Counter Culture

The website of moral theologian Christopher Klofft

Archive for the month “October, 2014”

How to Get Away with Immorality

600x800“How To Get Away With Murder” is a successful new show this season, conceived by one of the protégés of Shonda Rhimes, who has established a very lucrative career writing fast-paced soap operas about people who actually lack the human ability to enter into and maintain functional relationships (c.f., Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal).  This new show has come to attention for a number of reasons, one of which is its frank portrayal of sex between men.

The showrunner, Pete Nowalk, has stated in an interview that one of his goals in writing the show’s sexually promiscuous homosexual character (Connor) is “to destigmatize gay sex on TV.” He goes on to say:

“Visibility leads to acceptance…I am a little surprised how much of a reaction it’s getting. Maybe it’s because I’m a gay man.  We have another gay writer on staff and we’re just writing what we know.”

Two important observations need to be made here. The key line in the above quote is “visibility leads to acceptance.”  This is simply not true.  Visibility does not lead to acceptance; it leads to apathy and desensitization.  And this leads to the second observation: while the starting point for my present reflection is the so-called “destigmatization of gay sex on TV,” what I am saying about apathy and desensitization applies to all portrayals of immorality on TV and films, not just gay sex.

If visibility leads to acceptance, then the fact that I regularly witness countless acts of violence on TV and in movies leads to the conclusion that such acts should be morally acceptable, even celebrated, because, after all, this is the way life really is. But that’s not true and no one defending violent content in media would seriously try to defend this.

The accumulation of violence on screen doesn’t lead to greater social or moral acceptability. It leads to our desensitization about seeing such things until we don’t really care that we’re seeing it.  Pete Nowalk intends for greater social acceptability with his frank portrayal of gay sex.  Chances are, people will eventually say that his efforts and the efforts of others like him have been successful in bringing the culture to a greater acceptance of homosexual persons.  But it hasn’t.  All that has actually happened is that we have become deadened to any sort of reaction to immoral actions on screen (and please remember that what I’m saying here applies to all portrayals of immorality on screen, including heterosexual and homosexual immorality, as well as brutal violence).

If Nowalk’s intention is to encourage greater respect for people with same sex attraction and a greater appreciation for them as more than stereotypes, he needs to stop doing them the disservice of characterizing them primarily by their sex lives. While we have largely moved away from the harshest stereotypes of persons with same sex attraction, Hollywood foolishly thinks that letting the audience see them having sex humanizes them.  Seeing people engaged in sexual activity on screen (regardless of who is involved) doesn’t humanize the characters; it reduces them and de-humanizes both the actors and the viewers.

Maybe I’m just demonstrating myself to be hopelessly idealistic and old-fashioned. Maybe I need to see more so I’ll accept more.  But I doubt it.  We have mistaken apathy for approval and desensitization as open-mindedness.  We deserve richer portrayals of human beings than focusing on who they’re sleeping with.

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Self-Pornification

jlA few weeks back, I had wanted to comment on the celebrity hacking scandal. There are a lot of interesting elements to these unfortunate events, but when I finally found some time to write, I thought the moment had passed.  That was before the newest issue of Vanity Fair came out.  In it, there is an interview with Jennifer Lawrence – her first public statement since her pictures were among those hacked.

While she is rightfully outraged and hurt about this violation of her privacy, she also includes this very unfortunate statement in her interview that explains why her naked pictures existed in the first place: “I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.”

For a popular, talented, young woman, these are exceptionally sad words.

Utterly ignoring the celebrity status that made her a target in the first place, this attitude essentially absolves men of responsibility for their own chastity and relational maturity. This attitude says that men need sexual pleasure – and if they can’t get it from you directly, they need pictures to help them get it for themselves.

Jennifer Lawrence has been “pornified” with the theft of her personal photos. This is a crime and she is a victim.  But the cruelest irony is that she had already pornified herself by believing that taking these photos was necessary to be in a “loving, healthy, great relationship.”  It was foolish of her to take these photos in the first place; it was an objectively poor moral choice.  But the fact that she took them (along with similar photos evidently taken by scores of other famous people) speaks to far greater problems within a culture that has ludicrously overemphasized the pursuit of sexual pleasure.

To love another is to see the other as a person made in God’s image and to respond to that image with the desire to make a gift of ourselves to the other. But the reduction of the other instead to a mere vehicle for one’s selfish sexual pleasure is not loving.

A healthy relationship recognizes the challenges that arise, such as long distance and time apart, and responds to them in a reasonable way, so that both partners can draw strength from the bond of love, rather than demonstrate their dependency on only one aspect of the other.

A great relationship is one that inspires the man and the woman to realize how graced they are to love and be loved; they share the power that comes from that love with all the people with whom they come in contact, and this, in turn, betters all of their relationships.

A relationship that requires one to debase oneself as a mere object to satisfy another’s biological urgings, especially with the rationale that if one doesn’t, he will just objectify someone else for the same purpose, is neither loving, nor healthy, nor great.

Perhaps in time, Jennifer Lawrence will regret these words. Earlier in the article, she admits that saying anything about this incident has been very difficult for her, so maybe this came out worse than she intended.  But it seems reasonable to conclude that this is at least her explanation for why these pictures exist.   She is also no doubt not at all alone in applying this rationale to this poor choice.

We need to reclaim the truth about our sexuality. We need to understand this great gift and its purpose to bring forth and sustain life.  We need to believe that it is possible to see ourselves as more than mere animals (I could also comment about Maroon 5’s new song and video of the same name, but that will have to wait for another time).  If we would only commit to this as a culture, even greater joys await us as we continue to build up the Kingdom.

Sorry for the delay

A quick word of explanation for my prolonged silence. I have no good excuse except that it was the beginning of the school semester.  I hope to correct this and work back towards a regular posting schedule.

Also, please check out the October issue of Catholic Digest. I am featured in an article addressing the issue of the hook-up culture on our college campuses.

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