Saturday, December 10, 2005

Reality TV and the ritual of judgement

Reality TV and the ritual of judgement.

The current TV season is winding down. The last episode of America’s Next Top Model will soon be here and gone. After the winning would-be Top Model is crowned and I am proven right (or wrong) I shall have a few days of withdrawal before, mercifully, the new season of American Idol arrives. In the meantime, I shall have to tide myself over with Wife Swap, Trading Spouses, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart, Iron Chef America, Surreal Life, Judge Judy, and Judge Joe Brown. Yes, I admit it: I love reality shows.

I like them because the best ones are unpredictable, unlike the average Lifetime movie --or the average Indie film which is predictable in its own indie way. In reality tv, one sees real people – not stereotypes created by Hollywood writers. I especially like reality TV shows because they remind me of the Great White Throne Judgment of God.

The Great Throne Judgement? Oh, yes! Definitely! The greatest fun of Reality TV is the ritual of judgment. This is when the truth is declared, the hidden evil or goodness revealed, the sufferer rewarded, the hard work and heartache justified.

As Christians we have been taught that the actual world in which we live is not the real -- or final-- world. St Paul tells us in the sixth chapter of the letter to the Hebrews that this world was formed by the Spirit of God and what appears to our senses was born from what is invisible: God''s Word. We walk by faith, not by sight. On a totally secular level, this means that Christians – especially poor Christians, powerless Christians, minority Christians– are taught to understand that true power is not something the world understands. Here the rich and the arrogant seem to have power, but in reality (spiritual reality) it is the poor in spirit who have true power -- God-- on their side. The power the world respects, however, is often on the side of those who have a gift of appearing better, wiser, more intellectual than their less worldly counterparts. But what does this have to do with Reality TV shows?

Remember how good you feel when the truth --as you see it-- is finally apparent for all to see? Remember that wonderful feeling when the judge is on your side? This is especially wonderful when you were poor, tired, powerless.

Remember the O J Simpson trial? Whether O J was guilty or not, the “Judgment” for his acquittal was seen as a vindication by those minorities who have learned never to trust the police. The Jury “proved” the blind justice system blind. Or, on a personal level, remember your worst enemy, the one who slickly got you fired although you kept to the high road? Remember the day – through no fault or sneakiness of your own– she slipped up really badly and all her hidden evil side was finally revealed?

The last judgment at the end of these episodes is very much like the last judgement the righteous and the oppressed look forward to. They may not see the deliberations, but they see the unveiling of reality and the ceremony when the victor''s crown is given. It is also the judgment the unrighteous fear.

As Christians, many of us have been made poor because we do not boast. We have made ourselves powerless because we do not engage in tit-for-tat vindictive vendettas. The poor, powerless, and oppressed long for the day when a righteous judge will hear their cause, or declare the rightness of their cause. And we want this from a judge we can trust. The judgment of TV judges hold the highest place of honor in my reality-show-loving mind. Schadenfreude aside, we love watching Judge Judy or Judge Joe enlighten the self-righteous plaintiff or unrepentant defendant.

I suspect this is why so many people prefer to air their dirty laundry with TV judges rather than in the local county courthouse. We know Judge Judy. She’s tough but she’s fair. The same for Judge Joe Brown. We don’t trust the local judge...who is either too white, too black, too rich, too poor, too religious, too non-religious to give us a fair hearing.

And so, yes! I LOVE reality tv. And I love God. Yes, as a Christian, I know my sins are wiped away by Jesus’s wounds, and I will not have to face the judgement. And I know I probably am as deluded and self-righteous as some of the folks Judge Judy enlightened this week, but I can’t help it. I still want to be justified even a little bit. Just to hear the words from my Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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