May 4 – We Are What We Watch

We’ll be watching “The Avengers” this weekend.  Oh, maybe not you or me, but we in the collective sense. “The Avengers” is the new super superheroes movies that opens today across the U.S. It got a week’s head start in 39 other countries and has already earned nearly $200 million in ticket sales. People are saying it will not only be the biggest hit of 2012, but that it will break all sorts of other box office records. Within a few weeks it is sure to pass the $600 million that’s been earned by the year’s first blockbuster, “The Hunger Games.”

We watched “The Hunger Games” and we will watch “The Avengers.”  I wonder what that says about us.

As I mentioned in a sermon a few weeks ago, “The Hunger Games” phenomena, among other things, made us dust off an old word we don’t use often, dystopia. Literally a dystopia is a bad place and, like its antonym “utopia,” a good place, often has a future tint to it. The future depicted in “The Hunger Games” is most definitely a bad place. In fact, the dystopia of “The Hunger Games” is decadent old Rome with a cynical new high-tech terror added.

The fact that “The Hunger Games” and the trilogy it was based on appeals especially to teens and young adults has fascinated me. And now having read all three books which I found even more cynical and more dystopic, I wonder all the more. This generation will not and cannot believe the “climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow” optimism of earlier generations of Americans. Maybe they don’t believe that it is possible to reach their dreams.

False hope is a setup. It’s not worth the price you pay when the whole thing collapses. And for those of you who have read “The Hunger Games” trilogy, I would only say that a field of dandelions is not a field of dreams worth dreaming. No plot spoiler there.

So, this week we will be watching “The Avengers.” I haven’t seen the film but have read some of the reviews (and Rotten Tomatoes says they are 93% positive).  It’s a superheroes movie, and, yes, these are postmodern superheroes with self-doubt and petty bickering among themselves.  But they are superheroes and they will do what superheroes do; they will beat the bad guys and save the planet.  They always do.

After the dystopic, though sometimes thought-provoking, vision of “The Hunger Games,” it will be nice to escape for 2 hours and 22 minutes (interestingly the same 142 minutes) into the good triumphs over evil world of “The Avengers.” Yes, I know that 21st Century good is a bit more problematic than the good of the original worlds of our comic book superheroes, but it is still good. Kind of.

If we are what we watch, then we are sort of schizophrenic. We are compelled to contemplate a very dark future with very little hope, and we long to escape to a fantasy world where superheroes, even flawed superheroes, save us from the brink of global destruction.

I know, some of us go to the movies just to be entertained.

But if you want to think about it, isn’t it true that the Gospel always speaks to our manic tendency to dark gloom and fanciful hope? The hope of the Gospel is solid and real, however; and the future it promises is sure and bright.

Pass the popcorn.