It all started with a scene from the popular HBO Max show “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin.” It was December and I was watching the season finale of a program that had originally aired in August. In one of the final scenes, after months of terror, a masked man chases a blonde young woman with a carving knife. As I watched the described scene, I thought, “Jesus would not watch this.” I was consuming this “entertainment” just weeks after four University of Idaho students were murdered by a masked man using a knife as they slept in their beds. I wondered to myself, “Did the killer watch this?”. Despite my better judgment, I finished the episode and sat in my thoughts.
As Christians, we strive and often fall short of being like Jesus. However, I realized that by watching such sinister programming, I was not putting in any effort to be like Jesus. Now, everyone has their own version of Jesus and their own opinions of what is “acceptable behavior” or not. One thing I have always enjoyed about Park Church is its “Big Tent” atmosphere. We congregants come from different religious backgrounds and different walks of life. Of course, we are going to have very individual feelings about what we watch. However, no matter your leanings, I think it’s difficult to justify watching acts of violence as entertainment when we live in a world full of cruelty and suffering.
Before becoming a teacher, I majored in Film & Television Production and spent three summers working in the Tv industry in New York. Critical thinking and analysis of television is something I enjoy and have been trained to understand. However, somewhere along the way, I stopped asking myself the following questions:
Why am I watching this?
What value does this programming have?
Does this bring me joy?
As part of our Tech-Wise series, there has been much discussion among Park members about how much we consume in terms of content, but I would like to discuss what we are consuming.
People enjoy watching content where characters break the Ten Commandments. This Passover week, the Ten Commandments have been on my mind. According to Variety the top original series streamed on Netflix in 2022 (in English) were “Stranger Things” and “Ozark”. For the uninitiated, “Stranger Things” follows a group of young teens in Indiana as they fight corrupt humans, demonic entities, and middle school bullies. While I find “Stranger Things” to be entertaining, interesting and with merit, it is also incredibly dark at times and can be frightening even to adults. I found the series “Ozark” to be nearly addictive, but so morally corrupt that I had to cut myself off after the first three episodes. According to Variety Magazine, the top original streaming programs of 2022 were as follows;
- “Stranger Things” (Netflix)
- “Ozark” (Netflix)
- “Wednesday” (Netflix)
- “Cobra Kai” (Netflix)
- “Bridgerton” (Netflix)
- “Virgin River” (Netflix)
- “Dahmer” (Netflix)
- “Love is Blind” (Netflix)
- “Inventing Anna” (Netflix)
- “The Crown” (Netflix)
- “The Boys” (Prime)
- “The Great British Baking Show” (Netflix)
- “The Umbrella Academy” (Netflix)
- “The Last Kingdom” (Netflix)
- “The Rings of Power” (Prime)
While I am delighted to see that people are consuming family-friendly fare such as “Cobra Kai” (a sequel series to “The Karate Kid” franchise), “Virgin River” (an adaptation of a book series following a widowed Nurse Practitioner in a quirky, rural town), and the ever-delightful cooking competition show “The Great British Baking Show,” I can’t help but notice that most of the these programs involve scenes of murder, infidelity, dark magic, sexual violence, and even cannibalism (Dahmer). Other major hit programs of the last few years include; “Yellowstone” (Paramount Network), “Yellowjackets” (Showtime), and “You” (Netflix). Respectively these programs follow a politically influential and murderous family of ranchers, a High School girls’ soccer team that has been stranded in the Canadian Wilderness where the characters begin to practice cannibalism and black magic, and a Brooklyn hipster turned charming serial killer. I have watched all of the aforementioned with the exception of “Dahmer”. What it comes down to is, consuming dark content, especially by ourselves or especially in a “binge” leads to dark thoughts and, in my opinion, a lack of connection in our faith.
Yes, we are asking you to consider maybe giving up some of your favorite programming or perhaps to view it in a more responsible manner. However, when we think of all the things Christ has laid down for us, is a show or two not worth the sacrifice? Also, like other media habits that we have discussed during the Tech-Wise series, there are ways to modify our behavior:
- Consume content with someone else. Media was not designed to be an individual experience. However, millions of us sit in dark rooms alone watching content for hours on end. Do you remember when everything was live and the latest cliffhanger of a popular program was “Water Cooler Conversation”? I miss being in line at Starbucks and talking to strangers about a stunning plot twist on a shared favorite program. Media was intended to make the world smaller and to connect humankind. Next time your favorite show is premiering, watch it with a friend or loved one, or even using the TeleParty App to watch it with someone who is not local. I regularly watch new shows and movies with friends and family that live across the country. Using such apps allows your programming to air simultaneously and lets you see your friends’ reactions and pause together to discuss what you are viewing. It’s almost as good as being in the same room.
