Since ancient times, at the end of the day’s hunt, cavemen would gather around the fire that cooked their food and would engage in story-telling. So it has been until today when many other kinds of fire have been invented to gather the human family for the purpose of storytelling.
Motion Pictures, the Broadcast Media, and the Internet are the new “fires” around which we view, review, and anticipate not only our daily human activities, but also to experience the very meaning of human life.
At the end of the day, there has always been only one story worth telling, and that is the story of salvation. It is a story often told but not yet concluded. It is a story-in-progress, and we are all privileged to co-write it with our Divine Creator.
This was how multi-awarded movie producer and director Marilou Diaz-Abaya viewed the development of the mass media and how it has affected the daily lives of people.
Speaking to a full-packed Madrigal Hall at the Ateneo de Naga University on June 26, Abaya said:
“Today in 2010, with the wonders of satellite communications, we find ourselves closer to each other in time and space. We have become a global community in cyberspace lit by millions of fire signals, transmitting and receiving countless messages in many tongues. Indeed, the cavemen’s fire has come a very long way. But while the same fire of communication has given us light and warmth, it has not always revealed truth or meaning.
“In my film classes, I always advise my students to find and tell stories with their hearts. Effective mass communications is person-to-person communication multiplied by the media a million times.
“Today’s mass communicators would benefit from our cave ancestors’ techniques of personal, face-to-face social communications. In fact, our cavemen developed the earliest techniques of the visual narrative by painting their lives in cave walls, by singing and dancing their stories, by sculpting their self-images and the statues of their gods, and by committing these stories in their minds and hearts, stored and re-told, generation after generation in the dynamic vocabularies of sight and sound.
“The Evangelists Mathew, Mark, Luke and John used visual imagery to tell the story of Jesus. They learned storytelling techniques and social communications from Jesus Himself.
“One of my favorite scenes has Jesus building a fire by the sea, roasting fish for breakfast, gathering his disciples for kwentuhan, thereby sharing food for body and soul. Again and again, Jesus would combine food and stories, both for healing purposes, the most memorable of course of which was His Last Supper with the Apostles. Meals and stories are very much a part of the Catholic Eucharistic experience.
“Ours is an age of global communication in which countless moments of human existence are either spent with, or at least confronted by, the different processes of the mass media.
“The mass media of film, television, and the internet dominate the air waves on earth and beyond. Every second, billions of human beings transmit and receive messages 24/7 in real time and in all continents. A quick scan of the presentations in these mass media reveal what the human condition is, and is not, today.
“They consume men’s hearts and minds with the bush fires of materialism and consumerism. People spend at least one to three hours a day gazing at things they don’t really need. They spend an average of 10 minutes listening to a priest’s homily at Sunday Mass and, in comparison, an average of 20 hours of television viewing per week, not to mention more hours spent on the road glancing at colossal advertising billboards. This equation is disturbing.”
Abaya explained that mass media delivers information about climate conditions, wars, social and natural phenomena, advancements in the arts and sciences, personal histories of courage, selflessness, achievement and charism, which are of useful human interest, and frequently, of human survival. Cable television keeps audiences around the globe in touch 24/7, trafficking messages, both news and entertainment, in images and sound, enabling viewers to “travel” anywhere on earth with just a click of the remote control.
She added that there’s so much to see and hear in the mass media, so much power of information, and yet, ironically, our human race is none the wiser, nor the kinder, nor more peaceful. Surely, this must be partly because programs promoting social and spiritual values are overwhelmingly diluted by sensationalistic features, exploitative money and game shows, voyeuristic “reality” shows, and insidious advertising messages which demean, rather than enhance, the dignity of human life.
She cited a number of these insidious advertising messages:
If you use Pond’s facial cream, your husband would be a better and more loving person in just seven days.
Coca-Cola brings the family together and provides harmony and happiness around the dining table.
Use Axe deodorant and your sex appeal will be enhanced.
Colgate facilitates your romantic love life.
Whitening cream lotions beautify body and spirit.
Confess your private life on nationwide TV, then sing and dance to win much needed cash for a “noble” cause.
