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- Published on Amazon.com
For this book to have been successful, the author would have had to attempt a refutation of the major Christian critiques of popular culture--from conservative perspectives such as the intellectual right (from Intercollegiate Studies Institute-type conservatism to Allan Bloom to Roger Kimball and the New Criterion to the "crunchy conservatism" of Rod Dreher); evangelical approaches from people as diverse as Ken Myers, Marva Dawn, Richard Winter, Michael Horton, Shane Hipps, T. David Gordon, and Gregory Reynolds; non-evangelical perspectives as diverse as Jacques Ellul, Stanley Hauerwas, Albert Borgman, Wendell Berry, E. Michael Jones, and the Pope; and culture critics such as John McWhorter, Neal Gabler, Carson Holloway, Thomas de Zengotita, Walter Ong, Daniel Boorstein, et al.
Instead of attempting to refute these perspectives that are more cautious and critical of pop culture, the author simply dismisses them. And he dismisses them by caricaturing them. The most blatant example of this is how he falls prey to the fallacy of excluded middle and sets up a false dichotomy between "high" and "low" culture, accusing authors such as Ken Myers and Neil Postman of perpetuating this dichotomy and even unwittingly being racist in the process!
Our author cavalierly dismisses Ken Myers's nuanced construction of "traditional" or "folk" culture, sweeping it under the carpet in one footnote. But this component of Myers's approach is the very thing that defends him against Turnau's false dichotomy. The folk culture of the immigrants that Turnau says wealthy Victorian elitsists were trying to suppress in their defense of high culture is the very culture that Myers and Postman extol--traditional, communal cultures that were the product of multi-generational folk traditions and ways of life, not that of mass-produced, generationally targeted, niche-marketed consumer entertainment products hatched in the boardrooms of Hollywood and Madison Avenue for mass consumption.
The author ought to have dealt seriously with the perspective to which he is setting himself up as an alternative, rather than simply caricaturing it. Instead, he simply zeroes in on Myers and Postman, showing a lack of awareness of the larger body of literature on which their critique is built. He (unwittingly??) builds his argument on the perspective of Lawrence Levine, the harbinger of PC multiculturalism on university campuses in the 1980s and 1990s. Levine famously disparaged Allan Bloom and William Bennett and Dinesh D'Souza for their defense of the "dead white male" Western literary canon and instead argued for the radical multicultural, race/sex/gender-oriented curriculum that was pushed at Stanford, when the radical multiculturalists promoted a change in the Western-Civilization-based core curriculum, shouting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go!"
This postmodern critique of the "hegemony" of Western Civilization is an unsure foundation for a confessional Protestant understanding of art and culture. Yet Turnau seems oblivious to the implications of his employment of this line of argument. Readers need to understand that the entire conservative argument against radical multiculturalism in the university curriculum is upended by Turnau's thesis in this book. His thesis simply flies in the face of the whole classical school movement that has arisen recently in various segments of evangelicalism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Orthodox Judaism. Readers who are committed to a more confessional Protestant approach, and how that applies to forging a theology of culture, will need to look elsewhere. The sad reality is that Turnau's approach will only succeed in driving more and more thoughtful evangelical students who want to engage thoughtfully with the arts, culture, and humanities into conservative Roman Catholicism.