Matt C. Abbott
January 4, 2010
Tuning out media 'Noise'; Illinois abortions: 10-year high!
By Matt C. Abbott

The following are the Preface and the Introduction (minus the endnotes) to Catholic journalist Teresa Tomeo's book Noise, published in 2007. Thanks to Matthew Pinto and Mike Flickinger of Ascension Press for allowing me to reprint this still-timely material.

Preface to the Second Edition

Two years ago, through my ministry as a speaker on media issues and through prayer, I came to see that concerned Catholics needed a book that would be a one-stop resource for media activism and awareness, a book which drew upon the Church's teachings regarding the media and on the importance of engaging the culture. This book became Noise. I went forward believing in the truths the Lord had set on my heart and in what I knew to be true from my extensive research and experience as a media insider. Since the book's publication in February 2007, the problems of media influence I detailed in the first edition of Noise have only increased, and it has become ever clearer that the teachings of the Catholic Church, as in every other area of our lives, offer a way out of the chaos.

There is an old saying, "God's timing is always perfect." God's timing in terms of the release of Noise was, for me, awe-inspiring. Within days of the book hitting the bookstores, a disturbing report on media influence was released and made major headlines. The report, "The Sexualization of Girls," issued by the American Psychological Association (APA), stressed the need for more media responsibility in its portrayal of sexuality. The APA lambasted the mass media for bombarding girls and young women with images and messages that greatly impact their self-esteem and can lead to depression, self-esteem issues, and eating disorders. According to the APA, "the proliferation of sexualized images of girls and young women in advertising, merchandizing, and media is harmful to girls' self-image and healthy development." The report explained sexualization occurred "when a person's value comes from only her/his sex appeal, or behavior to the exclusion of other characteristics, and when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another's sexual use."

In 1968, Pope Paul VI made the same points in Humanae Vitae. While the Holy Father was explaining the problems that would (and have) come from the use of contraception, he also foresaw the degradation of women outlined in the APA report: "A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection." Here, the wisdom of the Church preceded the observations of the APA by nearly forty years.

February 2007 was quite a month for media madness. The APA report mentioned previously received extensive coverage, especially in light of the death that same month of reality TV star Anna Nicole Smith and the highly-publicized antics of fading pop star and infamous party girl Britney Spears. Sadly, the stories surrounding Smith's death and Spears' shaved head and substance abuse completely dominated the news, so much so that the Pew Center for People and the Press released a report showing most Americans were fed up with the sensational tabloid-type stories.

In March, just in time for Lent, Hollywood producer James Cameron claimed to have found the lost tomb of Jesus. The media, living up to the motto "never let the facts get in the way of a good story," had a field day. Even though noted historians, archeologists, and biblical scholars quickly debunked the findings as nothing more than a publicity stunt, several major outlets ran lead or front page stories on this "discovery," attempting to place doubt on the resurrection of Christ. The truth eventually prevailed, though, and Cameron and company went their way — but not before grabbing a great deal of attention.

More infamous recent evidence of the need for media awareness and activism came in the form of the deadliest school shooting in American history. On April 16, 2007, Cho Seung-Hui shot and killed thirty-two people on the campus of Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, before shooting himself. During the course of the investigation, it surfaced that the gunman was obsessed with violent music, films, and videogames. In addition, the secular media came under strong criticism by various media experts, publications, think tanks, and even some journalists themselves for the relentless and repeated airing of the gunman's so-called video manifesto following the shooting.

As the public and the mass media were still reeling from the Virginia Tech massacre came the firing of controversial CBS and MSNBC talk-show host Don Imus. His departure from his popular morning program came following his allegedly racist and disparaging remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. Although not the first on-air personality, disc jockey, or rap artist to make insulting remarks about minorities and women, the Imus situation caused a media firestorm and forced many to sit up and take notice of just what was being said on the air and in music regarding sexual messages about women. Groups protested not only Don Imus and others of the shock-jock genre, but also rapped the rap industry. Professional and grassroots organizations staged marches, took part in debates and discussions, and began several efforts to raise awareness and clean up the airwaves.

