Modern-day Christianity is failing in a major way. To some, that statement shocks you. To others, that’s a major understatement. As a still-growing Christian of over 15 years, I can say that there are things that I see in modern-day Christendom that make me very excited about the future. But there are also a lot of things that frustrate me. The biggest area of frustration is a startling lack of Christian media, especially in the areas of film, TV, and video games.
“Wait, Christian media isn’t lacking,” you may say. “Just look at social media: Christian YouTube videos, blog posts, and music videos are going viral!” Yes, that’s true, and that’s one of those aforementioned areas that really excites me for the future of Christianity. However, there is a startling lack of media in the one place that remains one of the most influential means of communication: television.
Television has been around since the mid-‘40s. Ever since it exploded into mainstream America in the late-‘40s/early-‘50s, it has been by far the most influential means of communication until the late-‘90s/early 2000s when the internet exploded. When it first came into prominence, TV was the way to bring together mass groups of people. For example, in 1953, nearly ¾ of all households watching TV tuned in to the #1 rated program at the time, I Love Lucy, to see Lucy give birth to her first child. Approximately 44 million people witnessed the blessed event. In comparison, 29 million people tuned in the next day to see Dwight D. Eisenhower inaugurated as the 34th President of the United States. Think about that for a second. As if it wasn’t staggering enough that out of all of the people watching TV in that timeslot, an incredible 72% of them were watching the same show, it received more viewership than an inauguration! That’s the power of television!
Of course, the ultimate example of TV’s power is the Super Bowl. Every year, millions of Americans gather around the TV and voluntarily eat their entire weight in chicken wings, pizza, and nachos…and it’s glorious. It’s now the norm for the Super Bowl to break into the top 5 most-watched programs in U.S. TV history every year. Regularly, upwards of 100+ million people watch the greatest football game of the season each year (unless the Steelers, 49ers, or anyone from the NFC East not named the Cowboys is playing, but I digress).
The aforementioned examples are to show just how powerful TV is, even in the age of the internet. TV can do more than just make people laugh, cry, and cheer, it can influence how they think. Norman Lear’s TV empire in the ‘70s virtually singlehandedly turned liberal opinions from the sizeable minority to the dominant majority on TV. Three’s Company in the ‘70s and ‘80s made living with opposite gender before marriage okay. MTV became the voice of a generation in the ‘80s and ‘90s by showing them that all they should want in life is fame, money, and lots and lots and lots of sex (the more sexual partners the better). And now, shows such as Modern Family (admittedly a hysterically funny and smartly written show) are making gay relationships normal. Seeing all of this, I can only ask, “Where are the Christians?”
What are we as the body of Christ doing to glorify Him on TV? Yes, there are countless Christian networks, but what kind of influence do they have? When was the last time your friend said to you, “Hey, did you see [generic preaching show] last night on TBN? It was SOOOOO good!” Yeah, never. Modern-day Christianity is failing when it comes to television.
I don’t understand why Christianity has never felt the importance of TV. Have they never heard of the programs I just listed? Do they not realize that trends are set and opinions are made/changed in part because of what people see on TV? Or do they just not care? If the powers-that-be in modern-day Christianity don’t give a crap about using television to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ, we’re all in huge trouble.
Why am I so passionate about this subject? Think about it. How many hours of TV do you watch per week? You’ve probably got one of more shows that you’re following regularly this season. Plus, there may be some time during the week where you just decide to relax and watch TV regardless of what’s on. And don’t forget about other things on TV, like news and sports. Nowadays, you don’t even need a TV to watch TV. Sites like Hulu and Netflix are leading more and more people to do away with their TV and cable. If you think about just how much content you view on TV and the internet, you witness a lot of programming in a week. And very little (or possibly even none) of that content is glorifying Christ’s name. I sincerely believe that Christians could make TV shows that are just as good as secular ones. That leads me to parody Larry Norman’s (who was one of the first Christian rockers when your parents were younger, like a thousand years ago) famous quote, why should the devil have all the good TV?
Of course, that’s not to say that watching secular programming is bad or that those shows are of the devil. Quite the contrary, if there were no secular shows, there would be no TV, and that would be a horribly terrible thing. I myself am currently enjoying a long list of secular shows this season, including The Big Bang Theory, Gotham, Modern Family, and Downton Abbey (No, I refuse to hand over my man card!). These shows range in content from not that bad (i.e., TV-PG), to pretty raunchy (i.e., TV-14). Do I feel guilty that I sometimes watch shows that aren’t very clean? Sometimes, yeah. I’ll be the first to admit that The Big Bang Theory, though smartly written, has a lot of unnecessary crude and sexual humor and situations. The problem is that if you want a show that is as smartly written as that show is, there aren’t very many other options.
What’s sad is that Christian TV could change that. It could influence people just like the aforementioned secular programs. These shows could be perfect examples for Christians to look at and model from. They could look at characters on these shows and the situations that they go through and apply what the characters learn and how they act to their own lives. I can’t count how many times when I was in high school that I yearned for a positive role model I could look up to on TV and model my own life after. As silly as that may sound, TV has that kind of power over young people.
Take Kim Kardashian, for example. I think we can all agree that Keeping Up with the Kardashians is the dumbest thing to hit television since The Bachelor (although Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo gives it a run for its money, but I digress). In theory, no one with any real sense of taste should watch that show, right? However, the new Kim Kardashian app amassed over $43 million in its first 3 months on the market. Why is this? Is it because aliens are experimenting with Earth’s teenage girls’ minds and forcing to buy the app and watch the show. Unfortunately, no. It’s because teenage girls see her as a model of outward beauty and are striving to do all they can to be like her. They’re watching her show and downloading her app so that they can be more like her and study her habits and tendencies. Honestly, I’d prefer the former scenario as opposed to the latter reality.
As that example shows, TV has a major affect on young people. Why the church doesn’t seem to grasp this absolutely astounds me. The church has been great about going into other areas of media and establishing a presence. Christian music is an enormous moneymaker, as is Christian literature (both fiction and non-fiction). Yet, for some reason the church has decided that going into film, TV, and video games would somehow be less appropriate and/or spiritual. As a result, they are missing out on three of the most influential and important mediums with which to reach young people. TV is a key factor in the equation. And with other alternatives to TV quickly taking prominence, it’s time for the church to act now and start producing quality, faith-based, scripted programming, because reaching young people for Christ has become more achievable than ever.