For example, the plot of the popular series Desperate Housewives screened on Channel 5 every Monday night revolves around the lives of four families, in particular the four wives. Most episodes showcase their sexual desires and coupling acts and, in some episodes, friendships are broken when the women fight over the same man. Since Catholicism preaches chastity and fidelity, such promiscuity is obviously contrary to Catholic beliefs.
Prison Break is about a man's journey to help his brother, whom he believes has been wrongly imprisoned. Michael Scofield, the main character, deliberately commits a robbery in order to enter the same prison as his brother. His intention is to help his brother escape. His willingness to sacrifice his own freedom and his desire to help his brother are highly commendable, but the acts of both brothers are highly debatable (even though their intention is good). Do two wrongs make a right?
South Park, an animated series, is not shown on Singapore television but is easily accessible on the Internet, and is now in its 11th season. Using the cartoon characters, the series' creators poke fun at anything and everything, including politics and religion. While the parodies are funny, they border on insensitivity and are often offensive. It is widely popular among the youth here.
Despite knowing that some of the shows we watch transmit negative values which can be harmful to our faith and personal development, why do we continue to watch them?
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If you must watch them...
By Joyce Gan
MOST REVIEWS FOR Desperate Housewives, Prison Break and South Park describe them as being filled with sex, violence, coarse language and controversial issues. But is it possible that there are also good values that have been overlooked?
Desperate Housewives revolves around different moral issues - marital fidelity, how to be a good friend, and domestic struggles like how to maintain a healthy family and how to instil good values in children. Its overriding theme is about how to discern what exactly are "right" values and how to live them. The episodes portray realistic struggles for one to ponder.
Some questions that the show poses: What can you realistically do when your child runs the car over the next door neighbour and she ends up in a coma - do you turn him in or try to shield him? How can you realistically communicate with your teenage child who is adamant that she is old enough to have premarital sex? How does a woman realistically manage her career and four children? The audience watches how these "desperate housewives" negotiate through their misery, solitude, challenges and desires to either rise above them or to know regret and bitterness when they choose the "wrong" paths.
Prison Break sheds some light on questions such as what happens when friendships grow and bonds forge amidst the greater theme of self-sacrifice for one you love.
In comparison, South Park throws open a lot more topics for discussion with current world events and pop culture parodies. Politics, race, censorship, religion and gay rights issues are made fun of. These are also issues that make up everyday conversation. Barry S. Fagin who prescreens episodes for his children to watch, admits in "How Kids Can Learn from Vile Trash" on his website (www.reason.com) that if kids are "exposed to unfiltered adult issues before they've accumulated enough life experience and emotional maturity to deal with them, it may indeed be harmful".
"[But] good parenting is an ongoing process. You're constantly exposing your children to new ideas, developing their moral character, and helping them realize their potential, all the while preparing them for a world that doesn't necessarily share your values."
This is why discernment may just be more important than avoidance.
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What young Catholics say
Why we watch what we watch
But who says we are influenced by these shows?
"I watch Prison Break because watching such shows can open up avenues for discussion, and they are useful tools for explaining and potentially justifying Catholic doctrine. On the other hand, I consciously choose NOT to watch certain shows e.g. Desperate Housewives and South Park, because I find them rather unsettling and disturbing. My mindset is this: When I know that the values a show glorifies to boost its ratings are WRONG, watching it would be an unholy indulgence on my part."
- Clare Tan, 21, Risen Christ
"My mother introduced Desperate Housewives to me, and I watch it for its storyline and how the characters find (wrong) ways out of problems most of the time. I don't watch Prison Break but I know the plot. Many a time we find ourselves like the lead character, doing something wrong in order to do something right. There is something we can learn from this. I think people watch it because of the exciting plot. The reason why people watch South Park is because it can make for a conversation topic when they are at parties or on the phone. It is an 'in' thing."
- Justin Ng, 17, Christ The King
"I think South Park is brainless entertainment mainly, but I'll admit that there are certain storylines that are controversial or offensive depending on your personal beliefs. I always discuss those with friends who watch it too. As for Desperate Housewives, it's just sleaze."
- Aloysius Ting, 25, St. Michael
"I follow all three television series. I feel that certain obstacles and problems that the characters face are quite real to us, and the choices that these characters make are somewhat similar to what we would have done, which makes these series so captivating and interesting. Viewers can sometimes really imagine themselves as one of these characters. Take Desperate Housewives as an example - many women face problems in their marriages and the rate of divorce is rising due to infidelity and other similar issues.
"Of course I feel that these programmes run contrary towards our Catholic image. Most of these series contain negative values, especially South Park which borders on being obscene, offensive and vulgar. However, most viewers do not really take these shows too seriously and watch them as a form of relaxation. These series are relatively harmless if one has an open mind and a firm set of moral values."
- Sara Teo, 17
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"I watch Prison Break, which does not necessarily showcase only bad values. It shows how love can lead to great sacrifice, etc. Moreover, the unexpected plot makes one wonder what one would have done if he or she were in Michael's shoes. I think watching shows with values contrasting with Catholicism amplifies Catholic values, helping us to identify ourselves more. In addition, the faith we have as a Catholic will help us to filter the bad ones from the good ones."
- Trina Tan, 21
"I watch Prison Break because it is intriguing and as long as I don't follow these values, I think watching the series is fine. For the sake of entertainment, television programmes are usually tweaked to the extent of going against the Catholic faith, so that it would sustain people's interest. Unfortunately, these 'values' arouse temptations and people think it is cool to follow them."
- Estella Ong, 15
"I watch Desperate Housewives not for the values, but it's just something to watch after work. I don't think watching such shows are contrary to my Catholic faith because at the end of the day, television drama series exaggerate stereotypes so as to make it entertaining. If we know right from wrong, watching these shows in fact make us more aware of our own human failings, and seek to change our lives and the lives of those around us too."
- Alph Tan, 25
"I watch Desperate Housewives because it is entertaining. I don't think watching such shows run contrary to my Catholic faith because having a strong faith means not allowing anything to alter your faith." - Trini Tan, 16
"I think watching these shows help me to see right from wrong and guide me on the righteous path away from evil."
- Bryan Chiong, 16