Friday, 31 July 2009

Publicizing the Personal: Reversing the Sacramental

What are we to make of the publication of the personal in our culture? The latest is the 14 year old girl who took a lie detector test on air and was reduced to tears after a harrowing admission. But we can also think of (alleged) reality TV like 'Big Brother', or the media personalities who make confessions on national TV, or the truly bizarre website named 'sextube' where it appears that people post their own home-made sex footage. (I guess the pornographers are represented on the site also.) Why do ordinary people do this kind of thing? And why do ordinary people view it, listen to it, and follow it? Apart from the critique we could offer from a psychological, sociological and theological perspective regarding voyeurism, and that in our society this kind of thing can re/launch a media career, there is something sacramental about all this. Or should I say a godless sacramentality-in-reverse. Sacraments are an outward expression of an inward grace from God, and confession (and absolution) is a sacrament. (So is sex.) But the publication of the personal (like in a TV confession) often includes what should be sacramental, but is not a grace from God, and not intended to be so. What should be carried out in a sacramental context is turned around, so that those who should be the recipients of grace (e.g. the penitent) become the purveyors, directing something they think worthwhile to their audience, or perhaps trying to receive something from the audience (perhaps adulation or understanding). And what exactly is being communicated? Whatever it is it isn't God's gift. I suspect it is something much more perverse, and most definitely spiritually dangerous and reflective of the vacuity when God is removed from the centre of human life and action.

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