Book Review: Not Your Mother’s Morals: How the New Sincerity Is Changing Pop Culture For The Better

Writer and essayist Jonathan Fitzgerald has done me a favor: defined a new movement I’d never heard of and written a brief, but dense, e-book about it.

True Confession

As immensely popular as Judd Apatow’s films are, I have never been able to understand their appeal. 40 Year Old Virgin took me four attempts to watch and I still haven’t gotten over the horse sex jokes. I liked “Knocked Up” quite a bit actually, but the observation still holds.

So I find it odd that Fitzgerald uses Apatow as an anchor for the New Sincerity. The New Sincerity is a movement, a generation, a perspective that puts morality on the main stage of pop culture. Fitzgerald puts it like this:

“Our fashionable idea, I believe, is the “New Sincerity,” in which an emphasis on being sincere and authentic creates a space for frank discussion of morality in popular culture.”

The world outside the Church is desperately hungry to understand, express and embrace morality, which is something that I believe the Church has largely dropped from its call list. Perhaps we reason that all the “right” morality is already out there, everybody has heard it before and it’s so deeply engrained that it’s not even worship mentioning. Fitzgerald reminds me that this just isn’t the case as he writes:

“An unadvertised side effect of this trend away from organized religion is that the transmission of ethics and morality—which has long been the domain of the church—has fallen to other institutions. Here, popular culture has stepped in and become a prominent transmitter of morality, as well as a more liberated space to explore our ideas about all things spiritual outside the constraints of a dogmatic religion.”

“Pop Culture has stepped in and become a prominent transmitter of morality.”

As much as society at large has it our for “kids these days,” something pretty exceptional is happening. When I think about it, Apatow does care about morality, perhaps even more than I do. In the 40 Year Old Virgin, there is a forty year old virgin, a man who values the gift of his sexuality – his physical being – so much that he waits. Can you imagine that? While embedded in the authentic language of the times is a morality tale that raises the bar on popular culture. Knocked Up is another film that Fitzgerald mentions as upholding a high standard of morality. Yes, an unmarried woman gets knocked up, but it’s what comes after that that should make us pause and think about the morality of “unvirtuous” Hollywood.

I had never listened to Pedro The Lion before I read this book. I’d heard of them, but quite frankly, the name didn’t inspire me to press play. Yesterday, I listened to them all day long. Pedro was led by singer David Bazan, a Christian who left the faith publically documenting it on his album, “Curse Your Branches.” I was pleasantly entranced by Pedro’s post REM/Smithereens mashup sound. For a Christian artist, I was amazed! They didn’t rhyme “love and dove” once. They didn’t do the traditional and necessary “grace and God’s face” rhyme. It was sincere. Things normal people say. Even Christians. Even me. There’s a line in their song “Foregone Conclusions,” a song for those who think they know everything about people who have (and dont have) faith, that goes:

“And you were too busy steering the conversation toward the Lord
to hear the voice of the Spirit, begging you to shut the f#ck up.
You thought, it must be the devil, tryin to make you go astray.
And besides, it could not have been the Lord because you don’t believe he talks that way.”

Now, whether you believe “christians” ought to talk like this…they do. And that’s what the New Sincerity is about, being real. Christianity has a reputation for closing the blinds on what’s inside the house so that the outside keeps up the appearances. What the New Sincerity aims to reveal is that what is on the inside is OK, too. In fact, the more real the better.

Look at the hit TV show Modern Family. While it has gay people, whom we Christians love to hate, it’s a much more accurate look into the life of a real family than say, Happy Days. The reason it’s so funny is that it’s so close to home. And we can care, in fact, one of the hallmarks of the New Sincerity that Fitzgerald point out is that

It’s Cool To Care!

Not Your Mother’s Morals is a great piece of journalism that highlights a movement I wasn’t really aware of until I heard Fitzgerald being interviewed on the Homebrewed Culturecast. The important thing to catch is that pop culture is engaging morality on the other side of the line the Moral Majority drew in the 80′s…you know…where the people are.

Good Read. It’ll make you think.
And it will make you want to catch some Full House reruns.

What examples of “The New Sincerity” moral model have you experienced?

  • http://twitter.com/SmackSmog S OBryan

    Love this post. Thanks for opening the door (again) on having an honest and affirming relationship with Christians. Yes, we do swear. We see R rated movies. We look at porn, we steal office supplies from our employeer, some of us cheat on our income taxes (for the record I don’t because that’s how they got Capone and if they got Capone they’ll get you and me as well) and just a whole lot of other stuff. Why? Because none of us are perfect  none of us have reached that Christ like, Zen filled spirituality that we are supposed to strive for. 

    You see the thing is that instead of inviting us in and making us feel like it’s okay that we aren’t perfect the church often makes us feel like we just stepped in dog poop… and then waked into church. Kinda unwelcome and judged.

    So we stop going to church. We stop hanging out with other Christians because they let us down too much but yet we want to live a moral life. Some of us might even want to live a life that’s pleasing to God (but just not go to church – sense a theme yet – I know you do).  So we write ebooks, make movies, read blogs and make websites. Because if people dig them then we know it’s cool and we feel like we are making the world a better place because we want morality. I’m guessing that the woman at the well knew she wasn’t living up to her potential without going to Temple. Yet Jesus didn’t talk to her at Temple. He talked to her where she was. I think the Church needs to be less church and more people. However I want to acknowledge that it’s tough to know what the Threshold is for “Sincerity” and keeping it real. What’s sincere for my 9 year old isn’t always what I want to hear, even if he’s keeping it real. I’m sure it’s even more complicated between adults and their development cycles, education and sense of morality.

    Just my two cents. I have to go masterbate now. (sorry was that too sincere?)
    #ksr

  • Fitz

    Thanks for the review!

  • prophetsandpopstars

    Hey Steve, 
    Thanks for the comment. A great post in itself. Love the dog poop part. I know whatchu mean. KSR, G. KSR.