The Vulnerable Soul in The Devil Wears Prada

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." 

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  • Guest

    So true!  A few years ago, a beloved priests gave a homily in which he mentioned the movie "Bruce Almighty".  I can't remember what point he was trying to make, but I know he made it well as he is a great homilist.  However, the main characters in this movie cohabitate.  It is virtually impossible to find a movie with values that aren't distorted by things our secular culture takes for granted.  This is why my husband and I rarely go to movies, and don't watch any of the network shows.

  • Guest

    Several years ago we rented a movie billed as a Romantic Comedy called, "You've Got Mail".  In the first few minutes you see fornicating couple A and fornicating couple B climb out of bed in their repsective households.  I quickly realized that the plot would be how a party in each couple will "cheat" (although how can you cheat if you're not committed) with the other couple thus forming Couple AB.

    I turned the movie off and returned it.  Also, we discussed the setting with the older kids and why "Sleeping with the Devil" isn't worth a few laughs.  Scripture clearly teaches the cost of selling your birthright for expedience in the story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a pot of red lentils.  Jesus redeems Esau's action when he rejects Satan's temptation to turn "these rocks into bread". 

    Solzehnikzen  explored this concept of chose your "bed fellows" wisely in an article linked by Goral yesterday.  He related it to the issues of colonialism and military allies.  He contended in 1978 that "the bill hasn't been paid" yet for the triumph of short lived colonial power and "shacking up" with USSR during WWII.

    How much is a cheap laugh or thrill or stardom worth?  I know I miss out on shows that may be good except for a tad of "implied premarital situations".  I think, "I can handle it."  But, I turn off the TV even if I'm not quite turned off, for the sake of my children and the larger culture.  I don't like getting bills in the mail!

    Thanks for reminding us what is at stake and to maintain vigilance.

  • Guest

    The Good of Conflict and Immorality in Movies

    For Ken, Claire and others:

    It seems the theme of Ken's article was the first sentence of the second paragraph: "It's hard to find a drama or story line these days where the underlying situation doesn't include some untended moral failure."

    You mention that the protagonist in "The Devil Wears Pravda" is living out of wedlock with her boyfriend, and you comment that like the USCCB "My oldest daughter also let that part go ignored, valuing the heroine's eventual transformation more than faulting her transgression. Go figure!"

    Allow me to explain, or help you figure this out, with an aside to Bruce Almighty.

    All successful stories, if they are going to teach us anything about morality, start with an imperfect protagonist, who, during the course of the story, improves. For there to be improvement, there needs to be "moral failure." And for the story to be believed by the audience, the protagonist must not be perfect at the end of the story, either. Why? Because the characters on the screen must be like us, in the audience, and we have a pile of moral failures in our own lives.

    Here are a several references that will "figure" this out more in detail. First my article that appeared here on The Catholic Exchange back in 2003, titled "The Good of Conflict and Immorality in Movies." The search engine on C.E. isn't working, so here's link to the article on one of my movie pages:

    Next an interview with Catholic director Tom Shadyac, with Christian film writers about his film BRUCE ALMIGHTY. The first question thrown at Tom has to do with the MORAL IMPORTANCE of Bruce's cohabitation with his girlfriend. Read what Tom says and his later reference to all stories, especially those in the Bible. It's good theology.

    Finally, read my book, written from a Catholic perspective, but directed at mainstream directors and writers in Hollywood, and published by a mainstream Hollywood publisher: "The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success." On the book's site are short essays about the importance of a moral arc to the character without making them unrealistically good at the end of the story. Remember, in the case of "real" people like us, there's a reason for Purgatory.

    The above three should help "figure" this out.




    Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D. is owner of Nineveh's Crossing (a Catholic Media distribution company), SWC Films (a production company) and author of "The Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success" a Hollywood screenwriting book.

