"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Friday, April 16, 2004 I was at the Cardinals game Wednesday afternoon and the people behind me were discussing the president's press conference from the night before. It was a pretty typical conversation -- I got the feeling that the guy who was criticizing President Bush would have criticized him no matter what and ditto for the person defending him. But there was one comment that stuck with me and, sad to say, didn't surprise me. One of the guys asked the other what his wife thought about the press conference and he said, "Oh, she was just pissed that American Idol wasn't on."
There was a big spread in this morning's USA Today about reality shows, how the stars of them are becoming A-list celebrities and how the ratings are through the roof for them and how the networks love it because they are so cheap.
All my life, our connection to world events has primarily been through TV. And when that is the case -- and the rest of the TV is fiction -- it's too easy to blur that line between fantasy and reality. On one extreme you have the people who write letters to soap opera characters (not the actors, but the characters) and on the other you have viewing news as entertainment. "Reality" television has further blurred this by purporting to show something that is nonfiction as entertainment.
I think if you ask most people, they will say that they know the difference between news and entertainment -- mostly because it sounds really stupid to say anything different. But I think the truth is far more subtle. Both are marketed to us in the same way. Both come to us through the same media. We invest ourselves emotionally and mentally in both (often more in the entertainment than in the news). Both allow us to feel like a part of what is happening while remaining detached from it. Both we can turn on and turn off as we please.
What is sad and scary about the guy at the ballgame's comment is not that his wife was more interested in American Idol than the president's press conference ... but that there is virtually no difference between the two. Both are about marketing and entertainment. The war in Iraq was a ratings success and now, like many shows, its newness has worn off, the buzz is gone, people are tiring of it and some of the ACTUAL reality of the horror of it is starting to seep through -- but not too much, because the option to turn off is so easy.
What is this year's presidential election to most people but another Kwame vs. Bill on "The Apprentice" -- will your guy win or not. I remember over Sunday night dinner at SMSG during the last presidential campaign, Noah Evans and I were talking about the candidates and he was talking about not only who the best candidates were but which race would be the most fun. "I'm a firm believer in politics as entertainment," he said.
At the time, I laughed ... and really agreed with him. I get into politics and certainly am entertained by them. But maybe we've crossed a liine -- in fact, I think there's little "maybe" about it -- where it is almost all about entertainment, with the exception of the statistical minority who really care and are not so consumed by economic hopelessness that they believe caring has a point.
I don't know where this is all headed, but it feels like an erosion of our nation from the inside. Two of our last four presidents have (George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton) have been exceptionally intelligent people and two of them (Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) have, while not being as stupid as some made them out to be, certainly not the sharpest knives in the drawer. That's not a good batting average. That's downright scary.
There's a segment of the churchgoing population that argues that religion and politics should be kept separate. I couldn't disagree more. As a Christian, my baptismal covenant mandates that I be actively involved in the systems of this world, making them more loving and just. When we view REAL reality as entertainment, we objectify human beings every bit as much as when we support pornography, prostitution and kids in sweatshops sewing up Nikes.
These are people's lives that are at stake here ... and because we are the body of Christ, that makes it OUR life, yours and mine. We must demand substance rather than entertainment ... and we can't just change the channel.
| Mike at 4/16/2004 10:23:00 AM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."