IN THE FIRST half of 2016, O.J. Simpson, who still resides in a Nevada prison for his bungled robbery of sports memorabilia, seemed to be everywhere. First, there was the FX series “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” a high-quality, behind-the-scenes dramatization of Simpson’s 1995 murder trial. Then came “O.J.: Made in America,” a seven-and-a-half hour epic ESPN documentary in which director Ezra Edelman finally gives the Simpson story its due as a landmark event in the history of U.S. attitudes toward race, celebrity, and domestic violence, and in the evolution of our mass media culture.
Among other things, the O.J. Simpson murder trial marked the end of an era in which professional journalists observed events, then summarized and framed them into a coherent narrative for public consumption. This legacy of the print age persisted well into the broadcast era. Until the late 20th century, live, real-time TV coverage was limited to things like sporting events, inaugurations, and moonshots, or national disasters. Otherwise, the world was presented to TV viewers in one neat, 30-minute daily package at 6 p.m.
Like everything else in American culture, this started to change as cable replaced over-the-air broadcasting and specialty channels proliferated. In 1979, C-SPAN started running gavel-to-gavel coverage of the generally somnolent proceedings of the U.S. Congress. But CNN came along the next year to make things such as a toddler falling down a well in Texas into a national melodrama. True, CNN also went wall-to-wall on things such as the Iran-Contra investigations and the first Iraq war, but in the months between legitimate big events it also whipped up essentially local stories, such as child disappearances or shark attacks, into manufactured national crises.
Near the turn of the 2nd century A.D., the poet Juvenal published a collection of verses titled Satires. Among other things, the text was intended to spark discussion about social norms at a time when the masses were increasingly withdrawn from civil engagement.
In specifics, Juvenal wrote:
…everything now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.
According to Juvenal, the public of his day and age was growing less concerned about social responsibility due to personal pursuits of bread (comfort) and circus (entertainment). In addition, he believed political leaders used the distribution of comfort and entertainment as a way to sedate the population, distract them, and open opportunities for systemic manipulation.
Juvenal believed far too many citizens were far too willing to cooperate in their own exploitation.
What I find incredibly intriguing — and disconcerting — about Juvenal’s observations is that, numerous generations later, it can be argued that much of what he considered to be problematic in his era can now be found in North America.
No, this is not some new Charlie Kauffman movie that folds in on itself, creating a perpetual feedback loop. I’m serious; Christians love Top 10 Lists.
No wonder Moses did only 10 commandments.
I noticed this recently when all of the top three most popular articles on the Sojo.net at the time were lists of this kind. So I went back and did a search of my own personal blog archive. Every one of the most popular pieces started with “10 Reasons,” or “Seven Things” or the like.
Are Christians obsessed with lists? What’s the deal?
I talked to a publisher years ago who told me that the key to a successful theology book was to include something akin to “six easy steps” in the title. I never took them up on that advice, but he knew what he was talking about. So after expending a little grey matter on the issue, I came up with this list of reasons why I think Christians love these kinds of lists:
#1. We don’t want to have to think too hard: Now, before you fire up your keyboard and rattle off a protest email, this is a broader truism across our entire culture....