  • Guest

    The other night I watched the premiere of Bionic Woman on NBC. This was the first network drama I've bothered to watch in years but I wanted to see it because I was a fan of the original show as a kid. Well, how times have changed. The show opened with a graphic depiction of a multiple murder. Then it became clear that the heroine, Jamie Sommers (about the only thing the new show has in common with the old is the heroine's name), was carrying the illegitimate love child of her boyfriend, the doctor who would make her bionic. Everything had this terrible, dark, surreal quality to it. Central to the plot were the sinister machinations of the man who ran the bionics research program. I could go on. Needless to say, I was disappointed and even alarmed. The original show had this innocent quality to it. Where has our innocence gone?

  • Guest

    I am always wondering why the "moral failures" have to be so grave in nature, and why these "grave" failures, even though "improvement" is seen in the end, are not totally condemned at the end of the movie (in most cases)?

  • Guest

    The movie You got Mail mentioned above by Elka. is a great example of pathetic mediocrity and moral disconnection in the movie industry. I watched it with my girls and never stopped making outlandish outbursts like: what the heck is that about? The late teenage crowd was annoyed with me. Finally my youngest said: "dad, why don't you just enjoy the movie?" My final comment was that there's nothing to enjoy. My parents set me up for this nit-picking. I remember inviting them to watch Dr. Zhivago with us on TV. I went to see it at the movies earlier so I was sure they'd enjoy it. Certainly it made for a nice family evening but at the end my mom remarked that he left a pregnant wife in pursuit of another woman and that it served him right to get a heart attack. Then my father said look at the ending how the Soviet system is given a favorable presentation. I just shook my head thinking that they just don't know how to enjoy a movie.

  • Guest

    Here's another suggestion.  Instead of watching the inane Kid Nation, rent Lord of the Flies.  It was an excellent movie that I watched with my kids (who LOVED it!)

    Stan, with regard to conflict and immorality, I'm not opposed to exposing my kids or myself to it.  The problem is, todays shows don't present fornicating, homosexuality, gossiping,….as evils to be overcome.  They are the backdrop to routine life.  Those moral evils have been normalized by the mass media. We've become voyeurs. Not to mention the shows are utterly boring! 

    Paschal said we would revert to "diversion and distraction"  using sex and violence in order to keep from focusing on our immortal souls.  That's what I see playing out.  I rarely see moral conflicts and their resolution such as in It's a Wonderful Life  in modern shows.

    PS  (I couldn't even finish watching Dr Zhivago or Anakarenina because they were so upsetting to my psyche.   Maybe I was postpartum or prepartum or…..and he did deserve the heart attack!  And Ana….is an excellent example of a fallen character who rejects redemption repeatedly in favor of death on the tracks.  I know , I know, there's more to the story.)

    We need to train our minds to loftier endeavors than Sex in the City.  Why not watch or read Pride and Prejudice or…. you suggest it.

  • Guest

    Well said, Elkabrikir.  If the movies presented these immoral situations as such, it would be different, but none of the movies mentioned here present them as anything other than morally acceptable situations.


    I remember a couple of years ago EWTN featured a Catholic author, I think Richard Evans? who wrote good books which have been made into movies.  The movie versions unfortunately, incoroporate premarital sex into the plots.  When the author was asked about why he allowed this, he glossed over it.  I find that to be very sad.

  • Guest

    To:  schefter

    I am with you about Bionic Woman!  I was so surprised with the graphic-ness of those scenes, and the fact that they were so unnecessary to the plot.  I wonder why these networks think we need to see stuff like that in order to be attracted to their programs.

  • Guest

    Thanks, Elkabrikir. I thought I was the only one who shifts uncomforatably in his seat when otherwise "classic" films (Like Zhivago), drop an immoral fly in the ointment. (I had a similiar experience recently watching actor Al Pacino play New York City Police Officer Frank Serpico. Serpico was a real-life policeman of the highest professional ethics—that almost got him killed—all the while maintaining a live-in relationship with some girlfriend. While a police officer he was living the whole "Greenwich Village" lifestyle thing.) 

