#344 – Licensed to Ill

Last week Adam Yauch, MCA of the Beastie Boys, passed away from complications with cancer.

It’s always interesting to see how we’re affected by celebrity deaths. Sometimes celebrities die and I couldn’t care less. Other times celebrities die and it feels like someone I know passed away.

When I heard that MCA had died I was really upset.

Even though it came out five years after I was born, the Beastie Boys album Licensed to Ill provided the soundtrack to my high school experience. Everyone in my group of friends had the album and we all listened to it, when we were alone and when we were together.

Hearing that MCA died was like hearing I’d lost one of my high school friends. Licensed to Ill really was that big a part of our lives.

As a cultural artifact, though, Licensed to Ill isn’t terribly redeemable. The album is misogynistic and all about drinking, partying and getting with women. In Philippians 4:8, when Paul wrote about thinking about whatever is true, noble, true and right, I don’t he would have included Licensed to Ill on that list.

I listened to that album nonstop but didn’t end up as a misogynistic drinker, partier or philanderer. It wasn’t the best album in the world to listen to but apparently it didn’t have a negative impact on my life. If anything Licensed to Ill is a positive part of my past that only brings up good memories. Those memories aren’t about smoking and drinking but of hanging out with friends and building relationships that are still bearing fruit today.

There really is a gray area when it comes to culture and how we interact with it. Licensed to Ill didn’t have the best content but I was able to listen to it without doing everything the Beasties rapped about. There may be some people, though, who would have been far too influenced by the album and shouldn’t have listened to it. And I’m sure there are people who can interact with cultural artifacts that I avoid because they would lead me to sin.

We really need all the wisdom and discernment we have when choosing how to interact with the grayer areas of culture. If it’s somewhere between The Avengers XXX and The 700 Club, we need some discernment.

How do you apply discernment to your cultural choices?

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2 Responses to “#344 – Licensed to Ill”

  1. I find it very interesting the way people respond to celebrity deaths. I was in Europe when Heath Ledger died and I remember how angry it made me that everyone was so upset…reacting as if someone decently close passed. But perhaps you are right, maybe it is the connection to others and about the good memories people are reminded of. These types of deaths may simply remind and sadden people to the reality of time.

  2. This is more in response to the topic of celebirty deaths than cultural discernment, but:

    I can’t say MCA’s death affected me (not his fault, I just have too many memories of being taunted on a rowdy school bus while the Beastie Boys’ music blasted on boomboxes in the background, so I’ve never been able to appreciate their stuff), but I have been moved by other celebrity deaths. I wept long and loud when Princess Diana died, which surprised no one more than myself. And I anticipate being upset when Shatner and Nimoy’s days come to an end (not wishing ill on either of them, just saying!).

    In a case like this, when the deceased’s work (or at least some of it) isn’t really “redeemable” (and you’re sure as heck right about that), I think it is still all right to be affected by the death. It was John Donne, the great English poet and preacher, after all, who said, “No man is an island… Any man’s death diminishes me… Send not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” And Ecclesiastes reminds us that mortality awaits us all, rich or poor, famous or unknown, even righteous or wicked.

    Thanks be to God, death is not the final word for those in Christ – and, as I believe only he fully knows who are his, we are (in the words of the Second Helvetic Confession, one of us Presbys’ statements of fatih), “to have a good hope for all.”

    Thanks for another thoughtful post, Scott! Your blog is a blessing to the Body of Christ.

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