Dark Gritty Reboots and Student Ministry

Archie, Flintstones, even innocent, Ann of Green Gables are getting dark and disturbing make-overs and audiences love it.
What does this say about our culture and how we do student ministry?

Riverdale

It’s a darker gritty reboot of the Archie comics. Why? Because most people agree that Gen Z is used to a darker more difficult world that the Happy Days generation. It is all part of a more “authentic” approach that the media is selling to teens and they’re eating it up.

What does this say about teens and how we relate to them? I’ll get more into this below but they do expect that you and I have a darker less holy side. They may be a little less trusting if we seem squeaky clean.

Bedrock

Mark Russell describes his new version of the Flintstones  as a “dark comedy” that’s not afraid to criticize civilization’s mistakes, from people’s views on same-sex marriage to humans’ treatment of animals.”

“The thing that sort of really ended up capturing my imagination was the fact that this is the world’s first civilization,” Russell explains. “So everything we’ve gotten wrong, all the ways our institutions have let us down, I really can just blame it all on Bedrock.”  (if you are interested you can read the article here)

If you want to take a look at an old Flintstones episode you might laugh at what we grew up on and how we didn’t notice some of the attitudes back then.

Breaking Bad Meets Anne of Green Gables?

I have watched a bunch of episodes this winter. If you’ve read the book you know it is full of whimsical fun and a little bit of drama. The new version delves into painful back stories. This is the perspective of showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett, Breaking Bad writer,  whose “One difference she was adamant on making, between her show and other variations, is its realness. The show demonstrates the abuse that Anne survived as an orphan before coming to Green Gables.

 Recognizing Dysfunction

Students have grown up on a diet of dysfunctional families and series that over portray the thorny issues in society. They expect that there are skeletons to be found in closets. They are skeptical of anything that portray a harmonious Christian family thinking… “What are they hiding?”

A Dark Humor for Teens who Know too Much

To relate to this jaded crowd, television and Netflix programming has become increasingly raw, finding humor in difficult and dark places. This may say something of the popularity of 13 Reasons that people have been writing about lately.

But are they Telling it Like it IS? Really?

Whose reality are they portraying –is it a minority or majority view?

The fact that Nathan did his homework and volunteers with autistic kids doesn’t make a great news headline. Teens have struggles but when they self-report, the struggle is to do well in school and their worry isn’t getting off of crack, or transitioning gender, it is getting into the right college or university. Pretty dark stuff, isn’t it…

We live in a society that loves to play up dysfunction; make the anomalies seem mainstream and over represent small minorities because they are interesting. In this approach we miss the forest for the trees. The general understanding of teens or even how they self-identify can be skewed .

Sunday School Reboot

 But if getting real means “telling it like it is” Scripture is way ahead of the game.

The Bible doesn’t hide the gritty details but we sometimes do. It does not sugar coat the sin, or downplay the darkness. It presents great victory in horrible struggle. It does hold people accountable for their evil instead of making excuses for it. It demonstrates that even when God forgives, the natural consequences follow. Now that is real.

A Time for the Light

Most teens have heard “You can curse the darkness or light a candle…” If you focus on the acceleration of corruption you could be tempted to throw in the towel, build a compound and wait out the present apocalypse for the return of Christ.

Part of getting real is focusing on the power of Christ. It too is real. He does lead some Christians in victory of difficult circumstances. Not everyone deteriorates. Some cope and some even thrive even as teens! Why not tell some of these stories!

Innocence Regained

There is a tendency to boast in our weakness (2 Cor 12:9) without offering hope. Playing up a past or continually presenting our failures may seem “authentic” but it may not be as genuine as we are trying to appear. In the hope of getting real we may be helping some students to dwell on the darkness instead of moving into the light. The Bible says there something that we shouldn’t talk about…even if they are real. Ephesians 5:2 says “It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.”

Part of being born again, being a new creation, is a return to innocence. This isn’t a blind, head in the sand approach to life but it is a focus on what inspires, encourages, and puts our mind on right things. (Phil 4:8)

Keep it Real and Full of Hope

Teens hate fakes. We can’t pretend to be worse or better than we are. We should not make the Christian life appear more rosy than it is. At the same time we shouldn’t hide the joy we experience in Christ and the hope that his grace gives us. This is also part of being real. It is the reality that students desperately need.

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Ron Powell

ronpowell

Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email ron.powell@vanguardcollege.com