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In a disturbing study released by the Parents Television Council, and highlighted in this Forbes article, the amount of sexual content on prime time network television is absolutely astounding. While most readers of this blog have long recognized the problem, the true extent of the issue is hard to imagine.

How did we get to the point of allowing such content into our homes?

The biggest problem is a lack of well-told stories. We often hear that there will always be an audience for good stories that are well-told. Unfortunately, the networks usually resort to lowest common denominator fare. Thankfully, in the small glimmer of hope, these oversexed shows have generally done nothing to improve ratings.

TV is not vulgar and prurient and dumb because the people who compose the audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests.” -David Foster Wallace

In 1954, 74% of American TV households chose to watch “I Love Lucy” every week.  Is it only because there were so few alternative choices? Is it really any wonder why “American Idol” is currently the most watched TV show, routinely beating these oversexed competitors?

Let’s pray that the students at JP Catholic will soon be creating entertaining content that the whole family can once again enjoy.

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I was able to join the Batman hysteria by seeing The Dark Knight on Tuesday. Check out my review on my Film Blog.

Here is the letter I wrote to the Wall Street Journal concerning their stance on the Gay Marriage debate in California:

Vauhini Vara’s July 19th article (Moral Dilemma: When Weddings Are a Career Risk), which chronicles the challenges that several California clergy members face in following their personal convictions against the teaching of their denominations, is a compelling elucidation of the roadblocks facing liberal clergy. What’s lacking is equally insightful reporting on the real threat to religious expression for conservative clergy who stand steadfastly by Church teaching against the dictates of the State.

Liberal clergy may face a difficult choice – but clergy on the other side of the ideological aisle, whether Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, will soon face no choice at all. If the marriage amendment fails in California, those who uphold traditional marriage will be persecuted, as has happened in New Mexico, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and our sister country Canada—there are serious consequences for conservative denominations that follow their Biblical convictions. In 2006, Catholic Charities in Boston have stopped providing adoption services after they were compelled to grant adoptions to same-sex couples, even though they were willing to provide referral services. Also in 2006, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission found against the Evangelical owners of Elane Photography for refusing to photograph a gay commitment ceremony, infringing on both religious and artistic freedom of expression. In New Jersey, the Methodist church faces a loss of $20,000 in tax exemptions for refusing to let its worship space be used for a gay ceremony. In Canada, the Human Rights Commissions run slipshod over due process to convict conservatives of thought crimes. The list of Canadian thought criminals is too lengthy to be contained in this letter.

Ms. Vara is concerned that Rev. Linsday will be barred from preaching in United Methodist churches. I am concerned that many others will be barred from preaching at all.

I’ve reviewed Pixar’s wonderful new film WALL-E on my movies blog, Fides and Film. Click here to read the review.

The median ages of the broadcast networks keep rising, as traditional television is no longer necessarily the first screen for the younger set. According to a study released by Magna Global’s Steve Sternberg, the five broadcast nets’ average live median age (in other words, not including delayed DVR viewing) was 50 last season. That’s the oldest ever since Sternberg started analyzing median age more than a decade ago — and the first time the nets’ median age was outside of the vaunted 18-49 demographic. This is bad news for network advertising revenues, while it is great news for new media companies that can better reach this desirable demographic.

Read more at http://www.variety.com/VR1117988273.html

In a rare excursion last week to San Diego’s downtown Central Library, I came across an interesting new title from Jeffrey Overstreet, a film reviewer for Christianity Today. His first book, Through the Screen Darkly, chronicles his odyssey from a culturally isolationist Baptist home, one that distrusted serious engagement with popular culture, to a profound appreciation for cinema art and its ability to advance Gospel values. A movie critic, yet seemingly sensitive to criticism, Overstreet uses the book to defend himself on two fronts, each the polar opposite of the other. Through the Screen Darkly is his personal justification of his vocational choice from Christians suspicious of secular film, contending against the prevalent idea that movie criticism’s sole end should be the chronicling of objectionable content. With equal vigor, Mr. Overstreet ruffles at the label of snobbery, the notion that he may be paying insufficient attention to mainstream secular film in favor of languidly paced art house fair. His response to both criticisms makes for an interesting, insightful, and genuinely affecting read.

Mr. Overstreet doesn’t lament his somewhat sheltered upbringing, but is deeply grateful for being kept away from potentially harmful content before he could grow into a fully mature Christian man. Having gained maturity and conviction in the truth of Christ, however, he laments the desire of many Christian reviewers to throw the baby out with the bathwater by refusing to seriously watch secular art. “Christ’s incarnation,” Overstreet writes, “teaches us that spiritual things and fleshly things are not separate. The sacred is waiting to be recognized in secular things. Even those artists who don’t believe in God might accidentally reflect back to us realities in which we can see God working.” This reflection cuts, he believes, to the heart of what ails the Christian film/music industry, mainly the reduction of art to transparent message. Christians impoverish themselves by refusing to look closely at secular and morally ambiguous films, for the struggle to find meaning in a godless world reveals to us truths about reality and God.

It’s a mistake, however, to believe that this reduction is born out of naivety or superficiality, as many writers suggest. While Mr. Overstreet makes no effort to conceal his latent frustration with many Christians’ reduction of art to message, he does, however, give credence to the position he is attempting to counter. Plato and Tolstoy (in his later years) are two examples of profound thinkers who distrusted the volatile and subjective power of art. Plato famously banned it from his ideal republic, while watching Hamlet made Tolstoy shudder. For both thinkers, art was either served as unambiguous moral instruction or it was perverse.

