What do most people remember most about the Super Bowl Game of 2004? Is it the 85-yard touchdown pass by Jake Delhomme that broke the Super Bowl record of the longest touchdown pass ever thrown? Is it the 41-yard field goal that Adam Vinetari kicked to win the game with four seconds left? Oh, C’mon, do we even remember the score?
Most likely, what people will remember will be the half-time show, when network television crossed the line of decency during this family event. The half-time show, with sexually explicit lyrics, dancing and ripping off of clothing, crossed a line that should make us think and act.
Getting used to something bad can happen little by little. For years the networks and our culture as a whole have been moving the line of what’s viewed as appropriate or decent for young people and family audiences. Slowly we have become desensitized in no longer feeling shocked or surprised in hearing and seeing images that show a lack of respect for women, and promote sexuality as a vehicle for self-pleasure.
How do we know if we have been desensitized? The test is whether we feel a sense of surprise, shock or embarrassment in what we experience. Although most viewers thought Justin and Janet’s actions were wrong, most of us weren’t surprised that an MTV half-time production presented lewd dancing, raunchy lyrics and sexual moves.
Sexuality and marriage
God has a beautiful plan for sexuality. God has created sex as one way to love as He loves. Obviously, God does not have sex, but he does love us with intensity and complete fidelity. The tenderness, intimacy and passion of the union of husband and wife are meant to be an image of the intensity of God’s love for each of us.
God’s love is a personal, faithful, and committed love. Real love means being capable of laying down your life for another person. God meant sex to be that way too. Sex means that God has asked you to be the visible sign of his love for that person. “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Gen 2:24).
Bonding and babies
Also, sex is directly linked to God’s power and joy in creating another human person. Spouses are saying with God: “You are so wonderful that this world would be a better place if there were more people like you. I commit to being the father or mother of our child.”
Sex is a powerful and beautiful thing, but like so many beautiful things, its beauty is also fragile. Its power and beauty can also be misused. Using sex as something that simply makes us feel good without a permanent commitment to the other person turns sex into selfishness, manipulation and slavery. To paraphrase a line from a movie, “Your body is making promises to me that you have no intention of keeping.”
But it’s just a T.V. show
Much of today’s media has tried to promote a selfish vision of sex. Television shows, movies, advertisements and music often suggest sexual relations without marriage, making people think that it is okay, or that it is just a trivial activity for fun and self-pleasure. In a Kaiser Family Foundation study, 76% of teens said that one reason young people have sex is because TV shows and movies make it seem normal for teens.i An honest look at our own experiences tells us this is true, especially in relationship to sexual images and topics.
It’s instructive to ask why there are so many sexual images in the media. The answer is that sex sells, and selling things makes companies lots of money. Stirring up sexual feelings in people can trigger our emotions, our minds and our body chemistry. It’s easier to forget the answers to the social studies test than an advertisement that’s tied to sexual feelings. Advertisers know this is part of human nature, so they study it and use it to exploit us so we will buy their products. They place more value on their profits than they do on the truth and dignity of human sexuality.
How far is too far?
Many would say, “Having sex is one thing, but the way I dress and behave is another. You can go pretty far without ‘doing anything’.” Apparently Justin and Janet did not “do anything” either, and yet it was clear that they went “too far”.
When something is special we treat it with respect. Sex is very special. Deep down, it means making a complete gift of one’s self to another person. The key is the word “gift”. Modesty creates respect for that gift. It reserves the gift for that one special person who has committed his or her life to me. Modesty does not mean dressing ugly. When we want to give someone something special and “just for him” or “just for her” we usually wrap the gift with beauty and wait until the right moment. Modesty means protecting that gift and making it as special as it was meant to be.
Modesty and mystery
Modesty actually makes a person more beautiful. In true love there is a mystery about the other person that creates an awe and fascination. This is not a game. Each person is truly a mystery, because each person is made in God’s image, and belongs first of all to God. Marriage and sex mean being allowed into the mystery of another person in an intimate and permanent way. Contrast what happened in the show to what the Church teaches about the delicate beauty of sex. That beauty should be protected and promoted by the virtue of modesty.
“Modesty protects the mystery of persons and their love…Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing…It protects, for example, against the voyeuristic explorations of the human body in certain advertisements, or against the solicitations of certain media that go too far in the exhibition of intimate things. “(CCC, 2522-3).
Thus it becomes a question not of “how far is too far”, but rather, how much you are willing to respect what real love is all about.
“That’s just the way things are nowadays.” …Oh, really?
It’s important to realize that we have the power to try and change things when we experience something against our values. Although the majority of people are aware that there is a general lack of modesty in television shows, it was not until this occurrence that they decided to do something about it. 200,000 people complained to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the half-time show. That is a new record.
Thanks to the action of the American people, steps were immediately taken to ensure decency the following week. CBS took some responsibility and decided to broadcast the Grammy Award show on a five-minute delay, so they could delete anything that was too raunchy before it was sent into our homes.
Janet Jackson was asked not to attend the Grammy Awards, in hopes of the outraged society cooling down their memories of being offended. Justin Timberlake was still there to get his award and apologize to the public. Female performers at those awards decided to dress more modestly.
At the following week’s Pro Bowl planned half-time songs were eliminated that included sexual language.
The FCC is looking into charging monetary fines to those responsible. Since TV and media are also about money, placing large fines for each violation can be very effective. Over the last ten years the FCC has shied away from doing this, but increased public demands of decency can give this government agency the confidence it needs to enforce already existing laws that are meant to protect the beauty and dignity of sex.
