You may recall this image taken from the July, 2016 Watchtower Study Edition, p. 7. You can find our review of that particular study article here. The theme of the article was “Why Must We ‘Keep on the Watch?’”
At the time, this reviewer felt that the new rule requiring all regional convention attendees to sit down and listen to the entire musical prelude for each session was just an example of encroaching paternalism on the part of the leadership of the organization. It did seem at the time to be a somewhat pointless exercise to force everyone to sit down and listen to the full ten minutes of the recording. It was like the pianist at a restaurant telling everyone to put down their forks and show some appreciation for his music. After all, is not the whole purpose of any musical prelude to give people time to get to their seats at their own speed? When did people who took their own good time to get to their seats during the prelude become branded as rude and disobedient? It seemed picayune, but now the 2017 Regional Convention indicates they had something planned all along. It now appears that there was a method to their madness – or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say, ‘a system to the silliness’.
At this year’s regional convention, the musical prelude is not really a prelude at all. In actuality, it is part of the session, though it precedes the song and prayer. It is a music video. It is not intended as a countdown, as the aforementioned Watchtower article suggested. In fact, now we have a proper countdown clock, giving us five minutes to sit down so we can listen and watch the music video in its entirety. That way we get the full benefit of the presentation which appears to have been the whole idea behind the rule made in The Watcthower last year.
So what of it? What’s so wrong about the music video? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps a great deal. Before we get into that, let’s look at the content of these videos. It should be noted that there are two each day for a total of six. They run 10 minutes each, meaning that by the end of the convention the audience will have spent one full hour stilling and compliantly watching music videos.
These videos depict idyllic situations. Beautiful people in beautiful surroundings. If they are depicted preaching, it is in places we’d all like to go. If they’re working in Kingdom hall construction, they’re shown to be so happy and fulfilled that we’d all like to be right there working alongside them. When they are attending meetings or, in gorgeous panning shots taken by remote drones, assembling in large, international conventions, we just want to be there with them to share the joy and the warm camaraderie.
Always the faces are beaming. Always the men are handsome; the women, beautiful; the children, well-dressed and precious. When we see historical shots of Kingdom preachers with bags and boxes of literature, we feel a swelling of pride for what has come before us. Some scenes depict the darkness of this old world, but then change to show the light of the New World which witnesses earnestly hope for. And always the music matches the scene.
The photography is very professionally done. The music is often very moving. And the producers have made extensive use of drone technology to enhance the visual impact of landscape scenes. A great deal of thought and effort, time and money has gone into the manufacture of these powerful motivating videos.
So what is wrong with that? Anything? After you have seen each video at your convention, ask yourself if any other organization could have produced exactly the same video? If you are honest with yourself, you have to admit that all you would have to do is change the kingdom songs to the songs or hymns of a different church, and you would be able to show exactly the same content so as to similarly motivate Adventists, Mormons, or evangelicals to greater zeal in their own faith. Indeed, it would surprise me if those religions have not already done similar videos themselves.
This is not to say that what is depicted in the videos is wrong. The point being made is that the purpose of these videos is only honorable if what they are depicting is true and leads us to the Christ. Otherwise, this medium can be used to influence the mind and heart so that the viewer is drawn to follow and obey men.
Why has the Governing Body effectively made viewing of these videos mandatory? Aren’t the many talks and dramas of the program enough?
When one listens to a talk, one hears words which are symbols only. These symbols enter through the ear and must be interpreted by the brain to mean something. As such, there is a filtering and evaluation process. What enters through the eye goes directly to the cerebral cortex. What we see is held to be true. “Seeing is believing” as the saying goes. Take the power of an image to instantly convey an idea, often with little or no evaluation on the viewer’s part, and then attach it to a moving piece of music to tap directly into the emotions, and you have a powerful tool for motivation and even manipulation. If you doubt the power of music to reach us emotionally, try watching a suspenseful movie scene with the sound off.
As we’ve already suggested, and as will become evident to anyone viewing all these videos, considerable time and money and human resources have been expended in their making. What an absolutely wonderful opportunity these could have afforded to help us understand more about the Christ, so that we could appreciate him and be drawn to him all the more. Yet in each of the six ten-minute video presentations, there is no depiction of Jesus Christ. What is likely to well up in the heart of the viewer is pride in the Organization and a renewed hope that what it says about the nearness of the end is true. All will want to be even more zealous in the loyalty and obedience to the Governing Body, several of whom are depicted in the videos.
While this convention is like virtually every one we’ve had since the Governing Body was formed in the late 1970s—that is, with little true spiritual content but with the same tired reminders being trotted out yet again from the platform—it is evident that the Teaching Committee has vastly improved its ability to deliver the message effectively. And the power they exercise to make us sit down and absorb the message and be properly conditioned is a little frightening.
While it is true that Jesus said one of the ways to distinguish true worship from false is to look at the fruits produced, he wasn’t referring to numerical growth, nor the expansion of a real estate empire. (Mt 7:20; 13, 14) If he had been, then the Catholic church would win hands down. Yet my JW brethren will look at these videos as proof of God’s blessing. Well, they are not alone in using that yardstick as this video shows.