We are an image driven culture. We now do news like we do American Idol. We want to watch and vote. We want to see instant images that tell the story. We then light up the blogosphere, Facebook, and twitter somehow believing that our opinion is the only thing that matters.
Missing in all of this is any responsibility to investigate critically. By critically I mean gathering reliable information and taking into account all sides of the story. The problem is that critical investigation takes too much time. We don’t want to take time to wait. Being critical does not mean we say something about a story, it means we get involved in the story. Yet, we are so hungry to offer our opinions that we do not take the time necessary to have meaningful conversations, do background reading, and sometimes just wait for the evidence to emerge. All we want is a snapshot, a simple two dimensional image. Its much easier neglect investigation and simply talk about pictures.
We say so much about so little. Why?
Pictures are easy to talk about because they don’t talk back. Pictures do not argue with us. Pictures don’t cry, scream, or try in any way to touch us. They do not challenge us. Pictures don’t defend themselves. They do not hold us accountable. They do not demand that we listen to the whole story.
Pictures are often of people, but pictures are not people. We can say what we want about pictures from a distance. It is easier that way because we can form our strong opinions about things, but we don’t have to care.
This week has been full of pictures: Bobby Petrino, Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, Jessica Dorrell . . . This week has also been very surreal for me as a documentary film was released today, nationwide, that profiles a family in the community that I am now serving as pastor. The film is entitled Bully and it tells the story of a Murray County High School student who took his life in October of 2009.
Though I have not had a chance to see Bully (and I plan to), serving as a pastor in one of the communities documented in the film reminds me that I am less than human if all I do is passively watch the images, aggressively offer my opinions, but never care about any of the people involved. In fact, I had an opportunity this week to talk to one of the school administrators involved in the story. He reminded me that pictures are not people.
Pictures are two dimensional ink blots of color on canvas. They say that pictures are worth a thousand words, but even at that, they only say so much. Talking to someone forced me to hear someone’s heart break. It forced me to take the time to sympathize with the frustration of being misunderstood. Talking to a person reminds you of what it feels like to be helpless. Films are of people, but they are not people. Films are a sequence of pictures that end in about two hours. Stories go on in a community for years. At some point Bully will go to DVD. Next week the families on film will go to Ingle’s to buy groceries. They will cross paths with one another at church, at school, and at the ball field. Will they reconcile? Will something redemptive come out of their story? How will I respond to them? How will I help them?
Life is the sequel.
Pictures are not people. People have mothers, hearts, and emotions. People tell stories and engage us in conversations. Pictures demand only that we watch. People demand that we listen. Films demand that we get involved. People demand that we actually care.
As we are continually bombarded by the pictures, may we not allow ourselves to become emotionally detached, intellectually irresponsible, and less than human. In offering our opinions of a boy that was shot, let’s be careful not to blow whole families away. Let’s take the time to think, talk, and actually care. Before you say what you feel you have to say, remember, that guy on the news has a mom. That lady lost her son. That woman’s marriage just fell apart. HLN, CNN, and Nancy Grace may drop the story like a hot rock next week, but somebody’s life has been forever changed. Most of what appears on television is all for ratings. Most of what happens in real life is unrated, but it is deeply felt and unforgettable.
These are not pictures. These are people.