One of the interesting (by which I mean dull, predictable and repetitive) aspects of the 24 hour news cycle is that all forms of media have incentives to magnify and actively seek out controversy. Not only does this increase ratings/page views/newspaper sales, it provides media outlets with something – anything in a slow news month – to talk about. I can’t help but feel that the recent outburst of commentary about the construction of a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks is the type of story designed to increase media consumption and accomplish little else. The First Amendment is not in dispute here; freedom of religion is well established and protected by settled case law. Furthermore, the proposed mosque is to be constructed on private property, and there is no legal reason to challenge its construction. And so most of the discussion revolves (and frequently devolves) around taste and symbolism.
It’s been interesting, though a bit odd, for me, watching the hand-wringing over the “death of the press” as some of the major newspapers struggle to figure out how to make their budgets work in a world in which fewer people read “dead tree” editions and advertisers can take advantage of more targeted advertising online and in specialty publications. There is, it seems, a level of reverence which many people seem to attach to “the press”, which does not seem well born out what it actually is.
Looked at historically and economically — newspapers exist as a delivery system for ads. They seek to provide stories that people want to read (whether “news”, human interest, comics, crosswords or recipes) in order to persuade people it’s worth parting with the artificially low newsstand or subscription price.
Last Friday on October 30 the mainstream media here in America reported inaccurately that the Vatican was warning parents that Halloween is ‘anti-Christian’. Of course no such thing occurred. The Vatican did not say that Halloween is ‘anti-Christian’, in fact they didn’t say anything at all.
On that same day, Jack Smith of The Catholic Key Blog debunked the story with yeoman’s work finding the source of the “alleged” Vatican Halloween Warning to a priest of the Spanish Bishop’s Conference by the name of Fr. Joan Maria Canals, CMF, a liturgy expert. I followed up with a posting on this website early the next day supplementing Jack Smith’s findings with common mistakes made in reporting what is and isn’t official.
I then submitted my article to several news organizations, including the Drudge Report and the USA Today. Additionally I left comments and sent emails explaining why their reporting was inaccurate. To their credit, both the Drudge Report and the USA Today, rectified the situation some extent.
The Drudge Report removed the link to the Daily Mail late Saturday morning. Then early Monday afternoon on November 2, Doug Stanglin, who wrote the piece that inaccurately attributed the Vatican warning parents of the anti-Christian nature of Halloween, followed up with our side of the story.
Today we celebrate all the saints who now dwell in perfect bliss before the Beatific Vision, seeing God face to face. All the saints love God and love their neighbor, but other than that they have little in common. We have saints who lived lives of quiet meditation, and there are saints who were ever in the midst of human tumult. Some saints have easy paths to God; others have gained their crowns at the last moment, an act of supreme love redeeming a wasted life. Many saints have been heroic, a few have been timid. We number among the saints some of the greatest intellects of mankind, while we also venerate saints who never learned to read. We have saints with sunny dispositions, and some who were usually grouchy. Saints who attained great renown in their lives and saints who were obscure in life and remain obscure after death, except to God. Among such a panoply of humanity we can draw endless inspiration for our own attempts to serve God and our neighbors. For me, one saint has always stood out as a man with a deep meaning for this period of history we inhabit: Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Why?
A new movie about Saint Josemaria Escriva’s early years placed during the Spanish Civil War has been produced and will be released in 2010 A.D. titled, There Be Dragons.
Saint Josemaria Escriva was born in 1902 A.D. in Barbastro, Spain. Later at the age of 26 in Madrid Saint Josemaria started the apostolate that would eventually be called the Work of God, or simply Opus Dei, in pre-Civil War Spain in October of 1928 A.D. Opus Dei would experience delays in progress with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 A.D. This is the period that the setting of the movie is placed in.
Here is Archbishop Chaput with a worthwhile reflection on how Catholics should think about the media. A few excerpts:
Most of what we know about the world comes from people we’ll never meet and don’t really understand. We don’t even think of them as individuals. Instead we usually talk about them in the collective – as “the media” or “the press.” Yet behind every Los Angeles Times editorial or Fox News broadcast are human beings with personal opinions and prejudices. These people select and frame the news. And when we read their newspaper articles or tune in their TV shows, we engage them in a kind of intellectual intimacy in the same way you’re listening to me right now….
…The media’s power to shape public thought is why it’s so vital for the rest of us to understand their human element. When we don’t recognize the personal chemistry of the men and women who bring us our news – their cultural and political views, their economic pressures, their social ambitions – then we fail the media by holding them to too low a standard. We also – and much more importantly — fail ourselves by neglecting to think and act as intelligent citizens…
“Conservatism–as a philosophical, cultural, and political project–does in fact have boundaries, and those have been set by the cluster of ideas offered by such giants as Burke, Lincoln, Chesterton, Lewis, Hayek, Chambers, Friedman, Kirk, Weaver, Gilder, Buckley, and Reagan. There are, of course, disagreements among these thinkers and their followers, but there is an identifiable stream of thought. It informs our understanding of human nature, families, civil society, just government, and markets.
“What contemporary conservatism has lost–especially in its Hannitized and Coulterized manifestations of superficial ranting–is the connection to a paternity that is necessary so that its intellectual DNA may be passed on to its progeny.
Typically if one discusses the reflection of American culture in mainstream entertainment, there are very little positive things to be said—especially in Christian circles. But there is rarely a clear solution to the problem. Some discussions of the issues, in my experience, fail to reflect the gravity of the matter. I think it matters, more so than just casual condemnation in conversation. The entertainment center in America—Hollywood—matters because it is the global center of art and entertainment. Art is the way we humans respond to the cosmos. Every generation delivers something beautiful for future generations to brood over and take delight in. Storytelling is the way human beings learn. It is the way we define our values. It gives us heroes and noble dreams. Entertainment is the way we stretch beyond the limits of our day to day work to experience the depth of our human nature. Entertainment should lead us to laugh hard, to cry with empathy, and to feel exhilaration and wonder.
It is frightening to think that Christians are missing from this unbelievably influential and urgent landscape. Christians have something to offer that is direly missing from Hollywood. We bring hope, the mandate of concern for the world, and most importantly, the glory and creative energy of the Holy Spirit.
This is needed terribly in movies, television shows, videogames, and the Internet. We need not only to be donating to and praying for organizations such as ActOne, which has a Christian vision for entertainment, we need to encourage faith-filled artists and professionals to be writers, directors, actors, and so forth, in order to change the landscape and give our youth better idols to look up to. This is a moral imperative for all Christians.