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Monday, April 26, 2010

April 26, 2010 What Would Jesus Do...About Television?

I grew up with sitcoms like “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Hazel,” “Leave it to Beaver,” and “Father Knows Best.” (Actually, when I was very young, we lived in a valley that had spotty reception, so my experience with the shows came in later incarnations as reruns.) Whereas at one time there was quite the scandal about Jeannie’s belly button (“I Dream of Jeannie”) and Rob and Laura’s sleeping arrangements (“The Dick Van Dyke Show”), things have taken a much more graphic turn these days. Only the laugh track is the same.

Those who know me know that I’m no prude—if anything, I probably err in the opposite direction in terms of openness about certain issues. As an adult, I can handle adult conversation and adult themes, even adult beverages, within the appropriate contexts. This week, however, I became convinced that if I never see another sitcom again, it won’t bother me a bit.

When my teenagers became faithful followers of “Friends,” I watched with them. The writing was tight, the actors believable, and the jokes were actually funny. It didn’t portray a godly lifestyle, but at least there were positive story lines. Compared with what I heard Monday night last week, “Friends” was mild indeed. (Sort of like watching the Beatles at the beginning, when everyone thought they were so wild-looking then and they seem so clean-cut now).

Flipping through the channels, it amazed me how—with a gazillion channels available—there was really nothing I wanted to watch. “House” was over and I’ve never seen “24”, so what was the alternative? Sadly, I stopped in to visit “Two and a Half Men.” I haven’t seen males giggle over the names for female body parts since 8th grade. I couldn’t stomach more than about five minutes before switching over to “Romantically Challenged.” Apparently Hollywood thinks spanking fetishes are hilarious. Dishonesty and promiscuity…oh, what fun!

Perhaps it was because of those distasteful, albeit brief, forays into popular television that beckoned me to try “Glee” out two nights later. I’d seen a few of its shows at the start but when teenage pregnancy, deception, homosexuality, and outright meanness began overshadowing the excellent musical numbers, I’d closed the curtain. (Those are important issues to address, no question—just not what I look for in a bit of light escapism.) The “Madonna” episode had been promoted so heavily, however, I took the bait.

Other than the ongoing feud between the girls’ PE teacher and the Glee Club director, the episode revolved around three individuals struggling with sexuality, two of whom were underage. The adults involved (the man still married to someone else) never followed through, and the caring man encouraged the woman to get therapy for her “problem.” Apparently not-wanting-to-have-sex now equals mental instability. Viewers were left hoping that surely, surely, the young female lead and the young male lead will eventually get back together, regardless of with whom they had sex or with whom they’re not ready to have sex yet or who thinks they should have sex with whom. Do they ever have time for homework?

We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto.

Then they pulled out the WWMD bracelets. “What Would Madonna Do?” …that’s right…even though the “What Would Jesus Do” phenomena eventually reached the hokey stage, at its heart the intent—asking ourselves what Jesus would do in every situation--was wonderful…obviously something Hollywood needs to ridicule.

Laughing at ourselves isn’t all bad; Christians tend to take themselves far too seriously, in my opinion. But how did we get from wholesomeness and moral lessons told with humor and sensitivity (and much better writing), to making fun of sacred ideals?

A friend of mine once shared a story of a pristine white church building. Satan knew that if he poured black paint on it, everyone would be in an uproar. Instead, he took a spray bottle of paint and just spritzed it a little each day. Spritz. Spritz. In time…and it took a long time… the white took on a slightly gray tinge. Then a darker gray…by the time it was black, everyone was used to it.

My mother uses the word “jaded” to describe this…we’ve been introduced to alternatives to what we know is true in small doses, with expert subtlety. If I’d been watching the particular shows I mentioned all along (just the thought of wasting that much time makes me shudder), I may well have missed the message. Seeing them “fresh”…and so close together…the underlying error screamed with in-your-face hostility.