- Don’t binge-watch. What if you limit yourself to two episodes in a sitting? As I have done that, especially with more serious content, I have noticed that I am more easily able to return to more normal routine and less focused on what I just watched.
- Watch something light before bed. I realized that I was having nightmares if I fell asleep to a dark television program. Now, I keep it light and watch things like “Gilmore Girls” or “Parks & Rec” as I get into bed. This has limited my bad dreams.
- Rely on views from sites such as Common Sense Media to get a sense of what a program is like before you watch it. Common Sense Media offers insightful ratings for content, especially geared at content for tweens and teens.
- Use an app such as Video Angel. There are apps that allow you to stream movies and tv with the less than desirable parts edited out. As one friend from Park pointed out, Martin Scorcese’s “The Departed” without the violence and cursing is still an excellent movie. If you are really into the storyline of certain programs, but dislike the sexual content, violence, and language, you can use these services to watch a more “PG” version of your favorite programs.
If you would like to lean into viewing more simple programming that is tween/teen friendly, there are some programs I can suggest;
- “Week-end Family” (2022- pDisney+): This French language (dubbed in English) program follows a divorced doctor as he navigates a new relationship and custody of his three daughters each weekend. I like this comedy, because in a world filled with divorce, it shows adults doing their very best to navigate complicated familial relationships (with laughs) while always showing up to support their children.
- “Heartland” (2007- present, Canadian Broadcasting Channel, available in the US on Netflix): Canada’s longest running one hour program is going into its 16th season. “Heartland” follows four generations of ranchers and horseback riders in the rural province of Alberta. While Heartland stops short of ever talking about Christ, the program is very clean. Think of it as” 7th Heaven” meets “Yellowstone”. The original teenage cast is now on the show as parents themselves and the spotlight is on the youngest generation of the “Heartland” family as they navigate the 21st Century as teens. Come for the breathtaking scenery and heartwarming storylines, stay for the clean laughs, well-developed characters, and beautiful horses.
- “Anne with an E”(2017-2019, CBC and Netflix) is based on Lucy Maude Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” book series. This Canadian adaptation follows Anne Shirley Cuthbert, a recently adopted teen orphan in the late 19th century living on beautiful Prince Edward Island. While the teens on the show may not have phones and TVs, many of their storylines are relatable and moving. There is also a clear Christian slant with reading the Bible, praying, and attending church all regular parts of the characters’ lives.
- “When Calls the Heart” (2014-present, Hallmark Channel) follows Canadian teacher Elizabeth Thatcher as she navigates early 20th century life on the frontier. When Elizabeth arrives at her teaching post, the small town has lost most of its men to a coal mining accident. The series focuses on the brave widows and their children. Eventually new characters are introduced and the series takes on a lighter tone, it never loses its moral center and outright Christian messages.
- “The Babysitters Club” (2021-2022, Netflix) is the third on-screen adaptation of this multi-generational spanning series. Originally published in 1992, tweens from Gen X, Millienials, Gen Z, and now Gen Alpha have enjoyed the 213 books and graphic novels based on the original Ann M. Martin books. The Netflix adaptation is light, comical, and represents positive and diverse tween/teen role models and from caring family dynamics (single parents, divorced parents, widowed parents, nuclear families, grandparents living in the home, and blended families are all represented here). Alicia Silverstone stars as one of the girl’s moms, making it fun for older generations.
Kate McLaughlin is a member of the Shrewsbury Community Group and Park Serves. Before earning a Master’s in Elementary Education, she obtained a BA in Communication-Television Production and worked on multiple television productions in NYC.
Part of our discipleship to Jesus is guarding our heart. As it says in Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” What we listen to and what we watch impacts us, whether we’d like to admit it or not. What we pour into our heart will flow out of us.
Kate poses a powerful challenge to us as Jesus followers. We often lay down pieces of our lives in discipleship to Jesus but cling onto others. Not this piece of me, Jesus. This is mine. What if we were to surrender to Jesus the media we consume? What if we were brave enough to ask the hard questions Kate proposed before we press play? What if we asked ourselves how our media is impacting our hearts? Jesus has asked many of us to lay down much bigger things — can’t we lay down that tv series that we know is impacting our hearts? We’re all being formed by our little everyday habits and choices. Are our media choices forming us into someone more like Jesus or less like Jesus?