Last night I was reminded why I quit watching Grey’s Anatomy. I decided to tune in this week because I heard one of the main characters might get killed off and that sounded entertaining. But I was disappointed. Not only did no one die, but I am now certain that the writers are intentionally producing a morally subversive show.
Now I know a lot of you who are reading this right now are obsessed with Grey’s. I am not writing this post today as a diatribe against your favorite show, so hang with me as I explain my thought process. I promise there’s a point.
To begin, I spent almost the entire length of the show in a state of total fury. My roommate and I had to restrain one another from throwing furniture at the t.v. as the characters delivered some of the most ridiculous, morally backwards lines that I have heard in a long time.
Two of the characters “got married” by signing a post-it note of their vows. It was meant to be a kind of romantic gesture since they “didn’t have time” to get married in a legally binding way. Later in the show, a different character left her husband because he asked her to be around the family more instead of advancing her career. The female doctor nobly shed tears as she declared her husband to be a “weak man” for giving her such an unreasonable ultimatum.
In both of these scenes the music swelled in the background, signaling to the viewer the deep and meaningful significance of the characters’ actions. I rolled my eyes.
What really bothers me about these plot lines is the way they ennoble destructive decision-making and morally bankrupt behavior. A selfish mother and wife is hailed as a brave pioneer for women’s rights in the workplace. Two people who are too busy to even make public vows are somehow expected to do the hard work of making an entire life together, just because they signed a post-it note, on a whim, and decided to call that a wedding.
The title of the episode was “Here’s to Future Days.” It should have been called “Here’s Why Our Nation’s Divorce Rate is So High.”
Watching this show makes me feel like I’m taking crazy pills. The moral compass isn’t even on the dial. But like I said, the purpose of this post is not to cast judgment on those of you who are faithful watchers. While I think Grey’s Anatomy symbolizes a lot of what is wrong with our culture today, that also means we should pay attention.
Grey’s Anatomy is popular today, not simply because it has compelling story lines, but but because it dignifies, if not exalts those lifestyles that characterize a large portion of Americans. In today’s culture, it is not uncommon for couples to co-habitate before marriage, or for marriages to crumble for the sake of career advancement. It happens all the time. And in Grey’s Anatomy, viewers find an affirmation of their lifestyle.
That said, the Christian response to shows like Grey’s is not to boycott them. In contrast with my gut reaction, we are not to throw bricks at our television sets and write letters of complaint to the stations that air them. Nor should we passively watch these shows, explaining it away as our one “guilty pleasure.” Instead, we need to study them.
When we watch popular television shows, we are given a glimpse into the morality of the secular mind. It is a kind of lesson about the worldview of our day. And rather than simply reject this alternative perspective, we must seek to understand it. If we can figure out how and why Americans buy into the moral principles these shows portray, we can establish some common ground for conversation. Rather than isolate ourselves from the culture, we build bridges for communication.
Now I am not letting you off the hook for watching total trash just because you like it. If you aren’t careful, the shows you watch will shape you more than you will ever realize. BUT, there is an extent to which we must engage the culture and have a sense for its spiritual pulse. It’s almost like studying a foreign culture before you embark on the mission field. If you go overseas but subsequently stay in your home, refuse to learn the language, and never adapt to the country’s customs, you will reach no one.
It is the same with American culture. You can live in the U.S. your entire life, but if you hide away in a Christian bubble you will have just as much in common with your neighbors as you might with villagers in the mountains of Tibet.
So if you watch Grey’s I’m not gonna tell you to stop, but do be aware of the morality they are selling, and pay attention. Chances are your classmates and co-workers are eating it up with a spoon, so engage the perspective and figure out how to respond to it. Like any diligent missionary, we need to learn the language of our culture so that we can use it to share the message of Christ.