I just finished my first book by Dean Koontz. Called Life Expectancy, it is a book about a family stalked by a psychopath, but beneath the storyline it is really about marriage, faithfulness and an abundant life.
Koontz was first brought to my attention in an interview in National Catholic Register with Tim Drake. Koontz is a Catholic and his work is becoming more explicitly religious in his Brother Odd books.
I’m interested in the interface between Catholicism and popular culture. Ann Rice, the author of some pretty famous vampire novels has recently returned to her Catholic faith, Koontz writes suspense novels with some pretty graphic scenes of violence. Christian themes keep cropping up in mainstream movies too. Steven Greydanus, film reviewer for National Catholic Register, comments intelligently on them. X-Men and Spiderman are mainstream action movies with strong sub plots of forgiveness and reconciliation in the midst of violence.
Last night I went to see the Bourne Ultimatum. Beneath all the mayhem and murder is strong comment on the ethics of mind control, torture, black ops, and the increasing use of surveillance and ‘security’ measures that are outside the law. In addition to that the series of films are really about a young man’s search for identity in a world coming apart with confusion, guilt fear and anonymity.
For my money, it is the products of popular culture that are making the most profound comments in our society. Of course there is lots of dross, but there is also a lot that is thoughtful, well made and very powerful.
What are we to make of the disagreeable elements in popular culture? What of the violence and sex in so many films and novels. I don’t think the actual presence of sex and violence in a novel or a film is the most important problem. There are two more important questions: “How are the sex and violence depicted?” If they are shown in a way that is arousing or encouraging a prurient curiosity, and if they are gratuitous, then the depiction of the sex and violence should be criticized.
The second question is, “What is the wider moral context of the sex and violence in the film or novel?” This is much more important than the mere presence of sex and violence. Do the violent end up getting what they deserve or does violence turn out to pay dividends? Is the violence glorified or shown to be for losers? Is the sex within a wider context of faithfulness and marriage, or is it simply recreational promiscuity?
Finally, what is the overall moral universe portrayed in the film? Most films actually show the good guys beating the bad guys. Most films portray a universe in which there is a battle between good and evil, a universe where real choices matter and where they matter forever. Because of this the vast majority of films and novels actually serve to support a general Christian world view. They may not be explicitly Christian, and may have objectionable elements, but they serve within the popular imagination to help maintain belief in a world that is essentially moral.
Good stories in movies and novels ultimately support a theistic view of the world. In his essay n fairy tales, J.R.R.Tolkien wrote about the ‘eucatastrophe’ or the ‘happy or just ending’ to a story. The happy ending to a story reminds us that life can have a happy ending, and if a happy ending, then meaning, and if meaning, then purpose, and if purpose, then a plan, and if a plan, then a planner.