In July, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a document entitled Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Church, which addressed and clarified ecclesiological expressions pertaining to the role of the Church. The media coverage of this document and the public's reaction to it revealed the media's bias against and ignorance of Catholic faith and teaching. It demonstrated in a profound way the pressing need for more media awareness and catechesis. Much of the major media gave the erroneous impression that the Vatican document was implying that Catholic held Protestant churches in disdain and that only Catholics could be saved. Unfortunately many Catholics and non-Catholics alike believed the media's misinterpretation of the document. As summer of 2007 came to a close, the media madness continued with harsh and unjustified attacks on one of the most revered people of recent history, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. The book Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light was released in September. Written by the postulator of her cause for canonization, it featured letters written by the Nobel Peace Prize-winner to her spiritual directors and revealed her struggles with her faith as she worked tirelessly among the poorest of the poor. Admitted agnostics, such as Christopher Hitchens, used the book as an excuse to attack religious faith and went so far as to call Mother Teresa a phony and a hypocrite. Naturally, they became media darlings and were plastered all over the front pages and featured in numerous debates. The Church was also accused of trying to hide the letters, even though Mother's struggles were revealed by the Church before and during her beatification in 2003.

The news media also exposes its bias by what they choose — and refuse — to cover. Such was the case with one of the most sacrilegious and egregious attacks on the Church and Christianity in general. An ad for San Francisco's Folsom Street Fair, an annual homosexual gathering that promotes and endorses sadomasochism and the "gay" lifestyle, mocked Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper." Homosexuals dressed in provocative and revealing leather outfits were pictured in the ad sitting around a table holding sex toys in place of the body and blood of Christ. Though covered extensively in Catholic and Christian media outlets, only Fox News provided significant secular coverage. Aside from a brief mention on CNN and in a handful of newspapers, this incident was virtually ignored by the news media. In addition, there was little if any coverage in the secular press of the Catholic League's call for a nationwide boycott of Miller Brewing Company, a sponsor of the festival.

As if all of these studies and incidents weren't enough, new studies on effects of video game violence, on the harmful effects of children's exposure to television, and on the new evidence of the connection between smoking in movies and teen smoking were released over the course of the past year. In addition, another report showing a connection between rap videos and their impact on young minority women, more studies on the growing impact of Internet pornography and addiction, investigations by attorneys general in several states regarding pedophiles and social gathering websites, and even one study showing how Americans know a lot more about the ingredients in the Big Mac hamburger than they do about the Ten Commandments. Suffice it to say that those of us involved in media awareness and activism won't be out of a job any time soon. There is still much work to be done. Thank you for joining me in this effort.

— Teresa Tomeo
October 25, 2007


Introduction
You Can't Escape the Noise

Uncertain about where she is, what day it is, or whether she is dreaming, Kathy wearily opens one eye in response to the shrill sound of voices, glancing at the bright display of the clock radio on the nightstand. It is 6:30 a.m. The incessant chatter is emanating from her alarm clock. She gives it a good whack, crawls out of bed, and stumbles to the bathroom. There she encounters her husband and the voices of impetuous news anchors delivering the day's headlines in their rapid-fire style. Kathy's husband likes to listen to the news-talk station as he begins his day, but the early-morning intrusion makes Kathy reach for the Tylenol. The sounds of a news ticker and an overly dramatic female anchor are interrupted by the calm, concerned voice of a commercial actor: Do you suffer from a lack of desire for intimacy? XYZ Laboratories is conducting an investigational study... "This is way too much information," Kathy blurts out as she reaches behind the shower curtain to turn the radio off. Tom, her husband, has long since vacated the bathroom. Kathy quickly brushes her teeth, washes her face, and heads back into the bedroom to change. She is hoping to have a bit of private conversation with Tom before heading downstairs to fix breakfast and make lunches for their children, but she is too late. Tom barely notices his wife as he busily reviews his day's schedule on his Blackberry.

Kathy proceeds downstairs and into the kitchen. Her two younger children are perched in front of the family room TV arguing over which program to watch, seemingly unconcerned by the fact that they have to catch a school bus in mere minutes. Her oldest son is parked at the kitchen table with his head buried in his laptop. Checking e-mail, he offers a passive grunt in response to his mother's "good morning." Kathy's teenage daughter grabs everyone's attention as she enters the kitchen panicking over the fact that she may have lost the fifty new songs she had downloaded on her iPod. When they realize she is not yelling at them but rather at the cell phone that appears to have fused her right ear and shoulder together, her siblings quickly go back to their own gadgets. Tom wisps through the kitchen amidst the confusion. With his Blackberry in one hand and his briefcase in the other, he stretches his neck to give Kathy a peck on the cheek as he heads out the back door. "How about breakfast?" she calls to him in the driveway. Without missing a beat he shakes his head, opens the car door, and responds, "Already late for a meeting. Give me a rain check."

