If you haven’t heard the news, the hit show Big Brother is coming to Canada! As a self-appointed ‘Reality-TV nut’, this is what I have been waiting for. I finally have a chance to be a reality TV star! Can you imagine? Yet despite my excitement and desire to slap together my own audition tape (which, frankly, I have had planned for several years now), a niggling question whispers in my mind:
As a Christian person, and Priest in the Anglican Church, should I audition for this program, or, should my faith compel me to stand aside? After all, I think it’s safe to say that ‘Big Brother Canada’ will not pride itself in elucidating the Christian values of grace, mercy, forgiveness and love. It is a competition after all, and not just for money. More valuable than the $100,000 cash prize, is the potential of being made into a celebrity. In a culture where people become famous for simply being famous, the potential to join the ranks of stardom is so enticing that people will go to extreme lengths to achieve it. Thus ‘Big Brother Canada’ will no doubt follow the model of its American counterpart: there will by lying, cheating, deception, slander, envy, malice, hatred, conflict, bitterness, drunkenness, debauchery, and any other form of drama the producers find beneficial to the ratings.
Is this really a show I want to be on?
However, if I respond “No”, then I am at once led to another question: If ‘Big Brother Canada’ is a show that I, as a faithful Christian, should not audition for, is this a show that I should even be watching? Scripture tells us that we should not ‘conform to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds’ (Romans 12:2); and that ‘whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.’ (Philippians 4:8). If I arrive at a position that states that ‘Big Brother Canada’ is a show which is so contrary to the Christian faith that I must refrain from applying, then it seems I must reject watching as well. Otherwise, I am just involving myself in the same negative situations, albeit passively.
Yet I do watch. More to the point, I enjoy watching. Don’t get me wrong, I get frustrated with life as it is presented on these shows; the fake and often dangerous un-reality that ‘reality-tv’ endorses. However, we cannot deny our current culture, nor that the gospel is to speak into this culture. This is the culture we are called to live in and minister to. As Paul in Athens, who spent time in the marketplace for the sake of declaring the reality of the ‘unknown God’, could not a Christian’s participation in reality-based television programming be to the same end?
I suspect, however, that a contestant coming forward as a real person, with a real faith, holding real convictions is not what the producers are looking for. The audition site makes this clear: It asks:
“Are you a BIG personality with STRONG opinions? Are you competitive and willing to fight for what you believe in?….If you can answer YES to the above then we want YOU!”
This is ‘reality television’ at its core. Like every other program in this genre, Big Brother Canada is interested in people who will play a part. Contestants picked for the program will be people who are willing to play a specific character and role. Whether they are the villain, the nerd, the gay person, the girl next door, the temptress, the jock, or the older one; the contestants will undoubtedly be actors on a stage, playing their needed parts in the service of ratings and profit margins. Unscripted? Yes. Reality? Not really.
This is the part that concerns me. I believe I can handle the challenges, the interpersonal dynamics, the lack of food and sleep, and the extreme nature of life in the house. I believe I could even handle being ridiculed for faith, if that came about. What I can’t handle is being a caricature, a personality instead of a person. I don’t think I could handle my life and speech being edited, spliced, cropped and managed to produce a hyper-exaggerated version of the Christian faith. I don’t think I could handle being unwittingly made into a Christian character.
But then again, I recognize that this happens in reality shows. I recognize that ‘Christian’ contestants have often been caricatures of faith, and are rarely presented as modeling a living, abiding relationship with Christ. I am aware that media so skews depictions of Christian faith that it becomes nothing more than washed-down pop-psychology with the name ‘Jesus’ thrown in for the sake of moral superiority. So part of me would like the opportunity to change the way in which Christians are often shown and perceived on these types of shows. Part of me wants to provide a depiction of what Christian faith actually looks like.
So I’m back at the beginning, having no more clearer of an answer than when I began. Maybe I should post the question to you? Should I or should I not apply for Big Brother Canada?