session eight: the one-eyed monster, and why I don’t let him in

by Elizabeth de Barros

“I’m not too high-minded for television, I really just don’t like it.”

-Barbara Kingsolver

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ENOUGH ALREADY HAS BEEN WRITTEN about the evil schemes fueling the television industry. There is no shortage of studies and stats to show that our culture has been rapidly careening on a downward trajectory. Tune in to prime time and you’ll need look no further. A gore and carnage fest at the ready. A regular free-for-all.

And although I’d rather ponder the exotic coloration of a macaw in Seeing Scarlet or pontificate on why I both agree and disagree with Kingsolver’s final essay, God’s Wife’s Measuring Spoons (you’ll just have to read it yourself), I’m compelled to end our Small Wonder discussion on the theme of television as found in The One-Eyed Monster, and Why I Don’t Let Him In. 

Why? 

Because, along with Kingsolver, I really don’t like television either. Instead, I’m passionate about the preservation of the mind. Besides, nobody in their right mind actually likes monsters, except of course if it’s green, at least 20 feet tall, and lives safely behind the screen or runs through the pages of a story book and who gets gobbled up in the end. That kind of monster is fun, and bears no lasting threat.

But the kind of monster Kingsolver names in The One-Eyed Monster, and Why I Don’t Let Him In is amorphous, a changeling, a trickster. TV — it keeps reinventing itself. And as much as it’s referred to as a box, a thing, a tube, and a telly, it’s also equally known as the devil’s mouthpiece, an idiot, a sewer, and a vast wasteland. The thing gets around. It’s grown up with us and we’ve grown up around it.  Now that we’ve been lulled to sleep by its charms, not only do we believe it necessary but we find it comforting to have a screen in front of us at all times — to tell us what to do, think, eat, drink, and how to live, feel, and what to wear. Or not. 

As Kingsolver states:

“The advantages of raising kids without commercial TV seem obvious, and yet I know plenty of parents who express dismay as their children demand sugar-frosted sugar for breakfast, then expensive brand-name clothing, then the right to dress up as hookers not for Halloween but for school. Hello? Anyone who feels powerless against the screaming voice of materialistic youth culture should remember that power comes out of those two little holes in the wall. The plug is detachable. Human young are not born with the knowledge that wearing somebody’s name in huge letters on a T-shirt is a thrilling privilege for which they should pay eighty dollars. It takes years of careful instruction to arrive at that piece of logic.” (p. 134)

Meantime, our culture rocks and reels like a drunkard over what a single channel may produce on a given day. Bloodlust is upon the people — if only for a season or until the next new series. Voyeurism abounds in our living rooms, but one click makes it all go away, so it’s not hurting anyone. Oh, how we’ve been dumbed down. Even if nobody ever exactly believed in something called a “wardrobe malfunction.”

At the very least, Kingsolver sees the writing on the wall enough to decry television’s wasting influence. But what she doesn’t address is the trickster part — and how in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, Marshall McLuhan’s predictive observations dating back to the 50’s about twentieth century media culture have now come to fruition.  Indeed, “the medium is the message.”

The issue goes far beyond how many people are getting shot up with blanks or how much ketchup is used and whether or not we should let Johnny see. Our death culture is far more sinister than fake blood.

Screens “R” Us. From television to laptop, DVD player to iPad, we’ve been channeled and changed by the prowess of a mastermind: this, our hell-bent media culture.

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A BIBLICAL LENS:

The topic of TV can land one atop mounds of food for thought to which all the popcorn in the world would not equal. There’s the good stuff and the bad stuff and then there is the very bad stuff. Beyond that, there exists the unmentionable. Surely the sheer ever-increasing amount of channels has had some bearing on this ratio. I mean, The Carol Burnett Show from the ’70s gave us some really good laughs, thanks to her sidekicks, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. Even so, long before there was television, the Psalmist wrote, “I will set before my eyes no vile thing.” Ancient paths are new again. We really do have a choice.

Now, let’s have some fun. Time to think outside the box. In this vast wasteland of electronic suffering, I will play roving reporter and ask a few questions:

How do you choose to be entertained? Informed? Instructed? Influenced?

Or are you even choosing at all?

Perhaps you’re letting television (and other various forms of media) make all the choices and have been allowing it to nibble on your mind, if not suck up your time.

At the most basic level, we were made to think, live consciously, and walk upright for the better part of the day. TV is not only a one-eyed monster, it’s a trickster, and can transform into an invisible phantom that will eat our brains if we’re not awake and watchful.

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A warm thanks to all who have read along for all or some portion of our Small Wonder discussion. It’s my hope that you’ve benefited  in some way from these sessions. Maybe you’ve gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for common grace, developed a keener sense of some of the issues all around us, or have caught a burden for your neighbor’s soul. More than anything, I pray a window has been opened from which you can look out of and upon the world with a more redemptive eye:

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

-Matthew 6: 22-23

Many special thanks to my dear friends and sisters in Christ, Becky Pliego, Melissa Jackson, and Diana Lovegrove, for your generosity by kindly offering your time and talent in contributing to this project.

Soli Deo Gloria.

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