    None of the examples Larson cites surprises or shocks me anymore. I've kind of come to anticipate it. My wife and I don't have kids (we're in our 50's) so the TV mostly stays off in the evening (we don't have cable or satellite so EWTN is unavailable). Fact is, our so-called "entertainment industry" in 2007 (and has for many years) serves as little more than the propaganda arm for what Pope Benedict XVI referred to in his funeral homily for JPII as "the dictatorship of relativism." He said "We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires."

    Ego and desires. Soon to be a major motion picture.

  • Guest

    Two points of this thread that stick with me —

    The "untended moral failures" which go untended because they are not seen as moral failures in the least.

    Producers feel compelled to add superfluous scenes depicting extreme violence, sexual activity, or a political slant. (can't be creative unless we check that box, eh?)

    But the third thing that sticks with me is Ken's last sentence, "Nor can we ignore the damage done with euphemistic phrases like 'implied premarital situations.'"

    Nearly everyone ignores the USCCB's wink, nudge, and smirk regarding mortal sin and intrinsic moral evils when reviewing movies.  Not everyone — some complain about it. But pretty much everyone ignores the damage done by it.

    The fruits of this tree are not invisible, just ignored — look at Catholics in the USA who disregard the teachings of the Church.  Sure, we like B16 and JP2 (just don't read all that stuff they put out).  And that Jesus fella sure is nice (of course we don't actually change the way we live to imitate Him). And the Catholic liturgy and traditions make a comfortable tableau in which to grow up and from which to make wry and humorous observations ("I can joke about it because I was raised Catholic, you see.")

    We certainly do ignore the damage done.

  • Guest

    Years ago I read a beautiful book called CIRCLE OF FRIENDS. It was about a girl staying true to her moral code, and suffering for it. The book has a redemptive, loving, wonderful ending! I could recommend it to anyone. So, after reading this great book, of course I saw the movie. And the ending was changed – the very guy the girl in the book REJECTED for being immoral and unworthy, she goes and sleeps with in the last scene! It was not only untrue to the book, it was the EXACT opposite conclusion!  I felt like freaking out in the movie theater. I'd dragged a friend along to see it.

    The truth is, once an author sells her book to a movie company, she loses all creative control, so don't blame the author! Blame the scriptwriters and producers. 

  • Guest

    Does anyone remember when "Cross Your Heart Bras" were modeled over turtleneck sweaters?  How quaint!

  • Guest

    Thank you Elkabrikir for a great nostalgic moment mentioning the bra ads- I needed that laugh badly today!

  • Guest

    Ourfamily, I see your point, but in the interview I saw with the author on EWTN, he was completely downplaying and sugarcoating what the producer had done, and he was almost defending it. 

  • Guest

    The best we can get from Hollywood these days is Mel Gibson. He's pretty violent with his movies but they do have redeeming social value. He was contraversial with The Passion according to his critics. The rest like Robin Williams and his piers are in the gutter. They can only project what they are. Overwhelming majority of the producers and stars lead a miserably sinful life. The only sin in Hollywood and in the media is anti-semitic, all the rest of the trash is just art. We have to speak up especially around our kids of how the movies miss the mark.

  • Guest

    The problem is indeed in portraying moral evils as goods. Do you remember two of the most popular tv series of the 70's and 80's, MASH and Cheers? They illustrate the difference between the old culture and the new. In MASH Hawkeye dallied with the nurses, but his behavior was clearly portrayed as "naughty" and we all knew he wasn't supposed to be up to such things. But in Cheers, Sam was the hero for his womanizing. His fornication was portrayed as heroic and he was idolized by the other men on the show. Something happened, I think, around 1980, because you can see all the 70's shows follow the pattern of MASH and everything more recent is like Cheers, or worse.

  • Guest

    Um, I like the good, old-time stuff, produced when America and it's Christians weren't afraid and stood for something. You know, back to the days when they would slap the Bollywood producers around if they got out of line too much.

