We have not, however, been quite so unanimous as to the which of the said season. He seems to think it is the Premier League lays rightful claim to our delight; I'm pretty sure it is the Great British Bake Off. However, my attempts to reason with him have fallen on deaf ears. "I honestly don't understand what's gotten everybody so ridiculously hyped," he marvels disdainfully. "It's not even real."
Well, he's right about the hype. My Facebook newsfeed is testament to that. And it doesn't seem to be peculiar to my online peers: 9.3 million tuned in for the opener; 2 million more than the equivalent figures for last year. The Telegraph even provided a live text update of the first episode, football match-style, for people (I guess?) who were unavoidably away from their TV screens between the hours of 8 and 9 last Wednesday evening but absolutely couldn't bear to remain unapprised of whose nuts were too big and who presented the best crack.
And he kinda has a point about the 'not being real' thing. I never saw a 'reality TV show' yet that wasn't highly orchestrated, and GBBO has done little to except itself from such an accusation. Take last season's 'Bingate' scandal, for example, in which the editing team managed to spin what was probably an innocent "he didn't get his ice-cream into the freezer in time" incident into a full-blown "devious rival sabotaged his attempts by taking his ice-cream out of the freezer at the crucial moment and now his baked alaska's trashed and he's out and she's quit in disgrace" drama, prompting so much public outrage that the judges, the presenters, the supposèd victim, and even the GP of the accusèd woman were forced to speak out in her defence.
This year's offerings promise to be no less contrived. I mean, the presence on the show of a contestant with the same first name, facial hair, wardrobe and general appearance of judge Paul Hollywood might be the fortuitously comical, untampered-with coincidence of an impartial, talent-based entry procedure ... It might be.
Granted that it's somewhat fictionalised in its presentation ... perhaps the producers fancy themselves Poets rather than mere Historians, and are trying to deliver a unified representation rather than a random sequence of events connected only by their occurrence within the same period of time? Or perhaps I am only saying that to advertise the fact that I have read Aristotle's 'Poetics'. Either way, its divergence from reality does not annul what it is that particularly delights me which is that, for the most part (dramas and spin aside) it is basically about likeable people being good at stuff and making friends. It is -- by striking contrast with a sizeable body of conflict and/or laughable-failure-driven 'reality' content -- characterised more than anything else by kindness.
The contestants are kind to one another, as demonstrated in the aftermath of Bingate. Mel and Sue are kind, especially to the people who are leaving, or having mini-meltdowns -- take, for example, Sue's cheerful reassurances during Dorret's 'Black Forest No-Go' fiasco. The judges are kind, even when delivering feedback which necessarily isn't. No doubt, having already established that GBBO is not exactly 'real', this 'kindness' is all part of the tone the program makers want to evoke, and is to some degree achieved via the briefs that the presenters and editors have been given. But in a way that adds to my delight, as it implies that there's a recognised demand for televised kindness: it reassures me that it is a thing for which the viewing public have an appetite.
Kindness -- I've been thinking about this a lot lately, in the context of the people I admire and the character I would like to develop. See, I reckon it's the single feature that most attracts me to a person. And it makes such an impact: tiny momentary acts still resonate with me years down the line, and people in my history who have most shaped my life for good have been the ones who showed me straightforward, non-judgmental, selfless kindness in periods when I was too muddled and broken to do anything to 'deserve' it or reciprocate. I think of the gap-year worker who got alongside me when I was achingly alone in my church growing up, and the family who would have us round to lunch every week when I was battling depression during university. The other day I found some decade-old letters in a shoebox from an older woman who I didn't even know that well who'd written to encourage me when she knew that I was struggling with some stuff; I felt encouraged all over again.
"It costs nothing to be kind", they say, and this is often (though not always) the case. All the same, it doesn't usually buy you much, either, when it comes to what counts in this world ... wealth, position, recognition. Charm on the other hand ... now that might come in handy. Charm to me is 'the semblance of kindness strategically exercised': being nice to selected people with some personal advantage in mind. "Charm is deceitful" says Proverbs 31:30a. Hmm. I have always lacked the resources and therefore the temptation to charm and (probably not coincidentally) have become rather aware and unforgiving of it in others lately. (I guess that's not very kind of me, is it?)
Especially as someone claiming to be seeking to follow Jesus, because it seems to be a pretty unambiguously important part of the deal. His whole ministry -- healing, teaching, reaching out to the marginalised -- was characterised by kindness. "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). Examples that come particularly to mind include the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8...
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:3-11)Or how about him restoring the ear of one of the men who had come to arrest him (Luke 8:47-51) ... Or praying from the cross for the people who had nailed him there and were in the process of mocking and taunting him (Luke 23:33-38) ...
Likewise the New Testament letters are so full of exhortations towards kindness that I might as well tell you to open at random and see what you land on as give an example, but how about this bit from Paul's to the church in Colosse:
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)As with any 'becoming more like Jesus' change, it is not by effort of will that 'being kinder' is achieved, but a work of the Holy Spirit, causing a response to and an overflow of God's perfect kindness poured out on us ...
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior [...] (Titus 3:3-6)Here endeth today's lesson. The popularity of GBBO suggests, to me, a wide-reaching hunger for kindness; I put it to you that Jesus is the ultimate source and expression of that kindness. As for those who protest that they have little taste for kindness and watch GBBO primarily for its array of superior baked goods -- well, them I refer to John 6:35.
[Thumbnail image CC by Jay from UK (Birthday Cake) via Wikimedia Commons].