By Joseph Honescko
If you’re like me, you’ve had multiple conversations in the last few months around Netflix’s newest hit show, The Queen’s Gambit.
The show premiered in October of 2020 and immediately took the world by storm. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 97%. IMDB rates it at 8.7. Rachel Syme of the New Yorker called it “the most satisfying show on television,” and everybody I’ve ever met has demanded that I watch it.
“But Joseph,” my friends respond, outraged by my assault on their cultural treasure, “this show really is incredible.” I don’t push back. By all accounts, it really is one of the best shows on television. My opposition has nothing to do with the show’s quality.
It has everything to do with valuing resistance.
- How Challenging Art Teaches You to Love Your Neighbor
- How to Actively Engage with What You’re Watching
The Need for Resistance
In the not-too-distant past, television consumption happened at specific times. I remember watching 24 with my whole family every Monday night. We’d gather together as Jack Bauer and crew spent an hour of their day saving the country with questionable tactics. Those sixty action-packed minutes earned my attention, and every week I was ready to dedicate myself to the show.
The digital world has changed that dynamic. Instead of setting aside dedicated blocks of time, we have endless opportunities to surrender our attention to various outlets. Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Podcasts, the list goes on forever.
Every day, fresh content beckons us with a promise to entertain, enlighten, and engross our imaginations. Passive consumption has become our default setting.
Every day, fresh content beckons us with a promise to entertain, enlighten, and engross our imaginations. Passive consumption has become our default setting.Click to Tweet
For the most part, the content itself does not cause problems. Some may even bring a certain amount of spiritual value – podcasts, sermons, videos, or blog posts like this one. Others may teach us something about the created world. They may provide us with an avenue to “engage culture.” The Queen’s Gambit, from what I understand, falls into the latter category. Again, this isn’t an attack on the moral or thematic issues within The Queen’s Gambit (or any other show, for that matter).
No, my resistance comes in response to the large number of opportunities we have to indulge ourselves. I don’t need another show to capture my attention for hours and hours. I especially don’t need to hand over the reins of my attention simply because someone calls it “can’t miss television.” In the last decade, people have said the same thing about Breaking Bad, Orange Is the New Black, Stranger Things, Narcos, and Ozark. Before that, it was Lost, the Office, the Wire, and a never-ending list of genuinely great but entirely optional television.
You can live a perfectly happy life without consuming every piece of content that comes across your streaming service or gets recommended by a friend. The constant “yes” to consumption trains us to desire more.
And streaming platforms like Netflix capitalize on our yeses. Their “Because you watched _______” section makes passive consumption even easier. Just sit back and let the streaming service do the work. We’re media gluttons, and streaming services just keep feeding us.
Why Should We Practice Resistance?
Entertainment is not a sin. Netflix is not evil. And television does not necessarily bring harm to its viewers. However, the passive consumption that has become so natural in our culture creates problems for Christians.
A liturgy is a repeated set of practices that shape and define worship in a religious context. Our daily habits function as liturgies that shape our lives outside of church, and what we practice determines how (and what) we worship. In You Are What You Love, James K.A. Smith says that “liturgies make us certain kinds of people” by “training our hearts through our bodies.”
Passive liturgies (ones we do without thinking) are no different. When we mindlessly consume digital content, that numbness makes its way to our hearts. Your viewing habits act as micro-liturgies, training us to accept what comes in front of us. That “decision” to watch another episode because it has already started playing might be influencing you to approach the rest of your life with the same kind of apathy.
Real decision making requires consideration, critical thinking, and analysis. Do you feel the temptation to retreat from that kind of depth when it comes to choosing what to watch next? It might be because you’re out of practice.
We’ve abdicated our God-given authority to ads and algorithms. The only way to win back control is to create a new liturgy: a liturgy of resistance.
How to Develop a Liturgy of Resistance
Resistance is the ultimate rebellion against passive consumption. We are slammed by faceless platforms offering us more,promising to make our lives easier, more convenient, and better. But when we resist, we actively affirm that we already have everything we need for the good life.
This is the same reason we fast. We give up something good–such as food– to remember what truly sustains us. But just as fasting requires us to give up the food we like, a liturgy of resistance means more than saying no to television that’s not interesting to you. It isn’t resistance when you just don’t like the show. The trick with The Queen’s Gambit for me is that I think I’d really enjoy it. Everything I’ve heard about it appeals to me. And that’s why I need the reminder that I don’t need to watch it. The good life doesn’t demand it.
Now, I want to reiterate that this isn’t about what we should or shouldn’t do. Or what God does or does not allow. We are free to watch good television, even lots of it. But as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, not everything permissible is beneficial.
Consuming habits have changed. We’re a long way from the forced discipline of dedicated time demanded of me when watching 24. Passive consumption is the new norm. Great content always waits for us. This means it’s beneficial to have a plan. What will you do to remember that you already have everything you need for the good life?
Building up your resistance muscles in this area will help when the temptation extends beyond what’s on Netflix. Adam and Eve’s first sin was one of indulgent consumption. Practicing a liturgy of resistance allows us to reorient our hearts towards higher loves, ones that won’t fade away when the next “can’t miss” show rolls in.
Are you looking to replace mindless media consumption in your life? Start by building the healthy habit of spending time with God. Join Dave Cover on A Bigger Life podcast to be guided through scripture mediation and prayer each week.
Don’t miss the rest of our three-part series What (and How) We Watch Matters:
- Why I Didn’t Watch The Queen’s Gambit (and You Don’t Have to Either) (Part 1)
- How Challenging Art Teaches You to Love Your Neighbor (Part 2)
- How to Actively Engage with What You’re Watching (Part 3)
About the Author
Joseph Honescko writes about art, faith, and culture from his home in McKinney, Texas where he lives with his wife, Ginny, and their baby girl, Louella. He’s interested in the connection between cultural narratives and daily habits. In addition to writing, Joseph teaches High School English and Apologetics. He hates social media but looks for alternative ways to connect with readers at josephrhonescko.com.