If you are too upset over the fact that Game of Thrones is ending, don’t worry, there is an answer. You can go to a counseling session to help yourself come to terms with the fact that this show that I have never watched but millions have is coming to its conclusion. I heard a clip about this phenomenon on TV, and I was doing a little reading online when I came across this article from WFSB. I thought one particular quote in this article highlights both the opportunity for cultural apologists to engage with those around us and the difficulties of this engagement in 21st-century America.
Here is the quote:
"We watch them to escape our daily lives and immerse ourselves into the 'unknown,'" Lynette, a counselor from Bark.com said in a statement. "This is the very reason why we sometimes become addicted to watching them, the Stories they tell become part of our identity."
First, let’s talk about the opportunity. Clearly, this sentiment reinforces one of the most important facts that cultural apologists have been contending for. People respond to narrative. People enjoy stories and want to be a part of stories. When they see something on TV that really resonates with them, they understandably react to it. Cultural apologists need this fact to be true or else the entire endeavor of this discipline really goes out the window.
For the cultural apologist, we are part of God’s larger narrative. From creation to the end of time, God has set a Story in place, and we are parts in that story. Consequently, it is no surprise that when we come in contact with stories that people have sub-created to use the word coined by J.R.R. Tolkien, we recognize that any truth in that story is drawn from the truth of the greater story that we already innately and perhaps subconsciously recognize define our existence.
As an example, you may or may not know that my favorite movie has always been Remember the Titans. For those of you who may not have seen it, it chronicles a football team as they struggle to come together when their two racially segregated high schools merge. It was not easy for them to overcome the racial tensions of their time in their culture, but due to the leadership of namely their African-American head coach Herman Boone, they are able to come together as a cohesive unit. There are plenty of bumps along the way, but a major part of the beauty of the story is the fact that we see them come together. We see that which is wrong, racism, confronted, addressed, and ultimately triumphed over. At least for me, it awakens something. It reminds me that even though we live in a world that may be full of injustice, it is possible for good to come out on top. It encourages me. In fact, I think it encourages a lot of people. That is why it is such a popular movie.
Why does this happen with this particular theme? As a cultural apologist, I would suggest that the answer is relatively simple. First, I would argue that, according to the Christian worldview, we are created in the image of God. Therefore, we are designed to love what God loves. Looking at the history of the world as well as what we know about the future from God’s world, we know that there is a time when evil will be eliminated and justice will win. Every tear will be dried and there will be no more pain. That is part of God’s story. Seeing a beautiful story like Remember the Titans reminds us for a brief moment what that ultimate satisfaction will feel like. It is still imperfect here on earth, but it is almost like giving us a taste. We know it will only be better when we have the entire dish, but the taste is still wonderful. Stories that are consistent with God’s story and consistent with what God loves unsurprisingly resonate with also as well.
If this is true, then I don’t think we can avoid the remarkable opportunity here. If humans are actually designed to resonate with stories, then why would we not use stories? Even setting aside the content of the story altogether because I know that Christians in particular are quite divided over Game of Thrones itself, the fact that people are becoming this attached to stories and recognize that about themselves enough to be willing to seek out counseling means that we have the opportunity to maybe explain to them why stories matter so much to them. Maybe we can tell them why they order people created in the image of the master story maker Himself. That is the opportunity.
Here is the challenge though. We have to be disturbed by the fact that people are this wrapped up in virtual worlds. This level of attachment to a TV show is certainly not healthy because need to remember how this whole process works. Stories help us enhance our own world. By learning about something in Narnia for example, it is supposed to awaken me to a truth about my own world. When I am in Middle earth, I see the nobility of Aragorn and inspires me to act nobly myself here. There is a connection here from stories to the real world. Stories are not supposed to cause this type of problem in my real world experience.
This is a question then that considers what kind of people we want to be. Yes, it is super important to continue talking about stories. They are vital. I would not be a cultural apologist if I did not think so. That being said, we are on the brink of technological breakthroughs that can embed us in a story. If you consider the range of virtual-reality devices, all of your senses can tell you that you are in a situation you’re not actually in. You are part of some type of narrative that is not yours.
This happens when we read the book as well. We are transported into a story that is not ours, and that is healthy. The substantial difference emerges when those lines are blurred particularly because of the highly sensory experience of virtual-reality. It is not hard for me to look down at the book, let my mind wander, but look up and realize that I am still in my living room. Imagine the implications of every one of your senses telling you that you are in a different world. Your imagination will soon start to believe it.
The major theological problem with this situation is that we are not designed to be a part of these stories. We are designed to be parts of God’s story for the world. That’s why it resonates with us. That is the opportunity. We have to get people connected with the enchanted nature of our world and the fact that we are little parts of the bigger story. The challenge is not running away with that to the extent that we find ourselves disconnecting even further with the truth of God’s story. We build little universes of our own, made to our liking, and we find ourselves in something entirely foreign.
On one hand, that may sound appealing. After all, if I was in my own world made in my own mind, would I have to deal with all the different problems in my own life? Couldn’t I make everything right? The fundamental problem here may seem obvious and overly simple, but no matter how many devices we construct to hide ourselves from reality and to hide reality from us, we still occupy the real reality. You can cover it over, dull it, avoid it, deny or minimize it, but it will still be there and we will have to deal with that reality.
Consequently, we think about this seemingly addictive power of stories, we need to recognize both the opportunities and challenges that we face in 21st-century America. The opportunity is the same as it has always been. People are designed to connect with stories. We are designed in the image of God and therefore love stories in the image of our great story maker. The challenge is that we can become attached to these stories to the extent that it leads us to deny the story we are actually a part of. With modern technology, the potential is there for this attraction to stories to lead us to the fundamental denial of the real reality. That’s the challenge.
Let’s embrace the opportunity, challenge the potential problems and do what we can to help people recognize God’s story. After all, that’s what it’s all about.