    I'm not from that era, but you can get some really awesome dvd's today. Some of my favorites are: The Untouchables, Rawhide, Voyage to the Botton of the Sea, The Fugitive, Cheyenne, Have Gun Will Travel, The Waltons, The Streets of San Francisco etc.

  • Guest

    Remember Max the bionic dog? I was actually hoping there'd be a dog with super powers in the new Bionic Woman. OK, I guess I'm stuck in the 70's!

  • Guest

    I admit that I have a very strong resentment toward the USCCB…(or the PACBA: Patriotic American Catholic Bishops Association I like to call them) and their utter lack of basic 'Catholicity'.

    I really do. I remember how the reveiw for 'Brokeback Mountain', that disgusting movie, was originally given an 'L' rating instead of the 'O" it deserved with this classic quote I'll never forget: "While the actions taken by Ennis and Jack cannot be endorsed, the universal themes of love and loss ring true," said the original USCCB's review, which also called the movie "a serious contemplation of loneliness and connection."

    If the USCCB were truly Catholic they would have a movie rating AC: 'Anti-Christ' for movie like Brokeback mountain…or 'E' for evil.

    We would, I think, see a real difference in movies coming from Hollywood if the biggest group representing American Catholics would who they are: CHRISTIAN…and not be such politicians!

    Hollywood does what they want because they know the progressive USCCB will give them a pass every time.

    I hold them in the highest disdain. As a Catholic who happens to be American…they do not ever represent me.

    I hate that they 'gloss' over problems in movies, in politics, in church teachings. Everything.

    They give the concept of nauseating tepidity a whole new nuance. I wish the Holy Father would start overturning the money changers tables and disband it…REALLY.

    It's time they were gone so that they wouldn't be around to bully Bishops who are truly faithful to Rome like they do, and so they don't drown out voices of truly moral Catholics.


  • Guest

    Oh, and I forgot Adam 12 and Emergency. The real problem is cowardly Christians who don't have the stones to tell it like it is.

  • Guest

    Dear fellow CE readers,

    First, as the old saying goes, "There is no accounting for taste."  Sadly today, as some pointed out above, most writers and directors have lowered their standard of good taste to somewhere south of the out house.  Indeed, most of the objectionable scenes in today's movies could have been left on the cutting room floor without harm to the plot, or where necessary to the plot, could have been easily written and directed in such a way where the scene was still appropriate for viewing by ladies and gentlemen, much less innocent children (<18).  But unfortunately most of the writers and directors lack the character and moral fabric to take the high road, and yet ironically, if a movie is rated G or PG, it stands a much greater chance of success!  Could it be that in there disordered view of the world, and in particular sex, they are as titilated in producing such an inappropriate scene as they hope the viewer is?

    Second, don't give up on the USCCB just yet.  There are some good men and women, religious and lay, from within and without, who are intent on restoring it.   

    Third, speaking of the USCCB, the review of Brokeback Mountain was revised based on reader complaints.  While the surviving review is still not what it could or should be, it is an improvement.  And by the way, who ever said book or movie reviews from a Catholic publisher of movies containing objectionable material had to be longer than one word: objectionable?!?  Dare I imply the blacklisting of objectionable movies, books, etc. much like the commandments of Sacred Scriptures do for objectionable behavior? 

    Ahhhh… Life is so much simpler as a prude!  Anyone care to help me  form the Proud to Be a Prude club?

    Lastly, I'd add Combat and Hogan's Heroes to the running list above.

    God bless you and yours, TJO (2 Cor 5:14)

  • Guest

    <blockquote> Second, don't give up on the USCCB just yet.  There are some good men and women, religious and lay, from within and without, who are intent on restoring it.  <blockquote>

    sorry to sound cynical…but you can't 'RE-store" that which was never good or whole in the first place.


  • Guest

    I teach in a secular charter high school.  These movies have the impact of establishing sexual sin as a "natural" part of being an intellectual young adult.  I am pleased by my opportunity to coach the students on proper relationships… but the "separation of church and state" political correctness limits my impact.  Those who are Christian listen and learn… those who are self based (often some brilliant minded teens) look at Christian values as old world. 

