Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Television Viewing: An Occasion of Sin

Can the seemingly harmless past time of watching television from the safety of one's home, cause us to sin?

I asked myself this very question when seeing a flurry of discussion on the recent marital strife involving parents of a very popular reality series, the apparent fall from grace of a once much admired Catholic movie star and a popular celebrity priest who has by his actions caused a scandal.

Stories like those above are readily shared and discussed ad nausem online, whether it be on blogs or other popular social networks.

All the above "news" stories are really just an excuse for indulging in gossip.

Sadly, on one of the major Spanish news programs, it was reported that recent studies concluded that indulging in gossip will lead to a reduction of an individual's stress level.

What exactly is gossip?
  /ˈgɒsəp/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [gos-uhp] Show IPA noun, verb, -siped or -sipped, -sip⋅ing or -sip⋅ping.
1. idle talk or rumor, esp. about the personal or private affairs of others: the endless gossip about Hollywood stars.
2. light, familiar talk or writing.
3. Also, gos⋅sip⋅er, gos⋅sip⋅per. a person given to tattling or idle talk.
Definition source

The following is from The Catholic Register
Under the heading of the Eighth Commandment (“You shall not bear false witness”), the 1995 Catechism of the Catholic Church never mentions the word gossip, but it does have a lot to say about speaking the truth and keeping your mouth shut:

“2477: Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause (someone) unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

– of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

– of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

– of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.”

The Catechism also makes it clear that just because a statement is factually correct, that doesn’t mean we have a right to blab:

“2488: The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.”

The authors of the catechism are particularly concerned that personal lives of individuals should have their dignity protected:

“2492: Everyone should observe an appropriate reserve concerning persons’ private lives. Those in charge of communications should maintain a fair balance between the requirements of the common good and respect for individual rights. Interference by the media in the private lives of persons engaged in political or public activity is to be condemned to the extent that it infringes upon their privacy and freedom.”
It is a serious sin to engage in gossip, whether or not it will help one to lower one's blood pressure.

The television industry that produces reality television wants us to discuss their show around the "water cooler", so to speak. They want us to not only religiously watch their shows but they want our viewing to generate discussion the next day.

Gone are the days of wholesome television viewing.

I am not certain when the decline toward decadence began but it probably occurred during the 1970's. When the FCC loosened their control and more or less gave a free reign to the television industry, hell literally and figuratively broke loose.

There have been more instances then I care to remember on how embarrassed I was by something we were watching on television. This has happened on many occasions when I was watching with my parents growing up at home and more recently with my husband and son.

The television programming is not the only culprit. The commercials are just as bad or even the worse offenders of indecency. Once upon a time, sponsors would not dare mention a woman's monthly cycle or digestion problems by name. But now, we are visually and audibly assaulted by commercials for not only those personal products, but also with propaganda for birth control and of course the ubiquitous commercials for pills to help men with their ...errr, trouble in the bedroom.

Could there be a correlation between advertisements for men's aids and unwanted pregnancies? I would think so.

But the focus of today is on the danger of reality television.

Reality television is not a new concept.

The first reality show I remember watching and with great interest was the 1973 PBS show An American Family: The Loud Family. Viewers like me were riveted to this series because we got to look inside the life of this dysfunctional American family. Some of the dirty laundry that was aired included the eldest son announcing he was gay and living a gay lifestyle as well as the marital difficulties of the parents. Sadly but with no big surprise the parents ultimately divorced.

Even as a teen, I knew that the Louds did not represent a typical American family, not my family anyway. For one thing, ALL families have problems but these problems are kept private and not shared on air for the amusement or entertainment of complete strangers.

I admit I watch reality television programs.

For example, I followed the first few seasons of Survivor, The Apprentice, and Celebrity Apprentice. I watch Judge Judy regularly. Oh, it was very entertaining seeing the worst of human nature unravel before my eyes. I realized the shows were only worth watching when there were controversies and trouble brewing.

Recently, I've been watching shows like Dog, the Bounty Hunter, Nanny 911, Trading Spouses and before the scandal involving the Gosslins broke, I watched Jon & Kate Plus 8 on a few occasions.

It was because I have been watching certain reality TV shows that made me realize just how evil television has become and how callous we are in danger of becoming from watching reality television.

The other evening my family and I made the mistake of watching a show on A & E called Intervention.

That episode featured 20-something twins who had a very bizarre connection with each other. Their parents and older sister were so worried about their strange relationship complicated by the anorexia, that they tricked them into thinking they were being filmed for a documentary, before being forced into intervention.

My heart went out to the parents and older sister. What surprised me was my feelings of anger toward the family for being weak when it came to dealing with their adult and seemingly selfish daughters.

After the show was over, I felt like a voyeur and I was ashamed. I know that channel should have been changed immediately.

But the worst of reality TV was the program that came after Intervention that evening. It was a new show entitled Obsession. It was a show featuring people suffering from OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder).

I started watching it because it dealt with a woman obsessed with cleaning herself and to tell the truth, I wanted to learn more about that disorder.

In my mind, I pictured her washing her hands over and over again or something like that. What I saw within the next 5 minutes shocked me so much, I had to shut off the TV. I could not get the image out of my mind. I felt dirty.

I do not know what possessed that poor woman to permit her most intimate moments of her disorder be filmed and I will not judge her. Perhaps she really was desperate for help and this was her way of crying out. I believe she was exploited by the television industry who saw an opportunity to make money out of someone's suffering.

It seems to me that the television industry is like everything else in this instant gratification society in which we live. They want to make a fast buck with as little effort as possible. There does not seem to be any need to hire writers or actors for that matter. Laziness and lack of compassion seems to be the recipe for success in the television industry.

The television is not entirely worthless though. We can use it to become saints. We after all, we have The Eternal Word Television Network. Mother Angelica and EWTN have really been the beacon of light of truth in the dark world of of sin we call television.

It is because I watch EWTN that I can clearly see the difference when watching secular television. When I watch any show on EWTN, I obtain a sense of peace, love, and a greater love for God and my fellow human beings. Just the opposite is true when watching anything else on television, including seemingly harmless sitcoms.

There can be no doubt that we are in real danger of offending God by the TV programs we expose ourselves and more importantly our children to.

We should ask ourselves before we start watching a show on TV: "Could I watch this show if Jesus was sitting next to me?"

twitter / catholicmominHI


Anne said...

Wow! You speak strong, but true words! I'm not much of a TV watcher myself, but its the gossip I struggle with. Time to examine my conscience a little more closely! Thanks for the great story!

Charlotte said...

Wow! Great job. It's nice to see you write something long and substantive once in awhile - I miss that from you.

Very good points and lots to think about. We've given up on almost all reality TV - too boring for us - except Tori & Dean.

Esther said...

I appreciate the comment Anne. TY.

Charlotte, it took me 2 days to write this one. One of the reasons I don't write as much as I would like to.

I did forget to touch on the news channels. Talk about stress levels going up.

Christine M said...

You make some great points! I don't watch much TV and the things you bring up are part of the reason.

Esther said...

Thanks. Since I wrote this I haven't much felt like watching reality TV.