Speaking on the Catholic Church’s World Communications Day this spring, Pope Benedict decried the sad state of popular entertainment when he said, “In order to attract listeners and increase the size of audiences, it does not hesitate at times to have recourse to vulgarity and violence and to overstep the mark.”
Just a few short days prior to the Pope’s admonition, I was performing a “biology is destiny” demonstration using the remote control of my television like a light saber, as any man worth his Y chromosome would do.
I landed, briefly, on a Rambo movie. Now, I know about Rambo movies, but have never paid to see one and never sat through an entire one on television. Upon seeing the film on my TV, my fingers began to immediately twitch as my Y chromosome instincts awakened in my frontal lobes, telling me to “click the clicker; click the clicker; click the clicker.” But just as I was about to obey the chemicals in my brain, I heard two words that short-circuited my mental (such as they are) processes.
The two words invoked the name of Our Lord and Savior. They were not said as a prayer, but rather a curse. Not being a subscriber to any “pay” movie channels other than the ones my satellite provider forces me to buy just to have basic television reception, I was caught off guard. This was not a pay-per-view movie; it was on a basic service station. Was the guy at the “bleep button” dozing off? Then I heard it again. I thought maybe there was some kind of technical malfunction and wondered if the standard profanities that make up action movies like those in the Rambo series would soon be coursing their way via cathode ray tube (yes, I still rely on that ancient technology) into my living room.
Then I heard another sound. Or, rather, I didn’t hear a sound. For an instant, the soundtrack of the movie went mute and then immediately returned in the time it takes to question someone’s “sexual diversity.” Then there was another silence as Rambo, in full sweaty anger, was obviously questioning the ethics and breeding of some of the men who were pursuing him through some forest.
I resisted the primordial urge to click the remote control. (This demonstration could have easily caused me to miss some tractor pull or celebrity calf roping on another channel), but I stayed put on the movie. There were several more moments of silence, and I thought, “It must have been an anomaly, the using of Jesus’ name in anything other than praise, and the technical wizards at the broadcast end of the transmission have corrected the mistake.” Then I heard the Lord’s name again and again and again, and at no time was it said in praise.
It became quite evident there was no compunction to censor this movie when it took the Second Commandment and bashed it against a cultural rock in much the same way as Sylvester Stallone would dispatch some hapless law enforcement officer attempting to execute a writ of habeas corpus on Rambo.
They bleeped the “dirty” words left and right, and there were times when I almost thought I was watching a silent movie, with all of the attempts by the programmers of this “entertainment” to keep these words off the air. But there were no similar attempts when it came to taking the Lord’s name in vain.
In other words, as far as God’s name goes, it is open season.
I had heard — or not heard — enough, jumped-started my Y chromosome-laden brain, and hit the button on the remote control. I left Rambo to his own devices and curse words and blasphemies. But I would learn I wasn’t out of the woods just yet.
Maybe it was always there and I wasn’t tuned into it or maybe it was just a convergence of coincidences, but it wasn’t a day later that I was driving in my car and listening to talk radio when I had another encounter with the breaking of the Second Commandment.
Inevitably, I have attained that age when one finds oneself, much to the consternation of his children, listening to talk radio as opposed to music radio. If I now did a riff on how debauched and horrible modern music is today, I could probably transmogrify into a 21st-century version of my father.
Let’s just leave it at this: It’s another interesting commentary on our current state of popular cultural affairs that in order to deflect your children from the base, brutal and offensive nature of things like “rap” music, you expose them to such refined and “clean” music like that of The Doors and The Who.
But I digress, which is what people who qualify for AARP cards are apt to do.
I was listening to some host on a talk radio station, and what he was ranting about is not important, but in mid-rant he cut loose with a long, drawn-out demonstration of what God informed Moses on Mount Sinai was expressly prohibited in terms of his name.
You can’t say the “n” word on radio, which is a good thing. And you can’t, for the time being, use the various Anglo-Saxon perennials of profanity. But those are just dirty words, the vulgarity Pope Benedict XVI spoke about. Crass for sure, common like the weeds in my backyard, but, in the end, they are just words.
The name of Jesus, on the other hand, is something entirely different, and we as a society abuse it with regularity.
I do make a point of avoiding the near occasion of all Sylvester Stallone movies more out of deference to good movies than anything else. But the combating of this new variation on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution at the expense of the Second Commandment of God has necessitated me to have a hair trigger on my remote control clicker and implement my own response to the bashing of God’s name, which I have borrowed from my parish priest.
One day this priest was in line at the grocery store, in civilian clothes, when someone blurted out the Lord’s name in anger.
The priest turned to the person, smiled, and said in an equally loud voice, “Amen.”
It’s not a perfect solution, but I suggest if you’re listening to the radio in your car or just sitting in the living room of your house and the powers that be who control “entertainment” try to, in the words of Pope Benedict, “impose distorted models of personal, family or social life” on you, exercise your First Amendment rights and stick up for the Second Commandment.
Robert Brennan writes
from Los Angeles.