So, most of you know the show "American Idol" – successful, and responsible for a host of spin-off “reality” shows such as “The Voice,” “X-Factor” and “America’s Got Talent.” I’ve been wondering about this phenomena for a while.
As a business, the industry has figured out that we like this sort of thing. So, they spend quite a sum, dishing up these sorts of shows and we consume it in large amounts – kind of like fast food is to the body, so this kind of stuff is fast food for the soul. And we all know how that’s working out for America, right?
So, what we’ve done is set up this high and exalted place in our culture that “discovers” and rewards all these talented people, who can sing, write, and perform. And we by and large consume it ... desire it ... put up with it ... watch it. But I wonder: Is this a good thing? Or is it benign – just entertainment? I am of the opinion that few things we consume are benign.
But most of us don’t think much of what we consume. We just drive up to the window like all those before us and those who will come after. We have a desire: i.e., veg out in front of the tube, turn on the radio, whatever, and we consume what they offer – and don’t give its effects on our souls much thought. But unlike the consumption of too many Big Macs, that will eventually make it’s effects known in that shooting pain radiating down your left arm. Consumption of this kind of stuff, well, it takes a bit more parsing to see how it affects us. So, in my last post I wondered at what this stuff says about us a culture – or even more personally, what does this say about (gulp) “me”?
It would seem that when you think of these kinds of shows, that the collective “we” have decided to reward those who are “good” and withhold fame from those who are well ... less. And somehow, our favorite show is the episode with all the folks who live in some strange world believe they should get their 15 minutes of fame – that they’re more talented than everyone else and then they make this amazingly bad performance. And we wonder, what were they thinking? Really? Surely this is staged. And equally sad are those who treat this as if this is “why” they live. And if they don’t get through to the next round, surely life is over. Really? THAT’S what you’re living for?
Now before you think I’m being too critical, I’m not trying to be in the sense of judgment, but simply wondering what this says about us. Is this really a good way to entertain ourselves?
I think I started asking that question when I found myself caught up in the show “Intervention” and then “Hoarders.” After a particularly difficult episode of “Intervention” (truly heart breaking with a sad outcome), it occurred to me that I was being entertained by others' pain. Yes, I know the justification – it’s informative and maybe will even help those who struggle with addiction. (And maybe there’s some truth to that. I’m not saying "don't watch.") BUT I’m not a heroin addict, nor have I been so compulsive in my spending that I’m homeless. So to me, it was simply how I was passing time. I found that it was somewhat like passing a car accident: You simply can't look away.
I think that’s really when I started looking at this issue differently and started wondering what all this says about “us," about me, when we make shows about people’s pain that is so deeply intense and sad. I found that in my case, I could at least in some unhealthy way console myself that I wasn’t that “bad” or into negative things that much. You see, I found that somehow I was trying to sit in the place reserved for only One ... God? I started noticing this false feeling of superiority. I wasn’t an addict. I didn’t hoard stuff. So, somehow I wasn’t as “bad” as that.
God gently reminded me that “all have fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And because of what I do and what I believe, we are all in need of God’s grace. Our fallenness ins’t something we should entertain ourselves with, but something we should lament. Our pain breaks God’s heart! He has made us “in His image” (Genesis 1:26), and even though our “sin is as scarlet” (Isaiah 1:8), He still has a dream for us (Psalm 139:16 – “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”). So God has a different way of seeing us than all these “reality shows.” He looks at us like a Father who loves His children, no matter how they sound.
After all, that’s what the Bible teaches Jesus did for us. He came in love for us, and took on himself all our sin, all our fallenness and offers us life, meaning and purpose. Every person – even the ones who can’t sing very well – He loves: “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that whoever will believe in Him will have everlasting life” (John 3:16). He values us differently than these shows do. And more than fame, we need a relationship with Him.
So next time you’re watching your favorite “talent” show, ask yourself some questions: What messages do I see, hear, experience in this show? Does it uplift those who are performing? Or, do we mock them? Does it make me more compassionate towards others, or more critical of them? What values are portrayed? Do we lift up fame, fortune ... or love and compassion.
I get it – it’s just entertainment, you say. But, is it? Maybe that's the question we should start with.
Thinking about it ...