Humanity and the Freak Show
It’s a real phrase. Back in the day (and by that I mean like … A long time ago…) there used to be traveling “freak shows.” People who were different, either because they had a birth defect or a debilitating injury had no means of survival. There was no sort of social safety net until well into the 20th century and so people with little means who wanted to feed themselves were forced to find unique ways to survive. One of these was the traveling freak show.
These human beings would be paraded in front of onlookers for a few shillings, or silver pieces. The whole thing was entertainment, but it paid the bills. People liked this because it was a bit of a relief to be able to see people who they could mock. At least their lives were worse than ours. There is a great episode of My Name is Earl that explores this phenomena in the contemporary period.
I though of this today when I heard the song “Dirty Laundry” by Don Henley. It’s a song I loved in the 80’s that discusses America’s fascination with trauma on the evening news. “Kick ’em when they’re up, kick ’em when they’re down, we love dirty laundry.”
I thought about how in that 30 minute segment from 6:00-6:30 every night, the way to attract viewership was to talk about bad things. It was the Television era’s version of the freak show. We humans would sacrifice time at the dinner table to watch other people whose lives were worse than ours.
But as technology grew, that changed. The 30 minute news has been expanded to multiple channels with 24 hour coverage. “Breaking News” is now a meaningless phrase. They use this for days to announce that they are talking about something the entire world has known about for at least 72 hours. But they need ratings. They need to create drama. When there is no “Breaking News” they need to give us something to mock.
But there is so much time to fill! So what is called “news” in the Internet era is a constant stream of mockery. It is a freak show of massive proportions intended to make the average viewer watch, mock, and feel better about themselves because at least they aren’t … Whatever they happen to be mocking.
Each 24 hour news channel has its own viewership to pander to. Some want to mock this group or this person, others want to mock that.
Poor Jimmy Fallon who has generally stayed out of the political fray, was recently drawn in by mockery of the president in an effort to boost his own sagging ratings.
Let me tell you the Christian attitude toward the freak show – it is an abomination.
The image of God is a beautiful thing. All humans, whatever their defects, blemishes, faults or shortcomings are beautifully made in the image of God.
Sin is an ugly thing. A part of every person, sin stains the beauty of the image of God. It corrupts what we were made to be.
The freak show profits from sin. It ignores the beauty of God. It ignores the reality that he made humanity for good purposes. And it exploits sin. Both, in those it mocks and in those who consume the show.
We should rise above it. Read a good book. Watch a great movie. Don’t let the freak show consume your very soul.