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Sunday, November 2, 2003

Matins America.

Lee Siegel finds a liturgical function in "Good Morning, America" and the other morning TV shows:

It may be that Katie and Matt, Diane and Charles, Harry and Julie and René and Hannah, have proved Hegel right. Yes, Hegel. He said that the modern person's daily prayer was reading the newspaper. Nowadays it's the well-scrubbed, early rising, upto-the-minute, endlessly knowing and smiling anchorpeople who preside over matins and lead you, if you so desire, through the crosses and contradictions you may meet in the course of the day, and out of the dangers and the perils of the night before.

And what do our national morning prayers do, pop-liturgy-wise?

[I]n these morning times before the complicated day begins, as the mind is just beginning to grasp what lies ahead and what still lies behind, we are finally meant to notice that the anchors are feigning pity or compassion or happiness or reverence. We are meant to see the mental intention struggling to complete itself as an authentic feeling. We are meant to see that they are working at something, which isn't easy; that they are trying to satisfy the expectations of their bosses and of their audience, which isn't easy; that they are trying to conform their inner states to the social situation, which isn't easy—in other words, they are trying, so transparently, so deliberately, to do what most of us have to do every day.  

This playacting is for our cathartic benefit. It gets interwoven through deftly chosen and balanced stories about death, and about survivors, who often thank God for preserving them and for keeping them sane through the destruction of others. Those are the crosses that have to be borne, and the perils from the night before (a lot of these things happened while we were sleeping). Then there are the contradictions: drugs that might or might not work; politicians who might or might not have failed the public trust; parents who refuse to condemn their overweight hacker son, who has nearly brought down an entire industry, and who may or may not be guilty, but still deserves his parents' love. And then, too, are the redemptions. Just about every morning show has, at one point or another, a story about newborn babies or young children, and each day's show often includes at least a reference to weddings. 

In this subtle and wholly uncalculated way, the shows portray life's dangers, conundrums, confusions. They enumerate life's blessings. And like all morning prayers, which end with a direct appeal for protection to the divinity, the morning shows finish with our own version of perfect happiness: since Possibility is the American god, they conclude with an interview with a celebrity. Harmless and comforting and diverting inanity without end.

("Rise and shine," Lee Siegel, New Republic 11.10.03, sub req'd)

I shudder to think what we morning-time Protestants — we who abstain from the pageantry and pomp of morning TV — are doing, pop-liturgy-wise, with our RSS feeds and blogs and Art & Letters Daily and Poetry Daily . . . Are we the Puritans of this vast cult?

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 2 November 2003 at 10:10 PM

Previous: On Wesley Clark's enemies.
Next: Robinson's consecration.




November 3, 2003 09:20 AM | Permalink for this comment


Morning prayer is Lauds, not Matins. That said, a colleague of mine who also practices the Liturgy of the Hours likes to joke that we should put candles on our computer monitors, because that's where we are praying.


November 3, 2003 09:26 AM | Permalink for this comment

All the more reason people should not depend on a Unitarian for liturgical advice! I wonder if there are blogs dedicated to each of the offices: Laudblog, Nonceblog, Vesperlog, help me out here, folks... Oh, and lest we forget, The Antic Muse suggested that prayer is the poor man's blogging. How's that for turning the tables?


November 3, 2003 11:36 AM | Permalink for this comment

Subtle? Uncalculated? (last paragraph of the quote)

Morning shows are about as subtle and uncalculated as Presidential speeches proclaiming "Mission Accomplished" (see


November 5, 2003 09:34 AM | Permalink for this comment

Terce! Of course! Thanks, Paula's House of Toast.

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