In the “society of the spectacle,” according to Guy Debord, whatever appears is real, and whatever is real appears. He didn’t mean it literally, in the sense that mere appearance determines actual reality. He meant it culturally, in the sense that people come to value what is represented, and only what is represented. People ignore what can’t be represented, what doesn’t show up well.
Debord said that decades ago, long before computers, let alone the social media they made possible and supported. Social media have magnified the spectacular problem beyond anything Debord could have imagined. Now the grandchildren of Debord’s generation can, and do, aspire to be “influencers” living “Instagram-worthy” lives.
But less has changed than we think. Our pastor noted yesterday that we don’t need to make a giant hermeneutical leap to know how Jesus’s disciples thought and felt about success. “Success” meant being big, powerful, rich, and famous, then as now.
So it was a countercultural move for Jesus to sit a little child in the middle of the group and to make that small, unimpressive person the paradigm for what it means to follow Christ. The person bringing up the rear, walking slowly with the toddlers and all the others that no one important pays any attention to, doing things no influencers know anything about because they don’t matter to a lot of people because they never “appear,” the person who is “last of all and servant of all,” is “first” according to Jesus.
That was not a prescription for popularity. Who wants to follow a “loser”? What kind of recruitment program promises people they’ll “never amount to anything”? How many of us aspire to be small and unimpressive?
Jesus’s kind of faithfulness was un-spectacular.