Virtual Reality

How the media could be influencing your decision making.
by Yvonne Barzil | Source: Schoenstatt Press

Atmosphere is an amazing thing.  We heavily rely on the external atmosphere to determine our inner mood and psyche and hence ultimately our decision making. The media industry and consumer culture has understood this in an unparalleled way.  Who hasn’t come out of a theater after a stirring or thought-provoking movie and experienced the moment of having to adjust to the reality of everyday life, of remembering where you are and what your circumstances are like, after being swept away for a few hours. 

As a child I looked forward every Sunday night to watching Disney on TV.  That was back in the day when Disney was not so controversial and considered good clean family fare. I loved to go to Disney world and was absolutely enchanted by “It’s a small world”, “the Tiki-room” and “Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. (The snoring of the entire castle was what fascinated me the most – especially the cook in the midst of flour & dough.) Whatever one thinks about Disneyland and its modern development, Walt Disney was very successful at creating an “enchanted kingdom”, an atmosphere where a child’s imagination could soar. Spontaneously, every time I see how “the world” is so creative and effective at conveying its messages, at buying and selling, the longing surfaces in me, “And what if we could use this same creativity, joy, and effort to help others, to lead souls to God, to be immersed in the supernatural reality that the saints experienced?”

In fact it is a well documented fact that Hollywood and the media are more successful at capturing the modern soul than just about any other institution.  The question becomes, “How far does it go?” Virtual reality worlds where non-existent goods are bought and sold, the gaming industry, fiction and film and fantasy have spawned multi-million, if not billion, dollar empires.  And what does this “atmosphere” create?  What kind of person is formed in this atmosphere?  Father Joseph Kentenich, founder of the Schoenstatt’s movement, spoke of the “Film-Mensch” – the movie person.  In the meantime, the research abounds on the effects of advertising & film on all of us, not just the young.

How are we to understand this modern phenomena and longing in the human soul in order to do something about it, offer an alternative, ultimately to lead the world into the supernatural and real world of God, who loves us immensely and desires to enter our world, who entered our world and offered everything, his very life blood to open the path to his world. 

I have read dozens of sociological studies on this question and have been continually both overwhelmed and disappointed – overwhelmed with the staggering facts and research on the effects of the media and disappointed in the “answers”.  Time & again, I have read chapters and chapters of diagnosis, all the while waiting to hear the solution, only to come to the last chapter and read that weak suggestions.  Just turn off the television, form an alliance …….

Fr. Kentenich had many answers, practical answers. He used four words to describe a way in which we can come to evaluate and understand the voice of God, speaking to us in the circumstances in and around us.  His four words were observe, compare, analyze, apply.

Observe. God speaks, among other things, through the voice of the times and the voice of the souls.  In order to hear him clearly, we need to take time first to see and take in what is around.  Hence, I must first simply observe the phenomena around me.  If I have a question in a particular direction, for example, the question of the media and its impact on the human person, the question of how the atmosphere affects a person, I simply observe myself, my family, friends and the society around me.

Compare. Then I compare what I have observed to the God-willed order as far as I am able, to other areas of life, such as sociological and psychological research.  Compare to moral principles. For example, compare the atmosphere of Hollywood, Bollywood to the atmosphere of the saints.

Analyze. Ask questions:  Why is this so? How did it come to be? What effect does it have on me personally, on family and acquaintances, on society?

Apply.  What do I want to do about it in my life, with my family, in my society, etc?

Fr. Kentenich himself used this process and taught others to use it.  It is a powerful means for gaining clarity and direction in many essential questions of life.

And while many Schoenstatters long for the day when they will exit the movie theater, just having seen a film on Fr. Kentenich’s life at the magnitude of Schindler’s List or Mel Gibson’s, The Passion,  the nostalgia for such an experience is not a substitute for real living,  or for solving the plaguing problems of poverty, hunger, injustice, & war.  But it is about having an impact on our subconscious soul life & psyche in such a way that it forms our actions.  Neither is it a question of relying on Hollywood to shape and dictate our values.  It begins at a much smaller level – at home, with parents instilling undying values and virtues in their children and in institutions supporting and furthering those values.  In the meantime, we all have a lot of unpacking to do of Fr. Kentenich’s pedagogy, which holds untold treasure and impact for our modern time.

Resources for further reading/research where interested:  (Merchants of Cool) this is a very upsetting series featured on pbs about how the media determines the values of the generations.
Deadly Persuasion by Jean Kilbourne (a book on the effect & messages of advertising on women)
Tough Guise (similarly, a video on changing images of men in the media, increasing violence & sexuality)
Questions for Reflection:
What kind of atmosphere has been shaped in me by the media? Desire for adventure, success, heroism, beauty, violence?
What media images, advertising currently shape my family & children, ex. Seinfeld, Sponge Bob, E.R., Desperate Housewives?
What religious images shape my unconscious and to what extent? In comparison to the media images? Can I quote prayers & saints to the same extent that I can sing commercial jingles or movie lines?

What media images/atmosphere shape my colleagues? 

Practical Application: Observe the degree of media saturation in those around you and in yourself. Compare it to your level of religious knowledge and desire and actual time spent on religious activity, including prayer and conversation with God, the Blessed Mother, the saints, spiritual reading, etc...Take time to analyze your observations, on a personal level, family, and societal level.  What concrete steps do you want to take to achieve your religious goals?

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