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Clinging to a hidebound vision

The hopeless traditionalism of the MTV Music Awards

Dove Cameron poses with her award at the MTV Video Music Awards on Aug. 28 in Newark, N.J. Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/Associated Press

Clinging to a hidebound vision
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On Aug. 28, 2022, while most of us were going about our lives, the MTV Music Awards aired from Newark, N.J. You probably did not see the event, which is a good thing.

True to form, the awards had their fair share of hyper-sexualized exhibitionism. Entertainers who pride themselves on representing the avante garde, the progressive trendsetters, tried their best to embody the exciting boundary-breaking possibilities that lie ahead if only we should shed the outdated mores of a more repressive era.

Actor Billy Eichner took the mic to promote his upcoming rom-com featuring a gay couple. After berating Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as a “homophobe,” Eichner declared “We are not letting them drag us back into the last century. Because they are in the past.” Humbly, he described his movie as “the future.”

Benito Ocasio, stage name “Bad Bunny,” the first Latin star to win Artist of the Year, stuck to the sexually progressive script by kissing both a male and female backup dancer during his performance. As Ocasio said in a 2020 interview, “everyone is free to see [sex] as they want and do it with whoever they want, however they want, with infinite possibilities.”

Former Disney star Dove Cameron dedicated her award to “all of the queer kids who don’t feel that they can take up space and inhabit the fullness of who they are.” This was hardly original. Twenty-five years ago, Ellen Degeneres declared during her Emmy acceptance speech: “I accept this on behalf of all people, and the teenagers out there especially, who think there is something wrong with them because they are gay. There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t ever let anybody make you feel ashamed of who you are.”

Baylor University philosopher Francis Beckwith dubs this “passive aggressive tyranny.” “The trick,” says Beckwith, “is to sound ‘passive’ and accepting of ‘diversity’ while at the same time putting forth an aggressively partisan agenda and implying that those who disagree are not only stupid but also harmful.”

Beckwith offers a thought experiment that reveals the double-standard of most mainstream award shows. “Imagine if a conservative Christian Emmy-award winner had said, “I accept this on behalf of all people, and the teenagers out there especially, who think there is something wrong with them because they believe that human beings are made for a purpose and that purpose includes the building of community with its foundation being heterosexual monogamy. There’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t ever let anybody, especially television script writers, make you feel ashamed because of what you believe is true about reality.” Beckwith concludes that “an award winner who made this speech would be denounced as narrow, bigoted, and intolerant. That person could expect never again to work in Hollywood.” In short, the kind of sexual expressive individualism preached from the stages of award shows is hardly as open-minded and inclusive as it claims to be.

How many progressive performers realize when they take the mic that they are doing little more than regurgitating the perverted doctrines of dead white men?

But that is not the only form of hypocrisy on display at such spectacles. Entertainers and influencers love to market their libertine views as something innovative, edgy, and forward thinking. The tacit invitation is for viewers to join them in their new and courageous revolt against the traditional and conventional values. The truth is that there is nothing new or innovative about the dogmas spewed by Eichner, Ocasio, and Cameron. They can be found in the sexual ideologies of men like Michel Foucault, John Money, Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse, and Alfred Kinsey. They can be traced from Jean-Paul Sartre back to Fredrick Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Marquis de Sade, and Romantics like Oscar Wilde and Percy Shelley.

How many progressive performers realize when they take the mic that they are doing little more than regurgitating the perverted doctrines of dead white men?

But the notion that we should create and act out our own identities has a far more ancient pedigree. The serpent of Genesis 3:5 argued that we can become “like God, knowing good and evil.” That is, we can be our own sovereign meaning-makers, answerable to no one. The self-definition and expressive individualism heralded at award shows represents what is truly the most ancient and worn-out ideology known to man.

Many influencers in the entertainment industry are aggressively judgmental of anyone who rejects their orthodoxies. They are so dedicated to what is literally the oldest deceptive dogma of the human race that they make traditional values look avant garde. If we want to be true nonconformists, then we must live authentically in the truth that God is God, that He is the sovereign meaning-maker, and we are not. Within that Creator-creature distinction we find true freedom, not the destructive bondage to our sexual whims falsely advertised as freedom, just in time for the latest award show.

Thaddeus Williams

Thaddeus Williams is the author of the best-selling book Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice (Zondervan/HarperCollins, 2020). He serves as associate professor of systematic theology for the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and resides in Orange County, Calif., with his wife and four kids.

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