WHY WE CARE


Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live. Through reviews, articles and discussions, we want to spark intellectual thought, spiritual growth and a desire to follow the command of Colossians 2:8: "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ."

YOUR STORIES


Family uses Plugged In as a ‘significant compass’

"I am at a loss for words to adequately express how much it means to my husband and me to know that there is an organization like Focus that is rooting for us. Just today I was reading Psalm 37 and thinking about how your ministry provides ways to 'dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.' We have two teenagers and an 8-year-old in our household...Plugged In has become a significant compass for our family. All three of our kids are dedicated to their walk with Christ but they still encounter challenges. Thanks for all of your research and persistence in helping us navigate through stormy waters."

Plugged In helps college student stand-up for his belief

"Thanks for the great job you do in posting movie and television reviews online. I’m a college freshman and I recently had a confrontational disagreement with my English professor regarding an R-rated film. It is her favorite movie and she wanted to show it in class. I went to your Web site to research the film’s content. Although I had not seen the movie myself, I was able to make an educated argument against it based on the concerns you outlined. The prof said that she was impressed by my stand and decided to poll the whole class and give us a choice. We overwhelmingly voted to watch a G-rated movie instead! I’ve learned that I can trust your site and I will be using it a lot in the future.”

Plugged In brings ‘Sanity and Order’ to Non-believer

“Even though I don’t consider myself a Christian, I find your Plugged In Web site useful and thought-provoking. No one reviews movies like you do. Instead of being judgmental, you put entertainment ‘on trial.’ After presenting the evidence, you allow the jury of your readers to decide for themselves what they should do. In my opinion, you bring sanity and order to the wild world of modern day entertainment. Keep up the good work!”

Mom thinks Plugged In is the ‘BEST Christian media review site’

"Our family doesn't go to the movies until we go online and check out your assessment of a given film. I think this is the BEST Christian media review website that I've found, and I recommend it to my family and friends. Keep up the good work!"

SUPPORT THE WORK OF PLUGGED IN

Our hope is that whether you're a parent, youth leader or teen, the information and tools at Plugged In will help you and your family make appropriate media decisions. We are privileged to do the work we do, and are continually thankful for the generosity and support from you, our loyal readers, listeners and friends.

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

Album Review

What do we do with death?

That's the question skulking around Carrie & Lowell, indie outlier Sufjan Stevens' spare, mournful, acoustic effort. It's aroused and complicated by the fact that Stevens' estranged and mentally ill mother had only sporadic contact with her son for a few summers when he was a young boy. She passed away from stomach cancer in 2012.

Though Stevens says he made peace with her before her passing, this vulnerably autobiographical album continues to unpack the shaping influence her tortured life, pocked and riddled with flaws, had on him.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Pro-social Content

"Death With Dignity" acknowledges the reality of death as the artist aches to have known his mother better and forgives her for her shortcomings ("I forgive you, mother, I can hear you/And I long to be near you/But every road leads to an end"). And despite grappling with the idea that "there is nothing left … no reason to live," "Should Have Known Better" has more to say about love transcending despair ("The beauty that she brings, illumination"). "Drawn to the Blood" struggles, Job-like, with the shock of loss ("How? How did this happen?/ … How? God of Elijah/ … For my prayer has always been love/What did I do to deserve this now?/ How did this happen?"), giving us this Christ-centric musing: "I'm drawn to the blood/The flight of a one-winged dove."

"Fourth of July" warns, "We're all gonna die," then counsels, "Make the most of your life, while it is rife/While it is light." Another lyric, perhaps an imagined confession from the perspective of Stevens' mother, asks tenderly, "Did you get enough love, my little dove/Why do you cry?/And I'm sorry I left, but it was for the best/Though it never felt right." Friendship, longing, loneliness, love and death swirl on "John My Beloved," with Stevens pleading, "Jesus, I need You, be near, come shield me/From fossils that fall on my head/There's only a shadow of me, in a manner of speaking, I'm dead."

"Blue Bucket of Gold" asks to experience God's transcendent power ("Lord, touch me with lightning").

Objectionable Content

"There's No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross" pairs sexual allusions with a rebellious spirit and the album's lone profanity ("Now that I fell into your arms/My only lover, give out to give in/ … Drag me to hell in the valley of the damned/ … Like a champion, get drowned to get laid/ … There's blood on that blade, f--- me, I'm falling apart"). "All of Me Wants All of You" includes the frank accusation, "You checked your texts while I masturbated."

Lament devolves into intoxication on "Eugene" ("What's left is only bittersweet/For the rest of my life, admitting the best is behind me/Now I'm drunk and afraid, wishing the world would go away/What's the point of singing songs/If they'll never even hear you?"). Emotional desolation invites suicidal thoughts on "The Only Thing" ("Do I care if I survive this?/Bury the dead where they're found/In a veil of great surprises, I wonder, did you love me at all?/The only thing that keeps me from cutting my arm/Cross hatch, warm bath, Holiday Inn after dark").

Summary Advisory

Talking about Carrie & Lowell (a title that names his mother and stepfather) in an interview with pitchfork.com, Sufjan Stevens says of its heartrending subject matter, "Don't listen to this record if you can't digest the reality of it. I'm being explicit about really horrifying experiences in my life, but my hope has always been to be responsible as an artist and to avoid indulging in my misery, or to come off as an exhibitionist. I don't want to make the listener complicit in my vulnerable prose poem of depression, I just want to honor the experience. … At worst, these songs probably seem really indulgent. At their best, they should act as a testament to an experience that's universal: Everyone suffers; life is pain; and death is the final punctuation at the end of that sentence, so deal with it."

He then tries to connect the dots between his mother's flaws and the music he makes, saying, "[Carrie] suffered from schizophrenia and depression. She had bipolar disorder and she was an alcoholic. She did drugs, had substance abuse problems. She really suffered, for whatever reason. But when we were with her and when she was most stable, she was really loving and caring, and very creative and funny. This description of her reminds me of what some people have observed about my work and my manic contradiction of aesthetics: deep sorrow mixed with something provocative, playful, frantic."

All of those descriptors—manic contradiction, provocative, playful, frantic—will indeed help listeners understand Stevens' haunting, jarring, erratic attempts to make sense of who his mother was and why her life still matters so much to him. Her love was obviously imperfect, exactly as some of the more raw moments on this album feel. Yet Carrie & Lowell nonetheless offers a beautiful, tragic, poignant testimony to the profound impact a mother has on the lives of her children.

A postscript: Continuing to speak with pitchfork.com, Sufjan Stevens says of the state of his Christian faith, "I still describe myself as a Christian, and my love of God and my relationship with God is fundamental, but its manifestations in my life and the practices of it are constantly changing. I find incredible freedom in my faith. Yes, the kingdom of Christianity and the Church has been one of the most destructive forces in history, and there are levels of bastardization of religious beliefs. But the unique thing about Christianity is that it is so amorphous and not reductive to culture or place or anything. It's extremely malleable."

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

Get weekly e-news, Culture Clips & more!