Occasionally I think back to a striking bumper sticker that I once saw. It said, “Television is Evil.”
It sure made me brake. Why in the world would people think this? Is it because television promotes value systems contrary to our own? It cheapens art? It creates couch potatoes and brings on an Orwellian future? These have certainly been the concerns of some Christian groups throughout the latter part of the 20th century.
This alarmist approach to mass media has not always been as such, however. Early electronic media had a very different effect on the culture. Peter Jennings’ millennial book “The Century” tells of a time in the early 1920’s when the beginning of radio did the opposite. Electronic media didn’t separate people; it brought them together. Radio gave people an awareness of a world beyond the end of their isolated farmlands. Along with the automobile, it linked communities together. It hastened the dawn of what is now known as the “global village”.
This newfound sense of community, however, came at a more nave time. The hysteria surrounding the radio broadcast of “The War of the Worlds”, in 1938, reflected a sense of innocence and trust about mass media, a lack of criticism or analysis about new media’s messages.
Television in many ways continued that lack of criticism. Asinine shows like “Gilligan’s Island”, seen in the same box as the hard-hitting reality of war and violence, confused, and still confuses, reality. Unlike film, which strives for fantasy, television always associated itself with what is real. Many people had concerns about an undiscerning audience’s ability to distinguish the variety of images coming through the same box into the living rooms of America. Many put bumper stickers on their cars, preaching antagonism to mass media in church life.
But the rise of the Internet has in many ways, through a more sophisticated and media literate time, returned to us the idea of community. There are certainly still naive people who get in trouble looking for love virtually. But the net’s ability to bring people together, like radio, is having a greater impact on our culture. For example, instead of promoting isolation, the Internet has personally allowed me to have deeper relationships with many like-minded people of passion for ministry through email forums.
In the big picture, digital media’s three-generation gestation period, about the same as that of mass print in the 1400-1500s, is nearing its fulfillment. The Internet as we now know it is the adolescence of the digital age. We are beginning to see the full potential of the digital culture as a viable medium for communicating the Gospel. The church is about to be opened to an entire new world of ministry possibility, and the readers of this magazine are on the forefront of that explosion.
Our Message, the Gospel story, is capable of delivery through any communication system. Our job as ministers is to understand the characteristics of the media in which we work, and to maximize them. Just as there are techniques for better sermon delivery, there are techniques for better screen delivery. We are wise to remember the danger of the Gilligan era, and its potential for cheapening the Gospel message. We, as producers of the Gospel for the digital age, must be prayerful and studious about the pictures we make. We must maintain the integrity of Jesus’ mission.
It’s not coincidental that communication and community are almost the same word. Media has the potential to bring people together in Christ. How is what you’re doing this week serving that purpose? Focus on that, and spend your mission there. Create digital media that connects people with Jesus. Although certainly valid and needed, don’t limit your work in media ministry to just doing IMAG, or “support”. Realize that what you are dealing with is an entirely new communication system. Like the book and magazine before it, it is neither innately evil, nor good. It merely has inherent characteristics that give us yet another opportunity to deliver the Gospel story.
Next time we’ll begin to look at some of these digital media characteristics. Hint: the movies.