Unification News for May 1996


TV & Family Decline

by Haven Bradford Gow

In her new work The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families (Grossett/Putnam), family therapist Mary Pipher expresses concern about how TV and other forms of popular entertainment have replaced parents as the primary educators of children; and she also is alarmed about the message TV is communicating to young people, which is to be "self-centered, impulsive and addictive."

Mrs. Pipher says TV contributes to the atomization of the family. Instead of spending time talking with one another about daily problems, joys and experiences, each family member comes home, has dinner and then goes to his or her room to watch TV. If this trend continues unchecked, says Mrs. Piper, "Everybody would be a distinct individual with no connection as a part of a family, and it would be a horrible world."

To help alleviate the decline of the family, Mrs. Piper urges this: "Turn off the TV and computer. Have one evening a week that the whole family spends together."

Because so many parents today are either working or engaged in self- centered pursuits, TV and movies have in effect become baby-sitters. As an article in the April 28 Boston Herald points out, unsupervised children and adolescents have been sneaking into movie theaters to see R-rated films filled with mindless sex, violence and exploitation. The article noted, "Studies have long linked adolescent viewing of violent material with aggressive behavior. But with the current smattering of controversial films depicting extremely violent or sexually explicit scenes-Natural Born Killers, Pulp Fiction and Showgirls, to name a few-the issue has generated renewed public concern."

An article in Movieguide, the publication of the Christian Film & TV Commission (Box 190010, Atlanta, Ga. 31119), pointed out that parents have just as much to fear from what their children are watching on TV, since TV talk show hosts seem intent on exploiting the sexuality of young people for the sake of higher ratings; the article declared: "When Montel Williams or Phil Donahue or Geraldo Rivera parade people who challenge long-held means for keeping good, civil society, they contribute to society's decline. That is their right. However, when one of them places children (minors) on a stage to discuss children's deviant sexual behavior, then that is psychological sexual abuse of those children and possibly a psychological molestation of any child who may be watching."

In his book Hollywood vs. America (Harper/Collins), TV and movie critic Michael Medved charges that the entertainment industry has been waging a vicious cultural war against traditional Judeo-Christian moral and religious standards and values. Mr. Medved observes: "The apparent eagerness of some of Hollywood's most powerful personalities to belittle religious believers is a puzzling predilection for people whose professional survival depends entirely on pleasing the public; it stems from a fundamental failure to recognize the heartfelt commitment to traditional faith that characterizes a significant-and growing-percentage of the population."

According to Rabbi Yechial Eckstein, chairman of the Washington, D.C.- based Center for Jewish & Christian Values, Hollywood often ridicules and mocks deeply-revered religious symbols such as the cross. Rabbi Eckstein observes: "In the recent film Eye for an Eye, a sadistic rapist-murderer portrayed by Kiefer Sutherland sports a cross around his neck; another dangles from the rear-view mirror of his liquor- store delivery car."

In his new book Ozzie and Harriet had a Scriptwriter (Tyndale House), youth minister Rev. David Veerman points out how TV shows have been attacking traditional Judeo-Christian morality. He provides these story lines from recent TV programs for consideration: 1) "A girl wonders if she should sleep with her boyfriend; she knows that her parents would object. A close friend advises her that it's fine if she really loves him and if he uses a condom. It's her choice." 2) "A Bible-quoting, neighbor-judging father is discovered to be a drug kingpin. The free-spirited, promiscuous single mom next door counsels the man's suicidal wife." 3) "Undercover detectives reveal that a conservative preacher is the secret leader of an anti-government paramilitary group. In addition, he has molested several girls in his congregation." 4) "A rising star in the advertising world discovers that she is pregnant. Close friends and coworkers advise her not to tell her husband and to have an abortion because having the baby would `complicate her life' and force her to abandon her career."

In the New Testament, St. Paul provides this standard by which we can and should measure any TV program, movie or work of art: "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

To be sure, popular entertainment indeed has glamorized and promoted anti-social thinking and conduct; but TV programs and movies also can be educational, inspirational and spiritually edifying. One thinks, for example, of one movie and a TV series that have helped combat religious prejudice and bigotry and foster religious tolerance and understanding.

A Friendship in Vienna is a Walt Disney made-for-TV movie starring Jane Alexander, Edward Asner and Jennifer Lewis, that deals with the beautiful and inspiring friendship of two young girls-one a Catholic, the other one Jewish. Despite harsh and unyielding opposition from their parents, the Jewish girl (played by Jennifer Lewis) and the Catholic girl (played by Kamie Harper) remain loyal friends. When a virulent and vicious anti-Semitism during the 1930s and 1940s threatens the lives of the Jewish girl and her parents in increasingly violent and turbulent Vienna, Austria, the Catholic girl courageous risks her life and enlists the help of a Catholic priest so her Jewish friends and her parents can escape certain death.

In my view, because of the noble and inspiring way the film deals with such universal and perennial questions of the human condition as friendship, courage, loyalty, love and hate, religious faith and religious bigotry, A Friendship in Vienna should be considered a "family classic."

The Bravo cable TV channel series, Brooklyn Bridge, also combats religious bigotry and promotes religious tolerance and understanding; and it celebrates and affirms such traditional values as religious faith, decency, and the beauty of good family life and friendship. One of the nicest features of Brooklyn Bridge is the developing friendship of Katie, an Irish Catholic girl played by Jennifer Lewis, and Alan, a Jewish boy played by Danny Gerard. In one episode, Katie and Alan bring their families together in a Chinese restaurant, where they help them overcome religious and ethnic bigotry and prejudice and see the positive aspects of each other's religious and ethnic identities and teach them to become friends.

Jennifer Lewis, the lovely young actress who portrays Katie Monahan, possesses a purity of heart and soul, and that purity is reflected in the beauty of her eyes and in the graceful way she does and says things. Jennifer possesses the kind of beauty that causes one to think of Christmas and of Easter and-ultimately-of God. Jennifer's spiritual beauty and purity help people understand that virtue and goodness are lovely and worth pursuing.


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