    Praise God I am fortunate to have two sons who know when to change the channel.  Sometimes my wife and I will get them to watch "some great movie" we remember from the 70s only to have them, our sons, censor the sexual filth and dutifully stop the viewing.  We have been on this path for a long time and now it is in front of our face on network TV every night… not that we watch, because we don't … but relayed by the students that I teach on a regular basis.

  • Guest

    Sadly, even a G rating cannot guarantee that it is appropriate for children. Take the recent movie "Ratatouille", for instance. I thought it would be appropriate for my children, however there is a scene where an old lady is VIOLENTLY trying to assasinate the main character rat with whom we now have a relationship. I was extremely disappointed.

    However, has anyone seen "Bella", the touted pro-life movie? It was awesome and everyone should see it. We really have to support good, Christian movies.

    (How about Little House on the Prairie, speaking of the '70's?)

  • Guest

    Ah (sigh), the "golden oldies".  Thanks, Lazar and Tjeo, for a lovely trip down Memory Lane.  I AM old enough to remember those shows–and more you haven't discovered, yet–which we watched as a family.

    All of which is to say that the last movie I saw in a theater was Garfield.  Tjeo, sign me up!

    To Maddy: pray for them.  Fast, even.  These, too, are men for whom Christ died.  In His time, He called them to be His representatives among us.  The fact that they fail so miserably (including my own bishop) must make Jesus weep tears of blood.  Only He can call them to repentance and renewal.  May He use our prayers and sacrifices to do just that.

  • Guest

    FYI for those who are interested, the USCCB offers a Brief History of the USCCB on its website  I've included it below for your convenience.

    Amen! To the call for prayer and fasting for the leaders and staff of the USCCB as well as all of the leaders of the Church. The vast majority of them are working on fulfilling the Great Commission, however the impoverished state of their faith and formation can use much nurishment from our spiritual support.

    And as for cynicism, especially toward our spiritual leaders, let's instead apply the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity, and Presdient Reagan's motto of trust but verify.

    A Brief History of USCCB

    In 1917 the bishops of the United States formed the National Catholic War Council to enable U.S. Catholics to contribute funds and commit personnel to provide spiritual care and recreation for servicemen during World War I. In 1919 Pope Benedict XV urged the hierarchy to join him in working for peace and social justice. In response, the bishops organized the National Catholic Welfare Council in 1919 and set up the first Administrative Committee of seven members to handle the Council's business between plenary meetings. At that time a staffed headquarters was established in Washington and a general secretary was appointed.

    The word "Conference" soon replaced "Council" in the organization's title, showing the consultative nature of the organization. At the same time, in 1922 the National Catholic Welfare Conference was created to address such concerns as education, immigration and social action.

    This model continued until 1966 when the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) and the United States Catholic Conference (USCC) were established. The NCCB would focus on Church affairs in this country, fulfilling the Second Vatican Council's mandate that bishops "jointly exercise their pastoral office" (Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office in the Church, #38). The NCCB operated through bishops committees, many of which had full-time staff secretariats. Alternatively, the USCC addressed issuesof the Church within society, and its committees included bishops, clergy, religious and lay persons.

    On July 1, 2001 the NCCB and the USCC were combined to form the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

    For media inquiries, e-mail us at
    Office of Media Relations | 3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington DC 20017-1194 | (202) 541-3000 © USCCB. All rights reserved.


    God bless you and yours, TJO (2 Cor 5:14)

  • Guest

    <blockquote>On July 1, 2001 the NCCB and the USCC were combined to form the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).<blockquote>



    Ahh…I see…the USCCB is the Catholic equivalent of the UN.

    'nuff said.

    The church needs only ONE Magisterium, not one for especially for the USA and another for the REST of the church.

    The bishops, in humility, should disband it themselves.

    one can only hope.