We don’t have a TV and we’ve never had cable. A lot of people ask me why, but I honestly don’t have a substantive answer. Our TV broke a couple of years ago and we found that a week without it was actually kind of refreshing. A week turned into a month and a month turned into more than two years. We are not fundamentally against TV. (In the future, we might buy a new one.) But for now, we are enjoying life without it. In our television’s absence, what I have noticed the most is a renewed sensitivity to what I see.
One can hardly watch a half-hour of television or YouTube without seeing a woman in her underwear or bra. And I notice this now more than I used to. Perhaps it is because I have boys of my own, but likely it is because I am not as numb as I was with regular viewing. Television keeps normalizing yesterday’s “taboo.”
Recently, I brought home a Justice League (Batman and Superman) cartoon for my boys and the opening scene hosted scantily clad women (mostly silhouettes) dancing in cages behind Lex Luthor. Sadly, my sons will grow up viewing hundreds of thousands of concrete images of women portrayed sexually, and they will be devoid of real intimacy with any of them. Sex in the media ultimately is an enemy of true intimacy.
The big problems with sex and the media are: 1. Our medium is inherently communicating instant, convenient, and customizable sex (an impossibility). 2. Something designed to be known through intimate, trusting relationships is treated like a commodity and put on public display. 3. Sex is portrayed and associated with concrete images (in film and photos) that naturally necessitate comparison and contrast but are kept separate from true relationship.
The philosopher Marshall McLuhan coined the well-known phrase: “The medium is the message.” In other words, the manner in which we choose to communicate shapes us more than the content found within the medium. Today, our communication mediums are instant, convenient, and customized. If we want food, sex, money, or popularity, we have immediate pacifiers in fast food chains, convenience stores, Viagra, pornography, credit cards, instant loan centers, Facebook likes, and Twitter feeds. People used to journal; now they blog. People used to write letters or call someone to share their latest news; now they post it.
Consider intimacy. When I am intimate with someone, we look for privacy; we close the door or we whisper. There is a secret “knowing” shared in an understood relationship (thus Victoria’s irony). Even inside jokes are a form of intimacy, separating those who are “in” from those who are “out” of the shared experience or piece of humor. Intimacy requires relationship, and relationships are not instant. They require the investments of time, energy, and mutual familiarity. The very definition of intimacy purports that one cannot know or be known by everyone. In fact, true relational intimacy is reserved for a select few.
And everyone longs for intimacy.
We like to whip the church for “not talking about sex.” Frankly, we’ve done a poor job of having the conversation. But maybe the problem isn’t sex. Maybe the problem is that the church needs to get better at intimacy. It breaks my heart when I see dads who are emotionally distant from their kids or who withhold physical affection or affirmation because they are uncomfortable with intimacy. I get angry when God is portrayed as one-sided: an authoritarian Father who is rationally cold and uninvolved and who treats His covenantal “love” as a legal transaction. I hear pastors complain about emotionalism, and I get the fear, but I honestly get more nervous about not inviting emotions into our Christian worship. I personally find it helpful to sing about how “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss”,1 and I find value and encouragement when a whole bunch of us sing with passion to Jesus… even when using first person pronouns.
I believe in a God who desires pleasure and provides abundant life for his children. I believe in a God who gives us power and grace through our relationship with Him to face every situation. And who promises to satisfy our longings and provide for us, giving us hope in this life and the life to come. It is a miraculous mystery that God knows each of us intimately and invites us to know him in return. Our transcendent, sovereign, need-of-nothing God calls me and you (individually) to know the Creator. Perhaps the Christian answer to a sexually saturated media is a church that lives in deep intimacy with God and one another, where secrets can be shared, inside jokes are told, and it feels really good to be known.
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This is great, Jon. “People used to journal; now they blog.” What an interesting take on how Christians (and all people) deal with the desire to be known.
Entertainment media both reflects and shapes the popular culture; even if you tune out its sources and impact are all around you, working. Focusing on the repair of relationships and justice toward all others is the only way forward and not just within religious communities amongst themselves; those boundaries should not close off from the world but open up to it.
Maybe I’m misunderstanding the comment about blogs, but isn’t this a blog of sorts? Blogs and other social media are not a replacement for private journals unless you restrict your audience to yourself or a small group. They seem most commonly used as an amplified form of citizen journalism, political activism, and public intellectualism or just another way to do a newsletter for a particular affinity or interest group. They can be about one or many people “being known” in some personal, writerly way or a much broader form of social information and idea exchange. Done well, these are powerful ways to exercise the values and pursue the goals expressed here.
Great thoughts, Jonathan! As someone who has lived without at TV for my whole married life, and who also works in campus ministries, I frequently encourage young adults and especially newly married couples to at least forgo the TV for a season – Lent is a great start! Whenever my wife and I choose to watch TV – an episode of The Office on a laptop, or the Super Bowl at a friend’s house, we are in complete agreement that we are very sensitized. Your thoughts on sexuality are worth reflecting on, but going without TV also allows us to be appropriately sensitized to all kinds of violence, harsh language, crass joking, sheer volume and chaos and more that characterizes most TV and advertising.
I will pass this article on in the future to those who ask, why no tv?