To poorly paraphrase Karl Marx: “Media is the opiate of the masses.”
This past week, I asked my daughter if there were any topics she would like for me to share my thoughts on. She looked thoughtfully at the ceiling for a moment, then said “yes, could you write about the effects of media on a person. Where is the line between good media and bad media.” I gladly took on her request, but I will state up front that I will not say where the line is between good and bad in the way she wants me to. I will, however, clearly explain how to see the line between good and bad.
For the purposes of this article, I will use the word “media” very broadly such that it includes:
- books & magazines
- art (paintings, drawings, etchings, etc)
- video games
- mobile devices (a source of media worthy of their own dissertation)
Let’s just hit this topic squarely in the head. One of the most destructive and evil things to come at us through the media is pornography. Anything that portrays the sacred act of procreation in a light other than as God intended is awful. Specifically, the tendency for TV and movies to portray rape and infidelity desensitizes our minds and spirits to the sacred. It teaches us that it’s ok to have sex anytime, anywhere, with anyone.
That is wrong. It is not ok to have sex anytime, anywhere, or with anyone.
Let’s take this a step further. Characters don’t need to have sex in order to violate standards of decency. The gratuitous showing of private body parts is insane. I firmly believe there is a serious problem with a society that begs to see movie stars breasts while at the same time upends itself in a tizzy when a mother tries to breastfeed their child. Truth be told, the breast is closer to an infants play toy than a man’s play toy. Perhaps men today are so infantile that they can’t leave their mother’s breast.
Unfortunately, the freedom with which the media lowers the standards of decency are clearly seen throughout real life. Yoga pants, short skirts, tight fighting clothes, low-cut blouses…they all mimic what is shown in the media, and they all devalue the human body.
But now I’ve digressed…this wasn’t supposed to be about the downfall of society because of our reckless attitude toward sex…it was supposed to be about the media.
How do we approach media in a way that is fun and safe? I use one simple question to help guide my media decisions:
Does it bring me closer to God?
If the answer is yes, then it certainly is worth my time and effort to dive into whatever the media is. If the answer is no, then I have to go to another set of questions.
- Does it have bad language (for me that includes the typical 4-letter words with very little acceptance of the f-bomb and words belittling women)
- Does it portray graphic violence (why, and how. There’s a difference between Normandy Beach and bloody gore just because)
- Does it show nudity
- Does it have a sex scene
- What message is the media trying to portray
- Does it portray illicit drug use
Based on the answer to these questions, I will either partake in the media or not.
Young men of the Aaronic Priesthood, remember the scriptural injunction “Be ye clean who bear the vessels of the Lord.” (3 Ne. 20:41; D&C 38:42; see also Isa. 52:11.) Remember the story of Joseph in Egypt, who hearkened not to the wife of Potiphar and maintained his purity and virtue. (See Gen. 39:6–20.)
Consider carefully the words of the prophet Alma to his errant son, Corianton, “Forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes.” (Alma 39:9.)
“The lusts of your eyes.” In our day, what does that expression mean?
Movies, television programs, and video recordings that are both suggestive and lewd.
Magazines and books that are obscene and pornographic.
We counsel you, young men, not to pollute your minds with such degrading matter, for the mind through which this filth passes is never the same afterwards. Don’t see R-rated movies or vulgar videos or participate in any entertainment that is immoral, suggestive, or pornographic. Don’t listen to music that is degrading.
President Ezra Taft Benson, To the Youth of the Noble Birthright
We all have the same amount of time given to us: a gift from Heavenly Father. I believe we will be held accountable for what we did with our time. Do we remember the words of Jesus to the Nephites? “What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27).
I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong enjoying a video game, movie, or magazine. I am suggesting that we often become overly engrossed in the mundane while setting aside the holy. It is so much more convenient to pass an hour being fed images from a screen than it is to read and ponder the Scriptures.
Perhaps a parable will help illustrate the caution we must exercise around media.
As two men walked across an eastern university campus, they were attracted by a crowd of people surrounding a large maple tree. As they approached, they noticed that the crowd was being amused by the antics of a fox-tailed squirrel circling the tree, climbing it, and running back down again. A red Irish Setter dog crouched nearby, intently watching the squirrel. Each time the squirrel ran up the tree out of sight, the dog would slowly creep towards the tree. The squirrel paid little attention as the dog crept closer and closer, patiently biding its time. People watching this entertaining drama unfold knew what could happen, but they did nothing, until in a flash, the dog—catching the squirrel unaware—had it in the grip of his sharp teeth.
The people then rushed forward in horror, forcing the dog’s mouth open to rescue the squirrel. It was too late. The squirrel was dead. Anyone could have warned the squirrel or held back the dog. But they had been momentarily amused and watched silently while evil slowly crept up on good. When they rushed to the defense, it was too late.
We see around us daily that which is portrayed in this parable. We sit idly by watching as an insidious stream of profanity, vulgarity, demeaning behavior, a mocking of righteous ideals and principles, invades our homes and lives through most types of media, teaching our children negative values and moral corruption. We then become upset when our children perform differently than we would wish, and social behavior continues to deteriorate.
Dallin H. Oaks, quoted in Successful Living of Gospel Principles
How can we allow ourselves to be filled with images and words of hate, anger, violence, and infidelity and expect the opposite to come out of our mouths? Consider the Carnations you buy in the store…the ones that are white with red, purple, or blue fringes. They don’t grow naturally that way. Instead, once the flower is cut, it is placed in a dish of water and food coloring is added. The flower then absorbs the food coloring which changes the petals. Our minds work the same way! Whatever you take into your mind is what you begin to become. I find the following quote to be very applicable when I ponder the media (the origin is a bit convoluted):
In the end, where is the line between good and bad media? It is where you no longer are drawn toward God. Remember Moroni’s comment: “that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God…but whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil” (Moroni 7:13, 17).
Be wary of the media you allow to influence your life. It should be a tool you use to build yourself up–make yourself a better, smarter, more able person. If it brings you closer to God, then pursue it. If it chases away the Holy Spirit, then you should make another choice. It’s time for us to decide what we are going to watch and read instead of Hollywood deciding what we are going to watch and read.