Enter a cubicle raining with cash. Catch as many bills as you can. Buy a house and lot, or send your child to college.
Drink this or that beer and become a real macho man.
To be “in” and fashionable, use this shampoo for long, straight, silky hair, your crowning glory.
Junk and fast food make children happy.
Too fat? Nip and tuck with Vicky Belo.
Truth is what showbiz gossip shows say it is.
She said mass media today is saturated with materialism, consumerism, physical beauty, sex and violence, the sensational, the here and now, the secular. It is obsessed with temporal issues and questions like how to live longer; exterior, rather than interior wellness; information or disinformation, rather than wisdom; escapism, rather than transformation and redemption. Sadly, there is only token interest in spiritual growth.
She said television, like all other mass media, is market-driven, hostaged by advertising clients, and fixated on financial profit. It uses public air space through government franchise, on the condition that it deliver news and public service. But when it is weighed for this mandate, it is found wanting.
She, however, refers to the mass media as potentially a Eucharistic experience, yet it has become more of a bacchanalian wild party misplaced in the tower of Babel.
She revealed that various research studies present the following very disturbing data about mass media, particularly television:
Children spend more time watching television than in any other activity except sleep. – Huston and Wright, University of Kansas. “Television and Socialization of Young Children.”
A study of 1,792 adolescents ages 12-17 showed that watching sex on TV influences teens to have sex. Youths who watched more sexual content where more likely to initiate intercourse and progress to more advanced non-coital sexual activities in the year following the beginning of the study.
Youths in the 90th percentile of TV sex viewing had a predicted probability of intercourse initiation that was approximately double that of youths in the 10th percentile. Basically, kids with higher exposure to sex on TV were almost twice as likely than kids with lower exposure to initiate sexual intercourse. – Study Conducted by RAND and published in the September 2004 issue of Pediatrics.
Children younger than eight “cannot uniformly discriminate between real life and fantasy/entertainment… They quickly learn that violence is an acceptable solution to resolving even complex problems, particularly if the aggressor is the hero.” – ibid
The cumulative impact of violence-laden imagery can lead to a “mean-world” perspective, in which viewers have an unrealistically dark view of life. – The Christian Science Monitor, November 18, 1996
Research has shown that “mindless” television or video games may idle and impoverish the development of the pre-frontal cortex, or that portion of the brain that is responsible for planning, organizing and sequencing behavior for self-control, moral judgment and attention. – American Academy of Pediatrics – Understanding TV’s effects on the developing brain, Jane M. Healy, Ph.D. (From May 1998 AAP News)
Abaya explained that the theory of Marshal McLuhan who said that “the medium is the message” simply meant that the very nature of mass media, particularly television, makes its recipients passive and gullible, that truth becomes what television says it is, that the communicator is the producer, the receiver is the audience.
In other words, communication was one-way, without the thought that soon enough, audiences would be equipped with the cell phone, text, facebook and twitter, thereby acquiring the means by which they can “talk back” and actually participate in the direction of mass media programs. Now, media producers can no longer simply dictate nor impose their preferences on their customers. They now pay close attention to what audiences demand. Audience manipulation has become an art form of media business.
Abaya said that a quick survey of the current top rating shows on Philippine television actually tell us more about Filipino audiences than they do about Filipino producers. Game and talent shows are now at par with telenovelas, Pinoy Big Brother and counseling shows.
The stories told in “Bantay Bata”, in “Santino” and “Agua Bendita”, social dramas with spiritual overtones, have been surprise hits in the ratings game. So are late-night religious talk shows such as El Shaddai, Iglesia ni Cristo TV, Dating-Daan, born-again tv shows, and the star evangelizer Bo Sanchez.
All these, according to Abaya say that audiences seek to quench their thirst for something more than just comfort food and beverages; that they seek security not only in winning homes, cars and luxury goods; that they are really in need of something more lasting; that they yearn to love and be loved; that they need to be assured of a better life. In fact, they seek happiness and security in an everlasting life.
