Yesterday, I finished reading Prophetically Incorrect: A Christian Introduction to Media Criticism, by Robert H. Woods Jr. and Paul D. Patton. Simply stated. . . a great book on thinking critically, Christianly, and prophetically about media form and content and the role it all plays in our lives. Yesterday, I also sat for three hours talking to two pastor friends. During the course of our conversation, one lamented the role that reality television is increasingly playing in our culture. At one point during the conversation I mentioned that I think reality TV is ruining people. . . both the people who seek self-exploitation by showing their "real" selves to the world, and the people willingly exploited by watching the stuff.
This morning I was reminded of the prophetic, common-sense warnings issued by David Elkind almost 30 years ago - in his books The Hurried Child and All Grown Up and No Place to Go - when I encountered the video clip embedded below. . . a video clip from that creepy reality show "Toddlers and Tiaras." This one offers a look into what reality TV and a self-obsessed and misdirected mother are doing to young Eden Wood.
When I tracked the clip down on YouTube I couldn't help but notice the first comment posted beneath the video: "This is some sick sh__!" Agreed.
In their book, Woods and Patton say this about media: "Mass media in consumer-driven, market-oriented economies play a priestly rather than prophetic role in an attempt to attract audiences for advertisers by mainly reinforcing rather than challenging a culture's dominant consciousness. We argue that North America's dominant conciousness is characterized by an ethos of consumerism. Given this priestly function, popular media function like churches, insofar as they connect people with stories that reflect what they believe." They go on to define our prophetic role as followers of Jesus who are willing to confront the errors and injustices of the dominant consciousness, stuff that we are mostly numb to. They write, "What cuts through the numbness is our courageous willingness to embrace the negative or talk about what is wrong with the world. The embrace of all that is wrong with the world brings one face-to-face with all that humanity (and one's self) is capable of. The embrace illuminates in striking ways the consequences of humanity's (and one's own) greed and arrogance. . . . In brief, becoming burdened by embracing the negative is the necessary catalyst for criticism and redemptive change."
Sadly, that's not a practice that marks the contemporary American church. Rather, we're eating all this reality-stuff up just like everyone else. And while we sit front and center watching the ruin of reality stars, we're also ruining our selves.