Plato’s hostility to art was enough to turn me off in the ignorance of my undergraduate days. I once had the audacity and flat-out stupidity to declare to my philosophy professor father that I had no use for Plato’s work but only preferred Aristotle. Without mincing words, he told me I was mistaken. Mr. Overstreet’s book has force in its argument because he doesn’t dismiss art’s dangers. Overstreet draws through his gradual cultivation of his power of artistic perception in his youth and makes it clear that without such a maturation period the films he lauds may have been dangerous to him.

Art can be dangerous. Outside my window looms the giant cathedral-like edifice of the adjacent Edward’s Theater. Art can become an end in itself, rather than pointing to transcendent truth beyond itself. It can incite irrational passions and undermine reason. Without a mature faith and a cultivated power of perception, art can lead us down dangerous paths. But, Overstreet contends, the negative power of art shouldn’t deter us from encountering it. He begs us to look closely and humbly at secular art with the realization that God may reveal something to us about the nature of reality. “Mathematics, science, art,” he writes, “these are languages through which God is speaking. All truth is God’s truth. We mustn’t be afraid of science, numbers or surrealist paintings. If God is sovereign in the world, as we assert that He is, these explorations affirm and increase the faith of those who look closely.”

While I fundamentally agree with his thesis, I couldn’t help thinking he had taken it too far and my wife confirmed my suspicion. “How close are we supposed to look at secular art?” My wife pointed out. “If you ‘look closely’ at an atheist’s surrealist painting and come away with a message affirming God, aren’t you just imposing your belief on someone else’s art? Can anything then be communicated through art, if observers just ‘look closely’ to see what they want to see?”

My wife reminded me of a letter to First Things regarding classical music. A musician wrote, defending classical music against some review or other, to say that they thought a particular symphony “irrefutably” affirmed the resurrection of Christ. The author of the original piece said that if that was the case, then every hearer would have to be converted. We can’t look too closely, or we may come away with a horribly blurred vision of the work. All things considered, however, Mr. Overstreet’s thesis is valuable for Christians who are embracing evangelization through media. If we refuse to engage secular art, how can we ever expect to compete in the marketplace and actually move secular souls to truth?

There is a very interesting article by novelist and screenwriter Andrew Klavan in The City Journal (http://www.city-journal.org/2008/18_2_diarist.html).

Klavan had visited an inner city school and was shocked by the students response to who he is, a true, head-of-household male, father and husband. It seems this was a alien object to this group of impoverished kids. The students had even questioned their teacher at one point as to why she had the same last name as her father. Here is a summary of Klavan’s main point:

Beating poverty in America nowadays is largely a matter of personal behavior. Get a high school diploma, don’t have kids until you’re married, don’t get married until you’re 21, and you probably won’t be poor. It also helps if you work hard, show up on time, act courteously, and avoid anything felonious. But where are these kids going to learn such things? It’s the stuff you just sort of absorb in a healthy, traditional, two-parent home, & that’s exactly what they’re missing. . .

It seems to me that leaves these kids only one recourse: the culture. Where the institution of family is broken, only the surrounding culture can teach people the inner structures required for a life of liberty.

Many conservatives often seem to have given up on culture or not to care. There’s a strong strain of philistinism on the right. When we talk about “culture wars,” we usually mean preventing the courts from redefining marriage or promoting abstinence instead of birth control: culture, in other words, as the behavioral branch of politics.

Culture, in the true sense, is more than that. It’s the whole engulfing narrative of our values. It’s the stories we tell. Leftists know this. These kids get an earful from the Left every day. Their schools serve up black history in a way guaranteed to alienate them from the American enterprise. Their sanctioned reading list denies boys the natural fantasies of battling villains and protecting women from harm. Any instinct the girls might have that their bodies and their self-respect are interrelated is negated by the ubiquitous parable of celebrity lives. And I hardly need mention the movies and TV shows that endlessly undermine notions of manly self-discipline, feminine modesty, patriotism, and all the rest.

…creativity has to be answered with creativity. We need stories, histories, movies of our own. That requires a structure of support—publishing houses, movie studios, review space, awards, almost all of which we’ve ceded to the Left. There may be more profitable businesses in the short run. The long run, as always, depends on the young. If you want to win their hearts, you have to tell them stories.

So often, a morally grounded, patriotic, God fearing young person is more apt to head down the road of earning the highest degree possible, starting a business, buying a house and creating a stable and economically sound foundation for their family. One does not often hear accounts of these conservative minded types moving to Los Angeles or New York, living in near poverty, taking a job as a busboy or waiter for years, all so they can pursue their lifelong dream of becoming an actor, a screenwriter, a director, a fill in the creative job-type blank. It is a completely different mind-set.

And when the morally strong, family oriented person has become successful and economically stable, why would they ever consider supporting, either financially or any other way, an art form that is more often than not completely opposed to their values. But acting in this manner concedes defeat to the enemy and allow him to prosper.

The arts were not always the bastion of the immoral. For hundreds of years popular art was submerged with great works praising and honoring God, his saints and Our Lady. These artist knew where their talent came from and were more than willing to publicly admit this truth. At JP Catholic we must create a new group of artist who will rekindle this truth of ages past so that when the realization that the defining of culture can no longer be abandoned to the left, there will be a strong and viable option for the re-support of the modern arts.