I love bad genre fiction. I enjoy movies like National Treasure and the Mummy franchise, as well as the subpar movies based on comic books and other big-budget, low-rent script CGI-fests. I also like the purple prose of stories from the pulp era of the 1930's and '40's that are long on action and short on logic.
By all rights, this shouldn't be the case. My degree is in film and television production, and I enjoyed classes in film and television criticism. But I still loves me some low-brow entertainment.
Why is that so? That's a valid question and one I really couldn't answer exactly until after the premiere of the third Mummy movie with Brendan Fraser. Then, someone who I don't normally agree with actually helped me crystallize my thinking. To be clear, I don't agree with his conclusions, but in modifying his approach, I came up with the following theory: we were wired to enjoy a little visual junk food every now and again.
My theory is based on the idea that we were created with three aspects about us. This is known as the Tripartite view of man. This view is founded on scriptures like Matthew 22:37, where Jesus answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.'" (NCV)
My interpretation of this idea holds that the 'heart' (or 'body') is the physical and visceral part of people, where we have the senses to help us process the world around us, the 'soul' represents the spiritual side of man, the ability to connect with God on His level, and the 'mind' is the intellectual ability within think and reason through everything. In Wesleyan Methodism, there is an analysis of how we can know things called 'the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.' The four 'sides' of the quadrilateral state that we know things based on Scripture or Revelation, Reason, Experience, and Tradition. Three of these sides also support this theory.
Popular culture has been slammed on all sides: the Intellectual community slams it because very often, there is very little to challenge the mind. The religious community rejects it because it often doesn't ask the deeper questions about God, or challenge people to know Him better.
I enjoy reading short stories written during the pulp era of the 1930's and 1940's. They really have little to no intellectual content. Often, they were written quickly and sold on the basis of word count. But they are a lot of fun to read, and for many writers, they were the springboard that launched them into deeper oceans of literary credibility, once they had learned their craft working for pennies-a-word payments.
It is also true that occasionally one struggles to find deeper meaning within works of popular culture. But I maintain that if one looks hard enough, you can find something to think about, and rewardingly, something that resonates with the hopes and dreams of the culture we live in, however imperfectly realized. It is an awful lot like 'junk food.' Look on at the nutritional information on a bag of chips. Yes, they may be high in calories, and disproportionately low in nutrition, but no junk food is totally devoid of something good. One does not, and in fact cannot make a steady diet of junk food without doing irreparable harm. As a preacher I heard say, "Don't get drunk on the Kool-Aid of popular culture." But at the same time, one can find grains, and even sometimes nuggets of truth even in the cheesiest of media offerings.
But the reverse is true. We should not refrain from treating ourselves to a story that gets our blood pumping as well as filling our minds with ideas and causing our spirit's to long for an awareness of God's presence. After all, God made us completely human, and this includes the body. It's nice to have a treat once in a while. When we focus on the intellectual over the others, we get dry academic snobbery. When we focus on the spiritual too much, we get either people who are "so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good" or we get a Pharisaical attitude that drains the joy out of what should be a joyful experience. We need all three. When we have all three in one story, I think those are the stories that we can point too as true representations of the Epic. they They fulfill the needs of every part of our being.
Earlier, I referenced the Brendan Fraser MUMMY movie franchise. When the third film premiered, it was laid low by the critical press. But my wife and I enjoyed it. I can admit that if you've seen one MUMMY film, you've seen them all - the plot is pretty threadbare and similar in all three. So why do we enjoy it so much? I think its because of the visceral nature of the fun. In this case it is like a favorite amusement park ride: you know every curve, climb and drop. And yet, you still stand in line to experience it all over again. I don't generally like amusement park rides, so I guess I substitute these stories in their places.
I believe those who don't appreciate movies and fiction that serve no other purpose but to be fun have an underdeveloped or even an undeveloped theology of play, as long as one doesn't make a steady media diet of them.