Have you heard of her? Vanna White. She will retire this year from her $4,000,000 a year job on the TV show “Wheel of Fortune.” She is on the list of America’s most admired women. She is universally adored. What does she do? She used to turn blank blocks to another side of the block on which a letter is displayed. Now, of course, turning the blocks is done electronically, so all Vanna does is approached the block, point her finger, the letter appears. She does this very well, very fluidly, with what appears to be genuine enjoyment. She also does it silently. Vanna says nothing. She uses only body language, and she seems to like everything she does. No, “like” is too tepid. Vanna thrills, rejoices, adores everything she does. Therein lies her magic. We have no idea what, or even if, Vanna thinks. Is she a feminist or every male chauvinist’s dream? She is whatever you want her to be; sister, lover, daughter, friend, never cross, non-threatening and non-judgmental to a fault.
Vanna White has written her autobiography. In it she reveals that her greatest nightmare is running out of cat food, and that one of the complexities of her job was when she had to make proper allowance for the greater weight of the letters “M” and “W” over the letter “I.” Once, during her earlier, less-experienced days, she failed to consider that heavy letter factor and broke a fingernail. Ted Koppel gave the graduation address one year at Duke University. He described what he called the “Vanna Factor.” Said Koppel: “We’ve become Vannaitized. She’s the symbol of the vanity of TV.” And since TV is where 60% of the American public (140,000,000 people) get their news, their ideas, and form their self-image, the “Vanna Factor” is a symbol of who we are, what we want out of life, and how we conceive ourselves, late 20th century Americans.
If anything flies in the face of the “Vanna Factor,” it is the message and the person of Jesus Christ. He teaches us to distinguish truth from illusion. He teaches us that life makes demands. He teaches us that there is a moral compass that guides our lives. It is not arbitrary and not a function of fashion or trend. He does not hand down to us suggestions about how to live, but commands on how to live. He teaches us that there is a world beyond the world of appearances. He says that living for yourself is bankrupt. He says: “Where your heart is, there is your treasure.”
Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, and be merry!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” (Luke 12:13-21)
The truly human questions are these: “How do I live in the world with other men and women as sisters and brothers? What is my response to this pandemic crisis? What does what I have diminish what my neighbor needs? What is my responsibility for the whole? For the common good? When is enough, enough?” It takes great courage not to be duped by the false gods of material success and shallow fame.