Media Literacy... or the Enemy Within?

Recently, at a conference for Christian school teachers, Dr. Syd Hielema, professor of theology at Dordt College, shared his views on electronic media (TV, movies, CD’s, CD-ROM’s, Internet) with those that attended his seminar.

The theme he worked from was this: what the authority and centrality of the Bible is to the Christian community, is what the electronic media is to our society (culture) that we live in today. He made several analogies, or parallels, to support his thesis, which are summarized below:

1. "Both tell a story that we are to live inside." Each of the media essentially is a collection of people living their lives, or a story. Stories presume or answer the fundamental questions of orientation to life, such as God-Humanity- Creation-History-Sin. Even the "news," and especially advertising is included in this. Every segment of media invites you to join/agree with their story about what is important in life.

2. "Both nourish us through regular habits of participation." Just as we need to constantly return to reading the Bible to "nourish" us, the media, as well, surrounds us, and we habitually return to culture-nourishment on TV (or...)." An oppositional contract can be observed: Reading the Bible is a quiet activity that prefers solitude... media often is busy and noisy. In Bible reading we prefer to be deliberate and absorbing as we proceed, whereas media often relies on a fast-paced image. The Bible requires a reflective, thinking attitude... media tends to turn your mind off as you passively soak the message. The reading of the Bible involves you interactively in a dialogue... media is one- way, not requiring interaction. Finally, the Bible is personal, the media impersonal.

3. "Both invite us to a particular heart commitment." In the media, happiness is found in being a consumer, and identity is in appearance. Even as the Christian may acknowledge this lie, he may yet wrestle with it - it makes us feel inferior if we don’t measure up! The point was made that even as we teach our children a different way, they are being shaped by media as consumers! He quoted a media mogul who, in reference to the media’s influence on today’s teens, said, "We own them" (Dancing in the Dark, Calvin Study Centre).

4. "Both seek to form a community." Listen attentively to casual conversation of teens among themselves, and notice how closely connected youth are to the media culture. You will hear conversation revolving around the personal

lives of the media, and how much one knows" them serves as a level of status. There is close identification for many teens with personalities of the media to the extent that for too many it can truly be said, "I am my CD."

Culturally, media can be a tool of disconnectedness. It was pointed out that a Macleans magazine study found that time spent on the Internet had a direct relationship to loneliness. On "chat" lines people were found to be presenting a false persona 85% of the time.

What can we do to counter this? The speaker urged first to "fight fire with fire," to be connected to our kids so we can influence them. If our children are not relational to our families or churches, then the media will fill the vacuum.

Second, teaching (walk your talk) discernment is important, since media typically puts our faculties to sleep.

Third, our Christian community must be aware of, and unified to combat the problem. Children gravitate to the "lowest common denominator" in our communities... and they find that at home where mom and dad are never home, or don’t care, or are not so strict, etc.

Lastly, it was suggested that, given the pervasive nature of the problem, our school may want to include media literacy in its curriculum to teach our children to "read" the media, and the Christian school staff to include a "media consultant/specialist."

God’s Word provides clear guidance for living, as well as governing our speech - personally and as a society. "These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates" (Zechariah 8:16). God will judge our speech according to His standards, "But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). May our continual prayer be, "Set a watch, 0 LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips" (Psalm 141:3).