The proliferation of “reality TV” proclaims something positive about this age. People are tired of the cosmetized, manufactured world. Our spirits yearn for the real. For the dramatically inclined, here’s my understanding of the situation. We’ve been feasting off the “blue pill” (The Matrix)- the one that keeps us subservient to the system, a machine-like existence, living in an artificial, blissful fog. We’ve become entranced by offers promising amazing results with little effort. And while such misadventure has left us cynical, suspicious, if not altogether disenfranchised, we’re insane — we keep feeding off the blue pill expecting different results.
Put another way, we’re in the garden, where so many commercials are the red apple-offering us a bright, shiny new identity, a better self, in sum, something apart or “more” than the fundamental and ultimate identity we are: the image of God in Christ. Partaking of the apple, on those terms, leaves us alienated. And so many artificial realities keep us intoxicated to our state of alienation. In short, alienation becomes our normal experience.
Consider the multi-billion dollar movie industry. We’re drawn to movies and drama because, in some sense, they give us reprieve from our own reality. They perpetuate the fog. It’s so much easier to live another’s life than our own. This is punctuated by the prevalence of cyber-contact (email, facebook, text-messaging, etc.), which surpasses real connection by 1000 to 1. All this keeps us distracted from our own, ultimate drama. As JPII astutely noted, the ultimate drama of the human race, the one in which each of us are inescapably playing a leading role of eternal consequence, is alienation versus participation.
So, as I see it, after so much feeding on the blue pill, eating the apple, we’re living in a condition of amnesia. Individually and corporately, we’ve forgotten who we are. As such we remain vulnerable to every suggestion of who we might be. Advertisers understand this. It’s in their financial interest to perpetuate our blue pill-like fog.
While subjectively and superficially we may be feeling good, in these dungeons of alienation our souls cry out for participation. We yearn for reunion of body and spirit in accord with our design, with who we are. If there’s any doubt about this design, take a look at Wall Street. When a system has a bug it crashes. Well, behind the crashing of Wall Street is the crashing of our (God-designed) humanity. On one side are those offering the red apples promising a shiny, better identity, on the other are the masses alienated from their ultimate identity, and as such are literally buying into the false promise of the apple.
Be not afraid! All this proclaims our God-given design. The fundamentals are in place! As C.S. Lewis noted, we can not break the law, we can only break ourselves against the law. Artificiality, greed and alienation simply do not work… even in the structures of this world. The market and every other institution will crash so long as they are defined and driven by a counterfeit human reality.
Anchored in our design we can find hope. We can find love, our God who is love. Love is a real person. Love is found in Presence. It compels us to know who we are, that we would readily sacrifice ourselves for the good of another… not simply as a practiced ethic, but in a way that naturally flows from who we are. While those of us blessed with knowledge and grace know the ultimate reality is found and nourished in the Real Presence, this same yearning at the anthropological-cultural level is revealed in proliferation of reality TV, which reveals a collective humanity yearning to peal back the layers of artificiality and connect with something, someone, real.
True reality, at every level, is a participation in God. It can only lead more fully into God. As such, reality TV (so understood) offers us a medium where we can more fully discover ourselves and connect with others- find ourselves united with all who aspire to truly be “real,” to participate in God… even if that means suffering, and ugly, and struggle. Isn’t that what the cross proclaims, knowing that it is the path to eternal beatitude?
For me all this came together this past summer when I fell nine feet from a ladder and broke my wrist in three places, one bone in over 30 pieces, accompanied by breaking five ribs. Married with six children and self employed, I immediately found myself more radically dependent upon God than ever before. All my life I was mesmerized by the big… big events, big movies, doing big things in the world. My companies had contributed to the successes of a number of “big dramas” (Disney, Warner Brothers, A&E, & HBO), but this incident brought me low enough to see the trees from the forest. Through my fall God summoned me to the grandeur of something supremely big in the small: his presence in one, individual person.
I spiritually felt my life being moved in a different direction. Living in Erie, Pennsylvania, something moved me one night to go to our Celebrate Erie 2008, and to bring a camera. There I was overcome by the magnificence of so many people, different races, genders, ages, sizes…. I was overcome by the awareness that God purposefully created each one. I was overcome by the sense that each person was a unique treasure, and that my life would be richer or poorer based upon my discovery of that treasure.
From my comfortable boat I stepped out on the water, identified a number of people and, in front of the camera, simply got in there. I knew what I was suppose to do. Within a week I contacted three of the people and asked if I could follow them for six weeks, find out what made them tick, discover that treasure and share it with the world. And so ErieAlityTV.com was born-reality TV with a mission to proclaim the “big” that is found in every individual person. With what remaining pennies I could muster, I built the site and purchased 11 billboards throughout the City.
Every Wednesday you’ll find a new, 10 minute episode following the lives of three, very different people. Paul Lorei is a gifted photographer who, with his wife Gretchen, have a unique vision for home life that excludes television, and focuses on home schooling. This environment he attributes to the emerging successes of their children-the two oldest of whom are making their marks nationally, one as a recording artist, the other as a professional soccer player. Contrast this with EJ McMillen, a tattoo-clad, pierced, aspiring rock star who was raised without a father (prison), and now at the age of 25 has a prison record, is a father of three children from three different mothers, lives off of SSI, and plays video games 16 hours a day. Then there’s Roy Hollis, Jr., who overcame stuttering to become an award-winning singer. In a bi-racial marriage, his music brings people together throughout the country, and his next, greatest battle has been helping his brother battle cancer.
In each of these you will find God. If you’re like me and the thousands of others who have visited the site in the past week alone, each person will move you in a different way, awaken you from alienation to a magnificent participation, connect you to the Real Presence lived out in the Real World. If it does that for even one person, I will consider this a tremendous success and give glory to God. Go there and journey with us.