The Internal Mormon-Media Conflict
by Jonathan S. Walker

I must confess, I was going to write a review on a documentary that I absolutely love. It’s not that the story itself is something I love. In fact, it really is quite the opposite. The story disturbs me in a Kafkaesque way. What is amazing about the film, though, is that the filmmaker lays the story out and allows people to tell the story. He never verbally editorializes-yet, he is involved. And the story is moving, disturbing, and even shocking.

So, why didn’t I review it? Well, because people were telling the story their own way. They are who they are-and that is not always clean and polite. There was a single harsh vulgarity and a few profanities. Additionally, the documentary director shows a sexual scene from a bad Hollywood movie that plays a role in the story (and frankly plays a very subtle, but significant role in the entire look at one of the people in the documentary).

I suppose you could say I was gun shy. I am painfully aware that the Meridian readers are highly sensitive to sex and violence in media. And that’s okay, but there is something that I do find challenging about the Mormon approach to the media. We are terribly harsh with each other. We are more judgmental with each other than we are with the media-and that’s saying a great deal.

The purists who do not believe that there should be a single instance of baseness-no matter how mild-in a film look at those who watch a broad range of films as heathens who are very nearly in the unredeemable clutches of the adversary. And those who believe that entertainment and art need not be sanitized look at those who aggressively protect themselves and their families from the taint of the world as unsophisticated and naive country bumpkins. Most members of the church fall into one of the two of these categories. There are varying degrees of acceptance within them, but most seem to sit on one side of the fence or the other.

The purists have bludgeoned their opponents with a decree from General Authorities about not watching rated-R movies. The broad acceptors deflect the argument by complaining that the “commandment” to avoid rated-R movies crept into acceptance instead of entered with a decree. They also counter with the complaint that ratings are political and subjective and seldom take into account context. The broad acceptors accuse the purists of being hypocritical by concentrating on evil instead of looking for the good in the world. The purists counter that there is never any advantage to letting a little sin creep in regardless of the sophistry.

So, what is the answer? Who is right and who is wrong?

I truly believe that I see the issues regarding morality and the media with as much clarity as anyone. In fact, I have grappled with the issues so much, so often, and for so long that I believe I could be assigned either side of the argument and win against anyone. So, what conclusions has this clarity brought? Alas, none. What intrigues me most about this issue is that both the purists and the broad acceptors pose valid truths and yet both sides automatically slide down a slippery slope that rests on an untenable conclusion.

It is not the purpose of this article to lay out the arguments and how they will both ultimately fail. In fact, it is that approach that I find to be the driving source of the contention. The arguments never lead to dialogue. The only thing that I have ever been able to do when talking with either adherent is to help them at least understand the position of the other.

I think that we will only mutually understand each other when two things happen. First, we have to truly understand our own position-whatever it might be. We have to see why we do what we do. For some that will be easier than for others. Some of the purists will be able to say in honesty that they see their’s as the only moral position. Some of the broad acceptors will honestly admit that they do avoid bad influences regardless of rating. But, some on both sides will find that their actions do not live up to their ideal.

Second, we must want to understand the other position. We must start out believing that people are moral and good and-maybe even-right. Does that mean that we will be “converted”? Probably not. Does that mean that we will need to compromise for some middle ground? I hope not. What it means is that we will see people for who they are, not who they would be if they had my belief and their actions.

You see, I am convinced of two things regarding this issue. I’m convinced that there is a right answer and I’m convinced that we haven’t found it…yet.

However, let me present you with a single thought. It is not a solution because it doesn’t resolve the issues, but in it you might find a kernel of truth. For all the talk of the influence of the media in our society and our lives, we might have missed one of the strongest ways in which it attacks the church. We allow it to become a wedge between us and other members of the church. Perhaps the first “media” step on the way to becoming Zion is not allowing this issue to come between us.

We ought to be more like the documentary director I mentioned at the beginning who lets people tell their own stories. Beyond the words and actions that I might find unacceptable there is a good person. If we can concentrate on seeing the good in them, then we may find ourselves much closer to finding the moral approach to media.

 


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