Go for the Gold!

On February 7 the world will once again tune into media coverage of The Games, the Sochi (Russia) Winter Olympics!

Go Team U.S.A.!!

The Games will also provide media critics and analysts, such as myself, the opportunity to point out how interviews with athletes and news features (“packages”) about their lives and struggles are rather superficial and not particularly meaningful. Moreover, from a Christian (and scriptural) perspective the emphasis on individual achievement and personal attainment of goals should leave us hungry for the truth: that everything we are and can be is given to us by God, that everything we are privileged to achieve, to endure, to conquer, and to excel in, is because the Lord is giving us generously of His strength, giving us the ability to do whatever He has created us for in His wisdom. No one can do anything apart from the life, health, courage, stamina, and perseverance with which He blesses us.

But you won’t hear that on TV.

Before I explore this phenomenon from an academic standpoint, let’s remember what the Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. 6“For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. 7“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. 8“For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.  (Jeremiah 17: 5-8, NASB)

I did it myself!

Schema theory is one conceptual approach which has proven successful in explaining how images and situations portrayed on television and film provide building blocks for how we, the audience, construct–and re-construct–our internal (cognitive) reality. What we see and hear provide us with the building blocks and structural blueprints for all sorts of cognitive structures (ideologies) through which our minds conceive of reality. Our reality about people, politics, tangible and intangible things, including faith, God, love, humility, as well as our concept of the “the self,” are made up mostly of a curious amalgamation of information bits about the things which we have been experiencing and observing since we arrived on the planet. As we learn more about anything we adjust the schematic references in our minds, or, in some cases, adjust the incoming information to fit into the existing realities already present there, since the latter requires fewer processing resources (and less work!). This has been demonstrated by Rumelhart (1980) and others who have done extensive research using schema theory.

What’s the take away?

If televised coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games bombards us with repetitive messages and idealic representations of the world’s best athletes as self-constructed heroes, many viewers will believe they can, too, in their own lives work hard enough to achieve success (and glory) on their own, with little or no consideration for the higher power of our Lord and Creator who provides everything with that which we need daily (cf. Psalm 145). Scheufele (2006) states that journalists’ schemata both inform and motivate them to report on stories from their own (i.e., preferred) point of view, indicating somewhat the extent to which story elements align with–or do not align with–their pre-existing news schemata. Scheufele calls it “attitude-fitting” (p. 68) or lining (attitudes) up “with the ‘slots’ of journalists’ schema” (p. 68).

Back to the Word

Finally, let us all take heed from the apostle Paul’s words as he winds up his second letter to the young preacher Timothy:

3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

>> And future Olympians (and broadcasters) would do well to remember the source of all our success and the rewards to come, as Paul continues:

6For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.  (II Timothy 4:3-8, NASB)

Dr. Darrell Roe (Ph.D., UGA, 1998) is an Assoc. Prof. of Mass Communication at ETBU. His specialty is analyzing the content of visual media and its effects on audiences.