Finding God on TV

Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake right now. Careers are on the line. Thousands of actors, producers and writers are waiting to see what America thinks. Yep, it’s the season of the fall sweeps—those few weeks when network TV introduces their lineup of new shows and then waits on pins and needles to see what you and I decide to watch. Last fall thirty-nine new shows were introduced—only nine of them survived.  In the past six weeks, we’ve been introduced to thirty-five new shows. And it is anyone’s guess as to which ones might still be on the air by this time next year.

As followers of Christ and church leaders, a good question to ask is, “Who cares?” There are songs to write and messages to preach and Hazel Rasmussen’s great aunt to visit in the hospital, so why pay attention to what Hollywood puts on the air or what advertisers choose to support? Why does it matter which shows make it and which ones don’t?

Richard Leonard, a Jesuit priest from Australia who wrote Movies That Matter: Reading Film Through the Lens of Faith, had some very insightful words about why this matters so much. He said, “We cannot speak to a culture we do not know or one we despise…we have to learn its language and discover how Christ has already gone ahead of us, inculturated in some of media’s values, stories and style.” He is suggesting that if we are paying attention, we can see where Christ is already at work in the culture. Looking at new shows introduced this fall is evidence to me that Mr. Leonard is right.

One year ago we experienced the launch of Heroes which quickly became the most successful TV show of the year. It’s appeal? Average people struggling through life make a difference with extraordinary gifts. This fall there is a whole slate of new programming that picks up on the same theme. Chuck features a computer nerd that becomes a top American spy when all of the nation’s secret intelligence is downloaded into his brain. A struggling writer suddenly becomes a hero as he travels back in time on Journeyman. And we can’t forget to mention Bionic Woman, whose surgery-gone-awry gives her incredible superpowers and great responsibility.

It is an innate, God-given, human desire to want to make a difference. For most people, it is a desire that exceeds wanting to make money or become famous. At Granger Community Church, we recently completed a series based on the show Heroes with this lead in: “Have you ever had the feeling you were meant for something extraordinary?” Even those far from God have a desire for significance. Addressing that desire gives us an inroad to their heart…a path to introduce them to Christ.

A fascination with good, evil, and the afterlife has also long been a winner in Hollywood, and this year is no different. New shows like Reaper, Pushing Daisies, and Moonlight all delve into the supernatural. This fascination with death and what comes later seems to indicate an awareness of our mortality. Even in Hollywood with the money for botox and microscopic lasers to extend youth—there still is this impending, ever-closer reality called death that no one has been able to avert. The culture is ripe for the church to address the here and now and the choices we make that have an impact in the after-life.

And Samantha Who? features lead actress Christina Applegate as Samantha, a materialistic, shallow, philandering liar who gets in a car accident, develops amnesia, and then slowly realizes the error of her old ways. In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, Applegate says, “We set up this duality of her good and evil. People really relate to righting wrongs in life.”

Yes they do. It’s called redemption. And even though Samantha isn’t looking to give her life to Jesus Christ to right the wrongs of her past—we can start with where she is. Which, by the way, is where people in your community are—aware of their bad choices and relational mistakes, and trying so hard in their own power to do better. Yes, they are looking in the wrong place for the answer. But let’s celebrate the seeking, and help them find their way to the open arms of a God who says, “You matter.”

- By Tim Stevens, from column in Collide Magazine, issue #2, Nov/Dec 2007, posted here with permission.

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