January 23, 2009

Reality TV

I've never been a fan of so-called "reality" TV. Luckily for me, I was always completely disinterested in The Real World when it appeared back when I was in college. Back in studies one of the friars who was a big fan convinced me to watch Survivor. I think it was the seventh season. They were on some island. I remember being really appalled by how easily I was psychologically manipulated by the program. Investing emotionally in their aggravation or happiness, in their friendships and rivalries, I would think about the people all week, wondering how they were doing. I would find myself hoping that this one was doing o.k., or that this one would get what was coming to him. I was shocked to find myself walking down the street or sitting on the bus wanting to be in competition with one of the men or in love with one of the women. The experience made me very worried about our culture. In a world where so many people live with intolerable thoughts and feelings, it's an easy solution to submit oneself to cheap emotional manipulation in order to feel something, anything at all.

After this emotional rollercoaster I said that I would never submit to such cheap manipulation again. And I've been pretty good about it since then. But now I must confess that I have come to love the guilty pleasure of Top Chef, and I've been feeling bad for poor Radhika since Wednesday night. It all reminds me of Thomas Merton's words on the subject of television, which I know I have reproduced here before:

I am certainly no judge of television, since I have never watched it. All I know is that there is a sufficiently general agreement, among men whose judgment I respect, that commercial television is degraded, meretricious and absurd. Certainly it would seem that TV could become a kind of unnatural surrogate for contemplation: a completely inert subjection to vulgar images, a descent to a sub-natural passivity rather than an ascent to a supremely active passivity in understanding and love. It would seem that television should be used with extreme care and discrimination by anyone who might hope to take interior life seriously. New Seeds of Contemplation, 86.


ben in denver said...

You have reminded me of a character in one of Michael O'Brien's books, I think it's "Eclipse of the Sun", but it may be one of his others.

The Character is a parish priest in Kamloops, BC. One day after mass he goes and gets a television, smashes it in the church parking lot and sets it on fire. This starts a movement in his parish where every week a few families bring their televisions, and set them on fire. He is sort of a Savaronola, with a bonfire of the vanities, but unlike the real Savaronola, he was total apolitical, he was just a man of courage.

Often I wish I had that kind of courage, but I don't. I think maybe I'm somewhat addicted to TV--even though I avoid the racy shows and don't have cable. Maybe I should give it up for Lent this year.

Thanks for the idea Fr. Charles. I think you have found my Lenten sacrifice for me!

4narnia said...

great post on tv, Fr. C! this is really something to think about and contemplate. ben in denver says "maybe i should give it up for lent this year." well, i just wanted to share that when i was a child around age 12, i did give it up for lent one year and didn't even miss it! now, i have a tv at home, but it's not connected to cable or commercial television. i just use it to watch good dvds snd/or videos. i'll have to see if i can find it, but a while back, a religious brother at graymoor (who has since deceased) had given out a "psalm" about the uselessness of television. i remember one line of it that goes something like this: "it (television) maketh me to sit down for its namesake and do nothing." just thought i'd share this with you! PEACE!
~tara t~