Stephen Kokx
Pop culture and the meaning of work
By Stephen Kokx
May 10, 2012

I could be wrong, but Texas hold 'em seems to have successfully faded from the forefront of American pop culture. Other than the occasional televised event on a Tuesday night, professional poker just isn't what is used to be.

At the height of the poker phase (roughly 2002-2009), I was a college student who played weekly, if not daily, games with my friends. After a while I came to realize that what I was doing wasn't a worthy form of entertainment. Not only was I losing my hard earned money by bluffing with queen-nine off suit, but it wasn't giving me the satisfaction I was looking for in a hobby. I still go to the casino every once in a while and plunk down a couple bucks on the blackjack table, but it's not the obsession it once was.

To many people, gambling is a way of life. For Christians, gambling glorifies money and promotes reckless behavior. It should be practiced only in moderation.

What, then, is an appropriate career for a Christian to pursue? I don't intend to lay out a list of what does and doesn't count as a "legitimate" profession — lest I be accused of snobbery — but television shows like A&E's Storage Wars definitely push the limit with what constitutes a worthy line of work for a follower of Christ.

Storage Wars, as its name alludes to, is a program set in California that follows collectors, pawnshop owners and everything in between as they journey to storage centers to bid on abandoned "units" in hopes of acquiring the former owner's valuable possessions. The bidding wars are extreme and it is not uncommon to witness disinterested onlookers intentionally jack up the price of a unit in order to minimize the profits of their competitors. The show is so popular that it has produced spinoffs based in New York and Texas.

Reviews for the show have been mostly positive. Storage Wars is a "strangely uplifting show," writes the Los Angeles Times. It is an "especially entertaining addition to the [oddball television] genre," adds The New York Times.

Other outlets like Variety disagree and view it generally the same way I do, save the vitriolic character judgments: "Essentially, this A&E series focuses on lowlife, bottom-feeding scavengers waiting for people to abandon storage units and then bid on the unknown contents hoping to unearth hidden booty." It basically amounts to "taking stuff from poor bastards who didn't pay their rental fees."

The problem with Storage Wars is not that the show itself is contingent upon the sad realization that some people are dispossessed of their assets. The problem with Storage Wars is that it's more or less a hobby that rejects the definition of actual work.

When we work, we engage in an activity that is unique to mankind. In exercising our intellect and entrepreneurialism, as Blessed John Paul II has said, we engross ourselves in a deeper realization of our personhood. Actual work doesn't merely take goods from another, it produces them. Its primary goal is to advance the moral and cultural aspects of society. Furthermore, actual work redeems man's fallen nature by building him up every day and giving dignity to his existence.

The truth of the matter is that pop culture's distorted programming has turned the already poisonous habit of moral apathy into obsessive delusions of instant celebrity. We have essentially replaced those who are truly meritorious with those living in a relativistic fantasy land of glitz and glamour.

Want to be famous? Pig out on lots of food so you can win a hot dog eating competition someday. Want to fall in love? Forget taking it slow and getting to know somebody, just whore yourself out to fifteen possible suitors on national television in a bikini. Want a career? Don't slog your way through menial jobs like washing dishes at a restaurant, simply attend a storage auction and hope to cash in on the misfortune of others. You might have your own T.V. show someday.

I am not suggesting that every Christian, nor every other person for that matter, should look disparagingly upon those who don't possess the intellectual capacity of a doctor or philosophy professor. But it seems abundantly clear that atheists, Muslims, Jews and Christians can agree that living a sound, moral life requires some sort of positive contribution to society. It would take a lot to convince me that vulturing someone else's lost possessions and subsequently broadcasting it to the masses advances the "moral and cultural aspects of society."

© Stephen Kokx


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