Remember that ’80s game show with the light-up computerized board and the whammies? "It’s time to … Press Your Luck!"
“No whammies, no whammies, no whammies, STOP!” the contestants shouted on their turn, trying to up their share of the prize pool. If they landed on a space where a whammy (a hairy, cartoon bad guy) secretly lurked, players lost their turn and underwent major humiliation. Anyone wanting to take a quiet loss was out of luck. The whammy would hop right out onto the TV screen, cackling in hideous glee and riding a motorcycle right across the poor loser’s face. If the whammy was female, it might don pink Velcro curlers and cackle wistfully. And let’s not forget the Broadway-loving whammies that would create a chorus line across the winner’s prize total to wipe it away.
Fans of MTV’s Remote Control, another ’80s gem, learned a little something about humiliation. At the end of the second round, the player with the lowest score was sent “off the air,” which meant he or she was eaten alive. (The loser’s recliner got sucked into a wall at vortex speed and taken backstage.) Not only did the loser know that his skills did not measure up, but all of America could cheer on his misfortune and wish him good riddance. The best part of the show was watching the losers … lose.
Today’s reality shows are no different in their values. American Idol makes it a point to emphasize the least talented performers over the up-and-coming stars. Each season begins with Idol outtakes that showcase the most off-key, peculiar and untalented musicians who never made it to Hollywood. Who can forget William Hung’s “She Bangs” dance number and the public humiliation that spawned his short-lived fame?
Hypersensitivity aside, there is one problem—being critical of those on our TV screens can develop a nasty habit within our hearts that all too easily carries over into real life. When we laugh at the misfortune of others, whether televised or not, we choose to label them as losers and see them only for their mistakes.
Striving for fairness, my mother defends everyone—almost to the point of being annoying. When I was in grade school and had to sit by a boy who picked his nose and smeared it on his clothes, my mother defended him. (“Maybe Jimmy was never taught proper hygiene; I think he has a bad home life.”) While I wanted to point a finger of blame and tell all of my classmates how gross this kid was, my mother tried to get me to see that he was a person who might have some setbacks at home I didn’t know about.
There are some people who can simply see the best in everyone and stand up for them, though it may be easier to point fingers, laugh or shun. They run to another’s defense instead of laughing at him.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Oh Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
Though my mom enjoys American Idol follies with the best of them, I know she would never find true joy in someone else’s humiliation. Her ability to see beyond the exterior and see the best in all people, both strangers and friends, has kept her heart soft and accepting.
That is what the heart of the Church should look like—ready to stand its ground in defending others, full of love and compassion. We are made to have softened hearts toward people society pegs as losers. Instead of finding joy and humor in the failure of others, we should understand that some people have setbacks in their lives that keep them in chains.
Changing Our Response
As followers of Christ, we are called to seek out those people society deems rebellious, hard-hearted, worthless or humiliated. We are made to speak words of kindness in their defense and to believe in them. We are created to show them Christ, to roll out the welcome mat of community and to strongly support them all the way.
Don’t let the media’s dual emphasis on humiliation and entertainment become a portrait of your own heart. The next time you watch a tone-deaf Idol contestant, remember what my mother would say: “Maybe their family always told them they were talented and they don’t know any better … besides, they may have a bad home life.”
Stand out in a culture that laughs at losers by fighting for those who are normally outcasts. It may mean giving a ride to a coworker you normally wouldn’t associate with or asking your strange neighbor how his week is going—and truly meaning it. Make it your personal mission to believe the best in others, to de-emphasize their public failures and to see them for their potential—the way God sees them.