By: Camille Carloss
Do any of you remember that song, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love”? I distinctly remember jamming to this song at middle school mass … But, you may be asking, what does this have to do with Netflix? Where are you going with this Camille? Well, let me explain…
I want to begin with the confession that I am a hypocrite. Particularly when I was inspired to write this article, I was a huge hypocrite and I knew it. So, when I was inspired to write this blog post I had just started re-watching the television show “New Girl” (“NG” for short). I began watching this in high school (a thought that makes me cringe), but I stopped because the show became excessively over-sexualized. *Disclaimer: I am not trying to give an objective list of what you should be watching (or reading, listening, etc). I use “New Girl” to provide an example of the type of shows common in our entertainment industry, not to demonize this particular show or its viewers.*
Now as a soon-to-be-married-young-adult, I decided to try again. Upon re-watching, I remembered how much I enjoyed the show and how disappointed I was when I felt it was no longer good to watch. On the day that I was impassioned with the idea for this blog, I was thinking about how awful “NG” is and how there should be something like an examination of conscience for watching shows or movies… all while walking home from mass, with the intention to still watch “NG” later that day. If that wasn’t enough, I had already been asked by fiancé to stop watching “NG,” and I had the intention of submitting … but not yet. (Reminds me of Augustine’s famous prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”)
Now perhaps watching “NG” wasn’t sinful in itself. But, was it the best show for me to be watching? Did it help me grow in virtue? These are questions I knew the answer to, but I didn’t want to answer because I wanted to finish at least the first season. Then, I would give it up; then I would submit. And I did. But if I’m honest with myself, it would have been more virtuous to stop when I was asked to, in immediate obedience. Because there was a reason Dylan asked this of me. As the future spiritual leader of our home, Dylan could see a change in me (one that I, too, saw in myself, but tried to ignore). He saw that I was drifting farther from virtue instead of toward it and, in love, he asked me to stop. In pride and stubbornness, I justified that I would stop after I finished the season (and there was even a tinge of resentment that I was asked to submit! To something so small! To something loving and virtuous). Oh, concupiscence.
“But how does this connect with the title or with the song you mentioned, Camille?” Oh, I’m glad you asked! On the day that I was walking home, mind torn with this article and the desire to keep watching “NG,” I thought of the song. Instead of the correct lyrics, the words “they’ll know we are Christians by our Netflix Queue” entered my brain. I chuckled at myself- at my dazzling creativity- but then I reflected: Was my Netflix Queue representative of my faith? Did these shows exhibit the morals I try to hold fast to? If someone stumbled on my Netflix list, would it look different from any other twenty-something-year-old pagan? Probably not . . .
I realized that it was necessary for me to give this show up in order to progress in virtue and holiness. This is probably the most extreme example I’ve experienced, but it’s not the first time I’ve had a similar feeling about the entertainment I’ve consumed. For example: when I watch shows where the characters engage in premarital sex, or even passionate kissing, I am tempted to drift in that direction . . . I find myself wondering if passionate kissing is okay, because it doesn’t seem so bad on the show. At times I have even been tempted to question if premarital sex is really “that bad.” This is very alarming! Perhaps others aren’t affected the same way, but I do think it is important for all of us Christian faithful to take a step back and take inventory of what we choose to entertain ourselves with.
To help, I’ve devised a list of questions- a sort of “examination of conscience” for media:
-Does the show I am watching condone, justify, or encourage mortal sin?
-Do I wonder “Should I be watching this?” “Is this appropriate?”
-Do I act or think differently after watching? Is my conscience dulled? Am I tempted to justify or rationalize sinful behavior?
A good rule of thumb is that if you have to ask yourself if something is sinful or wrong, it usually is. You may be tempted to justify the answer, instead of accept the truth in humility.
-Is what I am watching true, beautiful, and good?
-Does this encourage cultivation of virtue?
-Is this something *insert saint/ holy person here* would watch?
Hopefully, what we are watching brings us closer to truth, even if it is leading us inadvertently, instead of just providing mindless entertainment.
-Am I using this as true leisure or as an escape from reality (problems, work, etc)?
This could be a whole other discussion, but I wanted to include it as food for thought. Our intentions are very important. Sometimes, without realizing, we use entertainment for more than leisure and that can be a different problem.
One tactic I have found helpful in sorting out what to watch is to use Parent Guides on different websites. These are great tools because they tell you exactly what is featured in the film or show and have different categories. Two I use commonly are IMDB and https://www.commonsensemedia.org/. For IMDB, simply look up the movie or show and the Parents Guide is found under the “storyline” and above “details.” I could give lots of suggestions for what to watch, but I’ll try to keep them brief. First, I would say classics are usually appropriate and good- they are classic for a reason. I have also been a fan of watching saint movies… The ole’ Netflix DVD might be worth it for a few months (summer, perhaps) for this purpose. One summer I did that and watched a lot of saint movies! Lastly, is to watch movies or shows for children or adolescents. We watched Shrek over Easter and it was a hoot! Cartoons and movies you watched as a kid can be even more enjoyable as an adult.
I am reminded of another song I listened to as a kid. I remember listening to this cassette tape (oh, yeah) in the car when I was little and perhaps you also heard this song as a child: “Be careful little eyes what you see. Be careful little ears what you hear... ” This song is just as relevant- if not more so- to us as we grow older, particularly as young adults. No matter our age, The Lord calls us to be like Little Children! We are called to be pure in heart and mind, as well as in our bodies. We are called to make choices that increase our purity and littleness, not to taint our minds with unnecessary thoughts or images!
In closing, let’s not forget the liturgical season we are in! Rejoice because it’s still Easter!!! This is a time of great joy and celebration! Feast!! With this being said, just because you gave something up for Lent, doesn’t mean you need to pick it back up again… If you gave up Netflix for Lent, it doesn’t mean you should be binge watching all the shows you missed during 40 days. Don’t make up for 40 days worth of Netflix in a weekend! Remember virtue is found in moderation. Be honest with yourself, even when it’s difficult. Grow in virtue and in joy this Easter season. Be assured of my prayers for you.