My basic theory of media is that it reflects back and reinforces what it finds in society. This isn't really about art or free expression, it has way more to do with commerce. We like seeing what we are feeling. At it's best it can speak to us where we are at prophetically and get us to see and think more deeply about who we are. At its worst it reinforces the lowest of common denominators because sex and violence sells. It's a question of whether media is driven by art or by money, and in America it is usually the later.
So we can say that media mirrors back to us the zeitgeist of our times. Right now in our post 9/11 world that is one of judgment. Flip on your TV and you will find talkshows like Maury that focus on determining through DNA tests who was unfaithful. It's science combined with out of control emotionalism as the guests run screaming off the stage when they hear the results. Or take the plethora of other judge shows: Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brown, Judge Alex, Judge Mathis, Judge Maria Lopez, Judge Hatchett... all having little to do with law and a lot to do with a person making the judgmental condemnations of people that we wish we could make. Then there are the flood of crime shows that unlike previous crime dramas are focused on extremely violent murders that are solved not in court but through science so there is no question of guilt and no need for a trial. Flip though the channels on your remote during primetime and they are virtually inescapable: CSI, CSI: NY, CSI: Miami, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, ad nauseum. Then there are the news shows like "To Catch a Predator" and all of its spin-offs. The list goes on and on.
The vindictiveness and self-righteousness reflected in these shows is palpable, and it is essentially a mirror pointed at us. All of these shows reflect a need for something that in the real world of post 9/11 we don't have: A feeling of safety where the bad guys get put away, where guilt and innocence are clear and most of all for a need to judge and condemn. This is not the guilt that is rooted in humility, self-reflection, and responsibility - a guilt that looks inward. It is an ugly fearful finger-pointing judgmentalism that seeks to find a monster, and predator, a terrorist out there to blame. These shows help us rehearse seeing ourselves as victims who need to have those in authority go outside of law and even use torture (I'm thinking of the show 24) in order to protect us from the "evil-doers" out there.
They are shows that are extremely moralistic, but also profoundly unchristian. We need to recognize that these shows are reflecting us, reflecting our own ugliness and darkness masquerading as (self) righteousness. Evil is real, and we are perhaps waking up to that for the first time in the sheltered world of suburban America. But it is not just "out there" it is also "in here". If we follow the world's way of dealing with evil, we will find the finger of condemnation pointed at us too. What we need to learn and rehearse are stories about redemption, about overcoming evil with good, about love of enemies. That's the message that our world needs to hear right now. The signs of our times shows us that we are hungry for a way to deal with evil, for a way to navigate the ugliness and brokenness and injustice of our world. We need shows that instead of feeding off of our anger and fear and dragging us down with it, instead help us to work through them and to help to heal ourselves and our broken world.
Until then, I think I'll just turn off my TV.
Labels: TV, violence