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See no evil

see no evil (2)We are bombarded with glitzy images and glossy pictures.  Colourful lights abound, flashing hyperactively in attempt to gain our attention.  Most of the time it works.  Our eyes dart from image to image, from one object to another.  We seamlessly watch television show after television show with all the commercials in between.  The wonder of modern entertainment is that any scenario can be depicted in gritty realism.  The line between what is fake and real is getting perpetually blurred.  (Also, with product placement as it is now-a-days , the line between entertainment and advertising is getting blurred as well  . . . but that’s for another post).

I would love to write about how I have faithfully turned away from the trashy television shows, the idolatrous celebrity magazines, and the vain uses of social media.  I would be lying.  These things still pepper my downtime.  That being said, I have become a bit more conscious of what exactly I am looking at.  And frankly, it often shocks and disturbs me.

Here is a rundown:  On any random hour of my twitter feed, there are several posts from entertainment and pop culture sites inviting me to watch the new sizzling movie trailer (the last was the “50 shades of Grey” teaser); or look at the latest celebrity bikini selfie.  Celebrity magazines run articles about the biggest ‘thigh-high’ slit in a celeb’s dress – and who’s combination of ‘long blouse but no pants’ worked the best.  And don’t get me started on the upcoming TLC show called “Dating Naked” – yes it’s a real show.

Don’t get me wrong here, it’s not just about sexuality and the ever-narrowing line of what cannot be shown on prime time television.  There is also an uncomfortable amount of violence and gore.  Popular crime-based television shows are increasingly more graphic in the manner which they image and discuss heinous crimes.  My wife and I have had to give up watching shows like ‘Law & Order SVU’, ‘CSI’ and “Criminal Minds” all because of the graphic nature of these shows.  It frankly occurred to us ‘why would we want to watch images of violent child abductions and brutal sexual assaults just before going to bed?’

See, it used to be that when someone was shot on a television show, you would hear the pop of the gun and simply see the body slump in the corner; now you see the blood splatter, the gaping wounds, or if you are lucky, the internal damage being done by the bullet as it passes through flesh and artery (a la CSI).

Whether we see entertainment as something that informs the workings of society, or simply that which reflects trends and voices already existing, the point is that there is an uncomfortable link between the living of our lives and the extreme images we see in popular entertainment.

As Christians, what responsibility do we as have in regards to the images and scenes that fill up popular media?  After all, Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew “The eye is the lamp of the body.  If our eyes are good, your whole body is full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.” (6:22-23)

I have often seen this in terms of a moral statement.  The ‘eye of darkness’ is one that looks judgementally upon others and denies the imageo dei implicit in them.  I would argue that it is the eye of disrespect, the eye of faithlessness, the eye of superficiality.  But what if it’s more than that? What if Jesus is saying that disciples should be careful with what they look at? Previously Jesus spoke about looking lustfully at another – and thereby committing adultery in our hearts.  What does this say about the shirtless hunks and the cleavage-bearing beauties of celebrity magazines and websites?  If that which we watch and look at informs the presence of darkness us, then what type of spiritual damage occurs when we gobble up hours of blood-spattering, cringe-worthy violence?

Now I am not arguing a puritanical approach to television and entertainment.  I still like to watch cop-shows and action movies, and I have an always expanding collection of Marital Arts movies in my basement.  What is more, I still follow Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Life and other pop culture feeds on twitter.   However I do feel we are called as Christian people to engage the question and explore the possible link between our spiritual vitality and what we choose to watch, read, or listen to for our entertainment purposes.

What do you think? How does your faith inform your understanding, involvement and reception of popular entertainment?

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith.

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9 Responses to See no evil

  1. I know someone who won’t read anything else only the Bible and devotional books, but will look at “non-religious” TV shows because they are “no-brainers.” I respect her decisions, but I don’t understand them. 🙂

  2. I know someone who won’t read anything else only the Bible and devotional books, but will look at “non-religious” TV shows because they are “no-brainers.” I respect her decisions, but I don’t understand them. 🙂

  3. I find it impossible to avoid some things. Think of the most popular shows and movies… I can’t imagine how much I’d have to eliminate to exclude all controversial or morally questionable content.

