“Who communicated what to whom — and how” in Harold Lasswell’s words, “and to what effect?” (A. B. Burke n.d.) is the seminal question that must be asked in order to fully understand any major event or shift in history. To that I would add, “when?. Timing is also critical in most instances. In other words, history of the social media significantly influences the interpretation of history in general. A Social History of the Media by Briggs and Burke is a comprehensive, informative yet concise overview of the subject. It has helped me see several important events of the past in a totally new light. It certainly gives me a better perspective on events taking place in the present time and their implications for the future as well.
The decade of the 80s saw a significant number of people drawn to the Christian Faith throughout India. One of the major factors behind this huge movement was the extensive exposure of masses of people in rural villages to the Jesus film. Based on the gospel of Luke and produced by Campus Crusade, this film proved to be the single most powerful tool in bringing the Gospel narrative to the largest number of non literate people in the history of modern missions. The film was dubbed into all the major Indian languages and many smaller dialects allowing people to watch a movie and hear the Story in their ‘heart language’ for the very first time in history. This is becomes a significant milestone considering the socio cultural complexity of India and the fact that literacy in the 80s was less than 40 percent. (Premi 1991). In many cases vast numbers of people were watching a movie of any kind for the very first time.
That decade compares to 17th century Europe in literacy. Television was unknown for the most part in the early 80s in India and access to radio was barely accessible to the masses. Rural populations were inaccessible and masses of people lived in primitive agrarian villages. I have personally carried the equipment and screened the film on more than 500 occasions, never in the same place twice and seldom returned without remarkable experiences of group decisions of people to embrace to the Christian Faith. Following such responses small groups would be formed for discipleship and training. These groups would eventually grow into small house churches.
The images portrayed in the Jesus film were very contemporary and current to the audience. To the average villager it wasn’t a story from the past. It was the present, enacted right then and there. The social and cultural life of the audience coincided with much of what the film depicted. They identified very closely with it. The scenes of the crucifixion and the resurrection drew the most dramatic responses from the audiences. Those responses were very moving to observe. One personal experience remains etched in memory for me. One that I have cherished and brings to life several elements of the impact of media that Briggs describes.
After one of the outdoors screening of the Jesus film in a remote village, we were busy packing up the equipment. The portable screen is usually tied down to the ground with iron stakes and ropes. An elderly man picked up one of the 8 inch long iron rods in his hands. “Weren’t these the nails they used to crucify Jesus?” he said as he held them in his hands, brought it to me and reverently bowed down, kissed it and started weeping over it. “I want to see this Jesus,” he continued.
Looking back, one can tell that it was a perfect convergence of timing, circumstance, media and technology and much more. It cannot be repeated now. The political environment, technology, people’s responses and many other factors that were conducive at that time have changed since. But the door is still wide open. The obsession of the Indian people with movies is a well known phenomenon. People of all age groups and every social stratum are absorbed by it. Politics, particularly in the south has been tremendously influenced by the media. It was theatre at first and then films. Since India’s independence in 1947, four out the five individuals who have led the state governments of Tamilnadu a south Indian state, have been popular movie stars.
I could go on, but here’s the point I am trying to make:
a.How can Christian leadership remain informed, sensitive and open to such Kairos moments of opportunity in history?
b.We do not see much happening to create positive influences by the media on children and youth equipping them for the future.
c.Unfortunately, Christian media does not seem to recognize the current possibilities. The present prospects are grossly abused and exploited for individual popularity and selfish gains.
The Church in India is yet to recognize the full potential that film and television still holds to positively influence masses of people. Appropriate, innovative, interactive and culturally relevant programs are yet to be developed not only to disseminate religious and spiritual truths but even just for communicating Christian values in a non threatening way. The pleading cry of that man who represents many millions like him still haunts me: “I want to see this Jesus”. BIBLIOGRAPHY l 1033
Premi, Mahendra K. India’s Literacy Panorama. 1991. http://www.educationforallinindia.com/page172.html (accessed November 5, 2012).
Briggs, Asa, and Peter Burke. A social history of the media: From Gutenburg to the Internet.. 2002. Reprint. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2010. Print.