By Elizabeth Prata
We love spectacles.
As a kid growing up, the thing to do was pile into some relative’s car (the one who had the hugest station wagon), throw a bunch of sleeping bags and blankets in the back, a bunch of cousins too, and head to the Drive-In. The Drive-In was an outdoor theater where you pull up in your car next to a pole with a speaker on it, clip the speaker to the half open car window and enjoy a movie on a 50′ screen. There was a snack shack centrally located to get your popcorn and Coke, and rest rooms somewhere out there too. The steam from all our breathing fogged up the windows and mosquitoes infested the car inside. Since the summer’s late sunset meant the movie had to start late, we usually fell asleep. But the novelty was the screen. It was huge! What a spectacle that was!
The 90s saw laptops and walkmen and gameboys and all kinds of screens, and then we had cell phones and smartphones and google glasses and virtual anything and we could watch any spectacle we wanted, any time, anywhere. We are a spectacle watching people. Bread and Circus is what kept the agitated populace diverted back in Roman Gladiator days, and it’s no different now.
Spectacles are a moment of time, of varying length, in which collective gaze is fixed on some specific image, event, or moment. A spectacle is something that captures human attention, an instant when our brains and our eyes focus and fixate on something projected at us. Tony Reinke, Competing Spectacles.
The Super Bowl is a spectacle. US Presidential campaigns are a spectacle. Rallies and Movements are spectacles. A television show that captures the attention of a mass audience is a spectacle. Terror and War is a spectacle. Natural disasters are a spectacle. These are all spectacles in and of themselves but also as they are reported on. Reporting is a spectacle.
All these spectacles compete for our attention. The more they compete, the louder they get. They all want to ‘win’ our eyes.
Well, we have a winner. I think it will stay a winner for quite some time, even after it dies out and we catalog it into our memory.
The Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020. It is quite the spectacle.
All 50 states have some sort of lockdown requirement mandating the populace remain at home in order not to spread what is known as the COVID-19 virus which is apparently highly contagious.
Lockdown has presented very specific battles to us.
The first level of the battle is at micro level, small scale. Our sinful battle of screen time is now extended to a 24 hour cycle, since so many of us are working from home, or sadly, just not working. Our battle to resist binge-watching Tiger King or Downton Abbey is a battle that threads within us through every waking hour, instead of intermittently waged due to the ‘interruption’ of heading out to our employment. Will I watch three hours of action movies or three hours of sermons? I think we know the answer. Action movies offer a better spectacle. But it’s not better for the soul.
And the battle is not solely in how much time we engage in spectacles on screen, but which spectacles do we choose? Our sinful mind might tempt us to watch Fleabag or should we stick with Friday Night Lights?
The battle is also the macro, large scale. Reinke writes in his book Competing Spectacles of how the spectacle market competes for our attention. The more screens and devices there are, the more choices there are, so the louder and more spectacle-y they have to get in order to claim your eyes on this spectacle and not that one. The Oscar Awards…Super Bowl…Tiger King…
Our culture is no longer banded together by shared beliefs, it’s drawn together by shared spectacles… we seek our identity in the cultural spectacles we share together
Even though large segments of the population are banded together by large-scale spectacles such as the Super Bowl or a devastating tornado and news footage, only football aficionadoes or the tornado-affected are knit together by any particular spectacle. People who aren’t affected or who aren’t interested, remain outside the banded together.
It’s not often that a spectacle comes along that unites all of us, the entire globe is watching. The COVID-19 spectacle drives at the very heart of every individual on the planet, whether because of financial uncertainty or loss, personal health, or business changes via executive order or downturn. You can’t get much more personal than you money and your health, and so the spectacle of a global pandemic outpaces even the spectacle of WWII or 9/11 for the win.
But what do we “win”?
As Christians, I pray we win by leaning on the Holy Spirit to make good behavioral and moral choices as we spend extended time at home. It is a time unique like no other that at-home fathers can lead families. For married couples to demonstrate Christian decisions amid tensions and life together in seclusion as the children watch.
It is a time when all Christian individuals can read the word of God more, delve more, bask in learning opportunities and listen to hymns and sermons.
It is a time when we can demonstrate vividly the peace that passes all understanding. Businesses closing, perhaps forever, salaries cut, hours cut, job loss, emotional disequilibrium as we yearn to visit adult children or aged parents. Yet we remain hopeful, content, trusting. It is literally all good.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28.
When in our lifetimes has a time to trust the Lord and be calm ever presented itself so potently?
Images offer us an alternative existence, writes Tony Reinke in “Competing Spectacles.” He explores the foundational premise of his book with this question, “In this ‘age of the spectacle’ (as it has been called), in this ecosystem of digital pictures and fabricated sights and viral moments competing for our attention, how do we spiritually thrive?”
Paul spiritually thrived in jail, a real lockdown! by encouraging others, singing hymns, and witnessing to inmates. (Acts 16:25, 31). Paul was ‘on lockdown’ for two years in Rome. During that time he wrote to his friend Philemon (Philemon 1) helped Onesimus, wrote also to churches in Colossae, Ephesus and Philippi. He wasn’t alone, he had people with him, as Philemon 1:23-24 shows. The people with Paul were Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke. No doubt Paul held vibrant scripture studies, led the men by example, and ministered to them who were locked down with him.
Let’s not be swayed by the spectacle of the pandemic. I’ll close with Reinke’s exhortation from Jeremiah Burroughs.
Consolidate every display of beauty in this world into one single object, and it would be the greatest spectacle on earth. And yet it would merely be a faint echo of what it means to behold the source of all beauty, the living God-the great, beautiful,eye-and-soul ravishing Spectacle of eternity.
Step by step, we walk in faith toward Christ and toward this moment of beautific vision. The spectacle of the radiant glory of what we will become is now invisible, and we await the unveiling.
Wait well, sisters.
The promise of the tech age and the ubiquity of smartphones and the internet was that it would arm people with relevant information and rational courses of action. Rather, it has done the opposite—magnifying doubts and fears about everything and everyone.
TableTalk Magazine: Pandemics, Digital Media, and Anxiety
Many of us may now find ourselves obsessively checking our news feeds for the latest available information, perhaps unable to turn away in the same way that we talk about not being able to turn away from a train wreck. Social media in particular has been designed to induce just such a state of compulsive engagement even in ordinary times. The danger is now more acute as we all try to find our way without a reliable map