Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Religion & The Media

Throughout the ages the media has acted as both a reflector and educator of society. Centuries later, we can look at the media of that time and make clear inferences about changing theology. Media not only reflects theology, but influences it.

Through looking at historic representations of Christianity we can ascertain the views of the time1. The BBC documentary ‘How the Devil Got His Horns: A Diabolical Tale’ shows that when depicting the Devil, each artist would take inspiration from previous artists' paintings. Throughout this documentary, Sooke shows that the changing image of the devil reflected society's changing attitude to the role and characteristics of the Devil from a beautiful angel that was a caretaker of sinners, to a horrific beast-like figure2. This shows that the media of the time can reflect the theology of that time, and influence that which is to come.

Today, television provides a unique insight not previously offered; with hundreds of channels it is easy to gain insight to what others think and how they live. Television provides a unique way of “making the unfamiliar familiar”3, but questions have to be raised over whether this challenges prejudice, or if it simply enhances stereotypes? It is widely stated that sitcoms hold up a mirror to society - Susan Borowitz goes as far as to say that "the sitcom has taken the place of church, of religious training"4.  If this is the case, then it is important to understand not only what are sitcoms saying about religion and society, but also how that influences audiences.

So what are sitcoms saying about religion now? According to 'Family Guys? What Sitcoms Say About America Now',  for many Americans their personal faith still has the utmost importance, however there is little concern given to those who have other faiths, as long as they have a faith5

Recently, there was massive uproar over the film ‘Innocence of Muslims’, an anti-Islamic film that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad. Described by Peter Bradshaw from the Guardian as a "bigoted piece of poison"6, the film initiated many protests, both violent and peaceful, across the globe7. This is obviously a reckless use of the media. I think it likely that Christians would be offended by a similar portrayal of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. Conversely, the American TV show 'Family Guy' unashamedly pokes fun at any religion (and for that matter any race, gender, or sexual orientation)8. Naturally, some find Family Guy insulting, but it remains incredibly popular, especially in God-fearing America. Somehow, Family Guy manages to strike a humorous and apparently appropriate balance.

The media has a strong responsibility when it comes to religion. What content is approved for broadcast seems to depend largely on the zeitgeist of the time. However much we can learn from the past, we must acknowledge that society is ever changing; “We live out our faith in entirely new environments and do our theology in a world not known before”9. As a result, theology needs to be prepared for the changes that will inevitably come.


1 Bergman, 113
2 How the Devil Got His Horns: A Diabolical Tale
3 Bartlett in Wagoner
4 Byliner
5 Family Guys? What Sitcoms Say About America Now
6 Bradshaw
7 Detroit Free Press
8 Family Guy
9 Detweiler & Taylor, 56                                                                                                                          



Bradshaw, P., ‘Innocence of Muslims: a dark demonstration of the power of film’, The Guardian, 17 September 2012, <> [accessed 31 October 2012]

Detroit Free Press, ‘Middle East erupts in outrage over Muhammad video’, Detroit Free Press, 14 September 2012 <> [accessed 31 October 2012]

Detweiler, C., and Taylor, B., A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture, Baker Academic 2003.

Family Guys? What Sitcoms Say About America Now, television program, BBC Two, 2012 <> [accessed 31 October 2012]

Friend, T., ‘Sitcoms, Seriously’, Esquire, March 1993, <> [accessed 31 October 2012]

[HD] Family Guy – Religion, video, FOX, Los Angeles, 2011 <> [accessed 31 October 2012]

How the Devil Got His Horns: A Diabolical Tale, television program, BBC Four, 2012 <> [accessed 31 October 2012]

Wagoner, B., ‘Meaning construction in remembering: A synthesis of Bartlett and Vygotsky’ In: Stenner, J., Cromby, J., Motzkau, J., Yen., J., & Haosheng, Y., (Eds.), Theoretical Psychology: Global Transformations and Challenges, Captus Press, Toronto, 2011, pp. 105-114.

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