In her provocatively titled article, “What is Reality TV Doing To Us?” the prolific and thoughtful Christine Rosen thinks a little bit about the degradation of human relationships as evidenced in the popularity of reality TV shows – the flotsam and jetsam of the TV world (which isn’t saying much to begin with!). She notes:
If a culture gets the celebrities it deserves, what does it say about ours that we are so embedded in the ersatz lives of housewives, wife-swappers, and the prodigiously fertile?
While her reflections are primarily sociological, my concerns are primarily moral. These TV shows are the kinds of cultural artifacts that are both a reflection of and partial cause of our morally illiterate culture. According to cultural theories that begin with the need for individual and social virtues, it is important to have moral exemplars among us – moral heroes if you will. So while there will be plenty of human refuse around us, that may not make up the majority of our social influence. There will people among us who exemplify moral courage, integrity and honesty, wisdom and moderation.
Few to none of the “stars” (either reality or otherwise) are what we would call moral heroes. Can we even describe moral heroes any more, much less recognize them in our public lives? Instead, they cater to the lowest common denominators among us encouraging the basest forms of self-indulgence, hedonism, and arrogance. We begin to learn that self-indulgence is a kind of personal good while we watch people who are either already unusually wealthy or who are on TV becoming wealthy receive the attention and adoration of the media culture. The hedonism in these shows is so transparent and unquestioned that we are becoming inured to its presence. Where we might have blinked at simply PDA a while ago, it now takes the growing commonality of homosexual PDA to grab our attention. And then we learn to be arrogant when we have nothing to boast about. Nothing but our self-absorbed individuality is needed to be proud of ourselves. The more pathetic we become, the prouder we become of it.
And because the media culture saturates our lives, they form our only really influential idols. For those who are saturated with TV and entertainment news, they may have no other significant sources of lifestyle-modeling. How is it a relatively healthy family can raise kids that look and sound like the trash on TV? Because the influence of the one doesn’t hold a candle to the influence of the other.
And as Christians we can note that the influence of the weekly service and “daily devotional” lifestyle will not even come close to breaking the lifestyle influences of reality TV. More and more Christians are better qualified to answer the question, “What would Simon Cowell say?” than “What would Jesus do?” And if that is true, then what are we as the Body of Christ becoming to this world?