Friday, April 21, 2017 - Updated: 11:20 AM
QUESTION: I wonder if I am the only one who finds television to be increasingly vulgar and worthless. I also wonder why the Catholic Church doesn’t do more to oppose this trend.
ANSWER: The American bishops attempted to address this issue as early as 1975 when they issued a statement titled “Family Viewing Policy of Television Networks.”
Basically, the statement was a commentary on attempts by the television networks at self-regulation. The networks had decided that material selected for programming during prime time would be suitable for family viewing. If this was not the case, viewer advisory statements would be made.
While the bishops supported this policy, their statements also pointed to what I believe is the central issue here — television is concerned with bringing consumers to advertisers. The viewing public gets what it wants. Therefore, the networks and their local affiliates will present the material that attracts the most viewers and brings maximum profit.
This economic fact of life actually places this important issue in the hands of the viewing public. The “church” doesn’t watch TV; its members do! The networks and other systems will continue to assume that what they present is what the viewers want unless people write or call and complain about the content of their programming.
Our reactions to such programming, however, should be the product of a balanced view. Our nation is built upon principles — one of which is that of free speech and artistic expression. At the same time, we attempt to protect the rights of citizens to raise families in an atmosphere where decency, honesty and integrity have priority.
This same kind of balance must also be exercised in judgments about precisely what is vulgar or pornographic. I believe that such judgments must avoid the pitfalls of being a prude and being naive.
Regarding the first, it seems that if some people had their way much of the Bible would be unfit family viewing. The life of King David certainly contains adultery, conspiracy, murder and other evils while at the same time portraying a picture of contrition and repentance. Human life consists of these elements. It would be unfortunate if portrayals of life were banned from viewing simply because they admit that such emotions exist within us.
We must also avoid being naive. Vulgar and explicit television generates billions of dollars in profits annually. While some people pay money to see this material, others pay more dearly. Young lives are very poorly influenced by what they hear and see on television (and in all other forms of media). What is portrayed as “normal” on television cannot be allowed to become “normal” in life.
We are not powerless in this important issue. But neither can we expect that others can solve the problem for us (not even the church). This entire matter demands some honest soul searching by all of us. Perhaps in addition to asking what is being watched on the TV in our homes, we might ask how much we watch and why. Could it be that the drama we see on TV is easier to deal with than the real life situations we tend to avoid?
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.