This one comes to us from Peter Severson:

We have learned quickly that a lot of our contemporary industries weren’t built to be pandemic-proof, but the sudden shutdown of live-action television and movie production might be the biggest cultural shock of them all. The industry has recently experienced a compelling devolution in style, one that probably never would have happened if it hadn’t been forced by the harsh realities of epidemiology.

Several TV shows, including Apple TV’s Mythic Quest and even NBC’s long-since-ended Parks & Recreation, have put together “quarantine-themed” episodes recorded entirely in the cast’s respective homes. Saturday Night Live put out three weeks’ worth of “SNL at Home,” featuring a host of low-budget, remotely-performed skits. As NBC’s Community experiences resurgent popularity with its arrival on Netflix, the cast reunited via Zoom for a podcast recording and an episode live-read. Viewers — by now accustomed to the Brady Bunch-style visual of talking heads — have begun to recognize the homebound visuals of different actors: Kate McKinnon’s cat was an instant hit on “SNL at Home,” while Danny Pudi recorded his Community cast videos in the same attic-looking bedroom as his character Brad’s appearance in Mythic Quest’s quarantine episode. Thanks to the global pandemic, the high-gloss Klieg lighting of much of the entertainment industry has given way to the triumph of a decidedly lo-fi aesthetic.

Lo-fi (short for low fidelity, as opposed to hi-fi or high fidelity) was already a thriving corner of the music and entertainment industry before the entire planet went into lockdown. YouTube has dozens of dedicated music channels for lo-fi beats, including Lo-Fi Hip-Hop Beats to Relax/Study To. Some TV channels have made a lot of hay from lo-fi programming, such as Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim lineup. But now, even those who never had to even consider producing such content have been forced to make do in these pandemic times.

The biggest recent example in American culture was April’s NFL draft, which, though it went on as scheduled, forced draftees, coaches, and even commissioner Roger Goodell to appear on screen from their living rooms. Instead of the extremely high-gloss, slickly-produced image the NFL usually presents, viewers got to scrutinize the various at-home set-ups of team executives, ranging from “Looks like a normal guy in a normal house” to “Why does the 49ers’ John Lynch have seven monitors and three phones on his desk?”

There’s something amazing about watching this particular industry drop the mask. Behind every multi-million dollar NFL draft event, it turns out, is a bunch of guys on a group text sending their picks to the commissioner. Behind every wildly popular TV show is a bunch of people who, shocker, live in houses with pets and kids and spouses and messy bedrooms. It might seem like a banal revelation — after all, didn’t MTV’s Cribs do the whole peek-behind-the-curtain thing in the early 2000s, and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous long before them? But now we’re seeing that a pandemic — perhaps the only kind of global event capable of affecting every single person on the planet at the same time — forces everyone to lower the facade a little bit. The truth of that recent New Yorker cartoon notwithstanding, there’s something about video-calling your coworkers from your makeshift home office that forces a little reconciliation with reality.

The great beauty of watching lo-fi, made-at-home, amateur aesthetics sweep the nation is that it reminds us that none of us really needs to put up the facade in the first place. After all, pretending that we have it all together is precisely the kind of naive thinking that often comes crashing down on us at the most inopportune moments. And isn’t that the governing philosophy that got the U.S. into this mess in the first place? It’s the kind of self-presentation that we always thought was expected of us, in public, at work, at church, perhaps even within our own home.

Now, however, God has given us something: not a gift, exactly, but an opportunity in the midst of a terrible crisis. We have been given the opportunity to remember who we are, and Whose we are when the mask is dropped and the pile of dirty clothes is still visibly heaped on the bed in the background of our Zoom call with corporate. God’s aesthetic has always been lo-fi. Jesus didn’t hang out with all the “wrong” kinds of people because it looked good to everyone else. Thanks be to God that looking good has never been God’s priority. God is, however, always and everywhere, good to us and this truth delivers us from our captivity to appearances.

The victory of lo-fi aesthetics in American entertainment culture may well be temporary. After all, everyone hopes and prays that we’ll leave lockdowns and stay-at-home orders behind, while trying to forge a safe path forward as the virus still circulates. Eventually, we’ll return to high-gloss entertainment, in sports, news, television, movies and otherwise. In the meantime, let us receive the gift of low fidelity into our lives to remind us of the One whose fidelity never wavers: God the creator, redeemer, and sanctifier. Amen.