I Am Offended . . .
I love stories. It's why I am so attracted to film, television, comic books, and novels. Stories are part of the lifeblood of any culture. They have the power to challenge us, move us, and educate us. That's why I love television. I have found nowhere in the last 10 years where more profound and engaging stories are being told in our culture than there.
Now, from a Christian perspective, those stories are not perfect. As has often been noted, they frequently contain sex, violence, and profanity. Let me go on the record as saying I am not fond of that aspect of our culture's stories. I think we as a culture need to think long and hard about the impact that repeated exposure to such elements has on our culture. But frankly, I don't talk about that much in the classes I teach on religion and popular culture or in the writings I do. I sometimes fear that my failure to do so gives off the wrong impression -- that I defend those aspects of our stories. In some instances that may be true, but primarily the reason I don't talk about that is because Christians have never stopped talking about it. We've heard that message over and over again and there's nothing new I can add to it.
Besides, what often happens when people obsess over that aspect of the stories is that they miss everything else that is good, redemptive, and engaging about the stories. Even worse, they focus so much on sex, violence, and profanity that they ignore all the other moral issues in the media that are just as, if not more, dangerous to our cultural identity.
To that end, here is my list of what offends me on television:
I am offended by advertisements that show us pictures of Elmo Dolls, BK Broilers, or the latest Toyota, but are really selling the idea that contentment can only be found in having.
I am offended by game shows that promote materialism and greed.
I am offended by commercials that perpetuate a female body image that says young girls and women need to look, dress, and act a certain way to find acceptance.
I am offended by news programs that feed us a steady diet of fear, misery, and pessimism. (In fact, a fellow colleague of mine is convinced that the most immoral show on television is the news.)
I am offended by political talk shows in which participants sacrifice honesty and depth in favor of soundbites, shouting, and name calling.
I am offended by daytime talk shows that trade in human misery for entertainment.
I am offended by sports programs, tabloid news shows, and American Idol-type competitions that teach children that fame and fortune is the highest ideal to which they can aspire and that reinforce America's cult of celebrity by turning athletes, actors, and musicians into our cultural heroes.
In short, given what else is on television, I'll take Lost, Heroes, and Smallville anyday.