I am not a fan of “reality shows.” Shows about realty are another matter, but those shows raise the question of what is real. The question of the difference between the two was raised to prominence yesterday in the March 8th New York Times article about a phenomenon called “the loser edit.” It’s worth your while and you can see it here.
The church is deeply into the season of Lent by now but everybody knows how that part of the story is going to end. “You killed him,” says Peter at his Pentecost sermon, “but God raised him up” (see fragments from Acts 2: 23—25). And how did Peter know all this? It wasn’t at all apparent during Jesus’s life; at least it wasn’t apparent to Peter.
The church celebrates Easter by waiting for it during Lent. Easter is the story of Jesus’s life as told from the end of it, from the conviction that he was more than he had seemed to be while he was preaching in Galilee and a great deal more that he seemed while he was being crucified in Jerusalem. Jesus had received “the Winner Edit.”
Before we go any further we are going to have to look at Colson Whitehead’s notion of the two “edits.”
The concept first bubbled up out of the pop-cultural ether when competitive reality shows hit upon their formula, in the form of “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race.” TV enthusiasts — part fan, part Roland Barthes with a TiVo — congregated on online message boards like Television Without Pity, creating a new slang with which to dis and deconstruct their favorites.
A new slang with which to dis—that meant “disrespect” once upon a time, but now it doesn’t seem to need the rest of the letters—their [former] favorites. In other words, once someone is shown to be a loser, we can go back over the tape, literally or metaphorically, and show that the signs of his eventual loser-dom were obvious to anyone who was paying attention. Examples of Brian Williams, formerly of NBC, and of Bill Cosby, once a wise and loving TV father, are given. Notice how this picture isn’t funny anymore?
Now that we know, we can find segments of tape that clearly indicate the problems that eventually brought them down. Finding all these tape clips and running them together as “the main narrative” is what Whitehead means by “the Loser Edit.”
But, as he points out, where there is a loser’s edit, there must be a winner’s edit. What is that like?
Over the course of a season, the inevitable winner thrives. He or she will suffer some setbacks for drama and suspense, sure, but the groundwork for victory is established challenge by challenge, week by week. It has been written, by fate or the producers, pick your deity. It cannot be reversed.
I take “pick your deity” as an expression tossed off for effect. In fact, however, “deities” are the beneficiaries of the Winner Edit. Take Jesus, for example. Born in the boonies, had modest successes in the Galilee district, made powerful enemies, made the mistake of going to Jerusalem during a major feast and got himself killed. That’s the Loser Edit and it makes no sense at all the Christians.
The Christian church is based on a “winner edit,” of course and the Bible is pellucidly clear about that. Here is the famous “road to Emmaus” encounter from Luke. On Easter Sunday, two of the apostles were walking to Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, when a man they did not recognize joined them and asked them what they had been talking about. So they told him the whole sad story, including the despairing “…we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
Jesus then produces an introduction to the Winner Edit. “O foolish men, and slow to heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And—here’s the Edit—“…beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” He took all those little scraps from the Law and the psalms and the prophets and he wove them into an air-tight narrative. Having already won, he could do that. Knowing that he had won, his disciples could do that. And it happened really fast. Peter, in Acts, chapter 2 and again in chapter 3 and Stephen, in chapter 7 give the full Winner’s Edit less than two months after the complete disaster of Jesus’s crucifixion.
What should we make of this? The crucial first point is that it doesn’t bear at all on the question of truth or falsehood. All the facts are what they are and what they were. (Clear memory of these facts is another matter entirely and I’m not getting into that in this post.) No facts have “become true” now that we know who won.
Still, an “edit” has the purpose of explaining something. The Winner Edit and the Loser Edit are the same in that respect. To explain this thing, one assembles the facts that are relevant to the outcome—those are the ones that explain something—and relate them to each other in a satisfying narrative.
If you have a story about how you and your sweetheart met and married, you have probably constructed such an edit. I have. I dated for six months in 2004—2005 before I met Bette. I dated a lot of women who have receded into the shadows of my mind now—not as quickly, probably, as I receded into the shadows of their minds, but still…—because they are not part of the story I tell now. People who have disastrously bad marriage perform the same alchemy along the lines of the Loser Edit. Some “facts” are recalled, others are relocated in time, others are invented to patch a hole in the narrative, and so on.
So it isn’t a question of what is true. It is a question of what is salient—what, as this Latin word asks us, “jumps out” at us.
And we’re almost to Easter and the narrative that sustains a Christian’s faith is being woven tighter and tighter.