As we approach that great court date known as Rosh Hashanah, it’s vital that we regard not just our publications’ intents, but also our “publications’” intents.
It has become a social fancy to promote narratives, i.e. stories, through “reality”-styled accounts. Both electronic and print media, plus the more instantaneous convergent media, have availed themselves of the popularity and subsequent profitability of this trend. Everything from sanitation workers’ pet shop dilemmas to rock stars’ eating disorders has been made public for the sake of commerce.
What’s more, this craze has anchored itself in secular, as well as in spiritual, media realms. Various soapboxes try to wow or to otherwise dazzle their readers with accounts of enemy nations’ diplomats’ hair styles, the amount of toilet paper certain athletes use while suffering from the flu, and aspiring “journalists’” lists of retirement communities’ comparative cuisines.
Whereas this nature of framing actual or enacted events is more often subdued in spiritual venues, this second type of broadcast, nonetheless, remains culpable for embracing the “reality” fad. Consider that religious publications have begun to feature, beyond their more typical accounts of sages’ revelations and their more expected explanations of weekly Torah readings, biographies of medial breakthroughs’ inventors, “anonymous” depictions of “actual” schoolyard bullying, and expert adjudications on present day dating problems. No human activity seems too trivial to share pages that also discuss Gemara.
In brief, whether a publication is sacred or secular, whether it focuses on how the rich and famous pay their taxes, or on how popular unions’ leaders clip their fingernails, the entirety of human behavior, staged, authentic, or somewhere in-between, has become fodder for communication. Somewhere, out there, are features on dingoes dancing with neighborhood dogs, on why or why not certain sects ought to make their holiday fruit baskets look like stadiums, and on the preponderance of acne on the faces of flutists in marching bands.
Worse, not only has the public continued to revere, wittingly or not, such goings-on to the extent that juvenile hicks in North America, and elderly rulers in Europe enjoy, respectively, their own programs, but the public has fought, too, to star in reality shows. A sampling of YouTube, of Instagram, and of other social media sites demonstrate the extent to which people desire celebrity, even if such notoriety comes from washing windshields with dexterity, cleaning litter boxes with speed, or planking.
That the world attends rigorously to such “opportunities” to gain “social status” is one problem. A more grievous trouble is that while waiting in line to be collectively validated, per se, individuals ignore their own, more important, eternal “reality shows.”
Hashem sees, hears, and inscribes all of our deeds. Although this world is finite, The World-to-Come is not. Moment by moment, each of us is actualizing a script that is logged and that will be used to determine our place in the cosmos. Essentially, each of us is starring in an incredibly important reality show.
If we act as though we are mindful of the filmless camera, of the never erring audio recorder, and of the never tiring verbal reportage, we might behave better. Our personal, heavenly-produced reality shows are the only spectacles that really matter.
Changing our ways so that we do acknowledge this verity is tough. Like electricity and other forms of power, Hashem’s “hands,” “eyes” and “ears” are not palpable. What we can’t sense, we tend to ignore. It’s so much easier to respond to flashy scenes offered by human media than to take action because of the consequences of future, otherworldly constructions.
Yet, the opportunity to perform for the Producer has been granted us, namely, has been placed upon us, for a limited time - the duration of each of our lives. If only we could remember that from the moment when we wake up each morning through the time when we fall sleep each night, we are being documented, we might have a chance to shine when our “realty shows” are replayed by the singular Producer, Who will determine our films’ lasting impact.
For instance, we could make an effort to begin our days with a formal (or informal) expression of gratitude for our existence. We could engage in Torah-prescribed morning rituals. We could greet our family members pleasantly. We could be careful with our spiritual and corporeal hygiene.
Sadly, if a human camera person was following us, we would probably be meticulous about all of those facets of our first waking hours. Sadly, knowing His celestial monitor is tracking us doesn’t seem to make us thoughtful.
Furthermore, as we go through our days, we ought not to, deliberately or otherwise, feel relieved when a camera fails to “catch” us at being less than our best. We’d be well advised not to pick the largest cookie from the platter, literally, or figuratively, leaving the remnants for our colleagues. It would be good if we did not ignore the needs of the elderly, the pregnant, and the sick when commuting via public transportation and if we did not pretend we didn’t notice our co-workers’ sighs and tears. If a sound engineer held a microphone over our head, all day, we would act better than we do now, when The Almighty details, on a special audio channel, our comings and goings.
It’s nasty when we walk past beggars, elbow, just a little, at lunch counters, or hang up, curtly, when friends or loved ones ring us. If an ace reporter was writing up observations about our life choices, we would act more civilly than we currently do, when HaKadosh Baruchu is journaling them.
When we return home, it would behoove us to present ourselves in such a way that makes our needs equal to or less important than those of our family. We should not isolate ourselves from our spouses and children when we return, or claim a right to private time based on some semblance of self-pity. Equally inappropriate is our drinking away our work woes or drugging ourselves with foodstuffs. It’s unlikely that we’d opt for those ends if we knew our actions were going to be publicized. Rather, we’d be better served to make different choices since our actions will be revealed and will be unchangeable in the next world.
The number and kind of the particulars of questions we ought to ask about our mundane behaviors is as long and as wide-ranging as is the planet’s population. To some degree, those questions are of qualified consequence. To another degree, they are wrong, on principle. What matters is that everything we do is put on record. We are being watched, listened to, and noted. We are, every minute that we are alive, starring in the most important reality show that ever existed.
Over time, the popularity of mediated “reality” shows will wane just as have other media fads. Something shinier will take their place. The folk who had their fifteen minutes of fame will return to painting barns, to lecturing on physics, and to belly dancing. In the greater cosmic auditorium, however, no matter the favor received by Earthly kinds of reportage, our deeds will be weighed, sometimes with mercy, sometimes with justice. After all, the Greatest Documentary Maker’s camera keeps rolling, tape player keeps recording, and computer keeps tabulating.
Have a Sweet New Year!
*An earlier version of this posting originally appeared in KJ Hannah Greenberg. “Middle Eastern Musings.” The Jerusalem Post. Feb. 8, 2013.