  4. I find it impossible to avoid some things. Think of the most popular shows and movies… I can’t imagine how much I’d have to eliminate to exclude all controversial or morally questionable content.

  5. Important questions. I’m totally turned off by Hollywood and pretty much everything that goes with those people’s personal lives and egos, but I study visual representations of celebrity as part of my work in gender studies and humanities. The elevator version of my conclusion thus far is that we sell ourselves products because we want to believe it’s easy to become better than what we are. If we spent more time focusing on what really makes a person beautiful to God, a product we can’t get at the local mall, we’d find it perhaps a little more difficult to be beautiful–but ultimately, much more rewarding.

    As for the violence, I can’t say what fascinates people so much about it. I see parents turning their children away from sexual content in the media but allowing violent content, and I don’t understand that at all. The CSI version–the CGI bullet tearing through bodily tissues–is fascinating, and I find I can detach myself emotionally from that to think about the actual physical process of a shooting, for example. But the blood and gore a la “300” or similar HD movies bores me. It doesn’t contribute to the narrative, usually; it’s just there to startle the viewer. Even the growing number of high-def depictions of Christ’s passion leave me a little cold–they seem to have the manipulative quality of horror-flick gore sometimes. I don’t think faith requires us to envision 3-D blood spatter landing on us from a huge screen.

    Thank you for Tweeting this. It’s made me think. 🙂

    • Kyle Norman

      Thank you for your comments Holly. I have written before on the notion of Identity as it relates to pop culture. I think this is a HUGE thing today. How do we recover a biblical sense of identity in today’s world? I think for many, the notion of a biblical identity means either a)you are a sinner who deserves Hell or b) you are to be ultra puritanical in your lifestyle . . otherwise you will burn in hell. In today’ culture, how do we communicate the loveliness of being made in the image of God, the horror of our struggle with sink, and the beauty of redemption? I guess in this case, the extreme Violence we are seeing may have an interesting link to our struggles with identity? do we feel we can’t be redeemed?

      Another thing that I have been thinking about is if we believe that Kim Kardasian and her ilk are not actually famous, but are merely commodities of popular culture, and then we see a increased blurring between advertising and real life (i.e.., celebrities being paid to tweet and use products, product placement in films, staged shots of celebs with products as ‘real life’), then what is the manner in we are in fact commodifiying ourselves? When do we stop actually ‘selling ourselves products because we want to believe its an easy way to become better’ and actually sell ourselves to culture in hopes of transformation. Which then makes me think of idolatry . . . hmm.

  6. Kyle Norman

    Heather and James, I too know people who turn away from ‘secular’ literature or television. I was doing a talk at a teen conference and was playing/discussing a then-popular music video. One teen sat with his head turned away and his fingers in his ears the entire time. I am always left wondering if they turn away from these things in their private lives as much as they attempt to do when people are around.

    My own interest in pop culture stems form the belief that Christ calls us to be a transformation influence on our culture – and that necessitates being informed. But then again . . how do we do this authentically and make sure that we are not just using the language of ‘being informed’ to justify involvement in something that Christ calls us away from?

  7. I find a lot of what is passed off as entertainment void of any value. They do not elevate
    one’s life . Walking Dead are shows made for commercial gain only. They are making values part of what is in the show.
    Now does this affect us as believers ? It does cause if you spend hours watching violence well you accept violence as something that just happens. It leads one away from caring for our neighbour as ourselves.
    Am I calling for a ban of these shows ? No but ease off the violence , the blatant sex ,
    the make no judgement about right or wrong . We need to make values a part of who we , as Christians are. We also need to watch TV & movies with our hearts as well as our feelings .

  8. Kyle Norman

    PJW51 you bring up a good point. We need to always remember that the entertainment industry – whether it be music, movies, television, or magazines is for the purpose of garnering commercial gain. Television shows are after ratings. Movies producers want blockbuster hits. And artists (no matter how good natured they are) do have an eye on the bottom line.

    I don’t think we throw out the baby with the bathwater as it were, but it is good to keep in mind that issues such as holiness, righteousness, and discipleship are simply not on the radar of mainstream entertainment.

    This, I think, informs how we interact with entertainment (and popular culture) to both unmask latent gospel messages, and to be critical in the places where we are called to be faithfully critical.

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