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The Graduate

Living things go against the stream

Kelly Conroy
MSM Class of 2012

(2/2013) Once, The Times asked a number of prominent authors to write essays on the subject, "What’s wrong with the world." G.K. Chesterton, an English author of the 20th century, answered succinctly: "Dear Sir, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton."

At that time, it seemed like everyone was pointing fingers for the causes of problems in the world. I think we do same thing today. We point to the government, or to certain political parties, teachers, or parents; Chesterton recognized his own contributions to the evil in the world. Instead of looking inside ourselves to find the sources of problems, we look at the outside world. Instead of improving ourselves, we point out how others should improve.

We are influenced by what we do — and this includes what we do during our free time. There is a Law of Exposure that states that what we expose ourselves to dramatically shapes how we think, feel and act. Many of us spend countless hours a week, or even a day, consuming and producing media. This can be used for the good, or for the bad.

The Law of Exposure makes it easy to eat junk food. Just think about it – if we start eating junk food and continue eating junk food, it starts to change what we desire – we no longer feel like eating fruits and vegetables, but we desire the potato chips and French fries.

The same goes for our interaction with media. If we watch and create junk on TV and the Internet, then that’s what we’ll desire. Maybe we try to be really good in all of the other areas of our life – we thrive at work, have a great family life, and strive in our spiritual lives. Then, during our free time, our "goodness filter" simply turns off.

We justify that it’s ok to watch certain movies because we aren’t doing the bad – we’re just watching the actors and actresses do them. We spend hours stalking our friends on Facebook and become depressed because everyone else’s life seems so exciting.

The way that media portrays serious topics is important and can differ drastically from production to production. I went to see the movie, Les Miserables, over Christmas break with my friends. Fantine, a pretty, naVve and poor girl in the movie becomes pregnant by a rich student, who then abandons her. She is left to take care of her child, Cosette, on her own. After losing her job and becoming desperately in need of money to send to her child’s caretakers, Fantine slowly slips into prostitution. She sings a song, "I Dreamed a Dream," which is about the loss of her innocence, youth, and carefree days: "I dreamed a dream in time gone by, when hope was high, and life worth living, I dreamed that love would never die."

It’s difficult to hold back tears as Fantine resorts to prostitution. It is such a sad scene. We want to reach out and help Fantine – to show her another way to care for her child. Prostitution is portrayed as a nasty and horrible option.

On the other hand, in the movie Pretty Woman, prostitution was almost advantageous to Vivian, who meets a successful businessman and the two fall in love. Prostitution is portrayed as very casual and useful source for income – a very different picture than the one painted in Les Miserables.

G.K. Chesterton said, "A dead thing goes with a stream, and a living thing goes against it." It’s difficult to surround ourselves with good media when that’s not always what is common in society. It takes time and effort to research movies, television shows, books and video games – and then really make a choice as to whether or not you want to support it with your money and attention.

We might not always agree with the descriptions of good and bad in media today. The "good guys" are often ordinary, passive, boring and not very funny. On the other hand, the "bad guys" are charismatic, glamorous, fascinating, passionate, unpredictable . . . and of course, hilariously funny.

How many times do we end up being more excited to see what the "bad guy" is going to do next rather than what the "good guy" is doing? This way of thinking can slip over into our "real" lives and we are no longer looking for what is true and beautiful in the world.

Some good news is that we are no longer just consumers of media – we can also be producers. Welcome to the world of social media. Media is no longer just one-way communication; it is a conversation.

It’s a conversation involving people of all ages and of all places. We can almost instantly interact with someone with a completely different background and culture. People are united or divided around topics that are meaningful to them – football, politics, or the latest toy for kids. But it’s still just type, images, and videos on a screen. The full effect of being with people and conversing with them is not observed via the flat screens of computers, laptops and iPads. And right now, you’re hearing about new media through an old media means — the Emmitsburg News-Journal. Perhaps this is one example of the many ways that both new and old media are useful.

Social media is neutral in itself; it can be used for good or bad purposes. It can become an addiction, a way of becoming excessively narcissistic, and a means for promoting hatred and violence. Too much time spent on social media is time spent away from real human interactions and helping others. Facebook will ask me "What’s happening, Kelly" or "How are you feeling, Kelly." Posting status updates about our own lives all day every day can lead to an unhealthy sense of ourselves as the "center" of the universe. People can feel bullied and attacked on social media. If we’re looking for affirmation online, we are probably missing love in real life.

However, social media has unlimited positive potential uses, such as a means to keep in touch with family and friends, an opportunity to read and write insightful posts, and a source of creativity. Social media can be kept in moderation and promote good.

Blessed John Paul II wrote in his message for the 36th World Communications Day in 2002, "The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound will the face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For it is only when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization. And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man."

The Internet can never take the place of real human interaction. We should also never use it to fulfill the void in ourselves only God can fill. Perhaps that means that we should take advantage of the many ways we can share what we believe online – in ways that invite others to see the love of Christians.

Pope Benedict XVI has also addressed the use of new media for the faithful:

"Without fear we must set sail on the digital sea facing into the deep with the same passion that has governed the ship of the Church for two thousand years. Rather than for, albeit necessary, technical resources, we want to qualify ourselves by living in the digital world with a believer’s heart, helping to give a soul to the Internet’s incessant flow of communication"

Rather than running and hiding from the new technology, Pope Benedict encourages us to transform the media. Pope Benedict XVI even has his own Twitter, a social media site that allows postings in under 140 characters! During Advent, Pope Benedict posted his first tweets under the twitter handle @Pontifex, including:

"Offer everything you do to the Lord, ask his help in all the circumstances of daily life and remember that he is always beside you," and his most recent tweet on Jan. 16th, "If we have love for our neighbor, we will find the face of Christ in the poor, the weak, the sick and the suffering." Be sure to start following @Pontifex!

So, this new year of 2013, I’m going to try to be a little more like Chesterton. He was willing to take responsibility for how he was adding to the problems of the world. His simple reply that "he" was what’s wrong in the world shows a great depth of humility. We can contribute to the good in the world by being conscientious users of media and becoming a "living thing that can go against the stream."

Some ideas for this article were borrowed from Fr. Mike Schmidtz’s presentation, "#GoodGod #BadMedia," and Regina Doman’s talk at Holy Grounds Café on 1/12/13. Many thanks for their inspiration.

Read other articles by Kelly Conroy