Yesterday Sony Electronics and Nielsen released a study drawn from more than 1,000 Americans on what they considered the most “universally impactful” televised moment of the last 50 years. As such surveys tend to be, its findings were interesting – and revealing.
Before I heard the results, I had expected to hear people cite the first appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show (I guess Elvis Presley debuted prior to the “last 50 years” criteria), a particularly memorable sports moment, or maybe something like the final episode of “M*A*S*H.”
But the events deemed most “impactful” largely concerned events related to death, destruction and tragedy. The horrors of Sept. 11, 2001 ranked at the top – understandably so. Next was 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, followed by the O.J. Simpson murder trial verdict in 1995, the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1988, and the death of Osama bin Ladin last year.
Other top TV moments included the 2011 earthquake in Japan, 1999’s shootings at Columbine High School, the 2010 BP oil spill, Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997, the recent death of Whitney Houston, and the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein in 2006.
The first “happy” televised event came in at No. 13, Barack Obama’s Presidential acceptance speech, followed by the 2011 royal wedding.
Of the top 20 most powerful TV moments, only three did not relate to death or violence, but even the other one involved gore (in a sense) – the Bush-Gore Presidential election results.
If this survey is accurate of Americans overall, what does this say about us? Cynics might say we delight in taking a voyeuristic approach to death, mayhem and calamity, that there’s something therapeutic in vicariously experiencing someone else’s misfortune.
There might be something to that, but I suspect there’s a greater, more universal factor: It’s been said the only certainties in life are death and taxes. But according to a recent report, only 51% of Americans pay Federal income tax, so that leaves just one certainty.
Old or young, rich or poor, regardless of race, gender or beliefs, death is the one equalizer. Not to sound morbid, but death is an integral part of life – whether it pertains to a plant, a puppy, or a person. So with major events in which lives are lost, whether in traffic and boating accidents, natural disasters or violent acts, we tend to pay attention. Why do you think nightly TV news broadcasts often start with such reports?
God understands this all too well. And that’s why the central verse in all of the Bible is so well-known in one translation or another, even by those who refuse to believe: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
With death all around us, it’s good news to know that life – eternal life – is available to us, if only we’re humble enough to receive it.