“In this regard,” Abaya noted, “the question arises: How can the Catholic Church minister to the spiritual wellness of mass media practitioners and viewers? Have we become too complacent because we have parish Churches and Sunday masses anyway, during which priests can deliver homilies? Do we dichotomize between secular entertainment and spiritual guidance? If the Catholic Church can raise funds to build magnificent Churches, can she also raise some funds for Churches-on-the-air, on radio, film, television and the internet? In the twenty first century, when religious vocations are alarmingly so few, imagine how many more hearts and souls each priest can touch through the mass media! In hospitals, prison cells, and non-Christian countries where millions of Filipino OFWs do not have access to Catholic Churches or priests, much reliance is placed on smuggled DVDs and streamlining on the internet just to be able to hear mass, at least virtually, and listen to devotional prayers and liturgies.
“Not that the sacraments may be substituted by the media ministry, but rather, that the mass media can be harnessed to extend the pulpit to borderless Churches; and to enhance, popularize and multiply each priest’s homilies. Church teachings and value formation through radio, film, television, the internet and a host of other communications technologies would spread the fire of God’s love much faster to a borderless parishes.”
Abaya believed that if Jesus were literally walking on earth today, he would transfer from the hills and the Sea of Galilee to Teleradyo Patrol. He would also have a cell phone and text His teachings “sent to all.” He would have a facebook account, and he would definitely twitter. He would use all these, including the web cam to connect with God’s children, to let them feel His love, His mercy, and His sweet consolations by preaching, telling stories, giving hope, healing, and redeeming.
Jesus would be a mass media icon and rock star! And His talent manager would be the Holy Spirit spreading the fire of His presence. INA would be the unobtrusive, caring stage mother, always interceding for Jesus’ flock, especially the poor and hungry, the sick, the suffering, the dying and the dearly departed.
Abay recounted that on May 29, 2006, World Communications Day, Pope Benedict XVI cautioned against presenting information to the public in such a way that it became homogenized and muffled creativity, oversimplified complex ideas or glossed over cultural or religious diversity.
“There were ‘tendencies within the media,’” recounted Abaya of the Pope’s words “that breed a kind of monoculture that dims creative genius, deflates the subtlety of complex though and undervalues the specificity of cultural practices and the particularity of religious beliefs.
“These are distortions that occur when the media industry becomes self-serving or solely profit-driven, losing the sense of accountability to the common good.
“He called on today’s media “to be responsible – to be protagonists of truth and promoters of the peace that ensues.”
In response to The Holy Father’s call, Abaya prepared a partial list of things that Catholics as well as media people can do beginning today:
View television as a family, rather than by yourself locked up in your room. After viewing, promote discussions and sharings with your family about the program just viewed.
Make a list of shows which you like and don’t like. Write, text or e-mail your comments to the producer and the network.
In Facebook, share your reactions to the shows which promote goodness and hope.
Use your cell phones and cameras to record stories or moments of Catholic life. Post it in the You Tube.
Participate in I-report or other such shows which air viewers’ footages of reportage.
Organize a media watch, or bantay media club in your parish or community. Pay particular attention to the consumerist goods and services being advertized. Make your reactions known by the manufacturer and the network.
The same group should be encouraged to monitor news and public affairs shows. Participate in the socio-political discussion on and off-the-air.
A parish-based media watch group should also make known to the media industries what kinds of shows they like, need and deserve.
Organize a media ministry for home or backyard-made pre-taped productions of the sacraments, devotions, especially the rosary, and Catechism for children.
Urge your local cable TV stations to air short prayers and/or advertisements of the Good News.
“But as a viewing community, you would know better than I do what media programs would be suitable for your specific community. For this reason, we shall now take an hour’s break, a working-merienda time, during which smaller groups of ten participants each will draw a list of things which can, and need, to be done, to make the mass media a force of goodness and hope in your homes, in your parish, in school, and in the workplace,” Abaya said.
“What an auspicious time, during the Tri-centennial Anniversary of the Devotion to Ina, Virgin of Penafrancia, for us to go forth and tell stories of faith, hope and love. Especially in these times of information-overload, of senseless noise and violence, of excessive commercialism in the midst of poverty and despair, let our voices be heard. Let the message be God’s. Let the new media be extensions of the church pulpit from which your tongues of fire could be spread, and love demonstrated,” Abaya said.