By Brenda Nettles Riojas
When my daughter was 15 years old, I had to explain to her why I didn’t think the movie “Sex in the City” was appropriate for her to watch. Now that she is a young adult and making her own choices, another movie coming out on Valentine’s Day prompted a conversation about our media selections. It made me think about how careful we are concerning what our children watch, but are we mindful as adults of our own media consumption habits?
How blessed we are that God loved us into being and gives us free will to make our own choices, to shape our own lives. Our journey is paved with choices. “God willed that man should be ‘left in the hand of his own counsel,’ so that he might of his own accord seek his Creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.” CC 1730
To make good choices, we have to exercise prudence. According to St. Augustine, “prudence is love making a right distinction between what helps it towards God and what might hinder it.”
We are confronted in making good choices when it comes to the books we read, the music we listen to and the movies and television programs we watch. I confess I have not been as discerning and selective as I should have been at times. After all it was entertainment I reasoned, a brief detachment from reality. When we draw from a relativism play book based on a catechesis of a secular culture it’s easy to justify our choices.
However, as the rational beings that God created us, we have a responsibility to pay attention to what we feed ourselves, via our reading and viewing selections. Much has been written about how messages in the media can influence the public and the choices we make. Consider the millions spent by advertisers on commercials.
The flood of messages streaming from the airwaves, newsstands and online sites have distorted how a large segment of the population view relationships between men and women and what constitutes a loving union.
On Valentine’s Day, two movies open in theaters — “Old Fashioned” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.” The movie, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” is based on a book by the same name and is the first in a trilogy by E.L James. The book, aimed at female readers, has sold 100 million copies. It includes “explicit scenes and heavy doses of bondage, dominance and sadism.”
One only has to review the countless reviews to gleam the storyline and content of the book and now movie that have led some to refer to it as “Mommy Porn.” Not only have reviewers critiqued the quality of the writing, some have raised concerns about the distorted portrayal of relationships.
Nathan Nazario, producer of “Old Fashioned,” said “It surprises me, honestly — in a culture claiming to advance female independence and equality — that so few powerful voices raise questions about ‘Fifty Shades’”. “Behind the rating euphemism ‘unusual’ lies a crippling cultural fear or unwillingness to say any act is potentially harmful.”
The producers of “Old Fashioned” are promoting it as an alternative to “Fifty Shades” and playing up the differences between the two movies in one of the trailers – exploitation vs. innocence; “Unusual behavior” vs. thoughtful behavior. The Motion Picture Association of America rated “Fifty Shades” R for “strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language.” According to a USA Today article (Jan. 9) The “unusual behavior” term, which has not be used before in rating explanations is likely due to the film’s sexual theme of “dominance and submission.”
Rik Swartzwelder, “Old Fashioned” writer, director, and lead actor, questions “Fifty Shades” long-term effects. “What happens when ‘harmless fantasy’ plays out in the real world — in young lives unsure of what lasting love looks like, much less how to get it?” he asks. “Unquestionably, the stories our culture lifts up influence young audiences.”
Swartzwelder’s script sprang from conversations with fellow singles, he says, struggling to pursue “God-honoring” and long-term love in a world fixed on short-term pleasure.
St. John Paul II addresses the themes of marriage, family, sexuality and love as a gift of self in “Man and Woman He created them, a Theology of the Body” (TOB).There is much to unpack in this series of 129 talks he gave during his Wednesday audiences from 1979 to 1984.
Michael Waldstein in his introduction on TOB, notes, “The sexual revolution does not sufficiently appreciate the value and beauty of sex. It deprives sex of its depth by detaching it from the spousal meaning of the body. It favors the sexual lie, in which the language of radical gift is overlaid by the contrary language of individual autonomy and the use of persons for pleasure.”
Genevieve Kineke, in her book “The Authentic Catholic Woman,” writes, “Among all of the challenges of our fallen world, in this generation the misunderstanding about the God-given gift of human sexuality are paramount, and correcting them is the preeminent battle of our day.”
We have a say in the battle. We can help correct the misunderstanding by arming ourselves with information and by being prudent about our choices.
I remember as a child and well into my teens, my father was always cautious about what we saw on television. Even shows he deemed “appropriate” he felt the need to constantly remind us that what we were watching was fiction. “You know that’s make believe,” he’d say.
So why worry about the media we choose, especially those categorized as fiction?
The “Family Guide for Using Media” from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee for Communication, notes, “The media are so much part of us that to recognize their impact, we must step back and consciously think about how they shape our lives and what they are saying. An intelligent use of media can prevent our being dominated by them and enable us instead to measure them by our standards.”
“In this way, even many messages with which we cannot agree, inevitably coming to us from a diverse constellation of media, will not hurt us. They can even be turned to our benefit by whetting our understanding and articulation of what we believe.”
Just as what we eat matters, so does what we choose to read and watch. Bishop Daniel E. Flores on several occasions has said, “You are what you think about. You want to put the good things in your mind. …It influences how we look at our priorities.”
These days as we swim against the current of popular culture and as my daughter makes her own decisions, I pray that each of us will discern carefully what we select and think critically about the messages that come across in the content. We must also be cognizant that we speak with our choices and how we spend our money. Our choices send a message as to what we value.
(Originally published in February 2015 edition of The Valley Catholic newspaper)