Healing Through Science

ABC Network’s Once Upon A Time mixes science, magic and contemporary American life, as fairytale characters like Little Red Riding Hood and Snow White are banished, without memories of their old lives, by the Evil Queen to a place where, she says, there are no happy endings. A place that turns out to be a town in Maine called Storybrooke.

At this point in the series the characters have their memories back from their fairytale lives and magic has grown stronger.

In the most recent episode, “In the Name of the Brother,” a moral dilemma arises between some of the main characters over whether or not to help save the life of an outsider whose life is in danger after a car accident. One of the characters was wielding magic at the time of the accident and it is feared that this stranger will reveal the secrets of Storybrooke to the outside world.

The arguments go on about sacrificing his life in order to spare the town. Another character says that there is no real threat now and that any upcoming threats will be dealt with as they arise.

In our real world we are facing similar problems over upholding the dignity of every human life and the temptation to be only concerned with how we are inconvenienced.

Once Upon A Time is also very strong on the themes of the desire for love, the hope of redemption and the dangers of magic.

What have you seen on television recently that dealt with end-of-life issues? Was the dignity of every human life upheld?

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Entertaining Your Life Away

Remember the days when… if you wanted to save a television show episode you needed to record it yourself on VHS? And if you were diligent enough you could start and stop the recording so that the commercials wouldn’t be saved?

Now many television shows are available for purchase on DVD, complete with special features and commentary versions. And with the progression of technology, films are becoming much easier to own as well.

But how does this influence the use of our free time? If someone has 5 seasons of a program with an average of 20 episodes per season, that’s 100 episodes. Just of one show.

The incredible volume in entertainment options also applies to music — how many songs and albums are owned and how often are they listened to in a given year? (I know it’s been years since I’ve listened to some of my CDs.) And after you watch seasons of a television show, how frequently do you go back to watch them again?

Purchasing some of your favorites so that they’re always available is understandable, but that differs from people who tend to have a “collect them all” mentality for particular television shows or film series. For them, buying movies and television shows becomes a pricey hobby.

Even with the opportunity to own it all in our entertainment-crazed culture, we need to try to keep perspective and not give in to the mentality that if I “kind of like” that movie/television show, I should put my money into purchasing it and my time into watching it again and again.

The beauty is in the balance.


Sitcoms and the Soul

It’s no secret that sitcoms over the decades have declined in moral quality. But like many other aspects of our culture that we consider writing off in disgust, there are less obvious dangers associated with them that harm our society in ways we might not realize.

It seems the most decent sitcoms on television these days come by way of children’s programming on the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, and even they aren’t much to applaud ethically.

A few years ago while I occasionally channel surfed Two and a Half Men would be on. I really did give it a shot a few times but it was too sexually-oriented and disrespectful. And last weekend on Netflix Instant Play I watched several episodes of the first season of Melissa & Joey, featuring Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence, who played opposite each other in the film My Fake Fiancé. While I did find especially the first handful of episodes entertaining, I became disheartened as they continued on — not only because of the sexual jokes but because of the overall relationships between characters.

Mel (Melissa Joan Hart) takes in her niece and nephew after their parents are busted for a Ponzi scheme. Joe (Joey Lawrence) becomes their nanny and lives there as well. I couldn’t help but notice the differences between 90s sitcoms like Full House and Family Matters and this particular program. Where the former would show conflicts between the adults and children resolved and the love between them grow, Melissa & Joey is fairly relentless in pushing the “humor” of irony and mistrust.

At the end of one episode Mel is apologizing to her niece Lennox for not trusting her, and in an attempt to make up for it, she tells Lennox a secret she never told anyone. They have a nice moment together and it seems Lennox will keep the secret. Mel comes downstairs to the kitchen and tells Joe that things have been worked out with her niece. Then Joe gets a beep on his phone and reads a message indicating that Lennox told the secret. Mel says to delete it and Joe says she posted it on Twitter.

Back in the good ol’ sitcom days, true love and care would be shown between family members and, despite any annoyances or problems they had with one another, they’d band together in the end. Even though remarks are made about how those shows are unrealistic and make everything better in a half hour program, it showed a side of humanity that we are losing through the attitudes now portrayed in sitcoms. Don’t trust anybody. Everything’s a joke. You can’t open yourself up because you’ll be ridiculed and hung out to dry.

Besides the lack of respect for sex and the human body, are there other aspects of recent sitcoms you’ve seen that are unhealthy for Christians striving for holiness of mind and spirit?