As she turns to walk back into the kitchen, Kathy is nearly knocked over by her daughter, who rushes through the doorway. "Gotta go, Ma. I'm catching a ride with Jamie. I'm going to help her set up her new computer after school, so I'll be late." With that, Kathy's daughter disappears. Her oldest son has already packed up his laptop, and the younger two are scattered about. Feeling defeated, Kathy slumps her shoulders. She looks mindlessly at the TV that has been left on in the family room and wonders when her family last had some real face time together. Although this is a typical morning in Kathy's home, she is beginning to see that the very technology which was supposed to make life simpler has actually made it more complicated.

Most of us can empathize with Kathy's situation. Because of the dramatic explosion of media outlets and personal communication devices over the past twenty years, we spend more time with our electronics than we do with each other. It is ironic that despite these advanced means of communicating, we are becoming an isolated population. The telephone has long been a substitute for physically visiting with friends. E-mail has replaced the personal touch of a handwritten letter. Children retreat from each other and their families to the privacy of their Game Boys. Teenagers who once congregated on street corners now instant message (IM) from their computers or chat via cell phones. Teens who once gathered in living rooms with their families to watch their favorite TV shows can now catch many of these same primetime programs on their cell phones, anytime and anywhere, thanks to wireless companies offering everything from MTV to NBC to Nickelodeon literally in the palm of their hands.

Magazine covers, television news programs, and countless studies now regularly chronicle the media's dominance in our lives, yet we just cannot seem to get away from television, radio, the Internet, e-mail, cell phones, billboards, and magazines. TV sets are not only standard pieces of furniture in just about every room of our homes, but also in doctors' waiting rooms, restaurants, and grocery store checkout lines. The noise is more than a minor annoyance or interruption. The constant bombardment of images and messages is having a powerful impact on children, families, and marriages. Aggressive behavior, eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, a loss of intimacy between spouses, immorality, and the absence of God in peoples' lives can largely be attributed to media over-exposure. Our media-saturated culture is a dominant force that tears at the moral fabric of our society. As the old adage goes: Garbage in, garbage out. Everything we digest, orally and mentally, affects us. Well into the twenty-first century, the words of Jesus still ring true: "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34).

The issue of media influence has become so critical that a national conference was held in New York City in February 2007, bringing together doctors, researchers, media executives, and policymakers to examine the impact of media on young people. Organizers from Common Sense Media and the Aspen Institute said their goal was to "create the most significant national discussion on the impact of media and entertainment on kids and families."

In January 2007, the Parents Television Council (PTC) stated that television violence is "alarmingly more frequent and more disturbing than ever before," citing research that indicated a seventy-five percent increase since 1998. Over the last three decades, more than a thousand research studies have shown a connection between violence in the media and aggressive behavior in young people. A 2003 study conducted by researchers from the University of Michigan found that children who watch aggressive television programs are more likely to have a tendency toward violent behavior as adults. A University of Kansas study found that children spend more time watching TV than doing any other activity except sleep. Still more research on media influence estimates that two million Internet users are addicted to Internet pornography, with at least 200,000 spending more than eleven hours a week surfing for erotic content.

There have been the shocking front-page stories on the fallout of media influence, cases such as the two boys, a ten-year-old from Texas and a nine-year-old from Pakistan, who accidentally hanged themselves after trying to emulate the hanging of Saddam Hussein, which they viewed on the evening news. The vast majority of cases, though, involve the "behind closed doors" struggles of families. Such struggles with the media may never make the local news, but they are making the lives of many families miserable.

As a speaker and a talk show host, I regularly meet parents who tell me how they are in major battles for their children's souls — as well as for their own sanity — because of immoral content in music, on the Internet, radio, and prime-time TV. I hear about struggles with pornography, especially the addicting power of Internet porn, from not only teenagers, but also from couples whose marriages have been destroyed. The example most prominent in my mind is that of an attractive young woman who approached me following one of my talks. She had tears in her eyes as she thanked me for the work I was doing. Then she proceeded to tell me about her marriage. She and her husband were once the picture-perfect couple in their parish. They had a nice home, were active in the church, and had two beautiful girls. Her world began to fall apart, though, when she discovered her husband was addicted to on-line porn. She tried to get him into counseling but he refused. Out of concern for her children, the two separated. Shortly after her husband moved out, she discovered that her two girls may have been exposed to some pornographic material on the Internet because the family computer was in the girls' bedroom. Her husband would sneak into their room at night to view vile images while the girls were sleeping.

Whether by chance or by choice, today's kids — armed with technology they first learned to use in preschool and kindergarten — are entering into dark places for which they are not prepared. Even tech-savvy older children are little match for pedophiles and other thugs who are looking for easy targets. Teens and pre-teens are often too trusting, naοve, and desperate for personal attention. In wanting to meet up with kids their own age, they think nothing of posting personal information on the Internet. Though teens use their own cryptic language, predators are quick studies who learn the vocabulary of their prey. PIR ("parent in room"), POS ("parent over shoulder"), ASL ("age, sex, location"), CU ("see you"), EG ("evil grin"), and other such abbreviations are part of the language kids often use to circumvent what they see as a parental invasion of privacy.

