Alright, I’ll admit it: I’m a couch potato. I can’t wait to get home from a long day of work, slip into my favorite channel surfing attire (preferably something old, stained and three times my size), jump on that sweet sofa and laugh with The Simpsons, hang with Friends and fight the latest intergalactic villains with the crew of the Enterprise.
But as we all know, any passion, if not checked, can become an addiction. Personally, I have been doing the love/hate tango with television for so long that I just don’t know how this habit fits in with the Christian life. If I were to listen to the religious right, I would ban television completely for its role in hastening the Apocalypse and the rise of the Anti-Christ, or worse, force the networks to turn primetime into Pleasantville pre-Reese Witherspoon.
On the other hand, if I were to listen to the liberals, who think that the small screen is the best invention since they figured out how to put Lite Beer into cans, television would be hailed as the ultimate democratic tool. They argue that its universal access to the populace enhances our civil liberties, and yet contradict themselves when they label people “alarmist” for worrying about excessive violence and sexual images. What is a cyber-savvy, postmodern couch potato to do?
As an old Generation Xer who grew up on Saturday morning cartoons and cheesy science fiction series, I realize that television has become the center of American life. In other words, entertainment is our fulcrum, and, like junk food to the body, it leaves us unhealthy and unsatisfied.
I don’t believe that turning off the television is the answer or that everything on television is unredeemable junk. On the contrary, I see a great opportunity for the message of Christ to be passed on to the next generation by borrowing television’s myths and its stories. No longer do Christians have to feel like hypocrites when using television shows to make a point about salvation, sanctification or sin, but we can finally use what we know, the Gospel, and translate it into the language of the 21
For example, let’s take the infamous channel that has captured the imagination of the world’s youth more successfully than any other: MTV. Its stories have been aired in many parts of the world, disseminating its liberal political agenda—dehumanizing consumerism and anti-Judeo-Christian vision—since the day it first played “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles in Aug. 1, 1981, making it the first international channel. With MTV’s reach and star power, we can be confident that the world will never be behind on the cutting edge of nonsense, but with all this said, can’t Christians find some redeeming qualities in the network, like its professionalism, creativity and yes, even its entertainment? One great article that has explored the issue of Christians and MTV is David Hopkins’ “Everything I ever needed to know about ministry I learned from … MTV?” I would like the tackle issue from an other direction.
As a child, one of my greatest experiences was going to the city fair. The smells, sights, and energy that welcomed me at the main entrance were almost overwhelming. As a matter of fact, the second earliest childhood memory, next to being forcefully dressed up as Wonder Woman, was competing in a water balloon race. Grown people, who obviously have nothing better to do with a dollar, are given water guns and instructed to target the disturbing grin of a clown until his hat, a balloon, bursts.
Now, like any good backwater American fair, shooting guns at objects was far from the only entertainment. Deep in the heart of every fair, past the dunking booths, petting zoos and seductive smell of funnel cakes, was the main attraction: the Freak Show. I can still remember the fear rushing through me as I stared at the grotesque cartoons painted on the outside of the circus tent: three-headed snakes, the bottom half of a woman’s torso sticking out of a shark’s mouth and the wolf boy still licking his chops from his last victim. But nothing was as terrifying as the tuxedo and top hat-wearing midget clown that stood at the entrance of the tent-soliciting costumers. His words still bring me to the fetus position. For hours I would watch him repeat his mantra, like some twisted street evangelist, smiling and pointing his wooden cane at me. “Come one, come all! For only two dollars, be amazed by the freaks of nature, forsaken by God and too hideous for hell, they have been forced to walk the earth as the living damned.”
But unfortunately, I came to learn that the Freak Show was all show and that the only freaks there were the people who wasted their money to get in. As I walked past the wax dummies and pictures of poor deformed animals, I thought we were all taken for a ride and that there really were no living damned until we got to the end of the tent. Here were two real, flesh-and-blood freaks of nature. One was a muscular tattooed man who had ninety percent of his body marked up and the ability to swallow multiple swords at one time; the other was an overweight, bearded lady that sat there looking like she was holding in gas. As I took time to talk to the living damned, I learned that they were as normal as the rest of us. They too had families, worried about bills getting paid and wondered about the meaning of life.
And like this so-called Freak Show in my hometown, MTV and most of television is a fraud. A carefully planned ruse used by marketing departments desperate to meet the bottom line. I learned that celebrities, in their strange way, are normal. But most importantly, I learned that Christ also died for the Osbournes, Britneys and 50-Cents of the world, that each one of these marketing puppets has a story in the grand epic of God—a biography that we can use to teach the truth about the consequences of living without God, and in some rare cases, the glory of living with Him. Sure, most people visit the Freak Show to break from their daily routine of life and get some laughs. But if we are creative enough, maybe we can turn their entertainment into edification.
Sometimes I wish that when God was planning His bestseller, that He had added a chapter on television habits. You know, when Paul was on his famous missionary journeys, he could have written a letter explaining the dangers of wasting too much time watching Friends. Or while Moses was hanging on the top of Mount Sinai, God could have given him an 11th commandment: “THOU SHALT BEWARE OF THE BOX OF LIGHT.” Unfortunately, this problem is under the category of discernment and common sense, two qualities you just can’t learn on primetime. God has commissioned us to go into the whole world and preach the Gospel, and this especially includes couch potatoes dressed up as Wonder Women.
[Moses Garcia is a freelance writer from Allentown, Penn. When he is not studying the great Jedi-Christian Masters (C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton), he is reading sci-fi and fantasy. Learn more about him at www.mosesgarcia.com.]
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