Theological reflection on human nature revolves around the question: Who are these humans God has made? Of what are they composed, what are their inherent powers and limitations? For what purpose do they exist? The same questions are raised, although usually de-fanged of references to God, in popular culture. Themes that have been discerned in the materials examined in this chapter include the following.
In popular culture there is, on one hand, an elevation of the ordinary, a respect for the struggles involved in making a living, raising a family, and being a true friend. Submitting without flourish or ostentation to the simple requirements of life - hunger, sexuality, companionship, frailty and death - is respected in literature, film, and song as honesty about the human condition. This is the steady stream of fanfares to the "common man" that can be heard playing in a variety of artifacts. On the other hand, there is also a trend toward customizing the base model, accessorizing it with semiotically rich commodities and brands to register our affiliations with powers upon which we depend and wish to be identified. In this way we compose our own identities reflexively - both consciously and unconsciously, both cooperatively and under protest. This often involves enmeshing our lives in several mythologies at once, fetishizing the products that we consume and sacramentally imprinting them on our souls. In this way we bear the image of God; or, better, the image of our ultimate concern.
For many of us, our highest aspiration is a happiness defined by amusement, engineered along the lines of Disney World or the ubiquitous themed sites of pleasure and consumption it has spawned. This is significant both because collective aspirations divulge much about a culture's conception of human nature and how it is best fulfilled, and because of the hyperreality that is given reign in this vision of fulfillment. According to this view, the human being is a pleasure-seeking bricoleur. But there is also a strong current in popular culture that runs contrary to this surrender to simulation, a warning that the self is composed of ordered memories, and that as the first-hand experience of life is eclipsed within the memory by the fabrications of hyperreality, the self begins to deteriorate. A flesh and blood person cannot live on simulacra alone.
Another way that popular culture is puzzling over human nature can be seen in representations of the tension between our headlong rush to be borged, with the multitude of ways technology extends our senses and powers, and the envy we find among full-fledged cyborgs who would prefer to be more like their human creators. The cyborgs, onto whom we project our inmost longings for unimpeded strength, tirelessness, memory, speed, intelligence, beauty, and indestructibility, wish, instead, to be real boys and girls. They long for the uncertainties of a full-bodied finitude. For them, the grass is greener on our side of the fence.
These are some of the more interesting contradictions that can be found in popular culture's present reflections on the stuff of which we are made and the purposes for which we exist.
Was this article helpful?