My plan to cut cable to save money and watch less TV has been a miserable failure.
Yes, I’m glad that I don’t have forty seven different channels of game shows, and I really do like that I don’t have to quickly scroll through the “adult channels” section of the channel guide when looking for something. But now, instead of surfing the channel guide, I binge watch entire series on Netflix and Amazon Prime. And what’s more, I even buy the Amazon Prime and iTunes season passes so that I can stay up to date. I’m spending more money and watching more boob tube than ever!
One of my favorite shows is Justified, now in its final season. I grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of upstate South Carolina–the “Upcountry”, as the economic developers have taken to call it–and so the Appalachian culture evident in Justified‘s Kentucky is the Appalachian culture I grew up in, minus the coal-mining. I love that. I love the accents, the turns-of-phrase, the independent and anti-establishment worldview, the clothing, the furniture on the front porch of the trailers. It all reminds me of home.
It all reminds me of home a little too much, maybe. During a Justified binge last year, I watched a whole season in less than a week. I watched on the television while folding clothes; I watched on the laptop while washing dishes; I watched on the laptop while paying bills. My wife noticed that my accent devolved into something she remembered from when we first met. She mentioned that I was drinking a bit more bourbon than previously. I had Justified on all the time. I was getting lost in the show. Really. Lost in it. Sure, some of that was nostalgia, but a lot wasn’t. I was immersed in a fantasy.
Binge-watching Netflix. The Las Vegas Strip. Call Of Duty. Playboy. Shopping malls. Game of Thrones (and not in the dragons-and-swords sort of way, either). Our culture is full of reverse-oases of fantasy–places where we go to to escape our real lives, to throw ourselves into a world that we want to exist, to become someone we’re not. Is there any doubt that the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon is due to women who want to be ravished by a striking millionaire and men who want to use a young virgin for their own pleasure?
Recreation is perfectly good and healthy. “Getting away from it all” is actually a pretty solid theological conviction originally known as “keeping the Sabbath”. But watching an episode or two of a gunslinger show to recharge the batteries is different from watching a whole series at a time while fantasizing one’s self the gunslinger in question. I suspect that with material abundance and disposable time that our society presently enjoys, coupled with the omnipresence of entertainment options through technology and the disappearance of accepted social norms of work and rest, we are becoming quickly more susceptible to losing ourselves in unhealthy fantasy.
And that ain’t healthy. In The Great Divorce, the writer C. S. Lewis pictures heaven as place of infinitely more real reality. That is, he imagines us as we are now as being a bit transparent and ghostly, while heaven is more solid and actual than we might have thought. He has this great passage where the main character tries to pluck a daisy from the ground: “The stalk wouldn’t break. I tried to twist it, but it wouldn’t twist. I tugged till the sweat stood out on my forehead and I had lost most of the skin off my hands. The little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron, but like diamond.”
Lewis’ belief was that a grace-filled world was the most real thing of all, and that the illusions we sell ourselves–and the characters in his novella are full of those illusions–ultimately drain life out of us and give us nothing in return. My guess is that we want our fantasies for two reasons: One, we don’t have that sense that a grace-filled reality is better and more necessary. We think of our real world in negative terms, and if we know our illusions are bad, they’re at least less bad than real life, or so the rationale goes. The second is corollary to the first. We are avoiding something painful or confusing or just plain boring. The fantasies titillate a mundane life or help us forget a heartbreak or are loud and bright enough to distract us from problems. Of course, the mundanity, heartache, and difficulties don’t go way, do they? In fact, they’re often worse when we’re forced to return to them.
So here’s to real life, even in its complexities and hardships and trips to the post office. Maybe if we throw ourselves into this real life, with a determination to work out some semblance of mercy and justice in it, we’ll eventually find no need of the fantasies. Maybe if see the problems of my life as opportunities, no matter how small, of some kind of redemption and grace, I’ll no longer be drawn to my illusions.
And I’ll be in better shape for House of Cards. . ..