I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. [Psalm 101:2-3 (ESV)]
While writing about curiosity yesterday, I thought about our insatiable curiosity concerning the lives of others. Some people think nothing of prying into other people’s lives by asking how much it cost, how much you’re paid, what the grade was, and more. The number of followers of the various social media platforms and fans of tell-all books, gossip magazines, tabloids, and reality TV tells me plenty of people want to know all that and more. Whether we know them or not, we seem to have a voracious appetite for the lives of other people, especially the lives of celebrities, former celebrities, one-time-wonders, housewives, bachelors, bachelorettes, the rich and privileged, and just about everyone else. We have talk shows where the more salacious the content the better and people come to blows after revealing sordid betrayals. We have assorted judge shows where in-law problems, unknown paternity, infidelity, and other poor choices reign. Private disagreements, personal relationships, and shocking secrets are openly aired for the curious world.
As much as I struggle to understand why any of us are interested in other people’s private lives, I find it even harder to comprehend why people choose to make public spectacles of themselves. Reality TV, of course, isn’t real and those “real housewives” aren’t really “housewives.” Knowing that circumstances are contrived to guarantee crisis, conflict, and drama, I wonder why people deliberately allow themselves to be manipulated for their five minutes of fame (or infamy). Considering the number of people who have an incredible willingness to freely share the most intimate details of their lives with the world, it appears as if curiosity and braggadocio are two sides of the same coin.
Perhaps it’s conceit, egotism, or a weird sort of arrogance that leads people to think that, no matter how appalling, their every thought, feeling, experience, meal, or intimate moment is worth sharing with the world. People have become so immodest that they will bare their souls and just about everything else to complete strangers. They are like exhibitionists who leave the curtains half open to dance in front of the window and their curious audience is like the voyeur who peeks through those curtains. Sadly, our curiosity has turned people parading their private lives into a lucrative business (apparently the more dysfunctional the better.)
It’s almost malevolent the way people want to see others at the worst. Perhaps we’re drawn into this tabloid culture so we can congratulate ourselves on being nicer, saner, smarter, more moral, and less superficial. Pride puffs us up because we don’t hoard, commit adultery, spend excessively, or keep having needless plastic surgery. Self-righteously, we pat ourselves on the back for not living vicariously through our talented children, exploiting our families, brawling in public, or letting cameras into our bedrooms. We feel superior because we’re better behaved, pay our debts, and know who fathered our children.
Granted, there is a difference between watching chefs contend for top honors, brainiacs compete for money, super athletes vie for a title, or pickers search for rare artifacts and watching people engage in attention-grabbing, immoral, inappropriate, or self-destructive behavior. Nevertheless, there is a fine line between innocent interest and prurient curiosity and crossing that line leads us into sin’s territory of judgment and pride.
To rework Jeff Foxworthy’s quote about going to the state fair: “If you ever start feeling like you have the goofiest, craziest, most dysfunctional family in the world, all you have to do is watch reality TV because pretty soon you’ll be going, ‘You know, we’re alright. We are dang near royalty!’” Perhaps people’s bad behavior, excessive alcohol consumption, emotional outbursts, humiliation, tears, and turmoil became entertainment simply to make us feel like saints in comparison to them. Let’s not fool ourselves; we’re not! Perhaps it’s time to check our curiosity and rethink how we spend our time and with what we fill our minds.
Men compare themselves with men, and readily with the worst, and flatter themselves with that comparative betterness. This is not the way to see spots, to look into the muddy streams of profane men’s lives; but look into the clear fountain of the Word, and there we may both discern and wash them; and consider the infinite holiness of God, and this will humble us to the dust. [Robert Leighton (A Puritan Golden Treasury)]