Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

Garbarge in, Garbage out

by Vicki ThornBetween today’s mass media and the virtual world we now inhabit, our popular culture exudes a sense of pseudo-intimacy. We follow the lives of famous people with fanatic interest, seeing or reading about every little detail of their lives. Twitter lets us know what celebrities are thinking or doing at this very moment. There is a certain magnetism that draws us to do this. We feel like we are somehow privy to some special knowledge, and that makes us feel special.Hero worship has always existed. Think of young boys collecting baseball cards, hoping to be lucky enough to get a signed baseball, program or even a photo of a sports hero. These memorabilia hang on their walls as these boys move through adulthood and into retirement. They continue to gather at sports events, hoping to see the current heroes and the possible new ones. Just this morning one of the sports commentators on a radio station spoke about the desire of “being near greatness.”I recently picked up People and US magazines. When many print media are losing ground, these are thriving. Magazines are powerful media. Media research has found that magazines are the most credible source of information for teen girls: more so than family, newspapers and other media. What are they saying?As I looked at these magazines, which have a huge market share, I was confronted with voyeuristic stories. This in itself didn’t surprise me – but what did surprise me was the lack of positive stories about human greatness. What was there in excess was human depravity!That week both magazines had stories about Tiger Woods and the effect of his multitude of affairs on his family. In one issue of US, 10 stories had the words “sexy,” “sexier” or “sexiest” in the titles. There were reports of infidelities and love affairs; who is currently being seen with or bedding whom and who is jilted or jealous; who lost how much weight and now looks wonderful in the bikini and who followed what diet; who is currently very depressed or addicted even though famous; who has a “baby daddy” who is basically unfaithful, but still sees his child. The covers scream “How I Got Thin,” “Too Fat to Fly,” “Dark Secrets,” “Is Fame Hurting Her?” “Headed to Rehab” and “Jake’s Mistake.”There seem to be no stories about regular people. The “feel good” stories are about unusual people for the most part: the boy born with his heart outside his body or the couple who are “little people” and are considering surrogacy and genetic screening in case their child would inherit their genetic condition.If magazines are seen as credible sources, what are they teaching us? The media is a teacher, and media research has long pointed to our susceptibility to messages that are presented to us. The message from these publications is that this is how life should be lived.People have always longed for heroes and have recognized throughout the ages those who give scandal and those who live with dignity. Today, our culture’s “heroes” are certainly not holding up noble principles. I believe that this type of print media is having the same effect as TV and film, in lowering the moral standard. Yet our desire to “be near greatness” and to imitate the rich and famous sets us up to believe that this is acceptable behavior.In the past, holiness was recognized, as was sinfulness. Today we do not hear much about the holy and noble people. They don’t sell magazines. With the death of Mother Theresa and Pope John Paul II, there is a void of stories about those who live good lives and do good deeds in the popular media.There was a time when parents, educators and books acquainted us with the lives of the saints, and as children and teens we absorbed these stories which gave us examples of moral fortitude in the face of physical and spiritual adversity. Guys had role models like Frances Xavier and Issac Jogues, who went into the unknown to bring the Word of God and message of redemption. These were brave men! They captured the imagination. Girls had role models like St. Frances of Rome, a wife and mother, who responded with heroic generosity to challenges of plague and famine; or St. Frances Cabrini, who wanted to be a missionary to China but was sent to America where she established institutions of learning and hospitals.The list of models for Catholic Christians is long, but so many people have not encountered them. Our challenge is how do we tell the stories of courage, moral fortitude and true greatness in this media age that is driven by money and promotes those things that reflect the worst of human spirit? Where are the real heroes?pastedGraphic.pdf(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

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