“If one admits that the media are mainly in the business of selling something, of getting people interested, then one begins to erase the line separating the New York Times and the National Enquirer. In fact, we are frequently reminded that where the tabloids lead, the “respectable press” will soon–actually must–follow.”
C. John Sommerville wrote this in How the News Makes Us Dumb (link in the sidebar, right). His point is simple yet, upon consideration, profoundly obvious: the news media is not in the business of reporting news but about perpetuating itself and filling its own need for existence and profit. In the opening pages Sommerville argues that it is the daily nature of these media outlets that perpetuates it. The mundane, repetitive, and otherwise not newsworthy news is put before us, hyped, and billed as life-/world-changing.
The problem is that it’s generally not.
Contrary to what they would have you believe, your world does not necessarily change in a matter of hours and minutes. They need it to appear to change to keep you tuned in. Enter USA Today Syndrome: offer more excitement, more flash, more of anything that produces emotional, hormonal, or otherwise electrical/chemical surges in the brain to keep the people coming back.
As one who is intensely skeptical of the media, be they news media or otherwise, I find this to be a refreshing voice. It puts a label on one of the nagging feelings I’ve had about the whole enterprise. At the same time, as a theologian I find this to be extremely telling regarding the state of affairs in American Christianity.
As the churches have become more and more about excitement, with an eye toward garnering and keeping a market share, the confessional church will soon follow.
Anyone not seeing this happen? Of course you’re seeing it. The churches are allowing their message to be market-driven, crafting their proclamation according to the same sham relevance that dictates the news that people crave and loathe at the same time. It’s market research and poll data. And the fact is, in order for the church to truly be relevant, it must abandon the pressure to become flashier, more exciting, ever-evolving, and concentrate on giving the people that which they need: God’s pure (and unchanging) Word and Sacraments–apart from the flash, which only serves to turn God’s people into “users” who become hooked on that flash.