I have a love/hate relationship with the media. I am Catholic and I am committed to my faith, but I work with many non-Catholics and with Catholics who are seeking direction. Being a good evangelist means I have to keep track of what’s going on outside the Catholic bubble, to follow the Bible’s advice to be in the world but not of it. Over the last year here at Austin Catholic New Media, I have tried not just to declare whether something is too worldly, but to teach you all how to decide whether something is good for you (or your children) or not. As a summary of my first year here, I’d like to lay out my strategies for you.
I really enjoy Grey’s Anatomy. I am not ashamed. I’ve been watching since almost the beginning. It’s hard to find good role models on television these days, though, and the doctors on Grey’s are definitely not an exception. There have been two major Catholic characters over the course of the show: Izzie Stevens (played by Katherine Heigl) and Callie Torres (Sara Ramirez). Izzie became involved with a fellow surgical intern after he’d gotten married (to Callie, actually), but she did go to confession and break off the relationship in remorse. That was a tiny sign of hope and accuracy. On the other hand, after Callie divorced her husband, she started a romantic relationship with a woman, spurring her father to fly in with their apparently not busy parish priest. She later “married” another woman after having a baby with an entirely separate man. Her pretty, fancy “wedding” was juxtaposed with the plain, rushed civil ceremony of two opposite-sex characters in an extreme lack of subtlety on the part of the writers. Grey’s Anatomy sends the unfortunately popular message that Catholics are really only Catholic when it is convenient, and the only adults who stay Catholic feel guilty or are judgmental. That doesn’t make me feel very good about myself.
So why do I watch, and why am I not ashamed? I like to watch the characters. The characters of Grey’s Anatomy make what I call “bad life choices” all the time. “Bad life choices” is my polite code for “stupid things I don’t think anyone should do and are probably grave matter for mortal sin.” However, the production style of the show makes it easy to follow the characters’ personality growth, maturity, and reasoning. Although I disagree with their choices, I understand why they make them. Ultimately, understanding even fictional people helps me to be a more loving person. I could never choose abortion for myself, and I don’t think anyone should, but I understand that Christina Yang (Sandra Oh) and Owen Hunt (Kevin McKidd) should never have gotten married in the first place and embraced the potential to create new life. Christina would never have gotten pregnant with a child she didn’t want (again), and she wouldn’t have chosen abortion, and Owen would not have had an affair to get back at her, ending their marriage. Bad choices beget more bad choices, but I love that Grey’s Anatomy gave me a practical, realistic example of just how much trouble flirting with evil can cause.
Despite my enjoyment of Grey’s Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother, and other media that is not trying to help me grow in holiness, I know when I’ve encountered something that goes too far. The latest phenomenon in the book world is the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy by E.L. James. It is allegedly just revised Twilight fanfiction [mild content warning in that article], but my problem with Fifty Shades is not its history. It’s the content. Although the books are sometimes classified as “romance novels,” that is a false euphemism. They are erotica, a genre that by definition has no literary value and is basically pornography in words instead of pictures. Unfortunately, many readers (who are overwhelmingly female) deny that there is anything wrong with the novels’ depiction of a non-mainstream and explicit sexual relationship between a younger woman and a mysterious older man. In all the discussion of Fifty Shades I’ve heard, no one has ever claimed that the woman is in love with this man. It is just about sex and absolutely nothing more. These books (which have been optioned for a major studio film) are the perfect example of media gone crazy. Not only has the world divorced sex from love, the worldly view has become completely mainstream. I have made a public declaration that I will not read Fifty Shades of Grey. I care about my soul too much for that.
Jesus cares about my soul, too. Much of the world does not understand that Christ is the Truth. Until the whole world knows, we can neither ignore the world nor stop trying to spread the Truth. As you encounter media new and old, take some time to examine and question the motivations of what you’re seeing and hearing. “Test everything; hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil. May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (1 Thess. 5: 21-4)
Next time: Back to regular reviews with The Possibilities of Sainthood