At the end of the first century, satirical poet Juvenal witnessed the moral decline of the Roman populace. By his observation, the masses of Rome had dismissed their heritage as citizens of a free and meaningful country for base, empty pleasures capable of feeding only the hunger of self-absorbance. The focus of the empire’s inhabitants had shifted from lives of focus and service for the greater good to one of consumption and folly. His frustrations with the vanity of His people is encased in the simple description of their need to fill their lives with nothing more than food and entertainment: Panem et circenses, translated “Bread and Circuses”.
Fast forward 2000 years and we find a country removed from Rome by time and distance. As we look upon our current situation, it is apparent to even the casual observer that the principle frustrations of Juvenal would translate quit easily to modern society when we consider the influence of the ideals of prosperity and entertainment upon the thoughts and actions of the average citizen. Sites like the Colosseum or Circus Maximus would later became historical references and tourist destinations for modern man. In the late first and early second century, Juvenal viewed them as a reflection of the indulgences of Rome. In the same way, the entertainment industry in the United States also paints a bleak and despicable portrait of the decay of our moral state as a country.
Entertainment cannot, and should not, take the entirety of the blame for our moral decline. However, the lion’s share does fall squarely on it shoulders. There is a bit of circular reasoning that takes place when considering the influence of entertainment. We cannot deny that being constantly bombarded by the vile and sinful subject matters portrayed in the entertainment industry has an effect on our society. Paul plainly declares to the people of Corinth, “Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33). In contrast, it must be understood that popular entertainment is nothing more than a reflection of the values already existing in its audience. The reason our society enjoys the corrupt subject matter of most of our television, music, and movies is because we, at our heart, are a corrupt people.
If we were to ask the question, “Who are we?,” considering only the answer found through the looking glass of modern entertainment, what would be the conclusion of such an inquiry? Would we be able to argue that we are a nation exalted in righteousness or mired in the reproach of sin? (Prov. 14:34)
In the early 50’s Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (real-life husband and wife) were expecting a child. Unable to avoid this fact, it was turned into a storyline of the I Love Lucy Show. Never once on the show was Lucy described as “pregnant”. The word was deemed by the television network as too risqué and suggestive. Lucy was described as “expecting” or guest would simple reference her “situation”. In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho left it viewers unsettled after watching Janet Leigh’s character is killed in the infamous, albeit tame by today’s standards. shower scene. And, while it was not the first reference to homosexuality in television (Hotel Baltimore: 1975, Three’s Company: 1977, etc.) there was an out-roar in 1997 when Ellen DeGeneres declared, “I’m gay” on her now defunct situation comedy.
We live in a day where entertainment comes into our lives in many forms Some are considered more traditional like movies, books, television, and music. Yet to be mentioned are the newer media outlets of podcasting, social media, and the internet in general. Each different medium, itself, could be the subject of far more wordy reports. For the sake of brevity and to ease the constraints of space, let’s take a look at one aspect of the entertainment industry, the one that invades our home most often and most easily: Television.
The standards of television today are unquestionably lessened. A check of the top-rated network shows for this month reveals this moral decline to be an indisputable fact. Of these shows, some regularly challenge the idea of God’s existence (Big Bang Theory), other portrays the lifestyle of a gay couple as the norm (Modern Family, Grey’s Anatomy, Pretty Little Liars, etc), and several shows that focus on murder and crime (NCIS, Blacklist, Criminal Minds, etc.). We must also remember that this particular list doesn’t include cable television programming, where the moral constraints are much more loosed than that of network programming.
This moral decline has been ongoing since the early days of consumer television in the late 1940’s. It is sobering to realize that most of these changes have taken place in the last 25 years! Today entertainment ranges the entirety of a pantheon of sinful practices mention in Galatians 5:19-21. Murder, violence, sexual deviances, conflicts of every variety, greed, drug and alcohol abuse, and the occult were once scarcely, if at all, mentioned in the entertainment industry. Now, they are staples of modern media! It is sobering to realize both the frequency and the volume by which sin can ushered into homes through a television. Judging by history, it can only be expected to get worse as the entertainment industry drift, unanchored to the moral constraints of God’s Word.