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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Values in popular culture

This is largely a placeholder, and I'll be back later today. But I do want to add to yesterday's post about Morag Zwartz's article. A couple of the comments seem to be trying to explain why Zwartz might be offended, given the values she has. The thing is, I understand that. All sorts of people are offended by all sorts of things, and if you have a set of ascetic values closely entwined with religious beliefs then you will be offended by much in the popular culture. Modern pop culture is not big on asceticism, and it's not surprising if ascetic values are treated with a degree of disrespect - not necessarily openly mocked, and note that the Tourism Victoria campaign is what usually gets described as "tasteful" - but treated with disrespect in the sense of given short shrift and treated rather playfully in a kind of po-mo way.

As far as I'm concerned, this is a good thing. There's too much asceticism in the world. I have my own criticisms of pop culture, which also tends to take a dumbed-down (and not especially respectful)  approach to art and science, and to valorise a certain kind of trivial glamour. But that's life, and I don't go around making demands that advertisements or TV shows get withdrawn, apologies get issued, and so on. One of the things - there are others - that I find offensive about Morag Zwartz's article is that she seems to feel entitled to demand that her very contestable values prevail in every public setting - including a tourism ad that promotes such non-ascetic, positively sensual pleasures as those on offer from Daylesford's fine restaurants.


jon said...

Religious people seem to get offended very easily when anything to do with their beliefs is questioned, and yet you would think that if they really did have "faith" and were secure with that, they would not get offended at all. They might smile smugly, or even shake their head condescendingly at, those who criticise or challenge their beliefs, but to get offended suggests to me that maybe their faith isn't quite as strong, at least on a sub-conscious level, as they would have you believe.

Robert said...

I'm not offended at all - but then I have become quite use to atheists speaking for me these days --

atheists only get abussive when questioned --

hmmm -- abussive to offended:

Seriously folks, you are so focused on such minutes things tnhat you just don't even see the wider world at all. Narrow minded come to mind at this time

verbosestoic said...


I have to presume that my comments are some of those comments that you're referring to here ... and unfortunately you seem to have missed my concerns.

I certainly don't think that promoting non-ascetic or values that a religion opposes is anything to get offended by, and if that's what I thought her main concern was I'd be on her side. But I don't think that is her main concern, and it's certainly not mine.

My main concern is about the association of those values with a religion that, well, opposes them. The prevalence of the hymn, that it's the same woman, and the baptism scene all make clear and direct associations between Christianity and those sensual values that they are at least leery of. That, to me, is a problem, and a problem that could have been easily avoided by using a more secular song and having it be two different women instead of the same one (especially since, as you say in another post, the aim is to promote DAYLESFORD'S double life, not just to appeal to people who want to live a double life.)

An additional problem is that even if you call it "playful", the commercial presents itself seriously. I wouldn't be too offended and wouldn't claim that someone should be offended by a commercial that, say, used a very ascetic Christian or, even more stereotypically, a Buddist monk as an example of how their product is so good that it'll even lure them in, since that takes their values seriously and subverts it in a way that pretty much everyone will say "Okay, that's not really true ... and that's why it's funny!".

But this one is serious. There's no attempt to hint that there's anything special about them that gets Christians to lead a double life, but more just that it's good for a double life. And it seems clear that that's the point they're trying to make. So, Christians who live a double life -- and therefore are hypocrites to their own beliefs -- should come here?

That's a prime example of Unfortunate Implications. From the TV trope page for it:


"Just because a work has Unfortunate Implications does not mean the author was thinking of it that way. In fact, that's the point of it being unfortunate ...The way an author handles a trope is an important factor here; handling a trope in a clumsy manner can certainly create unintentional impressions for readers."

I think they handled it clumsily and unintentionally drew implications that can legitimately offend people. While I may need to "get a life", I don't need it for the reasons you said [grin].

verbosestoic said...


"and if that's what I thought her main concern was I'd be on her side."

I meant that I'd be on YOUR side.

Russell Blackford said...

Anything can have unfortunate implications in the sense that someone can read a lot into it. The ad is obviously open to interpretation, and insisting on any meaning other than the obvious one ("Come to Daylesford for a break from your everyday routine!") would be unwise. But the idea that it's accusing Christians of leading a double life, in the sense of a deceptive or hypocritical life - if that's what you're saying - seems far-fetched to me, and I don't think that even Zwartz is interpreting it that way (though it's again hard to be sure exactly what she's trying to say).

The ad - or rather the ads, as there are at least a couple of versions - has a serious message: Daylesford is a great tourist destination. But the message is conveyed playfully, with verbal and visual puns, appropriation of certain kinds of iconography, and so on. The playfulness does, perhaps, suggest that this iconography and the religious traditions that they come from are ripe for everyone's use in a po-mo society, and that can be thought of as "disrespectful" in a sense, though the images are not, beyond that, presented in a mocking way. I think it takes somersaults of the imagination to read in the idea that Christians are being accused of anything like hypocrisy.