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Style Vs. Substance

Style Vs. Substance

As a journalist, interviews are a daily part of my life. So much so, in fact, that in the middle of a phone conversation the other day with a college buddy, Steve, I found myself drift out of casual conversation mode into reporter mode, asking things like, “Now, this new job you’ll be taking, what would that involve?” and “And how do you feel about this new opportunity?” I mean, come on? Who actually talks like this with their friends? So I gave myself a mental slap upside the head and returned back to normal mode.

Another case in point: something I often think about is “The Ideal Interview.” Who would I really relish the chance to interview? What people do I consider most fascinating, or who would I love to sit down across from in an empty room, with only a couple of chairs and a pitcher of water?

It’s less about star quotient for me than it is getting a feel for what makes a person tick, what they’re really like. Names like Bush, Yancey, Springsteen, and of course, Bono, come to mind. These are folks whose opinions I value, whose minds I respect, and who above all, seem like they’ve got more to offer than simply a multi-watt smile and keen fashion sense. Unfortunately, it seems I am in the minority on this one.

Now, it’s clear from a quick survey of late-night television, magazines and websites that the media is equally in love with interviews. Shows like MTV’s “Diary” offer unlimited access to those in the spotlight, and Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer have even put their personal friendship in jeopardy because of regular sparring over a crucial “get.”

It just doesn’t add up. What makes the daily life choices of someone with a gift for acting, music or just plain good genes that valuable to me? These things just aren’t that important. In fact, they’re often a cheap substitute for quality substance, like spoiling your supper with a handful of candy just because you’re hungry.

And so I send the message loud and clear: I don’t care.

I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me what type of soft drink Britney prefers, or the political insights of Brad Pitt or The Rock. And even more so, if someone were to offer me a solid half hour with any one of America’s media darlings, I would have to politely decline.

A shocking revelation?

Well, let me expand on this seeming heresy. I mean no disrespect to Ms. Spears or Mr. Rock. I think they are both gifted performers. I just don’t look to them for anything other than entertainment. I can’t think of anything they could say to me that would open my mind and cause me to understand the human experience better.

It’s nothing personal. Think of it more as the plight of popular culture. The glorification of the beautiful, the prizing of style over substance. It’s a big waste of time.

I came to this realization the other day as I lay on my couch watching “The Tonight Show.” In a moment of bizarre clarity, I suddenly visualized Britney Spears on the other couch in my living room, eating a can of Pringles and watching the show. (Now I realize this may sound like any number of 18 year olds’ fantasy, but bear with me.) I was suddenly struck by how utterly meaningless this would be. What would we talk about? The commercials?

Now maybe I’m ganging up on innocent targets, but the realization I came to was this: There isn’t enough time to waste on ideas that don’t matter. I find myself more and more lately echoing the words of Peter when he answered Jesus: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and we know that you are the Holy One of God.”

I just don’t think I can stand to waste time anymore on people who can’t help me understand better what exactly these words of eternal life are. Life is such a big mystery that trying to figure it out is a lifetime pursuit. I am all too familiar with getting distracted by the glitz of empty words flashy rhetoric that offers the promise of revealing a little more of the holy mysteries of God, but ends up just another empty box. I don’t want to waste time with people who can’t offer more insight into the words of life.

After all, that’s what this life is about. Why should I settle for anything less?

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