Lynn Schofield Clark explores the nature of interaction between media, teenagers, and their belief in the supernatural. Part of a broader research on “Symbolism, Meaning, and Lifecourse” at the University of Colorado’s Center for Mass Media Research, Clark’s book is based on extensive interviews with 269 individuals out of which 102 were teens. Three interrelated set of questions guided the research: what do young people say and do about the supernatural in the entertainment media? How are such practices related to issues of religious identity? Why is the supernatural so prevalent in teen culture?
Theoretically grounded in cultural studies paradigm, the research contextually analyzed media texts and explored how such texts bring into public view ideas that otherwise remain unspoken in the broader culture; at the same time these texts shape cultural contexts through the process of media creation and largely influence how the media is interpreted.
Divided into three broad sections, part I explores the reasons behind the popularity of supernatural themes among teens. Based on an analysis of the impact of movies such as “A Thief in the Night,” and “The Omega Code,” Clark describes the connection between the rise of fundamentalist evangelicalism and the growing fascination with belief in the unseen world among teens, particularly as they relate to issues of the End times. The popularity of television shows such as “Touched by an Angel,” and “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” attest to the fact, in Clark’s view, not only that media reflect cultural values but also shapes it.
Part II explores how and why teens resist organized religion and yet show fascination with the supernatural, the paranormal, and otherworldly themes. Based on research interviews, this section narrates stories of teenage involvement with the supernatural and how it is shaped and influenced by the depictions of such themes in the media.
In part III and concluding section, Clark examines the role played by religion, religious beliefs, and the media, how these are understood and shape the context of families and communities in which teens engage with the issues of spirituality and religious identity. Clark does mention that his study has not been broad enough to form generalized conclusions regarding teenage culture and media in relation to spirituality and otherworldly themes; she only intended, Clark says, to examine entertainment media and religion as parts of a whole, and how each contribute to and shape the other.