Our power as consumers can also make a difference. Boycotts and protests to advertisers and companies get the companies’ attention. Thus, it is not only the responsibility of the government and the television stations, but also of the American people to safeguard the decency of the media.
These short-term steps are encouraging. However, the real test comes over the long term. After the present criticism dies down, will the media go back to using sex as a tool for selling shows and products, and will it still portray sex as a tool for self-pleasure? And what about the larger issue of promoting sex outside of marriage? Will we wait until people are completely desensitized to begin to protest and work for change?
“The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” 1 Corinthians 6:13
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her… (Ephesians 5: 25)
“But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Mt 5:28
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? … Therefore honor God with your body.” 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
- 2520 Baptism confers on its recipient the grace of purification from all sins. But the baptized must continue to struggle against concupiscence of the flesh and disordered desires. With God’s grace he will prevail …-by the virtue and gift of chastity, for chastity lets us love with upright and undivided heart; …- by purity of intention …- by purity of vision, external and internal; by discipline of feelings and imagination; by refusing all complicity in impure thoughts that incline us to turn aside from the path of God’s commandments: “Appearance arouses yearning in fools”;314 – by prayer:
- 2521 …. Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden … It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them….
- 2525 Christian purity requires a purification of the social climate. It requires of the communications media that their presentations show concern for respect and restraint. Purity of heart brings freedom from widespread eroticism and avoids entertainment inclined to voyeurism and illusion.
- 2361 “Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.”143
- 2496 The means of social communication (especially the mass media) can give rise to a certain passivity among users, making them less than vigilant consumers of what is said or shown. Users should practice moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media. They will want to form enlightened and correct consciences the more easily to resist unwholesome influences.
“It is well known how this young girl had to face a bitter struggle with no way of defending herself. Without warning a vicious stranger burst upon her, bent on raping her and destroying her childlike purity. …With splendid courage she surrendered herself to God and his grace and so gave her life to protect her virginity. …
“From Maria’s story … young people with their zest for life can learn not to be led astray by attractive pleasures which are not only ephemeral and empty but also sinful. …
“Not all of us are expected to die a martyr’s death, but we are all called to the pursuit of Christian virtue. This demands strength of character though it may not match that of this innocent girl. Still, a constant, persistent and relentless effort is asked of us…” From a homily given by Pope Pius XII at the canonization of Saint Maria Goretti (Maria died in 1902 at twelve years old, protecting her purity from the aggressions of a young man.)
“Dear young people… You are right to be disappointed with hollow entertainment and passing fads, and with aiming at too little in life. If you have an ardent desire for the Lord you will steer clear of the mediocrity and conformism so widespread in our society.” (John Paul II Message for World Youth Day 2002)
Respect for Others -Showing honor and consideration for each human being; upholding the dignity of every person
Responsibility – Being accountable for our actions
Modesty – Being decent or appropriate in dress, speech, and behavior
Exploit– Use to one’s advantage
Decency -Proper behaviour in speech, dress and behavior
Desensitized– Made emotionally insensitive or unresponsive, as by long exposure or repeated shocks.
Scandal – behavior that leads another to do evil. Unseemly conduct of a person that causes moral lapse in another; cause for stumbling, temptation
Saints and Heroes
St. Genesius of Rome was a performer in the Roman Empire during the 4th century who was martyred for a show in which he expressed his values. As a comedian and leader of a theatrical group, he had the opportunity to perform one day before the Emperor Diocletian. Although he originally intended to ridicule the Christian rites by pretending to receive the Sacrament of Baptism, he converted onstage. When the water was poured over his head, he proclaimed himself a Christian. Diocletian at first enjoyed the realistic play, but finding Genesius to be in earnest, ordered him to be tortured and then beheaded (c. 303). His feast is August 25, and he is the patron of actors, theatrical performers and musicians.
Blessed Angela of Foligno (1248-1309) Born in Foligno, Italy as a wealthy non-Christian, she married young and had several children. She was a worldly and frail woman who lived wildly, adulterously and sacrilegiously for a while. She had a conversion in 1285 when she saw a vision, and after the death of her mother, husband and children she turned completely to God and penance. As a Franciscan tertiary, she led a group of other tertiaries and was known for her charity, patience and humility. She died on January 4, 1309 in Foligno of natural causes. She is the patron of people ridiculed for their piety, and for those suffering temptations.
- Do you think that television is helping to raise or lower your community standards? Do you think that television is helping to raise or lower family values?
- What is the importance of keeping sexuality inside marriage? Why did God give it such importance as to make it a sacrament? What is true love?
- If your class is familiar with the TV show Friends, read to them the following quote and then open it up for discussion: “Our teens are victims of a society which is toxic to their sexual health. Television programs like “Friends” are selling sex to my patients. These are lies that need to be exposed to the television audience. Statistically, on Friends, two of those people should have an STD. Have we heard about it? NO! OF course you don’t, because they don’t want to talk about that, because then nobody wants to watch the show.” Dr. Meg Meeker, Saving Our Children, Front Line, St. Louis. Winter 2003
- What are some ways we can strengthen our own values without having to throw the television out the window? How can we form our consciences to know what parts are good and what parts are not? How can we help friends who might not have the same means that we have to stay strong, and might be more influenced by what they see in the media?
- Write a letter to your future spouse. Tell him or her what type of a person and spouse you want to be for him or her. Tell why you promise to wait for him or her.
- Go through your closet and get rid of immodest clothing. Vow to dress more modestly.
- File a formal complaint with the FCC http://www.afa.net/petitions/fcccomplaint.asp
Kreeft, Peter Back to Virtue Ignatius Press, pp. 165-176
Madrid, Patrick, Surprised By Truth II (Story about a model who had a conversion)