Monday, March 29, 2010


In general I haven't been much of a television watcher in recent years. I did grow up watching TV several hours a day, so I know what it's like to be deeply shaped by its messages. But in recent years I've cut down on my TV intake considerably.

But in the last two weeks or so I've watched quite a bit more. Comedies, medical dramas, crime shows, talent competitions, and of course newscasts. Just this evening I watched the news on PBS, a CBS comedy, and then the second half of House, then at 9pm they went to the beginning of 24 on Fox, a show I truly despise and am very glad they're finally canceling. But as I switched the channels to ABC, NBC, or CBS, or even one of the several independent channels, I saw vivid images of sniper bullets killing cops and EMS in an urban American setting juxtaposed a few seconds later with the theme song for Two and a Half Men, then the twinkling eyes of stars dancing to win a competition. Every one of these images was arresting and captivating and deeply unnerving.

In the course of a few seconds I saw images that evoke fear and images that evoke fantasy, but in all of them there was an escapist mentality at work that in their rapid fire visual procession short-circuits any critical thinking. If you're on the right, 24 will reinforce the meme of eternal vigilance against the enemy who is always out there and is probably in here too. Please be afraid, our sponsors require it. If you're on the left, we only need to watch the evening news to see the militia crazies and their plans to kill cops because they somehow are the front line of the NWO. Please be afraid, our sponsors require it.

If your not especially political, you can watch a crime drama, a dance show, a slapstick comedy and be lulled into a blur of flashy images and snazzy one liners or mental tongue twisters that can keep you occupied just long enough to ignore what is actually going on in the world outside, or even the world inside you, or, me. Please be anesthetized, our sponsors require it.

I turned off my TV and walked away. Can I do the same with my computer?


Pastor Andy said...

This is a great post, and one with which I am familiar given our Way Cup conversations. I am torn about television, because I understand that fear is so useful for corporate media- including crime shows and 2.5 men. After all, can we attribute the growth in crime drama to our fear of criminals and the satisfaction that comes in seeing every crime solved by the end of the episode (by far not reality)? And does 24 give us a similar delight, that vast terrorist plots can be unraveled by one man (without rules, of course) in one day?

On the other hand, I also find some of the best storytelling in TV in ways that could not be appreciated even ten years ago. The hubris of House being broken down and rebuilt and the cosmic good/evil struggle on a little island in Lost are among my favorite stories right now. Certainly, these shows/stories are limited in their prophetic voice because they are sponsored by the very forces they could speak "against" or "to." Then again, does the Church in America face the same dilemma?

Brendan Payne said...
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Brendan Payne said...
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