EDIT: I decided to move the last portion of this article to its own post so as not to detract from what I’m saying here.
I was with a friend at the mall this weekend, just kind of walking around and observing the culture (you can learn a lot about your town by going to the mall, I’m telling you). At one point, we passed an unmanned booth that was apparently being rented to showcase the work of a photo-portrait studio in town. As we walked by, I experienced mild whiplash as I snapped my head around in a “eureka!” -esque double-take. Any idea what it was that I saw?
Okay, I apologize. Putting the question that way is misleading. I should rather have said, “what it was I didn’t see.” We walked up to the booth for a closer look – just to make sure I wasn’t totally blind – and my initial observation was confirmed.
There were no blemishes on the people in those pictures. None. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Nil. Zero. They were, in every way I could think to examine them from a visual standpoint, absolutely flawless.
Photoshop strikes again.
This in turn made me think about a Time Magazine article I read earlier in the week, which detailed the history of another advent of modern technology: Auto-Tune; Photoshop for the voice. Apparently it was invented in late 1996, and became a studio secret almost immediately due to its ability to doctor a singer’s voice to practical perfection and save on costly studio-time (not to mention talent!). It’s funny… I’d always marveled at how much the quality of Blink 182’s post-’96 vocal sound differed from their music pre-’96. I had chalked it up to more practice and whatnot – but this explains a lot!
Now, I completely understand the use of these technologies in their proper contexts. I mean, we all know about those monster zits that decide to show on up the morning of your yearbook photo appointment, right? And I don’t think anyone would dispute that the “Boogity Boogity Boo Prayer” song is as catchy as they come. Of course, even with the blessings of their uses, they also have their abuses, and I’m sure we could all think of a couple of those right off the top of our heads as well. But for good or ill purpose/outcome, the point of the technology is wrapped up in predominantly one thing: achieving perfection.
I think there’s a theological tie-in here, and that is this: we humans know what perfection is, having been made for it. We know that scars were not part of the original design of creation. We know that sour notes are part of a soured universe. We know that there is such a thing as absolute flawlessness (while acknowledging that even in a perfect world there would still be learning and improvement in skills and such), and so we do not ultimately take acne or flat notes as final. We have a real – if somewhat abstract at this point – notion of perfection, and we try desperately to move towards it, dragging ourselves along by technology or whatever else necessary.
But as Christians we also know that any notion of perfection apart from Christ is a lie. Those people featured at the mall booth? They don’t exist. Or, better said, they don’t exist in that form. Post-’96 Blink 182? Their vocals are misleading. They don’t really have perfect pitch all the time. Not this side of the Resurrection, at any rate.
Use the technology, enjoy God’s gifts of blemish removal and pitch correction in their proper contexts, but never let them substitute for the real Author and Perfecter of all things, on whose account and in whose Name you stand before the Father: absolutely flawless.