Hollywood studios want them because they appeal to a generation that spends $5 billion a year on movies and entertainment. Editors want them because their young, beautiful faces sell magazines. Even Wall Street wants them because their personae set the stage for advertising directed at the disposable income of American youth.
Who are they? Teen idols, of course.
According to Jan Baskett, vice president of marketing for Girl Games, teenagers spend $80 billion annually. What are they spending all of their money on? According to Michael Wood of Teenage Research Unlimited: "Of the activities teens are interested in, going to the movies tops the list–ahead of Internet, dating, partying and sports."
Actress Jennifer Love Hewitt tells of teens who have taken imitating her television personality to an extreme. "Two girls came up to me and said they'd changed their names on their birth certificates to Sarah, so they could be just like my character on Party of Five."
Young people have always admired sports figures, movie stars, and rock musicians, but today's technology has elevated that admiration to devoted idolatry. "Idoldom itself has moved front and center in the culture in a way not seen since the youthquake [children of baby boomers]," reports The New York Times. Today teens can access their favorite larger-than-life celebrity with a simple keystroke. Celluloid idols are literally at their fingertips. And what are these eagerly emulated heroes teaching young people?
From television's most popular line-ups teens learn that beauty is more important than brains, relationships are disposable, and material possessions make life worthwhile. Cinema often reaches lower depths–a series of recent slasher films have inspired chilling copycat tragedies committed by teenagers. And in the sports arena, far too many athletes turn out to be fallen heroes. The message media teaches is lamentably devoid of virtue.
Why is it that teens prefer sports figures and sitcoms to missionaries and martyrs?
Where has our Christian notion of heroism gone? "We have ceased to believe in anything strongly enough to be impressed by its attainment," conclude the pollsters of The Day America Told the Truth. The Christian definition of heroism, according to Chuck Colson, is a willingness to suffer and sacrifice on behalf of others. "It's a definition we need to bring back in a day when too many people confuse celebrity with heroism," says Colson. "Even violent criminals are lauded as heroes just because they're famous." The gospel message gets packaged so many different ways that its hard-hitting truths are easily lost in the process.
"Breaking the grip that false heroes have on us and chasing them out of their place of authority in our imaginations is a formidable task. . . . Their authority is usually deeply imbedded in us in the form of ideals, dreams, and habits from childhood years. Pseudoheroic values in our culture resonate with our own unique styles of insecurity, pride, and vanity," writes Dick Keys in his book True Heroism.
In order to rid ourselves of antiheroes, we must find a replacement. Jesus possesses the necessary qualities of an authentic, timeless hero.
Society today is quick to antiquate Jesus with the "irrelevant" ideas of yesteryear. His message is often mistaken for rigid regulations that pertain only to a pious minority. Truthfully, Jesus was somewhat of a progressive pioneer in His day. In an age where an unforgiving class system dictated social acquaintances, Jesus ministered to an adulteress and a tax collector. His society promoted racial separation, yet the Lord told Peter to dine with the Gentiles. Women were discouraged from learning, but Jesus invited Mary to study alongside the men. An outcast hero, Jesus championed the marginalized people of his day and preached a whole new way of thinking and of viewing the world through the eyes of grace.
Jesus loved more than any human in history. His love was not the contrived fare we find in the tabloids. Christ's unconditional love defied evil and gave new life to those in peril. It was a love so great, it led Him to Calvary's Cross. Although He was the Christ, He endured suffering beyond measure. He despised the shame of a crucifixion but did not retreat from it; instead, the shame became His glory, and for the sake of others He willingly accepted the greatest horror imaginable–alienation from His Father. While Jesus triumphed in several occasions, His courage gave Him victory over the everyday struggle. Although tempted, He never sinned. While outcast, He never hated. Despite humiliation, He forgave his oppressors.
When we look at the silver screen and find only half-hearted heroes, we should remember that there is always One who remains a hero worth imitating.
- Tonya Stoneman, staff writer
© January IN TOUCH magazine
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