I've learned by now to be on guard against what my children see. If you've ever gone through the grocery checkout line and found the magazines turned so that their backs are facing outward, it's a safe guess that I've gone through ahead of you. It used to be that I was just guarding against the photos, but now, with two of my four sons reading, I find that, if possible, I'd just as soon avoid for a while longer a discussion about why women don't tell their men what they really want in bed, or what a pleasure zone is, or what the top 10 lovemaking secrets happen to be. Perhaps the rest of America is desperately in need of this information, but my 9- and 7-year-olds most certainly are not.
While most of us are cognizant of sexual images, I'm even more disturbed by a growing trend in advertisements toward what can best be described as the demonic. For example, we've given up taking our children into video rental stores because of the plethora of horrific DVD covers positioned where even our toddler can see them. Graphic renditions of demonic figures and people writhing in pain or terror infest aisle after aisle, even in places that profess to be "family friendly."
Even more disturbing is an advertisement I've noticed repeatedly during CBS's coverage of the NCAA men's basketball tournament for a new horror film called The Haunting in Connecticut. One of the scenes in the ad features a boy slowly vomiting forth a thick cloud that is presumably some sort of evil presence. It is horrific.
The Motion Picture Association of America claims that one of the factors its advertising administration uses when deciding what to allow in movie ads is whether the material "is suitable for the audiences who will be viewing it." My children aren't the only kids, I don't think, who watch NCAA basketball. This commercial isn't suitable for children at all, but our secular society lacks the terminology to explain why. After all, it's not overly violent, nor does it show drugs or nudity. So what's the objection, the committed secularist might ask. The commonsense answer is that it is unsuitable because it traffics in images that are demonic. The world, however, doesn't believe in such things, even as people flock to theaters to be titillated by them.
We do indeed have to guard against a sex-besotted world, but I think we have to guard just as vigilantly against a world that thrills itself by crafting depictions of evil in the flesh. Perhaps those two categories aren't so far apart. Flannery O'Connor wrote, years ago, that the American south is a Christ-haunted region. I wonder if the whole world isn't a hell-haunted region, even as we have attempted to make light of this by banishing the only One who can save us from it.
I despise these images not only because they scare my children, not only because they are a perverse form of glorification of evil, but also because they tell a lie about the history of God and Creation, which is that death is triumphant. As we approach Easter we should keep in mind that precisely the opposite is true, that Death has been trampled down. And perhaps as we remember this, we should be bolder about telling retailers---and perhaps especially the Motion Picture Association of America---that their standards for what passes as "suitable" are entirely unsuitable.