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Slivers of Light on a Darkened Screen

There seem to be two sides to the film/television coin when it comes to morals. We have the “dark side,” with the glorification of extramarital affairs, obscene language, the mocking of Christianity and senseless graphic violence. On the “light side,” Christian films have been coming out steadily the last few years, celebrating purity, fatherhood and religious freedom.

But even as our values decline as a culture, there are subtle glimpses of hope in some of the films and television shows made today. Perhaps it’s thanks to a few unknown Christians in the right positions in the industry who help to cast a little light in the darkness.

Last fall the CW launched the short-lived mystery thriller Ringer starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Although it was canceled after just one season, the early episodes strongly resembled the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14).

Gellar played former drug addict Bridget Kelly and her upscale identical twin sister Siobhan Martin. Bridget is on her road to recovery from an immoral and risky lifestyle, humbly accepting that she’s messed things up and needs to make amends. On the run from the man who wants her dead, she travels across the country to stay with her estranged sister.

After the two spend time together on the Martins’ boat, Bridget wakes up with Siobhan nowhere to be found. Siobhan left her wedding ring in a pill bottle so Bridget assumes Siobhan killed herself. To protect herself and continue hiding from her hunter, Bridget then assumes Siobhan’s identity, playing the part as a wife, best friend and stepmother.

Siobhan’s life seemed so normal, so perfect from the outside looking in, but Bridget quickly discovers her marriage was rocky, she had a lover on the side, and she constantly fought with her stepdaughter. Bridget works to improve the relationships she’s now adopted as her own, and the wounds begin to heal.

This contrast in characters is a powerful contemporary parallel to the Pharisee and the tax collector. Siobhan viewed her sister as the Pharisee viewed the tax collector: “God, I thank Thee that I am not like … this tax collector.” Bridget was, in many ways, living out the tax collector’s exclamation: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

And in the recently released film Snow White and the Huntsman starring Kristen Stewart, Stewart’s character of Snow White is praise for her innocence and purity. Even while she is imprisoned in the first part of the movie, Snow White recites the Our Father in full on-screen.

We must continue to pray for all those working in the entertainment industry. May we have more and more examples in the near future to praise!

Can you think of any shows or films you’ve seen recently that surprised you by a Christian message or remark?

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The Parental View on the Tube

When you think of specific examples of parents in television shows, which characters come to mind? How are they portrayed?

In recent years, the role of parents has been turned on its head. And respect for parents is virtually gone, as well as the belief that they are the models they are called to be.

The most influential of programs are those targeted toward young people. And two of the most popular networks for the youth come from Disney and Nickelodeon.

On Disney Channel’s Good Luck, Charlie, the parents are oftentimes very immature and are insulted by their children without consequence.

The N’s (now known as TeenNick) second-highest rated program a few years ago, Instant Star, had so many parental problems, it can be difficult to know where to begin. So here’s a quick summary:

  • Dad is the more likeable parent of the main character but cheats on her mom. He isn’t remorseful except in how the affair hurt his two daughters.
  • After divorce the mom gets in a relationship with her divorce lawyer, marries him shortly after and leaves the country, never to be seen again in the next few seasons of the show.
  • Dad had been kicked out by Mom after the affair but comes back to live with daughters after Mom takes off. Dad seems like the good guy. The “other woman” is never mentioned again so we don’t know whether he’s still seeing her or not.
  • Dad decides to take an extended overseas soul-search early in the last season and never returns to the program. The daughters are living without either parent for the remainder of the series. At this point the daughters are 18 and early 20s.

What’s the moral of the story? That parents are messed up and irrelevant? That life is better without them?

How have you seen parents portrayed on television?

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Korean Drama: A Refreshing Entertainment Alternative

If you’re disappointed and even sickened by American television and its disordered views of love, family and sexuality, Korean drama offers a more wholesome form of entertainment.

Popularity for Korean drama is growing throughout the world, including in North America. Non-Korean Americans in particular are seeking refuge from Hollywood’s sorry attempts at entertainment and are enjoying the more innocent and modest options Korean drama provides.

In the Korean drama I’ve watched (particularly Spring Waltz and Boys Before Flowers) there’s a beautiful appreciation for human emotions and everyday struggles, even illustrating love through powerful romance that is both chaste and gentle. The crude humor and sexually scandalous behavior prevalent in much of the “entertainment” we are fed in the United States does not dominate Korean drama, as it rather tends toward modesty and the respect of others. The plots are intriguing, the music is serene, and the characters are enchantingly humorous.

By simply accepting the need to read subtitles, it is fairly easy to forget you’re reading along. I’ve noticed when I think back on scenes I’ve watched, I hear the characters speaking English in my head, proving that the experience has been all-encompassing.

