I don't know what the criteria is in your home regarding the movie videos and television shows the family watches, but in ours there's a pretty stringent rule prohibiting offensive or bathroom language and sexual innuendo. If you're thinking we don't watch much, you're right.
It's hard to find a drama or story line these days where the underlying situation doesn't include some untended moral failure. And so prevalent are the conditions within our culture that ignore or give a pass to these behavioral displays, that I find myself missing stuff that my wife finds repugnant, either because I've been anesthetized by that culture, or was drifting near unconsciousness in a comfortable chair. I've used the movie reviews from the Office for Film and Broadcasting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops as a reference point from time to time yet find their opinions are occasionally fuzzy.
On the advice of a college-aged daughter, we rented a DVD of a popular 2006 movie titled The Devil Wears Prada. It's a skillfully-crafted and entertaining PG-13 movie about a young woman's first job in the fast-paced fashion world. Without sketching the entire plot let me say that with this film, reviewers rightly suggest that the young lady in the story is chided by her friends "for losing sight of her real values as she gets caught up in the competitive [fashion publishing] environment." What the bishop's staff neglected to mention is that our heroine is sleeping with one of those friends — the USCCB review called it "implied premarital situations" — and will bed with another handsome man before the final reel. My oldest daughter also let that part go ignored, valuing the heroine's eventual transformation more than faulting her transgression. Go figure!
There's a world of thought that says that you can't comment on something if you're not familiar with it. I think that's rubbish but I was persuaded the other day to take a peek at what's going on in our current pop culture as I furiously keyboarded this article.
On Saturday morning I was listening to a national radio program as the hosts ran through the list of nominees for Emmy Awards and it occurred to both me and my wife that we didn't recognize the names of any of the nominated stars and only a few programs that were being variously characterized. That same weekend CBS Television chose to preview its fall programming. A Wall Street Journal Sept 17th story by Rebecca Dana about CBS's proposed "eclectic lineup" described some of the network's new offerings aimed at the 18-49 year old viewers that advertisers want to attract, and CBS wants to deliver in order to maintain its top rating.
One of the shows that has earned CBS that rating is NCIS in which a supporting character has an ongoing "relationship" with a woman physician. While the story-line grapples with their search for commitment, it does so with intermittent scenes clearly depicting that they have both long ago tossed away any thoughts of saving themselves for the right person following marriage. So as with the heroine at the fashion magazine, we find ourselves cheering for eventual happiness, but honestly realizing that this is a woman that author Wendy Shalit — Girls Gone Mild — rightly contends most of us in another time would have properly called a slut. Want a preview?
CBS is looking for a wider range of programs — it's a sort of "hedging your bets" tactic. But one of the shows — Kid Nation — looks like a playground version of Lord of the Flies, and the only thing I recall from the television special that promoted their new season is the large graphic displays of the words LIES and SEX. Luckily the second half of the New England-San Diego football game had started. NBC got me back the old fashioned way.
This matter of the underlying scene on display in movies and television is a hard point to explain because so many of us, including me, have become anesthetized to the intrusion on our better instincts — our core values. It's not forgivable but it is understandable. After all, how many times do you sit at a traffic signal and hear the loud base thumping sound of a rap lyric rising from the car next to you, feel offended but say or do nothing? Is that because you're not that offended, or perhaps you're feeling powerless? Or just of a mind to let that noise become part of the background of your life for that moment before the light changes and you can be rid of the offense?
It's the same with commercials on either radio or television. There used to be a time of night when you sensed the kids should be in bed because all of a sudden every feminine hygiene product known to man — er, women — was making a pitch. Now that group of products has been added to by male dysfunction remedies and as far as I can determine there is no limitation as to when their message can or cannot be broadcast.
Inventions like TiVo exist for a reason.
In the movie I mean to be commenting on in this article, there is a scene when the heroine's father on a business trip to New York meets his daughter for dinner. As they catch up we get to listen to dad remind her of the reasons she went to Northwestern, and chastise her for selling out for a few trinkets and a wardrobe of designer fare instead of a life of changing the world — making it better — with her newly minted Journalism degree.
It wasn't until after the movie ended, maybe a day or so later, that I realized how unsatisfactory and unbelievable this scene was. But you tell me; maybe I'm the crazy one. Here they are, sitting in a lovely restaurant and dad is listening to his beautiful daughter report that she's still with the boyfriend, and his main concern is her not realizing her potential as a journalist? Say what? There's no inquiry, even if only at the behest of her mother, as to whether she's yet to get a ring and a date? Is that really the way father's think these days? Is that what they'd ask their daughter living in New York, out of wedlock with a guy?
On any of the shows that one can tune to on television or see in the theater, there's a similar situational ethic that informs most of the relationships on the screen. Whether its hooking up or shacking up the fact is that entertainment mediums ignore the rubric of God's plan when scripting what we watch. So we must be ever diligent in reminding others and ourselves of the importance of marriage between a man and woman, and the primacy of the family.
We can't let the background noise of the culture consume us. Nor can we ignore the damage done with euphemistic phrases like "implied premarital situations."