Throughout the course of human history, a civilization’s foundation has largely been built on its mythology, which is sometimes described as a set of stories and beliefs that characterizes a particular culture. In many respects, the mythology of a culture is heavily influenced by the dreams and aspirations of its people. To capture a culture’s imagination, its heroes and heroines, and its “raison d’être” is essentially to capture the mythology and therefore the culture itself.
“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” (Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan 7)
McLuhan’s observation is that the message is the change of scale or pace that a new invention or innovation introduces into human affairs. Within the context of our current technological age, this observation becomes a critical element in reversing the decline in Christian civilization and the erosion of conservative, moral values.
When our attention turns to the media and its profound impact on our culture, we quickly realize the inherent connection between the media, our mythology, and the culture at large. It is the media, including film and television productions, in particular, which effectively controls our culture’s mythology, and thus sets standards of morality and virtue (or lack of them) for our society. The corrupting influences that have become popular in the West have been fuelled by the ability of liberals to rapidly and effectively disseminate their ideas to the general public. They have done so with the use of the media’s massive reach, and, unfortunately for our culture, without an effective response by conservatives.
Because the media has such a powerful influence over our culture —and thus the way people think and express themselves — it is far more effective and dynamic than Christian evangelization or an intellectual conservative argument. By indoctrinating people on an emotional and, one might say, through a superior incarnational medium, our opponents have been able to communicate their ideology and effectively drown out other mediums and voices.
Indeed, conventional evangelization and academia are not, by their very nature, well equipped in today’s experiential and phenomenological culture to influence and persuade the masses. On the other hand, because its foundation rests on this “experience principle”, entertainment via mass media outreach is far more influential and successful in accomplishing cultural and moral shifts in society.
In fact, the importance of the media was so critical to evangelization in the modern era that the Second Vatican Council fathers included a decree on this subject among the relatively modest 16 documents they authored. In her “Decree on the Media of Social Communications” (Inter Mirifica), the Church was keen to recognize the impact the cinema and other mass media can have on society:
“The most important of these inventions are those media which, such as the press, movies, radio, television and the like, can, of their very nature, reach and influence, not only individuals, but the very masses and the whole of human society, and thus can rightly be called the media of social communication. The Church recognizes that these media, if properly utilized, can be of great service to mankind, since they greatly contribute to men’s entertainment and instruction as well as to the spread and support of the Kingdom of God.” (Inter Mirifica, 1-2)
Recognizing the immense responsibility the Church has in this regard, the decree went on to implore that “all the children of the Church should join, without delay and with the greatest effort…to make effective use of the media, and to invite those organizations and individuals who possess financial and technical ability to support these media freely and generously with their resources and their skills, (Inter Mirifica, 13,17). In particular, the decree singled out cinema as being particularly important to this goal:
The production and showing of films that have value as decent entertainment, humane culture or art, especially when they are designed for young people, ought to be encouraged and assured by every effective means. This can be done particularly by supporting and joining in projects and enterprises for the production and distribution of decent films, by encouraging worthwhile films through critical approval and awards, by patronizing or jointly sponsoring theaters operated by Catholic and responsible managers. (Inter Mirifica, 14)
One only has to take notice of the current Harry Potter phenomenon to understand the breadth and depth of the entertainment media’s scope. Not so long along ago, the late great Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was able to captivate and sway American culture because he was successful at doing two things: firstly, using the media to reach a critical mass of the population on prime time television and, secondly, presenting himself in such a way that he was entertaining to watch. Not only was he the evening entertainment for adults, but he was seen by children as heroic simply because he wore a cape. Consequently, his presence and heroism was projected back on the Church which, in turn, influenced the morality of millions.
In fact, recapturing the mythology and controlling the media is far more important and urgent than many other worthwhile ventures that are typically associated with Christian activism. Activities such as education, political activism, charity, and other worthwhile ministries receive the vast majority of Christian and conservative attention and financial support. Yet, despite the financial resources invested into them, the culture of death remains largely in tact, and continues to exact a terrible price on our society.
The reason for this condition is because we have failed to realize that these activities, however noble and good they are, do not represent the soil itself but rather only seed. The soil in our time is the mythology; it is the entertainment and the heroes of the age. And as Jesus alludes to in one of His parables, without good soil, the seed will not take root and grow as it should.
By first capturing the imagination and defining the heroes of a culture through fiction and entertainment, and then translating that success through the various media outlets to propagate the message, a whole civilization can be moved. Controlling the mythology and the media, therefore, is the only viable and far-reaching strategy for taking our culture back and restoring Christian civilization.