Trash TV

You have perhaps been following in the press the case of Jonathan Schmitz which was recently tried. Schmitz was the guest on a TV show who learned that he was about to meet a person with a secret crush on him. But the secret admirer turned out to be . . . another man. To whoops and cheers from the Jenny Jones studio audience, Scott Amedure--a homosexual--embraced Schmitz and described sexual fantasies that involved Schmitz, whipped cream, and a hammock. Mortified, Schmitz bought a 12-gauge shotgun, and three days later he shot and killed Amedure. On shock TV, humiliation and perversity are standard fare. The consequences aren't always as drastic as in the Schmitz case, but over time the spiritual degradation could destroy our culture. Among the worst examples of shock TV is a popular MTV program called Singled Out. In this updated version of The Dating Game, participants deliberately humiliate one another. In one recent episode, women were selected according to their chest size and type of underwear. Men were told to prove their fitness for dating by engaging in degrading behavior--like dressing up in drag. Then there's the Lifetime Cable Network program called Debt. Participants play trivia games in an effort to win prize money to pay off huge credit card bills. Game players express no embarrassment about their out-of-control spending. In fact, one recent winner cheerfully admitted that he'd racked up a $9,000 debt from attending a year-long tour of Grateful Dead concerts. What's next? A game show that rewards drunk drivers? This type of programming didn't arrive by accident. Shows that celebrate sin and perversity reflect a worldview that sees people as little more than a collection of quirks and appetites--as animated pieces of meat. Shock TV expresses a deeper philosophical assault on the dignity and sacredness of humanity. Instead of honoring restraint and good taste, these programs reward gluttony, sloth, pride, nymphomania, intemperance, and whatever other imbalances can be unearthed. The creed for our day might well be: I binge, therefore I am. The exaltation of vice reveals a low view of human nature. Critics often charge that Christianity, with its teaching on sin, takes a low view of humanity. Not so. In truth, Christianity is remarkably balanced. For alongside the doctrine of sin is the doctrine of creation--that we are all made in the image of God. We also have the doctrine of redemption--that God took on human form to elevate us to share His holiness. So Christians show genuine respect for people by praising virtue, not wallowing in vice--by calling people to be the best they can be and pointing them to a Savior who transforms them from the inside. That's why we need to tell advertisers what we think of shows that serve up humiliation and perversity. Sometimes boycotts do work: Ad Week magazine attributed the decline of the now-defunct Donahue show in part to advertising boycotts organized by just one person--Texas dentist Richard Neill. Too many of our social and political institutions promote the "man as meat" view of humanity--including, ominously, the Supreme Court. Unless Christians counteract that view with economic and cultural pressures, Americans may one day find themselves accorded all the rights, privileges, and respect of a cheap cut of steak.  


Chuck Colson


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