With the release of Jim's newest book, Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street-A Moral Compass for the New Economy, we at Sojourners have been living and breathing the values over consumption message over and over and over again. Not in a bad way, mind you, but in a way that makes me notice things that maybe I had just not been paying attention to.
Like the "Real Housewives of Orange County." Here is a show that is purely and simply about the ethics that Jim is arguing against in the book -- greed is good, it's all about me, and I want it now. It lifts up these "real" families (not even "real" by Orange County standards) and it shows them at their absolute worst. The show is all about possessions, and getting more of them; relationships and how to irreparably damage them; and physical appearances -- how to preserve and protect them. (The episode I saw was about a mother and teenage daughter who both had plastic surgery.) The shallowness of it all is simply stunning. And we call this entertainment.
Despite appearances, this is not one of my guilty pleasures. There are some shows on Bravo that I do like, so the most I usually see is a quick trailer or an ad now and again. But last week, when I was working out at the gym, the show was on. And even though I made the choice to fill my ears with my newest purchase from the iTunes store (Donnie McClurkin, if you must know) the visual image of the show was directly in front of me. And it was much like a train wreck -- even though I wanted to, I couldn't not watch it.
But it really disturbed me that this is what passes for entertainment. (And I am finding myself saying the same things that I heard my parents say when I was a teen.) It is disturbing in a couple of ways. First, the "real housewives" are being held up as if they are real housewives. If that's the case, then where is my Ferrari? These people are not "real" or representative of American life, and it concerns me that someone, somewhere, might think that. God forbid.
Second, the values expressed by and through these "real people" are nothing less than morally bankrupt. Would I let my child watch that show? Not without sitting right next to them and talking about how there is nothing "real" or "good" in the show or its message. But in our society there is a subconscious meta-narrative that equates beauty with goodness. And while these people may be physically beautiful, they are displaying behavior that isn't good.
I'm not saying these shows should be censored or removed from the air, but I do think we have a responsibility to name our concerns -- the concerns we have when the values that we say we don't want our children to inherit, or the values that we want to try and change in our own lives appear to be everywhere in our culture.
I'm beginning to think that living out the ethic described in Rediscovering Values would be for all of us a counter-cultural expression -- and for those who share my religious sentiments, a counter-cultural expression of our faith. But I'm willing to give it a go, and I'll let you know how it's working for me. Next time the "Real Housewives" are on at the gym, I'm going to ask to change the channel.
Rev. Jennifer Kottler is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at Sojourners. A long-time advocate for justice, Jennifer has served in advocacy ministry for more than seven years through her work at Protestants for the Common Good (Chicago IL), the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign, and the Chicago Jobs Council.