When the two television journalists in Virginia were murdered on air recently, my best friend called and said, “Have you seen the video? It’s on the news.” I haven’t watched the video yet and I’m not sure I want to. My friend says it’s “news,” and we have an obligation to keep up with it. Should I watch it?
Nervous in Nevada
I was an adult the first time I heard the ugly phrase, “snuff film.” From what I understood, it was a porn movie in which a real person was really murdered. People spoke of it in horrified whispers, trying to imagine a world in which any human being would sit and watch, observe, maybe while drinking a glass of wine, as one person murders another.
Now I find myself in a world in which “snuff films” is just another way of saying “twenty-four hour news.”
One can be aware of, say, the murder of Middle Eastern Christians without watching videos of their beheadings. One can be aware of the epidemic of gun violence in this country without watching a video of people being mown down by gunfire. There is no new, or additional, information to be gained from watching these videos. In fact, watching the violence only serves to injure those who watch. Watching, maybe while cooking supper or walking on the treadmill, or channel surfing either numbs us to the violence we are watching or it focuses our attentions on violence in a way that diminishes our ability to focus on goodness, beauty, truth or joy. Either way, it trains us to become, not engaged men and women, but bystanders.
And there is evidence to suggest that, in some people, watching the violence — knowing that others are watching the violence — encourages their own violent acts.
There are images we can’t erase or undo. We can’t wash our brains and hearts as we do our hands and feet. So we grow calluses over the filth. This is why the Church has spoken through the centuries of something called “custody of the eyes.” I know, I know, we’re now in the realm of jokes about patent leather shoes reflecting up. But it’s time to look again at the wisdom of keeping custody of our eyes. Because it’s a way of understanding that our eyes, and our lives, aren’t for sale. We have a God-given authority we shouldn’t be afraid to wield. We don’t belong to CNN or Apple or Tinder or Facebook or HBO, though each one of those companies wants a piece. And one of the ways they begin to own us is by telling us there is nothing we can’t see or hear or have or do. Like the snake in Genesis 3, they are “the most cunning of all the wild animals.”
You don’t sound nervous to me, Nevada. You sound like a person who still has a healthy sense of when to avert the eyes. Pay attention to that impulse; it’s telling you to put down the apple and live.
Thanks for writing.