Back in the mid 1980s, Professor Neil Postman wrote a book titled Amusing Ourselves To Death. In it, Postman details how the visual medium, and television in particular, is a danger to the culture of ideas. I don't want to write a book report about it, but one of the main themes remains soldered in my mind. Where we were once a culture of ideas, now we are a culture of entertainment.
Every kid in school prefers watching videos instead of listening to the teacher give a lecture. But are those kids excited because the video has better information, or is it because the teacher is boring?
Listening to audio books trumps reading for many people.
I remember when I was ten years old, I tried convincing my parents that watching church on television was just as good as going to the building. This was before I hit Junior High and realized, as a sixth grader, seventh and eighth grade girls made church worth attending. TV church was only cool because of the human interest stories. People living in shambles, on drugs, making porn both professional and amateur. The Gospel was pretty awesome when surrounded by sensationalism.
Now that I'm aware of the saturation of media in our lives, I try to keep it all in perspective. Before I moved away from Grand Rapids, I played in a band. I don't tell a lot of people in Nashville about that because down here you may as well say that you like ice cream. At one of our last concerts, three or four hundred kids danced around to rock and roll music. The image of my band centered around all sorts of well-worn ideals like friendship and honesty and faith. Of course, twenty minutes before our set we were either fighting or giving each other the silent treatment. At one point in the show, I got fed up and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, don't be fooled. Everything you see here is an act. This is all just entertainment."
My friend owns the venue where this all happened. He had once said to me, "I love music, and I love having a place for kids to listen to music. But I have to constantly remind myself that I'm in the business of idolatry." People worship celebrity. They deify bands. Why? Because this album kicks ass, man. And after the show, those people will go to the bar and ignore anything meaningful that may have happened just then. Most of them won't be inspired to do something with their lives or make a change in the world.
Many artists, teachers, and church leaders (for example) use entertainment in order to arrest attention before they make a point in their message. This method assumes that the idea isn't thrilling or significant enough, and Average Joe Schlub won't be able to process the issue without the context of popular culture. In my own music or writing, I sometimes hit this point of despair. Will I be able to say something meaningful without using gimmicks to make myself look cool? Is image the only doorway to reason in our culture? How can we say something which motivates people to make a change in their lives if we place equal or greater concern on marketability?
Are we selling ourselves or are we promoting an idea? As a Christian, shouldn't I desire to tell people about the Kingdom of God? Do I really need to introduce the concept with a joke?
I want to do something more than spend my life receiving a constant stream of entertainment. And I want to make music without first having to prove how cool or attractive I am. I want to write my books without worrying if people will like me. I want artists to create something daring because it challenges a person to make a change for the better, as opposed to shocking because the artist can't articulate their frustration.
I grieve over how the world lives, and I desperately want a generation that desires change over amusement.