Media, Morality and Murder

There’s something about death that seems to intrigue all of us. When studying history in school, there was always something in me that wanted to know more about the guillotines used during the French Revolution and the bloody spectacle of the games that would take place in the Coliseum of Rome. I also remember noticing that pretty much every other young person I knew shared this macabre interest in death. There’s something about our fallen-ness and flesh that is drawn to the darkness of death. We know it’s not right and we know it should never be taken lightly. And yet we find ways to keep experiencing it on some level…

As I grew older, in life and the Lord, the reality of the Roman “games” became more and more shocking and I began to realize how far a society would have to morally fall in order to cheer the slow deaths of women and children for some mid-afternoon Culture. Thank God that as a society, we’re not like that anymore. Or are we?

As a child, the gritty crime drama in my life was Murder She Wrote. To the best of my recollection, it was about the angel of death taking the form of an elderly woman who would solve the murders caused by the misfortune of her mere presence in the general area. The emphasis of the show was always on the solving of the crime. The actual murder was always implied or shown using some indirect visual format – like shadows on a wall.

In the year 2000, C.S.I. debuted on television and radically altered the direction of popular film and TV. Instead of emphasizing the solving of the crime, C.S.I. emphasized the crime itself. The lure of the show quickly became creative, gruesome and bizarre murders with the signature weekly moment being the reenactment of the crime. There were no longer shadows or screams from around the corner – the violence was shown as fully as possible while still passing the plummeting censorship standards of the F.C.C.

Unfortunately, I still remember the episode of C.S.I. that finally woke me up to what I was actually watching. The plotline involved 2 brothers. One was already a psychopath and his sheepish brother greatly admired him. In order to harden the sheepish brother, they planned to murder a couple staying in a beach home for no other purpose other than the thrill of killing them. The episode played out with the husband having to watch his wife who was being hacked to death with an axe before he himself was strangled.

At that moment, I realized that we had become Rome; our Coliseum was our TV.

The effect of C.S.I. was immediately apparent. The crime reenactment quickly became a staple of all crime shows. My wife and I stopped watching Without a Trace after an episode reenacted a 45-second rape scene, showing everything except nudity.

Like Rome, our culture’s appetite for the perverse quickly progressed. Film studios quickly realized that the quickest way to make a buck was in the “torture porn” genre. The premise is simply this – find a person or a group of people,  have them be kidnapped or trapped for some reason and spend the rest of movie doing the most twisted and violent things possible to said person or persons. Our culture eats it up.
The C.S.I. franchise exploded and more traditional crime shows like Law & Order were quick to tweak their format in order to stay successful – more violence, more perversity, etc. In fact, the long-running, original Law & Order didn’t really do it for us any more, so we were served Law & Order: SVU (Special Victims Unit. This show got straight to the point, with every single episode centered on a crime of a perverse sexual nature.

What I’ve observed is a hardening of our collective consciences. I know far too many Christian brothers who would think nothing of forwarding me a photo of someone who died in some gruesome or bizarre manner. We once viewed death as tragic and something that should be handled with discretion, out of respect for the deceased and their family. Today, we think nothing of the gory details being paraded across conversations, emails and the Internet – as long as it’s interesting enough.

Sometimes I’ll hear the ridiculous justification, “They catch the bad guys in the end, so it’s all good.” When 95% of the show in centered on the crime, it’s clearly the violence who’s headlining and not justice.
From fellow believers, the most common explanation I hear is, “It doesn’t affect me, and so I don’t really have a conviction about it. I know it affects some people but not me.” When it doesn’t affect us anymore, the truth is that we’ve been affected more deeply than we realize. Our consciences have been dulled to the point of complete numbness. It’s the moral equivalent of a leper who has lost all feeling in his body, claiming that he is well because he feels no pain.

When I stopped consuming media that was based on perverse violence, I was shocked how quickly my conscience became re-sensitized. I realized that I had been filling my soul with large doses of what the Bible would plainly call “evil”.

If we are called to be like Jesus and walk in holiness, there is simply no room for this type of media in the life of the believer. A hardened and desensitized soul does not make me more of a man. A dead conscience is not a free pass to consume whatever media I want. A dead conscience needs to be revived.

Philippians 4:8 is well known and bears repeating:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.

How many of us are parents who tell our children, “Garbage in, garbage out”? Why are we exempting ourselves? Let’s call a spade a spade – there is nothing profitable, nothing beneficial, nothing edifying and certainly nothing redeeming about TV shows like Criminal Minds, C.S.I., and the genre.

I am a husband, a father and a pastor and every day I become more aware of my desperate need for a greater sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. That’s why I decided to get rid of any media in my life that works against that end in my life.

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