It's a topic that has come up in conversation many times....that dumb behavior has moved from the realm of private antics to public entertainment.
"It's like junk food in a way," says Susan Jacoby, the author of "The Age of American Unreason," in which she chronicles America's increasing pre-occupation with "anti-intellectualism" and "junk thought." "You can still get what you crave, without having to cook or go out for dinner. The portion of people who watch TV without regard to what's on has gone way up. We don't know how to entertain ourselves anymore."
If it seems like pop culture has hit a zenith of mindless entertainment, there are plenty of potential reasons, from society needing distraction from hard financial times and war, to the Internet granting practically anyone a chance at 15 minutes of fame, to a recently ended writer's strike producing even more reality shows from desperate networks.
The article cites those who are worried by this development and those who see no harm in it. After all, in a world with so many problems, what's a little mindless entertainment. Once person intereviewed in the article says "Think of it as the theater of the absurd. It's easier to create and follow these kind of foolhardy dramas then to try to absorb or make sense of the real dramatic issues that confront us in the 21st century." Great....Jerry Springer, South Park, Tia Tequila, Howard Stern...they're all theatre of the absurd.
Then there's the other explanation of how looking at other people's idiocy makes our problems seem all the less. "Watching anyone make an idiot of themselves or, from their perspective, having fun, can help ease our own inhibitions and smile at our own shortcomings."
I suggest an alternative version....sin. Underneath, we're rebels at heart. We would like to have the universe ordered our way. Sure, we might be generous and be willing to let other people have their way too so long as it really doesn't conflict with our way...but we'd prefer just to have it our way. Even if our way defies the laws of commonsense (I can drink myself into oblivion, act like a monkey on ritalin, and expect people to respect me), logic (I spend every dime I receive on whatever frivolities attract my attention, and yet still expect that I'll be able to take care of myself in an emergency), or just plain decency (I can be as outrageous and rude as I want to be and still expect people to cater to my whims).
Don't think that I'm just lashing out at those nasty pagans....Christians fall into this trap too. What is the health/prosperity gospel but an expression of the same thing (I want to live like a fool, but have God ride in like the lone ranger to rescue me); or certain expressions of the church growth movement (we want people to feel cozy at church, but we still want spiritual growth); or mainline struggles to exist (we want to keep doing church like we did in the 1960s, but we expect 21st century people to flock to our doors). Is it any wonder that we have dumbed things down in the church as well? After all "What do we have to do to get people in the doors?"
Martin Lloyd-Jones had a great answer. Ian Murray's great biography of the Welsh preacher (published by Banner of Truth) has this story of what the good doctor said during a discussion among his congregation at Westminster Chapel about what to do to get more people in the doors:
He then rose and asked what they would say if he told them he knew a way to ensure that every seat in the Chapel would be filled on the following Lord's Day. He assured them that he did, in fact, know how this could be accomplished. 'Tell us! Tell us!' they said, and 'Let's do it!' 'It's very simple,' he said. 'Simply put a notice in the Saturday edition of The Times that I shall appear in the pulpit the next day wearing a bathing costume!' This was followed of course, by a period of shocked silence. He then went on to expound the biblical basis for proper worship, using as counterpoint the error, then just beginning to be prevalent, of introducing various forms of entertainment into the worship service as a means of enticing people to attend. (vol 2, pg 112)
The really funny thing is that the joke is lost on us, because our entertainments have gone so far beyond a bathing suit. To get the shock, he would have to say "stark naked" now. People will come for a show....but a show alone won't feed them. For people's problems aren't entertainment. The dumbing down of everything is just a vast expression of how very very bored we are as a culture. Again from the Lloyd-Jones biography, a direct quote from the good doctor "I used to be struck almost dumb sometimes in London at night when I stood watching the cars passing, taking people to the theatres and other places, with all their talk and excitement, as I suddenly realised that what all this meant was that these people were looking for peace, peace from themselves...." (Vol 1, 94-95)
How do we respond by the rampant stupidity? By accomodating? By wringing our hands. No. We need not fear. We simply go about our calling of building better culture. Let Christian entrepreneurs roll up their sleeves and do the work while others wait for the right compensation package; let us write books that actually have stories that will last beyond our generation. Let us make art of such beauty that people in a hundred years will want to see it. Let us invest in others, rather than ourselves. For Christ redeems us so that we might build Godly culture....culture that is refreshing and affirming, and good.
The stupids...they'll be forgotten and pass like tumbleweeds on the plains. Let them be stupid. we don't have to be....
Soli Deo Gloria