On his ESPN radio show, Scott Van Pelt was lamenting the sensationalism that has run amok in journalism. Case and point: Following the latest Superbowl, countless commentators were using words like best, greatest, most amazing game ever. The last ten minutes were exciting, but on the whole, the game was rather standard.
We live amidst a tsunami of superlatives. To gain attention these days, the medium must shout louder. This is the primary metaphor of George Saunder's book, The Braindead Megaphone. We’ve confused noise with meaning, popularity with truth.
Hipps blames electricity for this. In Chapter 7 of Flickering Pixels, “A Thousand Feelings,” he fixes our eyes on the effect (and affect) of photography on our faith. A former marketing guru, Hipps demonstrates his awareness of visual impact on emotions. Earlier in the book, he admitted his task was ‘to save people from feeling impotent, unattractive, or powerless’ (pg. 12). Salvation was depicted in a Porche…or L’Oreal, Budweiser, or changing your insurance provider to Geico.
Marketers manipulate through imagery. Televangelists are notorious for this. They package religious services with swooping camera angles, throbbing music, dancing parishioners, salivating preachers, and miraculous signs. It is significant that these shows are called hours of power, not hours of equipping. Hipps labels this ‘image culture’ and admits it is ‘far better for presenting impressions and experiences’ than communicating truth (pg. 77).
Television is the ultimate form of ‘brain candy’ with its ‘extraordinarily stimulating’ flow of content (pp. 77-78). Watching requires no response. Channel surfing requires no dexterity. Even informative shows on PBS are no substitute for reading and human interaction. Unfortunately, we have reduced Discovery to a channel, not an active pursuit.
Discipleship, as Jesus envisioned it, was interactive learning. Good teachers create opportunities to show truth; good learners imagine the application of their curriculum (see pp. 82-84). Moving to an increasingly visual (and increasingly entertainment-oriented) culture, will suffocate the mind. “The mind was made to generate, create, and imagine. Creative imagination is fundamental stage of brain development,” Hipps writes. Our image culture has ‘hijacked’ the mind.
The mind is supposed to be the captivator, not the captive. Paul makes this pretty clear in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
The absolute greatest and best way to win this ultimate battle is to close our eyes to the imagery. Close our eyes so we can pray.