The Problem of Pain…Enjoying It
Posted by Melanie in Civilization

It’s bothered us for awhile. We don’t watch TV at home, except old reruns downloaded off the internet or DVDs, but we do watch sometimes when in hotels or visiting. One of the safer channels to watch is the cooking channel, so sometimes we’ll watch the cooking competitions. We certainly don’t have a problem with competition. After all, it is used several times as an allegory for the Christian life in the Bible: “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1-2) and “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.(1 Corinthians 9:24). What we do have a problem with is pain as entertainment.

A few years ago, we noticed an alarming trend in “reality TV.” It seems like when another level of competition is reached, the emphasis should be on the winners and what they did right. The focus should be on giving them the honor and glory due them. Instead, after the unveiling of the results, even the cooking shows followed instead the losers, watching them walk dejectedly out and interviewing them afterward.

“How do you feel?”

“Are you disappointed?”

“What will your family think?”

“How will this affect your business?”

Question after question, zeroing in on and exposing their sadness, their disappointment, their pain. What was that about? Where were the winners?

As we thought about it, another form of entertainment, in another century, came to mind. It was like the Roman Colosseum. The gladiators fought until one was incapacitated. The winner looked up to the Caesar as the crowd went wild, “Kill him! Slay him!” or occasionally, “Spare him!” Finally Caesar would respond – thumbs up or thumbs down – and if down, the defeated gladiator would be slain as the crowd jeered.

Or, worse yet, as the Empire rotted from within, unarmed people, even women and children, would be cast into the arena to devoured by wild beasts. This was considered entertainment and a spectacle for the crowd. Their sinful hearts would enjoy the vicarious thrill of the terror of the victims.

We began to wonder if we are seeing our own culture turning in that unhealthy direction. Instead of leading our own lives and coping with fear, enjoying victory, enduring sadness all our own, we (as a culture) increasingly spend our free time watching other people pretend to have a life for our enjoyment. Just as lust is never satisfied, vicarious emotion isn’t either, requiring an increasingly real experience and increasingly shocking peaks of emotion. So we move from situation comedies and real-life dramas to reality television which is becoming more and more raw, more and more focused on sin and emotion.

This was brought to the fore today by an article on last night’s Super Bowl. We watched it with our extended family and we cheered for the Giants, mainly because none of our favorite teams had been playing and Tom Brady’s recent remarks after their win over the Broncos were cocky and offensive. When I saw an article headlined, “Tom Brady in postgame daze of disappointment after another Super Bowl loss to the Giants” I thought, “What? Why an article about the losers?” When I opened it up and read it, it was even worse than I expected. It seemed written to make sure we could peer into and dissect every moment of misery Tom Brady was feeling. It was almost emotionally indecent, in the way photos can be indecent. Leave the guy some privacy. Give him a little dignity. And I don’t even like him.

Let’s watch out for this. Let’s avoid the temptation to leave the realities of our own lives behind and life vicariously through others. Live your own life, folks!

Thank you to John Hughes for the lovely Colosseum photo.