Sometimes when we look at a painting, we can come very close to it and get lost in the way colors blend and observe minutely the contours of the brush strokes. But to understand the painting in its totality, we have to step back and try to look at the entire painting, it’s form and structure, to understand what the artist is truly saying.
We can get just as lost in details when we look at life around us and not see the big picture.
If we were to look at the recurring problems reported each day in the news, two of them would probably stand out: Sexual Dysfunction and Violence. The Sexual Abuse Crisis in all its forms: pedophilia, MeToo movement, etc., has dominated the headlines now for a number of years. Added to that is the gun violence that seems at times to have risen to epidemic proportions.
It is wrong I think to see these two problems in isolation from the general tenor of our society. The place to look for that is the art that is produced specifically for the medium of film and television.
I once asked an 8th grade class in Brooklyn to do a homework assignment: they were to watch 2 hours of TV. Needless to say they loved their assignment! But I asked them to first prepare a sheet of paper with three columns. At the top of one column they are to place the word “Sex”, on the second “Violence” and on the third: “God”. While they watched whatever channel they wanted, I asked them to put a mark in the appropriate column when a sexual word or situation is depicted, or when a violent act is committed or violent word is uttered, and finally every time God is mentioned (but not uttered in vain). The results were shocking, but not surprising.
In the “Sex” and “Violence” columns, there were many, many marks; but in the one marked “God”, there were usually only one or two. I asked one of the students who had a mark under “God” what he was watching at the time and he responded: “The Simpsons”! One could only imagine the context on that one!
The point that I tried to make with their parents when I reported my findings as well as what I want to bring out in this essay is that media of all sorts gives us a steady and heady diet of violence and sex. Given the pervasive nature of this input, are we really surprised at the mass shootings and the sexual dysfunction in our society?
I don’t see anyone in the media complex being willing to institute and adhere to a system of voluntary self-censorship when it comes to the showing of these acts. Writers would have to show real talent in finding the drama in life without the ubiquitous gun and the doffing of clothing. This is a very cheap and easy way of getting attention rather than embedding the drama into the very action and emotions and development of the characters. Show a gun or a naked body and you have instant attention.
But, when you do it often enough, you help create a pervasive environment of sex and violence that has great effect on people, especially the young. While all the evil done by guns and sex in our society is a direct result of free decisions made by people, everyone is affected by the overall consensus borne out and even created by art, especially such a powerful medium as film and TV. A steady diet of sex and violence on the screens of our homes (TV and Computer and phone) will show itself inevitably in the random acts of gun violence and sexual abuse that we see all around us. Even if you take away all the guns in the nation, people will still resort to knives and stones to hurt people (though with less devastating efficiency).
In the end, what is most necessary to stem the violence and the sexual dysfunction of our world is a conversion of heart to God. In the past, this seemed axiomatic; but in the irreligion and irreverence of our times, it is pretty near radical in its newness and in its implications. For it is only in relationship to God and in the proper ordering of our spiritual priorities that one can gain the needed balance to be able, with a well formed conscience, to make good moral choices that will positively affect this world. Even in the contemporary issue of climate change, it is the respect for God’s creation which will, in the end, enable us to mortify our passions and appetites to discern and limit the excesses of consumption to which we are all inclined.
While the modern secularists think they are doing good by stripping religion from the earth (or at least making it ineffectual), they are actually endangering the world by exposing it to the unredeemed and unchecked choices that will continue to plague the world and endanger its future.