Is It Really Garbage In Garbage Out?

Growing up, my parents were very conservative in the media they allowed me to be exposed to; a move that I completely resented. Looking back, sometimes this was wise and today I really appreciate it, like when I was not allowed to see movies and TV shows with some violence that I wouldn’t have been able to handle. Other times it was a little silly, like when I was forbidden from watching Pee Wee’s playhouse after Paul Reubens was arrested for… well you know what he was arrested for (did my parents think he was going to do that on the show?!?).

When I was a kid and teenager, an often repeated aphorism in my church youth group was “garbage in, garbage out”, this was meant to be the proverbial knock out punch when someone said they were going to watch a new movie or listen to the newest  hip hop/rock album. That’s not to say that God himself wasn’t invoked in support of this argument, in fact sometimes entire Bible studies were devoted to this subject.

In my college advertising class we learned that in the early years of modern advertising, people thought of advertising as a silver bullet. When people read, listened to, or view an advertisement, they had no choice in the matter, they were hit by the silver bullet and would go buy the product or service being advertised. To today’s ears, that sounds a little silly. In fact when I learned that in my class back in college, I thought, “Now only Christians believe that”.

Today, I’m a guy who loves movies and music. Moreover, I’m often struck by the gospel message in the media I consume, as well as the art and beauty of which God is the sole inventor. It seems that God has placed the idea of “story” in the hearts of human beings, and more specifically, the story of redemption: Gotham is saved from itself, the dark side is defeated, and Jack dies saving his friends with a wound made by a spear in his side.

Not all media tells that story. Last year I saw “Eat, Pray, Love”, because my wife wanted to, and because I was obviously vying for husband of the year or something. EPL is a perversion of God’s design for love, marriage, and life. Sometimes this happens in movies and TV, but when it does it’s usually ugly and revolting, the viewer isn’t suppose to like it, but in EPL the “protagonist” is guilty of these perversions with no repentence, and no redemption. The message is clear: “Unhappy with your marriage? You’re spouse isn’t all he/she could be? Leave him/her. It may be hard at time, but in the end, looking out for yourself first will make you happy.”

With all of that said, I was able to watch EPL without leaving my wife, and without her leaving me (crazy I know). That’s because media is not a silver bullet. To use the youth group terminology, we saw a lot of garbage, but the key was, we were able to identify it as garbage, and so it didn’t go in, and thus couldn’t come out.

Please don’t hear me saying that we can consume whatever we want with no unintended consequences. There is another category of media that is toxic and should never be permissible. Pornography, and hyper-violence are harmful just by being seen with our eyes and/or  heard with our ears, and is nothing but destructive. The gospel can’t be seen here, and so we can categorically abstain from these experiences. But outside of those and other toxic areas, we must be discerning and wise for each piece of media.

The reality is that it’s  just easier to teach and practice prohibition rather than discernment and wisdom. We like hard lines drawn in the sand or better yet cinder block walls erected to tell us how to live rather than listening to the still small voice. The Apostle Paul himself read pagan literature and made it known when he said “as some of your own poets have said ‘we are his offspring'”, even in Paul’s time God was making himself known and speaking through media.

I’m excited to hear your thoughts of this. This post could have been several pages long, but it’s not meant to be exhaustive. What do you have to add or take away? 

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