Why I Write About Pop Culture

The third season of the 1980s Transformers cartoon is all about leadership and maturity. With the death of team leader Optimus Prime (an almost messianic figure in Transformers), the mantle passes to my favorite Transformer: Hot Rod, a young and reckless thrill-seeker who suddenly finds himself responsible for a whole planet. As a rebel in his younger years, Hot Rod constantly wrestles with the tension of becoming the authority he previously resisted, and though he ultimately succeeds in his duties, leadership remains a constant struggle for him. Throughout the third season, Hot Rod quietly yearns to run away and resume his old carefree life, and his responsibilities (not to mention the still-looming presence of his predecessor) feed into deep insecurities which he only confronts with the help of trusted friends. His journey reminds me of biblical characters like Peter, Solomon, Joshua, and Timothy— young leaders who had the impossible task of following the people who set the standard. To this day, there are episodes I re-watch when I’m feeling overwhelmed by responsibility.
Oh, and the robots can turn into cars and planes and stuff.

When we wrestle with difficult ideas and concepts, a good story can give us a framework for discussing them. Ancient cultures understood this, and that’s where so many of the great myths originate. The story of Icarus, for example, isn’t just about making wings and flying too close to the sun; it’s about unchecked ambition and the importance of caution. In the Christian tradition, we use many of the stories from the Bible in a similar way. They carry a power beyond historical events; they give us a framework to talk about deeper cultural issues.

The story of Moses goes beyond Israel’s liberation;
it helps us talk about all liberation.
The story of Esther goes beyond one woman facing down authority;
it helps us talk about all struggles with authority.
The story of David goes beyond one man’s family strife;
it helps us talk about all family strife.
These foundational stories not only teach us about historical figures;
they teach us about God and ourselves and where it all fits in the bigger story.
But not everyone has a thorough knowledge of the Bible in this way. For many, this book is brand new, and it’s massive, and it feels inaccessible, so we have to talk about other foundational stories.

Not everyone knows who Barnabas is,
but quite a few know who Batman is.
Not everyone knows the psalms of King David,
but quite a few know the songs of David Bowie.
Not everyone has read Habakkuk,
but quite a few have read Harry Potter.

Our popular culture shapes who we are and how we view the world, and it’s a great point of connection. We can use these shared stories to talk about deeper issues, and through such conversations, we learn about ourselves, each other, and God.

…and also about robots that turn into cars.

This post was inspired by David Dark’s Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious, which suggests everyone —overtly religious or not— has caches of stories, experiences, and works of art that shape their worldviews. We each have a personal mythology to help us understand the world.

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