Christianity and the Easter TV Schedules
As a child growing up in the seventies, Sundays had a distinctly different feel to the other days of the week. The entire pace was more sedate and there was atmosphere of restraint. My parents would chide me for excessive noise. Activities such as reading or drawing where favoured over playing outside. The TV schedules reflected this as well. At the time, there were three terrestrial channels and only one of them was a commercial business. However, Sunday mornings would always have a televised service and there would often be a show offering some moral or ethical debate around midday. The early evening saw a similar broadcast of worship. Christianity was still an integral part of the television.
Unlike the US, the UK does not have (and never has had) a direct separation of Church and State. For centuries the Church has had a direct influence over the political agenda and has shaped the cultural landscape. During the seventies, nothing was open on a Sunday, as the trading laws were still subject to a strong Christian lobby. Obviously due to my age at the time, I didn't see or understand the integral role Christianity played within UK society. Yet it was always there, be it at school, on TV or in the newspapers. Any vox pop at the time would always have a member of the clergy contributing. The ubiquitous presence of Christianity was such that it became reflected in popular culture. Most sitcoms would include a vicar at some point. I have fond memories of The Reverend Timothy Farthing (Frank Williams) in Dad's Army.
Roll on forty years and much has changed. The Church of England is in decline and certainly the lobbying power of the Christian community has diminished. The UK has become a far more secular nation and Sundays feel pretty much like any other day of the week nowadays. As a result of this shift, religious content on terrestrial network TV has similarly been reduced. As it is currently Easter, I made a cursory check of the TV guide for faith based content and apart from a few broadcasts of church services, there is precious little on to celebrate Easter. Even the traditional Hollywood religious epics such as The King of Kings with Jeffrey Hunter or George Stevens’ The Greatest Story Ever Told, with its distinctly Caucasian depiction of the Holy Lands, are missing from the schedules.
Since the advent of digital satellite, cable services, VOD and You Tube, is that faith based programming has moved to these new platforms and has to compete with the sheer volume of alternative TV that is available. Something that many other TV genres has had to do. I will leave it to you to decide whether this is a good or a bad thing. However, I would like to make this point. One of the most important weekly shows for me as a child was Top of the Pops. It featured a selection of artists every Thursday, depending on what was doing well in the UK singles. Due to the lack of alternative shows, viewers would watch thirty minutes of a variety of different music. Not all of it would be to their taste but it exposed the public to a broad cross section of musical genres. Nowadays there are niche market channels that provide audience with just the music they want, thus insulating them from anything else. It is this very proliferation of choice that means that many people are simply no longer exposed to any religious content on TV.
I think that it’s beneficial for people to have a broad knowledge of multiple belief systems. There is a great deal of misinformation about the Christian faith and other faiths. The public as well as a lot of Christians themselves are not very well informed about the doctrines and fundamental underpinnings of Christianity. Perhaps at times such as Easter, rather than just showing traditional TV fodder such as church services or re-enactment of The Passion, perhaps it would be wiser to have more documentaries and current affairs programs that explore what it is to be a Christian in the in the twenty first century. What it can and cannot offer. In the meantime, Happy Easter to all, whether you enjoy it as a public holiday or whether it is the focal point of your religious calendar. As for me, I'm off to watch Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ. A challenging and intelligent exploration of Christ's final hours. And don’t forget, chocolate eggs will be half price on Tuesday.