The Good News in the Media
Feeling under siege? There is good news about the Good News, too.
by Kathryn Jean Lopez
There are hearts open to Christ everywhere. The Blessed Sacrament is everywhere. Even in the media. And not just on EWTN (where you can literally watch Eucharistic adoration).
One morning I watched as Mika Brzezinski talked about the peace of Christ on a largely political talking-heads show.
Well, maybe not explicitly. But it was there. I was watching Morning Joe one weekday on MSNBC. Actress Goldie Hawn was on talking about her new book about the need for timeouts from technology. Donny Deutsch, one of the personalities around the table, looked like he was about to hide away in the fetal position talking about the poisonous iPadded ecosystem we’re living in. Everyone seemed to be screaming around the roundtable set. It sounded to me the way souls in purgatory, I suspect, do.
And then, show co-host Mika Brzezinski changed the course of the conversation.
Peace came to the conversation.
She talked about bringing her teenage daughter to church. “I drive my daughter to church”, she said. She does it randomly when she thinks the girl needs a timeout. There was no Mass going on, she said about a recent visit. But we stayed there for 40 minutes. She needed it, the mother explained about her child.
“Powerful,” Goldie Hawn responded.
It actually doesn’t get more powerful, does it?
On another occasion, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Sean Hannity had Newt Gingrich on his Fox News show to talk about his campaign for the Republican nomination. During the course of it, the former Speaker of the House, who has not been known for his saintly past, fell into talking about “the power of the Eucharist and going to Mass”.
Now I realize this isn’t exactly the Baltimore Catechism. It’s not perfect. It may not even be ideal. But neither are we perfect. This is real. This is fallen humanity. This is the way of the Cross, we walk as we pray our way to holiness. But in both of these cases, people want more, as we all do. And they couldn’t go to a better place.
Now that said, it isn’t all a Eucharistic feast, needless to say, in the media.
As Pope John Paul II said: “the modern means of social communication … are falsifying the truth about man. Human beings are not the same thing as the images proposed by advertising and shown by the modern mass media. They are much more, in their physical and [spiritual] unity, as composites of soul and body, as persons. They are much more because of their vocation of love, which introduces them as male and female into the realm of the ‘great mystery’” (1994 Letter to families, Gratissimam Sane).
And I don’t even plan to get into the worst of it. But even there, there are glimmers of hope.
Take, for instance, one such unexpected glimmer, a little lesson I learned from Grey’s Anatomy.
Grey’s Anatomy is one of those old standbys on primetime TV: the hospital soap opera. The primetime drama that relies heavily on copious amounts of blood and sex to guarantee its longevity. (That’s not the good news, needless to say.)
Last season, unsurprisingly, one of the lead characters (Cristina Yang, played by Sandra Oh) had an abortion. I say unsurprisingly because the series creator, Shonda Rhimes, is on Planned Parenthood board, Los Angeles.
During a fairly recent interview she explained:
You know, in the first season of Grey’s when Cristina Yang got pregnant, my intention having never worked in television before was that she was gonna have an abortion. Like, that was my intention: Cristina finds out she’s pregnant, she’s gonna have an abortion. We had it all laid out. I knew what was gonna happen and I had some very strong conversations with Broadcast Standard and Practices back then about the topic. And nobody told me I couldn’t do it, everyone just had very strong opinions about it. And then I went into the writers’ room and somebody pitched what would then be the medical reality of Cristina having the ectopic pregnancy and collapsing in the O.R. and that’s how Burke finds out that she’s pregnant. That was so much more interesting to me, story-wise, that I let go of what we were going to do and did that. But I do remember it was going to be a battle. I was perfectly willing to face the battle, maybe naively so, but it was gonna be a conversation. A big one.
She goes on: “I think it’s important [that] I try to do what’s right for the characters”. “In Private Practice, [another one of her prime-time shows] we had a character, Naomi, [who] was staunchly anti-choice, staunchly pro-life. Viciously so, in a lot of ways, in a way that I thought was really kind of beautiful and religious and different from the way I think at all. What I also thought was that her point of view is valid, has merits, and should be portrayed and portrayed strongly. I feel you have to portray all different sides of who people can be if you’re going to create a world. And I feel like Cristina’s choice to give up a child, to have an abortion, is her choice. Meredith would never have had an abortion, I don’t think I’m not saying she’s not pro-choice but she would never have had one for herself because she wants a child so badly. I like that we’re portraying all of the different sides. It’s not a political agenda as much as me trying to make the world as full and round and as complete with peoples’ opinions as possible”.
So even though Rhimes is a Planned Parenthood board member who walked into a creative project with abortion on the mind, she also simply wanted a good story. So she changed her mind.
Fast-forward a few seasons to this current one. Cristina Yang is married. And at the end of last season, she found out she was pregnant. Her husband was overjoyed, she, not so much. She exercised her “right to choose”, as she would subsequently put it. He would ultimately expose his grief: “You killed our baby! You don’t ever forget that.”
Now I’m not pretending Rhimes will be signing Women for Faith & Family’s Affirmation anytime soon. But in confronting our vulnerability, in telling real stories about real life love and pain, truth will shine through in windows. Even on TV shows where you’d think the curtains were drawn too tightly closed.
