Culture was my god for many years. I worked in public entertainment companies for decades, providing “shareholder value”. You kept your job or station because it was a meritocracy. You made hits or you were gone.
“Culture may be likened to a tapestry, intricate and often beautiful, which is woven by a given society to express its corporate identity.” said Anglican cleric John Stott. “The colours and patterns of the tapestry are the communities, common beliefs and common customs, inherited from the past, enriched by contemporary art and binding the community together.”
I remember organizing a Board of Director’s speech for the then President of Paramount Pictures, Michael Eisner. “We don’t make art for art’s sake. We make art to make money”, he said in his now famous speech. The Brilliant Eisner carried that monied philosophy to DIsney where he successfully was its chairman, growing the corporation for 22 years.
While he respected the Disney brand , Mr. Eisner created more brands like Touchstone Pictures and Hollywood Pictures so he could get a bigger piece of the adult pie. Again, he was looking to increase “shareholder value.” That was his job and he did it well.
“Culture is ambiguous because man is ambiguous.” Mr. Stott wrote. ” Man is both noble (because he is made in God’s image) and ignoble (because fallen and sinful). And his culture faithfully reflects these two aspects.”
There was a moral compass to our proceedings. I mean, we weren’t total heathens! But the point is, that our largest purpose was pleasing culture, not necessarily advancing it.
So the intricacies of culture became my God. I worshipped it. I don’t think there are any other words for it. I suppose I believed culture would sustain me, protect me, even provide me with a legacy (an afterlife, of sorts).
I saw this remarkable fresco by William McConkey yesterday. I had to smile as it is such a great comment on culture. It even includes several icons of narratives I worked on over the years. But we have to remember that culture will move on and change. This was a send up of 80s culture — now the table has been reset with wizards, vampires, hobbits and avengers.
“The richness of each particular culture should be appreciated, but not the idolatry which may lay at its heart,” Stott said. I learned the culture was a wobbly god late in life, but not so late that I couldn’t write about it:-)!
The quotes of John Stott are taken from his collection of thoughts, Authentic Christianity, edited by Timothy Dudley-Smith, 1995.