It finally became clear. In a flash, as the crowd of 15,ooo stood for the opening rituals before the basketball game, it occurred to me: We’re entertaining ourselves to death. And losing much in the process.
The omnipresent jumbotron scoreboard/display monitor suspended over the floor demands just as much of our attention as the actual creatures who scurry back and forth from one end of the court to the other. In a sense, we are being asked to pay attention more to a technology that mediates the same reality that is happening before our eyes. “Here look at this representation – very fancy – even though the real thing is in front of you. We’ll mediate, reshape, and reframe it for you so it becomes more important.”
All of this is the result of television screen and computer monitor possession. We have been hoodwinked into believing that the real source of all phenomena comes via a screen, a monitor. All else is a weak imitation. Not technology amplifies life, but life is a weak reflection of what we have created it to be in technology. We’re owned. Call in the exorcist, fast.
But then there is the national anthem. Everyone stands. Then we behold what has become the new ritual. Depending on the status of the sporting event, some singer – of variable talent – sings the national anthem solo. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not. But more importantly, this becomes a highly individualized, performance, entertainment moment. How does she (and it’s usually she these days) do with the high notes? Which singer does she sound most like? How will she groove and ornament it. Cool. She’s really cool. Hoot and holler a little when we’re awed by her virtuosity.
But the national anthem, or any other cultural song, is not made for solo work. It’s purpose is not to deliver a song so, one more time, as in the jumbotron, we’re entertained. No, the point is that we sing a common song, hear the human voice intertwined with thousands of others, and sing a common thing, share a common thing in a common way. It’s the opposite of entertainment. We find the most thrill in our common sound. That’s the experience.
In the same way that the jumbotron wants to entertain us, so does the soloist. It has become entertainment, the product of sports gone to television; everything re-presented for another home audience. Athletes as stars. And it’s ruined it.
Now don’t get me started on church, just don’t. Don’t tell me one more time that we need to entertain our children to keep them from the life-shattering experience of their own boredom. Because when we get there, assuming this is true, buying into it, we will know without a doubt that the cultural captivity of the church, our children and our minds has finally and completely been accomplished.