Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Seeing Is Believing: The Boob Tube

[This is the 3rd of 5 posts in this series]

James Giffen
was a farmer turned glassmaker who dropped a lump of molten glass into a spinning mold one day and formed the first glass casserole dish. Giffen’s invention seemed mundanely useful until 1949 when the newly developing television industry needed an odd-shaped glass form in which to project its image. Ignoring the experts who denounced his improvisation, Giffen experimented with glass flow, redesigned his casserole mold into the shape of a funnel, and spun the first glass TV tube into existence.* Once again glass was at the forefront of a revolutionizing technology that would never allow the world to be the same again.

Much has been written about the content of TV and its ever-declining level of sordid entertainment, its success in transforming the verbal and print culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries into today’s visual culture,* and of its ability to promote a feelings dominated view of reality over an intellectually based view. All of these are part of a larger, more consequential effect of TV – that it "serve[s] in our culture a role once reserved for God: the role of defining reality."*

Television is the primary means by which most of us know things. Both by what it shows us overtly and by what it fails to show us, TV controls what we consider to be real about this life. And, because the revenue stream it can generate is what primarily drives TV, it is the life force of capitalist consumerism. Television sells us things by appealing to our most base humanistic leanings. Its success as a medium lies there – in promoting the notion that the central reality of life is us and the choices we make for and about ourselves.

With TV everything is a commodity to be sold on personal appeal. Its power to sell commodities to needy buyers has permeated every aspect of the culture to include our view of the church. The shopper’s paradigm, reinforced by generations of TV-addicted churchgoers, has relegated religion to the state of just another commodity. And the church, ill equipped to resist the trend, responds in two self-defeating ways. On one view, it succumbs to the power of public tastes and assimilates the culture into the church. Here its acceptance of the seeker-sensitive consumer model too often leads to a seeker-centered church that fails to train disciples.* The church becomes "of the world, but not in the world."* On the other view, it races to construct barriers that isolate it from having any hope of influencing the surrounding society, and withdraws into irrelevance.*

Television as a visual medium can present a story, but not an argument. And the story it presents is one in which the consumer’s need is sovereign and the customer is always right. The customer can have anything he wants and he will be satisfied only when he gets it. In the TV marketplace, everything is for us, for our pleasure, and for our satisfaction.* To the contrary, Christianity offers us the high probability of suffering indignity, loss, damage, and pain.* It is a faith in which instant gratification and the customer’s satisfaction are not guaranteed in this life. If Jesus promises us that "in this world [we] will have trouble," that is a message we will never get while watching TV.

{Juran, 53}
{Neil Postman. Amusing Ourselves To Death. p. 26}
{Kenneth Myers. All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes. p. 161}
{Greg Koukl. “What’s Wrong With Being Seeker Centered?” Radio transcript from Stand To Reason, 2004}
{Myers, p. 18}
{Vincent Miller. "Consuming Religion: Christian Faith and Practice in a Consumer Culture." Interview: Mars Hill Audio Journal, Volume 69, July/August 2004)}
{David Wells. God In The Wasteland. p. 114, 82, 115}

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