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Plumbline Author: Ethan Brue
Date: March 28, 2003
Topic: Sport and War in a Television Culture
We have a TV in our home. It rarely gets used. So I
cant claim to be an expert on television programming. However, when I have
occasionally engaged in a 30 minute channel flipping exercise, I am shocked, shocked
by the content, yes, somewhat, but more so by the lack of variety.
All imagery that greets me from the flickering screen is blandly uniform regardless
of the channel I call home. I am beginning to think that the
worst part of contemporary television programming is not its violent or sexual content,
but rather its repulsive homogeneity. If television is considered the predominant shaper of
culture, then I fear that future generations will not only be more violent
and perverted, but detestably dull and uncreative as well.
So what is it that makes TV so monochromatic, so redundant? Some have
criticized television for its technological bias that turns everything into entertainment, from education
to political discourse. I would agree. But Id like to suggest that TV
proliferates a particular type of entertainment. Contemporary TV programming IS competition. From the
news to sports to sitcoms to the Oscars to reality TV, its all
competition. A competition fueled by a contemporary desire to see one individual gain
an advantage over another; a diabolical fascination with seeing two or more individuals
striving to reach or obtain something that only one can possess. In televised
sport, competition debuts as an individual or team playing solely for the glory
of the victory stand. In the primetime sitcom, it enters as the witty
slam at the expense of another. In reality TV, it appears as a
Darwinian-like survival of the most popular. But what about the news, can one
argue that the news has gone competitive?
Last night I flipped on the TV. Two things dominated the screen; the
Iraq war and March Madness basketball. On one channel you saw in the
foreground a well-known ex-basketball player provide the viewer with the keys to victory
as the producer skill fully mixes and fades statistical graphics superimposed on breathtaking
slam-dunk replays slowed down to effectively dramatize the moment. The statistics carefully outline
the inventory of weapons each team has in their arsenal
a relentless full-court game,
an ability to sink free-throws under pressure, a dominate game in the paint,
a strong bench, a point-guard with lethal accuracy from long range, or a
power-forward who can pound the boards.
Just a couple channels over there is a similar picture. In the foreground
a highly decorated ex-Marine is busy providing the viewer with the keys to
victory, as the producer skillfully mixes and fades statistical graphics superimposed on breathtaking
replays of smart bombs and stinger missile launches, slowed down to effectively dramatize
the moment. The statistics carefully outline the pre-game inventory of each of the
the capability of achieving air superiority, the most ships, planes, or tanks, the
edge in mobility, the strongest supply lines, or the strongest reserves.
I hit the flashback button on the remote. The screen changes from flashing
blue and red fighter plane icons representing U.S. base locations, to flashing blue
and red basketball icons representing typical shot selection on the playing field. Its
all the same entertaining competition. The choice is up to the viewer; the
game in the dessert or the war on the court. We have successfully
turned war into entertaining competition and our competitive sport into war. I find
both ugly transformations to be equally destructive.
What is troubling to me as a Christian is that this notion of
competition, as it is understood in our contemporary culture is diametrically in opposition
to who we are created and redeemed to be as humans. There is
simply no room for this competition ethos in the Christian worldview.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider
others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only at your
own interests, but also the interests of others. Your attitude should be the
same as that of Christ Jesus. How can this service attitude be reconciled
with a desire to see one individual gain an advantage over another? It
cant. Unfortunately, I think the Christian community has too often relegated this Biblical
service ethos to areas other than sport, humor, business, or politics. In these
areas we graciously let a pagan competition ethos have its way.
This leaves us with questions such as this one. If we dare to
lets say reform the notion of competition, how might this make
the Christian game of basketball, hockey, or racquetball look radically different from the
accepted norms of play? Maybe its time Christians break a few unholy rules
Ill pursue this discussion in another Plumbline.
For Plumbline this is Ethan Brue, Professor of Engineering, Dordt College.