We are bombarded with glitzy images and glossy pictures. Colourful lights abound, flashing hyperactively in attempt to gain our attention. Most of the time it works. Our eyes dart from image to image, from one object to another. We seamlessly watch television show after television show with all the commercials in between. The wonder of modern entertainment is that any scenario can be depicted in gritty realism. The line between what is fake and real is getting perpetually blurred. (Also, with product placement as it is now-a-days , the line between entertainment and advertising is getting blurred as well . . . but that’s for another post).
I would love to write about how I have faithfully turned away from the trashy television shows, the idolatrous celebrity magazines, and the vain uses of social media. I would be lying. These things still pepper my downtime. That being said, I have become a bit more conscious of what exactly I am looking at. And frankly, it often shocks and disturbs me.
Here is a rundown: On any random hour of my twitter feed, there are several posts from entertainment and pop culture sites inviting me to watch the new sizzling movie trailer (the last was the “50 shades of Grey” teaser); or look at the latest celebrity bikini selfie. Celebrity magazines run articles about the biggest ‘thigh-high’ slit in a celeb’s dress – and who’s combination of ‘long blouse but no pants’ worked the best. And don’t get me started on the upcoming TLC show called “Dating Naked” – yes it’s a real show.
Don’t get me wrong here, it’s not just about sexuality and the ever-narrowing line of what cannot be shown on prime time television. There is also an uncomfortable amount of violence and gore. Popular crime-based television shows are increasingly more graphic in the manner which they image and discuss heinous crimes. My wife and I have had to give up watching shows like ‘Law & Order SVU’, ‘CSI’ and “Criminal Minds” all because of the graphic nature of these shows. It frankly occurred to us ‘why would we want to watch images of violent child abductions and brutal sexual assaults just before going to bed?’
See, it used to be that when someone was shot on a television show, you would hear the pop of the gun and simply see the body slump in the corner; now you see the blood splatter, the gaping wounds, or if you are lucky, the internal damage being done by the bullet as it passes through flesh and artery (a la CSI).
Whether we see entertainment as something that informs the workings of society, or simply that which reflects trends and voices already existing, the point is that there is an uncomfortable link between the living of our lives and the extreme images we see in popular entertainment.
As Christians, what responsibility do we as have in regards to the images and scenes that fill up popular media? After all, Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew “The eye is the lamp of the body. If our eyes are good, your whole body is full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.” (6:22-23)
I have often seen this in terms of a moral statement. The ‘eye of darkness’ is one that looks judgementally upon others and denies the imageo dei implicit in them. I would argue that it is the eye of disrespect, the eye of faithlessness, the eye of superficiality. But what if it’s more than that? What if Jesus is saying that disciples should be careful with what they look at? Previously Jesus spoke about looking lustfully at another – and thereby committing adultery in our hearts. What does this say about the shirtless hunks and the cleavage-bearing beauties of celebrity magazines and websites? If that which we watch and look at informs the presence of darkness us, then what type of spiritual damage occurs when we gobble up hours of blood-spattering, cringe-worthy violence?
Now I am not arguing a puritanical approach to television and entertainment. I still like to watch cop-shows and action movies, and I have an always expanding collection of Marital Arts movies in my basement. What is more, I still follow Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Life and other pop culture feeds on twitter. However I do feel we are called as Christian people to engage the question and explore the possible link between our spiritual vitality and what we choose to watch, read, or listen to for our entertainment purposes.
What do you think? How does your faith inform your understanding, involvement and reception of popular entertainment?