I took one class in college that one may classify as a “blow-off” class: Television and Society.
Now, my intentions for taking it were not because it appeared easy. Along with my two concentrations of public relations and professional writing under my degree in English, I was hoping that the stars would align, the classes would be available, and I could fulfill the requirements for a minor in Communications. (I was one class shy.) This class was an elective for the minor. (Admittedly, taking a class such as this helped out when I had to leave school for a week when my grandmother was dying. But that’s another story for another time.)
In any case, this class featured television from various eras and styles, taking account the time period in which the show was featured. As we looked back on the 1950’s, television was drastically different than in the 1990’s.
And today, over 25 years after taking the class, television is drastically different.
No longer do we need to catch a television show when it airs or set our VCRs to catch the show. Now, everything is On Demand. If my DVR doesn’t record a program, it will be on Hulu the next day. Furthermore, this gives the viewer the opportunity to binge watch television shows – from just one episode to a whole season in one night.
Needing to stay inside this year has given people the opportunity to watch shows at their own convenience, enjoying an evening’s worth of programming based upon the time and audience. I’ve had the chance to watch shows that had just fully completed their run (Schitt’s Creek) and new seasons of other programs (The Crown and others).
Not only has our style of watching shows changed, but the content itself. Just recently, I read an NPR article on why Grey’s Anatomy decided to include the Covid-19 pandemic into the show.
One of the medical consultants, Dr. Nasar Alazari said this:
“We were kind of, like, returning into this fog. It was thick fog. We did not know what’s happening. I felt like definitely we have to say that, like, you know – tell stories about this because this disease is our zeitgeist.”
“The disease is our zeitgeist” is a very important point every industry and corner of our society needs to embrace. We will never be the same because of this time. Television needs to reflect it.
And so does the church.
Television and Society class taught me that as times change, the content of television and our viewing habits change. This year has taught me that as times change, the content of church and our participation habits change. I would say that this is another “Video Killed the Radio Star” moment; nothing stays the same, and we are called to adapt.
Covid-19 is our zeitgeist, which the Oxford Languages defines zeitgeist as “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.” Just as WWII was the major backdrop of the early 1940’s, this virus is the backdrop for 2020. The tension of the Babylonian Exile was a major zeitgeist of the writings in the Hebrew Bible. We can’t escape this backdrop.
Of course, this means content of services, including sermons, reflect this tension in a way that is real but hopeful. It’s a part of our landscape. A medical show can’t escape storylines on the virus because it’s a major part of medicine now. Likewise, we can’t disregard this because it’s part of who we are now.
Furthermore, the structure of faith communities have changed forever. Do people need to watch church at 9:30am on Sunday mornings? No. Church is becoming On Demand. We can watch it whenever it is convenient. I now think this will be a permanent part of church life. What we must do is pair that with the commitment to stay connected with our congregants. To our faith community, the work of connecting to people has transformed, and I think this level of working to connect has changed the way we do church. This has brought us closer together at a time when we feel physically distant.
Like with television, this time has permanently changed all of us – and every corner of society. The Church is permanently changed. And that one sort of “blow off” class I took in 1994 helped me see that whatever the zeitgeist, we will keep surviving and keep adapting.