This high praise for Korean entertainment is not intended to place a stamp of perfection on it, but to emphasize the striking contrast between it and what we’re exposed to through our own American channel-surfing.

What alternatives to Hollywood do you find yourself turning to?

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The Catholicism Series

This ten-episode series hosted by Fr. Robert Barron delves into important topics in the Catholic Faith, including the Eucharist, Mary, and the afterlife. It’s now available for purchase, but you can also catch it for free on EWTN. Even many churches are offering the opportunity to view and discuss episodes from the series.

Since Catholicism was filmed in 16 countries, several locations are featured in every episode. In addition to the overall quality of the production, the frequent change in surroundings can help hold the viewers’ interest – even if they are lethargic teens in Confirmation classes.

The true universality of our Church and its missionary nature is manifested through the variety of countries the viewer travels to in just one episode.

This Lent, experience Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism series on your local EWTN television station or at a parish near you.

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TV Holiday Specials

There are two prominent types of holiday specials that come to mind when I think back on the television shows I used to watch.

Non-Christ Christmas Episodes: Full House (focusing on Santa, presents and the love of family), Family Matters (competing with other shoppers for the coveted Christmas toy of the year), Hey Arnold! (Secret Santa, gift giving).

Hanukkah Episodes: Rugrats and Even Stevens. Both series were respectful and educational in telling the story of Hanukkah.

It seems every theme for this time of year is included but the obvious. I can’t think of a single television show in the last two decades that focused on the true meaning of Christmas. I’m sure there’s got to be (hopefully) a few out there that have escaped my knowledge or memory. I think the closest I’ve seen is Christmas episodes where there is a play involved, with characters playing Biblical figures in the Nativity story (Gilmore Girls).

Why is Hanukkah explained but the story of Jesus’ birth is overlooked? While the Hanukkah focus can be placed rather neatly on the history and bravery of the Jews, it’s nearly impossible to get out of the pure religiosity of Christmas. Jesus’ birth is only significant because He is God made Man.

What has been your experience with television holiday specials?

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Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays – Or Does It Matter?

The controversy rages on, year after year, as to whether businesses and individuals should wish others a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. The American Family Association is a large proponent of “Merry Christmas,” as they have an entire campaign based on this greeting – complete with buttons and stickers to order. Their Naughty or Nice Christmas List 2011 is helpful, categorizing stores by their use of the word “Christmas” in advertising.

As the “greeter” is wishing wellness of some sort to the “greetee,” it isn’t sensible to take offense at the religious holiday referred to in the greeting. If a Jew wished me a Happy Hanukkah, I would appreciate it. If a Muslim wished me a wonderful Ramadan, that’s great too. It’s beautiful to see others express their religion.

In years past I’ve heard both Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from cashiers. This year, I haven’t heard either.

Even though I haven’t had the greeting drama in person yet this Christmas/holiday season, I’ve noticed radio Happy Holidays greetings. And on television the Hallmark Channel has a Countdown to Christmas: Holiday Movies and Specials All Season Long. ABC Family has a 25 Days of Christmas.

So where there seems to be a problem with Christmas on radio and in stores, the same does not seem to hold true for television stations.

The majority of those buying gifts at this time of year are in fact celebrating Christmas, so it makes sense that it should be prominent in marketing and on the street. But remember that even if you hear “holiday” used, it is still derived from “holy day.”

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No Commercial Breaks in Books

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” – Groucho Marx

Last week I sat down for several hours to read then took a break to watch some television. For the most part, what I found were commercials, channels to skip past as fast as possible, commercials, doom, gloom, death, oh and a couple more commercials.

Throughout the years I’ve enjoyed both books and television. But a recent revelation helped me recognize how very thick the line is drawn that divides the two. In a novel the story lives inside your head. Your imagination needs to be active to see the world that is written on paper. For the most part, in a television show, the story lives on the surface, through your eyes and ears. And so television is a more passive form of entertainment.

I agree that television can be a nice break from everything going on. If you’re feeling sick and not able to put effort into reading, a good television show can be just what you need. But I’ve found that channel surfing can be taxing and time consuming.

Reading and watching both have their place. It’s important to be a smart reader as well as a thoughtful viewer.

During this Advent season, consider how much television you take in each day, each week. Is there a show or two you can cut back on? Is there a book you’ve said for years that you’d get around to reading and haven’t yet? If you think you might be watching even the slightest to excess, try cutting back and picking up that book.

If you’re already more of a reader, consider what you’re reading and how beneficial it is to your life and faith. Is there a spiritual book lying around that should be read sooner rather than later?