In a series of talks on popular culture in the 1990s Bishop Graham Cray (then just the Rev'd) was fond of talking about the new phenomenon of 'False community.' He noted that people loved crowds but would travel to massive events in small groups, join with the thousands in holding their lighters (later mobile phones) up in the air, then leave with their friends having never engaged with anyone outside the small community with whom they arrived.
Last night on BBC 2 part 1 of 'The History of Now; the Story of the Noughties' was aired. It took this idea one step further. Some rock journalists noted that during the Led Zeppelin re-union gig at the O2 Arena, and in the middle of Stairway to Heaven no less, many people were more engaged in ordering drinks from passing sales staff than with the most anthemic rock song ever, probably being performed live for the last time.
The commentators observed that the point of such events now was no longer to enjoy them but to say that you had been there and got the video capture or stills. And they noted that audiences will spend huge amounts of money on this. I have written previously about my frustration at the background chat during quieter moments of gigs by sensitive artists such as Elbow or Zero 7.
Yet the programme continued to say that the amount of money younger people are prepared to pay to purchase music (download or hard copy) is, wait for it, nothing. Why should they, it was figured, when they can make an outstanding dub-step tune in their own bedroom and post it on YouTube within minutes. So Prince gives away his latest CD with the Mail on Sunday (that's right, I said the Mail on Sunday, how weird is that, they were surely slagging off his on-stage antics some years ago?) and follows it up by selling out twenty-one nights at the 02 Arena and makes squillions of pounds in the process.
What does this say to those of us who go to a lot of trouble to make the worship experience in our churches a great event? Will we find it easy to get newcomers to a special event but increasingly difficult to get them to listen, watch or take part? Should we sell them souvenirs but allow them to take pictures? Should there be an entry fee for Sunday but a free, downloadable course to engage with the content? Maybe at a wedding we should point people to a web-site that includes discussion questions and marriage MOTs, rather than preaching.
Interesting programme. Got, as you can see, me thinking. It's a three-parter. Catch it.