Dave’s Gone–Now What?

By Joe Boyd

Popular culture shows us who we are. It’s a mirror that reflects what we are becoming. So what do we make of Fallon’s rise in the wake of Letterman’s departure?

Regardless of how we feel about it, popular culture is a dynamic force that shapes the lives of most Americans. Music, sports, and entertainment are power players that inform the worldview of millions of people both inside and outside the church. It’s simply the reality of the world we live in.

The job of the Christian, in my opinion, is to know the culture while understanding that the kingdom of God is its own culture, often countercultural to the “normal” way of things. Pop culture tends to elevate the individual above all else, for instance. The kingdom of God calls us to serve people within a community. Pop culture is often an escape from reality. The kingdom is hyperreal, giving us access to God through Jesus.

That said, it’s an easy trap for the follower of Jesus to believe pop culture is somehow evil. I don’t believe that. It is beautiful, and like all beautiful things, it is also broken. As we look forward to the redemption of all things, we see that kingdom is coming and will come to popular culture as well.

This is the first monthly article I will write for CHRISTIAN STANDARD under the banner “Culture Watch.” I won’t be writing watchdog type articles telling you what types of entertainment I think a good Christian should support or avoid. Rather, I’d like to look at culture to see what it is showing us about who we are. Art always serves as a mirror to society, reflecting back to us what we are becoming. Sometimes the reflection is troubling. Sometimes it is encouraging. But it’s always accurate.

David Letterman laughs during a segment of his Late Show with David Letterman in 2011. He recently retired after 33 years as a late night TV talk show host on NBC and CBS. (U.S. Department of Defense photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Wikimedia Commons)
David Letterman laughs during a segment of his Late Show with David Letterman in 2011. He recently retired after 33 years as a late night TV talk show host on NBC and CBS. (U.S. Department of Defense photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Wikimedia Commons)

Look at Late Night

Take, for instance, the current face of late night television. I’m 42 years old, which means I am (barely) old enough to remember watching Johnny Carson as a kid on summer nights. Johnny was an institution, like so many others of that era.

When I was a bit older, though, I found the first late night host I genuinely loved. It was David Letterman. He was an early baby boomer who us Gen Xers couldn’t help but enjoy. He typified all that we were becoming: sardonic, cynical, and anti-institutional. He did ridiculous things because he could get away with it.

Eventually, he would move to CBS and the coveted 11:30 p.m. time slot. And we all followed. Jay Leno was for our parents and grandparents. He could cater to them with his plastic fake version of Carson all night long. We had Dave. He was like us.

Jimmy Fallon (Montclair Film Festival/Wikimedia Commons)
Jimmy Fallon (Montclair Film Festival/Wikimedia Commons)

A few weeks ago, Dave retired. For me, it was a bit of a shock. Not that it was time for Dave to go, but that it made me stop to realize I had already abandoned Dave. I didn’t mean to. He just got . . . old. So did I. Dave didn’t just get physically older, but his whole cynical outlook seemed overdone.

Enter Jimmy. Jimmy Fallon is somehow the opposite of Dave, while also being nothing like Leno. Here’s the thing I think is worth our time to consider. What Dave was to my generation, Jimmy is to the next generation. He’s the Gen Xer ahead of his time. He’s full of millennial attitude and outlook. And unlike Dave and Jay, he is appealing to all generations. My parents love him more than they love me, and I’m an only child. My kids love him too.

Looking for Joy

Jimmy is a brilliant comedic actor and musician. But that isn’t why we really love him. He’s an average interviewer, but we let it slide, because he has something the culture is begging for—he’s infectiously positive. His talent and good looks—and Lorne Michaels—got him in the door. But his joy is why he works.

Here’s something we can learn from Jimmy’s rise and Dave’s retirement: That old negative, snarky, biting persona is played out. What people want more than anything today is legitimate joy. Not pretend happiness, but people with real, unbridled joy. That’s what Jimmy has. I hope he never loses it.

And that’s the message to the church. Who should be more joyful than us? Nobody. It turns out the very thing we should be known for is the very thing the culture wants. That’s what the mirror shows us.

Joe Boyd is founder and president of Rebel Pilgrim Productions, Cincinnati, Ohio.

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4 Comments

  1. June 9, 2015 at 9:16 am

    Joe, you hit the nail on the head! Thank you for writing this. I’ve noticed this shift, and I think it’s indicative of things, like you do. I was a Jimmy skeptic at first, but after watching him a couple of times, I was hooked. Funny how joy does that to a person.

  2. June 9, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    Perfect Joe!!! Preach brotha!!!

  3. David Cole
    June 10, 2015 at 8:05 am

    “As we look forward to the redemption of all things, we see that kingdom is coming and will come to popular culture as well.”

    Start with the wrong premise and end with the wrong conclusion. The “redemption of all things” occurred with Christ in the 1st Century.

    Colossians 1:16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; 20 And, having made (PAST TENSE) peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things (REDEMPTION OF ALL THINGS) unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. 21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled (PAST TENSE) 22 In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: 23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;

    The kingdom is not “coming”, but rather it had come in the 1st Century. The kingdom of God is the New Covenant kingdom. The kingdom of God on earth is the church, and the doors to the kingdom of heaven were opened at Christ’s parousia at the end of the “latter days” of the Old Covenant, at the fall of Jerusalem.

    Therefore there is no waiting for any “coming kingdom” to redeem popular culture. That kingdom is PRESENTLY with us! It is the church’s task to preach the gospel and shape popular culture. Get involved. Be active not passive.

  4. July 3, 2015 at 4:59 pm

    The number one problem with the Church in Western Civilization, IMHO, is that saints feel entitled to daily indulge in massive amounts of entertainment. TV, concerts, movies, spectator sports, games…

    So they are “too busy” to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12)…

    Their minds are being conformed to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2)…

    And they never, ever hear Jesus’ voice (John 10:27).

    Yet we’re looking at a supposedly spiritual article in which the author teaches us all about his vast expertise regarding various unsaved Hollywood stars, & how we should imitate one in particular.

    Are there no disciple-makers in our churches that we can learn “real, unbridled joy” from?
    How many hours per day should we watch Fallon to somehow get this joy?
    Which entertainment shows should we study for unending hours to get other fruits of the Spirit from?

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