This is one of those moments where difficult subject matter comes into conflict with our desire to inform you of what's going on in the world your students live in. We could shy away from talking about uncomfortable issues, but we wouldn't be effectively equipping you from a cultural perspective if we did. Our goal is to inform you of what's happening in culture, so you can, in turn, engage your students. The end goal is that your students are equipped to make a difference in their world in the name of Christ.) MTV is debuting a TV show tomorrow night that got my attention in a major way. I want to spend some time here because TRUST me, this show is going to be watched by teenagers . . . your students among them. MTV is aggressively and strategically marketing this to teenagers using every available means. The Hard Times of R.J. Berger
is the typical high-school, nerds vs. jocks drama that has been played out a million times over the years. However, there is one major plot twist that makes this anything but typical. For reasons you're about to see, I will not try and summarize the plot. I'll let MTV's own marketing copy speak for itself:
15-year-old RJ Berger goes from anonymous to infamous when his pants drop at a Pinkerton High basketball game, exposing his anatomical "gift" to the entire school.... With his sex-obsessed sidekick Miles Jenner and the stalkerish Lily Miran by his side, 15-year-old RJ Berger jerks into Sophomore year with a mission - to beat the odds despite his "loser" status. The year starts off good for RJ when he's assigned to be Biology study buddies with his dream girl, Jenny Swanson. But his luck's cut short when his anatomical "gift" is accidentally exposed to the entire school during a basketball game in which he's subbing. Numerous jokes later, the now BIG man on campus attends Jenny Swanson's pool party with Miles.
There's more, but I won't go on . . . You get the point. Yes, that's right. MTV has developed an entire show for teenagers and about teenagers whose main plot vehicle is the size of a teenage boy's, well . . . you know . . . Revealed when his shorts are pulled down by a bully in the middle of a basketball game. [Sigh . . . ]
You know, none of us should be surprised by anything in culture. Scripture makes it clear that the ways of the world and the ways of God will always be at odds. In Colossians 3:5 Paul lists out the ways of the world . . . "sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed" . . . So, we should never look to the world and be surprised that is corrupt.
But I have to admit, this one gets me . . . in part because of the audacity of the plot vehicle, but mostly what it represents for the teenagers in your youth group.
"Hard Times" is just another in a great line of challenges for teens trying to follow Christ in the midst of a world opposed to the ways of God's Kingdom. It takes something extremely private, something sacred (sex and the divine gift of procreation) and not only makes it a punchline, but it normalizes it in a way that undermines God and His sovereign plan for creation. A show like "Hard Times" is so particularly harmful to teens because it's seemingly harmless.
Delivered in a campy, creative, and humorous way, the problem is how very normal it seems. Until you realize what the show is really doing to the cultural conversation our teenagers are engaging in. There will be teenagers in your youth who watch this show and talk about it with their friends. And because it's not porn, and because it's clever and funny, many will find nothing wrong with it. And that is the biggest problem.
What can you do? What should you do?
Inform your parents.
Send them this article. Send them to MTV.com. I hope most parents would prefer their children not watch this. Help them be proactive.
Engage your students in open, honest conversation about the show.
By no means should you encourage them to watch. But if you find that they are, jump in. Take a moment to teach them to be cultural critics with the lens of a biblical worldview. Help them know what about the show goes contrary to God's idea of sex, sexuality, and the human body.
Pray for your teenagers. Pray that in their conversations with their friends about this show that they would have the opportunity to stand up for the morality and ethics espoused by Christ. We'd love to hear your thoughts on this . . . Andy Blanks is the co-founder of youthministry360. Andy has worked in youth ministry for 12 years, almost exclusively writing, designing, and developing curriculum. Andy is a volunteer youth leader with his church's youth group, leading a small group and speaking and teaching whenever he gets the chance. He is a teacher at heart and loves to challenge teenagers and youth workers alike through his writing and speaking.
Share your thoughts with the youthministry360 community:
- What are the challenges you face when trying to engage students in conversation over issues like this one?
Do you find parents open to discussions about this sort of thing?