Work is slowing down for a few days (or possibly for a few years, but who’s counting), so I can manage a little blogging this week. Our feature presentation this time around is The Video Dead, another one of those old 1980s direct-to-video opuses which used to clutter the shelves of pre-Blockbuster mom and pop video stores. For those of you too young to remember a world before digital, this short should give you an idea of the hazards we old VHS junkies used to face when dealing with video tape. Talk about being consumed by what you watch. Considering the potential dangers, both physical and spiritual, it’s enough to make a person wonder why we Christians bother with movies at all.
Well, one of the main reasons is that movies (when they aren’t trying to kill us) are just plain fun and relaxing, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Church. “Recreation, in its manifold varieties, has become a necessity for people who work under the fatiguing conditions of modern industry” Pope Pius XI wrote in his 1936 Encyclical Vigilanti Cura" (On Motion Pictures), noting that “the motion picture has become the most popular form of diversion which is offered for the leisure hours not only of the rich but of all classes of society.” Of course, as amply illustrated by Recorded Live, some films are potentially bad for you, so Pius XII ended his Encyclical with a call for the Bishops to keep an eye on things. “It will be necessary that in each country the Bishops set up a permanent national reviewing office in order to be able to promote good motion pictures, classify the others, and bring this judgment to the knowledge of priests and faithful.” So if you’ve ever wondered why the USCCB got into the business of reviewing and rating movies in the first place, look no further than Pope Pius XI.
Gone, however, are the days when the average Catholic in the pew was asked to take a pledge to avoid any movie deemed morally offensive by the Bishops. The USCCB’s Office for Film and Broadcasting instead offers this. “Our aim is to provide the public with a Catholic evaluation of both entertainment features and documentaries from a moral and artistic perspective… Our classifications have always been intended as a guide for parents to aid them in choosing what is most appropriate for their children, and for adult viewers who wish to make informed viewing decisions in an increasingly confusing media environment. How readers ultimately apply these classifications is a matter of personal choice, and our opinion of a film’s artistic worth is necessarily subjective… Parents must be the ultimate arbiters in evaluating their child’s emotional, spiritual and moral development, and the appropriateness of any given film. Thoughtful adults are the best judges of their own tastes and values.”
So there does not appear to be an outright obligation on the part of Catholics to avoid movies which the Bishops have deemed worthy of the big “O” (O–MORALLY OFFENSIVE), movies like, say, Motel Hell or Prince of Darkness. That’s a relief. At least I don’t have to take my Netflix queue list with me the next time I go to confession. But just because there’s no definitive THOU SHALT NOT WATCH stamped on the cover of any particular film, does that mean we should bother watching them, even in the name of simple recreation? How does someone like me, in good conscience, justify the time spent with something like Impulse?
Stay tuned. Lots of navel gazing to come in the days to follow.