It’s really not perfect, of course. As you might expect, even the “pro-life” characters aren’t entirely. On that other Rhimes doctor show, Private Practice, a fertility specialist, Naomi that vicious pro-lifer, in Rhimes’s words wanted her daughter to have an abortion and stood through (hand-holding the mother) and walked away endorsing a partial-birth abortion last season. Addison, an OBGYN, performed the partial-birth abortion after giving a speech to her pro-life friend about the honor and duty of abortion providers last season, but it was at the same time clear that her own abortion left her wounded, and now desperate to have the child whose life she ended for convenience, as she explained, decades before. Addison is played by Kate Walsh, who is one of Planned Parenthood’s most energetic celebrity boosters. So it was a fascinating revelation. A window onto truth?
I offer these spoilers because there is reason to be encouraged, even in the moral morass. There are openings here for beauty, for something uplifting. Imagine how different primetime Thursday nights on ABC would be if a board member of the National Right to Life Committee or Women for Faith & Family were responsible for creating programs? Imagine, if instead of dragging us down with the Jersey Shore, talented people were making something different.
Back when Pope Benedict came for his first papal trip to the United States, the archdiocese of Washington had ads on the backs of buses and in Metro stations quoting him: “One who has hope lives differently”. Well, one who has hope writes different kinds of stories. Creates different kinds of art. At least that’s how it should be. And not just preaching to the choir, either.
It’s a countercultural kind of thing, of course. So many of us who have been raised in the last, well, fifty or so years now, were raised to be independent and self-protective; often giving the appearance of a hardened heart is presented as a sign of success. If you went to an all-girls Catholic prep school like I did, perhaps vulnerability wasn’t quite on the curriculum. Being prepped and confident was. That’s not to say the confident aren’t vulnerable and the vulnerable aren’t confident. But what is the source of our strength?
That is what makes the difference as we approach media of different varieties, what keeps you from feel-good relativism of the type Oprah Winfrey offered, for all the good she did with her long-running show. She almost became a Church of her own.
We offer something different to the world when we enter our professions just as we approach all of our life: Only to do His will. To be filled with Him so as to be a chalice out of which His Love can be our perpetual hope and change.
It can be frightening, needless to say. It is hard work, fighting all the distractions and pride to truly discern what He wants of you.
And here I have good news too. Because young people everywhere are doing just this. You know about World Youth Day, you know about the March for Life. Most of the world outside does not, since those things don’t get much media coverage. But they are part of an ongoing reconstruction in a culture gradually realizing it’s so over the sexual revolution.
All of us are an essential part of the New Evangelization. And we’re actually living among so many young people, especially, wanting more. I meet them everywhere. World Youth Day is but a postcard they are meeting every Friday on Sunset Boulevard. I’ve been there. They’re gathering in SoHo in Lower Manhattan talking about the Theology of the Body. They’re wanting what is good, knowing that they have the God-given freedom to reach for it, and to love others enough to want to share it. It is a new sexual revolution. This one is truer to who we are and long to be.
The Seventh Chamber is a DVD about Edith Stein, distributed by Ignatius Press. It’s in Italian, with subtitles. I recommend it. It is an encounter with a professional holy woman of real courage, totally feminine and totally living in the world but not of it. It is a demonstration of fully integrated faith, a fully integrated life. Her faith is physical and intellectual and mystical. The last scene is pietà-like. And it is a reminder to us that all are called to be saints, and can truly be holy. It’s also a reminder of what beautiful uplifting stories we have to share.
This is the kind of work we can do and in English, and on movie screens, and not having to give the tickets away for free at church to get anyone to see it. Have you seen what Father Robert Barron has managed? Apologetics on PBS with his Catholicism series! He is feeding the hungry. We must feed the hungry.
Our hearts are restless until they rest in God. Saint Augustine didn’t have to tell us, we can see it. We live it. “I see that All The Time”, Father Barron recently told me. “Everyone’s searching for a perfect goodness and a perfect justice. What’s animating us, whatever we’re doing, is a desire for truth… Everyone is hungry for God. They may not know it. They may not be able to articulate it. That’s the Church’s job in a way to say: Hey, This is what you’re looking for. You’re looking for God.”
Even a Planned Parenthood board member is open to something different. Christian men and women at a roundtable in a writer’s room or on air can make all the difference to the story. Telling the Good News, wherever there is a window. Which is everywhere.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of the widely read and cited daily webzine National Review Online. An award-winning journalist who has been praised for her “editorial daring”, she is a nationally syndicated columnist with Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, The Human Life Review, First Things, and on the web sites of the New York Times and CNN among other publications.
She writes frequently for a variety of Catholic publications including Our Sunday Visitor and The National Catholic Register. Commonly known as “K-Lo” online, on talk radio, and around Washington, she speaks frequently on faith and public life, the dignity of human life, and feminism, among other topics. She also serves on the Pro-life Commission of the archdiocese of New York.
She is a graduate of Catholic University of America, where she studied philosophy and politics. (As a young student, she was a very early signer of the Affirmation for Catholic Women.)
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