We’re a nation of voyeurs. Why do you think we’re so obsessed with reality TV and celebrity weekly magazines? The constant and growing media glut of images (both moving and still) that fill our eyes have lulled us into a lifestyle where we sit on comfy couches, leafing and flipping through other’s lives in ways that never should happen. The media continues to set a table for us that we gladly sit at in a never-ending exercise of voyeuristic gluttony. We watch celebrities, normal people who turn into celebrities, hoarders, addicts, bachelors, bachelorettes, and a host of people in various states of crisis, pain and dismay.
But this morning it dawned on me that over the course of the last couple of weeks, the media has shown some decency and restraint. . . doing something right. In the wake of the shootings in Arizona, Representative Gabby Giffords has been in the hospital. . . but we’ve never seen her face. The same thing happened this morning when the media ran a picture of Giffords’ husband holding her hand while they watched last night’s State of the Union address. Kudos to the media for showing decency and restraint. It’s a testimony to the fact that, yes, there are boundaries we should respect and uphold. Sadly, our media world is largely void of these fences.
It got me thinking about the difference between gratuitous images of suffering, and constructive images of suffering. Gratuitous images sell newspapers, magazines, and TV advertising. Gratuitous images draw us in and keep us looking. Gratuitous images tickle our voyeuristic fancy to stare, condemn, or even laugh at people who have it much worse than we do. Gratuitous images feed our obsession with being busy-bodies.
But there are constructive images of suffering. Constructive images portray human suffering in ways that can and should motivate us to respond to our neighbors in ways that minister to and alleviate their suffering. Constructive images show us that the world really is a broken place, thereby reminding us that God has called us to be His ambassadors of shalom. . . that universal flourishing that brings the Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven. Constructive images remind us that even though we might have it amazingly good, there are others in our world who have it horrifically bad. . . and we have a responsibility to do something about it.
I wonder what we’d see if some kind of scientific survey could be done on how long we choose to keep our eyes on each of these two different kinds of images? I’m guessing researchers would discover that we quickly turn the page or channel when we see a hungry child climbing over a garbage heap looking for a morsel of food. Why is that? Maybe it’s a combination of knowing that we should be doing something, but would much rather continue enjoying our time on the couch. We really do have it all upside-down.