If you’re like me–and lets hope you are:)–then you’ve been anxiously waiting for the 11th season of America’s Next Top Model. As I’m sure you already know, there has been a lot of “internet buzz” about the full inclusion of a competitor named Isis, who is the first female contestant actually born male. Although this show has consistently failed to provide a legitimate “Top Model,” its value as another enjoyable vehicle for dramatized social engineering (think back to when the Real World was good) is limitless.

Now, this post is not about the specifics of transgender people per se; rather, its about the broader concept of human identity in light of two topics we often discuss: freedom and the Gospel. Obviously, this is a huge topic, so I just want to make a few observations and see what you think.

For those (all) of us who love Reality TV, it should have come as no surprise that this season the concept of “gender identity” would be brought to the fore, because much of what constitutes this genre is simply a slightly less scripted iteration of the older “morality tale” shows that dramatized contemporary social issues. Webster, Different Strokes, The Facts of Life, Silver Spoons etc. have given way to Road Rules, Beauty and the Geek, and, of course, The Real World.

Whether its through the coverage of the now famous “pregnant man,” or recent articles like Save the Males, the fact is that the questions surrounding what constitute a “real” man or woman, combined with the technological ability to decide for oneself his/her “gender identity,” has brought the debate to the masses. What is going on in ANTM (as we call it) this season is the logical manifestation of a genre that began as the guilty voyeuristic pleasure where, from the comfort of your own couch, you could watch people attempting to create specific identities for themselves in front of a live audience. With this season, we’ve perhaps seen the beginning of the end of “normal” Reality TV. Gone are the days when the “geek” wanted to get made over as a “jock,” or the “artsy” girl who wants to be the “prom queen;” when the very question of what sex you feel like you are is on the table, everything else pales–and the ratings will probably confirm that.

And this brings me to Mad Men. Well, I’ve finally gotten around to watching it, and it’s just as good as Browder said; however, what I’ve been struck with is how pervasive the same question–the one of human identity–is in this show as well. Set in the beginnings of the birth-control-fueled emancipation of women from “traditional” societal roles, this show is a painful look at sublimated rage that takes the form of workaholism and silent desperation. Even as both the women and men in this world take a large measure of comfort from fulfilling their respective roles, the resentment from this forced confinement drives them further apart.

Needless to say, I love both of these shows, and I appreciate the, admittedly, extremely varied ways they address a similar question.

Mad Men paints a sardonic portrait of the “good old days” where there was no arguing about the given answers to the question of human identity—men were men and women were women and everyone knew what that meant. Essentially, the whole show is a depiction of the different ways the characters attempt to relive themselves from this oppressive weight. But, that was then, and this is now.

What ANTM is arguing today is that these questions are left for us to decide, and whatever we decide is ok. What is fun for us is that “Reality TV” gives us the ability to observe these questions being worked out in front of a “live studio audience.” So, according to ANTM (and in the words of the Kinks) Girls will be boys and boys will be girls/ Its a mixed up muddled up shook up world.

But, the question is, is that freedom?

The supposed allure of complete self-definition, while promising the ultimate freedom, has actually enslaved people to their own capricious desires. Today, unlike any other time, the problems inherent in the slavery of self-definition have been exposed in such a dramatic (and entertaining) way, that the specific message of a genuinely inclusive Gospel that redeems humanity and establishes the proper foundation for self-understanding can be heard and understood in a similarly dramatic (and hopefully entertaining) way.

A genuine conversation about what constitutes human identity can only be done in a context that acknowledges and understands the deep scarring and fearful realities where most people live in regards to their own identity. This fear is tragically exacerbated by a universally felt need for a message that addresses both the desire for self-authentication and the necessity for external definition. This is the fearful corner of our hearts where the message of the Gospel sheds a very unique light. It is only in this light—the one that is very skeptical about any claims about ourselves other than the expression of our need for a Savior and our hope for redemption–that perhaps we can begin to explore the differences between men and women without (hopefully) institutionalizing false ideals based upon (thinly-veiled) selfish projections. I realize that this is almost impossible, and—like in the Ordination or Baptism vows—our only reply to this whole issue can be “We will, with God’s help.”