Turn Off Your TV, Become Like a Child, and Enter the Kingdom of Heaven
It’s unusual enough to declare to family that one doesn’t watch TV, let alone make this news public, so when Pope Francis revealed that he made a promise to our Blessed Mother and hasn’t watched TV since July 15, 1990, it made quite a headline in the mainstream press.
To be clear, Pope Francis doesn’t claim that watching TV is bad or sinful, but said watching TV isn’t for him and that he simply misses the pleasure of walking the streets and stopping by a pizzeria.
But if the recent reviews of the new Muppets series on ABC (owned by Disney) are any indicator, we might do well to follow Pope Francis’ example. Parenting watchdog organization One Million Moms warns that this new “mature version of The Muppets will cover a range of topics from sex to drugs. Miss Piggy came out as a pro-choice feminist during an MSNBC interview. The puppet characters loved by kids in the 1970s and 1980s and beyond are now weighing in on interspecies relationships and promiscuity.”
Other groups are ridiculing One Million Moms for their warning, labeling them as alarmists, party poopers and killjoys. One article mocks: “One Million Moms is throwing another of their typical temper tantrums.” Another blog scoffs: “The perpetually outraged anti-gay, anti-fun group One Million Moms has returned from the swoon they fell into upon seeing a yogurt ad with lesbians in it, and they wish to warn you, the concerned parents of America, that the Muppets are no longer what they seem. They’re sexier. They’re having sex.”
It would seem that these groups would rather mock One Million Moms than acknowledge that there may be something to this warning, not so much for themselves, but for our children: “Many parents unknowingly will let their children watch an episode only to find out its perverted nature too late, unless they are alerted ahead of time,” One Million Moms writes. Their goal is certainly not a selfish one: “We want our children to have the best chance possible of living in a moral society. … Our goal is to stop the exploitation of our children, especially by the entertainment media.”
To be fair, other TV reviewers have also commented on the “weirdness” of the new series’ emphasis on romantic relationships between humans and Muppets. Fortune.com even comments on the audience that ABC is targeting: “While it is true that there is a more adult feel to the show, if the promos are any indication, it could well be that ABC is in fact not aiming at children, but at Gen Xers and baby boomers who grew up loving the Muppets and want to relive a bit of their childhood in an updated manner once a week.”
In all likeliness, children are no longer the intended audience for The Muppets. Why? Because TV writers are writing for the audience they know best: themselves. They reference themselves, their worldviews, dreams and desires. They make stories that reflect their goals and fears. It’s idolatry under a different guise. Rather than encourage a childlike innocence, they’re constantly seeking to amuse the child within us. These stories promote a perpetual adolescence.
If the writers of the new Muppets subscribe to the prevalent cultural attitude that children are a burden, a nuisance even, then it isn’t surprising that the show becomes all about us. It’s the same selfish outlook that often undergirds the notion that killing a child in the womb is acceptable because, in the end, it’s about our wants. Contrastingly, Jesus “took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me, but him who sent me’” (Mark 9:36-37).
With all the snarky attitudes that accompany these newer sitcoms and comedies, it begs the question of whether such media are in the end really good for us, too. Am I an alarmist for saying so? Our Lord himself reminds us clearly: Unless you become like a little child, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).
Notice that Jesus did not say that you may not enter the kingdom of heaven, but that you will not enter the kingdom of heaven if you do not become childlike in your attitude, trusting God, our Father, and exhibiting the joy of being his child.
Yet so many reject the Good News because they perceive it as a burden, rather than for the freedom that it is. A simple study was conducted to discover the effects of a fence around a playground on children at play. A group of children were observed at play at a playground in which there was no fence. The same group of children was also observed at play at another comparable playground with a clearly defined border designated by a fence. The study observed:
“In the first scenario, the children remained huddled around their teacher, fearful of leaving out of her sight. The later scenario exhibited drastically different results, with the children feeling free to explore within the given boundaries. The overwhelming conclusion was that, with a given limitation, children felt safer to explore a playground. Without a fence, the children were not able to see a given boundary or limit and thus were more reluctant to leave the caregiver. With a boundary, in this case the fence, the children felt at ease to explore the space.”
In a similar way, the Gospel and the Ten Commandments are fences that encourage us to play freely and safely. It is when we choose to break down the fences and go helter-skelter beyond that we hurt ourselves, delude ourselves and experience fear and sadness.
Too often, even Christians can behave like spiritual orphans, not conducting ourselves in ways that reflect that God is our Father. Too often, we look at life without the joy of a child or trusting that Our Lord loves us so much that he desired to hide his divinity, power and majesty to become a finite and frail human child. O Lord, give us back the joy of your salvation (Psalm 51:14).
Eugene Gan, Ph.D.,
is a professor of interactive media, communications and
fine art at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
- Nov. 15-28, 2015