to fall through the cracks.

In spite of professional difficulties, friendships have formed easily among the staff. As a new staff person last year I perceived somewhat of a clique among the returners. This year, it seems like the line is pretty blurred between new staff and returners, even without intentionally seeking out friendships with the new people. The new people I have met this summer are pretty great, though. More than last year, I have found people with similar morals and interests, people who will join me for church services on Sunday, and people who don’t mind staying in while others go to the bar. I didn’t think I would find these kinds of people on staff this year, so I was originally hesitant to return to Boston. Who knew that a significant portion of staff would be just the kind of person I was hoping to find? I’ve enjoyed spending time with some of the women on staff, talking about worship through dance, desires for our faith, and how wonderful God truly is.

The children are interesting. They are more social with each other and more friendly with me than I had expected. All the girls on my floor are 16 or 17, a bit older than last year. Going into this summer, my expectations for socialization were set pretty low, so it wasn’t too difficult to exceed them. We have reached a point, though, where they are tired of hearing me talk at floor meetings, and I am tired of trying to talk over them. It’s moments like the floor meetings when I am glad I did not become a teacher. I would have gotten too frustrated with classroom management and attempting to assert myself.

They are teaching me about the parent I would like to become, should I have children in the future. I’d like to think I won’t become a helicopter parent and that my children will be perfectly fine speaking for themselves. I don’t want to hover over them every moment of their lives and do everything for them until they are completely incapable of independence. I want to raise my children to say please and thank you, to treat other people with respect, and not to take anything for granted. While there are standout “good kids” with positive attitudes and impeccable manners, those who complain are more outspoken. They don’t understand why they can’t get whatever they want, why they can’t expect people to clean up after them wherever they go, why they should call people by their names instead of by their home country, or why “I’m paying for this” is not always a valid argument. Some of the children have a strong sense of entitlement, expecting the world to bend over backwards for their pleasure. Sometimes it is difficult to determine if this is just typical teenage egocentrism and selfishness, but after hearing parents voice their opinions just as strongly, it is evident that the family shares a limited world view occupied by misperceived privilege. They may be used to buying their way to satisfaction and living lives without consequences. They lack the ability to see the broader picture and the perspective to understand that while they want more than what is given, they ought to be thankful for what they have.

Only a teenage girl…

… could draw attention to insecurities I have tried to hide for years.

When I was about 10 years old, my ballet teacher noticed that my legs were structured a bit differently than everyone else. In the middle of barre work, she called the entire class over to ogle. I left that studio within a few years. At my new studio, I worked extra hard on my turnout, just so I could appear “normal” next to all the perfect ballerinas. Teenage insecurity does not disappear easily, even with age. Only in recent years have I become comfortable wearing dresses or shorts in the summer. To this day, I try to stand with my feet turned out so my leg structure is not so pronounced (and I realize that people will now be looking at how I stand).

Sometimes teenagers lack a filter and say whatever comes to their minds, but even if it is unintentional, teenage girls have a knack for finding where you are weak.