What Has Happened to Entertainment?
HOW could the ancient Romans, who were supposedly at the height of their culture, view the agony of fellow humans as entertainment? “It can be explained only by the craving for new and more powerful stimulants,” writes Gerhard Uhlhorn in The Conflict of Christianity With Heathenism. “Satiated with all possible enjoyments, people sought . . . an excitement they no longer found elsewhere.”
Many people today manifest a similar “craving for new and more powerful stimulants.” Granted, they may not gather to watch real-life carnage or licentiousness. But their choice of entertainment reveals a similar obsession with violence and sex. Consider some examples.
Movies. In recent years filmmakers have demonstrated “a preference for the perverse,” asserts movie critic Michael Medved. “The message in the movie business,” he adds, “seems to be that portrayals of cruelty and dementia deserve more serious consideration, more automatic respect, than any attempts to convey nobility or goodness.”
Competition with television has forced filmmakers to go to virtually any length to lure people into the movie theater. “We need pictures that have teeth to them, that have an edge, that stand out from all the stuff people see on TV,” says the chairman of one motion picture studio. “It’s not like we’re committed to blood and guts and [foul] language, but that’s what you need today to open a film.” Indeed, many are no longer shocked by even the most graphic cinema violence. “People are becoming immune to effects,” says movie director Alan J. Pakula. “The death counts have quadrupled, the blast power is increasing by the megaton, and they’re becoming deaf to it. They’ve developed an insatiability for raw sensation.”
Television. Blatant depictions of sex on TV are now common in many parts of the world, including Brazil, Europe, and Japan. The average TV-watcher in America encounters some 14,000 sexual references in a single year. “The rise in sexual themes and explicitness shows no sign of abating,” reports one research team. “One-time taboo topics like incest, sadomasochism, and bestiality have become so much grist for the prime-time mill.”
According to the book Watching America, there is a method to television’s permissive madness. It states: “Sex sells. . . . As the networks and production companies discovered that they were titillating more viewers than they outraged, they have gradually increased the sales potential of their product by permitting more and more taboos to be broken in ever more explicit fashion.”
Video Games. The comparatively innocent age of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong has given way to a new era of gruesomely sadistic games. Professor Marsha Kinder describes these games as “worse than TV or a movie.” They communicate “the message that the only way to be empowered is through violence.”
Because of public concern, a leading manufacturer in the United States now uses a rating system on its video games. An “MA-17” label—indicating that the “mature” game is unsuitable for those under 17—may include intense violence, sexual themes, and profanity. However, some fear that a “mature” rating will only add to a game’s appeal. “If I were 15 and saw an MA-17 sticker,” says one young game enthusiast, “I’d get that game at any cost.”
Music. A magazine that scrutinizes the content of popular music claims that at the end of 1995, only 10 of the top 40 albums were free of profanity or references to drugs, violence, or sex. “The music available to pre-adolescents is numbing, a lot of it downright nihilistic,” reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The [music] that’s attractive to some adolescents is full of anger and hopelessness and feeds into feelings that the world and the listener personally are doomed.”
Death metal, “grunge” rock, and “gangsta” rap seem to revel in violence. And according to a San Francisco Chronicle report, “many industry insiders are predicting that the most fearsome groups are on their way to the top.” Anthems of anger and death have now become popular in Australia, Europe, and Japan. True, some bands have tried to adopt a more benign message. Nevertheless, the Chronicle notes: “Evidence suggests that there’s not much of a market for innocence.”
Computers. These are valuable tools with many positive uses. However, they have also been used by some to dispense lewd material. For example, Maclean’s magazine reports that this includes “pictures and text about everything from bizarre fetishes to prostitution to pedophilia—material that would shock many adults, let alone their children.”
Reading Material. Many popular books are brimming with sex and violence. A recent fad in the United States and Canada is what has been called “shock fiction”—gruesome horror stories targeting youths as young as eight. Diana West, writing in New York Teacher, claims that these books are “desensitizing the very young, stunting the life of the mind before it has even begun.”
Many comic books published in Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States feature “intense and brutal war themes, cannibalism, decapitation, satanism, rape, and profanity,” reports a study by the National Coalition on Television Violence (NCTV). “The intensity of the violence and degrading sexual material in these magazines is shocking,” says Dr. Thomas Radecki, research director of NCTV. “It shows how desensitized we have allowed ourselves to become.”
The Need for Caution
Clearly, in today’s world there is a fascination with sex and violence, and it is reflected in the entertainment industry. The situation is similar to that described by the Christian apostle Paul: “Having come to be past all moral sense, they gave themselves over to loose conduct to work uncleanness of every sort with greediness.” (Ephesians 4:19) With good reason many today are looking for something better. Are you? If so, you will be glad to know that you can find wholesome entertainment, as the following article will show.
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Television Can Be Hazardous
TELEVISION made its U.S. public debut at the 1939 world’s fair in New York. One journalist who was present expressed his skepticism regarding the future of this new contraption. “The problem with television,” he wrote, “is that the people must sit and keep their eyes glued on a screen; the average American family hasn’t time for it.”
How wrong he was! Indeed, it has been said that by the time the average American graduates from school, he will have spent 50 percent more time in front of a TV than in front of a teacher. “Children who are heavy viewers of television are more aggressive, more pessimistic, weigh more, are less imaginative, less empathetic, and less capable students than their lighter-viewing counterparts,” claims Dr. Madeline Levine in her book Viewing Violence.
Her advice? “Children need to be taught that the television, just like every other appliance in the house, has a specific function. We do not leave the hair dryer on once our hair is dry, or the toaster on once the toast has popped up. We recognize the specific uses of these appliances and know when to shut them off. Our children need to be similarly educated about television.”
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Entertainment Around the World
Awake! asked its correspondents from various parts of the world to describe the trends in entertainment in their locality. The following are some of their comments.
Brazil: “TV programs have become more and more degrading. Yet, with many parents working outside the home, children are often left to entertain themselves with TV. CD-ROMs with occult themes and video games featuring raw violence are popular.”
Czech Republic: “Since the fall of Communism, the country has been flooded with entertainment never seen here before, including TV programs from the West and pornography shops. Young people frequent discos, billiard clubs, and pubs. Extravagant advertising and peer pressure often exert a strong influence on them.”
Germany: “Unfortunately, many parents are too tired to organize entertainment for their children, so the youths often look to one another to have a good time. Some isolate themselves with computer games. Others attend all-night dance sessions called raves, where drugs are rampant.”
Japan: “Comic books are a favorite pastime for youths and adults, but these are often filled with violence, immorality, and bad language. Gambling is also common. Another disturbing trend is that some young girls are calling up widely advertised telephone clubs that cater to men with immoral purposes. Some call just for fun, while others go to the point of dating for pay, which in some cases leads to prostitution.”
Nigeria: “Unregulated video theaters are spreading across West Africa. These makeshift shacks are open to people of any age, including children. Pornographic and horror videos are standard fare. In addition, locally produced films aired on TV commonly feature spiritism.”
South Africa: “Raves are thriving here, and drugs are often readily available at these.”
Sweden: “Pubs and nightclubs are successful in Sweden, and often criminals and drug traffickers flock to such places. Television and video entertainment is full of violence, spiritism, and immorality.”