What Would Jesus Do? It’s not as simple as saying he wouldn’t watch television, or even that he wouldn’t watch “Two and a Half Men.” He might watch things you couldn’t pay me to see (horror movies, for example). I don’t presume to know what he would or wouldn’t do. I’m just saying that if I’m watching something that (a) isn’t even funny/helpful/uplifting (b) isn’t really entertaining, and/or (c) goes against all I believe, I can always just turn the darn thing off.

Or at least look for Andy and Opie on “Nick at Nite.”

Permission to use with acknowledgement of source.

Monday, April 12, 2010

April 12, 2010 A New National Pastime

“If we had no faults of our own, we should not take so much
pleasure in noticing those in others.”
Francois de La Rochefoucauld

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your
own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”
Reality television has been around awhile, its roots in such shows as “Candid Camera” and game shows, increasing with writers’ strikes in 1988 and 1997. Whatever its origins, however, it shows all signs of being here to stay. What started with “Big Brother” has mushroomed into everything from “Trading Spouses” to “Intervention.” From the comfort of our couches or bedrooms we peer into the lives of those hoping to become the next celebrity dancer or vocalist, hoping to survive, hoping to win the race. We look at the nitty gritty details of the world’s dirtiest and most dangerous jobs. We go with scientists on expedition, doctors into surgery, ride with police officers arresting an endless parade of bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do…

Our taste for so-called “reality” appears to know no bounds. Why, exactly, are we entertained by “Hoarders”? Each program introduces viewers to individuals or families currently burying themselves in their own squalor. They may be facing eviction, divorce, losing children to Social Services, or other crises because of their accumulation of…stuff.

We came across “Hoarders” not too long ago and have watched it a few times since. The first time, though, it was immediately clear what the draw is. None of us lives in a perfectly kept household (at least no one I know). One of my favorite magnets is the one that says “Dull women have immaculate houses”—and I’ve never been accused of being dull! When we see examples of extreme untidiness, larger than life (literally) piles of debris that confound even the professionals called in to help, it reaffirms what we knew all along: I’m not THAT bad.

Judging and comparing ourselves to others has become, with reality television, a national pastime. During “American Idol” auditions, we cringe at the poor unfortunates who think they’re on their way to stardom but who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. When they show up, buckets run the other way. “I’m not Idol material,” we think, “but at least I know it. And I sing a lot better than he/she does.”

We…yes, all of us…have dysfunctional families to some degree or another, but we “objectively” watch drama unfold with nannies and spouses and unfaithfulness and rebellious kids and we breathe a sigh a relief. Yes, we’ve got our share of drama on the home front, but at least it’s not like theirs.

The danger is obvious, in light of the quotes above. If we were perfect, we would be more tolerant of those who are not. If we followed Jesus as we should, we would take care of our own problems before “helping” others with theirs. Our focus should begin in our own hearts, with our own sins and failures. “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone,” Jesus told the crowd who wanted to punish the woman caught in adultery (see John 8), an interesting and immediate way to thin out the would-be accusers. No one, in fact, threw a single pebble. Each person felt the conviction in his words; each thought of a secret sin he or she would not want publicly aired.

With reality television such as “Hoarders” we see people at their most vulnerable. Their “secret” sin is anything but, splashed across our widescreens in high definition. To reach that point, they must be desperate indeed. Not only do they realize they must get help, but they suffer our participation in the painful recovery process as they come to grips with why they feel it necessary to hang on to a gazillion rotting stuffed animals…or worse, rotting food with all the accompanying vermin associated. Professional counselors and organizers try…sometimes successfully, sometimes not…to bring lasting solutions.

Some believe that where John 8 mentions Jesus writing in the sand, he was writing the individual sins of the woman’s accusers for everyone to see. Today, the sins of the crowd become our “entertainment.”

Just keep that camera turned the other way, please.
Permission to reprint with acknowledgement of source.