According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “watching three to four hours of non-educational TV per day, children will have seen about 8,000 murders on TV by the time they finish elementary school.” That revelation alone is enough to sober any conscientious parent, but when you think of the other potentially harmful messages that come across a television screen that do not comport to Catholic moral teaching, it makes one pine for simpler times.
This all makes one thing perfectly clear. My parents’ lives were a lot harder than mine ever was. I did not have to live through a catastrophic depression, live in a farmhouse without indoor plumbing or electricity or contemplate the threat of the Imperial Japanese Navy. I never had to pray my son survive the jungles of Southeast Asia and come back home alive and unharmed.
No, my life is a walk in the park compared to that. But in one respect I have it tougher than my parents. We watched entirely too much television when I was a child, but I never watched anything on television that was going to imperil my immortal soul or be in direct contradiction to what my parents believed or what the Sisters of Providence taught us in the classroom.
I guess there’s a second thing perfectly clear here. You really can’t go home again. That point is made explicit by the present day options of television viewing which sometimes feels like networks have hired Lucifer as their guest programmer.
I’m not talking red jumpsuits and tridents here and not going on a rant about television being Satan’s handiwork. Just suggesting it’s helpful to take a step back and evaluate what we let inside our houses from time to time. Like Lewis’ Screwtape, the real devil is more than happy to ply his trade in a culture that denies his very existence.
He obviously must enjoy the extraverted examples of a Nero or a Stalin that come about every century or so, but for the most part, the Prince of Darkness does most of his work and his best work in the mundane, in all of that word’s definitions.
Take the devil’s prized possessions… the seven deadly sins. You can’t have Dante, Shakespeare or Raymond Chandler without them, but again, we have to realize that when it comes to television, we are not working within the same God-centered boundaries that the authors of those works, even Chandler, either willingly worked within or begrudgingly accepted in order to serve the stories they were telling.
Television, and the rest of the artistic fields of popular culture, have jettisoned most of that in their current 21st century manifestation. It is essential to have an objective, universal truth from which to contrast any one of the seven deadly sins. When you remove the element of revealed truth from the reality of sin, you always get chaos and you often get television.
Greed. You don’t have to look far to find shows on the most luxurious yacht, the most expensive apartment in Manhattan or a show like “Millionaire Matchmaker” to see that greed is alive and well and being regularly fed and watered on television.
Lust. It’s not a matter of where to begin, but weather where to stop. For the sake of brevity and my continuing to exist as a contributor to this newspaper, let’s just say the amount of intimate moments between people who are not married is equal to the number of car commercials during any given hour of primetime television broadcasting.
Gluttony. Well, there certainly are a lot of cooking and food related shows on television, but ironically this is one of the seven deadly sins that television is probably least cooperative with, although the opposite end of the spectrum, an extreme emphasis on fitness and health, is probably some kind of sin of its own.
Envy. There is a reason there are so many “reality” television shows centered on incredibly rich and famous people. Some of these people are rich and famous for being rich and famous… some are famous for being infamous. Regardless, the underlying appeal of these shows taps into the darker recesses of envy like so much spiritual Drano.
Sloth. No particular television show champions laziness, but its very existence and its hypnotic pull on people, causing them to assume too much couch time certainly facilitates and becomes a kind of portal to the invitation of laziness.
Wrath. Again, reality shows strike again as anger and screaming matches are the brick and mortar from which many a reality show superstructure is built.
Pride. Look at any NFL football game or NBA basketball game after a spectacular play and you will see a plethora of prideful celebrations. These days, you see outrageous and boastful public displays after a first down play.
From the looks of the past several thousand years of human existence, these savage seven sins are not going away any time soon and in the more immediate future, television, bereft as it is of religiously slanted ethics, will continue to commandeer these debasements of spiritual well-being for entertainment purposes.
Sometimes it will be done to great effect and produce something of value. Many times it will not. It’s up to us to be the gatekeepers — to be discriminating viewers in some instances and absent viewers in others.