Ro·man·ti·cize  (rōˈmantəˌsīz,rə-/) verb
To deal with or describe in an idealized or unrealistic fashion; make (something) seem better or more appealing than it really is.

I’m not a romance basher.  Red roses, chilled wine, handmade cards, carefully chosen words?  Count me in.  But this article isn’t about the trappings of love.  It’s about the prevalent distortion of reality we absorb daily as the media that saturates our lives romanticizes traits and behaviors that should logically be condemned and eradicated.
I’ve seen the effects of this scourge in the news stories dripping their gore across my TV screen lately, and I’ve begun to see the connection between our culture’s addiction to pushing the envelope and its propensity to getting tangled up in that same envelope’s post-implosion shreds.  My fear is that the influences hobbling us are seeping, unnoticed, into our every-day life.
So…no long-winded rant this week.  Just a list of some of the romanticized notions that may be contributing in some small way to the decay that’s slowly eviscerating our world.  My supporting evidence for each point is intentionally brief.  I’d love for you to flesh it out with your own thoughts on each topic.
I believe a dangerous “you only live once” mentality has exacerbated media’s influence.  The statement excuses all excesses: financial, relational, moral and behavioral.  It focuses on a temporary high and minimizes long-term consequences. This has led to three major categories of moral degradation, each of which has been glamorized and/or romanticized:  violence, sex, and relinquishment of integrity/personal responsibility.

  • Aggressive confrontations“Real Housewives” of Everywhere
    • When TV personalities with purported social status and respectability resort to table-throwing and defamation as a natural part of arguments with “friends,” can we not expect this trend to be emulated in real life?
  • Going down in a hail of fire“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “The Town,” “Pelham 123”
    • Stepping, weapon in hand and unafraid, into death-by-gunfire has been glamorized as a heroic end.  Could this notion be in part responsible for the number of real-life standoffs that finish in suicide-by-cop?
  • Weapons and gore as a natural high“Grand Theft Auto” and other video games that engage the player not just as a spectator, but as a perpetrator
    • It turns my stomach to think of the people I love who spend hours submitting their minds and actions to fictional but graphic acts of mass violence.  See countless psychiatric reports on how this blurs the boundary between make-believe and acting out.  (Just one of those articles here.)  Movies and TV shows that glamorize gratuitous violence with no hint of “right” and “wrong” might have the same effect.  See “Natural Born Killers” and others.
  • Rape/assault as a form of affection“Shades of Grey” and too many romance novels to list
    • I’ll admit it.  I found my first romance novel in a giveaway pile in a Christian conference center when I was in my early teens, when I was too young to fully comprehend what I was reading.  I absorbed the dangerous message that real men are ruthless and prone to physical force to prove their love…which women must respond to with swoons and hormones, not censure and reporting.  This overlaps with our culture’s changing attitudes toward…

  • Sex for money“The Client List,” “Pretty Woman,” etc.
    • Could prostitution portrayed as lucrative employment and a position of power over others be responsible for the rash (no pun intended) of  call girl rings and “soccer mom madams” we’ve heard about recently?
  • Sex as triage“The Bachelor/Bachelorette”
    • Can watching “real” people being seduced and sexually engaged by a gaggle of hopefuls for the sake of a giant diamond and TV ratings be making promiscuity even more “normal” and attractive than it’s been before?  See here for more thoughts on the Bachelor phenomenon.
  • Pornography as artistic expressionMiley Cyrus et al
    • It’s bad enough that pornography has been “normalized” in sitcoms, movies, social dialogue and even marriage counseling.  But when it becomes hailed (though not necessarily condoned) as music’s most noteworthy moment of the past few years, its payoff becomes dangerously attractive.
  • Children as provocative performers“Honey Boo Boo” and “Toddlers in Tiaras.”
    • Aren’t little girls supposed to aspire to longer play-dates or a trip to Disneyland?  Instead, these TV shows are encouraging them to learn sexier moves, wear skimpier bikinis and perform for larger crowds.
  • Adultery as a higher rush than boring fidelityevery modern TV drama I can think of
    • Why would anyone choose long-term, committed, drama-free relationships when illicit ones (falling for someone you shouldn’t, flirting with infidelity, trying to resist, finally giving in, having the best sex ever) looks so much more attractive.  This ties in directly with our addiction to adrenaline rushes…


