If Your Right Eye Makes You Stumble…

Before I had kids, I really never thought it was a big deal what kids were exposed to on television or in movies.  I obviously didn’t think that young children needed to be watching explicit sex scenes, and frankly I’ve never been a big fan of gratuitous sex and nudity.  But at the same time I didn’t see what the big deal was about kids being in the room while I watched soap operas or other shows aimed at adults.

The first time I became aware of how kids absorb things from the television even when they don’t seem to be paying attention was when I was watching Runaway Jury.  This would have been sometime around when my oldest was around 2.  There is one scene where Rachel Weisz’s character gets attacked.  Bailey was playing with some toys near the television when the scene occurred, and she started to get upset and cry about the “girl getting hurt”.  I’d like to say that I changed my viewing habits immediately, but I didn’t really.

Later as Bailey became caught up in shows like Hannah Montana, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, and iCarly, my husband and I started to get concerned about some of the recurring themes in the shows.  For instance, there was a lot of undermining of parental authority, which I understand helps give the show a plot-line.  The problem was that the kids were rarely punished; most story lines ended with the parent apologizing to the kids for not just letting them do what they wanted to do in the first place.

Plus, every show revolved around some young teen who was in some extraordinary situation (pop star, internet star, etc), giving the false impression that all young teens should have these extraordinary life-styles.  We realized that by allowing our kids to continue watching these shows they were being repeatedly exposed to values contrary to ours and contrary to reality, as well normalizing them.

But that concept really only applied to children.  We were adults.  We surely didn’t need to monitor what we watched.  Well, I began to realize that I needed to monitor what I watched, mainly because I am with the kids all day long from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep.  Whatever I watched on television, they were bound to be exposed to as well.  So, shows with content that might be inappropriate or even disturbing for children, like Battlestar Gallactica and Bones and House, I started to watch on my laptop instead of the television where it was easier to block what they saw.

But then, as my husband and I became more intent on our faith, we started to become more discerning about what kind of content we were exposing ourselves to and the mental and moral effects it might be having on our perceptions.  Just like children, once adults have been exposed to an image or idea it is hard to just erase it from our minds.  And once it is in our minds it can seep into our hearts.

I believe that pornography is one of the most damaging things in our society.  It’s very creation involves perverting male and female relationships, undermining the inherent worth and dignity of those involved, and trivializing sex as an act designed for personal gratification only.  In the past 20 years, pornography has become mainstream. It is not just the wide variety of disgusting websites available on the internet;  it is everywhere in various degrees of intensity.  My husband can’t go look up sports scores without seeing a half-naked woman pop up on the screen.  HBO and Showtime can’t seem to make a show for adults without tons of gratuitous nudity and sex.

And the more adults expose themselves to these images and ideas the more desensitized they become.  Just like a child watching all of those tween shows starts to think that there’s something wrong with her life because she isn’t a pop star or that at age 13 she doesn’t have a boyfriend with whom she is allowed to hang out with alone in a darkened room, adults start to get dissatisfied with the reality of their lives and burying themselves more and more in fantasy land.

Now the natural assumption is that pornography is mainly a “man problem”.  Men are more visual.  Men have a more physiological desire for sex.  But women have their own form of pornography that warps their expectations just as much:  romance novels and movies.  Many single young women watch these seemingly innocent films from When Harry Met Sally to The Notebook and this is what they absorb about the perfect relationship:

  1. The man who is perfect for you is probably either unattainable to you for some reason (already in a relationship/out of your league/a vampire) or he is someone who you probably despise because he keeps going around acting like a jerk.
  2. You will know your relationship is meant to be when there is some dramatic obstacle put in your path (a long distance between you, a misunderstanding about a relationship with another person, a secret from someone’s past, meddling friends/parents, mental/physical illness) that is overcome by a grand gesture of some kind (interrupting/calling off a wedding to someone else, showing up at an important event and making a public declaration of love, sacrificing one’s career).
  3. Once you are married, your husband will always take care of your needs and wants before his own, split all of the housework and child rearing duties 50/50, and support you in whatever dream you personally want to achieve even if it is not in the best interest of the family as a whole.*

Of course, many modern romance novels intersect both forms of pornography with over-the-top romantic plots and explicit sex scenes.  Whereas this kind of  media was in the past seen as a bit of a joke, it has become mainstreamed so much that we have 50 Shades of Grey (a book about a relationship full of sadomasochism) on the top seller list.  And while Magic Mike might not be as explicitly pornographic as 50 Shades, this movie about buff male strippers is marketed to encourage the objectification of men based on their physical appearance just as traditional porn objectifies women.

Then we wonder why there are so many divorces when so many couples start out their relationships with pornographic and/or overly-romantic expectations for sex, love, and marriage.  They then are let down by the reality that life is not full of “extraordinary” events as portrayed in movies, television, and books and their partner is an ordinary person and not a porn star or romantic hero.

Relationships can be hard work, and the best ones are those that do not have tons of drama and angst.  A good relationship should be a bulwark against the drama and angst and stresses of ordinary life (loss of a job, puking kids, etc).  But this reality is not what we see on television, in the movies, or in books.  Reality doesn’t sell, because people turn to entertainment to escape from their mundane, ordinary lives.

Now I’m not saying that wanting to escape every once in awhile is a bad thing.  But I think we need to be more careful about how and how often we are trying to escape from our ordinary lives.  We need to think about how are mental vacations are effecting our relationships with God and others and our satisfaction with our lives.

When it’s over are we glad to return to our normal lives and sleep in our own beds, so to speak, or are we forever lamenting about how beautiful it was at the beach and how horrible it is to be home in the land of cooking and laundry?  And what is the cost analysis of where we choose to go on vacation?  Are we looking for a place of peace, renewal,  simple fun, or even mental stimulation, or are we choosing a vacation spot that encourages immoral thoughts and behaviors?

I think a lot of people end up knowingly going on vacation near the toxic dump thinking it is just an innocent trip without realizing the poisons to which they are slowly exposing themselves and the example they are setting for those around them.  They may not only be setting themselves up to sin (or purposely indulging in sin) but leading others into sin as well.

Now I don’t want to come off as if I have it all together and am holier-than-thou.  I used to be well-known for my affinity for The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but when I began to take my faith seriously I realized that I would one day be held accountable before God for advocating a movie that glorifies immodesty, lust, and promiscuity in the name of entertainment.    I had to pluck out my right eye and start protecting my left eye.  This is something that I continue to struggle with discerning.  I just think that this is something that people, especially Christians, need to be aware of and take seriously.

 

 

 

 

*Oh, wait, #3 came from the Feminist Propaganda Manifesto in the section about how a marriage should be if you absolutely can not overcome your socially-conditioned attitudes that getting married and having a couple of kids (NO MORE THAN TWO!!) is a positive thing.

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One Comment on “If Your Right Eye Makes You Stumble…”

  1. laurke Says:

    Excellent, you recovering-Rocky-Horror-Picture-Show-lady you 🙂 I think I’ve gone through the same progression, except I was working when my DS was little (and he stayed with me until he was 2ish) so avoiding TV while he was awake was pretty easy. Working wasn’t easy though!
    Anyway, I am regularly convicted that things hubby watches are not okay. I leave the room and go read or to bed, asking him to turn it down. I can’t change him, but can only pray that he finds sinful things as distasteful as I do some day. (Its gotten better.)


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