C-span's recent request to film the proceedings of the Supreme Court brings to mind some troubling issues about the integrity of the justice system first exposed at the O.J. Simpson trial. One of these was the question of what happens to justice when we allow cameras in the courtroom. It was not a new question, nor have we yet come to terms with the implications of submitting due process to the framings and cuttings of electronic media.
The problem of media presence extends beyond the courtroom. Churches, too, have gradually submitted to media invasion in ways that range from the blatant (consider the more extreme varieties of televangelism) to the subtle. I tend to think the most dangerous forms of evil are those that are subtle enough to escape general notice until they have taken firm root. Consider technology in the sanctuary. In some churches, the presence of a video camera has become standard, not only at weddings but often in Sunday worship. One argument in favor of this practice, of course, is that it makes the service available to the homebound. But the camera always alters what it records. What a camera "captures" inevitably becomes performance. Some people can manage not to sabotage the spirit and dignity of worship by playing to the camera, but neither are the images the real thing. What is lost needs at least to be acknowledged, and perhaps mourned.
What is lost is, to borrow a phrase, real presence. The electronic media that allow us to capture and postpone the moment, to trade space and time for "virtual" imitations, progressively subordinate and devalue human presence. We've probably all felt the irritation of having a conversation disrupted by a phone call. We've probably had the disconcerting realization ...1