Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Why I Keep Watching Too Much TV

Back in the old days when I hacked around as a youth pastor (way back in 2004), I used to take time on the occasional evening to see what they're showing on MTV. You see "back in the day" when I was in Junior High School (are there any Junior Highs left, or does the Middle School reign supreme?) the trendsetter for all teens, everywhere, was MTV. They played cool music you couldn't hear on the radio by bands experimental (i.e. desperate) enough to make a video in a vain attempt to sell some records and book some gigs. I remember when girls everywhere went shopping in order to look like Pat Benetar within minutes of seeing her video. I remember when Mike Reno of Loverboy was a heartthrob who asked all of his loyal to vote for his video. I remember people with Flock of Seagulls haircuts who wore one glove (a la Michael Jackson... that's right, people used to emulate Michael Jackson!), couldn't wait for the next new British "New Wave" band to break in America. Such was MTV's hold on us, young impressionable teens back in the dark ages.

Of course, that was twenty years ago, and since then its been interesting to see how MTV tries to keep up with with tweens, teens, and college students. It doesn't define "cool" as much anymore as it reports it. So, every so often, I flip over and for an hour or so, just see what's on.

I got my answer in the form of two episodes of "My Super Sweet Sixteen", and a special from MTV News called, "Rocked: Sum 41 Goes To the Congo". NOTE TO MY GRANDMOTHER, WHO IS HIP ENOUGH TO SURF THE INTERNET WITH THE BEST OF THEM, BUT DOESN'T KNOW WHO "SUM 41" IS: They are punk rock band that has become famous making music featuring lyrics declairing how much they don't care about what other people think about them (a popular theme with teens seeking to show how defiant they are to the world around them). Hope that helps, grandmother!

So, what did I see? Let's put it this way.... MTV broadcast two shows (back-to-back episodes of "My Super Sweet Sixteen") featuring two of the most self-indulgent teenage girls they could find, and followed it up with a special featuring the aftermath of a devastating civil war that's claimed over 3.5 million lives since 1996. So, in the first hour, you could watch a little princess brag about how she'll spend $2000 in a hour at the mall because she's spoiled and gets everything she wants, and in the next hour listen to a fifteen-year old boy talk about how many people he killed when he was in the army THREE YEARS AGO (you do the math). MTV shifted gears from profiling a little girl who hires security for her "sweet sixteen party" to kick people she doesn't want off of the "VIP Dance Platform", to a fifteen-year old girl lamenting the fact she'll never get married because soldiers repeated raped her (as well as all the women in her village).

As an aside, the latter program actually made me feel sorry for the guys in Sum 41. The band (which, if you remember, is famous for not really caring about anything) was obviously overwhelmed at what they saw. You could tell that they weren't ready to experience little kids with healed bulletwounds, working long hours mining minerals for export in exchange for one meal a day. They were obviously shaken very badly during their experience, which they did on behalf of the organization "War Child International", a non-profit organization dedicated to helping heal children who have been scarred by living through, or participating in, the horrors of war (here's their website: ) . I'm sure it was a whole new, but beneficial, experience for a pop punk band that would be wise to shift their music toward something more substantial, anyway. But alas, I digress...

Talk about making your head spin.... I don't know if it was intentional on the part of programmers to book these things back to back, but the impression left on me was profound.

Let me say, first of all, that I gave up demonizing the rich a good many years ago. Despite the fairly liberal education I received in seminary, and my own theological orientation, I have learned over the years that just because the rich are rich, that they aren't necessarily "lost", and just because the poor are poor, that doesn't necessarily make them "chosen". God has given us all different gifts, and some people are just better at gathering resources than other people. It's what they choose to do with it that defines their character.

And, given that more than a billion people in the world live on less than a dollar day, what is the definition of "rich"?

I can tell you that as a young youth pastor, making less than $14,000 a year (all inclusive) back in 1998, that I had a change of heart about self-describing myself as "poor" after encountering a widow begging for change outside of a small store in CapHaitian. Knowing that there were tens-of-thousands more like her, living on next to nothing, not more than ten blocks away from where we were standing helped me realize just how blessed I was, and am. After that, living on $40 a day didn't seem all that overwhelming, and I didn't seem all that "poor".

So, I was surprised last night. Surprised enough to wonder if the programmers at MTV were trying to make some sort of statement. I'm just cynical enough to believe that the evening's fare was put together more for demographic reasons than anything else, but hopefully there's a little enlightenment tucked in the corner of a building where shows like "Room Raiders", "Date My Mom", and "Laguna Beach" (a whole other post... I told you I watch too much TV) are dreamed up for public consumption. If that enlightened person by any chance joins my legions of loyal readers (God bless the both of you), here's a show you should pitch to your producers: Combine the two shows, and drop the teenage princesses into the Congo with Sum 41 for a tour of war-torn country filled with orphaned children struggling to survive. It might make "not getting a brand new Beemer for my sixteenth birthday" a little less like the end of the world, and a little more like the unimportant thing that it really is.

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