Sex is everywhere in every single kind of media. It is very difficult for families to avoid it anymore. Morally minded people can either hide out from it and cut ourselves off from the world, or we can fight back against it.
We often forget how influential we can be if we would just stand up for something. Catholics represent about 24% of the US population. If we had the will to do it, we could shape the entire political landscape ourselves.
Anyway, we can do the same kind of “shaping” in our community. We shouldn’t cut ourselves off from the culture or be content with creating our own sub-culture. We need to become more a part of the pop-culture. We need to make it good.
The USCCB put out a document on sex and violence in the media in 1998 called Renewing the Mind of the Media. It’s due for an update, but the core parts of it are still relevant to us. I also think it more urgently applies to sex than violence, even if only because of the elephantine sin in the room: pornography. But both are important. In the document, they list seven practical steps for us to address these issues. Here they are (paraphrased and with commentary):
1) FOR DIOCESES: Establish a task force, possibly with the diocesan communications office as lead agent, to develop educational programs on the problem of pornography and—perhaps with ecumenical and interfaith participation—to determine the extent of the problem in your area. Share the results with appropriate law enforcement officials and demand action. Work with the chamber of commerce to create an environment which allows no room in the community for entertainment that exploits sex and violence. Is your diocese doing this?
2) FOR PARISHES: Develop media discussion groups to enable parents to talk about what is on television or in other media, and to encourage mutual learning and support in guiding their children’s media choices. The problems of pornography and graphic violence should be included in homilies on appropriate occasions. I’m not sure a separate “media discussion group” is practical, but certainly it should be a part of existing discussion groups for families and parishioners. They should also offer a “Training Day” for parents to come and learn how to safely have a computer in a home with kids (proper location, use, content filters, catching signs of abuse, etc.)
3) FOR FAMILIES: Arrange for a monthly or weekly media-free day. Use some of this time to reflect on ways the media affect our lives. I think weekly, rather than monthly, would be healthy. And for everyone, not just families.
4) FOR CATHOLIC EDUCATORS: Develop media discussion groups for teachers and students. View or listen to favorite shows, songs, music, magazines and on-line activities and discuss what moral messages come through. Discuss the theology of the body with the students in this context. It is crucial to address pornography, sex, marriage, etc. and its effects on the greater problems in society. The media bombards them with temptation all day long.
5) FOR THE MEDIA CREATIVE AND BUSINESS COMMUNITIES: Set up dialogues with other interested people, especially parents, to discuss the impact your media productions are having. This would be nice. I would also recommend such businesses securing a “spiritual adviser” and having some moral theologians on their review boards to give them feedback and keep them in check. Even secular media outlets should do this.
6) FOR GOVERNMENT: Reassert regulatory functions that take into account public interest obligations of various media. This will only happen when we demand it with the way we vote.
7) FOR EVERYONE: Write, email, call and fax your media outlets to complain about offensive material. Do the same to thank media outlets for doing the right thing. Make this a habit. Join media action groups set up by your parish, diocese, or interdenominationally. This is perhaps one of the most important points in terms of effecting change.
And I’m going to add an 8th…
8) Every area (whether parish or deanery) needs to offer a counseling group for those struggling with addiction to pornography and how they can cope with these media temptations. And they need to make sure their parishioners know about it. The pornography industry is a 100 Billion dollar a year industry. “More than 70% of men from 18 to 34 visit a pornographic site in a typical month.” A staggering 10% of adults admit to having an addiction to it. And it’s not just men, 28% of those are women. Our sexed up media preys upon these people. And if we don’t reform our media and properly form our kids, the next generation is going to be even worse off than this one.
These issues are so important. Some people try to trivialize them as secondary to many of our “real” problems in society. But they are missing the fact that these are the kinds of things that break up families, destroy marriages, create broken homes, promote abortion, disorder our understanding of the human person and eventually lead to more greatly disordered acts of sex and violence. They are not at all secondary to our “real” problems. They are fundamental to them.