Culture Watch – John Mayer and “being real”

One of the most interesting people in pop culture to me right now is John Mayer. His is a public persona filled with opposites: he’s extremely intellectual, yet does and says some of the most sophomoric things imaginable; he’s a good looking young man, yet makes the most God-awful faces when he sings; he’s an unbelievably talented guitar player, yet has seemed content to let that talent go unheard in much of his studio work; his lyrics are at times intensely spiritual, yet he lives his life in what seems to be an entirely human-oriented existence. (On the subject of his lyrics, check out this post from Jon Acuff’s blog, Stuff Christians Like. Make sure you take the quiz. I only got 11 of 15 correct!)

Part of Mayer’s public persona is that he is well known for giving extremely “raw” interviews. By raw, I mean that he has not shown any hesitancy to be forthright, sometimes to the point of being inappropriate. John Mayer is the kind of interview that magazine writers and gossip columnists drool about because of his reputation for answering any question, and often with a witty or inappropriate soundbite. This has, at times, been a negative thing for Mayer, as his mouth has gotten him into trouble.

Recently, Mayer did an interview for Playboy in which he made some remarks that were racially/gender insensitive at best, and offensive to both African Americans and women at worst. After being called to the carpet on those remarks, Mayer apologized through his Twitter account, saying, “I am sorry that I used the [‘N’] word.  And it’s such a shame that I did because the point I was trying to make was in the exact opposite spirit of the word itself.”

Mayer added that “It was arrogant of me to think I could intellectualize using it, because I realize that there’s no intellectualizing a word that is so emotionally charged.”

Think what you will about his public apologies. Accept them or don’t. Believe that they’re sincere or not. What I really want to focus on is what Mayer said next through his Twitter account. “And while I’m using today for looking at myself under harsh light, I think it’s time to stop trying to be so raw in interviews.” Huh? Trying to be raw?!

I thought the whole point of being “raw” was to be completely open and honest. A quick dictionary search reveals raw to mean – “not processed, refined, or treated in any way; not subtle, restrained, or refined; factual and realistic”. For John Mayer, it seems like “raw” actually means “a certain level of inappropriateness that will garner media attention and/or create controversy”.

What concerns me is that Mayer’s apparent definition for what is raw and real is shared by many of today’s young people. Even in the small southern town I live in I have witnessed students say some of the most hurtful, offensive things, and then exclaim something like, “What? I’m just being real!”, or “That’s just me. I’m just being me.” As if that makes it okay…

I think Jesus wants us to be raw. I think he wants us to be unprocessed, honest, and real. But I do not think that extends as far as making disparaging or hurtful remarks about others. Scripture is pretty clear that we should seek to build each other up with words of honesty, yes, but honest words that are spoken in a spirit of love. It is through this combination of being actually real and raw (as opposed to our culture’s more base definition of those words), yet being so with a loving heart, that we can grow into the likeness of Christ.



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