Sign of the Times

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

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.

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At 10:03 AM, Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

So what do you make of all those "survivor" type shows where people are out to best each other (by treachery if need be)?

At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dunno, I've never watched "Survivor". What do you make of it?

I know I watched "America's Top Model" (another competitive reality show) when it came out and turned it off after Tyra told her that she had to pose nude if you want to be a model even if it went against her conscience. What kind of awful message does that send to the 12 and 13 year old girls who watch this show and idolize her? It says to them "Hey teens, if you want to be loved, then you'll have to put out". Seems that these reality shows reinforce immorality (treachery as you say) for the sake of material gain. I'd rank materialism as one of the chief sins of our country.

On a more positive "island theme" I've watched "Lost" and really appreciate the spiritual and moral themes in it: complex stories of people who act tough but really carry brokenness and flaws around that are revealed, scenes of people crying and praying together, of miracles. I'm a big fan.

At 7:15 PM, Blogger Weekend Fisher said...

I watched the original "Survivor" only a couple of times, but I've seen ads for plenty structured the same way from Fear Factor to Hell's Kitchen.

Do we like watching people be nasty to each other? Is Hell's Kitchen about learning to run a restaurant or about watching Gordon Ramsay have a purple-faced screaming temper tantrum with plenty of bleeped out words?

I'm not 100% sure what the message is. But it kind of goes along with the judging theme you were talking about. All these things get judged. Competition. Being the best. Being the worst. Seeing someone get told they're horrible and hopeless.

I think that the trend is back towards the Roman arena ...

I just pray that suicide doesn't become legal, because then there will be no legal reason why lethal bloodsport wouldn't become "the ultimate."

I'm short on details but think we've (collectively) lost our minds.

At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The good news is that there is also a growing trend away from mass media (like television and radio) towards ways of viewing media where the end user chooses what they want to see/hear. Some examples are Tivo, Netflix, and ipods.

This means we don't have to watch the "lowest common denominator" mass appeal crap that the networks and radio stations dish out but can selectively choose what we will our minds with. Along the same lines we've subscribed to "The Sun" ( which is a magazine that instead of telling news stories that inspire fear and shock, focuses on stories of goodness and hope in the world.

At 5:43 PM, Blogger Josh Foreman said...

It seems to me the underlying issue is a deep sense of the injustice in this world. Without a real belief in an afterlife, people turn to fictional accounts of judgment and justice to ameliorate their frustration with this broken world. I think that's why revenge stories with vigilantly justice are so popular in movies and TV. The desire for justice is good and God given. It becomes perverted when a society stops relying on God's justice that occurs after this life.


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