  • Adrenaline rushes that may lead to serious injury“Jackass” and similar TV shows
    • They flaunt the fun of taking unnecessary and pointless risks, but don’t point out their dangers and painful consequences they might cause.  Those who live for adrenaline rushes often have trouble sustaining relationships, contentment and safety because being wise and thinking things through seems lackluster and boring.
  • Loss of respect for privacy“Big Brother” and other 24/7 reality shows
    • We continue to mimic the exhibitionists who first came to popularity in TV’s most voyeuristic reality shows.  Too often, this has led to Facebook and Twitter posts in which the privacy of others is seen as insignificant.  After all, nothing is intimate anymore…right?  Pictures showing others in compromising positions have led to the suicide of some who were exposed.
  • Public humiliationRicky Gervais and other hosts of major events like the Emmys, the Academy Awards, etc.
    • There’s usually someone in the crowd who looks uncomfortable when people are ridiculed from the stage in front of a complicit audience, but peer pressure makes us feel dumb if we find the humiliation cruel rather than funny.  After all, our idolized stars aren’t flinching…  When it happens in real life, we’re that much less likely to stand up for the victim, because it might make us appear to have no sense of humor.  Bullying is built on this reality.
  • Being buzzed or drunk“Jersey Shores” and other young-adult oriented fare
    • “What was the best part of the wedding you attended?” I’ll ask the young adults in my life.  More often than not, recently, the answer has been something like “Drinking too much and dancing like idiots.”  Really?  These are people I used to consider wise beyond their years and committed to high standards.  I can’t imagine them being okay with pouring so much intoxicating substances down their throats that they behave embarrassingly and throw caution to the wind, risking really bad decisions with serious consequences.  But that has apparently become their idea of fun.  The message, after all, is everywhere.  Getting tipsy or drunk is portrayed as nothing more than a party-enhancer, and a generation in pursuit of a higher high and a crazier crazy have fallen for the lie that there’s nothing dangerous or compromising about intoxication.  Beyond their own safety and the impact on their integrity, I worry about the message they are sending to the younger generations observing their inebriated fun.

I’m not so naïve as to think that any one point listed here is singly responsible for the slow decay of our culture.  It takes a protracted, multi-faceted perfect storm to bring a civilization to its knees.  The absence of faith in God and of respect for his standards are foundational to our modern woes.  A lack of accountability, poor parenting, and a defective moral compass play a huge role too.  So does our culture’s incapacity to consider the consequences of actions before we perform them.
I’m not a prude either.  I was born and raised in France—that should say it all!  And I love to stay up to date with current media trends, particularly those that break the mold and engage me in different ways.  So I’m not advocating a complete withdrawal from the entertainment industry.  I’m advocating intelligent spectating.  If we can be intentional about acknowledging the subtle messages that could precipitate our downfall, if we can be determined and fearless in exposing and defusing them, if we can use the refuse as a launching pad for redemptive conversations, isn’t there a chance that we can curb some of the degradation at least in our own spheres of influence?  I don’t think a “head in the sand” approach is the right way to go, nor is exiling ourselves to a remote island somewhere.  So…what do you think can help as we live in a media saturated world?
[In the interest of honesty and integrity, I’ve got to admit that I’m not immune to the appeal of the mediatic influences listed above.  And I’ve made my share of forays into potentially damaging territory.  So it’s not from a place of moral superiority that I write on this topic.  It’s from a personal desire to understand better and prevent more effectively.]
Please share your thoughts—add your two cents about the factors you’ve identified and steps you’ve chosen to take in your own life.  As always, no incendiary, defamatory or crude comments will be accepted.  But I do want to hear your thoughts in the hope that together we can begin to make small changes.
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One Comment

    • domanne

    • 11 years ago

    Sadly (maybe not), I’ve not seen the shows mentioned … BUT I have watched A LOT of HGTV since changing from rabbit ears to FIOS. What has begun to grate on me is that everyone EXPECTS to have “hardwood floors, granite counters, and open floor concept” … and noses turn up with a sigh of “we will have to renovate” if any of these are missing. I look at my own home … a home which the Lord provided … and wonder if we would ever be able to sell it.

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