We live in a time when there is always something to see. There may not be much worth looking at, but that doesn’t mean the latest political theatrics, news event, terror attack, or sports scandal isn’t vying for our attention. It may feel as if these sorts of things have increased recently. Digital media aggressively tries to capture our gaze, yet we are reminded in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun.
In order to offer wisdom to Christians for navigating these realities, Tony Reinke has written Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in a Media Age. As he explains the exact purpose of his book:
This book is a theology of visual culture, a culture that is increasingly closing in around us. It will not help you prioritize TV options. Online viewing guides will help you there. It will not help you watch pop films through a gospel lens. Several good books do that already. Nor will it help you untangle the narrative threats of a thoughtful film. Long conversations with friends are superior. More intentionally, this book is a companion for Christians walking through digital detoxes, the now necessary periods of our lives when we voluntarily unplug from pop media, news media, and social media in order to de-screen our eyes and to reorder our priorities.
There are multiple definitions of “spectacle.” For Reinke’s purposes, a spectacle is “a moment of time, of varying length, in which collective gaze is fixed on some specific image, event, or moment.” It is ultimately something that captures our collective attention. It can be a tragedy like the fire at Notre Dame. It could be a regular occurrence like the Met Gala. Or, it could be an on-going event like the NBA Playoffs, where one season may prove more “spectacular” than the last.
It is probably not a hard sell to believe we live in an image-dominated culture. However, Reinke does his homework and research to best how explain how that came to be, and how we can best understand the culture as it stands. Then, in part 2 of the book, he begins to lay out a way for Christians to live in this culture without being molded into its image. He navigates well between helping readers to know how to call out worthless spectacles when we see them, while at the same time not denying the value of cultural engagement (and enjoyment).
Ultimately, Reinke wants to help readers not be manipulated and enthralled by the spectacles of our media age. Instead, he shows that we see the greatest spectacle of all in the cross. When we see the glory of God in Jesus and are most captivated by that, we are less tempted to go with the flow in our image driven culture. As Reinke sums up, “The Christian’s battle in this media age can be won only by the expulsive power of a superior Spectacle. Christ is our safety and our guide in the age of competing spectacles, the age of social media. He is our only hope in life and death, in the age to come, and in this media age.”
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