You probably already know this, but studies show that when people watch TV, their brains work at a rate so slow, that even sleep registers higher(Alec Baldwin explains the science here). They say that watching TV stimulates your brain a little less than staring at a blank wall. It’s just enough to keep our minds running – like idling a car – but it isn’t rest, and you’d be better off just going to bed.
Sleep is so great. Seriously. In my sleep, I’m king, or president, or whatever. I have spent so many of my dreams saving the world with my own Green Lantern ring, webslinging or heat-visioning away the bad guys. Sometimes a fantastic dream makes me hit snooze, just so I can imagine the ending, or maybe even fall asleep again and see it for myself.
The idea that watching TV, being as inactive as sleep, should be a bad activity throws me a little. I get that you need to be active and healthy, get fresh air, and socialize – I know all of the logical reasons why you need to turn off the tube, but living in a world of fantasy, especially when someone else has done the imagining for you, becomes easy, nice, and safe.
That’s what I think, anyway. Right up until reality comes back.
It’s like this. You know that feeling you get when you get the scent of your own pillow after a long trip away from home and you know a great sleep is ahead of you? Well, this isn’t that. No; it’s the stillness of the nurse’s hand on your shoulder that makes your mind prepare for a needle – it’s an unwelcome familiarity. It’s the weight of your body on that same pillow after you’ve fallen through clouds and treetops in your dream, the minute that follows the relief that you’re not actually falling, when you see the clock and despair at the number of hours left before your alarm goes off. You think, “Why am I awake at this hour?” All of your responsibilities and the reasons you need a good sleep spin in your mind.
Because I’m a man, my palms are thick with calluses, and I know nothing of silly stories from the potato-shaped island out East. But somehow, Anne penetrated my shield of manliness and left me with this quote: “…the worst of imagining things is that the time comes when you have to stop, and that hurts.” You see, I wasn’t quite right when I said that watching TV is like idling a car. It can be like running out of gas – we stop getting filled with what we need, and get filled with empty air instead, and get left sputtering and coughing for something good.
At this point, maybe we should just turn our TV’s off, cancel our web subscription, and turn in our smartphones. Too much media leaves you stranded on the curb – poisoned, empty, and unsafe, and all for what? Idle fantasy? That’s a popular perspective of the disillusioned Christian with an ounce of common sense. However, I seem to work best without it, so let me take you a bit beyond conventional wisdom.
Here’s a husband tip: a laptop running a DVD keeps your wife’s side of the bed warm when she’s out of town. I’ve spent a lot of time watching shows and lining up for the big movies, but possibly even more time talking, dissecting, and discussing my favorite pillars of pop-culture with friends. We spent countless afternoons skipping high school classes, just to banter about The Matrix or buy tickets to the next Lord of the Rings opening night, and countless more hours in line chatting with friends and other fans about Harry Potter, the new trailers attached to the feature film, and what our next six weekends at the movies would include.
All of that takes me to an unimportant, but still sort of relevant, conclusion; that the stories that get told in today’s pop culture matter. Experts will tell you that watching TV is like being asleep, but don’t listen to them. They’re a product of conscious people, and they enter the minds of people trying very hard to feel safe – to avoid being “awake.” Christians want the gospel to show in every moment of their lives, and they want the same for their neighbours. Christians talk to their neighbours about raising kids, renovating the kitchen, meeting people, and getting answers to life’s questions – the whole bag. But when the day’s done and we want to rest, we flick on the TV like everybody else, wish we were celebrities, and dream about the messages and plots in our favorite modern myths. Those stories are what capture our imagination and make us wonder why we run the gauntlet in our daily lives, and we’d really like to just go to sleep for a while. These stories make us feel safe. But we’re really being invaded.
The fact is, these stories, which range from epic myths in three-hour spectacles to twenty-two minute bouts of one-liner lameness, aren’t vague niceties, or ill-efforts from entertainers. They’re often planned works of craft, written and directed by artists at the top of their game, and whether they intend to or not, they build a message in. What Hollywood’s best and worst believe about the narrative of this world gets built into every talkie in the theater, and every telecast on your TV.
That’s heavy, Doc.
But since I’m an incurable optimist, just like my hero, Marty McFly himself, Michael J. Fox, I’ve gotta let you know there’s good news. You see, I truly believe that the best of our culture’s stories are simply modern myths. The heroes of fiction are heroes of our fantasy, and the little true things that even the writers we’d least agree with patch into their movies have more to say to us than we sometimes give credit.
I’ll leave you with this thought. A great writer by the name of J.R.R. Tolkien believed that we could take truth from myth and apply it to our own lives. He thought that our finite brains, which want explicit truth and clear definition, can only get so far on our own steam. Doctrine feeds our brains, but God chose to reveal himself to us with a story, because the beauty of free grace and undeserving salvation can only speak to our hearts. I don’t believe he would have us look for the safest comparisons; I think there’s truth in more than just Disney films that avoid swear words. I think he’d have us find truth where it lies.
I’d like to spend some time on this blog searching for those bits of our stories – the small morsels of our myths – that have the unquantifiable, deep truth of some part of God’s story of grace. But be warned: this is your last chance to put your helmet on and say, “Open the pod bay doors, please, HAL.” From here on in, we’ll try not to take the high road, or pave our own way, but look for truth wherever we find it.
Because where we’re going, we don’t need roads.
The mission of Intersection is to help our readers to see how the gospel of Jesus intersects & transforms all of life in a very real way. Our goal is to destroy the false & harmful dichotomy between 'the sacred' & 'the secular' by presenting a wide range of perspectives that focus on different aspects of life in the city. These stories, reflections, observations, & opinions all have one thing in common—the shared conviction that every arena of life can be holy & beautiful when it is lived out in full awareness of the gospel & in full submission to the leadership of Jesus. Although the Intersection team loves, values, & supports all of its contributors, the views expressed in their posts are ultimately their own & may not necessarily reflect the beliefs & values of New City Church.