It was 1998 and one of the major films of the year was ‘The Truman Show’. A poignant, light-hearted look at a man trapped in a world that he thought was absolutely authentic, but which turned out to be a giant TV set, with the rest of the world watching on. Watching him living his everyday life, as part of their everyday life. And we laughed along, felt the hero’s claustrophobia in living in an unreal world, and hoped that he would find love and life away from this artificial setting. That he would become human.
It was a film that wasn’t billed as a sci-fi movie, but it became a prophecy of what would happen in Britain in the next decade. Once upon a time we would have gathered around the TV to watch stunning films of exotic animals in green-glazed rain forests. And we would have wondered and been in awe. Now we began to gather round TV sets watching ‘reality’ programmes, analysing the humans on parade before us. Programmes with ominous titles such as Big Brother, or Celebrity Big Brother. Programmes about people taking driving lessons, turning up at airports, engaging in parenting, wife swapping, throwing up on city streets after all-night binges. People with dirty houses, horrible diseases, yearnings to relocate. And programmes about people performing, wanting to be a Pop idol, persuading us that Britain does have talent, making us to believe that they have an X factor – whatever that may be, this year.
And it was real. ‘Reality TV’ became the staple diet for all of us in the noughties.
So what did it tell us about ourselves. It revealed that we could be really cruel. Does anyone actually prefer the final rounds of X Factor to the initial auditioning rounds? Isn’t it more fun to wonder at the sanity of the talentless who think they have talent, than to try and decide between four people who clearly do have a modicum of talent? It’s the equivalent of the Victorian side show. Roll up, roll up. Be amazed, be disgusted, be ready to heap your humiliation on the performer.
And if a phone call vote is not enough to show your displeasure, go to our website and post your comments for all to see.
Reality took people, ordinary people, flawed people, and paraded them for our entertainment. And we loved it when they failed to amuse us or disgusted us or bored us. How could they be so ordinary? So like us?
We want our reality TV to not be too much like reality. In reality, all our ‘reality TV’ is heavily edited, shaped, emphasised in such a way that it no longer looks like reality at all. After all, we can’t bear too much reality.
We have created lots of Truman Shows. And ‘behold, we thought it was good’.
But it wasn’t. It made us meaner, crueller, less affirming and less involved. Reality TV was not good for our reality, or I suspect, our souls.
They may have provided us with ‘water cooler moments’ at work, but they did our humanity no good at all. It’s hard to ‘think on these things: all that is noble, right, pure …..’ when the air you breathe is polluted with alternative toxins.
These toxins seep in unnoticed. Who’ll be the first to say, let’s do ‘Elim’s got Evangelists’ on TV, a race to see how many can be won for Christ in 30 minutes. Come on, the clock’s ticking. Or ‘Britain’s best preachers’, how do you rate for content, style, panache. Who’ll be Simon Cowell? I’m joking. But only just.
The truth is that Jesus calls disciples to reality. Not the reality that’s edited out of all recognition, but the reality of everyday. The reality of living faithfully with your spouse over the long term, battling when boredom threatens, staving off the allure of unfaithfulness. The reality of long-term loving of children who challenge, make mistakes, choose alternative ways. The reality of faithful work in the market-place, staying true to principles that mean you may be overlooked for promotion, or thought dull or perhaps, worst of all, eternally reliable, and used as such. And the reality of belonging to church communities of ordinary people who can be petty, small minded, as well as loving, gracious and trustworthy.
These are the realities in which discipleship is forged. These are the arenas where you declare yourself to be a follower of Jesus, following his truth, in his way, committed to receiving his life.
For it’s in the midst of this reality, that you will discover the true reality of the resurrection life.