Why Media Matters
I don't know about you, but I love media and the art that's made using it. Books, movies, podcasts, Spotify, all of it! I might be a little biased (I studied Communications, Media & Journalism in college), but you get to be a little biased when you write a blog. I have a lot of opinions on Catholic media literacy, but the chief among them is this: Catholics can, and should, learn to appreciate media for its beauty while viewing its morality through a critical lens.
This sounds a lot more complicated than it is. Basically, what I mean is that we should all be able to watch a popular TV show or movie, read a popular book, or play a popular video game and appreciate the beauty in the art. I think of the beautiful shots and cinematography that we see in movies like The Revenant and even Avengers: Endgame (that portals scene, WOW), or the clever storytelling and humor of NBC's The Good Place. Now, the fact that these pieces of art have beauty in them doesn't mean they're perfect. "The Good Place" can get raunchy with their jokes, and The Revenant is a very violent movie. The point is that we should be able to recognize and acknowledge both.
There's a well-known Catholic author and speaker named Christopher West who wrote a great essay on this called "Christian Moviegoers: Please Don't Settle for Bad Art!" It's only about a page and a half long, and I'd recommend reading it if you have a spare 2 minutes. His main point is that it's important to recognize the beauty in human art, even if that art doesn't 100% agree with our moral worldview. That's easier said than done, but it's important! Here's why: All beauty comes from God, because He's the source of all that is good.
Okay, so all beauty comes from God. Why does that matter? It matters because beauty is not just a pretty girl or a picturesque nature scene. I would argue that beauty is anything in this world that points to God. By that logic, is a beautiful shot in a movie beautiful? Yes! The things shown point to God because he created people and all natural things. It's also beautiful because the mere existence of that image in a movie wouldn't be possible without the skill, creativity, and ability that God gave the people who put the movie together.
If we take this to heart, we can unlock a whole new way of looking at media for ourselves. There are lots of popular pieces of media that have objectionable things in them. Shows like Breaking Bad and The Office, books like Harry Potter and To Kill a Mockingbird, even various different types of music can have these things we take issue with as Catholics. But that does not mean that we should write them off entirely! What we should instead do is learn to appreciate the beautiful parts of media while recognizing the potentially harmful parts.
This can be tough to practice! Put simply, what I'm saying is that it's okay to look at popular, secular media through a critical lens. We celebrate the beautiful and the good and speak against the bad. That's what we're called to do with every part of the world! Why should media be any different? As Catholics, we're not called to isolate ourselves. On the contrary, the very word "Catholic" means universal! We're not called to only watch Christian movies, read Christian books, and listen to Christian music.
Think of this past Sunday's Gospel: We are called to be the "light of the world," and not to hide that light. We have a duty to shine brightly as examples of a different way of life. It's important and good that we should be able to discuss popular media with our friends and family! We should be able to discuss the immoral and dark parts of these movies, TV shows, books, and songs, but we should also be able to discuss and appreciate the beauty. Because beauty points to God, and that's exactly what our lives are supposed to do, too.
We are called to live our lives in a way that points to the goodness of God. Our lives are not given to us for mere pleasure or personal gain. We are instead put on this Earth to become saints, and to make saints of those around us (saint here means anyone who makes it to Heaven, not necessarily a "capital S" Saint). By engaging with the popular media in our culture, we can show the world that God and the Church do not view all media as bad. On the contrary, we celebrate the beauty and marvels of human achievements in media!
We should speak out against the immoral things we see in media, absolutely. But we should also be able to appreciate just how great some of these things are. Now if you excuse me, I'm going to go see 1917 again on my day off, because that movie was downright fantastic. I pray that God will give you the grace to see secular media in an appreciative yet critical light, and I hope to see you all soon.
P.S. All high schoolers are invited to our first Youth Group meeting! This Wednesday (February 12th) from 6:30-8:30pm in the Fr. Frisbie Hall at St. Thomas Becket Church. We'll name the group, play some games, eat some snacks, and generally have a great time. I hope to see many of you there!