The “Funky” Side of Religion
“What is the role of the media in religious identity construction, particularly when the media’s tales of the supernatural may seem to be compelling and—whether recognized by the young people as such or not--in direct contrast with stories from the historic institutions of religion? (Clark 795)
This is the question Lynn Schofield Clark sets out to answer through a series of interviews with 262 people, including 102 teenagers. She questions how television shows and films related to the supernatural influence teenagers’ perceptions of religion (795).
Ultimately, Clark discovered that the teenagers interviewed fall into one of five categories. The first category was deemed the “Traditionalists.” These teenagers believed that there should be a distinct separation between religion and the supernatural. Many of them came from conservative religions and believed that the supernatural elements portrayed in popular media outlets were immoral or “spiritually distracting” (799-801).
The second group of people interviewed fell into the category of “the Intrigued Teens.” It was harder for these teens to concretely separate the supernatural realm, including “extraterrestrials or ghosts,” from formal religion. They wished to maintain the boundary, but struggled when trying to describe where things like exorcisms fit in (801-802).
Some of the teens interviewed were labeled “the Mystical Teen.” These teenagers believed that a combination of spirituality, religion and popular media stories of the supernatural could all play a role in their personal lives. While the teens recognized that some of the supernatural stories might be true, they could only see that when in relation to experiences within their own lives (802-803).
Another group of teens were labeled “the Experimenters.” These teens were able to appreciate “both legitimate and delegitimized religions.” They saw some differences and contradictions between the media’s portrayal of the supernatural and their religion, but they were able to use many of the media’s portrayals to reinforce their beliefs (803-804).
The last group of teens fell into the “Resisters” category. These teens rejected organized religion and embraced the supernatural. They did not approve of the negative, distanced stance traditional religions took on the supernatural realm (804-805).
Clark reached the conclusion that teenagers’ perceptions of religion and the supernatural are multi-faceted and a result of many factors. She believes that many teenagers claim to be religious in an attempt to be viewed as moral, good people, even though they may not actually have any legitimate interest in that religion (807).
This article was informative but failed to address other groups of teenagers and may be slightly outdated. Clark did not mention teenagers that do not accept both organized religion and the supernatural. In addition, the word “religious” often carries a negative connotation in the United States. In many parts of the country, the word can be synonymous with “crazy, “ “fundamentalist,” or “extreme right-wing conservative.” Therefore, teenagers sometimes fail to label themselves as religious, as oftentimes it is viewed less as being moral and more as being intolerant or an extremist.
Clark L.S. 2004. U.S. Adolescent Religious Identity, the Media, and the "Funky" side of Religion, Journal of Communication, 52, 794-811.
Terrorists We Like and Terrorists We Don’t Like
When the twin towers fell in New York City on September 11, photojournalists were there to document nearly every event that took place both during and after the attacks. One photographer, Mark D. Phillips captured an image that resembled Satan or Osama bin Laden in the smoke and falling debris. The media was able to give cues to the United States viewers to influence how they should feel (Elliott 51).
The images photojournalists choose to publish have a large influence on how viewers perceive the subject matter. After 9/11, men in turbans and women in veils were suddenly viewed as “evil,” thanks to the media coverage of people celebrating the attacks and images of Osama bin Laden. Innocent people were attacked for wearing cultural and religious attire, even though they were not at all affiliated with the airplane hijackers (52).
According to Deni Elliott, the media and the government work hand in hand to influence how the public feels about certain groups. While some groups are labeled “freedom fighters,” others are labeled “terrorists.” Oftentimes there is very little difference between the aims of the groups. In the 1980s, the United States considered Osama bin Laden an ally. Today he has been labeled an extremely dangerous terrorist (54). Unfortunately, the way the media portrays certain individuals and groups limits the public’s ability to derive their own beliefs and views on situations.
Elliot D, 2003, ‘Terrorists We Like and Terrorists We Don't Like’, In PM Lester & EE Dennis, Eds., Images that Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media, 2nd Edn, London, Praeger, ch7, 51-55
Future in the Mirror: Media, Evangelicals, and Politics in Rio de Janeiro
Brazil was once known as the “largest Catholic country in the world.” However, in 1980 the world’s largest football stadium, Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana, hosted a non-Catholic religious event and things have been different ever since. The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) helped launch non-Catholic religions into the media through TV and other media outlets (Birman 52).
The UCKG has revolutionized many things, including contributing to the image of a “peaceful society” in Brazil, giving importance to public figures’ religion affiliations, the usage of faith to raise a group’s profile in society, and the usage of public space for highly publicized non-Catholic events. In addition, the UCKG helped to integrate the wealthy and the poor, the violent and the peaceful (57, 58, 61).
Through the use of its own TV channel, weekly newspaper, website and monthly magazine, the UCKG has been utilizing the media to draw followers and evangelize (59). They are able to broadcast their events and “spectacles” to people around the world. They are an example of how influential the media can be in garnering attention for various religions.
Birman Patricia, 2006, Future in the Mirror: Media, Evangelicals, and Politics in Rio de Janeiro, in Birgit Meyer and Annaelies Moors, Eds, Religion Media and the Public Sphere. Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press.