Must Close-Your-Eyes TV

  In his classic "Confessions," Augustine tells the story of his friend Alypius who vowed to avoid the gladiatorial games because of their brutality. One day, however, some friends dragged Alypius to the Arena.   Augustine tells us that "Alypius shut his eyes tightly, determined to have nothing to do with these atrocities." But his curiosity got the better of him. He opened his eyes and "his soul was stabbed with a wound more deadly than any which any gladiator had received in his body." In other words, he was hooked by the sight of blood.   While our culture hasn't sunk quite as low as Augustine's, it's closer than you think.   ABC's "The Chair" and FOX's "The Chamber" both feature contestants being asked quiz questions by irritating hosts under -- well, we'll say, unusual circumstances.   On "The Chair," the contestant must not only answer the questions correctly, but must also keep his heart rate below 130. To up the ante, the show's producers throw in sudden electrical shocks, fire jets, and alligators lowered from the ceiling.   Even worse torments await contestants on "The Chamber." Air cannons blow in excess of 120 miles an hour, and the chamber's temperature drops below zero. Spraying water causes several inches of ice to accumulate on contestants, and their chairs shake violently. And if that weren't enough, there are electrical shocks that cause their muscles to contract involuntarily.   The Baltimore Sun called "The Chamber" "the dumbest show in television history" and a "putrid mess that makes dwarf-tossing look sophisticated." The Toronto Star went even further, calling both shows "the end of the civilization as we know it."   But none of this keeps the studio audience from cheering, or viewers from tuning in. An associate of mine watched an episode of "The Chamber" and found himself drawn in just as Alypius was. He couldn't bring himself to change the channel.   If you think that comparisons to the gladiatorial games are overwrought, think about the trajectory of so-called "reality television" over recent years. We've gone from "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?", where people answer questions for big money, to "Fear Factor" where they eat bugs, get bitten by rats, and walk on tightropes for less money. Now, we watch people being tortured for even less money. It's clear that degradation and abuse, not money, is what draws us in.   Now, "Chamber" has been pulled for low ratings -- good news. But FOX promises us it will be back. And there's really no end in sight. As George Will points out, the supply of people willing to degrade themselves, and even risk injury, for money is "limitless."   There seems to be nothing that will stop this trend. Christianity's growing influence over Rome eventually brought an end to the games. By contrast, our post-Christian culture regards entertainment as an entitlement and lacks a worldview that can distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate entertainment. As Will puts it, we can't object to televised Russian roulette.   That's why Christians must do more than simply avoid this kind of programming. We can use shows like this as an opportunity to explain to our neighbors where our culture's worldview has led us: A world where anything can be called entertainment, and where we're all better off keeping our eyes closed.       For further reading: St. Augustine, Confessions (Nelsonword Publishing Group, 1999).   George F. Will, "TV for Voyeurs," Washington Post, 21 June 2001.   Kevin Cowherd, "Contestants on Fox's 'The Chamber' aren't its only victims," Baltimore Sun, 24 January 2002, 1E.   "New and terrible diversions," Toronto Star, 22 January 2002, D05.   For an entertaining, family-friendly alternative, get your copy of "Road to Redemption," a comedy about one girl's get-rich-quick scheme on a cross-country road trip.


Chuck Colson


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