by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
CGG Weekly, November 22, 2002
"We are called to an everlasting preoccupation with God."
It never ceases to amaze. Michael "Wacko Jacko" Jackson dangles his infant son over the fourth-floor railing of a Berlin hotel room. Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem, makes millions by starring in a quasi-autobiographical movie about a foul-mouthed rapper. CNN asks CBS to allow the stars of its hit show, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, to be interviewed for insights regarding the Washington-area sniper shootings. Barbara Streisand inserts herself and her opinions into the political debate, quoting an Internet hoax as if it were true. This summer, all of America wondered, "Will Lance Bass fulfill his dream to become an astro-cosmonaut?" And only Wednesday night, millions waited breathlessly to discover which young lady the Bachelor would choose to be his wife (Helene said, "Yes!").
Why are these people so important that we allow them to waste our time like this?
By themselves, entertainment and entertainers are not bad or wrong. We all enjoy being able to take a little time off from the rat race to do or watch something that will distract us from the more pressing issues of life. The problem begins when these distractions rise toward the top of the list of our priorities. We can gauge how important they are to us by honestly evaluating how much time we devote to them. For instance, the average American child spends about four hours per day gazing into the lidless eye of a television set.
Beyond the amount of time entertainment takes, there is the greater question of value. What positive message or knowledge do we take away from our leisure activities? As an example, though sitcoms may be funny, do they add anything to our lives? On the other hand, do they rob us of time we could spend doing something more redeeming, such as talking or reading to our children? As for what sitcoms teach us—how to deliver that cutting comeback or how a smart-aleck kid can manipulate his parents—they are not merely vacuous but detrimental.
If we spend our time following and participating in the popular culture, we will end up being about as deep and smart as a mud puddle. What do the reporters of entertainment news think is essential to know? Will Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have a church wedding? Will the producers of the Bond films nix James' cigar smoking next time? What was James Coburn listening to when he had his fatal heart attack? Will the Friends cast sign on for another season? Who will replace Richard Harris as Professor Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies? Did Nancy Pelosi cut her hair? What did Bill Clinton shoot at the celebrity tournament? If these tidbits clutter our thoughts, we are at the very least equating the trivial with the crucial.
Popular culture can easily become an escape from the pressing issues of life and of this world, and in this sense, it becomes a trap. A person living in such a fantasy world can allow his problems to continue without resolution. If he attempts to implement "fixes" on his problems, they are often shallow, politically correct "solutions" that do not work in the real world. For instance, a mother addicted to soap operas has little chance of coming up with a workable answer to her teenage son's rebellion. She has no foundation for making such a decision; she is reduced to mimicking what she has learned from TV. (Television is a horrible medium for conveying anything beyond emotional and superficial arguments. As Rod Serling once commented, "It is difficult to produce a television documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.")
What should we Christians fill our minds and time with? The apostle Paul says, "Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth" (Colossians 3:2). John agrees in the negative, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. . . . For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world is passing away" (I John 2:15-17). Jesus Himself says, "The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63). Finally, His brother James advises, "Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21). Good advice—and timely.