I will never forget the frantic mother who approached me following my media seminar at a suburban Detroit parish. This mom had planned a weekend getaway with her husband and thought she had prepared things well. Her parents had come over to stay and watch her two children. She had stocked the fridge with all of their favorite foods and had given strict instructions for bedtime and appropriate television viewing. She also placed limits on how much television the children could watch. However, this mother was no match for her nine-year-old daughter who, unbeknownst to her loving parents and grandparents, was a computer whiz. While mom and dad were away and grandma and grandpa were doing their best babysitting, the little girl was in her room working away on the computer. In one weekend she developed her own website, complete with pictures and personal information, including her name, the name of her school, and her school activities. She was breaking every rule in the Internet safety book. The mom returned home from a relaxing getaway only to find several emotional phone messages from concerned parents whose children told them all about the nine-year-old's "cool website." Little did they know that there surely were predators who, using their own computer tricks, would find her site and begin to ruminate on the possibilities.

Because of a ripple effect, even those of us fortunate enough not to have directly experienced media-related heartbreak or drama are forced to respond to the influence of the noise in our society. In his 2004 address on World Communications Day, Pope John Paul II warned us about the media's potentially devastating impact on individuals and families:

    'Thanks to the unprecedented expansion of the communications market in recent decades, many families throughout the world, even those of quite modest means, now have access in their own homes to immense and varied media resources. ...Yet these same media also have the capacity to do grave harm to families by presenting an inadequate or even deformed outlook on life, on the family, on religion, and on morality.'

This book is meant to outline the problem of media noise and its impact on individuals, families, and society. The research is compiled from a variety of sources, including research groups, universities, and professional organizations that have been studying the effect of the media for many years. In these pages, though, we go even further by offering practical suggestions on how to silence the noise, which even the U.S Census Bureau concedes continues to get louder and louder. According to a report released in December 2006, both adults and teens will spend nearly five months (or about 3,500 hours) surfing the Internet, watching television, listening to the radio, or using other media devices.

With this in mind, be assured that ours is not an easy mission, but we can take comfort in Jesus' promise that "in the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

(Excerpted from Noise by Teresa Tomeo. © 2007 Ascension Press, LLC. All rights reserved. Used by permission.)



In light of the news that abortions in Illinois are at a 10-year high — click here for the depressing story — for those who reside in the Chicago area, I wanted to reprint the following (edited) item from my parish bulletin regarding The Women's Center:

    'January 22 marks the 37th anniversary of the legalization of abortion which has resulted in the death of nearly 52 million innocent unborn babies in this country — one every 30 seconds. Legalization of abortion was promoted as supposedly a rare procedure. We can only estimate how many women have undergone tremendous suffering because of their abortions. The Women's Center is a pregnancy resource center which has saved approximately 33,000 babies and their mothers from the pain of abortion in our 25 years of service. We offer them a choice other than abortion and provide counseling, material assistance, friendship and prayer support.

    'Volunteers are needed Monday through Saturday to organize and sort clothing donations. For more information, please call 773-794-1313.

    'We desperately need a used cargo van in good working condition.

    'We need diapers in sizes newborn, 4, 5 and 6. If you can organize a diaper-drive, perhaps as a service project for Scouts, Confirmation, service hours, etc., please call Peg at 773-794-3292 (for more information on diaper-drives only).

    'We also need new layette items, infant sleepers, crib sheets, bumper pads, new clothing for infants (newborn to 9 months) and winter coats and boots (especially for children). Due to space limitations, at this time we cannot accept any other clothes.

    'We need 7 baby cribs, odd crib parts for repairs, 3 toddler beds, infant car seats, 4 bouncers, 5 pack-and-plays, 7 strollers, 3 changing tables and 6 baby swings. It will be a great help if you can deliver these to us. For our address, or if a pick-up is needed, please call us at 773-794-1313.'



On a political note, I want to give a plug to Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Andrzejewski. Adam is staunchly pro-life, as are two of his sisters, Elizabeth and Nell, both of whom I'm fortunate to know.

© Matt C. Abbott

 

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic commentator with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication, media and theatre from Northeastern Illinois University. He's been interviewed on MSNBC, NPR, WLS-TV (ABC) in Chicago, WMTV (NBC) in Madison, Wis., and has been quoted in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. He can be reached at mattcabbott@gmail.com.


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